Pick And Pop

by January 21, 2010

by Brad Graham

The NBA’s All-Star weekend is all about the fans, right? Giving back to the millions of people (throughout the US and worldwide, respectively) who spend their loose change on arena tickets; League Pass; All kinds of crazy team merchandise; Athlete apparel; Signature sneakers; McFarlane action figures, etc. – why else would the Association introduce initiatives like “text your vote for Sprite Slam Dunk” champion?

NBA All-Star Weekend is just four days that’s dedicated to the NBA fan (unless of course you’re after lower bowl seating at Sunday’s Game, then it’s less about the fan and more about the Benjamin’s). Surely we can all live with that?

So what? Is it a crime that Allen Iverson is clearly this season’s People’s Champ? Surely someone as iconic and important to the game (who has traditionally flourished in All-Star competition), is worthy of their spot. Think of it like the Academy Awards – both Denzel Washington and Martin Scorsese won for Training Day and The Retarded, I mean Departed, even though neither film was close to being their best work. Lets all just suck it up and treat Iverson’s selection in much the same fashion. It’s what the people / voters want and like all elections, you can argue with a majority.

Given what he has meant to the game, and that he’s back representing Philadelphia, I see no harm in having him playing in one (or two) final All-Star Weekends. Forget Ref calls in close games, this is the real and true way players should be rewarded for their worth and talent. Plus, it’s not like Gilbert Arenas, as deserving as he may be, should be selected, given his gun totting transgression. All the while it’s hard to select another Eastern Conference guard who is lights out deserving of an All-Star Starters spot. Of the Eastern Conference All-Star caliber guards who stood tall last season (Devin Harris, Jameer Nelson, Mo Williams, Ray Allen, Vince Carter, etc.) they have become after thoughts while Derrick Rose isn’t quite as popular as Iverson and Rajon Rondo remains the fourth highest profiled player on his team despite playing at a level above Kevin Garnett and Jesus. So with all that in mind, I feel like Iverson is exempt. Which brings us to Tracy McGrady.

Can the problems, at least in T-Mac’s case be reduced to the millions of Yao Ming / Houston Rockets fans that live in China and want their vote heard? It does appear so but hasn’t that also shown that he is one the most spectacular and memorable All-Star performers? Fans want him there, regardless of who he is, what he’s done for them lately and whether or not he’s even capable of playing up to his own (high) standards.

While he may not throw the famous “self alley off the glass in traffic” anymore, he does still have one the highest profiles in the NBA (and is still being paid an All-Star’s salary). This blogger isn’t excusing his selection, far from it – I believe T-Mac is making the right choice electing not to lace up his adidas’ once final ballots are confirmed. All that aside, the fans have spoken and if that’s who the fans want to see, why not? If T-Mac’s inclusion increases TV ratings (globally), helps sell more product (to those who voted for him) and gives the All-Star game another photogenic (and likable athlete), why not? That’s what All-Star is, that’s what it has always been.

Side note: It’s funny because American hoop heads have grown an instant inferiority complex over this. For the first time ever it appears like the power is in the hands of foreigners and the US are uncomfortable with this. I hear screams of it’s our game, we should decide who plays but the strange thing is, the NBA is now a global product and it just so happens to be housed in the USA. More on this some other time.

Given A.I. and T-Mac are now in, it reminds me there have been a few All-Star Roster missteps in the past. Certain instances have risen because of lack of talent at one position, or an over crowded class at another, or through an injury plague which has resulted in the Commissioner picking a reserve who may or may not deserve their spot.

Of course the other major problem with NBA All-Star voting is it only considers half a season, so unlike the Nation Football League’s Pro Bowl, which draws from an entire season of consistent excellence, the NBA’s showcase often finds itself at the mercy of timing and hype, rather than (sheer) quality. Hence why it’s for the fans and should not be included in any discussions involving Hall Of Fame selection.

Think Shaquille O’Neal in ’02 having to settle for the Western Conference bench despite being the elite C in the game because the fans (largely Chinese) wanted Yao Ming to start in the All-Star Game during his rookie campaign. Not only have the fans gotten it wrong at times but the Coaches (who select the respective benches) have also picked incorrectly on occasion too.

Think Brandon Roy being selected ahead of Baron Davis in ’07 (as a recent example). Baron’s tidy work in the previous campaign’s post season, coupled with his stellar play early in the ’06-07 season was largely overlooked because the Portland Trail Blazers got hot at just the right time, caught everyone’s attention (and thus someone had to be chosen to represent that group) and as a result Roy, in only his second season, became an All-Star. That doesn’t mean Roy shouldn’t have been selected it’s more that Davis (and even Deron Williams for that matter) were more deserving… but I digress.

As far as this blogger can tell, given nothing of real importance (outside of bragging rights) is at stake during the All-Star Game. The NBA’s mid season classic is now all about packaging the (brightest and best selling) names to a global television / internet audience while dually giving those fans their say and allowing them the platform to interact on a level that’s both festive and rewarding (for all involved). Note: All-Star discussion excludes Rasheed Wallace. He is only interested in shooting left handed three’s and would rather be someone where else than dealing with the All-Star circus. Fair call.

Watching ESPN’s Around The Horn (with a cynical but curious eye, as I so often do, mainly because I’m waiting for Pardon The Interruption to commence), I recently was forced to sit up in my recliner and pay attention as the Chicago Sun Times’ Jay Mariotti suggested that NBA All-Star fan voting should be limited to those patrons who pay for NBA tickets – Which is an interesting concept, not all that worthwhile but interesting.

He stated that he wanted to see a return to the old school style paper ballot (the one that was available through Foot Locker stores) in an attempt to remove the somewhat silly and bloated international fandom for yesteryears stars who no longer deserve their respective All-Star berths.

This was coupled with Mariotti’s believe that US fans should have a larger stake in the voting or at the very least, fans should be better educated regarding the respective choices made available – to which Mariotti added – NBA.com should update the ballots as the season progresses and the ballots, if online should only include players who participated in a minimum number of games (thus making them eligible). We can call this the T-Mac rule from now on.

These comments by Mariotti, via his A.T.H discussion, came about because the Boston Celtics’ Ray Allen stating he believes fans should only be allowed 50 percent of the total vote while the various media outlets (25 percent) and the NBA’s athletes (25 percent) should be given their right to have a say (to make up the balance).

Of course there is no easy solution.

A change in the current voting process (which currently is a huge bonus for the NBA’s website and subsequently for any corporate sponsorship sold as a result) may mean that you eliminate some of the current global interest – which simply wouldn’t fly with the NBA’s corporate mandate. Also, not that the Weekend’s tradition is of much value but it does need to be considered (as broken as it is).

My Solution: allow the fans to keep their vote, but instead of making the ballot exclusively for the five starting roles, why not simply offer fans the chance to simply vote for five players (regardless of position) who they believe deserve to be All-Star’s that season?

This works for both the respective Conference’s, eliminates Tracy McGrady and Allen Iverson starting (because the respective Head Coach will ultimately start the five men he believes have earned their right / best fill out the starting roster).

If this is no good, simply reduce the voting number from five starting spots down to three spots and give the fans a chance to vote for one Centre, only one Forward and only one Guard (from each Conference) with the remaining starters determined by common sense via the respective (elected) Coaching Staff / NBA players.

The thing is, regardless of which format runs, the fans will most likely vote for the top shelf talent like LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade and Dwight Howard because their both fan favorites and the best the L – This is a bonus side effect of pro sports fandom where the best are usually the most liked (but there are always going to be exceptions). T-Mac and Iverson are almost cases where fans have picked their favorite players, or have been unsure of whom to choose and have just gone with what they know. It appears that because of T-Mac’s selection, which has boggled minds and proves that as good as Steve Nash is, he isn’t as popular or liked as one may think (but that’s not what is being reasoned here), we are collective concerned that this may be a trends for years for come or, gulp, it may be confirmation that China is a more important basketball audience than the US.

The NBA’s fan voting system doesn’t always get it 100 percent right (but then again, elections have never been about what’s right or just), they are about something else altogether and T-Mac proves that. Critics, media outlets, bloggers and hoop junkies are always going to differ when it comes to the best approach, the most suitable management system and the best way to appease both fans and the NBA’s fifth avenue agenda alike.

Every February it appears like the NBA All-Star Game is marred by it’s roster selections, player injuries (leading to spurious Commissioner bench selections / fillers) or an in equality at one (or two) positions, in the East’s case, notable big men not named Dwight Howard. On that note, what in the hell happened to last season’s Eastern Conference All-Star bench – Danny Granger, Mo Williams, Jameer Nelson, Rashard Lewis and Devin Harris? One hit wonders or world-class talents being forced aside by a hungrier crew? One could easily conclude it’s both.

With the season’s half way point also marking a month (or so) until the 2010 All-Star Weekend, this blogger decided to spotlight the athlete’s he believes will be chosen to fill out the starting units and benches (as voted for by NBA fans online and by the respective Conference Coaching Staff’s). This will be coupled with the names this blogger believes is the most deserving (at each respective position). Eastern Conference, you’re up…

POS Fan’s picks My picks Explanation
C Dwight Howard Dwight Howard No explanation needed.
PF Kevin Garnett Chris Bosh Playing out of his shoes, just as well it’s a contract year.
SF LeBron James LeBron James See: Howard, Dwight
SG Dwyane Wade Dwyane Wade His ascension continues (if only he had help in Miami).
PG Allen Iverson Rajon Rondo Someone needs to represent the second best team in the East, why not “Rated R”?
POS Prediction My picks Explanation
C David Lee Andrew Bogut Australian biased, not quite. Milwaukee surprising record (remember most experts had them tipped to finish last in the Conference) has more to do with the play of the big Aussie than it does with Brandon Jennings’ lava hot start. Plus Bogut’s play has meant the Michael Redd era in Brew-Town is officially done.
PF Chris Bosh Josh Smith A large reason why the Hawks may be the new Beast Of The East. They’re currently the 3rd seed, J-Smoove is a large reason why.
SF Gerald Wallace Gerald Wallace Remember Shawn Marion in ’05? This is the closest we’ve come. Plus the Bobcats are winning games. Stephen Jackson deserves billing but it’s still G-Force’s team.
SG Joe Johnson Joe Johnson Jamal Crawford has received a lot of attention of late but (Not So) Average Joe is the catalyst and offensive force in ATL. How consecutive All-Star berths is that now, four? And to think, he could still running side by side with Steve Nash.
PG Rajon Rondo Derrick Rose Chicago is back in the Playoff picture and you can thank Rose.
UTL Josh Smith Paul Pierce Has played well all season and deserves his spot.
UTL Paul Pierce David Lee Shortage of bigs in the East. Antawn Jamison’s team can’t win. Lee is an automatic double / double. Of the teams that are head of the Knicks in the Standings (Cleveland – Shaq; Boston – Kendrick Perkins; Atlanta – Horford; Orlando – already included; Miami – Jermaine O’Neal; Charlotte – Tyson Chandler; Toronto – Andrea Bargnani; and Chicago – Joakim Noah) none of them are posting better numbers or mean as much to their team’s success as Lee. Sure, he may be filler and become mute if Garnett if at full strength but as it stands, Lee is an elite big man out East.
MY INJURED RESERVES: Kevin Garnett, Vince Carter
MISSING THE CUT: Joakim Noah, Al Horford, Antawn Jamison


POS Fan’s picks My picks Explanation
C Amar’e Stoudemire Tim Duncan Has officially moved over to C. Spurs are contenders. Hang on, why am I justifying this nod, Duncan needs no explanation.
PF Dirk Nowitzki Dirk Nowitzki The PF in basketball right now.
SF Carmelo Anthony Carmelo Anthony Careful Melo, Kevin Durant is snapping at your Jordan Brand heels. Consider yourself lucky that your squad holds down the third seed.
SG Kobe Bryant Kobe Bryant The best player in basketball right now. Forget the finger the only think broken right now are hearts. Kobe is an assassin.
PG Tracy McGrady Steve Nash Nasty Nash has been superb all season long and should be given credit for making Channing Frye and Jared Dudley look real good. League leader in assists. Hang on, this pick is a no brainer, no explanation needed.
POS Prediction My picks Explanation
C Tim Duncan Amar’e Stoudemire While he can still score with the best of them, if his D doesn’t improve and his glass cleaning doesn’t progress, this may be the last time STAT is a lock. Oh wait, there’s still a fan vote for starters and the most popular kid in school, almost forgot.
PF Pau Gasol Pau Gasol Came back and instantly made the Lakers look like the best team, more so.
SF Kevin Durant Kevin Durant Durantula has gotten better each month, to the point where he has entered the MVP discussion. Plus, OKC is actually winning 56 percent of their games. Go KD.
SG Brandon Roy Brandon Roy How the f**k do the Blazers keep piling on the Ws? Roy has been all that and a bag of pretzels for Rip City this season. Unlike ’07, he more than deserves this AS selection this year.
PG Chris Paul Chris Paul His individual play has been special, he’s like the Tim Duncan of point guards or a Talib Kweli album (Quality).
UTL Chauncey Billups Deron Williams His stats are incredible but his team isn’t winning like it should be. Aaron Brooks deserves this spot as much as anyone but I’ll go with Deron simply because he can’t be snubbed / ignored any longer. How can you be an Olympian and not an All-Star?
UTL Jason Kidd Zach Randolph Now it appears like the Memphis Grizzlies made the smartest move during the recent offseason by bringing Randolph in to hold it down in the key. Dude has been great.
MY INJURED RESERVES: Chauncey Billups, Aaron Brooks
MISSING THE CUT: Chris Kaman, Tyreke Evans, Monta Ellis, Andrew Bynum

Brad Graham’s a hoop culture aficionado (turned basketball asylum seeker) currently attempting to flee once proud Australian basketball scene. He can be reached via email at [email protected].