DENVER – Carmelo Anthony insists he cares more about chasing a crown than cash.
That's why the Denver Nuggets' All-Star has held off on signing the three-year, $65 million contract extension that's been on the table since last summer.
He's still weighing his options, even as trade talks intensify with the New Jersey Nets, a deal that could very well go down sometime next week — provided, of course, he signs the extension.
Anthony said Saturday before a game against Cleveland — one that could very well be his last at the Pepsi Center in a Nuggets jersey — that his motivation isn't so much about moving to a big market or making big money, but capturing a title.
He said he will only put his name to a contract extension with a team that gives him the best shot at a championship.
"I'm going into my ninth season. I have no time to waste right now," Anthony said. "I want to see the light at the end of the tunnel in my future. That light is a championship."
The most recent trade talks have Chauncey Billups and former Detroit teammate Richard Hamilton reuniting in New Jersey along with Anthony in a mega deal that includes three teams and more than a dozen players.
In exchange, the Nuggets would get rookie Derrick Favors and point guard Devin Harris, along with possibly two first-round picks.
Anthony has long maintained his dream is to play in New York. He and his wife, TV personality LaLa Vazquez, have numerous Brooklyn ties and the Nets are scheduled to move there in 2012, making that potential trade an attractive possibility.
But he thinks everyone is reading too much into his infatuation with the Big Apple. He's drawn boos from the home crowd in recent games, fans frustrated with the situation dragging on for more than five months.
"I think the boos come from just conversations, maybe barbershop talk or at work or at the sub shop getting a sandwich," Anthony said. "They see something like was on ESPN — my ultimate dream is to go back to New York — they see that and say, 'Melo wants to leave. He wants to get out of here. Melo don't like Denver. Melo hates us.' That's never the fact.
"Going to a bigger market and all that stuff is cool, but if I feel like I have a chance of winning a championship in Denver in the next five years, then I'll sign the extension. It really doesn't matter. I just want to win. At the end of the day, that's all I care about."
Anthony has said he feels remorseful that Billups has come up in the talks, knowing the Denver native wants to retire with the Nuggets. He chats with Billups all the time about bringing a title to Denver.
The Nuggets reached the Western Conference finals in 2009, only to be beaten by the Los Angeles Lakers.
Last season, Denver was knocked out in the first round by Utah, a frustrating end to a tumultuous year in which coach George Karl battled throat and neck cancer.
"That's something we always talk about, bring a championship back here. I don't just go out and play basketball just to do it. That's on my mind," said Anthony, who has led Denver to the postseason in each of his seven seasons. "That was my dream."
Was his dream?
"If I feel I can't do it here, I don't think this is the right thing to do," Anthony said. "It's just the uncertainty in the future of the organization. It's a lot of things that come into play, contracts, not knowing what's going to happen in the future."
These days, Anthony carefully selects his words, knowing that anything he says could be misinterpreted, like when he acknowledged his dream is to play in New York.
"To the average person, that's all that people see. That's all that people here," Anthony said. "If anybody told you that they didn't want to do that, they'd be lying to you. ... Chauncey's ultimate dream was to come back here and play in Denver. At the end of the day, that's anybody's (ultimate dream) who has a chance to go back home.
"This whole situation is like a puzzle."
And Anthony holds a majority of the pieces.
The discussions with the Nets are still ongoing but those involved remain hopeful a deal could be in place possibly even before the Nuggets return home Wednesday to host Oklahoma City.
But the deal may be contingent on whether Anthony signs the extension, so he doesn't leave next summer and become the headliner of the 2011 free agent class.
Anthony has yet to give any indication if he would agree to sign it and go to the Nets should a deal be completed. Yahoo! Sports recently reported that Anthony wants to be sold on the Nets before agreeing to anything.
He danced around the topic of the extension Saturday.
"At first, a lot of people were saying it's a money situation. It has nothing to do with no type of money," Anthony said. "I don't care about the money. My ultimate at the end of the day is to win and win a championship. Whether I feel like I can do that here, whether I feel like I need to go somewhere else and do it, that's my own ultimate decision.
"You have to have a decision what's best for you and best for your career. Right now, whatever decision I make is going to be the best decision for me."