A disarming smile and skill with a basketball have always helped Carmelo Anthony smooth out the rough spots in his life. Not this summer.
With a bad experience at the Olympics and a scuffle at a bar, the game and character of the 20-year-old forward were called into question and that smile all but disappeared.
After a season in which the Denver Nuggets followed Anthony into the playoffs for the first time in nearly a decade, building on that success will hinge in large part on how their budding star reacts to a difficult offseason.
"Can't nobody have a great career without adversity," Anthony said. "Everybody has adversity. But it was good that I went through it at the beginning of my career instead of the middle."
Adversity is something Anthony hasn't seen much of on the basketball court.
He was a Parade all-American as a high school senior at Oak Hill Academy in Virginia and played in the McDonald's All-Star game. Anthony went on to lead Syracuse to a national championship as a freshman in 2003, then was selected by the Nuggets with the third overall pick.
He entered the league with plenty of hype and lived up to it, joining Cleveland's LeBron James to give the NBA arguably its best rookie duo since Larry Bird and Magic Johnson in 1979.
Anthony's charismatic smile seemed to be everywhere, from promoting the league to selling video games. He was a star on the court, leading the Nuggets to the playoffs for the first time since 1995 and packing fans into the Pepsi Center. He led all rookies in scoring in 2003-04 but finished second to James in Rookie of the Year voting.
Filled with confidence, Anthony looked forward to representing his country in the Olympics. It didn't turn out the way he had hoped.
Anthony started things off by saying he wasn't interested in the Olympics if he was just going to sit on the bench. He later said he would accept an invitation regardless of playing time.
Then he guaranteed the United States would win gold in Athens -- a brash prediction that was far from golden.
The Americans ended up with bronze and Anthony didn't have much of a part in getting it. He was called "selfish" by U.S. Coach Larry Brown and spent most of the tournament watching his teammates struggle and holed up in his room.
Anthony didn't handle the situation well, complaining about playing time through the media and pouting on the bench during the games -- a contrast to his normally easygoing "Melo" nature.
"The fact that he had an experience to play for a Hall of Fame coach and a coach of the year in [Gregg] Popovich, his basketball IQ got higher and I think he learned a lot about himself," Nuggets Coach Jeff Bzdelik said. "Any time those kinds of things happen, it's a positive for everyone involved."
It wasn't the only problem he had this summer.
Attending a private party for rapper Swizz Beatz last month, Anthony was involved in a scuffle at a New York bar when someone spit a drink in the face of his girlfriend, MTV host La La Vasquez.
Anthony said the incident was blown out of proportion, but it has to at least give the Nuggets pause for concern about the maturity of their star player. After all, it wasn't too long ago that he refused to go back into a game after teammates complained about his shot selection.
"You always try to turn a negative into a positive," Nuggets general manager Kiki Vandeweghe said. "He's a very mature young man and I think he's going to be fine."
Of course, the whole thing could work out in the Nuggets' favor.
Denver brought back most of the players from last year's playoff team and signed rugged all-star forward Kenyon Martin. Adding a mature and inspired Anthony could make the Nuggets one of the best teams in the Western Conference, if not the league.
Then again, it all depends on how Anthony bounces back from his sullen summer.
"I'm a new man right now," Anthony said. "I grew up a lot from the end of August until now, so you all are going to see a different Carmelo Anthony."
As for his teammates and coaches, no one seems worried about Anthony. If anything, most of them believe his troubles will do nothing but help.
"First adversity he had in his young career after everything went smooth for him in Denver as a rookie," Nuggets center Marcus Camby said. "It's good for him to have a couple bumps in the road."