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Who'll be Outkasts at this year's All-Star Game?

Posted: Tuesday January 20, 2004 3:40PM; Updated: Tuesday January 20, 2004 3:40PM
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The NBA announced Tuesday that Outkast will perform at next month's All-Star Game in Los Angeles. But will the hip-hop superstars be singing "Hey, Ya!" or Hey, Yao!"? After all, Rockets center Yao Ming is hot on the heels of Lakers center Shaquille O'Neal in fan voting as the starting center for the West.

That's right. It's that time of year again. Fan balloting ended Jan. 18, and, as usual, there is no shortage of debate about who deserves to be selected to this year's All-Star Game.

Yao or Shaq?

LeBron James or Michael Redd?

Zach Randolph or Dirk Nowitzki?

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Those are just a few of the juicier head-to-head battles in this year's All-Star race. Although it's still a bit early to be wading into these waters, I'm going to give it my best shot. Obviously, injuries could still play a part (Shaq, Kobe, et al.), but for the most part these selections should hold up.

But first, some ground rules:

As usual, the East and West squads each will feature 12 players. With the fans having selected the starting lineups (to be announced Jan. 29), only seven spots remain on each roster. Those "reserves" will be selected by NBA coaches shortly thereafter (and announced Feb. 3).

Since the fan voting is already completed, I'm just going to pick my seven reserves for each team. Obviously, I will have to assume that the players who were leading the balloting as of Jan. 12 -- the latest results available -- will continue to do so. The good news is that there was only one tight race, Yao vs. Shaq, with the Lakers' center holding a narrow lead of some 25,000 votes.

Also, I'm going to follow the same rules applied to the coaches. They are required to vote for two guards, two forwards and a center. They can then add two more at-large players, regardless of position. However, the coaches don't have to follow the official position designation on the All-Star ballot. Hence, they can "fudge" their picks and put a forward in at backup center, say, as they did two years ago when they selected the 7-foot Nowitzki as Shaq's backup in the West.

OK, let's get started:

In the East, the fans did a solid job. It's hard to argue with their selections of Allen Iverson and Tracy McGrady at the guard spots, Vince Carter and Jermaine O'Neal at the forward spots, and Ben Wallace at center. Some might argue that Paul Pierce deserved to start ahead of Carter, but he was listed as a guard on the ballot.

My reserves then would be Pierce, Redd, Baron Davis, Jason Kidd, Ron Artest, Shareef Abdur-Rahim and Kenyon Martin. Where is the backup center? As I mentioned above, there is room to fudge on that. Martin is a key player on a two-time defending conference champ and has been a force all season. Abdur-Rahim plays for a lousy team, but his 19.8 points and 9.3 rebounds are too good to ignore. Both deserve to be All-Stars ahead of, say, Zydrunas Ilgauskas. It probably won't happen, since few coaches are going to write in either K-Mart or 'Reef as a center, but it would be the fairest solution.

The far tougher call was leaving James off the roster. The Cavs' rookie truly has been sensational. Who doesn't want to see him in the All-Star Game, going one on one against Kobe or Kevin Garnett? But Redd is no fluke. He is not only one of the game's best shooters, but the 6-foot-6 lefty also rebound, defends and generally takes good care of the ball. He doesn't get the hype playing in Milwaukee, but he's been a big part of the Bucks' surprising success.

LeBron is still a rookie. He needs to improve his jump shot and cut down on turnovers. He'll be an All-Star soon enough. Besides, think about how much better this year's Rookie/Sophomore Game will be with LeBron on one side and Carmelo Anthony on the other.

In the West, the starters appear to be Steve Francis and Kobe at guards, with Tim Duncan and KG at forwards, and Shaq at center. Again, it's hard to argue with the fan voting here, with the exception of Francis, who is not having a good year shooting the ball. Sam Cassell should have been the top choice.

But since it's too late to fix that, my reserves would be Cassell, Nowitzki, Gary Payton, Mike Bibby, Peja Stojakovic, Elton Brand and Brad Miller (over Yao) at center. Yes, there are many other deserving candidates. Pau Gasol, Andrei Kirilenko, Corey Maggette, Randolph and Yao all have outstanding seasons and merit serious consideration.

Of these, Randolph is probably the toughest to leave off. The 6-foot-9 Blazers forward has been among the league leaders in scoring (21.6) and rebounding (11.2) most of the season. However, he also has struggled defensively all year, been busted for DUI and slumped of late while his team has gone into a tailspin.

Still, Randolph's numbers compare favorably to Nowitzki's, who has struggled with his shooting. It's a close call, and there is no wrong selection. But I'll go with Nowitzki because he is a proven superstar and the best player on one of the league's top teams. Besides, the Mavs deserve to have at least one rep.

As for Kirilenko and Maggette, each might have made it a few weeks ago. However, Kirilenko has slumped a bit of late while Maggette has been overtaken by Brand as L.A.'s best player. Instead, the final at-large spot should go to Bibby, the Kings' big-time shot-maker and floor general.

Finally, Miller should get the nod over Yao at backup center. Miller might not score as much as Yao (15.3 to 14.8), but he's averaging more rebounds (10.6 to 8.9) and assists (4.8 to 1.7) while shooting a higher percentage (51.5 to 51.0). More important, he's played an unselfish role in helping the Kings to the NBA's best record.

"He does a lot of intangibles for them, little things that help them win games," one longtime Western Conference assistant coach said. "He absolutely deserves to be an All-Star."

Of course, if Yao gets a few more votes, it won't matter. He'll be the starter, with Shaq (assuming he's healthy) as the backup. And Miller will be an Outkast.

Marty Burns covers pro basketball for SI.com.

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