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Saturday, Dec. 3, 2011

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Down to business: Atlanta Hawks forward Josh Smith works out at Phillips Arena on Thursday, the first day players could return to team facilities since the NBA lockout began on July 1. AP

NBA players get back to work as owners throw doors open


NEW YORK — NBA stars Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony returned to work on 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 on 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 on 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 on Friday 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 Bucks 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, a northern New Jersey, newspaper that his client would opt for free agency instead of a contract extension with the New Jersey Nets, and Yahoo Sports reported that Paul's agent informed the New Orleans Hornets that he wanted a trade to the New York 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.

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