Nuggets hope to keep ‘Melo off market in 2011
AP Sports Writer
DENVER (AP) – The NBA’s much-anticipated free agency period tipped off Thursday and the Denver Nuggets had one eye on a year from now when All-Star Carmelo Anthony would be the headliner.
Not if they can help it.
The Nuggets have a three-year, $65 million offer on the table to extend ‘Melo’s contract through 2015. He’s due to make about $17 million next season, after which he can opt out and become courted and coveted like this year’s superstar class that includes LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
“We’re doing everything we can to make ‘Melo the basketball version of John Elway, who plays with one team his entire career and becomes The Guy,” Nuggets executive Mark Warkentien told The Associated Press during a brief break from business calls.
If ‘Melo decides to wait and test the free agent waters a year from now and rejects the Nuggets’ offer, the team will have to consider dealing the face of their franchise sometime before the February trade deadline.
Trading an elite player in the prime of his career such as Anthony could set the organization back several seasons, but losing him for nothing a year from now when he would be the class of the 2011 free agent market would be equally devastating.
Anthony said at the NBA finals last month that while the team has its nucleus in place, he wouldn’t mind seeing the Nuggets add a couple of pieces following their first-round exit from the playoffs a year after reaching the Western Conference finals.
That doesn’t necessarily mean he’s waiting to see if the Nuggets can give him assurances that help is on the way. The Nuggets have long shown him they’re willing to spend money and make moves to give him a strong supporting cast. They added Chauncey Billups two seasons ago and before that, Allen Iverson.
What they really pine for is another low-post presence, a need they failed to address last month when they couldn’t find a trade partner to jump back into the draft.
“The need for us to add a big man is obvious,” Warkentien said.
Kenyon Martin, who missed five weeks down the stretch as the Nuggets fell from 42-21 to first-round fodder in the playoffs, recently had yet another knee surgery and might not be back on the court for training camp. Same with Chris “Birdman” Andersen, whose leg injuries dogged him all last season. Nene also is coming off a leg injury in the playoffs.
Although he was terrific until getting hurt last season, Martin’s expiring contract could be dangled as trade bait. But his $17 million-plus salary for next season and his latest knee surgery certainly complicates matters.
While the marquee names were drawing intense interest in free agency, the Nuggets were among many teams trying to grab the lower-hanging fruit that might very well be the final pieces to their puzzles.
“We’re like everybody else. We’ve got phones in our ears all day and half the night,” Warkentien said. “We’re looking at free agents, trades, sign-and-trades. You don’t know if something’s going to happen or not.”
And all the while they’re awaiting word from Anthony on whether next year’s free agent class will lack his star power.