I had a strong hunch all summer long, but now with the pending acquisition of two more first round draft picks, I'm going to go out on a limb and say Carmelo Anthony will be wearing a New Jersey Nets uniform by December 27th, when they host the Orlando Magic.
Consider it a late Christmas present of sorts to an organization and fan base looking to re-brand as a winner under the leadership of ambitious new owner Mikhail Prokhorov.
The latest deal involves the Nets shipping the out-of-favor Terrence Williams to Houston Rockets, veteran Joe Smith to the Los Angeles Lakers, and netting in return Slovenian marksman Sasha Vujacic, as well as the Lakers' No. 1 pick in 2011 and the Rockets' No. 1 in 2012.
With the move, the Nets shave off $2.4 million for next year in cap space and now have five first round picks over the next two seasons.
In short, the Nets can and will sweeten what's already a saccharine-sweet offer for the Denver Nuggets in exchange for Anthony. No other team in the league can offer up what the Nets can: at least one lottery pick, a promising 19-year-old rookie forward (No. 3 pick Derrick Favors) and expiring contracts.
Another way to look at it is Denver could land two high lottery picks in return for a player they're going to lose at season's end anyhow.
The likelihood of a better offer coming in is slim to none, which is exactly why I believe Nuggets brass will soon pull the trigger.
Great deal for the Nets, right?
Well, this Nets fan and season ticket holder doesn't think so. Then again, I could care less about boosting ticket and merchandising sales and having a more visible product.
I care about winning.
As much as Prokhorov and the Nets are looking to change face overnight, no one will give a damn about the team while it's in Newark-to-Brooklyn limbo.
As it stands now, the stadium is half empty unless it's a weekend afternoon game. Thus, with the real long-term focus of the team being about competing two years from now rather than tomorrow, losing Favors and a lottery pick for a potential walker at season's end is just poor management in my book.
Also, let's say the Nets do convince Anthony to sign an extension. You can bet, regardless of the new CBA, it's going to be for at least $20 million per season.
The problem with that, of course, is Brook Lopez has a mega-deal coming his way too.
Do the Nets want 75 percent of their payroll dedicated to just Anthony and Lopez? Some will say that's fine. Me? I prefer a way to get out of a jam if we get into one. I have no interest in experiencing the Jersey version of the musical, "Allan Houston: My Knee, Your Franchise."
So what do I propose the Nets do instead of trading for Anthony? One of three options:
1. Get a comparable or better talent who is under contract.
2. Get a budding young player who could star in a couple of years.
3. Get a cheaper, accomplished starting veteran who fills a need.
Here are five players the Nets should strongly consider, ahead of Anthony.
All Michael Beasley needed was for some of the pressure to be taken off him, and he found that out in Minnesota. Now he has his swagger back, the soon-to-be 22-year-old is making every single doubter look flat-out dumb.
A natural scorer, Beasley is averaging 21.2 points and 6.1 rebounds per game this season, exactly the kind of production the Nets need from the three-spot. Carmelo Anthony is averaging just 2.5 more points and 2.2 more rebounds per game.
Is that worth the extra $14 million or so?
Furthermore, Beasley doesn't see free agency until the summer of 2013. And the money the Nets save in the short-term will allow them to pursue additional players to round out the roster.
Of course, the big question is does Minnesota even have any interest in dealing Beasley? Hey, anything is possible when President David Kahn is running the show.
One of the best and most underrated shooting guards in the league over the past decade, Jason Richardson becomes a free agent at season's end.
Phoenix is an old, rickety ship that continues to take in water, and while I'm sure they'd love to re-sign J-Rich, I doubt they can afford him or that he would even want to return.
Richardson is a freak athlete who gives great effort on both sides of the ball. He's an excellent perimeter shooter and can finish at the rim with the best of them. Also, he's durable, professional, likable and would be a nice addition to any franchise.
And, believe it or not, the 10-year veteran doesn't turn 30 until next month.
One negative is Richardson is going to be looking at a huge payday, especially considering the preposterous contract Joe Johnson received over the summer.
Would the Nets be able to re-sign him with an offer in the neighborhood of four years and $60 million? I doubt it. Then again, it all depends on the new labor agreement.
He's worth a shot.
Don Nelson is gone but the Golden State Warriors still seem to be in utter disarray.
It remains to be seen for how long Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry, both undersized shooting guards, can coexist. My guess is it's only a matter of time before Ellis (and Andris Biedrins) gets moved so the team can free up cash and address more pressing needs.
Despite being 6'3" and 180 pounds wet, Ellis is one of the league's most prolific scorers. He's averaging 24.4 points per game this season and averaged 25.5 last year. At age 25, he's still improving, and his modest contract ($11 million per season) will keep him under wraps another two seasons after this one.
The Nets desperately need a scoring punch, but perhaps more than that, they need some life. Ellis isn't Anthony in the popularity department, but his style of play would make him a hit in the New York City media market and help the Nets in the win column.
I love Taj Gibson and it has nothing to do with him being a local kid from Brooklyn.
The 6'10" and 225-pound power forward is wasting away as a reserve in the Chicago Bulls rotation despite being starter material. He's barely playing 25 minutes per game this season thanks to new addition Carlos Boozer.
In the 26 games in his two-year career, in which the 25-year-old Gibson played at least 33 minutes, he has posted averages of 12.5 points, 10.4 rebounds and 1.9 blocks on 52 percent shooting. In a big road win in Dallas last month, Gibson put up 17 points (7-12 shooting) and 18 rebounds in 29 minutes.
He's never going to be an All-Star, but his athleticism, rebounding skills and shot-blocking ability make him an ideal sidekick to a scoring center like Brook Lopez, much like what Otis Thorpe was to Hakeem Olajuwon.
Gibson reminds me of a cross between Drew Gooden and Joe Smith, except with significantly better defense.
With Boozer in the mix, and growing interest from the rest of the league, there's no doubt Gibson's future in Chicago is only short-term.
The Nets could get him on the cheap now, maybe with just a late first round pick, pursue a Jason Richardson or Stephen Jackson, and still have enough money and flexibility to add another veteran piece.
Carmelo Anthony or Chris Paul?
Um, yeah, I don't think it's even close, especially considering the positions they play and the impact they have on teammates.
Anthony puts the ball in the hole and that's it. Paul, like Jason Kidd and a handful of other great play-making point guards, can turn the likes of a David West (or Kenyon Martin) into an All-Star.
So why not pursue Paul instead of Anthony? After all, Paul's days in New Orleans are numbered anyhow. For starters, he has said he wants out because the gloomy direction the franchise is headed.
The team is a first round loss in the playoffs waiting to happen, West will walk at season's end, ownership is losing money and David Stern has mentioned the dreaded "C" word: contraction.
Facing such a predicament, Hornets management would definitely consider expiring contracts, multiple first round picks (including a high lottery selection) and Favors for a chance to clean house and brace for a precarious future.
The Nets would have Paul under contract for the remainder of this season and next, giving him an extended view of the organization's commitment to building a winner, not to mention a state-of-the-art Barclays Center in downtown Brooklyn.