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NEW ORLEANS — After Kevin Love went under the knife for arthroscopic knee surgery that will keep him on the shelf for six weeks, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver had to tap a replacement to take the Cleveland Cavaliers forward’s spot on the Eastern Conference roster for the 2017 NBA All-Star Game. The commish leaned on the coaches’ vote and chose Carmelo Anthony, a nine-time All-Star who had made his peace with missing the midseason exhibition for the first time in seven years, saying he “would love to take this break” from all that he’s with dealing with as he makes his way through another and lost and chaotic season with the New York Knicks.
After working through a grueling East practice on Saturday morning that featured Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens running his players through shooting games and calling for nothing but dunks and 3-pointers, Anthony was asked how it felt to get the call from the league office last Wednesday, informing him that his presence was requested in New Orleans. ‘Melo sounded … um, less than thrilled.
“Honestly, it was more like a downer, because I had to cancel my trip and there’s no refund,” Anthony said during the Eastern All-Stars’ media session at the Mercedes Benz Superdome. “So I can’t get my refund back.”
Anthony had planned to visit Cuba and Puerto Rico with his family. Instead, he reported to New Orleans on Saturday morning and promptly found himself back in the gym, back in front of the media, fielding questions about the sordid state of affairs at Madison Square Garden, because the All-Star break isn’t really a break for players in rough situations. Especially when it screws up your vacation plans and leaves you out a few bucks. (And, given the destinations, likely more than “a few.”)
Anthony did crack a smile, though, according to NBA.com’s Shaun Powell, and elected to look on the bright side: “[Being an All-Star] is a good thing. I don’t want to make it seem like I’m not happy about it.”
“I think, after a while, it was just — once I talked to the family, everybody kind of understood and told me to make sure I come down here and enjoy the moment,” he said. “I think once you go through so many years, you still have to find the joy of coming down here and participating. I think over the past couple of days, I’ve done that.”
While Anthony’s been rediscovering the joy of taking part in All-Star Weekend, some of his peers, both past and present, have been vocal in defending him from the slings and arrows he’s faced in his ongoing battle of wills with Knicks team president Phil Jackson over the question of waiving his no-trade clause to kickstart a rebuild in New York around sophomore big man Kristaps Porzingis.
“The way [Anthony’s] been treated pisses me off,” said Golden State Warriors forward and Western Conference All-Star Draymond Green, according to Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News, marking the second time in the past week he’s lambasted the Knicks over what he sees as mistreatment of a player. “So that’s why I pay attention to it. So I don’t pay attention to it, like, ‘Where is ‘Melo going?’ Whatever is going to happen is going to happen and it really don’t matter. But like I said, I pay attention to it because of our relationship.
“I can’t say that I hope he gets out of New York, I just hope his situation there gets better or he ends up in the best situation possible. … The way he represents the NBA brand, it’s incredible. So I just want to see him happy. And if that’s in New York, then I’d love to see him in New York. If that’s elsewhere, then I’d love to see him elsewhere.”
Well, not any “elsewhere.”
“If he’s with the Clippers, then I want to destroy him,” Green quipped.
Former NBA star Tracy McGrady, who on Saturday was announced as one of 14 finalists for the 2017 induction class of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, also offered his support for Anthony. From Marc Berman of the New York Post:
“Melo’s very unique,’’ McGrady said at the New Orleans Arena. “All that s–t going on with Melo and Phil, and Phil has the arrogance to sit in the stands at these games. And [if] I’m playing great basketball — I’m looking at him every trip down the court to do something, gazing at him: ‘See the s–t I’m doing out here?’ Some players can play through that. Some players can’t. Melo is showing his mental toughness. Because playing in the Garden is not an easy place to play.”
McGrady continued, according to Bondy:
“I’m not going to let you disrespect [me] in the public’s eye like that,” McGrady said. “You’re not going to be sending subliminal messages about me like that and I don’t respond to that. I don’t operate like that. I’m just not going to do it. And then you hide and don’t do any media? You leave everything for me to talk about? Nah, that’s not cool. You haven’t done media since September and here we are in February. I got to sit there in front of the media and answer all these questions about what you said. Nah. I don’t work like that. But kudos to Melo. I just don’t operate like that.”
While stopping short of lobbing any criticisms himself, Anthony expressed appreciation for the backing of his fellow players.
“Honestly, for me, it’s good to see the support from my peers despite everything I have been having to deal with,” Anthony said Saturday. “When you have your peers who understand it — they’re the ones who are actually going through similar situations and can relate to those types of situations, because they’re in it. So to have my peers speak up and talk about that, it means a lot to me.”
This probably wasn’t how Anthony envisioned the 2016-17 season unfolding. And, from the sound of it, it certainly isn’t how he expected his All-Star Weekend to play out. But the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry. When they do, there are worse places to try to figure out your next move than the Big Easy.
“I think, once you get here, being around the guys and all the festivities, you start having fun and start realizing what a big deal it is to be a part of it,” Anthony said, before addressing the prospect of potentially donning a new uniform after the Feb. 23 trade deadline: “I don’t know. It’s kind of hard at this point. I’ll have some time after the break to worry about that.
“Only a few days left. I got to get through today. I just got here.”
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