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Nuggets Enter Last-Ditch Stretch in Attempt to Keep Carmelo Anthony

Jan 8, 2011 – 8:42 PM
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Chris Tomasson

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DENVER -- When the Denver Nuggets broke practice Saturday, there was one month, 16 days and 15 minutes left before the trade deadline. We're being precise because every minute counts in what the Nuggets decide to do with star forward Carmelo Anthony by Feb. 24.

The Nuggets (20-15) have 23 games left before they likely have to make a call on Anthony, who has not signed a three-year, $64.47 million contract extension and can become a free agent next summer. Like a last-chance-for-gas sign in the desert, some on the Nuggets regard this stretch as a final opportunity to convince Anthony to want to remain with the team.

"Of course, that's the goal,'' Nuggets forward Al Harrington said when asked if he sees it that way. "We've just got to play better and start winning games (after two straight embarrassing losses to the Clippers and Sacramento). ... I hope so (that winning could convince Anthony to stay). Until he's gone, he's ours.''

Nuggets coach George Karl was asked if he considers this a last-ditch chance to keep Anthony.

"We got to win games,'' Karl said. "The more we win, the more chance we have in figuring it out.''

A source told FanHouse on Dec. 20 the injury-riddled Nuggets wanted to give Anthony the chance to play with a full cast before making a final determination on whether he would be traded. Three weeks later, though, Anthony has played with his full team for just 1 ½ quarters.

Anthony missed five games starting Dec. 22 due to the death of his sister and Harrington sat out the first two games in which Anthony returned with a thumb injury. After the full cast was back for the start of a game against the Clippers last Wednesday, guard Ty Lawson was lost for the night in the second quarter with a sprained knee.

The Nuggets suffered an ugly 106-93 loss that night. The next night was even more embarrassing when, with Lawson back but with forward Kenyon Martin resting a sore knee, Denver lost 122-102 at Sacramento.

Now, Karl says Martin, who returned from offseason knee surgery Dec. 22, and center Chris Andersen, who returned from offseason knee surgery Nov. 22 and later missed time due to a back injury, probably won't play Sunday at home against New Orleans because of reoccurring soreness in their knees. Karl said it's not a serious situation with either player, just something that happens when players return from such surgeries.

"I don't think it's a setback,'' Karl said. "I think it's natural. There's a swellness that comes with your operated knee.''

Karl said Lawson is "hurting'' but expects him to play against the Hornets despite sitting out practice Saturday. But even during times when the Nuggets have all their players back, Karl wouldn't characterize that as a full cast.

"I just don't think we're close (to a full cast). Kenyon and (Andersen) are on minute limitations,'' Karl said of Martin, who has yet to play more than 22 minutes in any game since his return and Andersen, who has yet to log more than 30. "Kenyon, when he comes back, he's frustrated with the minute limitations. I don't think he's frustrated with me. I just think he's just frustrated. He wants to play more. He wants to play and get more rhythm. The minute limitation stops him. We might play him more (earlier) in the game rather than wait and save five or six minutes for later in the game.''

While all of this is going on, the Nuggets are running out of time to try to convince Anthony to stay. It's been a long shot from the start, and it's getting even longer.

The Bergen (N.J.) Record reported Friday there have been discussions about a possible three-team deal, also involving Detroit, in which Anthony and Denver point guard Chauncey Billups would go to New Jersey and the Nuggets would get Derrick Favors, Devin Harris and at least two first-round picks from the Nets.

"To me, the Internet is crazy,'' Karl said about trade rumors. "What's said in the Internet is like a lounge full of gossip. It's like a barbershop. What's true? What isn't true? You don't know what's true and what isn't true in the barbershop.''

Any deals talked about that have Anthony going to New Jersey could be moot if he doesn't change his mind. FanHouse reported Feb. 20 that Anthony doesn't want to sign an extension with the Nets.

Anthony, who declined an interview request Saturday, prefers to go to New York. However, the Knicks don't have the trade assets that New Jersey has. Anthony could sign with the Knicks as a free agent next summer but would run the risk of a new collective bargaining agreement significantly reducing salaries.

The Nuggets have been waiting to wait to gauge Anthony's mindset as players return from injury. But the recent two games in California certainly couldn't have helped it.

"We've been struggling on the road all season,'' said Harrington, whose Nuggets are 15-3 at home and 5-12 on the road. "We've got to find a way to get better on the road. ... Those are two teams (the Clippers and Sacramento) that we're supposed to beat. No disrespect to them. But, if we want to be one of those elite teams we've talked about, we got to win those games.''

Or at least be close in them.

"We didn't compete hard enough,'' Billups said of the two losses, which came after a four-game inning streak. "We didn't take it serious enough defensively.''

Karl, though, insists it's not time to panic.

"I think you have at least three or four mini-crises every year,'' Karl said. "I'm disappointed in how we reacted in Sacramento, how we played (after the Clippers' loss). But we weren't that far away from being a good basketball team... We got four big games this week. We've had kind of kick-in-the-butt losses, and we got to get back on the right track.''

Time is running out for the Nuggets to do that if they are to make any type of late rescue to keep Anthony in Denver.

Chris Tomasson can be reached at tomasson@fanhouse.com or on Twitter@christomasson

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