The trade deadline is now less than a month away. Months and months of speculation have led to this point. Every week has brought new rumors, with Carmelo to the Nets being the lead story throughout the season.
The only thing we know for sure is that Carmelo is not re-signing with the Nuggets. This is likely common sense by now, but it needs to be said. Thus his tenure with the Nuggets will end within the coming months.
The Denver Nuggets are now in a very tough position. Their options are numerous.
The Nuggets can hold on to Carmelo. This will forgo any picks/players that they could receive from a team. At the same time, however, it allows them to make their last triumphant push through the playoffs to see what they can muster. This isn't a terrible option, but it does leave them shorthanded in what they could have received from an interested team.
This option, at the very least, will ensure decent playoff odds; certainly better than they would do if Carmelo was traded.
Another option is to offer him as a rental. This likely yields less players/picks than a complete trade as he won't sign an extension in this scenario. But the Nuggets will succeed in shipping him to a team he won't re-sign with and will keep him from immediately joining the Knicks.
This is obviously not the best case for the Nuggets. They will lose their star before the playoffs begin and will only get a good, but not great, package back.
And finally, their third choice is to deal him to the Knicks. If you believe the many reports, then this is both his desired location and the only place he will agree to be traded to.
This is where the real intrigue begins. Who has the upper hand? Who has the leverage? It is impossible to quantify.
The Knicks know Carmelo wants to come. You can bet they would prefer to wait until the off season to get him instead of stripping their roster to do so. Their ability to simply wait for the off-season certainly gives them leverage.
Carmelo also holds leverage, as he dictates where he wants to go and will veto a trade to any other destination. He holds leverage as far as his future goes, but not for this season. For this season, it was long believed that he would have to compromise to make his demands met. For Carmelo, then, it becomes a story of if he can patiently wait until the off-season to sign with the Knicks (if this is indeed the only team he will go to).
And for the Nuggets, their leverage wanes. They can hold on to Carmelo for the rest of the season and let him depart peacefully during the off-season. But as we saw last off-season, this is not good business. It is almost always better to get something in return than to let a player walk free.
And so it will all come down to the Nuggets. The Knicks will wait if they have to; they would prefer this method. Carmelo has survived all season dealing with this circus, and he can endure it further. He wants to keep a good image, and I'm sure he wouldn't mind going to the playoffs with his team one last time.
The Nuggets, however, are on the clock. Their leverage weakens as we approach the trade deadline in a few weeks. There is only so much resisting a team can do before they break down and realize trading him is for the best. Will the Nuggets give in? If the Knicks are the only team that Carmelo will agree to, then we may very well see them engage the team in the coming weeks to work something out.
All eyes rest on the Nuggets as we wait and see what happens next.