LOS ANGELES – Carmelo Anthony(notes) knows he'll likely be wearing a Denver Nuggets uniform to start the season. He's accepted that fact, and he's vowed to stay professional and play hard – even though the entire NBA knows he and his representatives have sought a trade. But will he still be smiling come January if the Nuggets haven't found him a new home?
"Anything can happen," Anthony said Thursday morning. "As of right now, I'm here."
In other words: Who knows?
Anthony continues to say only that he intends to keep his options open. He won't even publicly acknowledge he wants a trade because doing so would bring a fine from the NBA. Still, he also has yet to publicly commit to staying in Denver, and he's certainly in no rush to sign the three-year, $64 million contract extension the Nuggets have offered. Back in June, Anthony told Yahoo! Sports he was concerned about the franchise's future, and it's clear that hasn't changed.
If Anthony opts out of his contract this summer, he'll join Nuggets forward Kenyon Martin(notes) and guards Arron Afflalo(notes) and J.R. Smith(notes) as free agents. Chauncey Billups(notes) also could hit the market if the Nuggets pay the $3.7 million buyout in his contract. Even center Nene isn't a lock to come back if the Nuggets decide not to pick up his $11.6 million option. Coach George Karl, who missed the end of last season while recovering from throat cancer, is in the last year of his contract – though one league source said the team has expressed interest in keeping him if he's healthy enough for the grind. The Nuggets also lost two assistant coaches – Tim Grgurich and Jamahl Mosley – who were close to Anthony. And the team's ownership didn't renew the contracts of front-office executives Mark Warkentien and Rex Chapman during the summer.
Suffice to say, the Nuggets hardly look like the picture of stability.
"I have my reasons why I am keeping my options open," Anthony said. "…People that really know basketball, know the sport and know the business of basketball, understand and know why I'd be keeping my options open."
League sources have told Yahoo! Sports that Anthony would prefer a trade to the New York Knicks or Chicago Bulls, but the Knicks have yet to put together an attractive-enough offer and the Bulls refused to trade center Joakim Noah(notes), who they recently signed to a five-year, $60 million contract extension. The New Jersey Nets had substantive talks about acquiring Anthony in a four-team deal that would have brought rookie Derrick Favors(notes) to Denver, but the Nuggets were reluctant to complete the deal.
League sources said the Nuggets could eventually revive the Favors talks, but, for now, they prefer to shop for a better offer. Team officials aren't close on a deal and will likely wait until after Dec. 15 when their options could expand because free agents signed this summer will be eligible to be traded.
Anthony knows there also is a chance the Nuggets could keep him for the duration of the season, which is why he has remained patient. He routinely discusses his situation with friends in the league, including Kobe Bryant(notes), LeBron James(notes), Dwyane Wade(notes) and Chris Paul(notes).
"I understand the business of basketball," Anthony said. "I'm not easy to do something with. I understand that. As far as trade talks, I'll let them deal with that behind closed doors."
Anthony said he has a solid relationship with the Nuggets' new vice president of basketball operations, Masai Ujiri, who has continued to keep him updated about any developments. Ujiri also speaks weekly with Anthony's agent, Leon Rose.
"Masai has been doing a great job of communicating whatever is going on out there," Anthony said. "He's been letting me know what's going on, and he's been going about it the right way. There is an open line and communication. That's a key."
Anthony was booed briefly at an event in suburban Denver, but he also was greeted warmly by Nuggets fans during the team's first preseason game at Pepsi Center.
"I get the same thing: 'We want you here.' 'We love you.' 'You are Denver.' 'You are the face of the city,' " Anthony said. "Every now and then you get a couple people that say, 'Leave,' and 'Get outta here.' But deep down inside they really want you to stay."
Karl has praised Anthony's professionalism, saying the All-Star forward has had the best training camp of his career.
"It's hard for me to act up when I get in the gym," Anthony said. "Once I'm on the court, I'm on the court whether it's in a game or it's practice. I don't really think about too much off-the-court stuff when I'm actually on the court. That's the easy part for me."
The question is whether on not that will last. Not even Anthony disputes the Nuggets' talent. Their problem has been staying healthy. Chris Andersen(notes) and Martin are sidelined, and new forward Al Harrington(notes) just went down with a foot injury. If the team starts slowly, Anthony likely won't be pleased.
But if the Nuggets come together? If they make a run in the West?
Even then, Anthony doesn't sound ready to commit to staying.
"If I'm here after the season, then after the season we can talk again," he said. "…I'd deal with it when that time comes."