The 2006-07 NBA season having reached its symbolic
midpoint, this Sunday's All-Star Game has me considering a hoop thought or two.
From All-Star snubs to local trade talk, pro basketball is never short on
headlines, now, is it?
A year ago, Memphis fans were celebrating Pau Gasol
becoming the first All-Star in Grizzlies history (including the franchise's six
years in Vancouver). Gasol held himself well in Houston, too, pulling down a
game-high 12 rebounds. But a year later? Having missed two months while
recovering from a broken foot, Gasol didn't even make this season's list of
All-Star snubs (more on that later). He's instead the focus of trade talk, with
the likes of Portland (Zach Randolph) and Chicago (Ben Gordon and/or Luol Deng)
rumored to be on the phone lines with Griz president Jerry West.
I'm not going to pretend to know what will happen with
the bearded face of the Memphis franchise, but take this to the bank: if Gasol's
traded, it will have more to do with unsteady ownership than with the
improvement of our local team. Anyone with eyes can look at the Grizzlies roster
and see the talented youth that surrounds Gasol: Hakim Warrick, Rudy Gay, even
the injured Kyle Lowry. This is not a team devoid of hope, or a squad that has
grown old together and has collectively reached the downside of its career
curve. Certain to get a top-four draft pick come June (one that could land a
future cornerstone in Greg Oden or Kevin Durant), the Grizzlies have a better
chance of reaching .500 a year from now -- with Gasol, mind you -- than other
teams (Boston, Philadelphia, Charlotte) near the bottom of the NBA standings.
But then there's the ownership catch. With Michael
Heisley especially eager to find a buyer in the aftermath of the Brian Davis
fiasco, having a figure on the expense side of his balance sheet that totals
more than $12 million a year the next three seasons (Gasol's salary) is hardly
bait for that buyer. Buy low, remember. When the trade deadline arrives February
22nd, it's economics that may shove Gasol out the door.
Every February there's debate over the players
elected by fans to start the All-Star Game, and their relative merits when
compared with the reserves selected by coaches. Why not reinvent the game's
format, and have a team of elected players (the top five vote-getting players at
guard and forward, and the top two centers) face a team of coaches' choices? And
when fans are foolish enough to elect injured players to start (see Yao Ming and
Shaquille O'Neal), the fans' team gets to fill its roster only after the coaches
have chosen their twelve. Something tells me one of these squads would have a
little extra motivation, an ingredient sorely needed once the game starts.
I find the media storm over Carmelo Anthony's
All-Star "snub" to be nothing short of offensive. Here's a player who has missed
more than a third of his team's games, the result of a suspension for having
been a central figure in the December 16th melee between the Nuggets and Knicks
at Madison Square Garden. For a league that's obsessed with its image to
consider spotlighting such a player merely two months after his punch-and-run
night in New York would be the height of hypocrisy. Which is precisely what we
have, now that commissioner David Stern (the man who endorsed Anthony's
suspension) has added 'Melo to the Western Conference All-Star roster. Pardon me
for hitting the mute button on my remote when Anthony's introduced Sunday.
Six players will be playing in at least their sixth
consecutive All-Star Game this Sunday: Tim Duncan (9th), Kevin Garnett (10th),
Kobe Bryant (9th), Allen Iverson (8th), Tracy McGrady (7th), and Dirk Nowitzki
(6th). Nowitzki is the only one never to have been elected by the fans.