Anthony, Wizards just weren't in the cards

Carmelo Anthony, still with the Denver Nuggets, said,
Carmelo Anthony, still with the Denver Nuggets, said, "I'm still going to go out and give it my all, and I would like that in return." (Jonathan Newton)
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Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Summer of LeBron has made way for the Season of Carmelo, as the Denver Nuggets superstar has dominated the headlines for the past five months with speculation about whether he will be traded to the New Jersey Nets, if the New York Knicks are willing to wait for him to enter free agency, or if he will just sign a three-year, $65 million extension to stay.

The Nuggets have too much talent on their roster to let the rumors surrounding Carmelo Anthony keep them from winning games, and while the uncertainty has certainly affected his play at different times this season, it seems like the all-star forward is enjoying the drama. It's his turn to get courted, to get showered with affection and to have teams make pitches to acquire his services.

The reaction to his clumsily veiled trade demand hasn't been completely positive, as a once-faithful fan base in Denver has reacted to his wandering eye with anger and/or apathy. Anthony has been noticeably fatigued and conflicted through the experience, but if you don't think Anthony is reveling in the solo spotlight, even if slightly, then you haven't been paying attention to the sly grin as he answers questions about his situation. He couldn't hold back the smile as he coyly deflected inquiries about how he has omitted the Washington Wizards - the team closest to his hometown of Baltimore - from his list of four desired locations to continue his professional career.

"I never really heard about the Wizards being interested in me. That's real talk. I never heard that," Anthony said with a smile, even though he knows full well the Wizards were one of many teams around the league that contacted the Nuggets when he appeared reluctant to sign an extension with the team last summer.

"I never really thought about it, honestly, the Wizards," he said.

A person close to Anthony said recently that the 26-year-old forward didn't want to play for the Wizards because the team is "too close" to home. That has been confirmed by several people who have spoken to Anthony. The recent failures of the Wizards and rebuilding plans could also be a deterrent, but for whatever reason, he never saw himself playing for the franchise that's closest to his backyard.

Anthony revealed to the Denver Post's Benjamin Hochman on Tuesday the list of places where he would sign an extension, and that includes New York, Chicago, Denver and yes, New Jersey - despite Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov's decision to back out of their highly publicized pursuit of the three-time all-star. The Nets have supposedly been "close" to acquiring Anthony twice in potential blockbuster deals that collapsed as Anthony wavered in his desire to sign an extension with them.

The Nuggets (26-18) will conclude their five-game Eastern Conference trip on Monday in New Jersey, but he said the game should not disrupt him or his teammates.

"Going into Jersey, I don't think that will be a distraction," Anthony said. "They took the deal off the table, I'm pretty sure guys around here can just focus on playing basketball and not really worry about that."

The Nuggets have won six of their past eight games, and Anthony has regained his scoring touch, averaging 29.3 points in his past four games. He's averaging 23.8 points, which is more than four points fewer than last season, and his 43.7 percent field goal percentage is the lowest since his second year in the league.

When asked if the speculation or the boos at Denver's Pepsi Center has affected his play, Anthony said, "Hell no." But he knows that his situation has clouded the entire season, with the Nuggets capable of being one of the elite teams in the Western Conference if Anthony sticks around. "It took for me one day to get everybody together and let them know, despite everything that's going on, I'm still here. I'm still going to go out and give it my all, and I would like that in return," Anthony said. "As a result, we've been playing great basketball."

Anthony was asked about Wizards No. 1 overall pick John Wall, who has been asked to be the face of the franchise after spending just one year in college. "I can relate. I went through it," Anthony said. "When I was drafted, I went to a city or franchise that only won 17 games in the previous year. I'm pretty sure it's a big burden on him, being the face of the franchise his rookie year, but he's got a long way to go. He's getting better and better each game that I see. The team is young and the sky is the limit for him."

After speaking with reporters following Tuesday's game against the Wizards, Anthony met with his mother, Mary, who was waiting for him in the tunnel outside the locker room. He gave her a hug and walked out with her and a few of his friends.

"It's always good to come back home and play," Anthony said. "Playing in front of my family and friends, people I don't see as often out there on the West Coast, but coming back here, I can hear it. My family, my friends, they are excited to see me. I'm excited to see them."

The game on Tuesday was emotional since it was the first time he played near his home since his sister, Michelle, died last month at age 38, leaving behind four children. "This is a game she would be at, yelling from wherever she's sitting," he said. "It feels good to know that she's here in spirit and she's watching."

leem@washpost.com


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