By Larry Fine
GREENBURGH, New York (Reuters) - Carmelo Anthony was the first New York Knick on the team's practice floor Thursday as the NBA allowed the clubs to open facilities in advance of the expected ratification of their new labor deal.
"It's a wonderful feeling, just to wake up this morning and know I could drive out here and have a place, my home, to work out at," the team's high-scoring forward told reporters.
"It was a great feeling. I was really excited this morning to walk in the gym."
The only other Knick player to show up by mid-afternoon was guard Toney Douglas, who is returning from shoulder surgery.
Anthony, who had operations on his shooting elbow and left knee after last season, pronounced himself fit and eager to work with the team he joined late last season in a mega-trade with the Denver Nuggets.
"I feel good. I'm healthy," said Anthony, who averaged 26.3 points after joining the Knicks for the last 28 games of the season. "As soon as they opened the doors, I was the first person in here today.
"I feel better this season than I've felt in a long, long time."
Thursday marked the first day that NBA players were welcomed to team facilities since the lockout began on July 1.
With the expected ratification of the handshake agreement on the 10-year labor deal reached last Saturday, the 30 clubs welcomed players ahead of next Friday's planned opening of training camps, the same day that free agents can be signed.
The 66-game schedule, 16 less than the usual total, will begin Christmas Day with a slate of games including a rematch of last year's Finals between champion Dallas Mavericks, led by Dirk Nowitzki, and the Miami Heat and their Big Three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
New York has been rumored to be interested in assembling a Big Three of their own, with New Orleans Hornets All-Star point guard Chris Paul considered a target as he becomes a free agent after this season.
Anthony did not want to discuss the possibility of joining forces with Paul, who attended Anthony's wedding last year and toasted the prospects of one day playing together.
"I'm not involved in that process," said Anthony. "As far as me recruiting Chris Paul, no, not at all.
"We're very close friends (but) that's something I'll leave to him and his family. I told him, 'Just make the best decision for you and your family.'"
Anthony said he knew he would get a chance to play alongside Paul.
"I'll play with him next summer in London," he said with an eye toward the 2012 Olympics. "That's when I'll play with him. Before that, I'm not even thinking about it."
The Knicks ended nine years of losing records by going 42-40 last season with the addition of free agent center Amar'e Stoudemire and the mid-season trade for Anthony. They were 14-14 after Anthony joined them.
Stoudemire averaged career highs of 25.3 points per game and 2.6 assists and pulled down 8.2 rebounds a game but the two did not always blend well on the court and the Knicks were swept in four games by the Boston Celtics in the first round of the playoffs.
"We talked the whole summer," Anthony said. "We know what we have to do. There's nothing major we have to change, just get used to playing with one another."
Anthony said the shortened training period and a schedule that will pack in extra games to make up for missing time would be a challenge.
"Physically, it will be tougher," he said. "We have to prepare ourselves mentally. But we're just excited about the season."
(Editing by Julian Linden)