The bizarre dichotomy of the NBA All-Star Game

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Sunday night, 24 players will amble into the Amway Center in Orlando, Florida. Many of them will be hungover, sleep-deprived, or both from a night of partying at all the hot spots during the biggest nightlife year for the NBA universe. They will casually go through the media requirements, slowly get dressed, do some casual shooting, talk with a lot of friends and acquaintances.

They will play a game, of sorts. There will be no defense. There will be very little effort. There will be some ooh and ahh moments, a few dunks, some neat passes, and a general giggly sort of feel to the day. It will be presented with lots of flash and pageantry and have no effect on anything, nor should it. It shouldn’t decide homecourt advantage in the Finals, it shouldn’t impact playoff seedings, it’s an exhibition and should mean absolutely nothing.

Those players were elected to play in the game either by fan vote, the same fan vote which routinely ignores any and all evidence to who has been good or not good throughout the season and is primarily decided based on either the presence of an overwhelming voting block (in the case of Yao Ming), or the player’s station as a member of one of the big three teams (Los Angeles Lakers, Boston Celtics, Chicago Bulls), or by coaches’ decision, which is often done using impact from assistants or video editors and which can often be attributed to recognition of a lifetime event or influence from what they “should do.”

To sum up, today’s NBA All-Star Game is a completely meaningless exhibition in which you will barely remember anything outside of who wins MVP and who was on roster, and was constructed using completely meaningless, bogus, and largely flawed methods of election. Saying the All-Star game is stupid isn’t really a stretch, even if it’s a bit much for something that’s just supposed to be fun for fans. Fun things can be meaningless, like cartoons for your four-year-old or appletinis (say hey, LBJ).  There’s no harm in that. This is not advocacy for eliminating the All-Star Game. The Game is a tradition, a nice PR tool for the league, and a fun experience, if exhausting and boring for players after about their third time.

No, what this is is a study in contrasts. Because while this game is constructed nearly without meaning, entirely arbitrarily, its relevance expands beyond this day, this season, this year and into a much greater context. That’s the real dichotomy of the All-Star Game. It’s both meaningless and crucial.

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When evaluating the resumes of players listed for the Hall of Fame, the criteria is complex, but it’s like any other resume. When you list your resume to an employer, are you able to encapsulate on a 1-2 page document why that job you were at less than six months didn’t work out? Can you describe the thriving success you experienced at the position you were at for four years without a promotion? Can you give context to why one award granted meant a lot and was well-earned while the other was simply the result of your relationship with the awarding board? No. You just fill in the lines. I can do X, I have done X,  I want to do X. That’s it.

The All-Star resumes are no different. Stats, a specific anecdote, perhaps, championships most importantly, and then there’s that which is most often the first thing listed.

X-Time NBA All-Star.

That line holds relevance in history. When we debate the relative merits of a player for inclusion in the Hall (and don’t get me wrong, we can say a lot of the same things about the Hall of Fame that we say about the All-Star Game; in fact, the Hall is probably a bigger disaster than a game which is voted for online), that measure is used to distinguish. Being a six-time NBA All-Star? That’s more than a half-decade of being one of the elite players in the NBA!

Some six-time All-Stars in the Hall of Fame: Tiny Archibald, Adrian Dantley, Joe Dumars, Artis Gilmore, Tommy Heinsohn, Jack Twyman.

Pretty impressive, right? Some active six-time All-Stars: Chris Bosh, Amar’e Stoudemire, and Joe Johnson.

Joe Johnson is a six-time All-Star.

(Note: I’m one of the few people left on the planet who doesn’t punish Johnson for his contract relative to his performance. The Hawks have made the playoffs each year since 2008, haven’t been an abject embarrassment in them outside of the Bucks series which they won, and gave Atlanta a run. Johnson, for all his moderate efficiency, is a huge part of that and is constantly underrated for his defensive work. My point is more about how we look at things now versus how we will look at things later.)

When we look back at Johnson’s career, the contextual stuff about the disgust over his selection or the mockery of his production relative to his contract will get lost. Someone’s going to be perusing Basketball-Reference in ten year who has never seen Joe Johnson play a second of basketball, look at his per-game stats during his peak, look at that six-time All-Star streak, find the YouTube of his work in the Boston series 2008, and think of him as a pretty great player, when currently, he may be the most derided All-Star selected, and Chris Bosh is on the team for crying out loud (again, I don’t have an issue with Bosh, he’s actually been great this year, but for the most part people hate him).

My point is, this stuff matters.

Going to the All-Star game means nothing, but it means more than the All-NBA teams, which receive so much less scrutiny and criticism. Being an All-Star means something to your career. It puts you into that level. When people in non-NBA contexts introduce you, they introduce you as “NBA All-Star.” It’s a designation that represents being something greater, not just currently, but within the massive flow of players that ebb in and out of the league. Stars rise and die in weeks in this league (take heed, Jeremy Lin), and these players selected are above. Paul Pierce is a nine-time All-Star. Nine. He’s probably going to wind up with a decade of All-Star appearances.

Jermaine O’Neal is a footnote in the NBA, and he’s pretty much only mentioned in reference to how slow he is or his injury issues.

The guy is a six-time All-Star!

And there are certainly debates about the quality of stars in the league relative to these eras. But they’re only mentioned in relatively recent context. We ignore how many fewer teams there were in 1980 and before, when some of the biggest legends exist. And no, no one’s going to be talking about Joe Johnson or Jermaine O’Neal as all-time greats, but there is a fondness that develops as a man’s career passes, a remembrance of when he was best that comes to overshadow the fading years of age. The same will happen with Jason Kidd, with Kevin Garnett, the same has already happened with Gary Payton.

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So today is a day for lazy skip passes, a few off-the-backboard alley-oops. Kobe will shoot a lot and if he’s feeling it will score a lot and make everyone shake their head, grin and go “Oh, Kobe.” LeBron may have one of those days… you know what, no, James has never taken this event seriously, probably never will. Blake Griffin will do some stuff. But none of it means anything, and the process of their respective assemblies is obviously flawed, subjective, invalid and largely a joke. But the fact that they are there (or in Joe Johnson’s case, there in spirit) does resonate. It does reflect something about their position in the context of this game, of sports, of culture.

Having been an All-Star means something, even if being one doesn’t.

Warriors, Cavaliers meeting in most star-studded NBA Finals ever

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Stephen Curry, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Draymond Green, Kevin Love, Klay Thompson – the 2017 NBA Finals will be oozing with stars.

Seven All-Stars appearing in the Finals the same year is tied for the most ever with 1983 (76ers: Andrew Toney, Moses Malone, Julius Erving, Maurice Cheeks; Lakers: Magic Johnson, Jamaal Wilkes, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) and 1962 (Celtics: Bill Russell, Bob Cousy, Sam Jones, Tom Heinsohn; Lakers: Elgin Baylor, Frank Selvy, Jerry West).

But there were 24 All-Stars and 23 teams in 1983 and 24 All-Stars and nine teams in 1962. This year, there were 25 All-Stars and 30 teams – a ratio that makes this year’s feat more impressive.

To account for these differences, I’ve used All-Stars above average – the number of All-Stars in the Finals relative to the number of All-Stars for two average teams that year. For example, the average team had 0.83 All-Stars this year. So, an average matchup of two teams would feature 1.67 All-Stars. The 2017 Finals have seven All-Stars – a difference of 5.33.

Here are the All-Stars above average for every Finals since the NBA instituted an All-Star game:

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Here are breakdowns of the Finals with the most All-Stars above average:

2017: Warriors-Cavaliers

All-Stars: 7

All-Stars per team: 0.83

All-Stars above average: 5.33

Warriors

Stephen Curry

Kevin Durant

Draymond Green

Klay Thompson

Cavaliers

LeBron James

Kyrie Irving

Kevin Love

1983 76ers 4, Lakers 0

All-Stars: 7

All-Stars per team: 1.04

All-Stars above average: 4.91

76ers

Andrew Toney

Moses Malone

Julius Erving

Maurice Cheeks

Lakers

Magic Johnson

Jamaal Wilkes

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

1987 Lakers 4, Celtics 2

All-Stars: 6

All-Stars per team: 1.09

All-Stars above average: 3.83

Lakers

Magic Johnson

James Worthy

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Celtics

Larry Bird

Kevin McHale

Robert Parish

2013 Heat 4, Spurs 3

All-Stars: 5

All-Stars per team: 0.83

All-Stars above average: 3.33

Heat

Chris Bosh

LeBron James

Dwyane Wade

Spurs

Tony Parker

Tim Duncan

2012 Heat 4, Thunder 1

All-Stars: 5

All-Stars per team: 0.83

All-Stars above average: 3.33

Heat

LeBron James

Dwyane Wade

Chris Bosh

Thunder

Russell Westbrook

Kevin Durant

2009 Lakers 4, Magic 1

All-Stars: 5

All-Stars per team: 0.87

All-Stars above average: 3.27

Lakers

Kobe Bryant

Pau Gasol

Magic

Jameer Nelson

Rashard Lewis

Dwight Howard

2010 Lakers 4, Celtics 3

All-Stars: 5

All-Stars per team: 0.93

All-Stars above average: 3.13

Lakers

Kobe Bryant

Pau Gasol

Celtics

Paul Pierce

Rajon Rondo

Kevin Garnett

If you’re wondering about the below-average outliers:

Washington Bullets forward Elvin Hayes was the only All-Star in the Bullets’ 4-3 win over the Seattle SuperSonics in 1978, when there were 23 All-Stars and 22 teams.

There were four All-Stars in the 1965 Finals: Sam Jones, Bill Russell and Tom Heinsohn for the victorious Celtics and Jerry West for the Lakers, who lost in five. Yet, that was still below average in a league with nine teams and 21 All-Stars.

That’s why it’s important to consider the NBA’s changing landscape – which leads to even more appreciation for the caliber of players in this year’s Finals.

Of course, current All-Star status is not the only measure of stardom. The NBA’s best player should count more than the league’s 12th-best player in the lesser conference.

But these Finals would hold up by any measure. They feature winners of the last five MVPs (Curry, Durant, LeBron) and the consensus best player in the world (LeBron).

Cavaliers-Warriors III will truly feature a special collection of talent.

Adrian Wojnarowski: Clippers, not Spurs, ‘pretty overwhelming favorite’ for Chris Paul

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Both the Clippers and Spurs are reportedly taking seriously the idea that Chris Paul could sign with San Antonio this summer.

Is Paul bolting L.A. for the Spurs realistic?

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports on CBS Sports Radio:

Not that I see. I don’t know where that came from, and I’ve spent a lot of time around the Spurs this spring. They would have to just tear up that entire payroll. It’s almost unlike anything the Spurs would have done or would do to. To even have a chance at him, they’d have to really gut the roster. And to do that for a 30-plus-year-old point guard, who has a couple great years left, there’s no question – I think there’s more pressure on the Clippers to have to re-sign him than for the Spurs to turn their whole franchise over to make a run at him. Listen, Chris Paul, financially, the difference with him being able to stay in L.A. and get paid, I’d still have a hard time imaging him leaving there. There’s so much money for him to be made. And in that Los Angeles market, in terms of his marketing endorsements, I still think they’re a pretty overwhelming favorite to re-sign him.

The Clippers can offer Paul a projected $205 million over five years. Because they have his Bird Rights, they don’t need cap space to re-sign him.

The Spurs’ max offer to Paul projects to be $152 million over four years, but they’d need major moves to clear enough cap room to do that. Even if they trim their roster to Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Danny Green, Pau Gasol and Tony Parker, they’d still need to dump two of those players.

It’s obviously a lot for San Antonio to overcome.

But it’s not so far outside the Spurs’ norm. To sign LaMarcus Aldridge two years ago, they traded Tiago Splitter (to Hawks) and let Cory Joseph (Raptors), Aron Baynes (Pistons), Marco Belinelli (Kings) walk in free agency.

Paul is probably more valuable than the players San Antonio would have to shed this time around, though his age and the Spurs’ loyalty to Parker raise questions. Would they rather dump an injured and declining Parker or a productive player like Green or Aldridge? (Gasol, who has spent only one year in San Antonio and might even be convinced to opt out, is the most likely to go.)

The Clippers should be favored to sign Paul. But I wouldn’t completely rule out the Spurs.

LeBron James admits Warriors pose one of biggest challenges he’s faced in Finals

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LeBron James is used to being the underdog in the NBA Finals. It started with the first time he got a team there, the 2007 team where after LeBron the two leading scorers were Larry Hughes and Drew Gooden — that team was not really Finals worthy and the Spurs showed that with a sweep.

Entering his seventh straight NBA Finals in 2017, the Cavaliers are again heavy underdogs. When asked about the challenge these Warriors — now with Kevin Durant — pose LeBron was nothing but complimentary, speaking to Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

“It’s probably up there,” James said after the Cleveland Cavaliers’ practice. “I mean, it’s up there. Obviously, I’ve played against four Hall of Famers as well too, with Manu [Ginobili], Kawhi [Leonard], Tony [Parker] and Timmy D [Tim Duncan] on the same team. And if you add Pop [Gregg Popovich] in there, that’s five Hall of Famers.

“So it’s going to be very challenging. Those guys are going to challenge me. They’re going to challenge our ballclub. This is a high-powered team, and I’ve played against some other [stiff competition]. I’ve played against Ray [Allen], KG [Kevin Garnett], Paul [Pierce], [Rajon] Rondo and Doc [Rivers]. So it’s going to be very challenging not only on me mentally, but on our ballclub and on our franchise.”

The Warriors bring four of the top 15-20 guys in the NBA (depending on where you want to rank Klay Thompson), with two of then in the top five with Durant and Stephen Curry. However, what makes the Warriors more dangerous is the way they buy into the offensive system, move the ball and set screens/move off it, all of which makes them greater than just the sum of their parts. Well, that and the fact they had the second best defense in the NBA this year.

Cleveland, however, is probably the team best suited to beat them. Nobody has a good answer for guarding the 1/3 LeBron/Kyrie Irving pick-and-roll, Kevin Love is one of the best power forwards in the game, they are strong on the glass and can be impressive on defense (the challenge will be doing it consistently this series, they haven’t had to up to this point). Ultimately, LeBron is the great equalizer, he is the best player in the game.

All that said, Las Vegas oddsmakers have Golden State the heavy favorites (those odds are a reflection of what the betting public thinks). If LeBron and the Cavaliers pull this off, it will be one of the biggest upsets in NBA Finals history.

Lonzo Ball will never be as good as this fan-made video of him destroying people in 2K17

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Ultimately, nobody has any idea how good Lonzo Ball will be as an NBA player. Franchise cornerstone? All-Star? Above average starter? Rotation player? He will fall somewhere on the scale, but even for NBA teams it’s a guess as to where. (His dad apparently thinks he will end his career compared to Jordan, I seriously doubt that.)

However good he ends up being, he may never be as good as he looks in this 2K17 fan video made by Shady00018. The Lakers should pray he does: Dropping Stephen Curry on a crossover, dunking over Rudy Gobert, throwing no-look passes like beads at Mardi Gras? It’s impressive, if unrealistic.

Then again, reality Lakers fans don’t always intersect.