NEW ORLEANS (AP) -There may be no better opportunity for Chris Paul to capitalize on his emerging stardom than here, at his first NBA All-Star weekend.
Averaging 20.5 points, 10.9 assists and 2.6 steals, Paul has led the New Orleans Hornets to the top of the powerful Western Conference.
Yet when asked on Friday what it means to be compared to the likes of Jason Kidd and Steve Nash, the Hornets' point guard passed, as he often does so well on the court.
``It's not about me. It's about a spotlight for the city. That's what this weekend's all about. It's all about New Orleans, and reaching out to the community and giving back,'' he said.
For Hornets teammate and fellow first-time All-Star David West, it was no different.
Here was West, a fifth-year player getting his first chance to bask in the glory of his inclusion among the game's best, spending very little time talking about his growth into one of the NBA's top power forwards.
such as the time he spends with children in parts of New Orleans that were hit hardest by Hurricane Katrina and are still far from a full recovery some 2 1/2 years later.
``Some kids that you meet don't necessarily have hope that things could get better,'' West said. ``They ask you questions like, 'Do you think if you went through something like Katrina at my age, would you have been able to get to where you are?' I have to answer yes, but obviously, that's a tough question to think about, especially for an 11 or 12 year old. A lot of kids in this area just don't think that certain things are possible.''
Numerous NBA All-Stars and league officials are getting a chance this weekend to see what West experiences in his regular community service outings during Hornets home stands. Commissioner David Stern designated Friday a day of service. About 2,500 league employees worked on rebuilding projects around town for a couple hours.
West, who was drafted by the Hornets in 2003, two seasons before Katrina hit, said he didn't mind spending All-Star weekend talking more about the needs of the city where he lives than his averages of 19.8 points and 9.2 rebounds, or what his play has meant during the Hornets' ascension to ranks of the NBA's elite teams.
``It's just a matter of what's important,'' West said. ``Obviously, things need to be done, some things need to be said, certain issues need to have light shed on them.''
West said the best thing about being an All-Star in New Orleans may be the platform it gives him to garner support for the city's rebuilding.
``When you're dealing with human beings ... dealing with people in need, at times there are other things that mean a little bit more than what makes dollars and what makes cents,'' West said. ``You've got to hope that humanity is within everybody, that the folk that are in control, the folks that have the power to make change and help people have humanity on their minds and not just what makes money or what's best for people's pockets.''
TRADE WINDS: Carmelo Anthony joked that recent trades bringing marquee players to some of the Western Conference's top teams has left him wondering if his own Denver team isn't about to undergo some sort of shake-up.
``I'm just waiting for my phone to ring to see what we're going to do,'' Anthony said. ``The Western Conference race is tough right now. It's going to come down to the last game of the season.''
Denver, Golden State and Houston are all 32-20, which still has them in danger of missing the playoffs. New Orleans, Phoenix, San Antonio, the Los Angeles Lakers, Dallas, and Utah all have better records.
ew Jersey for Jason Kidd.
To get O'Neal, who has been injured much of the season, Phoenix had to give up Shawn Marion. But few players at All-Star weekend questioned the wisdom of the Suns' decision.
``I think a lot of people knocked that trade when it happened, saying Shaq can't run with them and stuff like that,'' the Hornets' Paul said. ``Shaq is going to be a great addition to Phoenix because as long as Shaq is in the league, he's going to command a lot of attention and he's all about winning championships. When you have great players around him like Steve Nash, Grant Hill and those guys, they're going to find a way to make a run.''
Added Anthony: ``I think Shaq is going to help that team. I wish I had Shaq, I can tell you that.''
BOSH'S SPOT: His homemade video couldn't get Chris Bosh a starting spot in the All-Star game, but Kevin Garnett's injury did.
Eastern Conference coach Doc Rivers picked Bosh on Friday to replace Garnett in the starting lineup for Sunday's game, giving the Toronto forward a spot he couldn't earn despite his acting talents.
``Things work in mysterious ways, so it's cool,'' Bosh said.
Rivers could have chosen Paul Pierce so his league-leading Celtics would have one starter in the game. But he went for the 6-foot-10 Bosh, realizing the East had to match up with a West frontline that included Yao Ming and Tim Duncan. He said Detroit's Rasheed Wallace had been his other possibility.
``We need size. It wasn't a hard choice,'' Rivers said. ``I didn't have but him and Rasheed left when you think about it.''
Bosh was elected to start for the first time last year. He tried to improve his chances of getting back with his video, in which he appears as something of a used car salesman trying to offer fans the deal of a chance to vote for him.
While the video became a YouTube hit and earned Bosh plenty of attention, it couldn't help much against fellow forwards Garnett and LeBron James, who had the two highest vote totals among all players. But Bosh's play was plenty good enough for a trip to New Orleans.
``They have a lot more votes than me so I would have to play well to get in,'' Bosh said. ``Because if I didn't play well I'd be a guy with a video at home.''
EUROSTYLE: Hornets forward and Serbia native Peja Stojakovic, who'll participate in the 3-point shooting contest, was intrigued by reports that the NBA is exploring whether to launch a five-team European division.
``That's interesting. The only thing that concerns me is the distance,'' Stojakovic said. ``But everything else, I think there are cities and there are arenas that can really prove they are ready to be part of the NBA.''
There are other matters the league will have to explore, such as the willingness of Americans to play for teams based across the Atlantic.
number of Americans who elected to play professionally in European leagues when the NBA didn't work out.
``When I spoke with them, they enjoyed it, especially in the good cities. I know guys who played in Greece, Italy and Spain. They had fun,'' Stojakovic said. ``But every time you're far away from home, family, friends, it's a tough adjustment.''
European crowds would also add another dynamic, such as the singing that soccer crowds are more known for. The intensity of the crowd tends to be a bit different as well, Stojakovic said.
``People in Europe, they cheer more with passion and they can't sleep when the team loses,'' he said. ``They're kind of putting more pressure on the team and the players. ... People here, they come to the games, they support the team, they enjoy themselves. Here it's more based on entertainment for the fans and over there it's more straight basketball.
``They sing at some of the games, they do wild things, they throw things at you - cell phones, empty bottles, coins. I think the NBA is going to make sure that doesn't happen if they go there.''
CELEBRITY SHOTS: New Orleans native Percy Miller, known to rap music fans as Master P, put on a pretty good show for his hometown fans on the basketball court, scoring 17 points in the All-Star weekend celebrity basketball game.
As he walked off the court, he declared a victory of sorts for his rebuilding hometown.
``It's so good to be a part of this and be a part of this city, man,'' Miller said. ``It definitely sends a message that, you know what? It ain't over. We're back. We're having fun and we're going to put the pieces of the puzzle back together.''
An enthusiastic crowd filled a makeshift basketball arena in the city's convention center for the game, which featured a mix of actors, singers and stars from other sports, including boxing champion Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Dallas Cowboys receiver Terrell Owens.
Owens, who played with Miller on the winning squad, ended up as the leading scorer with 18 points on 8-of-10 shooting and smiled widely as he was given the game's MVP trophy.
Mayweather and Deion Sanders led their team with 14 points, while actor and comedian Chris Tucker banked in three 3-pointers and finished with 11 points.
``If they would have given it to me at the end I would have hit the winning shot,'' Tucker said.

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