All-Star miss is good shot for Anthony

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Redemption doesn't always come from where it's expected.

Being selected to next week's NBA All-Star Game would have been redemption for Carmelo Anthony, but when the list of Western Conference reserves was released last week, his name wasn't on it. Yet he might know more now about where he stands and how he's perceived by missing out than if he had made it.

And by reacting with professionalism and maturity, Anthony - the sometimes-brilliant, sometimes-embattled product of West Baltimore - has only enhanced that perception. He won't be performing in Houston next weekend, but he's looking as good as any of the players who will be.

Seventh in the NBA in scoring when the reserves were announced Thursday, with a career-best 25.8 points a game, and with his injury-scarred Nuggets team leading its division, Anthony still played down being passed over, gave credit to the most-loaded of the All-Star positions (West forward), and got back to work.

"I ain't mad or nothing. I feel marvelous, actually," he told reporters in Denver. "I don't feel left out. ... It's not the end of the world."

The next night, he picked up a career-high 10 assists, guided the Nuggets to a victory that broke Dallas' NBA season-best 13-game winning streak, then admitted that he had concentrated most on helping Kenyon Martin - currently in the middle of no less than three firestorms involving possible trades, altercations with fans and confrontations with reporters - have a big game.

He played big, he assumed leadership, he let his game (and the game) be the focus, and his team won. That hadn't always been the case in his first two NBA seasons, but it is in his third.

It served as more ammunition for the legions of writers, broadcasters and fellow players who immediately anointed him co-winner of the annual Biggest All-Star Snub award - and, after the Wizards' Gilbert Arenas was named an East injury replacement, who gave him the honor by himself. When they weren't berating the East coaches on-air for leaving off Arenas, the TNT studio crew of Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith and Reggie Miller were unloading on their West counterparts for passing over Anthony - even with at least three other solid candidates worthy of discussion.

Most of the players who made the team weren't getting as much love around the country as Anthony was getting for not joining them.

Considering where Anthony stood at last year's All-Star break - in a funk on the court and out of favor off the court because of his offseason behavior - it's as close to a complete reversal of fortune as a player can make.

And it's not as if basketball people naturally warmed up to him, or a matter of his receiving the gift of levelheadedness for his 21st birthday. First in line for credit for Anthony's perception turnaround is Anthony himself.

In the summer of 2004, nothing he was doing was pointing him toward an All-Star berth, much less widespread respect among his peers and critics. When he was relegated to the warm-up stage at the festivities - in Denver, no less - he couldn't even complain. His team was skidding, he had a new coach to impress, he was underachieving, and he couldn't watch or read anything about himself that didn't have "Olympics," "club brawl," "pot bust" or "DVD" - or all of them - in it.

In the winter of 2006, Anthony finds himself on the outside again. Yet not only has no one invoked "Stop Snitching" as a reason - and coaches have used non-basketball reasons to pass over players before, as Chris Webber can tell you - but no one has come up with much of a reason at all.

Anthony's efforts to make something good out of his former surroundings, rather than stumbling into something bad, have been well-documented. So have his efforts to raise his stature to that of his fellow 2003 draft classmates LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, as well as to make the Nuggets his team and to get in tune with his equally strong-willed coach, George Karl.

He has succeeded so well that he has climbed back into the mix for the 2008 Olympics, which would be even greater redemption than an All-Star berth. Plus, Karl was willing to go to absurd lengths to support him, saying, "The All-Star Game is overrated."

Easy for him to say. But Anthony knows his coach's heart is in the right place. He does agree with Karl that there is more out there for him, such as NBA playoff success and an Olympics return.

The reaction of the past four days should convince Anthony that he doesn't need "All-Star" next to his name to validate him and the work he's done to turn his image around.

"Everything-But-An-All-Star" is good enough. david.steele@baltsun.com

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