Anthony shrugs off latest trade talk, leads Nuggets past OKC
Big performance comes after New Jersey calls off pursuit
From what I’ve been seeing, hearing and reading, it was a busy day in Newark, New Jersey.
Indulge me for a moment as I present one possible theory as to why the New Jersey Nets held a press conference Wednesday to vent their frustration and announce they were ending trade discussions with the Nuggets.
Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov said the negotiations had dragged on too long and were taking a toll on his players. In no way do I doubt those were factors in his decision to give up on their pursuit of Nuggets forward Carmelo Anthony.
But I believe there were other factors at play. In addition to being a public-relations move, the Nets basically executed a pre-emptive strike.
Perhaps sensing that their bid for Anthony’s affections ultimately might go unrequited, Prokhorov and the Nets flipped to a chapter in the doomed-relationship handbook: When in danger of being rejected, save face by breaking up first.
Like nearly every other story that’s been written about Melo over the past five months, my theory falls under the category of speculation.
Since mid-August, Anthony has never strayed from his stance of keeping his options open. From the beginning, I encouraged people to take Melo at his word because we’ve never heard anything to the contrary from anyone other than “unnamed sources.”
It's remains very possible Anthony will be wearing another uniform by the end of the season. After Tuesday’s 112-107 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder, he said he still expected to be traded by the Feb. 24 NBA trade deadline.
That reality is a byproduct of Anthony’s decision not to sign a reported three-year, $65 million contact extension that the Nuggets put on the table last summer.
Nuggets president Josh Kroenke and executive vice president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri are doing everything they can to protect the long-term interest of the franchise. Anthony’s signature remains their first choice, but they have alternative plans in case that doesn’t happen.
While the Nets became frustrated by the prolonged negotiations, it’s hard to fault Kroenke and Ujiri for trying to get the best deal possible for one of the best players in franchise history.
Rest assured, there is a Plan B, Plan C and Plan D. Media outlets will work hard to find out the details, and some of the subsequent reports will miss their mark, just as they did during the New Jersey saga.
Countless times, the Nuggets and Nets were reported to be close to a deal. “The pieces are in place,” crowed a Denver TV station. Chauncey Billups’ name got dragged into the mess, along with several of his teammates.
All along, Nuggets coach George Karl tried to be a voice of reason among the chaos of speculation and misinformation.
“I think 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 told reporters.
“In my career I’ve never gone through such interaction of … whatever. I think we’ve done a great job handling it all year and probably are going to have to continue to handle it.”
Altitude television analyst Scott Hastings, who played 11 NBA seasons, concurred.
“I just encourage Nuggets fans to listen for either Josh Kroenke or Masai Ujiri to speak before you believe anything,” Hastings said during Wednesday night’s broadcast. “And when they say it, take that to the bank and quit listening to all the rumors and all this crazy stuff that’s been going on and just won’t happen.”
The continued Anthony trade talk overshadowed yet another solid performance by the Nuggets, who improved to 24-17 at the season's midway point. After missing four of his first five shots, Anthony went 10-of-14 in the second and third quarters and finished with 35 points.
Denver then turned up the defense, holding the Thunder to just 21 points in the fourth quarter. Among the key plays were J.R. Smith’s blocked shot against Kevin Durant that led to a fast-break layup by Ty Lawson and Smith’s strip of Russell Westbrook to preserve a seven-point lead in the game’s final minute.
“We did a great job on Kevin Durant tonight,” Anthony said as he tried to navigate the waves of New Jersey questions. “Westbrook got it going early and late, but I’ve got to take my hat off to my guys for doing a great job on the defensive end.”
Durant, averaging a league-leading 28.4 points entering the game, scored 22 on 6-of-18 shooting.
“Even though it didn’t look like a defensive game, I thought we probably won it with our defense as much as our offense,” Karl said. “Holding them to 21 points in the fourth quarter was a big part of why we won.”
Anthony plans on being a big part of Denver’s success as long as he is wearing a Nuggets uniform.
“I’m focused on being here right now,” he said. “Until anything happens, you guys will see me upstairs at practice, playing hard, doing what I’ve got to do, focusing. And then when anything happens, all you guys will have a big story to write about.”