Injury-riddled Nuggets holding steady on court
All anyone wants to talk about is where Carmelo Anthony may land next.
All that chatter, though, has obscured and overshadowed the steady play of the team he's currently on.
By piecing different parts together, the Denver Nuggets have weathered a wave of injuries and are off to a start that even coach George Karl says is ahead of where he imagined the team might be at this point.
For once, news about the Nuggets on Tuesday morning had little to do with Anthony and the swirling rumors.
Instead, it centered on the fact the Nuggets may have big men Chris Andersen and Kenyon Martin back in the lineup Wednesday night in San Antonio, along with point guard Chauncey Billups, who's missed the last three games with a torn ligament in his right wrist.
A rare reprieve from all things Anthony.
But it wouldn't last.
The Nuggets simply can't escape the reports and rumors that have been surfacing since their All-Star spurned the team's three-year, $65 million extension over the summer.
Every day there seems to be a new twist to the 'Melo drama, a new development, a new trade proposal in the works. But that comes with the territory when a star is reportedly on the market.
By Tuesday night, speculation arose that a few teams in contention have shown some interest in possibly acquiring Anthony as well, according to the Denver Post. No specific teams were mentioned. The interested squad would pick Anthony up knowing that signing him to a long-term deal might be a long shot since his preferred location is the New York Knicks.
Ignore the speculation, focus on hoops - that's been the mantra the Nuggets have adopted.
And it's working out pretty well, too.
''We're not worried about it,'' forward Al Harrington said with a shrug after practice Tuesday. ''We're just going to be underdogs right now, keep playing, stay under the radar. Hopefully come April, we'll be clicking on all cylinders.''
The team has rolled out to a 16-10 start despite Martin missing every game as he recovers from surgery on his left knee, and Andersen sitting out the last eight contests after being diagnosed with a fractured bone in his lower back.
Billups, the team's floor leader, also has been banged up, but may put his ailing wrist to the test against the league-leading Spurs.
''Feeling good,'' Billups said. ''Everything's cool. Looking forward to getting back out there.''
Anthony has been hampered by injuries as well, sitting out the last two days of practice with a strained right elbow. This after missing two games earlier in the month with right knee tendinitis.
The thought of a roster nearing full strength brought a grin to Karl's face. With his big men out, Karl has been patching together a lineup, using Nene and Shelden Williams mostly at center. He's also gotten solid minutes out of rookie forward Gary Forbes.
''I think some of the things that we have struggled with will go away pretty quickly when we get healthy,'' Karl said. ''We have room to grow, room to get better and room to get healthier. All those things excite coaches because all those things say you're going to get better.''
That plan could hit a snag if Anthony is dealt.
Many believe Anthony might end up with the Knicks, a team he prefers, or New Jersey Nets, a squad that had a potential mega-deal in the works in September before it fell apart.
Yahoo! Sports recently reported that New Jersey has been trying to assemble the pieces for another multi-team trade proposal, one that would entice Anthony to sign his contract extension with the Nets.
The Nuggets have until the February trade deadline to deal Anthony or risk losing him through free agency next summer, when he would be the headliner of the 2011 class.
Karl wishes half the attention given to rumors was paid to his team.
''I don't think you guys are respecting how well we're playing,'' Karl said. ''We've had 10 games where three of our top seven players from last year aren't playing and still have a damn good record.''
Martin figures to be a little rusty from an offensive standpoint when he returns, but should still provide a defensive spark. He averaged 11.5 points and 9.4 rebounds for the Nuggets last season.
''He's working his way into a good place,'' said Karl, whose squad lost at home to the Spurs last week, 113-112, when Anthony's winning shot at the buzzer was negated by an offensive foul. ''It's going to take some time for him to get his confidence and his touch back and his feel for the game back. But veteran players have a way of doing that really fast.
''We've got to respect his progress and keep working in a good direction.''
As for the persistent trade rumors involving his teammate, Billups hardly pays attention - his focus trained on wins.
''You can always have a few more wins,'' Billups said. ''Considering what we've been through with all the guys that have been out, and everything that's going on, with all that being said, we're in a good spot.''
Harrington couldn't agree more.
''At full strength and full health, we're one of the top four teams in the West,'' Harrington said.
Is that with or without Melo?
''With Melo,'' Harrington quickly added.