LOS ANGELES -- All-Star Weekend is intended to generate heat. Twenty-four of the best players in the world. Everyone from Rihanna to Jay-Z in the glitter swirling the court. Blake Griffin jumping over a car.
But the most fiery of all topics has been, of course, Carmelo Kiyan Anthony.
The man in the eye of this storm did nothing on the court to add to the fire. Instead of explosive, he looked exhausted during Sunday night's game, moseying through the final performance of a weekend of rumored meetings, actual meetings, photo shoots, parties, union meetings and corporate appearances.
Anthony hugged Amare Stoudemire at center court before the tip, and the two would-be teammates exchanged a few words. Then Anthony opened the game guarding the player whom, according to all indications, he'd love to play with in New York for the next decade or so.
Intrigue! Would they take it to each other? Would they show each other up? Would a story evolve? Hardly. Moments into the action, at the slightest whisper of team motion from the East, Melo switched off Stoudemire and onto ... air. Pass, drive, Stoudemire dunk. Oops.
On the East's second possession, Derrick Rose set a halfway decent pick on the bigger Anthony. It was more than enough to thwart the Nugget, who left his smallest teammate, Chris Paul, to try to control one of the highest leapers in the game. Another easy Stoudemire bucket. Another Anthony shrug.
It was that kind of night.
Anthony checked in during the second quarter, and Rose knew just what to do. He ran right at Anthony with another screen, springing Joe Johnson for a wide-open 3. Oops.
Anthony let Rose waltz to the hoop, and Rose dished to LeBron James for a layup. Anthony jogged nonchalantly one way and got in the way of his teammate Kevin Love, who was trying to hustle back on defense. Anthony jogged nonchalantly the other way as his teammate Russell Westbrook raced past him for a solo dunk.
He shoved Johnson for an obvious foul. He watched from a distance as Kevin Durant dunked. He leaked out and had the ball all alone at the rim, and -- sin of All-Star sins -- laid the ball up gently, drawing boos from a thrill-seeking crowd. Anthony fronted Stoudemire, to keep the ball from getting into the post, but the pass was lobbed easily over him, resulting in a foul on Kobe Bryant, who had come over to provide help.
A gem of lackadaisical play: Anthony approached Deron Williams as the Jazz guard looked to scare up a two-man game. Carmelo put a stop to that -- by running right into his All-Star teammate as Williams struggled to keep his dribble.
Anthony has been praised for his on-court effectiveness through most of the Melodrama. And he's not one of those who typically drifts through All-Star Games -- last year in Dallas, he managed 27 points and 10 rebounds. But with the trade deadline on Thursday, and his expressed desire for this saga to reach its conclusion, things are different this time around.
Last year, he didn't have the same hopes (a huge contract extension) and dreams (a fresh uniform) keeping him up at night.
Those can weigh on a man.
At the heart of the story is a decision. If his top priorities are income and security -- and he's a player who talks about money frequently and seems to have little appetite for walking away from a stack of it -- then the Nuggets are in the driver's seat, as they can decide which team will hold his rights between now and June 30, when the window of opportunity for a contract extension closes.
Earlier in the weekend, Anthony confessed to reporters that he had heard that entering free agency the summer the NBA cooks up a new owner-friendly collective bargaining agreement could cost him as much as, in his words, "$40 or $50 million."
If Anthony's top priority is picking his next team, presumably the Knicks, income be damned, he has that option. And in addition to the Knicks and Nuggets, Anthony listed the Bulls, Lakers and Mavericks as teams in the conversation.
He met with both the Knicks and the Nets over the weekend.
"Both of the meetings were good. They were generic meetings. They were the talkers, I was the listener. Nothing specific was said," Anthony explained. "I’ve been talking too much this whole time. Now it’s time for me to listen."
Then there's a lockout to consider. "If I was to sit here and say I'm not thinking about that," he said, "I would be lying to you guys. I don't want to go into no lockout. I don't think none of the players want to go into a lockout.
After the game, Anthony confessed to feeling tapped. "Just from answering all these questions, answering the same questions, I’m drained from that," he said.
In addition to choosing a team, and getting the right contract, a third priority looms for Anthony, who had hoped to have everything resolved this weekend: closure.
"It can be stressful for me," he said. "This whole situation I’ve been dealing with it since last summer. Right now it’s coming down to the wee hours of the trade deadline. Me personally, I just want some direction."