LOS ANGELES — The New Jersey Nets still believe they are in the race for Carmelo Anthony, and if not, owner Mikhail Prokhorov thinks at least they made it harder for the New York Knicks.
In the latest developments in the rivals’ pursuit of Anthony, the Knicks insisted Sunday they are on the same page in their pursuit of the Denver Nuggets’ All-Star, and that Isiah Thomas isn’t involved in it.
Prokhorov told CNBC on Sunday he had a “fantastic” meeting with Anthony on Saturday night. The Russian billionaire had pulled the Nets out of talks last month, and even after they were recently renewed he said he originally had no plans to meet with Anthony during the All-Star weekend.
“As you know, my instinct was to stay away and I still think that is (the) right decision,” Prokhorov said. “But when the meeting was fixed, (Nets general manager) Billy King called me and said, ‘We need you.’ I was convinced and I still think I’m right to stay away, but we have teamwork so sometimes we need to be all together.”
Asked at Staples Center before the All-Star game if he had any news on a deal, Prokhorov said: “I don’t care.”
The Nets still believe Anthony would agree to sign a contract extension with them that would be a prerequisite to making the deal, despite previous reports that he would only do so if traded to the Knicks.
Even if they can’t get an agreement from Anthony, Prokhorov sees value in the Nets’ return to the trade talks.
“I think we made a very good tactical decision to force (the) Knicks to pay as much as they can,” Prokhorov said. “So it’s very good, it’s very interesting, it’s very competitive.”
And it created reports that the Knicks’ negotiations had been taken out of the hands of team president Donnie Walsh by Madison Square Garden chairman James Dolan — with Thomas advising him. The team attempted to shoot them down with a statement Sunday.
“We want to make it abundantly clear that we have been in constant communication throughout this process and the three of us are in complete agreement with everything that we are currently working on. Together, we will do what is best for the long-term success of the franchise,” said the statement, which was attributed to Dolan, Walsh and coach Mike D’Antoni.
Walsh has been patient in his approach with Anthony, who can become a free agent after the season. The Knicks could just sign him then without having to give up any of their young core in a trade with the Nuggets, but Anthony would prefer a deal during the season so he’d be eligible for the three-year, $65 million extension he’s refused to sign with Denver.
But a New York Daily News report that Dolan had met Thursday with Anthony in Los Angeles, followed by a Yahoo! Sports report that the Knicks had increased their offer to the Nuggets to include three starters, triggered speculation that the owner was overruling his basketball people because he wanted a trade done before Thursday’s deadline.
Walsh previously had said he didn’t understand the fuss about Dolan’s involvement, since ownership always is when a trade becomes closer.
But Dolan’s presence has sparked further belief — along with some panic and outrage by Knicks fans — that he is relying on Thomas, the team’s former president and coach during a tumultuous 4½ years.
Though a plan to rehire Thomas as an official consultant fell through last August because his position as coach of Florida International University prevents him from being employed by an NBA team, Dolan said at the time that he would “continue to solicit his views.”
But the Knicks say that’s not happening on this deal.
“In addition, we want to make it clear that no one from outside our organization has been involved in this process in any way,” the statement read.
The Knicks said they would not have any further comment.
Anthony said Friday he hoped for a quick resolution, perhaps even receiving an offer before the end of the weekend. But his wife, actress La La Vazquez, said on the pregame magenta carpet she thought it would come at the last minute — if it comes at all.
“I do, I do, I really do, because I’ve been hearing about this for so many months and I was thinking, ‘OK, something’s going to happen,” she said. “So at this point, I do believe that it probably is going to go down to the wire. If anything, who is to say, it’s just not, stay where you are? You know?”