Lying Naked on the Floor: The NBA All-Star Process is Torn

By: Dan Grant

You’re damn right the title is a Natalie Imbruglia joke. Deal with it.

Last week the NBA announced its NBA All-Star starters, as voted by the fans, and reserves, as selected by the leagues coaches. This is always a contentious process, as there are 30 teams in the league but only 24 All-Star spots available. It’s impossible for every franchise to be represented; with a bevy of long-standing franchise players battling against the up and coming superstars and flash in the pan ‘career season’ guys, there are enough deserving players that someone is always going to feel slighted.

I’m actually fine with that. It’s fun having the debates about who is going to make the cut. The other thing is that, as a fan, you can put your money where your mouth is and actually vote! If you’re super bored, you can vote as many times as you want! The reason Byron Mullens isn’t in the All-Star game is because he looks like a serial killer and fans just don’t like him enough. Sorry Byron. It’s a harsh process, but ultimately fair.

NBA_All_Star_Game_2014_Logo

The selection of the All-Star reserves is less fair. The reserves are selected through a poll of the NBA’s head coaches; the thinking being these are the people in the best position to judge the talent on the collective NBA floor. Um, exsqueeze me? Baking powder? Could you speak into my good ear? The NBA coaches who rarely keep their jobs for more than three years at a time are somehow collective experts on players that, due to injuries and scheduling, they may have only seen once or not at all this season?

What’s that you say? Coaches are only allowed to vote for players in their own conference and not for players on their own team? Well, that’s something. Although I have to say, stopping coaches from voting for guys on their own team seems asinine: a team like the Pacers, who didn’t get much love beyond Paul George and some begrudging respect for Roy Hibbert, had another potential All-Star in Lance Stephenson. What about Klay Thompson in Golden State or Kyle Lowry in Toronto? All are teams with one primary All-Star, who would struggle to get support for another candidate. They can’t have their coaches support? Doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.

The bottom line is that these coaches, however you direct their voting, are generally either former players or basketball lifers. Seems like a good type of person for the job right? Wrong. These are guys with allegiances to former franchises, owners, GMs, players, etc. They’re going to vote for their friends, essentially, because hey, they might need a job someday soon. You don’t think Jason Kidd had anything to do with getting Joe Johnson into this year’s contest? It’s not the coaches fault, it’s just the reality of the situation.

Now, it’s not like this is a problem in terms of the grand scheme of things. We’re not re-inventing the game here. But the All-Star game is supposed to be fun! It’s supposed be Kobe and Shaq reuniting (sort of), Isiah freezing out Jordan and ultimately paying for it, Tom Chambers (that hair!) winning MVP in a game that featured Jordan, Bird and Magic. And it’s become staid. So let’s revamp! I can see the perfect sky, Natalie! Here are four separate ideas, each more complex than the last, that would make the lead up to All-Star weekend fun again.

Tom Chambers: NBA All-Star MVP, mullet enthusiast.

Tom Chambers: NBA All-Star MVP, mullet enthusiast.

Potential Change 1

Make the coaches ballots public. If coaches were forced to vote publicly, they might do more due diligence and we might not wind up with THIS:

Player A: 16.5 points, 4.3 rebounds, 7.5 assists, 1.6 steals, 43/40/80 shooting % (FG/3P/FT)

Player B: 14.1 points, 7.5 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 50/35/70 shooting %

Player C: 15.6 points, 3.4 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 45/39/82 shooting %

All three are Eastern Conference All-Star eligible guards. Which one is the All-Star? Immediately, from the raw numbers alone, you’d have to go with player A or mayyyybe player B, right? Wrong. Player C was selected for the All-Star game by the coaches.

Player A is Toronto Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry. Player B is Indiana Pacers shooting guard Lance Stephenson. Player C is Brooklyn Nets swingman and now 7 time All-Star, Joe Johnson. Lowry and Stephenson’s combined All-Star appearances? Zero. Bupkis. And until now, they haven’t deserved it. The problem here is the issue of respect. The coaches respect Johnson, because he’s been doing it a long time. Lowry is notoriously prickly and this is his first consistent All-Star level season (and a contract year to boot) and Stephenson has seemingly come out of nowhere. And see, the Lowrys and Stephensons of the world are the guys I want at the game! I want the game to be a snapshot of who was the best that season, and by any measure both Lowry and Lance have been markedly better than Johnson.

Potential Change 2

If we can’t make the coaches votes public because they’re too gun shy, we should eliminate them – and conferences – altogether and let the All-Star coaches choose the teams street-ball style. They could elect captains from the starters, or they could choose themselves, I don’t care. Changing it up would be part of the fun. But it should be televised, in a snake draft fashion and it should absolutely be a national holiday. What would be more fun than watching Gregg Popovich leave Tony Parker off his team in favour of Russell Westbrook, or Erik Spoelstra having to choose between a banged-up Dwyane Wade and Stephen Curry?  This has already kind of happened in the NHL and the NFL. Let’s go NBA, you used to be progressive!

Potential Change 3

Let the players vote. The players used to choose the All-Star teams until that power was removed from them. Why you ask? Well let’s just say race may have been an issue in the USA in the late 60s. A slightly sensitive issue. Honestly though, who knows the competition better than the players themselves? Sure, you might run into some of the same loyalty issues as the coaches have, but most of these players are either on mega-sized, fully guaranteed contracts or they’re journeyman going from city to city. Everyone would get an equal vote, so the loyalty thing would work itself out.

JaVale McGee enjoys All-Star Weekend. No joke.

JaVale McGee enjoys All-Star Weekend. No joke.

Potential Change 4

This is the piece de resistance. Bill Simmons, for years, has been proposing a play-in tournament for the playoffs, to eliminate the lure of tanking. I say we bring the same concept to All-Star weekend!

Think about it. Fans bitch because not enough players make the All-Star team- fine. Let’s have four teams! Two from each conference, the fans choose the starters and we choose the reserves either using the streetball style or the player voting styles from above.

The rest of All-Star weekend is sort of fun, but other than the dunk and 3-point contests, it’s kind of a dud. This includes the game itself. This will fix that. Stay with me.

Friday Night

Pre-game: Rising Stars challenge: Still a fun way to recognize the talent that might be in the big game in the next couple years.

Western Conference team 1 plays Western Conference team 2. Winning team plays in Sunday’s BIG GAME. Losing team gets a kick in the pants.

Saturday

Eastern Conference team 1 plays Eastern Conference team 2 at 2pm. This gives players enough time to recover for the BIG GAME on Sunday evening and also lets the Dunk and 3 point contests have Saturday night to shine.

Post Game: The 3 point contest is perfect the way it is. No fuss, no muss, just guys jacking up long bombs. The Dunk Contest should have some type of theme every year – either all tandem dunks (where you need a partner), all prop dunks, or NO prop dunks. Some kind of wrinkle. My only rule is that Dwight Howard is not allowed to participate and JaVale McGee HAS to participate. But I digress.

Sunday

Here is where the winners of the initial Eastern and Western Conference games play in the big daddy finale game. THE BIG GAME.

“But Dan,” you whine, ‘These players want to rest mid-season. They’re not going to want to play MORE stupid games that look more like unscripted Globetrotters outtakes than real basketball.”

“You’re right about that. Never fear and stop your stupid whining,” I reply. “I thought of that months ago. What we need to do is appeal to the players better nature. Let’s make the thing for a whole whack of dead presidents!”

And that’s what you’d have to do. Get a kickass sponsor and make the prize for the game 4 million dollars. 12 players per team, that’s $300,000 bucks for each player on the winning team. Not a bad pay day for a couple of games. I think you might even see a little defense being played.

The bottom line is that something needs to be done. For all the frivolity, All-Star appearances are treated as currency when we talk about a players Hall of Fame chances. When Kyle Lowry or Lance Stephenson gets snubbed, that’s not such a big deal. They’re nice stories but they’re not going to the Hall. I don’t mind when the fans vote Kobe to 16 appearances (2nd all time! Maybe I do mind) versus 15 – he’s an upper echelon guy regardless. When Joe Johnson gets pushed to 7 All-Star appearances and into the company of players like Walt Frazier, Scottie Pippen and Kevin McHale, I have more of an issue with it. Don’t reward a guy simply for existing. Give me DeMarcus Cousins or Andre Drummond, future All-Stars, over some guy who is going through the motions.

Like my suggestions or not, I’m all out of faith. This is how I feel. And now you can say this, if you like.

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