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Every season as it approaches, I study the calendar’s five-day stretch absent “real” NBA games with dread and try and talk myself into the idea that Friday’s rookie-sophomore game will be hard-fought and shed a light on guys who’ve flown under the radar, that Saturday’s dunk contest won’t feature one dude missing the same dunk six times in a row before finally choosing something easier and anticlimactic and that the three-point contest, the most interesting of the peripheral events, will feature the kind of showmanship we saw back when it was fresh:
I am usually disappointed by all these events but never by the all-star game itself, possibly because my expectations are so painfully low.
It’s hard to blame the players for the lousy basketball that inevitably caps off the weekend. Unlike baseball, which has tied homefield advantage in the World Series to the all-star game’s outcome, the NBA’s game is decidedly, perhaps deliberately, low stakes. It’s a series of uncontested youtube-style dunks and matador defense. And unless you’re in the arena, bathing in star power, it’s borderline unwatchable.
But who can blame the players for enjoying a little oasis of slack in the middle of an overlong, grueling season?
It’s time for the NBA to shake up the all-star game. Either they need to find a way to make it mean something again, a la baseball, or they need to give up any pretense of competitiveness and embrace some of the inventive changes the NHL has imposed on its celebration. I vote for the latter.
Last weekend, in lieu of a standard showcase, the NHL threw all its eastern and western conference players into a single pot, selected two captains and had them pick their teams.
Imagine the same thing in the NBA. Who would get picked first? Who would get picked last? How would you go about building a team with this many stars and no true role players?
For the sake of argument, we could make the two captains the two top vote-getters from this year’s fan balloting.
That would give us Team Kobe and Team D12.
Let’s give Kobe the first selection. Who does he pick from the below group?
Chris Paul, New Orleans Hornets Carmelo Anthony, Denver Nuggets Yao Ming, Houston Rockets (lets’s assume snub-of-the-moment Kevin Love gets the nod in his stead) Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
Pau Gasol, Los Angeles Lakers Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks Manu Ginobili, San Antonio Spurs Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers Deron Williams, Utah Jazz Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls Dwayne Wade, Miami Heat LeBron James, Miami Heat Amare Stoudemire, New York Knicks Paul Pierce, Boston Celtics Rajon Rondo, Boston Celtics Kevin Garnett, Boston Celtics Ray Allen, Boston Celtics Joe Johnson, Atlanta Hawks Al Horford, Atlanta Hawks Chris Bosh, Miami Heat
Kobe would be under some pressure to take Gasol, but as anyone who saw the Celtics-Lakers game last Sunday knows, Bryant would surely prefer one of the other guys on this list, particularly because this is Kobe’s team and Kobe does not like to lose. So, what does he do? Maintain team harmony back in Lakerland, or try and build the best possible group right now?
Because we’re playing God here, we’ll assume Kobe takes a big man, someone who can play off the ball (so he can play on the ball, ‘natch). Just to be mischievous, let’s say he takes Garnett. That would put perhaps the two most manically competitive guys in the league on the same team.
"No way we're taking Bosh that early"
So, what does Howard do to counter? Probably the safe pick with Lebron, who already would have a chip on his shoulder from having been passed over.
Which throws us back to Kobe, who could use for his nascent franchise, a perimeter shooter, a big man and a point guard.
Let’s have Kobe pick Rose here, and Howard counter with Gasol (who now also has a chip on his shoulder), giving us big threes for each group like this:
Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, Derrick Rose
Dwight Howard, Lebron James, Pau Gasol
And on and on it would go…
The exercise is, of course, a ton of fun, but more so, it would add a bit of edge to a game that has long since lost it. And it would do so without putting important things like homecourt advantage in The Finals into play for what may always be destined to be an exhibition.
Just imagine Pierce grinning as he D’s up Rondo at the top of the arc, or Ray Allen coming off a curl and trying to get his shot off over Pierce’s outstretched hand.