1. LeBron James has taken some heat lately for his dancing after baskets and during timeouts, something he's done over the last couple of seasons. What do you make of his antics?
Ian Thomsen: There are bigger things to worry about. I can see where some might not like it, but I don't care.
Jack McCallum: We've passed the tipping point on this issue. Of course, dancing is bush league, sophomoric and insulting to opponents, just like dancing and otherwise cavorting in the football end zone. But, sadly, James, like hundreds of others his age, doesn't realize it. He has grown up in a sporting culture that celebrates celebrations, the hey-look-at-me generation. So when someone challenges them, as Chicago's Joakim Noah did last week, James can essentially take the high road because he honestly doesn't know any better. But I'm starting to sound like some old guy on a soapbox, so I'll step down.
Chris Mannix: I've talked to a few players who, while praising LeBron's game, have, in the same breath, grumbled about his sometimes childish antics. I've also heard the same complaints about Kevin Garnett. It's a little obnoxious, but I don't think whining about it is the answer. If opposing players don't want LeBron to dance, don't give him reason to. You won't see him doing a jig if he's losing. And if someone, like the 6-foot-11 Noah -- whose complaints are the reason we're talking about this right now -- wants to send a message, put him on his butt next time he takes it to the lane. Old-school plays like that are how the Charles Oakleys and Rick Mahorns and Bill Laimbeers of the '80s and '90s made a living.
Arash Markazi: It's getting a little old at this point. It would be one thing if James were a rookie or in his first couple of years in the league. But he's the MVP and is trying to win a championship (or at least a Finals game). He's acting like a kid who's never had a highlight-reel play in the NBA before. I know he wants to give off the perception that he's a fun-loving teammate, enjoying every second of the game, but it comes off the wrong way when he's essentially taunting the opposition. He should leave that stuff to the ChadOchocincos of the world and let his actions on the court do the talking.
2. We've just passed the quarter pole in the regular season. What's been the most notable storyline to date?
Thomsen: I can't believe the Rockets are 13-10 without Yao Ming, TracyMcGrady and Ron Artest. To think they are four games out of second place in the West without their three stars is unfathomable, which is another way of saying Rick Adelman is sensational. As Jerry Sloan and very few others have been able to do, he is again demonstrating the value of coaching in what is a players' league. It helps, too, that he has been given a roster that fits well together, but that doesn't lessen the wonder. Adelman has the Rockets looking like a playoff team in the absence of star talent.
McCallum: So as not to bring out the big storylines yet, I'm going to say the Thunder's being above .500. Generally, a young team with one dominant scorer -- Kevin Durant, at 28.3 points per game, is averaging 12 more than the second-highest scorer, Russell Westbrook -- equates to a struggling team. But there the Thunder stand, just one game out of a playoff spot, even as people in Seattle remain angry about a franchise that was hijacked from under them. But "quarter pole" should be in boldface -- it's really early.
Mannix: I've been surprised at how little value we put on team chemistry. Three supposed playoff contenders in the East -- Chicago, Philadelphia and Washington -- have stumbled after trying to restructure their rosters and coaching staffs in the offseason. Out West, Forbes' Team of the Decade, San Antonio, has struggled to incorporate seven new players into its system. The 2007-08 Celtics, who seamlessly blended Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett and James Posey with incumbents Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo and Kendrick Perkins, spoiled us. Incorporating new players or systems is challenging, and we are seeing just how challenging early this season.
Markazi: It may not be the most notable storyline, but the Allen Iverson saga has certainly been the most intriguing. Most people figured Iverson wouldn't last with the Grizzlies, but I doubt anyone thought he'd self-destruct before even playing a single home game for Memphis. He complained about coming off the bench from the moment he was cleared to play, abruptly left in the midst of a road trip, contemplated retirement, contemplated not retiring and, to top it all off, ended up returning to the Sixers. Now that is entertainment.
Thomsen: Both teams will finish with a better percentage than they have now, but the Wizards have the higher upside. During their current five-game skid, four of the losses have been by two points or fewer. Eventually it will come together for them. The Bulls' upside is based on the emerging talent of Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, as well as Luol Deng, Kirk Hinrich and their other young players. But Chicago is taking a long-term view to the development of its roster, whereas the Wizards are built to win now.
McCallum: I would quibble about the term "high expectations" -- the expectations of both were more like "cautiously optimistic" right down to "fair to middlin'." I'm going with the Wizards in this one: I like their Big Three of GilbertArenas, Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler better than Chicago's trio of Deng, Rose and ... wait. Who is their third? John Salmons? Joakim Noah? The injured Tyrus Thomas? Kirk Hinrich? Say, whatever happened to Kirk Hinrich?
Mannix: There's no way Washington can stumble through an entire season like this. Is there? I'm going to give Arenas a mulligan for a mediocre (by his standards) first quarter of the season. He played 15 games over the last two years, and in his first full season back, he's been asked to reinvent himself as a playmaker. If Jamison and Butler stay healthy, they will make a run at the playoffs. Chicago looks to have quit on its coach, and with BernieBickerstaff waiting in the wings (and an antsy Lawrence Frank on the unemployment line), I don't know how much longer the Vinny Del Negro era is going to last. Either way, without Ben Gordon, the Bulls simply don't have the guns to reach the playoffs this season.
Markazi: I don't think either team is going to turn it around this season, but if one has the better chance, it's the Wizards. During this losing streak, they have lost to Toronto, Detroit, Boston, Indiana and the Clippers by a combined 11 points. They've stayed competitive most nights. Meanwhile, the Bulls have dropped five of six, including losses to Boston by 26, Atlanta by 35 and Toronto by 32. They look like they've given up on Del Negro, whose days in Chicago appear to be numbered.
4. Tracy McGrady, who has yet to play this season, is on pace to start the All-Star Game based on early returns in fan balloting. What's the best way to select starters for the All-Star Game?
Thomsen: Nothing should be changed. Let the fans stay involved by picking the starters, and let the coaches continue to make amends by filling out the benches. I highly doubt McGrady will finish in the starting lineup, as close as the balloting is at this early stage.
McCallum: Well, let's bring back the soapbox. Any system that has a guy who hasn't played in line for a starting spot is a joke of a system. Let the players and coaches pick the starters. I've been saying that for years. Does anyone really think there would be a huge outcry if McGrady is not at the All-Star Game, aside from those ignorant fans who still believe the T-Mac hype from six years ago? Let the fans pick the nominees for the sideshows, such as the dunk contest.
Mannix: People, it's an exhibition game. If the fans want to see Jack McCallum don his sweats and post up Steve Nash, I say, Jack, start working out. Every year, fans shell out tens of millions of dollars in tickets, concessions and exorbitant parking costs. For one game -- one meaningless exhibition game in mid-February -- they should be allowed to choose the players they want to see play. Check that, the 10 starters they want to see. Remember, the fans vote for less than half the combined roster. It makes no sense to take that away from them, regardless of who gets in.
Markazi: Let the fans vote, but forget paper ballots. Most vote online or via text message anyway. What this will do, aside from saving paper, is enable the NBA to place on the ballot players who have played in a minimum number of games instead of choosing them in the preseason for printing purposes. There's no reason a player like McGrady should be on the ballot. Likewise, it's wrong that a player such as Clippers center Chris Kaman (18.9 points, 8.7 rebounds) did not make the cut, simply because the ballot was made before the season began. That mistake doesn't happen if the ballots are available online after the first month of the season.