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Using his hammer in Denver
DENVER — For Nuggets owner E. Stanley Kroenke, this is already one of those good news/bad news weeks.
The good news is the NFL owners’ finance committee approved his application to become majority owner of the St. Louis Rams, paving the way for final approval at the owners’ meetings next week.
The bad news is that Carmelo Anthony holds most of the cards in his escalating free-agent “Melodrama” with the Nuggets.
The action by the NFL finance committee means that Kroenke can put the Nuggets and Avalanche in a family member’s name — that of son Josh, who already holds an executive position with the basketball team – and continue to operate them as before despite the NFL’s alleged cross-ownership ban.
Effectively, the decision guts the ban. The only requirement now to get around it is having a relative you trust enough to make a titular “owner.” The Kroenke family will now own franchises in the NFL, NBA and NHL.
The Broncos have expressed no objection.
The biggest star on any of these Kroenke-owned teams is Anthony, who has so far declined to sign a three-year, $65 million contract extension. My friend Andrew Feinstein over at Denverstiffs.com, a passionate Nuggets blog, made a case the other day that the team has maximum leverage right now if it wants to trade Anthony rather than risk losing him to free agency a year from now.
Feinstein’s central thesis was that only the Nuggets can maximize Anthony’s earning power by providing contract terms under the current collective bargaining agreement, which expires next summer. It is widely presumed the next labor agreement will provide for shorter, smaller maximum contracts.
So, in order to get the maximum payout, Feinstein suggests Anthony would cooperate with an auction in which the Nuggets could pick the best trade offer for him from a variety of teams eager to add a superstar.
This assumes money is Anthony’s top priority and the identity of his next team secondary. With players increasingly eager to control their own transactions, it seems just as likely that the opposite is true.
Much of the speculation about his desire to leave Denver is based on a series of toasts at his wedding about turning the Knicks into a super team with Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire and possibly Chris Paul.
The world of NBA free agency has changed since Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh manipulated the system to play together in Miami.
Players have never before demonstrated that level of control over the process, and the toasts at Melo’s wedding suggest that other players are now thinking about doing the same thing.
If Anthony wants to choose where he plays next, it makes no sense for him to let the Nuggets choose the best sign-and-trade for them. If the Nuggets try to trade him without signing him to an extension, they will be dealing him as a one-year rent-a-player and will get back less in return than if he were signed long-term.
This is why NBA insiders believe Melo holds the hammer. He can determine his value on the trade market by deciding whether to participate in a sign-and-trade. And if the Nuggets don’t agree to send him where he wants, they won’t get value for him because he will have only one year remaining on his contract.
The assumption that Melo’s top priority is maximizing his NBA salary also ignores the endorsement opportunities that would present themselves to an NBA superstar playing at Madison Square Garden.
Even if he waits to sign a smaller free-agent contract under a new collective bargaining agreement, other sources of income in New York could more than make up the difference.
And Anthony might be willing to take less money to play with friends on a team that could compete for a championship, just as Wade, James and Bosh elected to do in Miami.
So Melo has the leverage. He can determine the value of the asset the Nuggets have to trade. At worst for Melo, this becomes a Matt Holliday situation, where the Nuggets trade him in the final year of his contract, he goes to another team for one year or less, and then he chooses his long-term home as a free agent.
At best for Melo, he gets the Nuggets to trade him where he wants to go by agreeing to a sign-and-trade with only that team, or he becomes a free agent and chooses his next destination himself.
The issue remains where Melo and his wife, MTV personality LaLa Vazquez, want to be. For all his talk of loyalty to Denver, he still hasn’t signed the extension, and it’s not clear what he’s waiting for.
If he leaves it on the table, he still has all the leverage in determining what happens next.