Anthony reports to Nuggets for first day of training camp
Sandwiched between newcomers Eric Boateng and Courtney Sims sat a familiar face.
For the first time five months, Carmelo Anthony was back in his leather captain’s chair in the Nuggets locker room.
As rumors and speculation continued to swirl around the Nuggets and their franchise player, Anthony and his teammates exchanged handshakes and swapped summer stories during the team’s media day Monday.
Few stories in the NBA over the past two months have been bigger than Anthony’s future in Denver, but the 26-year-old All-Star maintained his typical cheerful composure while answering questions and reiterated the he has never demanded a trade from the Nuggets.
“I never said I wanted to be traded. I never once said that,” he said. “I've been a Nugget for seven years. This is where I started my NBA career. This is where I am today, doing my eighth media day. Tomorrow the ball goes up, shoes are tied and we're going to get after it.
“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 and training camp.”
Anthony is entering the fourth year of a five-year contract that includes an early termination option that would allow him to become a free agent next summer. The Nuggets have offered him a three-year, $65 million contract extension that can be signed anytime before July 1, 2011.
Because Anthony has not signed the deal, trade speculation has been prevalent since August and it reached a fever pitch over the weekend with reports of a four-team deal that would send Anthony to the New Jersey Nets.
Nuggets vice president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri emphasized Monday that he wants Anthony to remain in Denver and he planned to speak more with his star player in the next few days.
“We're excited to have him here, very, very excited,” Ujiri said as Anthony stood in the background wearing his familiar No. 15 uniform. “We're going to keep talking as we go through this process. Melo is a Nugget now and we're excited about that ... I love Melo.”
Since being selected by Denver with the third overall pick of the 2003 NBA Draft, Anthony has established himself as one of the league’s elite players, averaging 24.7 points in seven seasons, including 28.2 in 2009-10.
He has won Olympic bronze (2004) and gold medals (2008) to go along with his 2003 NCAA title from Syracuse. With coach George Karl back on the bench after battling throat cancer and the same core of players that reached the 2009 Western Conference finals, the Nuggets are hoping that Anthony will be part of an NBA title push this season.
“At the end of the day, I think 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 guys being hurt. We lost. We got knocked out in the first round. We're back this year to try to defend that.”
Since Anthony’s arrival in 2003 and his sometimes-bumpy rise to stardom, the Nuggets have been a team that prides itself on redemption after being counted out and left for dead. Karl addressed his players briefly Monday, telling them that they have the potential to repeat their improbable playoff run of 2009.
“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, a lot of positive, and as Melo said, getting back to that place where we were two years ago is not unrealistic.”
Coming off back-to-back Northwest Division championships and three consecutive 50-win seasons, the Nuggets are perennial contenders in the West, and they have no plans to enter a rebuilding mode that defined the franchise for the late-1990s and early 2000s.
“We're going to try and win. That's the big picture,” Ujiri said. “Yes, there are players with (expiring) contracts. Our goal is to be a winning team. Whatever we're going to do to bring in players or decisions we're going to make, we want to keep winning. We want the Nuggets to be at the level they were two years ago.”
Anthony described his conversation with Ujiri on Monday as “great” but said he is leaving his options open.
“At the end of the season, I'll sit down with my team, sit down with the Nuggets, we'll discuss it and go from there,” he said. “It's been a long summer for me with all the speculation and rumors and the good things I have going on. I'm just excited to get back on the court.”
Asked if he would be “all-in” while still wearing a Nuggets uniform, Anthony didn’t hesitate.
“I’m here. Of course, I've got to be committed 100 percent,” he said. “I'm excited. It's going to be a good year – a great year – for me, a great year for the Nuggets, a great year for the NBA as a whole.”
As for the rest of the Nuggets on Monday, they handling media day with dignity and patience as questions focused primarily on their high-profile teammate.
“We've got a goal in mind, and that's winning a championship,” said forward Chris Andersen. “I love Melo. He's a great teammate and a great person. I don't listen to what's going on, so we can focus on basketball.”
That sentiment was echoed by team captain Chauncey Billups.
“He knows that the city loves him. I don’t have to tell him that. He knows that we love playing with him. I don’t have to tell him that,” Billups said. “I really don’t have to recruit Melo. I think it’s pretty much a decision between him and his circle and his family. I really can’t affect it in any way. Because of that, I’ve kind of taken myself out of it and worried about the team and what we can do.”
Contact Aaron J. Lopez at email@example.com