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The More Things Change

HURLBURT FIELD, September 30 -- Certain things in the NBA can be taken for granted. Among them; getting drafted, having a spot on a team and having financial security. We forget that for every megastar, there’s a guy who left college with no guarantees other than his own skills.

That was Joel Anthony.

After fighting just to get from Pensacola Junior College to the University of Las Vegas, Anthony went undrafted in 2007. He had to fight his way on to a Miami HEAT team that would win 15 games. He had to earn one contract after another, with less than 20 minutes a game to do so, before finally being rewarded with a five-year deal this offseason.

But another misconception is that things get any easier once that long-term deal rolls in.

“The only thing I really think about in terms of that is obviously it’s a great opportunity to help provide for my family,” Anthony said. “Apart from that, nothing really changes. After I signed, for a good week that summer, there was a lot of celebration, but after that it was just really back to work. Even more so, I feel I have to push myself that much harder, just because I’m able to be in this situation.”

A situation that has him battling four other big men – or more depending who you ascribe position labels – for the starting spot at center, presumably alongside Chris Bosh in the frontcourt.

“I think it’s been great for our team to have the open spot right there. A lot of guys are definitely competing,” Anthony said. “It’s been good for our team because everyone has been working that much harder.”

Of course, it’s far too early in preseason to read too much into position battles. Coach Erik Spoelstra will likely tinker with various lineups throughout the month to see what works best in game situations. As Anthony mentioned, though, nothing has changed.

Even though he had the second best shot-blocking percentage in the league last season – blocking 6.7 percent of all opponent attempts when he was in the game – this is still a fight, and he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“That’s what made me who I am,” Anthony said. “It’s what has defined me in terms of nothing ever being given to me. I had to work for everything I’ve gotten and I understand that to get to where I am that’s what I had to do.

“To continue to go farther and continue to succeed I’m going to have to keep doing that,” he added. “I think the day that I don’t have to do all that is probably not going to be a very good day for me basketball wise because this is what I’ve always had to do.”

And if he keeps doing that, he could end up in a very unorthodox defensive backline with Bosh.

With neither player listed over 250 pounds, a frontcourt of Bosh and Anthony wouldn’t feature the typical big-bodied presence that teams normally roll with. But what it would mean is two extremely mobile big men that could cover and recover with any pick-and-roll combination in the league.

“At the end of the day, you want to have a shot blocker in the game. It would be nice to have it at all times,” Bosh said. “But just having Joel back there, he’s strong and very athletic. I think he can guard a lot of centers if not any center in the NBA. He’s going to go hard and do a good job.”

Anthony agreed that, after seeing Bosh’s aggressiveness in blocking a LeBron James layup on a fast break – albeit a play that was bordering on goaltending – the pairing could work quite well. But even if it comes to fruition – again, they’re three days into training camp – a certain trust has to be developed between two paint defenders. With it, they can focus on their own rotations, knowing the other will be there to play safety valve. But it takes time.

“Obviously nothing is simulated as well as in game,” Anthony said. “I think it will be a lot easier than it would be with someone who’s not only new to the system but to the league. The transition will go pretty smoothly.”