- The NBA's All-Star changes are a start, but they actually won't change much. Here are eight thoughts about the tweaks, including some suggestions (petty captains!) about how to make it more fun.
On Tuesday afternoon, the NBA and the NBA Players Association released a joint statement announcing changes to the NBA All-Star Game. As the league's statement explains: "This will mark the NBA’s first All-Star Game without a matchup between the Eastern Conference and the Western Conference. Under the revamped format, two captains will draft the 2018 All-Star teams from the pool of players voted as starters and reserves, making selections without regard for conference affiliation. The captains will be the All-Star starter from each conference who receives the most fan votes in his conference."
So there you go. We have a new All-Star Game. I have some thoughts.
1. The NBA is still giving the East too much respect
Initially, I was all in. You probably were, too. Tell any basketball fan that the NBA is getting rid of the East and West this year, and they'll go through three stages.
First: "Hey, OK. Nice!"
Then after thinking for a second: "Finally."
And then after thinking a little bit more: "Wow, actually, thank God. That game would have been really uncomfortable this year."
The West has always been deeper than the East, but the talent imbalance has never been more egregious than it is in 2018. In an All-Star setting the West is probably bringing James Harden, Chris Paul, Jimmy Butler, Paul George, and Rudy Gobert off the bench. The East is bringing... Bradley Beal? Kyle Lowry? Al Horford? Maybe Kemba Walker or Nic Batum?
It's a problem. This is why the NBA was finally compelled to act.
But the league only went halfway, and every reaction to the All-Star changes also comes with a fourth stage about twenty minutes later: "Wait wait wait. They're still taking twelve guys from the East?"
Indeed. Captains will select teams, but the actual All-Star selections will be divided evenly among both conferences, same as ever. That's good news for Charlotte Hornets fans. Bad news for any NBA fan who wants to see Nikola Jokic in an All-Star Game before 2025.
Maybe the NBA will go further next year, or maybe the league is hoping this conference imbalance corrects itself over the next few seasons, eventually mitigating the need for open, league-sponsored disdain for Eastern Conference basketball. In any case, the All-Star changes aren't as exciting as they could've been.
2. Players should make the All-Star selection process as personal and spiteful as possible
This should be written into the rules. For example:
• If LeBron James picks Kyrie Irving, he should be stripped of his captain's duties.
• If Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant end up on the same team, the game should be canceled.
• If LeBron wants to pretend he's cool with Draymond Green by adding him to his All-Star team, that's fine, but only if Draymond spends the entire weekend sarcastically recruiting him to Golden State.
Switching up the All-Star format and adding team captains has been tried before in the NHL and NFL, and it didn't really make a difference. The NBA can make this new format work, but only if the players lean into all the petty resentments and long-standing feuds that make the sport so addictive in the first place. On the other hand ...
3. The problem with team captains is the problem with the All-Star game, in general
Today's players are too rich and famous to justify playing hard in an exhibition game. First of all, there are the injury risks. But more importantly there is a pride element to consider —the risk that players will get exposed next to the biggest stars in the sport, go viral, and get embarrassed in front of an international audience. If you want to understand why the All-Star Game isn't fun to watch anymore, I think this is it, and changing the rosters won't help.
I don't even blame the players. Half of today's All-Stars are worth nine figures. It's easier, and smarter, to jog through 48 minutes of threes and wide-open dunks than risk looking like a fool or getting hurt.
Likewise, all of this why I kind of expect any All-Star selection process to descend into an over-branded, overly-diplomatic slog. With the possible exception of sneaker war pettiness, it will be drama free. Nobody will want to offend anyone over something as meaningless as an All-Star game.
4. This format makes me miss Kobe
That stretch after the 2009 title, when Kobe had been successful enough to openly dismiss almost everyone in the NBA, that's when we needed a captain system. Kobe would've refused to pick at least 80% of the All-Star pool. It would've been Kobe, Rajon Rondo, Pau "White Swan" Gasol, and then two guys like Gerald Wallace and Joe Johnson—league-mandated additions to at least give Kobe's team five players.
5. Actually, shortened rosters is one way to make the All-Star Game fun again
Allow one team captain the chance to play with less than 12 players. For example: LeBron takes Russell Westbrook, Kawhi Leonard, Anthony Davis, Paul George, and Chris Paul—then he drops the mic and walks away, because that's all he needs against 18 other players. I'd watch that All-Star Game.
6. Another idea that will never happen: Give each All-Star captain a real, $1 million salary cap
If LeBron is bidding $400,000 to sign Russell Westbrook for the All-Star Game, I'm in. And if this idea also means we watch several perfectly deserving All-Stars have to settle for the minimum because Kevin Durant is capped out after 8 spots, I'm in for that, too.
7. If the East-West format is dead, long live 2001
Almost everything about this NBA era was awful—really, truly terrible—but the fourth quarter of this game was a masterpiece.
8. It's OK if the All-Star Game is a waste of time
Making the teams more evenly matched won't make this game any more entertaining, but that's fine. The changes will make the conversation around the game more fun, and that's probably all that matters.
Big picture, two All-Star issues remain. First, there are too many legitimate stars (like Damian Lillard) who get snubbed every year. And at the same time, the players who do get recognized are too successful to play hard and risk jeopardizing that success in a hungover exhibition game. But most of this is only frustrating if you're focused on one weekend.
The NBA's All-Star Game problems are that all its superstars are too rich and famous, and there are too many of them to fit into one game. The league's not perfect, but still, we are a long way from 2001.