Here are my picks for the 2002 NBA All-Star Game, to be held on February 10 in Philadelphia. The NBA operates on a system of the fans choosing the five starters for the Eastern and Western Conference teams. Then the coaches cast their ballots for seven reserve players.
The fans have already selected: forwards Vince Carter (Toronto) and Antoine Walker (Boston), center Dikembe Mutombo (Philadelphia), and guards Michael Jordan (Washington) and Allen Iverson (Philadelphia) for the East's starting lineup. In addition, Forwards Kevin Garnett (Minnesota) and Tim Duncan (San Antonio), center Shaquille O'Neal (Los Angeles), and guards Kobe Bryant (Los Angeles) and Steve Francis (Houston) have been selected as starters for the West.
Let us start with the West's reserves. It is arbitrary where we start, but I start with the West simply to protest the self-centered view of the United States held by people on the East Coast.
First, I choose Dirk Nowitzki (Dallas), Chris Webber (Sacramento), Karl Malone (Utah), and Peja Stojakovic (Sacramento) as my forwards. Nowitzki is the best player on a Dallas team that is showing the league that they have reached the upper echelon of teams, and are not going away for a long, long time. Webber missed time early in the season with a sprained ankle, and his team fared well without him. Since he has come back, though, everyone has been wondering how Sacramento functioned without him. His consistent play and gaudy statistics make him a lock for the squad. Malone is ageless. He can still compete with players who remember him watching him in their diapers as he competed against long-since retired players like Kevin McHale. Malone is still good for twenty points and ten rebounds a night. Add that to his being on a team that would crumble to the ground without him, and you have got yourself an all-star. Stojakovic is one of the fastest rising stars in the league. Most of the reason that Webber's absence early in the season did not turn Sacramento into fodder for the bullies in the forward-rich Western Conference was Stojakovic's heady, steady play. He is also averaging over 20 points per game. Everyone in the NBA must be scratching their heads and wondering where this guy came from. On media day at the All Star festivities, the media should get a chance to ask him that very question.
My Western Conference guards are Gary Payton (Seattle) and Steve Nash (Dallas). Payton has simply turned his attitude around this year, and is allowing people to focus more on his game than on his mile-a-minute, trash-talking mouth. He is also the best defensive point guard in the league. Nash is piloting Dallas' squad, and the All-Star Game should showcase him and Nowitzki. Their duo replaces the Malone and Stockton combo that fans have watched for a decade.
I do not think that any center in the West deserves to be an all-star besides Shaquille O'Neal, the obvious starter. I also have the suspicion that Phil Jackson allowed the Lakers to lose a few games recently so that he would not have to coach in the All-Star Game (the coach for each team is the coach for the conference's team which had the best record through yesterday). Therefore, I want to see Jackson assigned to play center for the West reserves. Enough said.
For the East, my forwards are Shareef Abdur-Rahim (Atlanta) and Glenn Robinson (Milwaukee). Abdur-Rahim long put up all-star caliber numbers when he played in Vancouver. Now he is doing it in Atlanta, which is getting him more attention (note: this is further evidence of my pet peeve, the evil East Coast Bias). He should be rewarded with an All Star appearance for his terrific play. Robinson is the only other candidate worthy of consideration. I do not really like him, so I will not say anything more about him, but I will grudgingly give him my nomination.
My guards are Tracy McGrady (Orlando), Jason Kidd (New Jersey), and Paul Pierce (Boston). McGrady is carrying an Orlando team that again lost Grant Hill for a season. Nobody expected him to be as good of an all-around player as he is. He is a no-brainer for the reserves, and should supply some highlight-film material during the course of the game. Kidd is my Most Valuable Player in the league to this point in the season. He has turned New Jersey from a national joke to one of the more talked about teams in the league (sorry, I am just talking about the team, not the entire state. They are still a joke). He manages to make every player on his team a whole lot better.
The East will need that against a bigger, better Western Conference team. Pierce is averaging over 25 points per game for a Boston team that is having a great year. I feel that Pierce has been more instrumental to their success than his teammate Antoine Walker, who was selected by the fans as a starter.
My two reserve centers are Jermaine O'Neal (Indiana) and Alonzo Mourning (Miami). As a fan of the Portland Trail Blazers, I cried when they traded O'Neal. He was on the cusp of stardom when he was traded away. O'Neal just couldn't get playing time behind malcontent Rasheed Wallace. Look who is in the All-Star Game now, Portland! O'Neal has come alive this year, becoming the second best center in the league, behind another guy named O'Neal. Mourning has been playing great ball as of late. Miami recently doubled their win total for the year in a two-week span, and if they keep it up, they are an improbable playoff team. Mourning is the only reason they are playing that well, and the East needs his size to defend the forward-centers from the West.
This concludes my picks. Stay tuned for the NBA's announcement of the real reserves at about the same time as this newspaper is hitting the newsstands. My picks may prove to be right.