By Marc Stein
What a difference two years makes.
As recently as November 2007, I eagerly awaited the annual release of the NBA's All-Star ballot, mainly because I knew second-guessing it would be an easy item for the Weekend Dime.
After participating on the top-secret ballot panel for the second straight year, I invited folks earlier Tuesday to send their second-guesses directly to me via Twitter (www.twitter.com/STEIN_LINE_HQ).
No one has formally cleared me or asked me to speak for the whole panel, which also includes Mike Breen (ABC/ESPN play-by-play man), Eddie Sefko (Dallas Morning News), Doug Smith (Toronto Star and president of the Professional Basketball Writers Association), Marc Spears (Yahoo! Sports) and Ian Thomsen (Sports Illustrated). But I feel compelled to try to share some insights on how we arrived at some of the decisions that have elicited the most passionate protests I've seen.
We start, though, with two reminders.
1. Every team must have a minimum of three players on the ballot. It's not a matter of merely choosing the top 12 centers, 24 forwards and 24 guards in each conference.
2. All of our voting was completed during the first week of October -- more than a month ago -- for printing reasons. The league needs that much time to get the ballots ready for public consumption.
Onto some of the louder points of contention:
The biggest omission in the West has to be Clippers center Chris Kaman, whose spot essentially went to teammate Marcus Camby. The consensus here was that the Clips, coming off a 19-win season, didn't merit two centers in a 12-man category. Camby's veteran status nudged him ahead of Kaman, who has since reeled off a streak of six 20-point games that ended Monday.
You'll note that we did not apply the one-center limit in the East, where Boston landed Kendrick Perkins and Rasheed Wallace on the ballot. The difference? Boston's status as title contenders and an even bigger shortage of quality center candidates than the West convinced us that two centers from one team was acceptable in this instance.
Regular Clips-watchers are also undoubtedly wondering why Al Thornton is on the ballot and Eric Gordon is not. It was a positional issue. Forward slots were harder to fill in the West, creating an opening for Thornton.
Brad Miller's inclusion with the East centers over Chicago teammate Joakim Noah was another nod to veteran status without the benefit of knowing how well Noah, like Kaman, would start the season.
Tyreke Evans over Spencer Hawes? The majority ruled that No. 1 overall pick Blake Griffin should be the only rookie on the ballot, which helped Hawes -- along with that perennial center shortage -- snag one of the three slots allotted to the Kings. The same reasoning applies to Ramon Sessions over Johnny Flynn in Minnesota. Rookies generally have to wait their turn to crack the ballot. Even Brandon Jennings.
Memphis' Zach Randolph is the league's only current top-20 scorer who didn't make the ballot, but I don't sense Kaman-level fury about the selection of Marc Gasol over Randolph.
The biggest problem with the ballot -- as much as any of these issues are "problems" when no one in the discussion is a legit candidate to be voted in as a starter -- is Allen Iverson's presence as a West guard option. Reason being: Iverson is the one guy in the discussion who theoretically could be voted in by the fans.
Iverson was certainly deserving of a spot among West guards when we assembled the ballot. He and Tracy McGrady still have way too much popularity, no matter what their critics say, to leave them off. Especially when we're talking about the fans' game.
What happens if Iverson is selected to start for the 10th time in the past 11 seasons when he's not actually active with the Grizz? Or if he ends up retiring and/or gets bought out of his Memphis contract and still gets voted in a starter?
The reality is that Iverson would need a lot of support from the general public to be voted in ahead of Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul in the West. Yet the answer to all of the above questions, at this juncture, is that no one is quite sure how the league would handle it. There’s nothing in the manual for this one. The mere possibility would appear to be an unprecedented situation ... unless you want to compare it to Magic Johnson starting in the 1992 All-Star Game after he announced his retirement early in the 1991-92 season after testing positive for HIV.
And I wouldn't. Iverson leaving the Grizz in contentious circumstances after playing in just three games is really nothing like the circumstances that sent Magic to Orlando in '92.
We repeat: It will almost certainly wind up as a non-issue thanks to Kobe and CP3. But if you’re looking for something to bounce back and forth on this ballot, that’s the topic.