Now what for Carmelo Anthony? Denver?

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A trade between Denver and New Jersey for Carmelo Anthony always made sense — for Denver and New Jersey. Anthony never seemed all that interested, the fact he wanted to meet with Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov to be sold on the team does not make him sound like a guy who wanted to go there. Meanwhile the drama dragged on and on and on….

Until Wednesday afternoon, when Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov killed it. He told the Nets management to walk away from the deal, that the costs had of making the deal had become too high.

What this sounds like to me is a face-saving deal:

Anthony never really wanted to go to New Jersey, but Anthony does not like to play the bad guy (as Alan Hahn of Newsday noted). By handling it this way Prokhorov gets to keep some dignity. This way, he’s the one doing the breaking up, not the one getting dumped. He gets to sound like the hard a– Russian rather than the guy who could not win the free agent again (he had enough of that last summer).

So now what? Who is left to chase ‘Melo?

Here is a list of teams where Carmelo Anthony may land:

• The New York Knicks. Knicks fans, come on down, you’re the next contestants on “Is The Price Right for Denver?” As distasteful as it may be for the Nuggets front office, this may be the best deal they can get. Especially if New York is the only place that Anthony will sign an extension.

If Knicks GM Donnie Walsh can trade Anthony Randolph for a 2012 first round pick (as is expected), then the rules allow them to trade their 2011 and 2013 first round picks (even though they did not have a 2010 pick). The package likely would be something like Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, the body and expiring contract of Eddy Curry, and a first-round pick or two.

The Nuggets were right to like a deal that involved Derrick Favors more, but this gets them a couple of quality players, a couple picks and payroll savings next year. That’s not terrible.

• The New Jersey Nets… Prokhorov was bluffing. It doesn’t seem likely, but it a possibility. If Anthony was willing to go to the Nets but the Nuggets kept pushing and overplayed their hand — “You have to take Renaldo Balkman or the deal is off!” — this is the way to call that bluff. Make the Nuggets accept your terms, which is still better than any other offer. And it could happen, in a couple of weeks the Nuggets might call the Nets back and accept lesser terms.

Of course, this theory depends on Anthony actually wanting to go to New Jersey. Wanting it bad enough that this stunt doesn’t frighten him off. Yes, that is possible, but I wouldn’t bet the kids’ college fund on it.

• The Chicago Bulls. They were in the bidding last summer but pulled out. However CAA power broker William Wesley is reportedly headed to Chicago to try and convince them to get back in the game. The Bulls might be willing to talk but they have no incentive to up the offer from the Luol Deng based one the Nuggets already soundly rejected. The Bulls are not about to give up Joakim Noah, especially not now. It would be quite a loss of face for Denver to come crawling back to this deal.

• The Denver Nuggets: They could play hardball. They could dare Carmelo Anthony to not sign the three-year, $65 million extension on the table and take his chances as a free agent under a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. Basically, call his bluff. See if he’s willing to lose $10 million or more. Anthony has said he wants to sign an extension and have a deal under this CBA, he’s comfortable in Denver, so maybe he’ll cave.

Not likely. He’s still gong to make at least $50 million on a new deal wherever it is, which should be enough to live on. If he wants out, he wants out. This strategy also carries big risks for Denver — if he does leave as a free agent the Nuggets get nothing in return. They are Cleveland or Toronto. That seems too big a risk, they need to get something back for losing their star.

• The Dallas Mavericks: Mark Cuban has said he wants to get in on the bidding if it comes to “rent-a-Melo.” And by rent-a-Melo we mean Dallas doesn’t care if he signs the extension or not, they would be happy to rent him for the remainder of this season to try and win a title.

Denver could get an up-and-coming young player like Rodrigue Beaubois and save money on the expiring deal of Caron Butler (who is already out for the year with knee surgery). Dallas would also have to send picks and other players. It’s really not as good as what the Knicks can offer, but if you want to spite the Knicks and Melo…

• The Rockets: They have wanted to step in as part of the rent-a-Melo portion of the bidding as well (giving them the chance to woo him for the long term). The Rockets have Yao Ming’s expiring contract, a lot of good role players — Kevin Martin, Shane Battier and others — and have a pick or two to send. But right now they are well out of the playoffs and bringing in Anthony means they likely only move up the seven seed at best, to face a team like the Lakers or Mavericks in the first round. Is that worth what would be given up?

Underdog Cavs insist they have plenty of bite for Finals

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INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) — They are defending champions and decided underdogs.

The Cleveland Cavaliers, however, say they aren’t using any snubs to get ready for the NBA Finals.

Set for a third straight championship matchup against Golden State, the Cavs are ignoring the Las Vegas odds makers and others who don’t think they have a shot at beating Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant & Co.

Cavs coach Tyronn Lue doesn’t feel his team needs the underdog label for inspiration, saying being in the NBA Finals is “enough motivation alone.”

Kevin Love was reminded that Warriors forward Draymond Green said earlier this season that he wants to “destroy and annihilate” the Cavs in the Finals. Says Love said: “He wanted us, and he has us starting next Thursday.”

 

Check out Kawhi Leonard’s highlights from this past season (VIDEO)

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Russell Westbrook and James Harden were putting up the bigger numbers, they were drawing more attention. And while MVP is a regular season award, nobody has boosted their MVP credentials more in the postseason than Kawhi Leonard.

He had a really impressive regular season, too. Since we’re on a long break between games, enjoy the highlights of Leonard’s season. He may enter next season as the MVP favorite.

Kevin Love on Cavaliers: “I don’t feel like we’re underdogs”

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Kevin Love and Las Vegas bookmakers do not see things the same way.

In Vegas, the Golden State Warriors are heavy favorites to win the title — bet $100 on them to win and you get back $41.7 (or less). Cleveland is a heavy underdog.

Love sees a confident team that is the defending NBA champions, as he told Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

“The whole underdog thing is funny to me, because, yeah, at the end of the day we are defending our title,” Love said Saturday after the Cavs’ first practice in preparation for the Warriors since clinching a spot in the Finals. “We’re trying to repeat, which is so hard to do. I think we will use it as fuel, we will use it as motivation, but the idea of playing into it? It’s tough for me to say that is the case. I don’t feel like we’re underdogs. We match up well with them, and I think they’d say the same about us.”

What else was he going to say?

More than any other team in the league, the Cavaliers are built to give Golden State trouble. The Cavaliers can exploit mismatches, be physical on defense, and they have LeBron James, Love and Kyrie Irving. Three NBA stars.

Is that enough against four NBA stars is the question.

Mike Brown still waiting on Tyronn Lue to pay up overdue bet

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Mike Brown is ready for Tyronn Lue to pay up on a nearly two-decade-old bet. Yep, Lue owes him $100 and Brown plans to accept it at long last – perhaps even during the NBA Finals when they see each other.

All this time Brown never wanted the money he earned by beating Lue in a shooting contest when the Cavaliers coach was an NBA newcomer, yet Golden State’s acting coach – who spent two stints leading Cleveland – joked how Lue can surely afford it these days.

“I’m glad he finally admitted that he owes me money because for many years he wouldn’t admit that he owed me money. He does owe me $100 and since he got his new deal hopefully he can afford to pay me now,” Brown said Saturday post-practice. “I asked him many time for it but he’s denied it. He’s denied that the game ever took place.”

Lue insists he has tried to pay up – time and time again, to no avail.

“Mike, I owe him $100 from when I was a rookie. That’s all I ever know about Mike,” Lue said Saturday. “I tried to pay him and he wouldn’t take the money so he says I always owe him. He’s always been a great guy.”

The 40-year-old Lue was rewarded with a contract extension after the Cavs’ championship run last June for the city’s first major sports title in 52 years. Cleveland overcame a 3-1 Finals deficit to the Warriors, and now the teams are preparing to face off for a third straight year.

“I think what it has to do with, it has to do with the fact he’s got a nice, long, fat contract with the Cavs and he realizes that he can finally afford to pay me the money that he owes me for the shooting game back in 2000 or whenever it was,” Brown said with a grin.

Brown acknowledged he cannot recall any other details such as how many shots each man made, saying: “I don’t even remember, that was back when I was in shape and a good shooter. He’d kill me now”

“Yeah, he was with the Spurs and I was with the Lakers and we had a little shooting contest and I lost,” Lue said. “He wouldn’t take the money so from now on 19 years in a row always says, `You owe me $100.’ He won’t take the money. Always been close to Mike and I like Mike a lot, respect him a lot.”