Elton Brand was talking about the depth of young talent that had everything to do with the 76ers' 17-7 start. "It would be a travesty if these guys didn't make the All-Star team," said Brand, who was a two-time All-Star as a Clipper. "We're leading the [Atlantic] division -- one of these guys should make the All-Star team."
As the coaches decide this week how to fill out the All-Star rosters -- they'll choose the seven-man benches of the East and West on Thursday -- they have an opportunity to showcase their priorities. Are they going to vote for star power and stats? Or are the coaches going to reward those players who exhibit the right kind of stardom, the kind that elevates the franchise by turning losses into victories.
Last season, Trail Blazers coach Nate McMillan was frustrated that Blake Griffin of the Clippers and Kevin Love (the commissioner's pick to replace Yao Ming) were chosen ahead of Portland power forward LaMarcus Aldridge. McMillan believed Aldridge was more deserving because he was contributing to a winner, while the Clippers and Timberwolves were headed for the lottery.
"Griffin, I thought, got in there because of exciting plays," said McMillan. "Kevin Love was putting up some double-doubles with huge numbers, but his team wasn't winning.
"LaMarcus was putting up steady numbers and his team was winning. As far as the way I vote for All-Stars, I want to see numbers but I also want to see the team having success. LaMarcus' team was having success with two [potential] All-Stars missing," said McMillan, in reference to the injuries suffered by Brandon Roy and Greg Oden last season.
For all of the complaining by coaches about selfishness, the All-Star balloting creates an opportunity for them to reward players who have their priorities in order. But McMillan believes some coaches feel the need to ignore certain stars in hope of electing one of their own players. "Sometimes coaches vote to try to get their own guys in," said McMillan. "Some guys, if they think their players are close, they may vote for Craig Smith to keep somebody else off the ballot.
"To tell you the truth, nobody knows who the coaches vote for. We don't know who the coaches vote for."
McMillan also believes some coaches aren't certain whether they should vote for entertainers or winners. "Sometimes you follow the media, and if you watched ESPN, you saw the highlights of Griffin dunking a lob or some unbelievable dunk, and you saw Kevin Love with double-doubles," said McMillan. "And then you saw on the ticker [at the bottom of the screen] LaMarcus' numbers -- he would have 25 and seven or eight boards and his team would win. These other guys were dunking and high-flying and their teams were losing. Kevin Love was 20-and-20 and his team was losing.''
The Sixers, Pacers and Nuggets rank among the NBA's nine winningest teams, and yet they're in danger of sending no one to Orlando. "That's not right," said Brand. "In the past it wasn't all about stats; now it's about stats. When I first came into the league, Dale Davis made it and he was averaging nine and nine or something like that for Indiana."
Yes he did: Davis was an All-Star while averaging 10.0 points and 9.9 rebounds overall in 1999-2000 for the Pacers, who would lead the East with 56 wins.
"That's the way it was and the way it should have been," said Brand. "One of these guys deserves to make an All-Star team -- the guys who are producing and winning. We all know on bad teams guys can put up numbers, because someone has to shoot the ball, someone has to get the rebounds. So I think these guys should get credit."
If the coaches were to follow the advice of Brand and McMillan, then they would be considering the following candidates to fill out the All-Star benches. It's a ruthless way of filling out the ballot, as former All-Stars who may be struggling (like Dirk Nowitzki), deserving candidates who have been injured (Rajon Rondo) or stars who are isolated on bad teams (Deron Williams) cannot make the cut. Only highly productive members of playoff contenders are reflected by the following choices:
STARTERS (elected last week by fans)
C Dwight HowardF Carmelo AnthonyF LeBron JamesG Dwyane WadeG Derrick Rose
C Roy Hibbert, Pacers. Indiana's fourth-year center has turned the low-post into a strength at both ends of the floor, whether Hibbert is scoring and passing, or blocking shots and rebounding.
C/F Anderson Varejao, Cavaliers. Who thought Cleveland would be contending for the playoffs? Varejao's energy and double-double production form the foundation of the Cavs' surprising resurgence.
F Chris Bosh, Heat. Never mind the ever-present criticism: Bosh deserves to be starting for the East.
F Andre Iguodala, Sixers. The Sixers are leading the Atlantic because of Iguodala's excellence in a variety of areas.
G Joe Johnson, Hawks. The Hawks' typical 16-8 start should not be taken for granted in the havoc of this post-lockout season, and neither should Johnson's leadership.
G Brandon Jennings, Bucks. Despite injuries and issues, the Bucks are pushing for the playoffs thanks to Jennings' competitiveness and outstanding production.
G Lou Williams, Sixers. No remaining guard in the East has had a bigger winning impact than Williams, who is Philadelphia's go-to scorer off the bench.
C Andrew BynumF Blake GriffinF Kevin DurantG Kobe BryantG Chris Paul
C Marc Gasol, Grizzlies. No Western center does more across the board than Gasol, who has kept Memphis in playoff contention in absence of Zach Randolph.
F Kevin Love, Timberwolves. He's the most productive big man in the West, and this time he has helped Minnesota climb within range of the postseason with five fewer wins than all of last season.
F LaMarcus Aldridge, Trail Blazers. Regardless of the large number of injuries to teammates and firings of GMs, no-nonsense Aldridge keeps pushing the Blazers to the playoffs.
F Danilo Gallinari, Nuggets. Not only are his numbers All-Star worthy, but they are contributing to a team with home-court potential.
G Russell Westbrook, Thunder. A no-brainer -- Westbrook and Durant have established Oklahoma City as the favorite to win the West.
G Tony Parker, Spurs. Manu Ginobili is injured, 35-year-old Tim Duncan is playing fewer than 28 minutes per game and yet the amazing Spurs are winning -- thanks to Parker.
G Kyle Lowry, Rockets. Houston ought to be reeling after the retirement of Yao Ming and failure to acquire Pau Gasol, but the Rockets are fighting for the playoffs because of Lowry's dynamic play.