BALTIMORE - Carmelo Anthony made his plans very clear Thursday. He will opt out of his contract after the season and become a free agent -- and he doesn't want to leave New York.
"Absolutely,'' Anthony said. "This is something that when that time comes during the offseason I will definitely explore. Does that mean I'm not coming back to New York? Not at all. But it's definitely an opportunity I'm willing to explore and experience . . . but that not whatsoever means that I'm not coming back to New York or I don't want to be here in New York.
"At the end of the day, I don't want to go anywhere, I don't plan on going anywhere. But when that time comes, I'll deal with that situation.''
Although the Knicks can offer Anthony roughly $34 million more than any other team, his feelings could change after the season. He said he wants to "experience'' free agency and being recruited. If the Knicks don't meet their high expectations or a high-profile friend gets in his ear, it's plausible he could be persuaded to leave.
The Lakers will have money, and Kobe Bryant is a good friend of Anthony's. Also, Anthony wants to be in a big market, and his wife, actress LaLa Vasquez, often works in Los Angeles.
The Lakers could pursue another Anthony pal, LeBron James, if he opts out in Miami. But Anthony acknowledged that speculation about him and the Lakers makes sense.
"What other team would they say?'' Anthony said. "I don't think they would say any other team. If you look at situations, that's the only team that they probably would say.''
Anthony, who grew up in Baltimore, received a loud ovation in his homecoming Thursday night and scored 22 points in 29 minutes in the Knicks' 98-89 preseason win over the Wizards at 1st Mariner Arena.
He had said he wouldn't talk about his contract once training camp started, but a New York Observer story that ran Tuesday night quoted him as saying, "I want to be a free agent.''
Anthony said he made those remarks Sept. 11 and that some comments may have been misconstrued. He never has been a free agent, having signed extensions with the Nuggets and Knicks. "Guys would like to have that situation and just see what it's about,'' he said. "It doesn't mean that just because somebody wants to be that that they're going to leave. Me leaving would never came across in my mind.''
The Knicks can start negotiating with him in February on an extension in which he could get two years and about $50 million total tacked on to the $23.3 million he's owed next season. But he can make the most money by opting out.
Anthony can get a maximum five-year deal worth roughly $129 million from the Knicks. The most another team can pay him is four years and about $96 million.
Coach Mike Woodson said he's not concerned about Anthony's future being a distraction for him or the team, but he wants Anthony to focus on this season.
"If he's going to test it, he's got to test it,'' Woodson said of free agency. "That's on him. But at this point he's got to worry about this season and this season only because that's what's staring him in the face.''
Woodson said he expects Anthony to remain a Knick. "I don't see him leaving,'' he said. "That's just my thought.''
Notes & quotes: Iman Shumpert sprained his right elbow and Pablo Prigioni sprained his left elbow. Neither returned, but both think they'll be OK . . . Rookies Tim Hardaway Jr. and Toure' Murry each had 14 points . . . Metta World Peace didn't make the trip after spraining his right ankle in practice Wednesday. Woodson called the injury "minor.''
The Dolan family owns controlling interests in the Knicks, Madison Square Garden and Cablevision. Cablevision owns Newsday.