Just this week, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban complained that the voting system is “absolutely, positively broken” and lobbied for the NBA to provide additional roster spots for reserves who may have been overlooked by the fans. His reasoning was that leading vote-getter Stephen Curry received a mere 1.5 million votes, which is a miniscule total when you consider the global, electronic balloting process.
As he often does, Cuban made some good points. But until his ideas are implemented, teams will continue to rely on the old-fashioned strategy of campaigning for their players, both in public and behind the scenes.
And there’s at least one coach who has had his fill of that.
“We got some interesting things in the mail from people who were politicking for their guys,” San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said recently. “Just so that everybody who sent me something, I just want them to know it immediately went in the trash can. Such pandering is embarrassing.”
Here’s who belongs in New York next month – and who doesn’t – without any politicking or pandering.
The fans did pretty well here except for their inclusion of Kobe Bryant, who was shooting 37 percent from the field for an awful team before his season-ending injury corrected their mistake. That will open a roster spot for an extremely deep field that has been further complicated by injuries to mainstays and where someone is going to feel snubbed. “The world we’re living in here in the West, this is advanced citizenship,” Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said. The impact of those words may be illustrated by the Mavericks failing to place a player on the roster despite a 30-15 mark.
LaMarcus Aldridge: There are three players averaging at least 20 points and 10 rebounds – starter Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins and Aldridge, whose value to one of the league’s top five teams was clearly illustrated this week by his absence and surprising return. But if his thumb acts up, this spot could go to someone else. VERDICT: IN
Mike Conley: Bryant’s injury puts Conley squarely in the conversation. He has been the catalyst for a team that has been at or near the top of the league all season, covering for the absence of Zach Randolph with the best season of his career. It’s time, even if it is as an injury replacement. VERDICT: IN
DeMarcus Cousins: In two of the three years Kevin Love was an All-Star, he was in the top five in scoring and rebounding for a terrible Western Conference team. Cousins is fourth in scoring and third in rebounding for a terrible Western Conference team. VERDICT: IN
Tim Duncan: Although his numbers aren’t eye-popping, he has been the best player for San Antonio, which has been hit hard by injuries. It will be interesting to see if the West coaches believe the Spurs should have one All-Star rather than the Grizzlies or Rockets having two. VERDICT: OUT
Kevin Durant: All of his numbers say he belongs, except one – 23 missed games. Durant said he doesn’t need to be validated by an All-Star Game vote. Who are we to argue with the MVP? VERDICT: OUT
Monta Ellis: He really doesn’t do much else besides score, although Ellis is doing that as efficiently as at any point in his career. But other candidates – including Conley – have been better and more valuable to their teams. VERDICT: OUT
Draymond Green: It is tempting to select a third player from the league-leading Warriors, and Green – the team’s Swiss Army knife – would be the guy. But the West’s depth of good teams and good players appears to work against him. VERDICT: OUT
James Harden: He leads the league in scoring and is no worse than second in the MVP discussion. Harden should have been voted as a starter ahead of Bryant. VERDICT: IN
Dwight Howard: His scoring and rebounding averages are as low as they have been since his early days in Orlando. Howard also has missed 13 games, and Houston’s 9-4 record without him doesn’t help when he is stood alongside fellow bigs Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki. VERDICT: OUT
Damian Lillard: Harden and Stephen Curry are the only other players averaging better than 20 points and six assists. Lillard is the only one of them doing it as a second option, and his 3-pointer volume and percentage is nearly as good. VERDICT: IN
Dirk Nowitzki: He doesn’t lead the Mavericks in any major statistical category – except PER (21.5), which is higher than Howard’s. Ask yourself this: If you believe the Mavs deserve an All-Star, are they better with Ellis and without Nowitzki or vice versa? VERDICT: IN
Chris Paul: There’s been some talk that some of the league’s younger point guards are closing the gap on Paul. Take a look at his career-high 40 percent shooting from deep and his ridiculous 4.61 assist-to-turnover ratio and get back to me. VERDICT: IN
Klay Thompson: Charles Barkley keeps saying that Thompson is the best two-way shooting guard in the NBA. That doesn’t make him a better player than Harden, but it does make him more than good enough to be an All-Star. VERDICT: IN
Russell Westbrook: His numbers are stratospheric, both the good (27.95 PER) and the bad (3.8 turnovers per game). But can you really put him in the conversation with Paul, Lillard and Conley when he has missed 14 games? VERDICT: OUT
The fans actually surprised me by voting for Washington’s John Wall and Toronto’s Kyle Lowry as starters. They have been the East’s two most valuable players thus far. Of course, the fans also voted in Carmelo Anthony, who has missed 11 games and is the leading scorer on a team that right now is worse than the Philadelphia 76ers. If you’re a fan of conspiracy theories, consider that Anthony’s absence would have left the NBA without a representative from both the Knicks and Nets for a midseason showcase across two boroughs in the league’s corporate backyard.
Chris Bosh: He started the season looking like Toronto Chris Bosh, adjusting quickly and forcefully to the departure of LeBron James. I think a lot of people forgot how much of an alpha dog Bosh was with the Raptors, so he reminded them. VERDICT: IN
Jimmy Butler: Despite a recent slump, he has been the best shooting guard in the Eastern Conference this season. No other backcourt player is averaging 20 points and six rebounds. And with all their injuries, where would the Bulls be without him? VERDICT: IN
Al Horford: His teammates will tell you that he is the guy who makes it all work because of his offensive versatility as a post player, face-up shooter and passer. But like Derrick Rose, he got off to a slow start because he was working his way back from an injury. VERDICT: OUT
Kyrie Irving: His shooting is up considerably and assists down slightly, which was to be expected when James becomes your teammate. But his scoring has remained the same, his defense is slightly better, and he wasn’t fingered for any of Cleveland’s issues. VERDICT: IN
Brandon Knight: You can argue that the Bucks deserve an All-Star as a current playoff team in the East, and Knight would be the guy, leading Milwaukee in points, assists and steals. But he comes up just a bit short among a group of talented point guards. That won’t stop him from getting rich this summer. VERDICT: OUT
Kyle Korver: Perhaps the most intriguing possibility, because many still consider him a savant who doesn’t do much more than shoot. But he is doing it historically well (53.1 percent) for the East’s best team. The question becomes whether opposing coaches who game-plan for him will also respect him by voting for him. VERDICT: IN
Paul Millsap: He definitely benefits from the lack of quality big men in the East. But he also has been the best all-around player on the East’s best team with remarkable consistency in an equal-opportunity system that doesn’t overtly feature him. VERDICT: IN
Derrick Rose: His supporters will point to his elevated play over the last month, which is at an All-Star level. So are we supposed to just forget about his pedestrian play before that? He also has missed nearly a quarter of Chicago’s games, and having two teammates who became All-Stars in his absence doesn’t help. VERDICT: OUT
Jeff Teague: He is just outside the top 30 in scoring and top 10 in both assists and steals. And he has done so with the fewest minutes and shots among the so-called elite point guards while piloting the East’s best team by far. VERDICT: IN
Nikola Vucevic: Yes, we know the Magic are 13th in the awful East, losing twice as much as they win. Is that really his fault? While Vucevic does benefit from the requirement for frontcourt players, he has more double-doubles than anyone except Pau Gasol and would be even more unstoppable if his teammates could actually shoot. VERDICT: IN
Dwyane Wade: His numbers are slightly better than those of Heat teammate Chris Bosh. But Wade has been a bit less consistent and a bit less present, and there’s no way a team four games under .500 should have two All-Stars. If you want to give him Vucevic’s spot, be my guest. But I’m not. VERDICT: OUT
TRIVIA: Only one player in NBA history has made at least 10 3-pointers in a game more than once, and he has done it three times. Who is he? Answer below.
THE END OF CIVILIZATION AS WE KNOW IT: ESPN dropped its telecast of the Lakers-Knicks game on February 1, despite the fact that teams from the country’s two largest markets were tipping off 4 1/2 hours before the start of the Super Bowl. Instead, ESPN is airing Chris Paul’s celebrity bowling tournament. And the March 12 rematch in Los Angeles was dropped by TNT, which at least added an NBA game in its stead.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul, who played collegiately at Wake Forest, on the recent additions of Duke alumni Austin Rivers and Dahntay Jones to a roster that already includes J.J. Redick:
“We’re definitely over the quota.”
TANKS A LOT!: In Monday’s loss at Washington, Philadelphia was missing Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and Tony Wroten to injury and used six rookies, four second-year players and four-year journeyman Malcolm Thomas, who had played a combined 511 career games. Seven members of the Wizards had played more games, including two – Paul Pierce and Andre Miller – who played twice as many. “At times you’re just sitting on the bench just noticing the difference in maturity,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said. “It was one of those games where you really stepped back and thought, we really have a young team.” Ya think?
LINE OF THE WEEK: Klay Thompson, Golden State vs. Sacramento, Jan. 23: 33 minutes, 16-25 FGs, 11-15 3-pointers, 9-10 FTs, two rebounds, five assists, four steals, two blocks, four turnovers, 52 points in a 126-101 win. This week, James Harden had a game with 45 points on 18 shots and Brandon Jennings had the first 20-20 game in over five years. And their performances were obliterated by Thompson, who had the best individual quarter in NBA history in the third period, scoring a league-record 37 points on 13-of-13 shooting, including 9-of-9 from the arc. On an 11-game night, only one team had a 37-point quarter. Thompson’s career high equaled the league season high set last week by Minnesota’s Mo Williams, and he was one 3-pointer shy of the NBA record shared by Kobe Bryant and Donyell Marshall. “As many spectacular things as Michael (Jordan) did, which he did nightly, I never saw him do that,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said.
LINE OF THE WEAK: Roy Hibbert, Indiana at Atlanta, Jan. 21: 20 minutes, 1-4 FGs, 2-2 FTs, one rebound, zero assists, one block, zero steals, two fouls, one turnover, four points in a 110-91 loss. This is Hibbert’s second appearance in this space this season. If you wonder whether we are picking on him, consider that two nights later at Miami, he was 1-4 with two rebounds, zero blocks, four fouls and three turnovers in 18 minutes.
TRILLION WATCH: The heroes of zeros were back in full force this week. There were 3 trillions from Indiana’s Lavoy Allen at Atlanta on Wednesday and Chris Copeland at Miami on Friday. Knicks rookie Cleanthony Early had a 4 trillion at Orlando on Friday. But the big winner was Nuggets guard Randy Foye, who had a 7 trillion vs. Washington on Sunday and matched Spurs rookie Kyle Anderson for the second-biggest trillion this season. Honorable mention to Nets rookie Bojan Bogdanovic, whose 3-point attempt scuttled a potential 13 trillion at the LA Clippers on Thursday.
GAME OF THE WEEK: Memphis at Dallas, Jan. 27. Despite their gaudy record, the Mavericks are just 2-8 against fellow Western Conference playoff teams. One of those wins came last week at Memphis, which leads the Southwest Division. The following night, Dallas visits Houston.
GAME OF THE WEAK: Minnesota at Philadelphia, Jan. 30. Tankapalooza should be in full effect as the host 76ers look to avenge a win at Minnesota earlier this season that abruptly ended their season-opening losing streak at 17 games. Philadelphia has lost five in a row and cannot afford another momentum-stopping win over the Timberwolves, who also have their tank rolling with 19 losses in 21 games.
TWO MINUTES: Nets forward Mirza Teletovic is fortunate to simply be out for the season. He could have died on a plane flight if he had ignored the shortness of breath brought on by pulmonary embolisms, which my wife had two years ago and were detected just in time. Teletovic’s treatment includes blood thinners, which could jeopardize his ability to continue his career. … Golden State swept the season series from Houston for the first time since the 1973-74 campaign, winning all four games by an average of 15.3 points. But that hasn’t convinced Rockets superstars James Harden and Dwight Howard. In a huddle during last Saturday’s home loss, cameras caught Harden telling teammates that the Warriors “ain’t even that good.” And when Howard was asked after Wednesday’s loss in Golden State if the Warriors were the NBA’s best team, he said it was Atlanta. Hey, guys, it doesn’t matter if the Warriors are the best team, or even “that good.” What does matter is that they have shown they are clearly better than you, and a playoff matchup would be a death knell. … As of today, last year’s four conference finalists are a collective four games under .500. And here’s an ever better one: The four most storied franchises in NBA history – the Knicks, Celtics, 76ers and Lakers – are a combined 90 games under .500. … The immaturity of some members of the Suns has forced coach Jeff Hornacek to treat them like high school players. Twice this weekend, he benched players for the remainder of the game after they received technical fouls. The first was Goran Dragic in Friday’s loss to the Rockets. The second was Markieff Morris in Sunday’s loss to the Clippers. “It’s driving us all crazy with the technicals,” Hornacek said. “It’s aggravating. We’re arguing on calls that we even get.” … For the first time since the start of “Linsanity” nearly three years ago, Jeremy Lin took a DNP-CD. The Lakers guard never got off the bench in Friday’s loss at San Antonio as rookie Jordan Clarkson and journeyman Ronnie Price shared the point guard duties. Lin already had been demoted from starter to backup earlier this season by coach Byron Scott, who said, “He just has to keep doing the things he was doing when he was playing. It’s not like I’m not going to play him again. It’s more of a case of changing the lineup.” He was back in the rotation in Sunday’s loss to Houston. … The Hornets have overtaken the Nets for the eighth and final playoff spot in the East, and let’s hope they stay there. The Nets have three max players and a future Hall of Famer on a roster that was built to contend for a championship with a league-high payroll of over $90 million. Brooklyn lost consecutive road games over the weekend by a combined 74 points. When you watch the Nets play, it really is remarkable how much they don’t even care. … For the second straight year, Dario Saric won the FIBA Europe Young Men’s Player of the Year. The Eurostash point forward of the Sixers outpolled Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo in balloting of experts and fans. Saric is in good company; the only other multiple winners are Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas (2011-12) and Wolves guard Ricky Rubio (2007-09).
Trivia Answer: J.R. Smith. … Happy 38th Birthday, Vince Carter. … It must be a league rule that an insane person has to own the NBA team in New Orleans.
Chris Bernucca is the managing editor of SheridanHoops.com. His columns appear Monday during the season. You can follow him on Twitter.