DENVER — Carmelo Anthony was hammered by J.R. Smith during a spirited 5-on-5 scrimmage at practice on Thursday. When he stepped to the line, his Denver Nuggets teammates began booing and jeering and scoffing the All-Star forward — just like the home crowd has been doing lately.
“You’re a bum, Carmelo!” Smith taunted as Anthony laughed and calmly swished all three free throws.
Anthony was booed during a postgame TV interview at the Pepsi Center Wednesday night following his 35-point performance in Denver’s 112-107 win over Oklahoma City, which came hours after the New Jersey Nets ended trade talks for the Nuggets star.
That’s not a wise move by the frustrated fans, suggested Kobe Bryant, whose Los Angeles Lakers visit the Nuggets on Friday night. He suggested that if Anthony were at all torn about leaving Denver or staying put, the catcalls might just push him over the edge and on his way.
Bryant said he’s only been booed at home once in his 15 years with the Lakers and that was in the 2007-08 opener after saying during that offseason that he wanted to be traded. He said the fans came around when they saw him playing hard.
Anthony’s been playing hard, too, but the drama has been playing out since last summer, when Anthony declined to sign a three-year, $65 million extension with the Nuggets.
Bryant played with Anthony at the 2008 Olympics and said his friend doesn’t necessarily want the bright lights of Broadway but just a shot at a title.
“It has nothing to do with a bigger market,” Bryant said. “It’s about winning. If you want to keep a player here, make the right decisions, make the right choices, personnel. Get a team around a guy that will help you win and there will be no problems. If Denver will make the right decisions, bring in the right personnel, then he’ll stick around.
“It’s not rocket science.”
What appears to be rocket science, though, is putting together a trade that will satisfy all parties, especially Anthony, who never gave the Nets nor Nuggets an indication one way or the other whether he’d sign his extension to facilitate a trade to New Jersey.
Denver native Chauncey Billups, who’s been dragged into the Anthony trade talks, said he understands why Nuggets fans are booing Anthony but sympathizes with his teammate.
“Melo’s like a little brother to me, so I hate him going through that,” he said.
Anthony, who didn’t stop to speak with reporters after practice Thursday, has said the boos don’t bother him or affect his game, suggesting he’ll always have his haters one way or the other.
The jeers in Denver are starting to drown out the cheers for the superstar who’s led the Nuggets to seven straight playoff berths but has left the extension without his signature, leading general manager Masai Ujiri and team president Josh Kroenke to seek a trading partner so they don’t lose him to free agency this summer without any getting anything in return.
Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov canceled his flight to Denver to meet face-to-face Thursday with Anthony and told the team on Wednesday to end trade talks with the Nuggets, saying he was unhappy with how it played out in public, that it took too long, got too expensive and cost his team games.
Ujiri said Wednesday night he’s in discussions with “plenty of teams” about Anthony and that he held no animosity toward the Nets for pulling the plug on a proposed trade that would have netted the Nuggets a couple of first-round picks and rookie power forward Derrick Favors.
With the Nets out of the picture, at least for now, the Knicks are expected to get back into the mix with other possibilities including the Bulls, Mavericks and Rockets.
The Nuggets might have to settle for much less from a team that sees Anthony as a “rent-a-player” for a shot at a championship before losing him as a free agent in a few months.
The Knicks haven’t had enough to offer the Nuggets, but they appear to be the one team that could lure Anthony into signing his extension to facilitate a trade.
Anthony was born in Brooklyn and has said he’d love to play in the Big Apple, so with the Nets done talking, the Knicks can expect a bigger wave of Melo chatter.
“We’ve got to make sure we stay focused and be prepared. We can’t let it affect us,” Knicks star Amare Stoudemire said. “We’ve got to make sure we still play hard every night.”
Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni was surprised to hear that Prokhorov pulled out of his pursuit of Anthony, but he said Wednesday night he didn’t think it affects his team. And he said that should some of his players’ names get bandied about, he would hope it wouldn’t distract them.
“It’s part of this business and part of what you have to deal with,” D’Antoni said. “You should take it, if your name is ever mentioned in anything, take it as a positive that you’re really good. They’re probably not mentioning guys that we cut three years ago.
“So, you deal with it, you just go on, we’ve got a good thing going here and let’s just keep it going.”
The Nuggets are telling themselves the same thing.
Despite a rash of injuries and Anthony’s situation, they reached the halfway point 24-17. Coach George Karl talks about having the most talented team he’s ever had in Denver, but that could all blow up before the Feb. 24 trade deadline if Anthony is dealt, especially if he takes Billups with him.
Billups would like to stay in Denver, his hometown, but he wasn’t exactly thrilled when the Nets pulled out, saying, “it’s not like the trade got called off because Denver said, ‘We’re out.'”
Billups said the first indication he got that the Nuggets might be trying to rebuild was when he heard his name thrown into the Anthony trade talks. He said the Nuggets don’t need to crash and burn, however.
“We can make a run when healthy,” said Billups, who guided Denver to the Western Conference finals two years ago and had them primed to challenge the Lakers for supremacy last season when Kenyon Martin went down with a knee injury and Karl was diagnosed with cancer.
“With all of these guys around, with George healthy, I do, I feel like we can make another run,” Billups said. “But it has to be distraction-free. I don’t know how you get there.”