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Up Front

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Take note: There are dudes in the NBA you absolutely love. The ones with a game and a magnetic smile to match, rivaled by an affable personality and genuine decency -- like Carmelo Anthony. Then there are those stuck on Stupid, players who always manage to get in their own way before getting on your nerves -- like Carmelo Anthony.

Go ahead and try to figure out what to make of this, but don't bother me. I've tried. Dr. Phil hasn't returned my calls. I didn't want Oprah to start crying again. And, if I'm being honest, I'm too damn scared of Elisabeth Hasselbeck to call The View. I'm not quite at the level Chris Rock reached when he said, "I'm done with Michael [Jackson]!" adding that MJ must have raided Cap'n Crunch's closet before he stepped into the courtroom. But jokes aside, here's the bottom line: Carmelo is starting to annoy me.

Look, when your coach tells you to come out of a game, you do it. Period! Go ahead and whine and moan, but do it. That's better than incurring the coach's wrath, getting yourself suspended for a game and reminding everyone of every transgression you've ever committed. Like a marijuana charge, even though one of your boys eventually fessed up. Like the "Stop Snitching" video. Like refusing to play the final six minutes of a game. Like the infamous brawl at Madison Square Garden that led to a 15-game suspension. Yup, all that.

"Man, everybody's tripping, including my coach," Melo said when I spoke with him the day after he served his suspension. "I think this was totally unfair, and I told Coach Karl that. All I did was tell him, 'Let me stay in the game,' like most marquee players tell coaches. I didn't make a scene. I wasn't disrespectful to him."

That's fine, but Coach didn't ask "if" you wanted to come out; he said "to" come out.

"Now, something petty like this brings attention to everything I've done in my past," Anthony added. "Nobody's going to notice that I've changed the company I keep. That I've turned my life around. That I'm having my most productive year because I'm making all the necessary sacrifices for the sake of the team. All that's down the drain because of something petty like this. It ain't fair."

True! But that's life.

When will these guys learn? Yo, Melo! You want to know what your real problem is? You're being measured against your two best friends in the league, LeBron and D-Wade, two fellas from your 2003 draft class. The same dudes you refused to listen to when they told you not to sign that five-year, $80 million extension with Denver. They wanted you available for the 2010 free agent class right along with them.

Wade has an NBA championship ring and a Finals MVP trophy. LeBron has been to a Finals and is rolling toward his first MVP award. Through five seasons, Melo has yet to make it past the first round, and he's constantly attached to controversy.

"At the end of the day, decisions are all made by people," says marketing guru John Tatum, CEO of Genesco Sports Enterprises. "People make decisions to do business or associate themselves with people who are positive. And with today's economy, there's less tolerance for shenanigans. The way you carry and conduct yourself is your brand."

Get the message, Melo?

"Hopefully he will, because he's been making tremendous progress," Karl told me the day he suspended Anthony. "He's a big-time talent, but here's the difference between him and LeBron and Wade: There's so much intensity in the game that when the wrong intensity or the frustration of basketball kicks into high gear, Melo looks to score. LeBron and Wade take what the game gives them. Maybe that's the way they are in life, too. But Melo's getting there."

All that's left to say on that is, "We hope so."

Here's the advice teammate Chauncey Billups says he gives Melo: "You're already a star. The goal is to be a superstar. Doing that takes more than we normally give." A handle. A consistent jump shot. A clean-cut image. Ears big enough to let you hear the obvious, yet small enough to not make you feel that you have to punk somebody. That's what Carmelo needs if he hopes to elevate himself into the upper echelon of the league. "I feel like I'm already there," Melo says. Then he gets quiet and sighs, as if he realizes in that instant that the list of things he's known for is longer than the list of things he'd like to be known for.