Writers' Roundtable (cont.)
3. Which team do you see finishing with the worst record (and thus having the best chance to win the draft lottery)?
Ian Thomsen: It's an interesting time to be thinking about this because it will depend on how the bad teams behave at the trading deadline. I'd say the two favorites (if that's the right term) are going to be the Kings and Clippers, based on the possibility that they unload the salaries of Brad Miller and Marcus Camby, respectively, by Feb. 19. The loser administering the biggest midseason fire sale will save money while improving its chances of landing Blake Griffin or James Harden with the Nos. 1 or 2 picks.
Jack McCallum: I confess that I never thought the Wizards, even without Gilbert Arenas, would be this formidable in the race to the bottom. Still, I think Agent Zero will return and the Wizards will go on a little bit of a run in March. (Emphasis on "little.") It's still hard for me to believe that the Clippers are that bad. (Do you believe I'm writing that?) Despite the loss of Al Jefferson, the unfortunate Timberwolves probably have enough cushion to stay in front of the cellar-dwellers. So I see it coming down to Sacramento and Oklahoma City, and since the Thunder are so young and since I picked them as the worst team at the beginning of the season, I'll stick with that choice.
Chris Mannix: Sacramento. Opponents face more challenges in layup lines than against the Kings, who rank 29th in points allowed and last in opponents' field-goal percentage and point differential. They are drawing a league-low 12,404 fans per game and GM Geoff Petrie has let the rest of the league know that he is open for business with the trading deadline looming. It could get even uglier after the All-Star break in Sacramento.
Steve Aschburner: Washington, not even close. An outrageous amount of questionable spending and a determination to change, somehow, some way, must be contagious in that town. Young teams (Thunder, Grizzlies) still running on training wheels can be bad and established teams (Clippers) that have elevated hapless to high art can be horrid. But nothing is worse than a team that expected to be better, is overpaying veteran players, loses hope and has a Zero in the leadership category. The Wizards are that team. Even a free-falling Minnesota, sans Jefferson, won't be able to undercut those guys.
4. The NBA descends on Phoenix this week for its midseason showcase. What's the first thing you'd change about All-Star weekend?
Ian Thomsen: Cancel it all except the All-Star Game. Seriously, I'd tell the rookies and sophomores they aren't deserving of their own little "all-star game'' because it only enables their feelings of entitlement. They've shown year after year they aren't worthy of the stage, and then too many of them return to their NBA teams thinking they're big-timers.
The NBA creates its own image problems by the selfish nature of the weekend events. With great joy I would abolish the events on Saturday; maybe -- maybe -- I'd salvage the dunk and three-point contests and stage them in a condensed form at halftime of the real All-Star Game. Everyone agrees that the All-Star Game itself has lost its appeal, and I say it's because all of the penny-ante junk of Friday and Saturday diminishes the real show on Sunday. By the time they're taking 25 minutes to introduce the real All-Stars on Sunday, we've already sat through two previous days of hyping players and events that haven't been worthy of the hype. The Emperor Has No Clothes Weekend disrespects the intelligence of the audience, diminishes the impact of the real stars and reinforces the NBA's image of style and selfishness over substance and teamwork.
I'm sure the league has all kinds of market research that demonstrates a benefit from the PlayStation Skills Challenge, the Haier Shooting Stars and the T-Mobile Rookie Challenge & Youth Jam, but I say all of this detracts from the bigger picture. What the NBA has done to its own All-Star Game is similar to what Coca-Cola did years ago when it came out disastrously with its line of "New Coke.'' It has undermined the real thing.
Jack McCallum: I know it's a showcase and nobody watches an All-Star Game for lockdown defense. But there must be a way incentivize the players to make the actual game mean more, get them to extend effort at both ends of the court, make the game more like Kobe plays it and less like Tracy McGrady plays it. Give a bonus for the players, and a free chalupa for the fans, if one team holds the opposition under 110 points? Fans love chalupas. Present a defensive player of the game award? I know, it sounds weird. But the Ole! defense played only reinforces the worst stereotypes about the NBA.
Chris Mannix: The easy answer is "eliminate the dunk contest" but I'm not on that bandwagon -- yet. How about we start by lightening the schedule? Let's lose Friday's celebrity game (watching James Lafferty launch errant three-pointers is entertaining to no one) and Saturday's Skills Challenge. There is just too much going on that not many people really care about.
Steve Aschburner: Squeeze the weekend down to one day again. We're living in austere times and there's no excuse for three days of excess. Schedule the three-point competition, the slam dunk contest and the game itself all on Sunday, drop the other stuff and, while they're at it, create some incentives for defense to make it play more like a real game: winner-take-all paychecks for the All-Stars, for instance, or cash bonuses paid for rebounds, blocks and defensive percentage. In case the NBA hasn't noticed, grim is the new silly these days.
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