Carmelo Anthony followed Lebron James in the 2003 NBA draft, and now he's beginning to follow LeBron's approach to free agency.
In the remarkable '03 draft, Anthony shared the stage with a slew of stars including LeBron, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. The NBA got a makeover from the ho-hum post-Michael Jordan years by adding these young stars, but with the Big Three joining forces in Miami this season, the NBA hangs in the balance of another transformation.
The league can either be built up by "super teams" like the Heat, or continue with the model of one franchise player leading a team. Chris Paul considered LeBron's approach, but now he seems content as the face of the Hornets. Kevin Durant and Derrick Rose are happy to put their respective teams on their shoulders.
Anthony falls somewhere in the middle.
He's thought out loud about playing with other stars, including Rose. But he also seems to be OK staying in Denver.
''I don't want this taken the wrong way, but who wouldn't want to play with a young point guard like Derrick Rose?'' Anthony asked reporters before Monday's game against Chicago.
''Maybe if I was a free agent, I would let my mind wander, but I can't do that right now,'' he added. ''I have to focus on being a Nugget and basketball. It wouldn't be right if I let my mind wander and think about if I was here in Chicago."
And this is hardly the first time Anthony's speculated about playing elsewhere. He turned down the Nuggets' three-year, $65 million dollar contract extension and spent the offseason in trade rumors with New York, New Jersey and Chicago as the top destinations.
Anthony's entitled to test the open market, but he's starting to tarnish his image by going about the process in a LeBron-esque manner.
Before this past summer, LeBron spent a lot of time hyping up his free agency, such as when he teased New Yorkers last November about the possibility of making Madison Square Garden his home court.
"You have to stay open-minded if you are a Knicks fan," LeBron said in a postgame news conference at the Garden.
Just two weeks earlier, LeBron vowed to stop talking about his free agency.
"This free-agent talk is getting old," James said, according to The Associated Press. "It's getting old and I think I'm going to stop. Tonight will be the last time I answer any more free-agent questions until the offseason."
Now, 'Melo looks like he's doing the same thing. He's teasing and flirting and leaving the Nuggets with their shoulders shrugged.
If he cares about his image, Anthony needs to be careful. He needs to stop the chatter and let his outstanding play draw the attention. If the Nuggets find a suitable trade while all is quiet on the media front, then Anthony can save face. But if he goes through this season like LeBron did last year, he's going to tarnish his legacy and seem like he can't win on his own.
Anthony is a supreme talent — he can score at will, and while he's not a top defender, he's not a liability. At his best, Anthony is a top-three player. Anyone who watched him in the 2008 playoffs saw what he's capable of when he has the right attitude. He won't, however, convince the public of his greatness if he tries to start a super team.
He doesn't have to stay in Denver to build a legacy. He's only 26, and great players are allowed to change teams. He just needs to maintain a positive image, and wherever he ends up, he can't get there by taking a LeBron-sized ego trip.
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