NBA Players Return, Month After Scheduled Opener

Carmelo Anthony, Marquis Daniels
New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony (7) drives to the basket as Boston Celtics guard Marquis Daniels defends in the first quarter of the season-opening NBA basketball game, at Madison Square Garden in New York on Sunday, Dec. 25, 2011. The Knicks won 106-104 as Anthony scored 37 points. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
New York Knicks' Carmelo Anthony smiles while speaking to the media after working out at their practice facility in Greenburgh, N.Y., Thursday, Dec. 1, 2011. Exactly one month after the regular season was to have opened, players finally are allowed to enter their team facilities. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony returned to work Thursday — and immediately were asked about working together.

Dallas Mavericks players took the floor without knowing if starting center Tyson Chandler would ever join them, and the Miami Heat team they beat in the NBA finals arrived to some bad injury news.

Finally, NBA players are back.

Owners opened the doors of their facilities to players for the first time since locking them out July 1. Exactly one month after the regular season was originally scheduled to begin, players could work out but their coaching staffs couldn’t be present because there isn’t a new labor deal yet.

“I’ve got to be the happiest person in the world right now just to be back in the gym, getting a chance to work out with a couple of my teammates,” Paul said in New Orleans. “I’m just happy to be back and be back on the court, as I’m sure all the players are.”

League officials hope to open training camps next Friday, and that stayed on track Thursday when more than 300 players submitted signatures authorizing the re-formation of the players’ association. That paves the way for negotiations to continue on the remaining issues, and both sides hope the deal is ratified sometime next week.

The league planned to return player content, images and videos to NBA.com and its other media by Friday morning after removing it when the lockout began. With the lengthy labor fight all but over, a sense of excitement has returned.

“Yeah, it was,” Milwaukee general manager John Hammond said. “Since it was announced that the potential deal was imminent, it occurred immediately. I think immediately, you could kind of feel that in your gut: ‘Here we go, we’re getting ready to get started again.’ I think as each step progresses, that will continue.”

In the meantime, the big news remained the focus on the headliners of the 2012 free agent class, which also includes Dwight Howard.

The agent for Deron Williams told The Record of Bergen, N.J. that his client would opt for free agency instead of a contract extension with the Nets, and Yahoo Sports reported that Paul’s agent informed the Hornets that he wanted a trade to the Knicks.

Paul and Anthony are friends who spent time together this summer and it’s long been speculated they wanted to play together, but Anthony denied trying to recruit his Olympic teammate.

“As far as me recruiting Chris Paul, no, not at all,” he said at the Knicks’ training facility. “We’re very close friends. I’m pretty sure you guys saw him in New York a lot due to the player meetings and stuff like that, but we’ve never had any conversation about him coming to New York. That’s something that I would leave up to him, him and his family. I’m staying away from that.”

The Anthony trade saga lasted from the summer of 2010 until Denver finally dealt him to the Knicks in February, and he said he doesn’t think the NBA needs a repeat of it now. Yet, he also realizes that “regardless of what I’m saying right here today, that will be the biggest topic, the biggest discussion, at the beginning of the season, the beginning of training camp.”

Paul will do his best to ignore it.

“I don’t think about it, to tell you the truth,” he said. “I’m just ready to get out here and compete and hoop. This is what I do.”

In the meantime, the status of the current free agents must be solved. Chandler is one of the biggest, and though he provided the Mavericks the interior defense they needed to finally win a title, they may not spend the money necessary to bring him back.

“You can’t see my fingers or toes, but they are crossed hoping that Tyson’s coming back,” guard Jason Terry said. “He was a big part of what we accomplished here. We’ve laid a foundation. To take a step backward would be terrible. I’m not saying that we wouldn’t have a chance to win this year if Tyson doesn’t come back, but it definitely puts things up against us.”

Chris Bosh, looking more muscular, arrived at Miami’s facility, where LeBron James and Dwyane Wade aren’t expected until next week. The Heat also were without Mike Miller, who has battled injuries since signing there last summer. He will miss about eight weeks while recovering from hernia surgery this week.

There was no guarantee Miller would return anyway, given the considerable speculation the Heat would waive him via the amnesty clause that will be in the new CBA.

“I know Mike. He’s a strong guy, he’s going to stay positive and he’s going to get back as soon as he can,” said Heat forward Udonis Haslem, who went to the University of Florida with Miller and considers him one of his very closest friends. “The key with Mike is, we’ve got to fight him not to get back too fast. He’s going to want to be out there. He’s going to want to play. He’s got to just pace himself and get healthy.”

Otherwise, the news around the league was positive. Golden State GM Larry Riley was greeted with a warm welcome from a security guard upon his arrival at Oracle Arena.

“That guy greeted me with a huge smile and just happy to be back,” Riley said. “I think that’s the opinion, that’s the feeling that we’re going to see out of a lot of people. Now he’s a happy guy anyway. But he was overly happy today.”


AP Sports Writers Jaime Aron in Dallas, Brett Martel in New Orleans, Chris Jenkins in Milwaukee, Tim Reynolds in Miami, and Antonio Gonzalez in Oakland, Calif., contributed to this report.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.

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