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Fran Blinebury

If LeBron James (or other stars) could choose their own All-Star teams, would they pick their teammates?
Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

Players conjure up ways to reignite All-Star Game passion

Posted Feb 18 2011 6:31AM

LOS ANGELES -- There will be dozens of slam dunks that not only rattle the rims, but jar the imagination. There will be alley-oops and no-look passes. There might be enough crossover dribbles to keep a clinic full of orthopedic surgeons busy repairing broken ankles well into springtime.

But what will be mostly missing amid the flash, glamour and pyrotechnics at Staples Center on Sunday night is what players and fans crave the most -- and team owners dread -- real competition.

After 60 years of East vs. West, is it time for a change in the format for the NBA All-Star Game?

"At some point, you've got to do something to make it exciting again," said Mavericks point guard Jason Kidd, a 10-time All-Star. "I know the whole event has gotten bigger and it's become an entire weekend of things to see and do. But the main part is supposed to be the All-Star Game itself and I feel like we've lost some of the edge that comes when guys really care about who wins and who loses."

Even though last year's game in Dallas came down to a missed 3-point attempt by Carmelo Anthony at the final horn that allowed the East to escape with a 141-139 win before an eye-popping record crowd of 108,713 at Cowboys Stadium, it is not just the margin of victory that matters to the players, but the heat and passion of the game.

"It's an exhibition game," said the Rockets' Shane Battier. "So by its nature that presents a problem. So you've got to create some kind of edge. East-West? Who cares? The coasts and conferences aren't so wide apart anymore. We all have so many games on TV. We need something new."

A USA vs. the International players game has been suggested before, but no longer seems to stir up the passions.

Five-time All-Star Chauncey Billups suggests borrowing a page from Major League Baseball and having the All-Star Game decide home-court advantage for the NBA Finals.

"It gives you reason to play, something is at stake," Billups said. "But I'll admit that if my team was in the Finals and we didn't have home court because of something that we couldn't control, well, I wouldn't like that. I guess that leaves me open for other suggestions."

That National Hockey League took a novel approach this year and had the top two vote-getters choose their teams from among the pool of All-Stars just like a pickup game.

"I think that's a pretty great idea," Battier said. "Let's see what happens when the two big dogs divvy up sides. That's something that'd I'd definitely watch."

Kidd's eyes dance at the thought.

"You do that and you're taking the game back to its roots, the way most of us grew up on the playground," he said. "In shirts and skins, it's your guys against my guys, teams we picked or teams we brought to the game. There's a lot of pride involved, a lot of ego. That's what makes for the competition."

Of course, that format could bring up some very interesting situations among players who make the livelihoods as members of the same NBA teams.

What if Kobe Bryant didn't draft Pau Gasol? Would LeBron James automatically take Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh?

"Does it bring up the possibility of hard feelings? Oh, yeah. Yes, it does," said Battier. "That's life. Deal with it. You're an All-Star. You didn't get picked first. Boo-hoo-hoo! Now go play the game."

Nuggets coach George Karl spends much of being an amateur psychologist and delivers a wry smile.

"Hey, let them go out and sort things," Karl said. "It could bring about some interesting dynamics."

Billups was a member of the East team that included three of his former Detroit teammates -- Richard Hamilton, Rasheed Wallace and Ben Wallace -- in the 2006 All-Star Game.

"If I'm the captain in that situation, I'm definitely going to pick all of my soldiers," Billups said. "Who do I know better than them? Who do I know I can count on when I'm playing a game that really matters."

"You shouldn't be offended," said Kidd. "Whether you're picked first or second or third or 10th, you're still an All-Star. But it just would bring an edge and a spark to the game that I think is missing and is definitely needed.

"I've been in several All-Star Games that wound up being close games. But that was only after three quarters of guys putting on a show and then a few minutes at the end of things heating up. What if we had that heat for 48 minutes with the greatest players in the league?"

That's exactly the scenario that makes Mavericks owner Mark Cuban shudder.

"Look, there is no format that all of a sudden, owners and coaches and fans are gonna say, 'I'm glad this is important to our players, because I want to put them at risk.'

"This is an event where you open up basketball to show off the athletic beauty and the unique skills of our players.

"I don't think the fact that it's not a competitive game is a negative. You're gonna see Blake Griffin alley-oops. You're gonna see Dirk Nowitzki shooting 3s. You're gonna see LeBron James dunking. That's what fans and players like to see. Fans are making oohs and aahs over dunks in the layup lines. I don't think those are the noises they're going to be making in Dallas if Dirk gets injured from playing a 'real game' and now the Mavericks are no longer contenders.

"The way it is now, guys' competitive nature takes over for a little bit in the fourth quarter. But that's not what you want for a whole game."

It does, however, seem to be what players themselves do want.

"I'm in favor of anything that gets the competition going in a game," said Billups. "That's why we all play the game, out on the playgrounds when we're kids or when we're in the NBA. That's what it's all about."

"I'm telling you, man, shirts and skins and call your own fouls," Kidd said. "Usually in those games, nobody calls fouls. That's when you find out who really wants it. I think we're overdue for some kind of change. I'll listen to ideas, but I really like picking sides."

Battier even has another suggestion to get the competitive juices flowing and put the excitement back into the All-Star Game.

"Winner-take-all," he said. "I know the guys are already making big money in their contracts. But everybody has their pride when they're playing for a prize.

"Just tell them it's $100,000 for the winners and the losers go home. Can't you see it? Who wants to leave with their pockets empty. Maybe you bring out briefcases filled with cash or put all of the money in a wheelbarrow and roll it out to midcourt before the tip.

"We all know the All-Star Game needs a spark. That would give us a fire."

Fran Blinebury has covered the NBA since 1977. 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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