Chicken Nuggets

“Negotiations are all about controlling things. About being in the driver’s seat. And… make one tiny mistake you’re dead. I made one tiny mistake. I wore women’s clothes.” – Michael Scott, The Office

As the NBA season approaches the February 24th trade deadline, control and power have slowly been shifting towards the Nuggets and away from Carmelo Anthony. We are still two weeks away from the deadline, but I admire the way the Denver Nuggets’ first year GM Masai Ujiri has played chicken with Anthony thus far. Ujiri has been fair but firm throughout this whole process. He has listened to offers from the Knicks and Nets, while explicitly stating they want to keep ‘Melo and hope he signs the same deal that has been on the table since June. They will only make a trade that brings the Nuggets financial relief, draft picks and talent. The Nets seemed to have fulfilled those requirements in a massive 13-player trade that was eventually nixed by Denver. With a trade to the Knicks (Anthony’s preferred destination) or any team becoming less and less likely, Anthony recently stated that he will have to “take a hard look” at the 3-year, $65 million contract extension offered by the Nuggets.

The NBA’s current collective bargaining agreement (CBA) is set to expire at the end of the season. The owner’s have demanded that contracts be scaled back in the new CBA, effectively ending the days of $20 million a year deals. Melo’s extension may be his last opportunity to get such a deal. The Nuggets’ offer has been on the table since June, waiting to be signed. Unfortunately for Melo, this offer dies when the season ends. If the Nuggets hold firm and let the deadline pass, Melo can:

  • Sulk and walk. This scenario frightens Nuggets fans and is one of the main reasons why the Nuggets may still trade their franchise player. Melo has been a professional so far this season. In fact, this week, despite the trade turmoil, he put up a 50 point, 11 rebound game against the Rockets and a 29 point, 13 rebound game against the Warriors. For the season, he is averaging 24.7 Pts., 7.7 Rbs., and 2.8 Asts. But if the Nuggets keep him for the rest of the year, and Melo refuses to sign the extension, he may mail it in in protest and protect his body for his upcoming free agency, killing my currently first place fantasy team in the process. His departure would create a PR nightmare for the Nuggets, leaving Denver with nothing to show for their bravado.
  • Play out the season, get traded in the offseason. Here, Melo would simply play like he has been playing all year. He would up his value by showing teams he can ignore distractions, not be a distraction himself and be a team player. Denver, sensing Melo’s eventual departure, may still try to wield an offseason deal in the hopes of getting something for him, which would be complicated due to the Early Termination Option in his contract. Larry Coon of explains that well here.
  • Take the money. He signs with the Nuggets, says lets put all of this behind us and just plays ball.
  • Take the money…and run. Melo wanted out of Denver. He wanted to go home to New York, but the Nuggets would not appease him. Signing with the Nuggets would be purely for financial reasons. Do the Nuggets really want a franchise player who is bitter about taking more than $20 million a year? How would Denver feel about going through an entire year of distractions just to have him sign the same contract they offered him last June? Remember, negotiations are all about control. What if ‘Melo signs the extension and then demands a trade anyway?

So that is where we stand today. Tomorrow may be different. Tomorrow the power struggle may shift to Carmelo.The Knicks have re-entered the discussion but still do not have an enticing offer for the Nuggets. The Lakers, Rockets and Dallas Mavericks have all discussed the possibility of trading for ‘Melo, but nothing seems imminent. At the start of the season, the likelihood of Anthony reconsidering and signing a contract extension seemed remote. Today, it has become a real scenario thanks to a well played game of chicken by a rookie GM.

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