You may have noticed the NBA announced its All-Star rosters Thursday night. The timing seemed weird because the season started three minutes ago. I found myself particularly intrigued by this year's choices because, along with fellow NBA writers Sekou Smith, Ian Thomsen and Doug Smith, I had selected the candidates for the All-Star ballot. That's right, this "VP of Common Sense" gimmick is really catching on.
We were instructed to pick 60 players for each conference (12 centers, 24 guards, 24 forwards); we had to pick five white guys in each conference (just kidding); every team had to have at least three candidates; and no team could have more than six candidates, a rule that unexpectedly came into play when we mistakenly ended up with seven Pacers on our first pass. Seven Pacers???1 We spent 60 solid minutes hashing out our choices, with maybe 110 of the 120 guys being no-brainers and the other 10 being more of the "I can't believe we're putting this dope on the ballot" variety.
My favorite moment happened when I tried to convince everyone to put Boris Diaw's boobs on the ballot. And actually, I nearly pulled it off — the problem was, we couldn't decide whether his boobs should be two different candidates or grouped as one. We finally decided to just put Boris on the ballot, and if you wanted to vote for his boobs vicariously through that choice, you had that option. My second favorite moment happened when we argued for seven solid minutes about Gerald Henderson vs. Kemba Walker as Charlotte's third representative — if there's ever been a greater waste of seven minutes, I'd seriously like to hear about it. My third favorite moment was when we massaged the West's glut of quality forwards by making James Harden a guard; it was one of those "What the hell? We're in charge here!" moments where you feel like you're playing God and it's awesome. The fourth best moment was when I spent about 45 seconds making Jonas Jerebko's case and saying, "I just don't want him to come back and haunt us."
If you're scoring at home, Jonas Jerebko didn't come back to haunt us.
But that's the goal of the ballot every year — you want to make sure you don't leave off anyone who might make you look dumb. Like Paul Millsap a year ago. That's the worst-case scenario (if you can even call it a worst-case scenario, because honestly, who cares?) — getting raked over the coals by angry bloggers who CAN'T BELIEVE THAT YOU LEFT PAUL MILLSAP OFF when he wouldn't have made the All-Star Game anyway. So now that it's February and everyone is making All-Star picks, it's nice to know that we didn't screw anything up. There has been no haunting.
The following 10 players were voted in as starters by the fans: Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard (East); Chris Paul, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin, Andrew Bynum (West). You can't flip out over any of those choices except for Anthony, who stunk this season (for him) and shouldn't be starting for anything except for the Ewing Theory team. (Right now, he's making history as a Double Ewing Theory candidate. I don't think that's ever happened before.) We also have two Clippers starting — voted in by the fans, no less — which could only happen in the year 2012, as preordained by the Mayans.
Meanwhile, here are the reserves (as voted by the coaches): Deron Williams, Roy Hibbert, Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce, Andre Iguodala, Lou Deng, Chris Bosh (East); Tony Parker, Steve Nash, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Love, Dirk Nowitzki, LaMarcus Aldridge, Marc Gasol (West). It's absurd to have both Iggy and Deng (sorry, you have to pick one); Nowitzki didn't show up ready for the season, had to miss games for conditioning purposes and never, ever, ever, EVER should have made it (but who cares? It's Dirk Nowitzki!); and even Roy Hibbert can't believe he made it over Anderson Varejao thanks to a little-known "When in doubt, kick the city of Cleveland in the balls" rule that covers all American team sports (including the MLS).
Who should have made it? I'm glad you asked! You're not going to believe this, but I have some opinions. Here were my choices for both conferences.
EAST STARTERS: Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Anderson Varejao
Notes: The first four guys are no-brainers, especially LeBron, who's having his greatest statistical season while unfairly getting blamed for everything bad that's happened these past 12 months, including the demise of Rick Perry's presidential campaign, Clint Eastwood's directing in J. Edgar, the Patriots choking in the Super Bowl, and Deena from Jersey Shore not being able to get laid. Hang in there, LeBron.
Howard deserves special kudos for excelling while remaining totally detached from his team, and yet not totally seeming like a dick, either. I went to Saturday's Pacers-Magic game and was shocked by (a) how hard he played, and (b) how he kept just enough emotional distance between him and his teammates that you left the building saying, "He clearly wants to leave, but they clearly don't take that personally." It was like watching Mark Wahlberg in Contraband. "Look, we all know why we're here — I want to get paid, you want to be in a movie, let's just get this scene over with so I can go back to my trailer." If I'm Orlando, I don't trade him for 60 cents on the dollar as long as he's playing hard. If he wants to walk away from $30 million extra this summer to play somewhere else, God bless him — nobody's ever done that before, nor will they, because nobody walks away from $30 million. Ten? Maybe. Thirty? No way.2
As for that fifth spot: I love the way Varejao is playing this season and if you enjoy guys who put up 11 points and 12 rebounds every night, grab every big rebound in traffic, take monster charges again and again and shut down opposing big guys, you should, too. Isn't the whole point of the All-Star Game to pick players who are playing as well as they can possibly play? I never watch Chris Bosh and say, "Whoa, Chris Bosh! He's something! He's really turned it on!" Why do I have to pick Bosh as a starter again? And also, why should THREE Miami Heat players be starting on the All-Star team? You don't find this a little kooky? Are they the '96 Bulls or something? Please. Besides, Varejao has been more of an impact player this year — he's the best at what he does, and that's saying something. You win with what he does.
Meanwhile, Paul Pierce showed up overweight and didn't start looking like Paul Pierce until three weeks ago; he didn't deserve the starting spot. And Carmelo is having a below-average season (for him) on a below-average team before finally getting injured and, of course, his team immediately started winning without him. I am a Carmelo defender and a Carmelo trade defender; I still believe he can become THE scorer on a championship team (a la Dirk last summer); and I still think it's hysterical that Timofey Mozgov nearly derailed that trade. But if there's anything less fun than watching Carmelo in full ball-stopper mode on a spiritless team with a coach dying to get fired, seriously, let me know. He actually sucked the life out of a seemingly healthy (if not a little doughy) Amar'e Stoudemire, who looked so useless that Roy Hibbert made the All-Star team over him.3 Varejao was never getting Carmelo's starting spot, but he deserves it. And if you don't believe me, you didn't watch the Cavs beat the Clippers without Kyrie Irving on Wednesday night.
EAST RESERVE GUARDS: Deron Williams, Joe Johnson
It's been fascinating to watch Williams keep that reprehensible Nets team competitive. Nobody feels sorry for him because he ruined the last year of Jerry Sloan's career, and for that he remains in NBA Purgatory — at least until he signs with Dallas this summer.4 As for Joe Johnson he's the best 2-guard in the East after Wade. I know, it leaves me cold, too. In general, the 2-guard position has never been in worse shape — only 20 years ago, we had MJ, Drexler, Dumars, Reggie Lewis, Reggie Miller, Drazen Petrovic, Mitch Richmond, Dan Majerle, Ricky Pierce, Jeff Hornacek and Ron Harper. Now we have Wade and Kobe, and then Joe Johnson, Monta Ellis, Manu Ginobili, Kevin Martin, Ray Allen, Eric Gordon and wait um, where's everyone else? Maybe Joe Johnson really was worth $120 million. (Thinking.) Nahhhhhhhh.
One more thing: I'm fine with leaving off Rajon Rondo (or Kyrie Irving, or the rejuvenated Brandon Jennings) because we're loaded at point already with Rose and Williams, even if Rondo is averaging a 14-10-5, shooting 50 percent from the field and still giving us those one-of-a-kind Rondo highlights. Am I slowly coming to the realization that I've been in deep denial about the Rondo era? Yeah, a little bit. Any smart team (like the Lakers last night) plays six feet off Rondo in tight games, daring him to shoot, paralyzing Boston's offense and leading to the dreaded "Clogged Toilet" play (Pierce ending up with the ball 25 feet from the hoop with seven seconds left trying to create something). It's almost like playing with a handicap. Screw that, it IS like playing with a handicap. It's also curious that the Celtics came alive defensively when Rondo missed eight games, mostly thanks to Avery Bradley, who flashed Tony Allen/Bruce Bowen-type potential as a perimeter defender (and that's not hyperbole).5 For the first time, I find myself hoping they deal Rondo — for instance, maybe it could be a three-teamer with Pau Gasol and Keyon Dooling going to Houston; Luis Scola, Goran Dragic, Kyle Lowry and L.A.'s 2012 no. 1 going to Boston; and Rondo and Jermaine O'Neal going to the Lakers. He needs a change of scenery, and really, so might Celtics fans. I can't watch another 84-82 game with his guy playing five feet off him. I really can't. Enough already.
EAST RESERVE FORWARDS: Chris Bosh, Andre Iguodala, Paul Pierce
Bosh gets the second power forward spot over Amar'e McAdoohaywoodmire. (Sorry, inside barb for every Knicks fan over 45 years old.) Iguodala gets Luol Deng's swingman/athlete/defender spot that Deng gave up by getting hurt; you could make a strong case for Iggy over Deng, anyway. I like having a Sixer since they're playing so well. And shouldn't Iguodala be rewarded for finally realizing what he is (a superb defender/athlete/glue guy) instead of what he isn't (someone who scores 20-plus a game and takes every big shot)? We always bitch about Josh Smith jacking up 20-footers — that's the reason I wouldn't discuss Smith for one of these spots, actually — but here's someone who finally started doing EVERYTHING he should be doing. And he's having a big impact on a top-3 seed. That's an All-Star to me. As for Pierce, now that he's rounded into shape (I'll withhold a sarcastic remark), he's one of the best players in the conference again and gives the Celtics a fighting chance against anyone on any given night. This will make 10 of the last 11 All-Star games for Pierce; he's becoming genuinely interesting historically. Were there 40 better players in NBA history than Paul Pierce? Were there six better Celtics? Have the Celtics ever had a better pure scorer?
(Hmmmmmm feels like a potential column. Pretend I didn't mention this.)
EAST RESERVE CENTERS: Tyson Chandler, Roy Hibbert
I can't pick between them so we're taking them both, and hopefully not playing either that much because it's the All-Star Game and nobody wants to watch Tyson Chandler or Roy Hibbert. Chandler has been really good on the Knicks — even these last few games, when the Knicks were blessed to have their little bout with Linsanity, you realized that, "Oh yeah, when Chandler has a half-decent point guard who can get into the paint and find him, suddenly he's sneaky-good offensively."6 Is there a single Knicks fan who thinks Carmelo should have made the All-Star team over Chandler? Introduce me to that person — I want to block them on Twitter. As for Hibbert, put it this way: At no point during Saturday's Pacers-Magic game did I lean over to my buddy House and say, "How much fun is it watching the two best centers in the East?" It's a total farce to put him on this team except for the part that the Pacers probably had to be represented with one guy. I blame Danny Granger for sucking this season. That was your spot, Danny. You gave it away.
By the way, if it's an All-Star Game and it's supposed to be fun, what's wrong with tweaking it a little and making it fun? Allow me to bring back one of my favorite ideas: Dumping the last "coach's pick" in favor of a "commissioner's pick," which would allow the Angel of Stern to say things like, "Tim Duncan is retiring after this season, let's give him the 12th spot for old time's sake."
Actually, after The Veto, maybe we shouldn't give Stern that kind of power anymore. So what about a "Fun Pick"? What if the fans were allowed to vote from a pool of players who — undeniably — would make the game more fun? For instance, we could dump the East's 12th-best All-Star (this year: Hibbert) for one of the following candidates
Jeremy Lin — Only James Dolan could strike oil with a player, then arrange it so that nobody in the New York area could watch him.
JaVale McGee — Does something supernaturally dumb week after week after week. You might see him make a game-winning half-court shot in the wrong basket before everything's said and done.
Dr. Renaldo Balkman — The East's breakout "Chemist" this year, although he can't come close to topping Dr. Royal Ivey's career chemist year in Oklahoma City.
Ersan Ilyasova — This season's Crazy Box Score guy. He had a 19-rebound game two weeks ago. Nineteen rebounds! He had 12 rebounds in 21 minutes the other night. He looks like a cross between Ivan Drago, Josh Hartnett and Lurch. There's just a lot going on here.
Lou Williams — Jamal Crawford 2.0.
Greg Stiemsma — Compared by Tommy Heinsohn to Bill Russell this season. It happened.
Tyler Hansbrough — Developed into a momentum-swinging bench player for Indy, as well as the runaway leader of Bill Laimbeer Memorial "Player Most Likely to Get Punched in the Face at Any Point of Any Game" Award.
Boris Diaw's boobs — We covered this.
Anyway, I'm guessing Linsanity would narrowly edge Diaw's boobs and win the "Eastern Fun Pick" vote for five reasons: He's causing an Internet riot right now; he single-handedly saved the Knicks season and gave it life; he went to Harvard, of all places (even more incredible than him breaking the Taiwanese-American barrier, in my opinion); he's a shockingly intelligent offensive player (none other than Steve Nash blessed his game on Twitter recently); and most important, he's immensely fun to watch. I genuinely enjoy his herky-jerky game, the way he splits two defenders on the high screen, his deftness around the rim, his goofy jump shot, the way his teammates respond to him, his joy for basketball it's just hard for me to believe that Lin is destined to become this generation's Billy Ray Bates (in other words, someone who catches lightning in a bottle for a few weeks and that's it). At the very least, he should be able to ease into a J.J. Barea-esque career as an impact offensive player who occasionally swings games off the bench. Anything less and I would be disappointed. Too bad we can't sneak him into the All-Star Game.
(In case you were wondering: Yes, we forgot to put Jeremy Lin on the All-Star ballot.)
WEST STARTERS: Chris Paul, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, Kevin Love, Marc Gasol
The first three are no-brainers, even if Kobe has been as selfish as ever and you can actually hear him counting his career points in his head. Anyone who voted for Griffin over Love needs to start watching League Pass instead of SportsCenter highlights; Love has been the best power forward in either conference, and by the way, haven't we all wanted to step on Luis Scola's face at least once? And I'm a huge Marc Gasol guy — he's the league's best all-around center and someone who always seems to get better when it matters. Smart defender, good leader, cagey passer. Seems like he'd be fun to play with. Helped keep Memphis alive in a brutally tough playoff picture without Zach Randolph. What am I missing? He's averaging a 15-10 for Memphis; Bynum is averaging a 17-12 for the Lakers. But Gasol means more to his team. I really believe that. And also, I fucking hate the Lakers.
WEST RESERVE CENTER: Andrew Bynum
Look, it's not like Bynum didn't make it. He's right here. I have to be honest — I think Bynum would be a 20-15 guy if Kobe hadn't reverted back to Teen Wolf mode. How can a polished low-post scorer who shoots 56 percent, has to be double-teamed and is allowed by officials to travel on every play somehow taking just three shots per quarter? This makes sense how? In Bynum's last seven games, he made 54 of 90 field goals and Kobe made 67 of 160 field goals. So Kobe missed three more shots than Bynum attempted. I guess that makes sense when you need to average 2,000 points per year over the next five to pass Kareem, but not when you're gunning for one of the eight playoff seeds with nine other quality teams. I continue to think the Lakers will miss the playoffs or come damned close.7
WEST RESERVE GUARDS: Russell Westbrook, Steve Nash, Tony Parker
Westbrook passed Rondo as the league's premier Table Test guy — in other words, nobody brings more to the table while also taking more OFF the table, but he brings so much to the table that it doesn't totally matter. He also plays his ass off and sincerely gives a crap. Why does he insist on chucking those terrible 22-footers, and why doesn't he defer to Durant more when Durant continues to be the most automatic two points in the league? I couldn't tell you. (Cut to Scotty Brooks nodding his head sadly.) Still, he's a destructive athlete and the main reason why OKC always makes its opponents feel like a boxer that's pinned against the ropes. Think Julio Cesar Chavez. They have NBA title pole position right now for that reason over anything else.
As for Nash, he's having another killer Nash year (15-10, 56-47-87 shooting percentages) at age 38 despite (a) playing in a ridiculously tough conference, (b) being saddled with the worst 2-through-12 supporting cast in that conference, and (c) having the life slowly sucked out of him by one of the worst ownership situations in any sport. There's no way, at his age, with everything else going on, that Steve Nash should still be doing THIS. I think he grew up near a Canadian nuclear reactor. It's the only possible explanation. And Parker's crunch-time skills kept San Antonio alive as a contender after Manu Ginobili went down — maybe you wouldn't want him around your wife, but you'd want to clear out for him in any big game. He earned that extra guard spot over Monta Ellis (another good stats/bad team year for him), Kyle Lowry (who had Parker's spot until a recent shooting funk) and Ricky Rubio (shooting 37 percent for a below-.500 team, unfortunately). Don't worry, we're not done with Rubio yet.
WEST RESERVE FORWARDS: LaMarcus Aldridge, Blake Griffin, James Harden
If we're just talking basketball, I'm giving LaMarcus a slight edge over Blake — he's a better all-around player, he's better in crunch time, and he's a much better free throw shooter. Throw in the other stuff (dunking, charisma, entertainment, alley-oops, etc.) and it's suddenly a much better argument, and when you remember it's the All-Star Game — the kind of showcase that was literally created for someone like Blake — then that's when you start thinking, "Can we just give Blake all of LaMarcus' minutes?" I don't mind thinking this way for the All-Star Game, but when we're trying to win a Gold Medal in six months? This becomes a more meaningful debate.
As for the other spot, let's quickly address the coaches voting in Nowitzki. Call me crazy, but I don't even think the Finals MVP should get a mulligan for being totally unprepared for the start of a season. He even admitted it! Everyone knew that the lockout — if it ended — would end somewhere between Thanksgiving and MLK weekend. He's getting paid $19,072,873 this season. To my knowledge, he doesn't have a second job. He's the best player for the defending champs, who would have a bull's-eye on their backs all season. How can Nowitzki end up being blindsided mentally and physically because the lockout abruptly ended? Check out his stats: He's having the worst season since the strike season and stopped rebounding altogether. That may have been the all-time reputation-over-substance pick. He should fake an injury and give the spot to someone who earned it. Seriously. Do the right thing, Dirk.8
So who should get Dirk's spot? Most would pick Paul Millsap (17-9, 53 percent shooting for a surprisingly decent Jazz team) over Harden (17-4-4, 47 percent FG, 38 percent 3FG), but I look at it this way: The Zombies have the West's best team, by far, so giving them three All-Stars isn't insane; Harden's unselfishness, playmaking skills, 3-point shooting and general cojones are simply indispensable (you notice every time he's not out there for OKC); he's a mega-chemistry guy for them (better than Westbrook, that's for sure); and for the purposes of the All-Star Game, sorry, I'd much rather watch someone like Harden than a slasher/grinder like Paul Millsap. Why are we obligated to reward the best guy on a 13-11 team, anyway? Who cares?
I especially like Harden because he'll have moments during a game: You know, like Tuesday night against Golden State, when Ellis was playing out of his mind, the Warriors were making everything, the crowd was going bonkers with an 11-point lead and Harden promptly swished consecutive 3s to keep the game from slipping away. (FYI: They ended up winning.) He does that shit all the time. You can go to war with James Harden. Some things transcend stats.
WEST "FUN PICK": Ricky Rubio
You were expecting anyone else???? Swap him for Parker and this is suddenly the most fun All-Star roster ever assembled. Just for fun, here were the other nominees.
Ty Lawson — Fastest dude in the league, morphing into a semi-impact guy.
Danilo Gallinari — Injured, so it's a moot point but he's playing well enough (and he's been enough fun to watch) that it's officially unfair to bring this up around Knicks fans. Unless they root for the Giants. If so, do it. Please. Keep bringing it up.
Dr. Royal Ivey — He's to NBA Chemists what Gregory House has been to insane TV doctors.
Tony Allen — You know what the most randomly fun event of a 2012 NBA game is? Trick or Treat Tony deciding, "It's time for me to lock that guy down." He's the best perimeter defender in basketball by far. I went to a Clippers-Grizzlies game last month when Tony decided that Chris Paul wasn't getting into the paint anymore and boom! It was on! Guess what else? Chris Paul didn't get into the paint anymore. Name me another defender who can handle everyone from Chris Paul to LeBron James. Even Bruce Bowen in his prime couldn't do that. Anyway, for "fun" purposes, imagine one of the East guys heating up in the second half and Trick or Treat Tony coming in specifically to cool this person off. This would be fun. Period.
Gustavo Ayon — This year's top-20 guy from Hollinger's PER rankings who makes you pause and say, "Wait a second who the fuck is that?"
Rubio — I will make this brief. It's the All-Star Game. It's supposed to be fun. As I have written roughly 10 million times, the quality of an All-Star Game ebbs and flows with the passing DNA of the point guards. This year's game is in relatively good hands (Paul and Nash for the West, Rose for the East), but you can't tell me that Ricky Rubio — a player blessed by no less than Larry Legend in my podcast this week as someone Bird's watching "every night" — wouldn't improve the game by 10 to 15 percent. Having an NBA All-Star Game without Ricky Rubio is like having a hot dog without mustard or ketchup. It can't happen again. Let's make this the last time. Please.