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Mikhail Prokhorov Lets Himself Off the Hook, But Not You

Yesterday’s Mikhail Prokhorov press conference was, at the very least, cathartic. The endless, dribble-drip of Carmelo Anthony trade stories over the last month has been painful for anyone to watch, and it must have been exponentially worse to actually experience. At some point, we wanted someone to just throw their hands in the air and say, “Aw, forget it.” Yesterday, Prokhorov did that. It must have felt good.

This was Prokhorov’s biggest media moment — at least his biggest media moment that wasn’t part of his initial rollout introduction, the biggest that didn’t involve kickboxing in front of Steve Kroft — and he took control of it and made it his. Apparently no one on the Nets, even general manager Billy King (whose job it has been to deal with this madness on a daily basis over the last month or so), knew that Prokhorov was going to say anything in the first place, let alone cancel the Anthony meeting and all the work he put in. It was the sort of Big Moment that Prokhorov loves. That the press conference is alternately being called “a nice show of force,” “bold,” and “the same old sitcom, same old shameful scene” is evidence of its power. Prokhorov owned the room, then left. He’s gonna be making a habit of this. It’s going to be something.

But enough of a psychological analysis of the Russian and his franchise: What about Carmelo now? Assuming the Nets are really out of the running — and they’d certainly seem to be now, even if they tried to get back in — the Knicks’ chances of grabbing Carmelo just increased dramatically. And perhaps more important: The price may have dropped. The Knicks were never going to be able to offer what the Nets offered, and the Nuggets, having lost their likeliest partner, are going to be more desperate to move him.

And despite what the Nuggets might say, at this point, it’s difficult to imagine them not trading Carmelo, and sooner rather than later. In ESPN a few days ago, salary cap expert Larry Coon explained why the Nuggets need to trade him at the February 24 deadline, not directly after the season. (Essentially, it involves expiring contracts and a clause that essentially gives Carmelo more power to use his option.) The Chicago Bulls are the only other team that’s in the running and is a place Carmelo has said he’d like to play, but they haven’t shown near the interest level that the Knicks have.

This has played out exactly as the Knicks wanted it to. Carmelo clearly wants to play here, and Donnie Walsh hasn’t had to rush anything. If he wants, he can call Carmelo’s bluff and try to sign him as a free agent, to whatever contract the NBA allows at that point. Or he can trade off less than he would have were he still competing with the Nets to get Carmelo for a playoff run. (If the Nuggets get really desperate, does Wilson Chandler, the expiring contract of Eddy Curry and the first round pick they’d theoretically get for Anthony Randolph work? It might, if the Nuggets have no other options.) This has worked perfectly.

Except for one tiny thing: The Knicks keep losing. They’ve now lost four games in a row after last night’s 104–89 loss to Houston, and their playoff odds are now down to 90 percent. For weeks, Carmelo has said that he didn’t want to screw up the good thing the Knicks had going, but the Knicks don’t have a good thing going right now. If the losses continue — and with road games at San Antonio and Oklahoma City coming up, they’re likely to — the Knicks may look like they need Carmelo urgently, and quickly. That could cost them some leverage.

But those are small beans at this point. With Prokhorov’s proclamation yesterday, Carmelo Anthony is very likely to be wearing a Knicks jersey. At some point. The question now is when. And how.

Expect that question to be answered in trickles of daily rumors over the next month, and probably longer after that. Mikhail Prokhorov is free of that now, but you’re not.

Mikhail Prokhorov Lets Himself Off the Hook, But Not You