The All-Stars are in Los Angeles, but this weekend is about more than allowing a lot of uncontested dunks in the big game Sunday night. Here are the top storylines to watch:
• 'Melo-Drama. More interesting than the uncontested dunks are the ongoing trade talks as the Feb. 24 deadline nears. Discussions involving Carmelo Anthony, who reportedly plans to meet with the owners of the Knicks and Nets this weekend as each team tries to deal for him. Anthony wants to play for the Knicks, but the Nets can offer Denver the better package of prospects and draft picks. It was reported by Yahoo! Sports' on Thursday night that Nets and Nuggets were in advanced talks for a deal that would send Anthony, Chauncey Billups, Melvin Ely, Renaldo Balkman and Shelden Williams to New Jersey for Derrick Favors, Devin Harris, Troy Murphy, Ben Uzoh and four first-round draft picks.
Trail Blazers GM Rich Cho has acknowledged that other potential trades have been on hold as teams have waited for a resolution of Anthony's situation. Will Devin Harris be included a deal for Anthony, or could he be sent elsewhere? If the Nuggets move Anthony will they next week to trade center Nene? What will become of Chauncey Billups?
The Anthony trade talk has been going on since last August, and this may be the weekend it is resolved, to the relief of fans who long ago grew tired of the endless speculation and conflicting rumors.
• Derrick Rose's big coming out. Rose is an MVP candidate in his third season, averaging 24.9 points and 8.2 assists to drive the Bulls into championship contention despite injuries this season to big men Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah. He played a limited 15 minutes off the bench as an All-Star last year, but this weekend as a starter he'll be showing he belongs in the competition with fellow MVP candidates LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Dirk Nowitzki, all of whom have won the award.
Rose is the point-guard version of Tim Duncan -- a quiet star who doesn't feel the need to draw attention to himself. This will be the first weekend he'll be viewed as belonging with the best players in the game, and it will be interesting to see how he carries himself and how the other stars react to him. There is no hype behind Rose's ascension -- he has earned it on the court as the point man who complements his prolific numbers by serving as the out-front leader of one of the NBA's top three defensive teams.
He scored a career-best 42 points -- including the game's last 10 -- to knock off the league-leading Spurs 109-99 Thursday to pull his Bulls with two games of the top teams in the East, Boston and Miami. Everyone will be talking about Rose this weekend, while a strong All-Star performance Sunday will influence his MVP candidacy by driving home his upgraded status among his peers.
• The three-point shootout. This may be the highlight of the Saturday night events as defending champion Paul Pierce takes on his Celtics teammate Ray Allen, who recently set the all-time record for triples. Kevin Durant of the Thunder is another big name (along with the Heat's James Jones, the Warriors' Dorell Wright and the Cavaliers' Daniel Gibson), suggesting that the shooting contest has grown to attract the establish stars, much as the dunk contest did in Michael Jordan's day.
• State of the Lakers. They (along with Blake Griffin's Clippers) are hosting the weekend, but the two-time champs aren't in the mood to enjoy themselves after losing successive games at Charlotte and Cleveland. When GM Mitch Kupchak spoke Thursday at the unveiling of Jerry West's statue at the Staples Center, he opened by referring to the dreadful 104-99 loss to the 10-46 Cavaliers. "Jerry, that handbook you left on my desk, 'How to Be a Good General Manager' -- I looked this morning and there's not a chapter on what to do after a game like last night," Kupchak admitted. After the ceremony, Kupchak told reporters he doubted whether he'll make a trade to shake up his team, though he acknowledged there will be conversations this weekend.
Meanwhile, West spent a full minute whispering a pep talk into the ear of Pau Gasol, who attended the ceremony (along with Shaquille O'Neal, to whom West whispered from the stage, "I love you") while Kobe Bryant did not. Coach Phil Jackson has spent the last two games yelling uncharacteristically at his Lakers. They will feel as if they have little to celebrate this weekend.
• The CBA negotiations. Owners and players are scheduled to meet this weekend in an attempt to create dialog in pursuit of a new collective bargaining agreement. Commissioner David Stern and union chief Billy Hunter will hold a news conference Saturday to provide an update on the talks, but the sides are far apart and pessimistic of avoiding a lockout this summer.
• Blake Griffin's weekend. The Clippers' explosive rookie will make his All-Star game debut Sunday, and he'll also be the headliner for the dunk contest Saturday. Griffin represents hope for a turnaround by the Clippers over the next few years, and he'll attract a large following this weekend.
• The Celtics-Heat marriage. The two contenders dominate the East roster, with Miami contributing three stars to go with four from Boston, and the Celtics' Doc Rivers will be coach of the team. This time, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade won't have reason to shove Rajon Rondo out of the huddle, as happened last weekend when the two teams met in Boston.
The questions are fabricated, my answers are for real.
Here is my dilemma: Everyone says I am strong. If now I change my mind and say I want this guy Carmelo Anthony, do I look weak? -- M.P., Moscow
Mikhail Prokhorov, your ownership of the Nets enables you to do whatever you please. If you are able to acquire Anthony, you will look stronger and smarter than ever. You will be viewed as seizing command of the negotiations, you will have prevented Anthony from moving to New York and you will have a star to help attract others to your franchise. Opinions of your strength will be based on your ability to attract players. You can make all of the strong pronouncements you like, but if you don't acquire stars then someday your bravado will be viewed as a weakness. You should have no problem understanding the NBA view of these shenanigans: So long as you're improving your team with star power, the end will justify the means.
Should I have faith in my guys, or do I make a trade to shake up our team? We look horrible. -- M.K., Los Angeles
Mitch Kupchak, this is a matter to be resolved by you and your therapist, Phil Jackson. He will understand better than anyone whether this roster can resolve its problems and win a third straight championship.
My own view is that your team is defined more by your victory last week at Boston than by the subsequent losses at Charlotte and Cleveland. Your team looked tired and stale in those defeats, but during the playoffs there will be plenty of rest in between games and the players will be as focused and energized as they were against the Celtics. You can look forward to continuing improvement in Andrew Bynum's knee over the next two months, and the imminent return of Matt Barnes will make you less dependent on Ron Artest. The one concern has to be either developing a productive role for Steve Blake, or else acquiring a point guard to share minutes with Derek Fisher.
Otherwise you can look forward to entering the playoffs with Bryant in partnership with the NBA's best front line. You can't afford to mess with that formula with so little time to reinvent your team before the playoffs. So have faith.
When I'm in public with David Stern, should I treat him like my enemy or my friend? -- B.H., New York
Billy Hunter, you should -- and I believe you will -- present yourself as the arbiter of reason and common sense when you appear in public with commissioner David Stern. Every time he talks about how the sky is falling financially, you can point out that the current system of free agency has made the NBA more popular. Didn't the offseason move of LeBron James lead directly to the upsurge in TV ratings this year? Isn't the public showing its love for the super-power rivalries of L.A., Boston, Miami, San Antonio, Dallas, Orlando and Chicago (yes, the Bulls belong in this conversation)?
You need to argue less on behalf of player salaries and more on behalf of what is best for the game and its fans. Tell the public that a hard cap and restrictions on player movement will make the NBA less interesting.
Stern has valid reasons for wanting to create a new system, and his owners have the financial might to prevail should there be a lockout. Your best hope is to present yourself as advocate to the fans. Public statements by you about money for the players will earn you no support from the public.
• With Celtics coach Doc Rivers.On his experience in coaching the Eastern All-Stars in 2008: "I was very, very surprised with how focused they were in timeouts. I was shocked by that as a matter of fact. I actually looked up in one [timeout] late in the game and there were five guys, [their] heads were down [looking at the whiteboard], and I was like, wow, I'd like this in my huddle -- especially when the five options are all pretty damn good. That's the other thing you find out -- man, all of us can be good coaches in this situation."
• With an international NBA scout.On 18-year-old Enes Kanter, the 6-10, 250-pound Turkish center who was banned from playing for Kentucky this season after receiving money from his club in Turkey: "This is a little unfair because Kanter is so much better offensively, but he's like Tyler Hansbrough with more athleticism and a better game. He could play some '4,' but he's a beast on the boards and he's only getting stronger. He is very coachable, he plays with enthusiasm and passion, and his motor is tremendous. I think teams will be very impressed with him in the pre-draft workouts, and everyone will be watching how he performs in the Hoop Summit in April, if he decides to play there."
• With Celtics forward Paul Pierce.On defending his title in the three-point contest: "I want to beat everybody, because I still feel like people didn't believe last year. I still think people thought that was a fluke last year, so this will solidify it this year if I come out and win it. This will put the stamp on Ray [Allen] and me being in an elite class from everybody else as far as shooting goes in NBA history. I'm the three-point champion, he is the [all-time] three-point king, so something has to give."
How to create a sculpture of Jerry West.This comes from artists Julie Rotblatt Amrany and Omri Amrany, the married couple who has created sculptures of 65 athletes. Their bronze of West -- an interpretation of his famous silhouette that became the NBA's logo -- was unveiled at a Staples Center ceremony Thursday, where the Amranys met West in person for the first time.
Omri: "Everybody knows that he is Mr. NBA -- 'The Logo' -- and we had to deal with that. The sculptor has to find the 360-degree perspective and find the element that is not explained in the [two-dimensional] pictures.
"You have to create something that will be in public for a very long time. We want it to be like the David of Michelangelo, to be around for 500 years. When we made the sculpture of Michael Jordan we hired a construction engineer, who computerized the effect of weather. He found that if there was to be a tornado in Chicago maybe the United Center will fly away, but Michael will stay there where he is."
Julie: "A lot of elements and phases go into creating sculpture. It is very labor-intensive.
"You build an armature and then weld it, which means you're welding metal rods together to form the skeleton -- like the human skeleton. Once you have that skeleton and it's stable, then you start to build in the wood and the wire and the nails.
"And then on top of that you start to pound clay, and you get everything into kind of a rock form and you figure out the proportions.
"Then you start to put up different photos of him, because you need to see the front, you need the sides, you need the back. We had photos of his uniforms, and we used some of the piping of cloth that we imbedded within the clay. It's weeks and months of this clay work, and we hired assistants to help us on the detail.
"Then once the piece is done in clay, then you start to make the mold. The mold is painted on, it's a liquid polyurethane -- rubber -- and it's a quarter-inch thick. When the rubber dries, you put on another layer and that's made out of plaster or fiberglass.
"The mold is taken off in 20 sections, and those sections are sent to the foundry -- we used a foundry in Michigan. The wax gets poured into those molds. And then the sections of wax are put together -- the head and the shoulders and the arms -- and then you go into the foundry and you work on the waxes to get the quality of the wax so it looks like the original clay.
"Then a second mold is made over all those waxes -- a very thin mold which is made out of plaster and stone that has been very pulverized so that it is thin. That mold hardens like a shell, and it goes into a kiln so that the wax melts out.
"Once the wax is gone, then liquid bronze is poured into those shells. When the bronze has cooled off and the shell is cracked, you have your sections of bronze. And then those 20 sections of bronze all get welded back together.
"In this particular piece, because he's leaning forward at such an angle, we had to have the foundry put steel rods up through the legs and up into the body to hold it together. Aft that's done, we work with them on the patina, and when the color gets finished then a lacquer gets sprayed on.
"The base was made by a company in Michigan. It's basically a hollow, steel structure and it's got wheels in it if they need to move it in the future.
"It was fun to do this piece because it's in-action with a lot of motion and emotion. We were looking at so many photos of him through the decades. He had a lot of different expressions when he was playing, and we tried to convey his focus. His mouth was open in a lot of the photographs taken of him during the games, and that shows an intensity, a passion in the moment and not being self-aware."
Through the eyes of Dirk Nowitzki.The Mavericks star returns every summer to his hometown of Wurzburg, Germany, where he stays with his sister, Silke, and his parents. "It was four months at home this summer," he said. "I left to go home pretty quick after we lost in the first round, so that makes the summer long.
"My mom babies me when I'm home. She makes me three meals a day, especially when I start working out with Holger [Geschwindner, his longtime manager]. During the season they come usually once to Dallas, around Christmas, and other than that I don't see them much. So it's good times during the summer."
At home. 7-foot Nowitzki sleeps in the same bedroom -- the same bed -- as when he was a boy. "We had one made a long time ago," he said. "When I really started to grow and started to get over 6-7, I needed a big bed."
He goes home knowing he'll receive grief after speaking English all season. "When I come back home I'm saying, 'What's the German word, what's the German word ...' and my mom is killing me for it," he said. "It takes me a couple weeks, but then I'm right back in it."
Nowitzki isn't sure where he'll live after he retires. He may continue to move back and forth between Germany and Texas. "When I went through the off-the-court drama two years ago," he said of his relationship with Cristal Taylor, who had used a variety of aliases as a fugitive since 2001, "the family was the first thing that was there for me."
But he would go onto form close relationships in Dallas with Steve Nash and Michael Finley. "Fin was one of the best pros of all time, the way he handled himself on and off the floor," said Nowitzki. "If you're not comfortable off the floor, it's tough to show your best on the floor. Once I was more comfortable off the floor in Dallas was when I started to play better.
"I love both places -- I love going home. but I also love being in Dallas. So I'm very lucky."
The biggest stars.One way of rating star power is in terms of road attendance. Which players bring in the biggest ticket sales? Here are the leaders in road attendance this season, including the players most responsible for their team's popularity.
1. Heat (LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh) 19,280
2. Lakers (Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol) 18,962
3. Celtics (Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Rajon Rondo (and former All-Star Shaquille O'Neal) 18,923
4. Bulls (Derrick Rose) 18,222
5. Knicks (Amar'e Stoudemire) 17,800
6. Suns (Steve Nash, though he was not selected as an All-Star) 17,655
7. Thunder (Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook) 17,465
8. Clippers (Blake Griffin) 17,329
9. Kings (Tyreke Evans and rookie DeMarcus Cousins not selected as All-Stars) 17,306
10. Warriors (Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry not selected as All-Stars) 17,298