By Art Garcia, NBA.com
Posted Oct 13 2010 6:16PM
So what is there to discuss with the Nuggets? Yeah, we're going there.
The Carmelo Anthony cloud is going to hover over the Mile High City until some resolution is reached. That would come in the form of a trade, either now or by the Feb. 24 deadline, a free-agent departure next summer or Melo deciding Denver is the place to be. A $65 million extension is just waiting for his signature.
Until then, no one in Denver rests easy. Sure, the Nuggets are going about business as usual. George Karl is back after his cancer scare, looking energized and ready to attack the season. New general manager Masai Ujiri is settling into his job, looking for avenues to improve the roster.
Chauncey Billups returned from a successful tour with USA Basketball, serving as the elder statesman for the gold medalists. Al Harrington arrived to provide some depth up front and punch off the bench. The defending Northwest Division champs are just 17 months removed from a trip to the Western Conference finals.
Again, it just doesn't feel right.
Anthony is doing his best to not feed the beast. Despite a mountain of evidence that would be right at home in the Rockies, Melo insists he's not looking for a one-way ticket out of Denver. Chicago, New York and New Jersey are among the teams most often mentioned as suitors.
"I never once said anything about trade talks," Anthony insisted at the start of training camp. "There's been a lot of speculation, a lot of rumors going on this summer about where I'm going to end up, the Nuggets want to trade me, I want to be traded. That's for my team and front office to discuss. I'm here to focus on basketball."
The Nuggets would love nothing more than to lock down their franchise star long term and concentrate on the tall task ahead in the West. That's not going to happen, and Anthony's status is hardly the only unknown.
Kenyon Martin and Chris Andersen are both coming off offseason surgeries. Billups is going into the last year of his contract, and he would like an extension. J.R. Smith and Martin, also in their last years, may not be in the franchise's future plans.
If the Nuggets appear to be a franchise teetering on the brink, it's because they are. All the momentum built up during the Melo-Karl era could evaporate into a rebuilding job just like that.
"Uncertainty exists on every team in the NBA," said Karl, who left the team to undergo treatments in February. "The one thing that drives me crazy is everybody makes these changes in the summertime and everyone thinks they get better in the summertime."
Karl believes that improvement and growth occur during the season, as a team learns to deal with adversity. He's done it, and so have the Nuggets.
"We've overcome injuries in the past," Karl added. "We've won without Melo without in the past. We've won without Nene in the past. We've won without Kenyon in the past. We kind of have a history to handle uncertainty. Do you want uncertainty? No, you don't want uncertainty. That's part of the game, and we're ready for the challenge."
Just having Karl on the bench again is huge. He's about 40 pounds thinner and his voices gets weak after about four minutes of use, but otherwise the coaching lifer is full of life again.
"It's fun to be back," Karl said.
The Nuggets sputtered late in the season under interim coach Adrian Dantley and were ousted in the first round by division rival Utah. Billups, for one, doesn't consider that a step back.
"We've got a chance -- if we have everybody that's in that locker room today -- to be an elite team again," he said not so subtly. "I look forward to that. Having George back, thank goodness for that. Having him back, having him enthusiastic about what we can do, having him charged back up, I think is going to make a big difference for our team, as well.
"I'm not like most people. I don't look at all [the uncertainty]. I look at the good things that are going on and the chance that we have as a team to do something special. That's what I'm excited about."
The Nuggets have made the playoffs all seven years Anthony has been with the team. Last season was the sixth time they've been knocked out in the opening round. For all the grief LeBron James has taken for his postseason shortcomings, Melo has to feel that frustration.
So if this is his last year in Denver, why not do what LeBron couldn't in Cleveland.
"The goal is to win a championship," Anthony said. "Two years ago, we were in the Western Conference finals. Last year, we can blame it on George's health. We can blame it on [Dantley] wasn't ready. We can blame it on guys hurt. We lost. We got knocked out first round. We're back this year to try to defend that."
Karl joked that he might give Lakers coach Phil Jackson a call for some advice on dealing with a disgruntled superstar. It wasn't that long ago that Kobe Bryant wanted out of Los Angeles. Now, they're working on a threepeat.
"We're too good of a team to think negatively about this year," Karl said. "I think we've got to change some things. We've got to learn some things better. My job is X's and O's on the court. There's a lot, a lot of good, a lot of positive and, as Melo said, getting back to that place where we were two years ago is not unrealistic."
Even if other things are.
MELO, MELO, MELO
His status isn't easy on anyone, but Carmelo Anthony is an elite player. If he's focused and on the roster, expect another postseason.
NEEDING SOME FRONTLINE DEPTH
Injuries to Kenyon Martin and Chris Andersen leave Nuggets thin up down low. Newcomer Al Harrington needs to step up alongside Nene, especially early.
CONTRACT GUYS ALL STRAIGHT
Forget Melo, it's a contract year for Martin and J.R. Smith. Chauncey Billups is facing a team option. Avoiding distractions is key for each.
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LAST YEAR: 53-29, 1st in Northwest
FINISH: Lost in first round of playoffs
2009-10 TEAM LEADERS
|Complete 2009-10 Stats|
KENYON MARTIN, FORWARD
11.5 PPG, 9.4 RPG, 1.24 SPG
Injuries over the years have robbed K-Mart of his once superior athleticism, but he remains as competitive and feisty as they come.
CARMELO ANTHONY, FORWARD
28.2 PPG 6.6 RPG, 3.2 APG
No one questions his talent. May be the most unstoppable offensive force in the league on the low block. There's just all that other stuff.
NENE -, CENTER
13.8 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 1.00 BPG
Hardworking backbone of the defense has steadily improved his offensive efficiency. Played a career-high 33.6 minutes last season and led all centers in steals (1.4).
CHAUNCEY BILLUPS, GUARD
19.5 PPG, 5.6 APG, 3.1 RPG
The spiritual leader of the team isn't intimidated by any situation. Still among the most respected and effective playmakers around at 34 years old.
ARRON AFFLALO, GUARD
8.8 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 1.7 APG
While considered by many to be ceremonial starter, he did average more than 27 minutes per game last season. Rugged defender who understands his role.
|J.R. Smith||6-6||198||Guard||Liable to explode on the court or off. Few possess his shooting range and ability.|
|Chris Andersen||6-10||228||Forward/Center||Birdman lights a fire like few can with his hustle and crowd-inciting antics.|
|Al Harrington||6-9||250||Forward||Averaged nearly 18 points off the bench last season in New York.|
ADDED: Al Harrington, Shelden Williams, Anthony Carter
LOST: Johan Petro, Joey Graham, Malik Allen, Coby Karl, Brian Butch
JOSH KROENKE, OWNER
The 30-year-old owner is taking control from his father Stan Kroenke, who recently added the St. Louis Rams to the family empire. The younger Kroenke is navigating through this Melo-drama with new GM Masai Ujiri and team advisor Bret Bearup. What Josh Kroenke and his crew decide to do with Carmelo Anthony will impact the franchise for years.
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