By JARED DUBIN
There has been much talk this year of abolishing conferences due to an extreme imbalance in quality. The Western Conference is so head and shoulders better than the East - and has been for nearly 15 years now - that the inequity of it all has become a running joke. The solution, posit some, is to abandon the conference format altogether and have the 16 best teams in the league make the playoffs.
That may or may not happen in the coming years, but in the meantime, can we please get rid of the conference format for the All-Star Game?
Why, exactly, do we need one team for each conference? Just look at the crop of East frontcourt players this year, and let me know how many of them deserve to start the All-Star Game over, say, Marc Gasol, a legitimate MVP candidate who almost definitely won't start for the West. It's a near-guarantee that either James Harden or Stephen Curry, also MVP front-runners, won't start either, because Kobe Bryant's going to lead Western Conference guards in votes. How does that make sense?
Here's how it should work:
Keep the current voting structure, but integrate the conferences and let fans vote for any four guards and six front-court players. The 10 players with the most votes make the game automatically (but are not necessarily guaranteed to start), and then the coaches vote in the remaining 14 players - just as they do now.
Take that pool of 24 players, appoint as captains the two players with the most overall votes, and let them pick their teams on TV right before - or at halftime of - the Celebrity Game on Friday Night. It's the one night almost nobody wants to watch because that game is boring and terrible. The All-Star Draft would help turn All-Star Friday into a much bigger event.
In 2010, the NHL moved away from the East-West All-Star format and instituted a player draft conducted by the All-Star players themselves to determine the rosters for each team. For the last four years, All-Stars have been picked in a joint effort by fan vote and the NHL Hockey Operations Department. Then, two chosen captains draft their teams on live TV. Last year, the NFL's Pro Bowl moved to the same format, except the captains were former players assisted by current Pro Bowlers.
Isn't this idea tailor-made for the NBA - a product which lends itself to a pickup-style draft more than either the NHL or the NFL; basketball is the ultimate pickup sport, after all.
Who wouldn't want to tune in to watch LeBron James and Kevin Durant choose sides for that Sunday's game? How much drama would there be if LeBron chose Chris Bosh for his team instead of Kevin Love? What if KD picked another point guard over Russ? People would debate for hours about the way each captain constructed their team; whether they chose teammates based on how they'd actually play together, who their friends are, who the biggest available names were, or what players were most likely to put on the best show. Would they take all the point guards first because they're the ones who control the flow of the game? How would they divvy up the big men?
So much interesting stuff could happen.
The league already uses the draft format for the Rookie Game (or whatever they're calling it now), where Chuck and Shaq pick the teams and snipe at each other on TNT. And the process by which All-Star rosters are selected was already changed recently to eliminate the center position on the ballot, so it's not even like the NBA can claim some dogmatic devotion to "the way it's always been done."
This is a change that should happen, and one that's probably more likely to occur before we see conferences eliminated for playoff seeding purposes. Other leagues have paved the way, and the NBA should follow suit.
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