- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 23, 2003

DENVER — Denver Nuggets general manager Kiki Vandeweghe and coach Jeff Bzdelik wanted an answer to the same question.

“Was he happy?”

Whether Carmelo Anthony is happy is of utmost importance in Denver these days, and recently the No.3 pick in last summer’s NBA Draft was in a funk.

However, the answer to the Denver braintrust’s question was yes — Anthony is happy.

In the three games before Anthony led Denver to a 108-87 rout of the Washington Wizards on Friday, Anthony made just 11 of 46 field goals (24 percent) and didn’t resemble the player whom the Nuggets hope will finally resurrect the moribund franchise.

It got so bad for the 19-year-old prodigy, who left Syracuse following his freshman year after leading the Orangemen to their first national championship, that Bzdelik called Anthony to a meeting in his office at Pepsi Center on an off day Thursday.

“We talked about a lot of things,” Bzdelik said. “I wanted to make sure that he wasn’t carrying any additional pressure. You know, Carmelo has a lot to shoulder.”

Whatever else was discussed in that meeting, Anthony and the coach choose to keep it to themselves. But on Friday night against the Wizards, it looked as if Bzdelik’s message hit home. Anthony played a complete game, scoring 23 points on 10-for-18 shooting, handing out seven assists and grabbing four rebounds.

He wasn’t too shabby defensively either. The native of Baltimore took Washington’s own impressive rookie, Jarvis Hayes, completely out of the game. Hayes played just 13 minutes, picked up four fouls and was held scoreless for the first time in his career.

The victory improved Denver’s record to 7-5 going into last night’s game at Dallas and gave the Nuggets their best start since 8-4 in 1991-92.

For the most part, Anthony has been as good as advertised, leading the Nuggets in scoring (17.3) and getting just under seven rebounds a game. And he has played better defensively than anyone expected.

Anthony is the focal point of an organization that seemingly has been in rebuilding mode for the last 15 years. No one wants to say it too loudly, but Anthony, who doesn’t turn 20 until May, is being asked to carry the franchise, which won’t be easy.

Denver has missed the playoffs for eight consecutive seasons. During that time, the Nuggets’ highest win total was 40 games in 2001-2002. Bzdelik, who is in the second year of a two-year contract, is the team’s seventh coach since 1997.

Despite many high draft picks, the Nuggets have been unable to help themselves by adding new talent. At the start of this season, Anthony and last year’s top pick and fifth overall, Nikoloz Tskitishvili, were the only players on the roster drafted by the Nuggets.

For that reason, Vandeweghe and Bzdelik refuse to ask a teenager to carry the team by himself.

“There is no need to carry a franchise, and that is something I wanted to get across to him,” Bzdelik said. “I think we need to get away from that. We have some good players on this team. If you feel that you need to carry them, you try to do too much. Just let it happen.”

However, it always comes back to Anthony and what he might one day become.

He already has heard his name connected with that of LeBron James, selected No.1 by Cleveland and the most hyped rookie in the history of the league.

After selecting James, Cleveland changed its road uniform color to a burnt orange — a ploy by many teams to market merchandise. Denver did the same thing — no doubt for the same reason — and now wears powder blue road uniforms trimmed in yellow, which is referred to locally as “‘Melo yellow.”

Some have suggested James and Anthony might inject the same type of passion Larry Bird and Magic Johnson did when they entered the league in 1979.

“We won’t know that for years, but I don’t like to compare anybody to those guys, because they are legends of the game, two of the greatest players that have ever played the game,” Vandeweghe said. “Let me just say that I’m happy with Carmelo Anthony. I believe that LeBron James is going to be a great player. But I’ve got real high expectations of what our guy is going to become, too.”

Anthony knows the Nuggets and the league expect big things from him. And he doesn’t think they’re asking for too much.

“Nobody should expect more of you than you expect of yourself,” Anthony said. “I don’t think there could ever be more pressure to succeed than the pressure I placed on myself. That’s what was wrong with me in those games where I was stinking it up. I was putting too much pressure on myself. All I have to do is play my game and everything else will take care of itself. Everything.”

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