Nuggets' travels lead ’Melo back home

Carmelo Anthony initially canceled a planned meeting with the Nets for Jan. 18

WASHINGTON – Between the showers and his locker, that ache washed over Carmelo Anthony(notes). These are the moments it hits him, when he thinks about how his sister will be waiting outside the locker room for him only to be snapped back to that cold, cruel truth that everything’s changed. Just a month ago ’Melo had gone back East to bury Michelle Anthony in Baltimore, and this was one of those nights where the loss leveled him.

“I thought about it after the game,” ’Melo said. He glanced across the locker room, toward the corridor, where his mother and brothers and sisters waited for him at the Verizon Center. “This is the game where she would be, yelling from wherever she would be sitting,” he said. Anthony let himself smile now because he says he still feels her presence, still feels her when he’s so close to home.

The boos chase him everywhere now, out of Denver and across an NBA treating him with something of scorn. He travels across America, taking his turn in the dunk tank of trade demands. As the exodus of small and mid-market players migrate to the metropolises, the process is untidy, unseemly and unwieldy.

“He’s gotten beat up pretty good,” Denver’s Chauncey Billups(notes) said.

What’s made this worse for Anthony is that he rejected the chance to be part of the free-agent class of 2010. He could’ve signed with the New York Knicks, played with Amar’e Stoudemire(notes) on a full ride. After the summer’s fatigue, he’s had to fly this season solo. The New Orleans HornetsChris Paul(notes), Utah Jazz’s Deron Williams(notes) and Orlando Magic’s Dwight Howard(notes) are waiting on deck for 2012 – and perhaps to force trades in 2011. When it comes to absorbing the public’s blows in forcing their way to super teams in big markets, there exists some safety in numbers.

“I never thought it would get like this, honestly,” Anthony sighed on Tuesday night. “I don’t want to say it’s tough, but…”

He loves the attention, but hates the hissing. ’Melo worked so hard to repair his image, reshape and repackage himself, and those close to him will tell you that’s been the most difficult part of this ongoing campaign to get himself traded to a preferred destination prior to free agency. Anthony is a sentimental, caring guy. He wants to be liked. He’s polite with people, engaging. He has his bouts with immaturity, but never much nastiness.

Here in D.C., less than an hour from Baltimore, they still cheer him. They still wear his jersey in the stands. They still consider him something of their own, especially when the Wizards are so woeful. He’s wanted to come East, but Washington’s state of disrepair makes it the wrong place, the wrong time for him.

“I never really heard the Wizards being interested in me,” Anthony said with a sly smile.

That’s his way of saying: Come court me. Of course, the Wizards and Anthony make no sense. Anthony told the Denver Post’s Ben Hochman earlier on Tuesday that there are still four teams with which he’d consider signing an extension: Denver, Chicago, New York and New Jersey. Once the Nets insisted they were done bidding on him, the Nuggets lost their leverage and rebooted the process. One of Anthony’s agents, William Wesley, is still working the Bulls, sources said, and New York president Donnie Walsh wisely continues to show restraint in talks with Denver.

And as one NBA executive close to the Denver and New Jersey front offices insisted on Tuesday: “I’ve seen better acting in soap operas than [Mikhail] Prokhorov’s performance. The Nets will be back in this thing, but they’ll be back in on their terms – not Denver’s.”

Maybe so, but the Nets won’t have leverage until the Nuggets’ front office re-engages them. The Nuggets started a five-game road trip East that’ll include a stop in Newark on Monday. “If anything, there’s no distractions there,” Anthony said. “They took the deal off the table.”

Only, Anthony had pulled something from the Nets first: a meeting to discuss signing a contract extension once a trade was agreed upon between Denver and New Jersey. Before the Nets could finalize the meeting with him for Jan. 18, ’Melo became so miffed over the story seeping out into the public that he called it off.

And so started a series of deliberations in New Jersey that led to Prokhorov calling an end to the acrimonious trade talks. Anthony's bailing on the Nets didn’t sit well with the Russian billionaire, who still had been debating his own involvement in a sales pitch, sources said. Nevertheless, Anthony cooled down, changed his mind and delivered word back to New Jersey last Tuesday that he wanted to discuss a possible extension with team officials.

Yet, Prokhorov met with Nets general manager Billy King, sought his counsel and they kept coming back to the same thing: Denver wanted to dump more salary on the Nets and was pushing to take more young players and picks. The Nets were livid that Denver tried to throw Renaldo Balkman(notes) into the deal, too. What’s more, ’Melo’s wildly up-and-down vibe on New Jersey conspired to make the Nets’ plan of action clearer for Prokhorov: They would cancel the meeting for Thursday, end the talks and perhaps revisit discussions closer to the Feb. 24 deadline.

Anthony "wanted to be courted,” said a league source connected with Denver and New Jersey in the talks. “He wanted to have the ring kissed. That’s just ’Melo. He loves this process. In the end, he wanted to meet with Prokhorov, but he had kind of showed him up and that was it.”

Anthony wants the Knicks, but he still wants his three-year, $65 million extension prior to the expected lockout. Perhaps this means the Nets aren’t out of it for good; perhaps it means they’ll re-enter to make New York pay a steeper price. No one pursued Anthony with the fervor of the beleaguered Nets. They’re on their way to Brooklyn, his birthplace, and that homecoming always appealed to him.

Away from Denver now, away from the boos, Carmelo Anthony had come back East to start five games over seven days. He’ll get jeered in most places because that’s how it goes in the public eye now: They see divas muscling themselves out of cities, and no one roots for that – unless the diva’s coming to your town.

Anthony hates the boos, but he does adore that the discussion is all about him. The Class of 2010 had its long dance, and the stars of 2012 are approaching free agency fast, too. Anthony marches into the harsh light now, harsh judgment, and that’s why this night in Washington meant so much to him. Familiar faces, familiar voices, familiar cheers. There was one voice missing here, and ’Melo would think about his sister Michelle in the visiting locker room.

“I know she’s watching,” Anthony said. “I know she’s here.”

For all the talk about where he’s going in February, he stopped to remember where he had gone in December: back home to Baltimore to bury his big sister. ’Melo missed her voice in stands, her hug in the hallway. Wherever Carmelo Anthony goes, that forever comes with him.