Carmelo Anthony describes his in-limbo situation as “complicated,” but at least one aspect is simple: He learned a lesson about how not to leave his team from LeBron James.
“I would never go about it the way LeBron did it,” the Denver Nuggets’ three-time All-Star forward told Sports Illustrated Senior Writer Ian Thomsen in an exclusive interview for a story in the Jan. 24 issue of the magazine, which will be available on newsstands Wednesday.
“If he could do it all over again, he wouldn’t do it that way – he would do it a totally different way, I can guarantee you that,” added Anthony, who said he talks to James and fellow NBA stars Chris Paul, Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade regularly.
While James announced his free-agent decision to leave Cleveland for Miami in a widely panned, national-television special last summer, Anthony is seeking a more amicable split with the Nuggets. Anthony, who plans to opt out of his contract and become a free agent after the season, said he expects to be dealt before the Feb. 24 trade deadline and that it’s his “goal” to sign a three-year, $65 million extension in advance of the anticipated July lockout.
In the SI interview, Anthony expressed surprise that some Nuggets fans have turned on him as speculation about whether he would be traded to the New York Knicks (his first choice), the New Jersey Nets (who have persisted in their dogged pursuit even as he’s declined to say whether he’d commit long term to them) or another team has dragged on for months.
“People throw away that whole seven-and-half years, and that’s what makes me laugh,” said Anthony, who was drafted by the Nuggets in 2003 and has led them to the playoffs every season, including a trip to the 2009 Western Conference finals. “Because I’m like, me? Out of all the people, you’re booing me? Out of all the people.”
SI reported that as recently as last spring Anthony seemed likely to sign a contract extension with Denver but that by August he had asked to be traded to the Knicks or Chicago Bulls. The trade request, issued during a meeting with Nuggets president Josh Kroenke in Baltimore, came shortly after Anthony’s July wedding to LaLa Vasquez in New York. At the reception, according to SI, before Paul made his infamous toast about one day joining Carmelo and Amar’e Stoudemire in New York to form a Big Three to rival the Heat’s, LeBron addressed attendees and drew laughs when he said to Anthony, “If you want any chance against us in Miami, you’d better team up with Stoud in New York.”
Such a move – which Anthony had hoped to make before training camp – hasn’t come close to happening, and the Nuggets insist that at week’s end neither had any other trade that would bring them their preference for prospects, draft picks and payroll relief. Amid the uncertainty about Anthony, and with several other key personnel decisions looming, the Nuggets approach the midway point of the season at 23-17, seventh best in the West.
Anthony is shooting only 43.3 percent from the field, a six-year low, but he’s averaging a team-leading 23.1 points and a career-high 8.1 rebounds for coach George Karl, who choked up when speaking to SI about Carmelo’s potential departure.
“If it happens, I will be sad,” Karl said. “I will be sad for longer than probably any other trade I’ve ever made. And I don’t know why I’m sad.”
Karl, in his 23rd season as an NBA coach, said his relationship with Anthony has “progressed” after the two clashed to the point that, in 2006, Carmelo declined to be photographed next to him for an SI story. Karl cited his recent bout with throat and neck cancer, which kept him away from the team late last season, as a “bridge” in the coach-player dynamic.
“When I came in [to visit the team] maybe a half-dozen times,” Karl said, “‘Melo went out of his way to make sure he connected with me, and that’s the first time he’s ever done that. ‘Melo doesn’t do that very much: He’s more of a loner.”