NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — Mikhail Prokhorov was a day away from a sitdown with Carmelo Anthony when he decided to call the whole thing off.
And not just the meeting. The New Jersey Nets’ entire pursuit of Anthony, too.
Prokhorov stunningly yanked the Nets from trade discussions they’d spent months engaging in, telling the team Wednesday to end the long, drawn-out trade talks with the Denver Nuggets.
“There comes a time when the price is simply too expensive,” Prokhorov said in a news conference before the Nets faced the Utah Jazz. “I am instructing our team to walk away from the deal.”
It wasn’t just the price that bothered the Russian billionaire, who apparently conducts his business in quietier ways.
“Really, I am not happy with the way the deal has gone until now,” said Prokhorov, who fielded questions in English and Russian. “It has taken too long. It has been played out in public. The uncertainty has taken a toll on the players … and I believe it has cost us several games.”
Prokhorov canceled a planned meeting with Anthony on Thursday and said there was no chance — that’s a big nyet — that the trade would be resurrected. The Nets had lost six straight before beating Utah 103-95 at home after Prokhorov pronounced the Anthony deal dead.
Anthony said following his 35-point performance in Denver’s 112-107 win over Oklahoma City that he would have liked to meet with Prokhorov.
“Yeah, he’s a very interesting man. So, for me to just be in the room with him and just have a conversation with him, I would have loved that,” Anthony said.
Denver general manager Masai Ujiri declined to answer questions about the Nets’ decision, beyond saying the Nuggets have been in talks “with plenty of teams” regarding Anthony and insisting he harbored no ill will toward the Nets for calling off talks.
Nuggets coach George Karl said he wasn’t surprised that Prokhorov pulled the plug.
“I’ve been one of the guys who have been kind of hinting to you that this is a lot farther away from happening than you all think it’s going to be,” Karl said. “But we’ve got a fun game, a hell of a team to play against tonight … and I’m more excited about that than my billionaire friend from Russia kind of throwing another curveball or knuckleball into the process.
“If it’s true, it’s true. If it isn’t true, it isn’t true,” Karl added. “If it’s a ploy in the negotiation, that’s for the guys upstairs to figure out.”
There were reports Wednesday that Anthony’s representatives had let the Nuggets know that the 26-year-old forward was interested in playing for the Chicago Bulls. Houston and the Knicks also have been mentioned in trade talks involving Anthony.
The deal between the Nets, Nuggets and Detroit Pistons was huge in name power and the number of players. New Jersey had offered to ship six players and at least two first-round draft picks to Denver in a three-team deal that would have sent Anthony to the Nets along with former Pistons teammates Chauncey Billups and Richard Hamilton.
Prokhorov decided Tuesday to end talks with the Nuggets, and general manager Billy King said he informed them via text message as Prokhorov was speaking on Wednesday.
Prokhorov said the Nets received permission from Denver to talk with Anthony on Monday night, but he never spoke to the All-Star forward.
“Maybe he sent me an e-mail but I never use computer, that’s why, maybe, I missed it or maybe carrier pigeon got lost,” Prokhorov said.
Anthony said he never told the Nets he wouldn’t sign his extension to facilitate a trade.
“I never told anyone anything,” Anthony insisted. “I’m pretty sure he was just tired of everything that’s going on. … He probably got fed up about it and he just wanted to move on.”
Anthony added wryly that he didn’t possess Prokhorov’s e-mail address or a carrier pigeon.
Since Prokhorov took over the team last year, the Nets have tried but failed to land a superstar. He personally led the Nets’ delegation in free agency talks with LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade in July, and he said the decision to pursue Anthony since the start of training camp was purely based on basketball.
However, Prokhorov showed he didn’t make billions waiting for other people to make decisions. When he got fed up, he said enough.
“I am not ready to overpay,” Prokhorov said. “As soon as you make a mistake, you can wait for the next chance for the next five or six years. That’s why I prefer to be really patient.”
Prokhorov even showed a touch of sarcasm when asked if King tried to talk him out of the decision. “I am not sure that Billy King knows,” he said with a wry smile.
King, who was hired to replace Rod Thorn in the offseason, said the Nets and Nuggets never reached an agreement at any time during the negotiations.
“I am not disappointed at all,” King said. “It’s been a long process. In all my years, 16 years in the NBA, I have never seen anything like this.”
King said he came close to calling off the deal himself during the talks.
“There were times in my mind I wrestled with the same idea, because you get to a point where you say enough is enough,” said King, who said he was frustrated by “everything” in the talks.
The coverage of the proposed trade has dominated league news for weeks, with many wondering whether the three-team trade would get done, or whether Anthony would agree to sign a three-year, $65 million contract extension that was a must for New Jersey to make the deal.
What has made the situation so interesting is the deal involved eight players on the Nets and perhaps 15 players on the three teams.
“Every player on our roster was mentioned in some way expect Brook (Lopez),” King said. “There comes a point in time where they have to focus. It is their job, but they have families and they read or hear things that may or may not be true and that’s what I care about.”
King planned to talk to the players on Thursday about moving forward.
The proposed deal had New Jersey sending point guard Devin Harris, rookie power forward Derrick Favors, the third draft pick overall, guards Anthony Morrow, Quinton Ross and Ben Uzoh, swingman Stephen Graham and at least two first-round draft picks to Denver.
Besides Anthony and Billups, the Nuggets would’ve sent Shelden Williams and Terrico White, who is injured, to the Nets. The Pistons would’ve received veteran Troy Murphy and center Johan Petro for Hamilton. Murphy has a $12 million contract that will expire after this season.
King called the seemingly never-ending talks on a Melo deal a perfect storm, with the Nuggets and Nets both dealing with new ownerships and managements.
“There is no blame for anyone,” he said. “We all worked hard to get a deal done, we just couldn’t get one. … This is not like the Titanic, this happens and the ship sinks.”
AP Sports Writer Arnie Stapleton contributed from Denver.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)