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They granted his wish. He now regrets it.
The star of a struggling Nuggets team during the 2001-02 season, Van Exel revealed his frustrations publicly after a loss in Cleveland. He told reporters he was “sick of losing” and had already asked for a trade.
“If I could do it again, I probably would have stuck it out,” said Van Exel, now a player development coach with the Atlanta Hawks. “I was an emotional player. I was so stubborn. I didn’t back away from it.
“I was hoping for a trade, but at the same time I felt like I let a lot of people down.”
Van Exel was averaging nearly 26 points at the time he announced his trade request. The Nuggets were already hurting with forward Antonio McDyess(notes) recovering from knee surgery. What most frustrated Van Exel was that the team had traded young, talented players like Chauncey Billups(notes), Ron Mercer and Keon Clark for veterans in previous seasons.
Van Exel vowed to keep playing hard, but that didn’t stop Nuggets fans from booing him every time he touched the ball.
“It had nothing to do with the city, my teammates,” Van Exel said. “It was all about winning and losing. I just felt like saying it. Players were being shipped out. It didn’t work out like I hoped it would.
“What bothered me more is I was still in uniform, and they were booing me. I can understand their side of it, but if you are a competitor, it hurts to keep losing. I know, and the trainers know, that I played hurt and did a lot to stay on the court. I also did a lot in the community. That was the tough thing about being booed.”
The Nuggets eventually traded Van Exel, Raef LaFrentz(notes), Tariq Abdul-Wahad and Avery Johnson to the Dallas Mavericks on Feb. 21, 2002, for Juwan Howard(notes), Donnell Harvey(notes), Tim Hardaway and a first-round pick. Van Exel was at his Denver home that afternoon with teammates James Posey(notes), George McCloud and McDyess, whom Van Exel had convinced to re-sign with Denver, when he learned of the trade.
“After 3½ years there, I felt like I was leaving them,” Van Exel said. “I begged McDyess to come there. That was the most hurtful thing. The day I left, I gave them the keys to my house and to a little white truck I had.”
Anthony has never said publicly he wants a trade, in part because the NBA now fines players who make such demands public. But he also has refused to sign the three-year, $64 million extension the Nuggets have offered, and his representatives, league sources said, have made clear to team officials he wants out.
“He’s doing it the right way,” Van Exel said. “It’s tough. He wants to compete for a championship. But he sees all the guys he came into the league with making moves, and he wants to win.”