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Art Garcia

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Tim Duncan pulled off a huge swing late in the voting to pass Dirk Nowitzki for the final spot in the West.
D. Clarke Evans/NBAE/Getty Images

A proposal to improve voting for the All-Star Game


Posted Jan 24 2010 11:37AM

There's no shortage of ideas when it comes to tweaking or in some cases overhauling the NBA All-Star Game selection process. Celtics guard Ray Allen offered up a proposal recently, so did Mavericks owner Mark Cuban. Scores of sportswriters and talk shows didn't waste time getting in on the act.

In that spirit, a suggestion from yours truly is presented later in this drawn-out exercise.

Every year something comes up. Some tragedy is committed. Worthy players are left off the ballot, undeserving ones are included and some are put in for the wrong position category. But it's usually the fans' involvement that leads to the most spirited debate.

The discussions begin with the ballot unveiling and continue when each of the voting returns are dissected and analyzed. Players, coaches, team officials and fans try to project who the five most popular will be along the way. Lobbying takes place. Campaigns are launched.

In terms of voting controversies, Tracy McGrady and Allen Iverson were front and center this time around. At first, T-Mac wasn't playing. Then he was barely playing. Then he was banished by the Rockets. He was also neck-and-neck with Steve Nash in the Western Conference guard race.

A.I. started out in the West, left the Grizzlies early in the season and had his "Brett Favre" retirement. Iverson stunned the sporting world by resurfacing days later with the Sixers. His votes were then transferred to the Eastern Conference.

Their situations are hardly unique. Injured players have found themselves among the voting leaders before, such as Vince Carter in 2003. Iverson has even done the conference hop during the season two times before. So why the hubbub?

Because that's what we do. When the West and East starters were announced last week for the Feb. 14 All-Star Game at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, Cuban immediately tweeted: "Time to change the rules for voting." (Don't think the coaches are immune from second-guessing when reserves are announced this Thursday.)

Cuban was disappointed Dirk Nowitzki won't be starting at home. Despite being second to Carmelo Anthony through each of the four voting returns, Nowitzki was overtaken by Tim Duncan when the final totals were released last Thursday.

Nash did surpass McGrady to start alongside Kobe Bryant in the West backcourt. Nash, however, was shocked when told about the voting surge in the Nowitzki-Duncan race. So were plenty of Mavericks and Spurs fans. Nowitzki was up about 50,000 votes when the fourth returns were released Jan. 7. Duncan ended up with about 63,000 more ballots when final totals were announced two weeks later, a swing of 113,000.

Paper balloting inside arenas closed on Jan. 10, while wireless balloting (text messaging) and voting on NBA.com concluded Jan. 18. Fans could cast only one vote per day online or via text.

According to the totals between the last return and final figures, Duncan received 380,471 votes (nearly 33 percent) of his total count of 1,156,696 in the closing voting sprint. Nowitzki had 266,875 of his 1,093,005 total votes (24 percent) over the same span.

Considering voting on NBA.com and wireless devices went eight days longer than paper voting inside arenas, it can be surmised that Duncan was more popular than Nowitzki in the electronic realm. But that's only a theory.

The NBA league office declined a request by NBA.com to receive an accounting breakdown of voting figures by the three current categories: paper balloting, online voting and wireless. The NBA's rationale, according to a league spokesman, was that all votes are counted collectively, so a voting breakdown is irrelevant.

That's true under the system in place. Showing the breakdowns, however, wouldn't undermine the current system. It would only shed light on voting patterns across the different platforms. How much of the voting is done in arenas? What percentage comes from the Internet or cell phones? Right now it's impossible to even speculate.

By declining to release the figures from each category to illustrate how the totals are achieved, it could lead to those silly conspiracy theories that otherwise have no merit. "Transparency," after all, is a catchword bandied around the league offices plenty these days.

We can speculate on possible changes to the voting process and the All-Star selections in general. Here are some suggestions gathered through extensive research, i.e. reading stuff online.

Media and players: Allen championed limiting the fan vote to 50 percent of the process, with the other half divided evenly between media and the players. He said players understand which of their peers deserve to start, "regardless of hype or highlight."

He didn't point out which media members would take part. Would it be the same group that left Chris Kaman off the ballot? Just kidding, guys.

Also, breaking it down into percentages would prove complicated when splitting the percentages among all the players and between categories. The simplicity and functionality of the current NBA model would be lost. It's easier to follow vote totals with each return over some complex formula. No sense in setting up the NBA's BCS rankings.

Bigs and smalls: This has been recommended plenty in recent years, especially with the dearth of true centers. (Bethlehem Shoals wrote about it last week.) There would only be two voting categories, with two players starting in the backcourt and three up front.

This would eliminate silly arguments, such as whether to place Duncan at center or forward. He was listed at center on the paper ballot in 2007-08 before the Spurs successfully lobbied to move him back to forward. Anyone who watches basketball knows Duncan plays center, but that's another column.

Amar'e Stoudemire, the West's starting center next month, doesn't play center for the Suns. That would be Channing Frye and Robin Lopez.

The game has evolved, with quickness and skill blurring positional lines. Are there enough traditional centers in the game to warrant an entire category? Many teams play with two smalls and three bigs, anyway. Why not vote that way?

Arena bias: Cuban suggested the fans that actually spend the time and effort to attend NBA games should matter more in the process, as detailed here last week. Teams that do a better job of packing their arenas would, in theory, have an advantage here.

"I'm a big believer that votes inside the arena should count double those on the Internet," Cuban said.

His stance has proven popular in the Web world. Whether it would have made a difference in Nowitzki's case is impossible to judge without the voting breakdown being made public.

Eligibility requirements: The All-Star committee understandably left Yao Ming off the ballot this season, but had Tracy McGrady on it. Yao was supposed to be out for the year. T-Mac, though, had microfracture surgery on this left knee last February. Such procedures usually require a year of rehab.

Under that timetable, McGrady would have been hard-pressed to return in time for next month's All-Star Game. So why include him on the ballot? Yes, T-Mac tried to come back last month before Houston officials gave him a paid leave, but it should have been obvious that in most any circumstance, McGrady wouldn't be a major contributor for at least the first half of this season.

Such cases could trigger an eligibility clause for All-Star participation. Players should be required to participate in at least half of their team's games by the time the voting process closes. If they don't, they can't be voted onto the All-Star team. The same should hold true for suspended players.

In the case where an ineligible player claims a starting spot through fan voting, just move on to the next highest eligible player.

Expand rosters: This has more to do with the reserves. It's been proposed many times to expand the rosters, with 15 often cited as the ideal number. This would conceivably take care of some All-Star "snubs," but there's always going to be the case for a deserving player being left out.

Fifteen sounds reasonable when considering that NBA teams can keep that many on their roster. (Just don't have three All-Star inactives.) Expanded All-Star rosters aren't unprecedented. Major League Baseball employs a 33-man roster for its midsummer classic, up from 25 during the season.

My unofficial NBA.com solution: Let's keep the vote in the hands of the fans, whether it's in the arena, on their keyboards or phones. This is an exhibition, after all, made for TV and those who buy tickets to cheer on these stars in person. Allowing them to choose is a unique privilege, a tradition that's been around since the mid-1970s and is worth preserving.

This Unofficial NBA.com All-Star Game voting proposal:
1. Point system
Arena (3 points), NBA.com (2) and wireless (1).
2. Eligibility
Players must participate in at least half of their team's games.
3. Positions
Divide into "bigs" and "smalls." The top three frontcourt players (forwards and centers) and top two guards in the point system earn starts.
4. Unified cutoff date
End paper balloting, Internet and wireless on the same date.
5. Expand rosters for West and East to 15 players.

Now, how the fan vote is broken up is at issue. The three components of fan voting -- paper ballots, Internet and texting -- should carry different weights. But instead of the straight Cuban plan of just doubling the arena vote, how about a point system?

Each arena ballot is worth three points, each NBA.com vote gets two points and wireless votes are one for one. Think of it the NBA's version of the Heisman vote. Instead of first-place counting for three points, as it does in the Heisman, this distinction is weighted by the three venues.

Point systems are already in place for NBA individual awards, including MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, Sixth Man, etc. Following the point totals with each return would continue to be straightforward and provide the same level of drama as the current method.

This point system rewards the league's followers by level of involvement. Attending the game takes the most effort and earns the most points. Logging on to NBA.com comes in second because it's the closest fans can get to the game online, especially with League Pass Broadband, TV Companion, real-time stats, video streams and the site's top-notch writing. (Shameless plug). Texting is worth the least because, hey, it's just texting.

A few other addendums/suggestions. Use the eligibility requirement (participate in half of team games), expand the West and East rosters to 15, go to two smalls and three bigs, and make the cutoff the same date for paper and electronic voting.

So why this proposal? Why not?

Art Garcia has covered the NBA since 1999. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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