1. Reserve Judgments For 2010
The starters for the 59th NBA All-Star Game were revealed Thursday night. The reserves in each conference will be unveiled next Thursday.
The gap is bridged here with our own annual selections -- just like the coaches do it -- to fill the seven open seats on the respective benches.
Instructions for how to select All-Star reserves have been e-mailed to all 30 teams, with the head coaches asked to vote for seven players in their respective conferences -- but none of their own -- by Tuesday at 3 p.m.
Each coach's list of seven submissions for the Feb. 14 extravaganza in the Dallas Cowboys' new 80,000-seat palace must include two forwards, two guards, one center and two wild cards, with those picks to be ranked from one to seven to give each vote a point value for tiebreaking purposes.
But the coaches are also cleared to ignore the listings on the official All-Star ballot if they feel a player can play multiple positions, theoretically increasing the likelihood that the seven players having the best seasons are indeed selected.
The West's starters are Denver's Carmelo Anthony and San Antonio's Tim Duncan at forward, Phoenix's Amare Stoudemire at center and the Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant and Phoenix's Steve Nash at guard.
Using all of the above guidelines, here's how our benches would look:EAST RESERVES
Center: Chris Bosh (Toronto)
Bosh is listed on the All-Star ballot and in every Raptors box score as a forward. He's also a Dallas native who deserves to be starting at forward for the East at the sparkly new Cowboys Stadium in nearby Arlington, especially given how much time Boston's Kevin Garnett has missed this season through injury.
The best consolation prize we can offer is a category all his own.
Coaches, remember, are invited by the league to vote for reserves at the position "most advantageous for the All-Star team" and "not necessarily the one he plays most often during the season." It seems appropriate, then, to separate Bosh from the rest and send him back home as the East's reserve center, since he'll undoubtedly be the first reserve picked by every East coach apart from Toronto's Jay Triano, who obviously isn't allowed to choose him.
No one knows yet if this will be Bosh's last season as a Raptor, but it has undoubtedly been his best. He leads the NBA in 20-point, 10-rebound games this season with 26 (Memphis' Zach Randolph is next with 19) and has only boosted his stock as free agency beckons, averaging 24.2 points and 11.2 boards to put Toronto in contention for the East's No. 5 seed after the Raptors' 11-17 start.
Forwards: Gerald Wallace (Charlotte) and Josh Smith (Atlanta)
This much is clear: Charlotte has to have an All-Star for the first time. Has to. The problem is picking between Wallace and newcomer Stephen Jackson, whom Wallace himself credits as a chief spark (see Box 4) in Charlotte's most successful half-season in franchise history. Wallace, though, makes it tough -- even for this longtime Jack fan -- to give the spot to anyone else. Averaging 18.6 points to go with his mammoth jump from 7.8 rebounds per game in 2008-09 to 11.3 boards per game, Wallace has been one of the revelations of the season.
The Hawks are making it even tougher with their surge past Orlando into the East's No. 3 slot. They have as many as four reserve candidates for East coaches to consider, depending on how impressed you are with new sixth man Jamal Crawford (see Box 3). There will be calls for center Al Horford to snag a reserve spot as well -- and accusations, no doubt, that I'm letting my lefty bias sway me -- but Smith's huge impact at the defensive end and his more disciplined play offensively have been key factors in Atlanta's success. Add up Smith's versatility, improved team play and those above-the-rim capabilities that belong in an in an All-Star setting and he's the most worthy Hawk this side of Joe Johnson.
Guards: Rajon Rondo (Boston) and Joe Johnson (Atlanta)
Rondo has been Boston's steadiest player through a string of injuries and -- for all the grief he still gets for that suspect shot -- commemorated the lucrative contract extension he received in October by emerging as the best point guard in the East and the best defensive point guard anywhere. Next to Bosh, this is the easiest reserve selection in the conference.
Johnson, meanwhile, continues to be one of the few players on earth -- behind LeBron James and Dwyane Wade -- capable of giving his team 20 points, five assists and five rebounds every night. It won't be long before you're hearing a lot more about his well-rounded (and perpetually underrated) game: 189 days to be exact. That's when free agency hits and teams start lining up to try to steal Johnson away from the Hawks.
Three Celtics? I don't quite believe it, either, but I couldn't omit Pierce just because the fans ignored the injuries to vote in KG. The twofold truth is that I, too, always want to see KG at All-Star Weekend and that Pierce -- as we've been saying ever since his NBA Finals MVP performance in 2008 -- hovers at a new level of clutch even if his stats get more modest every season. The latest example: Pierce is quietly shooting almost 47 percent on 3-pointers. There's no way the coaches leave him off and I concur.
The last spot, for me, came down to three: Charlotte's Jackson, Chicago's Derrick Rose with a late push (ahead of teammate Joakim Noah in the race to be the Bulls' first All-Star since Michael Jordan in 1998) and New York's Lee. Give me another day and I'm fairly sure I'd find a way to squeeze both Jackson and Wallace in from the Bobcats.
Yet Lee wins out because he's suddenly so much more than a double-double guy for a team that's legitimately competing for the final playoff spot in the East instead of just dribbling out the clock to free agency. One trusted scout told me this week that he sees Lee, having emerged as a virtual point forward for the Knicks, as the most improved player in the league.
Although his numbers are often dismissed as a byproduct of Mike D'Antoni's system, New York is actually playing at a slightly slower pace this season, which cuts down on his statistical opportunities. Lee is averaging 19.1 points to go with his 11.2 rebounds because his jumper gets more reliable every season and because D'Antoni -- with no Steve Nash at Madison Square Garden -- is running a lot of his offense through him.
The Line's 1-7 East Order:
1. Bosh, 2. Rondo, 3. Johnson, 4. Wallace, 5. Smith, 6. Pierce, 7. Lee
Forwards: Dirk Nowitzki (Dallas) and Kevin Durant (Oklahoma City)
Nowitzki has never been voted in as the starter by the fans. Ideally, this would have been the year, given his stature as the best player on the host team, but Tim Duncan rallied in the final two weeks of balloting to earn the starting spot opposite Carmelo Anthony by 63,691 votes.
Ambassador Dirk will thus have to settle for his usual unanimous selection from West coaches, having powered Dallas to the second-best record in the West. Despite the Mavericks' lack of a steady second scorer, Nowitzki has uncorked what many observers consider to be his best-ever start to a season, averaging his typically efficient 25.5 points and 7.9 rebounds at 31.
Durant is another automatic. About to make his All-Star breakthrough in just his third season, Durant is challenging for the league's scoring title with the second-most-prolific offensive season ever seen for a player 21 or younger, averaging 29.2 points for a Thunder team that has already surpassed last season's 23 wins. The only 21-and-under player in history to record a higher scoring average than Durant's current points-per-game rate is LeBron James, who averaged 31.4 points for Cleveland in 2005-06.
Missing only three of Portland's 43 games so far and keeping the Blazers in the hunt for a top-four slot in the West in the face of a steady stream of injuries are reasons enough for Roy to earn a trip to his third consecutive All-Star Game. The statistical production -- 23.1 points, 4.6 rebounds and 5.0 assists, despite the losses of Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla and the struggles to integrate newcomer Andre Miller -- makes Roy's invite a must.
But I can't figure out, even when you acknowledge Tracy McGrady's popularity in China as a longtime sidekick to Yao Ming, how Steve Nash and Paul trailed McGrady in fan balloting for so long. I'm still somewhat surprised that Paul finished only third in balloting among West guards. Yet those mysteries and all the uncertainty about the Hornets' ability to keep Paul happy long-term can't change the fact that they're suddenly just three games out of fifth place in the West after a 9-3 surge with their 6-foot wrecking ball averaging 19.5 points, 11.2 assists and 4.5 boards.
Center: Zach Randolph (Memphis)
Randolph was omitted from the All-Star ballot because the ballot committee -- which included yours truly -- felt it couldn't make room for two Grizzlies big men on the ballot and gave the solitary center spot allotted to Memphis to Marc Gasol.
I'd argue now that the ballot committee unwittingly helped Randolph's All-Star chances immensely with that snub.
Randolph was never going to be voted in by the fans, no matter how emphatically he's capitalized on the chance to start over (again) in Memphis with what is shaping up as one of the finest critics-hushing seasons in memory. But Randolph's omission from the ballot put his All-Star candidacy in the news immediately and kept it there.
Rudy Gay, O.J. Mayo and Gasol have all impressed, too, but Randolph's 20.8 points and 11.5 rebounds per game have established him as the unlikely MVP of a group that ranks as the league's biggest surprise team. Considering how many surprise teams we've seen already -- Charlotte is the Grizzlies' hottest new comp there now that Phoenix, Houston and Sacramento have all faded somewhat -- Memphis deserves at least one All-Star.
Given how little we expected from the Grizz, where they are in the standings now and how much grief they got for bringing in Randolph less than two years after dealing Pau Gasol to the Lakers, doesn't it have to be Z-Bo?
First things first: Golden State marathon man Monta Ellis and Clippers center Chris Kaman have All-Star numbers. But the team-success variable we've always leaned on heavily is sure to cost Ellis and bound to hurt Kaman as well, with Golden State nowhere near playoff contention and L.A. struggling to keep up with the bottom end of the West's top 11.
Kaman was omitted from the All-Star ballot after an injury-plagued 2008-09 season; Marcus Camby claimed a ballot slot among West centers instead. I'd argue that the omission has unintentionally created good buzz for Kaman, as it has for Randolph, but making room on the West roster for both ballot snubees is impossible when you consider that there are only two rosters spots left as it is for Deron Williams, Chauncey Billups and Pau Gasol.
How do you exclude one of those three?
Gasol has missed 17 games through injury, but the Lakers are 21-4 when he plays and just 11-6 without him, underlining how much difference-making help Pau gives Kobe Bryant when he plays. Billups has likewise missed eight games through injury, but Denver's 3-5 record without him -- along with his career-best scoring average of 18.8 points per game -- only enhances Chauncey's candidacy.
Williams, meanwhile, is still waiting for his first All-Star selection. He ranks as the Jazzman most likely to be chosen by the coaches, ahead of Carlos Boozer, but an invite might be even tougher to snag this time since Nash was voted in as a starter after being excluded entirely from the 2009 game in Phoenix.
Although his Jazz awoke Friday mired in eighth place in the West at a modest 24-18, D-Will is averaging 19.4 points, 9.6 assists and 3.8 rebounds. Utah also just completed a 4-0 season sweep of mighty San Antonio, which spruces up that No. 8 seed. So it'll be cruel if D-Will misses out again, since he -- like Chris Bosh -- is a local product.
Has Gasol missed too much time after sitting out for all but seven minutes of seven games earlier this month? LeBron James is Cleveland's only All-Star on my ballot, with no obvious nominees to join him now that teammate Mo Williams is out for up to six weeks with a shoulder injury, but don't the Lakers -- as reigning champs and heavy favorites in the West -- have to have at least two All-Stars?
Gasol's impact in the standings and Denver's 25-9 record when Billups is in uniform have me mystified how to make room for D-Will. And hoping, for the local kid's sake, that I'm wrong.
The Line's 1-7 West Order: 1. Nowitzki, 2. Roy, 3. Paul, 4. Durant, 5. Randolph, 6. Billups, 7. Gasol
2. One on One To Five
Five questions with Lakers forward Lamar Odom:
Q: Have all the injuries you guys have been dealing with dented this team's confidence or morale?
A: No. That's just part of it. Everybody knows that to win a championship you need health. When you're healthy, that builds chemistry. But we knew the second time around wasn't going to be easy.
Q: Is this team, when healthy, better than the team that won the championship in June?
A: We won't know until the end of the year.
Q: Have you seen enough to say that this team has that potential?
A: I think everybody sees it. We're so deep, so skilled, in so many different places.
Q: But there are also a lot of people on the outside -- and I have to put myself in that category -- who say that the Lakers have looked a little average at times in the first half of the season.
A: I can agree with that. I was talking to one of my friends yesterday and we were talking about how we haven't played on the level all the time that we should be playing on. But we're also sitting here with the best record. We'll be all right. This [Kobe Bryant's finger and back injuries] is just something that's going to pass.
Q: As one of Ron Artest's lifelong friends, how involved have the Lakers asked you to be in keeping him plugged into the team concept?
A: He probably trusts my opinion. He understands that I've been through it as well as far as dealing with that P word perception. I would say he trusts my opinion and takes my advice on the court because we've known each other for so long. And vice versa.
3. Alternative Listening
AllNight host Jason Smith and Marc Stein talk about Shaq's idea for the dunk contest and break down the Cleveland Cavaliers and Los Angeles Lakers at the midpoint of the regular season.
To hear the interview, click here.
4. Eastern Conference
As covered further in Box 8, Philadelphia is aggressively assessing its trade options leading into the league's Feb. 18 trading deadline.
But the strict media focus on the intriguing availability of Andre Iguodala and two high-salaried Sixers who have been shopped without success (Elton Brand and Samuel Dalembert) might have to be expanded.
One NBA front-office source told ESPN.com that the Sixers would also be amenable to moving Lou Williams in the right deal. The 23-year-old guard was previously thought to be a Philly untouchable.
Some numbers of note in the East this week:
5-7: Boston's record since a Christmas Day win in Orlando, which includes a 4-6 mark in games without the injured Kevin Garnett.
4-8: Orlando's record since a Christmas Day home loss to the Celtics.
17: Atlanta's Jamal Crawford has scored 20 points or more off the bench 17 times and has led the Hawks in scoring as a reserve 14 times. Houston's Carl Landry is second in the latter category with 13 games as the Rockets' leading scorer off the bench.
16: With just 16 points Wednesday night in Miami's loss at Charlotte, Dwyane Wade saw his scoring average on the second night of back-to-backs drop to 21.4 points per game, nearly seven points fewer than he has averaged in all other games: 28.0 ppg.
1: In the Nets' loss at Phoenix on Wednesday night, New Jersey's Brook Lopez (26 points) and twin brother Robin (20) of the Suns became the NBA's first brothers to score at least 20 points in the same game since Dominique and Gerald Wilkins did so 11 times between 1987 and 1994.
5. Marc's Quote
"I think being with Allen [Iverson] for six years has helped me a little with Stephen. He's crazy, but it's a good kind of crazy."
Bobcats coach Larry Brown, on the mid-November gamble to acquire Stephen Jackson from Golden State.
Since the arrival of Jackson's unique brand of loco, Charlotte is 18-13. That includes a 9-1 record in 2010 thanks to the 6-0 homestand that the Bobcats just completed with a 39-point thrashing of Miami, moving them up to fifth in the East entering Friday's play.
Winning on the road remains a major issue, but it's clear that new running mate Gerald Wallace wasn't exaggerating in December when he told ESPN.com that Jackson has "turned this team around." In addition to Jackson's offensive versatility and limitless confidence, which have filled two huge voids for Charlotte, Jackson's arrival doubled Brown's cache of small forwards who play a much bigger game than you expect from that position.
Wallace continues to rank among the league's top five rebounders at 11.3 boards per game, combining with Jackson's edgy game and the inconsistent-but-skillful Boris Diaw to form an undersized trio that has flourished since the struggling Tyson Chandler was shelved with a foot injury.
The payoff: Charlotte will have a winning record at the season's 41-game midpoint for the first time in franchise history, which puts the Bobs on course to restore Brown's reputation as his profession's Mr. Fix-It after that disastrous stint with the Knicks. Staying that course and finally reaching the postseason might even net some very rare praise for the Brown hire and Jackson swoop for a certain Michael Jeffrey Jordan.
Brown's chief concern from here, besides improving the Bobs' 3-15 road record, is making sure Jackson, Wallace and Diaw don't wear down from trying to carry the club to its first-ever playoff berth. Before this season, Charlotte sported a winning record for only 16 days in its first five seasons of existence: 14 days in 2007-08 and two days in 2005-06. At no point during the 2004-05, 2006-07 or 2008-09 seasons did the Bobcats have a winning record.
6. Send Roy To Dallas
Brandon Roy's All-Star-worthy numbers have helped keep his banged-up Blazers in the thick of the West's playoff chase. (See Box 1.)
7. Western Conference
Portland's Andre Miller is quietly averaging 19.6 points and 6.8 assists per game in January after entering the new year averaging just 11.1 points on 41 percent shooting.
The surge comes at a good time if the Blazers plan -- as many rival teams have suspected all season -- to shop Miller before the Feb. 18 trading deadline in search of deals to address another roster need.
But is that Portland's plan?
One source with knowledge of the Blazers' thinking insisted this week that, contrary to persistent speculation, Portland has not made Miller and his cap-friendly contract (guaranteed only this season and next season) available.
Perhaps we should say not yet, but the latest signals run counter to the notion that Miller is being shopped to secure a big man to deputize for the injured Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla or that Miller's recent spat with Blazers coach Nate McMillan guarantees his exit.
Some numbers of note in the West this week:
5: Entering Thursday's showdown with LeBron James in Cleveland, Kobe Bryant had been held below 20 points in five of the Lakers' 10 games in January. Playing with a broken finger on his shooting hand and through recent back spasms, Bryant is shooting just 39 percent from the field this month and averaging a mere 22.0 points per game. That's Bryant's lowest scoring average for a month in which he's played at least five games since December 2003, when he averaged 20.3 points per game.
3: Tim Duncan will become one of just three active players with at least 20,000 points and 10,000 rebounds when he records his first point Friday night against Houston. Duncan enters the weekend with 19,999 career points and 10,943 rebounds and is poised to join Kevin Garnett (21,712 points and 11,903 rebounds entering Friday's play) and Shaquille O'Neal (28,014 points and 12,816 rebounds) on that short list.
12: Twelve of the 13 retired players to reach 20,000 points and 10,000 rebounds are in the Basketball Hall of Fame. The other -- Karl Malone -- becomes HOF-eligible for the first time this year.
23: Houston will be trying to halt a run of 23 successive games under 100 points at San Antonio in Friday's road date with the Spurs. The Rockets haven't scored 100 points on the Spurs' floor since April 20, 1997, late in the season before San Antonio drafted Duncan.
25: Marcus Camby became just the sixth player to have multiple 25-rebound games during the past 10 seasons with his 25 boards in Wednesday night's win over Chicago. Ben Wallace has three such games; Camby has now matched Erick Dampier, Garnett, Dwight Howard and Dikembe Mutombo with two.
8. Trade-Deadline Chatter
The Sixers are only growing more determined to make a deal before the deadline. I've heard that in strong terms from three different sources this week already.
Which tells me we should expect to keep hearing more trade scenarios that include Andre Iguodala's name.
Foiled in its long-standing attempts to move Samuel Dalembert and/or Elton Brand, Philly has apparently come to realize that its best shot at a shake-it-up move is convincing one of the risk-taking/big-spending teams out there -- such Houston, Dallas and Cleveland -- to absorb the four years and $56.3 million remaining on Iguodala's contract after this season.
Not that I'd give the Sixers great hope of hooking Cleveland.
The Cavs are still chasing a big man that can stretch the floor with 3-point range, and continue to hope they can get one by peddling Zydrunas Ilgauskas' expiring contract.
To read the complete TrueHoop entry, click here.
9. Mavs Target Kings' Martin
The Mavericks, according to NBA front-office sources, continue to tell the Kings that they want a call back if that stance changes.
Sources close to the situation told ESPN.com that Dallas -- reluctant until recently to make Josh Howard available in trade discussions -- is prepared to part with the struggling former All-Star swingman in a deal for Martin.
The Kings, though, have been telling teams that they are not ready to field offers for Martin, determined to give his fledging backcourt partnership with hot-shot rookie Tyreke Evans an extended period of evaluation.
If that position changes between now and the Feb. 18 trading deadline, Dallas is expected to be one of the league's most determined Martin suitors.
The Sacramento Bee's Sam Amick recently listed Houston, Toronto, Cleveland and Phoenix as teams tracking Martin along with Dallas.
It remains to be seen whether the Kings will bow to that interest in the next few weeks or if they'll become more open to the idea of trading Martin if they hear that they can also shed another one of their long-term contracts -- such as Andres Nocioni or Beno Udrih -- in the process.
To read the complete ESPNDallas post, click here.