By Marty Burns
January 25, 2008

The happiest guys to hear the list of NBA All-Star starters announced Thursday night?

How about Golden State's Baron Davis, Portland's Brandon Roy and San Antonio's Manu Ginobili?

One (or maybe two) of those three standout guards now stands a much better chance of making the All-Star squad, thanks to Allen Iverson's late surge past Tracy McGrady in fan voting for the second Western Conference starting guard spot.

McGrady is ailing with a sore knee and might not have played anyway. But Thursday's result now officially takes T-Mac out of the picture and opens one more spot in the crowded Western backcourt. With Steve Nash and Chris Paul virtual locks to be picked by the Western coaches as two official reserves at the guard position, Davis, Roy and Ginobili were facing the prospect of a fierce battle amongst each other (and maybe Tony Parker and Deron Williams as well) for one of the two at-large berths.

Now one of them -- the race is too close to call -- will probably make the team for sure.

The only way a second guy from that group could make it would be if the West coaches use that second at-large spot on another guard, no guarantee with the West forward and center pictures also a bit crowded.

The other interesting twist in the Western guard debate is whether Ginobili will get any extra consideration because of his willingness to come off the bench as a reserve. Coaches are always preaching about sacrifice. Might they be inclined to reward a guy like Ginobili who was willing to give up his starter's role, over a Davis or Roy?

As for the selection of the All-Star starters, the fans did a great job. The only quibble might be Iverson at the second guard spot. One could argue that either Nash or Paul should have been the starter alongside Kobe Bryant.

Not only have Nash and Paul been sensational in leading their teams to the best records in the West, but they also play point guard exclusively (unlike Iverson, who plays more off the ball). Thus, it would have made sense from a balance standpoint.

But those are minor beefs to be sure. Nash and Paul will surely be selected as reserves. Once they get there, the Western coach (whoever it turns out to be) can always sub in one of his dynamite QBs early in what is always a dunkfest anyway.

The real fun now will be to see who gets selected to the reserve teams. Coaches vote only for their own conference team (and they can't vote for their own player). They must include a center, two forwards and two guards on their ballot. They also get to include two at-large spots. Ballots are due Monday, with the final selections announced Jan. 31.

In addition to the Western guard logjam, there are also interesting battles at the West forward spot (Josh Howard, Shawn Marion and Stephen Jackson could be squeezed out entirely) and backup center (Amare Stoudemire, Marcus Camby and Chris Kaman are battling for what is likely to be one spot).

Over in the East, the most intriguing race is at forward (Caron Butler, Paul Pierce, Antawn Jamison, Richard Jefferson and Hedo Turkoglu will vie for probably three spots) and at guard (Richard Hamilton and Ray Allen appear in a dead heat). Will coaches go with Allen to reward Boston's Big Three, or go with Hamilton to even the scales with a second Piston alongside Chauncey Billups?

It also will be interesting to see if any coaches vote for Shaquille O'Neal at center as a sentimental pick for his many years of great play.

Whether one thinks that is a good idea or not, there is little doubt All-Star Weekend would not be as much fun without the Big Aristotle.

In fairness to those who deserve the honor more, however, I would not put O'Neal on my East ballot. Instead I would fudge a bit and put Toronto's Chris Bosh at that position. He's a big man who plays a lot of center anyway in the Raptors' small-ball scheme, and it would open a spot for a more deserving forward or guard.

Here is the way I would fill out my reserve ballots:

C-Chris Bosh; F-Caron Butler; F-Paul Pierce; G-Chauncey Billups; G-Richard Hamilton; F-Antawn Jamison; G-Ray Allen

C-Amare Stoudemire; F-Dirk Nowitzki; F-Carlos Boozer; G-Steve Nash; G-Chris Paul; G-Baron Davis; G-Brandon Roy

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