As of Jan. 11 at 3:43 p.m., Carmelo Anthony is still a Denver Nugget, and the team has publicly warned New Jersey against further public discussion of a proposed three-team, 16-player (you read that right?) deal that would send Carmelo to New Jersey along with Chauncey Billups in exchange for a package headlined by Devin Harris and Derrick Favors. Jersey’s major threat? That they will turn around and deal Carmelo to the Knicks, which, given the Knicks recent success, seems about as likely as Woody Allen appearing nude in Playgirl.

Why make this trade? Carmelo is a big-name superstar and Mikhail Prokhrov has been dying to make a splash ever since he bought the moribund Nets franchise. The prospect of moving the Nets to Brooklyn with a marquee player to bate Knicks fans with is tempting, but is it really worth raiding the cupboard of the Nets’ young talent and future first-round picks just to bring in a player that has never proven that he’s more than just a piece of the championship puzzle? Ripping the backbone of your franchise out for King James is one thing, but — as the 2005-08 Lakers proved — having one high-volume scorer and surrounding him with dross is a recipe for a first-round exit rather than a winning formula.

Carmelo is a nice player who may deserve the superstar designation, but he’s suffered a Vince Carter-like plummet in productivity this season. If he isn’t scoring 28 points per game and shooting at least 45 percent (to go along with his usual stellar rebounding), then he isn’t worth the $65 million over three years that the Nets would pay for him.

The Nuggets seem like the clear winners in this trade, although they would probably benefit from flipping Devin Harris in the offseason for a wing scorer, handing the reins over to Ty Lawson and seeing if the waterbug point guard from North Carolina can’t replicate Raymond Felton’s New York rebirth in the Rocky Mountains. Denver was a championship contender a few seasons ago, running into the Lakers buzzsaw and torpedoing its chances mainly because of its comical lack of frontcourt depth. This trade would solve that issue, bringing in promising big man Derrick Favors and a raft of draft picks that, even with a lockout looming, are sure to be full of high-quality talent.

Most importantly, the Nuggets can afford to wait until June 30 to flip Carmelo to whomever they prefer. The market for his services isn’t going anywhere. Since he has an early termination option rather than an expiring contract, they will hold his rights until that date and be free to trade him wherever they choose.

Holding the deal on the backburner makes sense because Denver might want to see where this nucleus can take them in the playoffs. Now that the team is fully healthy, all it has to do is wait for the inevitable Andrew Bynum knee injury and they may have just enough juice to squeak past the Lakers into the championship. Beating Miami once they get there is another matter.

It’s also in the best interest for the Nets to keep losing. Like, a lot. The more the Nets lose, the better the picks the Nuggets receive will be. That’s why the most likely scenario is that the Nuggets hang onto Carmelo until the last possible second before trading him outright, especially given his reluctance to sign an extension with the Nets. If it plays out that way, I envision the Nets pulling their offer and allowing Melo to sign with the Knicks on July 1. At least, I hope it plays out that way.

Daily Nexus Artsweek Editor Michael Hafford thinks that if ’Melo still had cornrows this never would’ve happened.