The NBA All-Star Game is two weeks away, and 24 lucky players are headed to Vegas for what should be a unique experience.
Selecting rosters for this game is certainly no easy task, especially for coaches who have seven roster spots per conference to fill. All things considered, I think everyone did a pretty good job this year.
The fans actually got it mostly right with the starters, with the obvious exception being Shaquille O’Neal. While it’s unfortunate that oft-injured O’Neal is taking a roster spot of someone clearly more deserving this season, it’s supposed to be the fan’s game. If they want to see him, they’re going to see him.
Joining O’Neal in the starting lineup for the East are Chris Bosh, LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Gilbert Arenas. I enjoyed reading all week that Arenas’ selection somehow had to do with the blog explosion. I guess because Arenas yells “hibachi” before shots, fans felt he was worthy of an All-Star start. To me, Arenas was a clear choice since he’s having one of the best seasons in the Conference.
Rounding out the East roster are Chauncey Billups, Caron Butler, Vince Carter, Richard Hamilton, Dwight Howard, Jason Kidd and Jermaine O’Neal.
In looking at that roster, I don’t think anyone was blatantly snubbed. I do question whether the New Jersey Nets, who have been one of the biggest underachievers all season, deserve two All-Stars. However, this is a clear case of star power perception in the NBA. It’s easy to make an argument for Ben Gordon or Joe Johnson being worthy of a Vegas trip, but I’m wondering if either is truly perceived to be an elite player around the league. That’s why Carter and Kidd get to go, even though their stats and overall record don’t necessarily reflect their worthiness. Gordon and Johnson need to keep their high level of play going, and their time will come.
For the West, the fans elected Kobe Bryant, Tracy McGrady, Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan and Yao Ming to the the starting lineup. That’s fine. It’s odd that neither Steve Nash nor Dirk Nowitski are starters, considering they’re the clear-cut top two choices for the MVP award at this point, but this is the system for selecting starters.
Filling out the rest of this roster is no easy task. The coaches had two no-brainer choices in adding Nash and Nowitski. Amare Stoudemire, Shawn Marion, Carlos Boozer, Allen Iverson, and Tony Parker are joining them in Nevada.
Carmelo Anthony, the league’s scoring leader, is the obvious snub of the group, but he missed all of those games after punching and running in New York. That probably hurt his case badly.
To me, it’s not right that the league’s best team, Dallas, only gets one All-Star. Josh Howard is having a year worthy of a trip to Vegas, and he should be on the team. It’s not meant as a slight to Shawn Marion, who is also having an amazing year. However, taking three players from Phoenix to only one from Dallas doesn’t feel right. I also would have selected Utah’s Deron Williams over Tony Parker, but that’s being nitpicky.
David Stern will likely add Howard and Anthony as injury replacements for Yao and Boozer, so all will be fine.
Personally, I can’t wait for All-Star weekend. It’s always a great event, unless you love defense. Plus, this year, you get Charles Barkley vs. Dick Bavetta in a foot race. It’s hard to be angry with the NBA.
PORTLAND BLAZING A TRAIL
The Portland Trail Blazers have had many bad moments over the last decade. There have been devastating playoff losses and countless off-the-court incidents that soured the fan base on the franchise. Nothing really seemed to be clicking, and there wasn’t much hope or excitement surrounding the team.
I dare say that’s all changing, and it’s happening quicker than I expected.
As I write this, Portland is 20-29. That’s not necessarily worthy of national media praise, but it’s a very respectable record in the brutal Western Conference.
If you heard Blazers Assistant GM Kevin Pritchard on ESPN’s Daily Dime podcast, you know that one of the key things the Blazers wanted to do in the offseason was change their culture. They were looking for guys with class, who would come in and play hard while doing everything the right way.
From where I sit as a guy with the NBA League Pass, they found their man in Brandon Roy. He was the NBA’s rookie of the month for January, when he averaged 16.6 points, 4.8 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.7 steals in 16 games. He’s going to be Portland’s go-to player for years to come, and his wild game-tying three pointer Friday night in Denver was an example of why. Roy wants the ball late, and he has a knack for delivering when the team needs him to.
In addition to Roy, who by all accounts should win the Rookie of the Year award, Portland picked LaMarcus Aldridge and Sergio Rodriguez in the 2006 NBA Draft. Rodriguez is getting a lot of build up as the point guard of the future, with Pritchard hesistating before linking him in some ways to Steve Nash. I haven’t seen a lot of Rodriguez, but what I have seen is impressive. Aldridge, to this point, looks like he’s going to take a couple of years to round out his abilities. He’s shown flashes, but he was always considered as a future stud more so than an immediate big time addition.
It will be interesting to see what Portland does from here. They have Jamaal Magloire’s expiring contract as trade bait should they choose to go that route. Zach Randolph is locked up in a long-term deal, but he’s a player that several teams looking for a big man might covet should Portland choose to move him. They seem to be headed back to the lottery, which means they’re going to add another key, young piece to the puzzle.
One thing is for sure: With young players at every position and a mission to do things the right way from management, the future is looking rosy for the Blazers
ADD D-WADE TO MVP CANDIDATES
I wrote a few weeks ago that the sleeper in the MVP race was going to be Dwayne Wade, and that it was only a matter of time.
Well, the time appears to be now.
Wade is single handedly keeping Miami afloat during this 2006-07 season, and he’s kicking it into high gear of late. The Heat got a big win at home against Cleveland on Thursday night, and it was classic Wade leading the comeback. He got to the foul line 24 times, and he knocked down 23 of them. Although he committed 12 turnovers, Wade carried his club down the stretch just like he always does.
Last night, following his jersey being retired in the afternoon at Marquette, Wade went out and torched Milwaukee for the second time this week. He scored 32 points and dished out 11 assists.
He’s scored 20 points or more in 14 consecutive games, which happens to be a Miami Heat record.
We all watched in awe last season as Wade took over the Finals and carried the Heat to a championship. With five nationally televised games remaining this month alone, this could be the time for Wade to again embrace his MVP-candidacy and make Miami a major factor in the NBA’s second half.
-Even without Carlos Boozer, Utah found a way to beat San Antonio and Phoenix in consecutive games. That’s impressive. Jerry Sloan is running away with the Coach of the Year in my opinion, and I think it’s time for everyone to take this team seriously come playoff time. They’re simply not going away.
-The Wizards really miss Antawn Jamison. Watch them carefully over the next three to six weeks. They play no defense, so trying to keep pace with teams without Jamison is going to be interesting. By the time Jamison is back, don’t be surprised if the Heat has crept much closer to the top of the Southeast Division.
-The Clippers are making their run right now, but it’s time to find out if they’ve really figured out how to win on the road. After a 3-9 start away from the Staples Center, the Clips are 4-1 in their last five games outside of Los Angeles, and they kicked off a seven-game East coast trip with a win in Boston on Friday night. Suddenly, they’re only four games behind the Lakers in the Western Conference and with a good road trip, they can pull themselves closer to the middle of the Western pack.
-Did you ever think you’d see the day where the Raptors would have the Eastern Conference player and coach of the month at the same time? It happened in January as Sam Mitchell and Chris Bosh won the honors.