DENVER – Not long after George Karl made his triumphant return with a resounding victory over the Utah Jazz, the Denver Nuggets coach had an important announcement for the assembled media. Despite Carmelo Anthony's(notes) well-chronicled efforts to push for a trade, Karl said, the Nuggets are ''going to keep him here whether he knows it or not.''
Anthony later laughed off his coach's attempt at humor because that's all it was – a joke. For all the goodwill inspired by the Nuggets' season-opening rout of their Northwest Division rival, Anthony told Yahoo! Sports Wednesday night that he still doesn't intend to sign the team's three-year, $64 million contract extension.
Anthony actually considers these Nuggets more talented than the team he helped take to the 2009 Western Conference finals. But even that doesn't seem enough to convince him to stay, despite the best intentions of Karl, Nuggets president Josh Kroenke and new vice president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri.
''They want to sit down and talk, but my thing is it's way beyond this year,'' Anthony told Yahoo! Sports after scoring a team-high 23 points in the Nuggets' victory. ''It ain't got nothing to do with the new GM, Josh, the players. For me, I feel it's a time for change.
''If I do nothing now, I'm never going to do anything. I feel like my time is now to make a decision if I want to leave or if I want to stay.''
League sources still expect the Nuggets to try to trade Anthony rather than risk losing him for nothing when he can opt out of his contract at the end of the season. Denver's options could improve after Dec. 15 when free agents who signed in the offseason can be traded. Sources close to Anthony say he is worried about being dealt to a team that has to gut its roster to acquire him. Possible trade partners also aren't going to want to give up much for Anthony unless they receive some kind of assurance he'll sign an extension. Another potential roadblock is the $1 million trade kicker Anthony has in his contract.
In July 2006, Anthony signed a five-year, $80 million contract extension that included an opt-out before the final season. He passed on taking a shorter deal like the ones that allowed his fellow draft class members LeBron James(notes), Dwyane Wade(notes) and Chris Bosh(notes) to become free agents this summer. At the time, Anthony called it a ''no-brainer'' to take the guarantee of another year of salary – even though it limited his flexibility – because he still remembered how much his family struggled for money when he was growing up.
Four years later, Anthony no longer feels the pressure to take the maximum extension the Nuggets are offering.
''I can't go out there playing and thinking like that,'' he said. ''I won't be able to be as effective as I can be out there thinking like that.''
Anthony has been interested in playing for the New York Knicks or Chicago Bulls, sources close to him said in September. The Bulls and Nuggets talked that month, league sources said, but the Nuggets didn't have much interest in acquiring forward Luol Deng(notes) and his hefty contract, and the Bulls didn't want to part with center Joakim Noah(notes). League sources also continue to say the Knicks don't have the right pieces to put together a credible offer for Anthony.
The New Jersey Nets made a bid to land Anthony with a package built around rookie forward Derrick Favors(notes), but the Nuggets wanted to continue exploring their options. The Nuggets remain confident they can resume talks with the Nets at any time. One source close to Anthony, however, doesn't think he has warmed much to the idea of playing for the Nets.
''Well, we have to see what happens,'' Anthony said. ''I'm keeping my options open.''
Anthony didn't have to endure any substantial heckling from Nuggets fans during the season opener. He heard ''a couple boos'' when he missed two straight shots, but nothing that bothered him. When he wasn't in the game, Anthony cheered for his teammates from the bench. With the Nuggets well on their way to routing the Jazz, he went to the sideline for good midway through the fourth quarter and received a strong ovation from the crowd.
Once the final buzzer sounded, Anthony walked to the locker room with his young son, Kiyan. Soon after, Anthony exchanged pleasantries with Ujiri.
''I looked at it like another game,'' Anthony said. ''Another night.''
The question now: How many more nights will Anthony continue to wear a Nuggets uniform?