This week may provide some resolution to the question that has been hanging over the NBA since the season started: What next for Carmelo Anthony.
The gifted scorer - the most lethal bucket-getter in the league, for my money - in the last year of his contract and facing the possibility of an NBA lockout and a more restrictive wage environment, wants to sign a $65-million contract extension now, before the current collective bargaining agreement goes up in smoke.
The problem is who to sign the contract with?
He's enjoyed great success in Denver - seven straight playoff appearances, a western conference finals showing, three straight 50-win seasons - but has worked for three different management teams and an owner that has consistently signaled that cost-savings is part of the plan (the Nuggets trading Marcus Camby to Los Angeles Clippers befoe the 2009-10 season, comes to mind) which makes it hard to add to an already expensive, veteran team
And can he get his way without going all LeBron or Bosh? That is, piss off the people who have paid his rent for his entire career?
Incredibly, the class of 2003 is heading into their ninth NBA season. Peers and Team USA teammates Bosh, LeBron and Dwayne Wade seem to have figured out a promising NBA middle-age for themselves; and now Anthony wants the same thing.
He requested a trade before the season started, and stated his preference to play for the New York Knicks. In the meantime Denver has been working hard to maximize value for their franchise player and it's the New Jersey Nets - eventually the Brooklyn Nets - that can put together the best trade package for Denver (and the biggest - with as many as 14 players potentially involved, an NBA record if it happens).
Meanwhile reports are that Anthony the player is in the middle of a tug-of-war between several powerful and potentially conflicting interests.
And all this is going on while Anthony still has to go to work.
What's amanzing, from afar, is that Anthony has been able to walk this tight rope without really alienating anyone.
He heard it from the crowd the Pepsi Center recently when he played poorly in a loss to New Orleans - the first time this season he's been a target at home, despite months of trade speculation - but turned that around with a hustling, 28 points and 10 rebound effort in a win over the Suns the next chance.
For his part Anthony appears to have learned from the missteps of his peers.
Unlike Bosh, he appears to have been upfront with his current team, or as Anthony put it: "I'm not Chris Bosh." And he says he watched what happened with LeBron and won't be going there, either, telling Sports Illustrated's Ian Thomsen: "I would never go about it the way LeBron did it...If he could do it all over again, he wouldn't do it that way -- he would do it a totally different way, I can guarantee you that,"
Could it be that fans - fickle as they can be - realize they have no reason to boo their franchise player, even if he's not long for the job any more?
Chris Bosh will get roasted when he returns to Toronto on Feb. 16th; he dissipated much if not all of the good will he built up in his seven years here when he began surveying fans via Twitter; and burned the rest of it when he complained about his cable.
Vince Carter? His quit job to force his trade to New Jersey will never be forgiven and has been a lasting stain on his career.
LeBron? There may be a few otherwise reasonable people who think he owed it to Cleveland to spend his entire career there, but not that many. But surely there is no one who thinks The Decision - torching his home state via his own television special - was the right way to go about leaving. He needs security when he returns to Cleveland now.
Anthony was drafted to play in Denver and signed a contract extension with them the first time he had the chance. He's continued to play well for the Nuggets since it became clear he wasn't going to sign another deal with them.
He needs to be proactive to secure the best opportunity for himself and what's left of what are all too short a career; after all, it's not like NBA commissioner David Stern is looking out for Anthony's interests when he makes noises about cutting $800-million from the NBA wage bill.
People understand that; even if they don't like it. Anthony has to do what he has to do.
In the meantime, play hard; play well; don't pretend nothing is going on, but don't rub it in everyone's faces either.
Do all those things and chances are you'll get the contract you want in the city you prefer, and you won't have to use a police escort to return to your old place of work.
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