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Spotlight shines brightest on Howard as Orlando hosts All-Star

ORLANDO, Fla. -- For Carmelo Anthony, it was an out of body experience. The media crush, the endless questions, the annual fun of All-Star weekend disappearing with every query about where he would wind up.

That was Dwight Howard's experience on Friday, when his hosting duties began in earnest for what might be the most awkward party ever thrown by the NBA. And when the Eastern Conference All-Stars arrived to discuss Howard's future and perhaps the game itself, it became clear someone within the league office was tickling their funny bone with the seating arrangement for media availability.

Anthony, who was looking to leave Denver for New York at this time last year, had a front-row seat to the world he's glad he's no longer at the center of. He was stationed to the right of Howard, with a media throng approximately one-quarter the size surrounding him. Reporters boxed each other out as if they were battling on the boards, their outstretched arms gripping voice recorders like Howard does rebounds and Anthony laughing all the while.

"I'm glad it's not me anymore," said the Knicks forward said with an unsympathetic smile as he reminisced about last year's All-Star weekend in Los Angeles. "It was a whirlwind. At that point, I still didn't know what was really going to happen.

"I still had to walk around, I still had to participate in everything. Everywhere I went, the questions were there at every event, every appearance I went to -- from practice, to games, and even during the game. Nobody really even cared about the game. They just wanted to know what was going to happen, where I was going to end up."

It's been nearly 20 years since Orlando hosted the All-Star festivities, but constant reminders that the city's franchise player was likely headed out of town undeniably affected the mood. Again. Howard, the second-generation Superman who cured the ails left by Shaquille O'Neal's free-agent exodus in 1996 and played such an integral part in the building of the shiny new Amway Center, is widely assumed to be on the precipice of his departure.

Howard's trade demand still stands, as does the waffling that has maddened Magic officials to no end and continued on Friday. In the afternoon, he was asked whether reports that there was a "zero-percent chance" of him staying in Orlando were true, and he responded with, "If it's not about All-Star weekend, I don't want to talk about it." Meanwhile, a USA Today report was published a day before in which Howard -- who was interviewed by the newspaper the previous week -- was quoted as saying the notion of him staying was "a big possibility."

But the means to any potential deal remain unknown. Howard has requested a trade to the Lakers, Nets or Mavericks, each of whom come with their own set of significant complications. And since the trade deadline was pushed back to March 15 because of the lockout-shortened schedule, a resolution won't be coming anytime soon.

In lieu of real answers, Howard's first appearance on Friday became a game of "Six Degrees of Dwight." Anthony wasn't just the Knicks scorer, but the Knicks scorer who had been here and done this before. Deron Williams wasn't just the Nets point guard, but the Nets point guard who is hoping to join forces with Howard either after a trade or this summer via free agency. And Andrew Bynum wasn't just the Lakers center, but the Lakers center who would be headed here if a deal for Howard ever went down. But despite the latter two facing some uncertainty about their futures, neither was burdened by the situation like Howard.

"What trade stuff? I'm not getting traded," Williams said. "I haven't heard any trade rumors about me."

Bynum, the first-time All-Star who would fill the void left by Howard better than anyone in today's NBA, said he's hardly focused on his place in the news cycle either.

"It doesn't matter to me; I don't read the headlines," the 24-year-old said. "There's a bank in every city, and I'm going to play hard basketball wherever I go, so I'm good.

"I really don't care about it, man. You've just got to play basketball, just have fun. A lot of people lose that [and say] it's a business and this and that. You're playing a game, and it's something you've been doing since you were a kid. If you just get back to that and just play, nothing matters. Just have fun and you do well."

Anthony was having all the fun at Howard's expense. Before the big man's session with the media began, Anthony yelled "It's your turn now" with a chuckle before slowing to reflect on the similarities of their situations.

"I really don't know where his mind is at right now in terms of staying or wanting to leave," Anthony said. "But you just really have to take your focus up another level and go out there and play and perform at a high level.

"The only time I wasn't able to enjoy anything was at night. I'd just go home and just sit down and be flicking through the channels. Everybody was talking about it. Everybody had an opinion about where I should go, what I should do. So I kind of turned the TV off."

As Anthony later acknowledged, even he never faced this sort of scrutiny because his last All-Star Game as a member of the Nuggets took place more than a 1,000 miles from his home arena.

"It'd probably have been [twice as bad]," Anthony said of the attention. "I'm excited about [not being Howard's position]. I'm thrilled. See, look at him. He doesn't even look happy, does he? I'm glad I don't have to go through that."

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