By JOHN ZAKOUR
The NBA All-Star game was last weekend. Were you watching?
No? Kind of? Well then, let’s fix All-Star weekend.
First, let’s lay out what exactly fixing an All-Star weekend entails — making it entertaining as hell. My ideal All-Star weekend is short, fun and worth talking about. Players and fans enjoy it equally, while coaches hate it. Unfortunately, it will never be a tense battle between the best players in the world. Defense will never be played, hard screens will never be set and battles for rebounds will never compare to the NBA Finals. But it should always be “can’t miss” television. Is it possible? Maybe.
All-Star games are passé now anyway. Seeing all the best players in the world on the same court just does not have the same sheen as it once did. ESPN, NBAtv and never-ending YouTube highlights mean we can see Kevin Durant or LeBron James, or even DeMar DeRozan, whenever we want. Fantasy basketball makes us more aware of the lesser known All-Stars, and in turn All-Star games don’t really breed stars anymore.
So how would I fix the weekend? I would not change the game itself much. Yes, this All-Star game finished with a final score of 163-155, but I am not appalled by that. Blake Griffin scored all of his points via dunks and Carmelo Anthony simply converted open threes, and both men still went for over 30. But it was entertaining. The East showed some fire and made a comeback, while Kyrie Irving showcased his talents to close the deficit.
The competitiveness could benefit from a shorter game, say four 10-minute quarters, to keep it feeling crisp. I would rather see skills on display in an exhibition-style game than the forced competitiveness of the MLB All-Star game. The one-on-one battle for the MVP between Durant and LeBron never materialized, save for a few possessions. Seemingly, Durant got the best of LeBron, including splashing a step-back deep three, when their matchups did not end in pass offs. Even though the All-Star game is not perfect, it is working as intended.
But if I had to improve the game, I would do away with the East against West format. I get that the two conferences lend themselves to it, but I cannot bring myself to care about the result. As a Knicks fan, am I supposed to root for Carmelo even if I hate most of his Eastern teammates? The most obvious and easiest solution is to have the best players in the NBA pick the teams like a fantasy draft. Team Lebron vs. Team Durant. Lebron would assuredly pick Bosh and Wade as his teammates, as would Durant with Westbrook and probably Harden, but just embrace the nepotism. It would be highly competitive, and hopefully dramatic.
The All-Star weekend also needs to trim the fat. Get rid of the shooting stars and skills challenge. As skilled as the best players in the NBA are, seeing them dribble and making open jumpers just does not do anything for me. It is not competitive or impressive enough. It is like watching a glorified NFL combine, without any of the pressure. That is not to say there should not be any skills on display, but it just needs to be the right ones.
The HORSE competition is dead, but had its moments. Let’s give it another shot. I am not opposed to the three-point competition, but I could take it or leave it. But I believe it is time for a one-on-one contest. Basketball lends itself to it so naturally. A staple of NBA fandom is debate over which prolific scorer would be best in a one-on-one matchup, so it is time for a sanctioned tournament. All-Stars only. Eight players would be a good number.
For this year, I think LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Dirk Nowitzki, Paul George, James Harden, Kyrie Irving and either a crippled Kobe Bryant or Stephen Curry would round out a fine field. Jamal Crawford or JR Smith (yes, I said it) could be alternates. First to 11, half court, ones and twos, call your own fouls, the whole nine yards.
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The dunk contest cannot die. I would rather have an awful one than not have one at all. But let’s stop changing the rules every year. Continuity is important, and I appreciate the effort of the battle round this year; however, it is too short and segmented. You probably have missed it, but the D-league dunk contest is usually great. There is a lot more creativity, and care, on display. So I humbly suggest a dunk contest format of NBA players against D-leaguers, or even amateurs. Household names taking on fringe players. Why? What better way to bring out the competitiveness of the world’s greatest athletes than having them compete against D-leaguers. An NBA player’s ego simply would not allow him to take it lightly. Who wants to be shown up by a guy not even in the league? As for the format, three rounds is fine by me. Let’s keep the judges and go back to the 50-point dunk scale.
And since All-Star weekend acts as an unofficial halfway point in the season, I thought I would force in some predictions. For the MVP, I’m backing Kevin Durant. I still think LeBron will be the better player by year’s end, but the voters are itching to inscribe a new way to justify giving the MVP to someone else. As for the finals, I’ll back my MVP and the Thunder over the Pacers.