NEW YORK – Nuggets star Carmelo Anthony said Sunday that he has made it a priority to sign that three-year, $65 million extension that has been dangling in front of him since last spring – and avoid becoming an unrestricted free agent this summer.
He just doesn’t want to sign it in Denver.
Anthony made his feeling pretty clear, in a roundabout way, shortly after he was serenaded by fans of the New York Knicks, who are becoming more confident about landing him before the trade deadline in February.
The feeling was mutual. He wants to play there.
The Knicks won their eighth consecutive game by beating the Nuggets, 129-125, but not before getting an up-close look of what Anthony could do for them with his 31-point, 13-rebound performance.
“Whatever decision I make, that (the extension) is going to be the first thing that gets done,” Anthony said after the game. He wants the extension tied directly or indirectly into the trade.
Although the Nuggets have the option to trade or not trade him, Anthony has become the one with the leverage he needs to dictate which trading partner will be acceptable. Anyone trading for him now, or even Denver if it keeps him, is unlikely to risk losing him in free agency and get nothing in return this summer.
When asked directly what would happen if he is traded to a team he doesn’t like, he didn’t hesitate.
“I don’t think that’s going to happen,” he said confidently. “But I don’t want to talk about that.”
The Nuggets have been entertaining offers from around the league — some serious but some not — but Anthony has made clear his preference would be a return to New York, where he grew up as a Knicks fan.
The extension has become his top priority because he risks losing millions if he doesn’t sign it before the current collective bargaining agreement expires after the season.
The next CBA is expected to be considerably less lucrative for the players and contracts will not be as good. The degree of the proposed reduction for the players is expected to lead to a lockout this summer that could carry into next season’s schedule.
Knowing how much Anthony will lose if he doesn’t sign the agreement also could work in the Nuggets favor if they call his bluff.
Nuggets general manager Masai Ujiri sat courtside to watch Anthony warm up before the game, but he offered nothing concrete about plans for his star. Various league sources confirm that the pace of talks about possible trades has intensified lately, but Ujiri remains hopeful that he still can avoid moving him.
“It’s encouraging the things we’ve heard (from him). We’ve always had an open line of communication,” Ujiri said. “We’ve always had a good relationship, but I think it’s better now than it’s ever been.”
Trade possibilities widen beginning Dec. 15, the first day that anyone who signed a new free agent contract last summer could be moved.
Anthony, meanwhile, was cheered by Knicks fans during pregame introductions. Although there were no strong chants in his honor, he heard plenty of encouragement leading up to the game.
The Nuggets arrived in New York immediately after playing in Toronto Friday night.
“People were yelling out of windows, saying things like, ‘We need you in New York.’ That talk makes you feel good, that people out there want you. We were the away team on the court, so it felt cool that they still cheered me. I wasn’t expecting that today. As far as looking into the stands (during the game), I wasn’t paying attention to that. I was tuned into trying to win a game.”
Anthony said he was happy that the Knicks were playing considerably better than in their recent past. He and Knicks star Amar’e Stoudemire remain close friends.
“Their whole team is playing well right now. They’ve really got it together, and that’s good to see,” Anthony said. “But I don’t want to talk about any of that future stuff now.”