NEW YORK – Carmelo Anthony tested his sore knee during practice Saturday on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, and then gave Nuggets fans a tantalizing bit of information.
“My mind is not made up,” Anthony said after completing his first full-speed drills after missing two games leading up to Sunday’s noon ET tipoff against the Knicks, one of his suitors via a trade or free agency – whichever comes first. “My mind is just to focus on this game [Sunday]; that’s really all I’m focused on right now. My mind is not made up. Where that’s coming from, I don’t know. But my mind is not made up.”
Three times Anthony said it, perhaps to drive home the point that he hasn’t mentally checked out on Denver. Not yet, anyway. After the interview scrum at the Reebok Sports Club broke up, he told CBSSports.com that this was the precise message he delivered to Denver management about a week ago. With 2 1-2 months to go before the Feb. 24 trade deadline, Anthony said he told Nuggets GM Masai Ujiri and executive Josh Kroenke that he hasn’t ruled out signing a three-year, $65 million extension offer that has been on the table since the spring.
“I met with them last week and I told them I’d think about it,” Melo said. “Which is more than I’ve said. We’ll see. We’ve been having a lot of great conversations.”
Indecision and inertia have defined the Melo saga since his representatives at Creative Artists Agency informed Nuggets officials in September that he was seeking a trade or would strongly consider opting out of his $18.5 million contract for the 2011-12 season and become a free agent. The Nuggets, in front-office turmoil at the time, decided not to move forward with a four-team trade that would’ve sent Anthony to the Nets – who are moving to Anthony’s birthplace, Brooklyn, in a year-and-a-half.
Though Anthony has maintained frequent dialogue with Ujiri and Kroenke in the weeks and months since then, direct public comments from him on his intentions have been rare.
How this latest clue should be interpreted depends largely on the perspective or agendas of the teams and executives involved. By telling Ujiri and Kroenke that he’d “think about it,” was he trying to express a softening of his desire to orchestrate a trade to the Nets or Knicks, his two preferred destinations? Or is the fact that he's still thinking about staying in Denver for $65 million -- presumably far more than he'd get as a free agent under a new collective bargaining agreement -- only bolster the belief that he's as good as gone?
CBSSports.com reported Wednesday that Nuggets management has all but decided to trade Anthony for the best possible package of young assets if he does not signal his intentions to sign the extension before the Feb. 24 trade deadline. Privately, Nuggets officials still hold out hope they can keep the three-time All-Star, and believe the team’s strong start and the way they’ve explained their plan to him represent a show of good faith on their part to move forward with him as the centerpiece of a contender.
But sources also told CBSSports.com in recent days that the Nuggets will not fall into the so-called Cleveland trap. The Cavs sacrificed plenty to surround LeBron James with players they believed could help him win a championship, only to watch James head to Miami as a free agent anyway. According to people familiar with his strategy, Ujiri is determined not to sacrifice the future by acquiring such players – aging, expensive pieces like Antawn Jamison, for example – in what might end up being a futile effort to keep Anthony.
At the same time, the Nuggets believe they need clarity from Anthony before the trade deadline so they know how and when to proceed with their plan. Anthony, however, told CBSSports.com Saturday that he doesn’t believe he needs to sign the extension before Feb. 24.
“I don’t think so,” he said.
One way or another, Anthony said Saturday he believes the situation will be resolved by Feb. 24, though he was cryptic in his explanation of how it will go down.
“I think it’ll be decided one way or the other,” Anthony said. “… We’ll have an agreement one way or another.”
The basketball eyes of New York are on the Knicks, who have turned their season around with 11 wins in 12 games heading into Sunday’s matinee with Melo. Anthony, a native New Yorker, agreed that it’s good for the game when the Knicks are good and even took some credit for a pep talk he had with Amar’e Stoudemire when the Knicks – struggling badly at the time – played in Denver last month.
“Obviously what I said to him in Denver has really crept in on him, has really sunk in," Anthony said. "He’s doing everything I told him to do."
“To get them boys on track, to do what he’s got to do,” Anthony said. “At that time, they had lost a lot of games in a row and were on a little losing streak. So I just told him to get everybody together and lead that team.”
The wild card in the equation is whether Anthony would agree to an extension with New Jersey as part of a trade to the Nets. Sources say the best trade proposal Denver has received remains the offer from New Jersey centered around No. 3 overall pick Derrick Favors and two first-round picks. Anthony provided no clues on that front Saturday, and he counted himself among those who are curious as to whether the Nets can rise to prominence in the same city with the Knicks when they move to Brooklyn in time for the 2012-13 season.
“We shall see,” Anthony said. “Man, I think that’s what a lot of people are waiting for, for that team to move to Brooklyn and see how it’s going to turn out -- if it’s going to be a Lakers-Clippers type of situation or what. I think a lot of people are anticipating that move.”
And Anthony himself? What does he think?
“I don’t know,” he said. “I’m one of the guys that are waiting to see how that’s going to turn out.”
Spoken like a much-sought-after superstar who remains undecided on a lot of issues that will determine his future.