About the Saturday night festivities: Obviously I join all Lakers fans in their disappointment that Shannon didn’t put on a better performance in the dunk contest. I was hopeful that he’d provide fans with some memorable moments, but it just wasn’t in the cards for WOW. Analyzing what actually happened with our guy, I’d say that Shannon went for the safe dunk after he missed his ‘Statue of Liberty’ 360 attempt and then he had too much ground to make up when that safer, first dunk received a low score. Switching hands on dunks is not that easy, and Shannon definitely flashed his athleticism (especially on that alley-oop) but jumping really high isn’t really enough to impress the judges. There needs to be either some showmanship or some element of newness to the dunks that you do in that contest or everyone just kind of yawns and waits for the next guy’s turn. As for the event overall, I thought it was pretty bad. There weren’t enough good dunks and there wasn’t enough star power to carry the event. Oh, how I miss the days of ‘Nique and Jordan or even more recently guys like Vince, Iguodala, and Jason Richardson. Those guys were young, but still name players in the league when they competed and they brought a level of intrigue that made kept fans watching and wondering what would happen next. This year, the only player that competed that is even a starter on his own team is Gerald Wallace and even he’s a pretty well kept secret to most casual fans. I’m not saying you need Lebron in the contest to make it thrive (though that would be nice), but I think you need some names to keep fans intrigued. I also think you either need more competitors or more dunks. Two dunks from each competitor just isn’t enough and only having four guys means that you may lose a fan favorite (like WOW) early in the competition with little to show for it by the time the night is over.
As for the other events, I was really hopeful that Steph Curry would pull out the 3-point shootout but he just didn’t have enough in him to take out Paul “I make all the money balls” Pierce. Pierce showed everyone, again, that he is dangerous with the ball in his hands and can bury shots with the best of them (I also thought the point that the announcers made about his competitiveness was a good one). Do I think that he’s “one of the greatest shooters in the history of the NBA”? Umm, no. But for all the talk from the announcers that Chauncey Billups is a “streak shooter”, I think that label really belongs to Pierce as he can get hot with the best of them and can find his groove rather quickly. Pierce is one of the few players in the league that can start a game off very slowly with poor shooting and then turn it on in the 4th quarter and start making shot after shot. I think he showed that level of shot making last night with his 20 spot in the finals. As for the Skills Challenge and HORSE, I think both events could use a revamping – HORSE especially. I think the players need to be encouraged to take more outlandish shots or they need to bring in players that will try those shots all on their own (Monta, Lebron, or even Farmar as shown with his pregame “warmups”). As for the Skills challenge, I enjoyed watching Nash (and his antics), but the event is a tad boring and I wish they’d add something to it. Maybe they could add an alley-oop passing ring to the other passes or maybe they could enforce different dribbling techniques into the weave portion (behind the back or spin move dribbles)….I don’t know. But, I’d like to see a bit more spice in these events.
The other big news this weekend: It looks like the Dallas/Washington swap is going to happen. The basics of the deal are Dallas sending Josh Howard and Drew Gooden to Washington for Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood. Obviously, this is a win for Dallas in that they get some really good players in this deal and the best player overall in Butler (Kobe thinks this makes Dallas a real contender for the West crown and “on par” with the Lakers). Washington also gets the cap space that it wants as it goes into full rebuilding mode after a couple terrible seasons in a row. My thoughts on this deal from the Dallas side are that it definitely makes them a better team. Many will look to Butler as the key cog and that’s natural since he’s the best player in the deal. But to me, it’s the inclusion of Haywood that makes this deal a strong one for the Mavs. They’ve really lacked an interior defensive presence and now they’ve got one of the better defensive bigs in the league to play against Pau/Bynum, Duncan, Boozer, and Nene in the Western Conference playoffs. And if they were to reach the Finals with this team, Haywood would be more than just a speedbump against Shaq and Dwight. The only drawback I can see for the Mavs is that they’re still thin at SG and this puts Marion’s role in question. In crunch time will the Mavs go small with Kidd, Terry, Butler, Marion, and Dirk? Or will they play a traditional line-up with Marion at SF and Butler at SG (where both players are a bit out of position) with a Dirk/Haywood combo at PF/C? Or, will Marion sit completely so everyone can play their natural positions (with Butler at SF and Terry at SG)? These aren’t problems, per se, but they will be issues that need to be worked out with the Mavs coaching staff and getting that straight with only 30 games left in the regular season is something that will take some work and compromise from the players in order for them to truly gel.
Tonight’s Action: I love the all-star game as it really is a supreme collection of talent all on one court. It is a bit of a letdown that Kobe isn’t going to play, but we still get Pau in the game and as a hoops fan the Nash/Dirk reunion in the starting line up and seeing Deron in this game for the first time should be a joy to watch. I’m also very excited to see Kevin Durant get some court time with the other elite players in this game. He’s obviously one of (if not) the best young player(s) (outside of Lebron) in the NBA and I think he’ll prove that when he’s on the big stage.
My prediction? Without Kobe in this game, the East clearly has the best player in Lebron. You throw in the potential crunch time lineup of Lebron, Wade, Joe Johnson, Bosh, and Horford Howard (need that role player to do the dirty work) and I think they’ll give the West fits with all the versatility that that lineup could offer. Could a crunch time West lineup of Deron, ‘Melo, Durant, Duncan, and Dirk overcome that group? I’m not sure, but I’ll be watching and hoping for those closing lineups as, to me, those guys represent the best that each team could close a game with. Final score? 128 – 121 East, with Lebron bringing home the MVP. Comment away on what you think will be the outcome of this one.