1. We’ve all heard a bunch about how the dunk competition is boring, but really, it's not like the three-point contest is that exciting either. Is there a way that it can be improved upon or have we hit a ceiling on how dope All-Star games can even be?
Sandy Dover: The ceiling is only as high as the stars that participate. Charles Barkley said it best on All-Star Saturday Night: When people like LeBron James and Blake Griffin stop giving back to the game during the league’s foremost exhibition period, it keeps things like the Slam Dunk Competition from being all that they can be. The stars (or lack thereof) change the experience.
Branden Peters: The NBA can add all the twists it wants to All-Star Saturday, but the only way that the dunk contest will improve is if the best dunkers in the league participate. Even if Durant, LeBron and Melo don’t show and prove, the sheer excitement of seeing them compete is worth the price of admission alone. Give these guys some cash, or a high-end luxury whip, to play. As far as the three-point shootout, the league should add some props, or defenders or something, to spice it up.
Brandon Scott: So the dunk contest is boring, but I dare any of us to come up with an All-Star event, in any sport, that’s more compelling or draws the same level of interest. At this point, it seems like we tune in just to see if it’s going to pass or fail, which to me, still makes it relevant. There’s something to this idea that the actual stars ought to participate to make it great, but think about how taxing the whole weekend must be on those guys. It’s a bigger event than it used to be, basketball stuff aside. I’m not sure the dunk contest is worth the added pressure and expectation that would come with performing.
Richard Boadu: The three-point contest isn’t exciting, but we don’t expect much from it either. There are times, like this past Saturday, when you see Kyrie Irving go for 25 points, that make the three-point contest pretty fun to watch. The dunk contest hasn’t reached its ceiling. ESPN was hyping the ’88 contest between Jordan and Wilkins, this past weekend, but those dunks were cool in 1988, not now. Hell, the 2000, 2008 and 2009 dunk contests were all better than the ’88 contest. Let’s take our emotions out of it. Jordan was dope and that ’88 contest was cool for the time, but it would be boring today. As players get bigger, stronger and faster, the dunks will get better. Improving the dunk contest is nothing more than hoping players convert their dunks within the first two attempts.
DJ Dunson : All-Star Weekend as currently constituted has reached its peak. It’s time to change things up. Maybe, throw in a one-on-one contest. The dunk contest has become a joke without the NBA’s top players competing for bragging rights. The dunks don’t even have to be that awe-inspiring when the NBA’s best are competing. The contest had aura when ’Nique, Jordan and Vince were duking it out above the rim. The All-Star Game is a spectacle because of the star power but the game is nothing special. Has anyone in the league office ever considered awarding homecourt advantage in the NBA Finals to the winner? Just a thought.
2. The trading deadline is Thursday. Paul Millsap is currently the hottest names in all of the rumors. Can he be a difference-maker for a squad? If not, what player out there can turn a team into a real contender?
Scott: Kevin Garnett to the Clippers is the most interesting trade rumor for me because it would lend the Clips more credibility the way the Chris Paul trade did. Due to the history, it’s still difficult to really buy into that franchise as being anything other than a laughing stock. It’s clearly not that now with the success of the past season and a half, but KG gives the Clippers an interior presence that neither DeAndre Jordan nor Blake Griffin can. Not to mention the mettle Uncle Kevin brings to the playoff experience.
Boadu: Paul Millsap would definitely help any team out—except for the Clippers. The Clippers have the best bench in the NBA. Also, Millsap plays power forward and is a starter. I’m almost positive that Blake Griffin is the starting power forward for the Clippers. I’m definitely positive Millsap isn’t going to okay any trade where he’s a backup. The NBA Playoffs remind me of the red zone in football, stuff gets tight and execution is key. In the playoffs, the stars have the spotlight stolen from them role players, ie: Mike Miller, last year. The best player to make a team into a contender is J.J. Redick. Or any other good shooter, for that matter: Paxson, Kerr, Horry, Fisher—the list is endless. If you can shoot and you’re not afraid to shoot, the NBA Playoffs are a shooter’s paradise.
Dunson: Millsap has been criminally underrated for much of his career playing in the media Siberia that is Utah. A trade to Brooklyn wouldn’t be a game changer in the East, but it would provide Williams a former Utah Jazz running mate to help restore some of his faded luster. Unfortunately, the Nets don’t have much to offer the Jazz outside of what the Jazz already has. The Clippers, on the other hand, could use depth at power forward and can afford to unload Mini-LeBron without skipping a beat.
Peters: It doesn’t make much sense for Utah to trade Millsap as they currently sit in the seventh spot. The trade we’ve been hearing about the most is Millsap for Bledsoe, and even though Utah lost Mo Williams and need depth at PG, losing Millsap’s size, boards and 15 ppg would not make them better short term. On the flip side, Millsap is big and active. His skill set definitely adds to any team. The Clippers could certainly use his toughness in the frontcourt.
Sandy: Paul Millsap can certainly change the game, particularly for a team that is looking for a versatile scorer/rebounder who can play as a starter or as a reserve body. He’s essentially a big man’s Emmanuel Ginóbili. A team like the Memphis Grizzlies or Dallas Mavericks would become much more threatening with him on their squads.
3. What team playing well is due for a second-half nosedive? And what struggling team is about to make a move in the standings?
Sandy: The L.A. Lakers, if you can call this recent streak “good”, are likely going to fall farther, and the Boston Celtics, even in their brief run of post-Rajon Rondo goodness, will likely regress. However, I believe that the Dallas Mavericks will be stronger in the latter portion of the season and that Dirk Nowitzki will be able to play his absolute best ball of the year.
Peters: I just don’t see the Celtics continuing to play this well without Rondo. Most of the teams they beat in the most recent streak are weak. They are a veteran team, no doubt, but without their leader on the floor, teams will figure out how to stop them offensively. The Warriors have stunk it up over the last few games, call it Bogut adjustment. The days off for All-Star break should be good for the team. I expect them to get back to playing defense and rebounding the way they did for most of the first half.
Scott: What happens at the trade deadline could have a lot to do with this. I still don’t trust the Knicks. Maybe calling a nosedive is presumptuous, but you can look at this team on both ends of the floor and wonder if they can hold up in the postseason. On the other hand, the Lakers still have the personnel to turn things around, so I can’t rule out a late push in L.A.
Boadu: The Celtics are playing well off of pure emotion and subpar competition. The loss of Rondo is sure to catch up with them when they need someone to make a play off the dribble without pick or they need someone to make a smart decision with the ball. The Celtics look like a kindergarten class with a substitute teacher. They are behaving themselves for the first few hours, but after lunch their asses will be terrible. The Warriors are fine. They picked a great time to go on a bad stretch. The All-Star break for the Warriors is what the power outage was for the San Francisco 49ers, the perfect opportunity for them to regain composure and come back out swinging and connecting.
Dunson: The Boston Celtics are the NBA’s version of The Walking Dead. Their bodies are deteriorating at an accelerating rate, teammates are getting picked off one-by-one every week and their star point guard is out of commission for the remainder of the season. Despite rumors of the Celtics demise getting circulated more often than Bill Cosby death hoaxes over the past two years, they have survived and thrived. However, there’s no way Doc Rivers’ Dr. Frankenstein act can reverse KG’s and Paul Pierce’s aging process over the next half of the season. The Zombie Celtics’ 8-1 pace over their last nine is a product of postmortem spasms.
4. Best moment of the All-Star Game??
Sandy: Kobe squaring off on LBJ, no question. Kobe really takes losing to heart, and the man wants to be what Michael Jordan was SO BAD. You could almost feel Kobe’s sense of urgency.
Peters: Kobe guarding ’Bron for the last few minutes of the fourth quarter. We all know Kobe is fueled by the most minute things and the “Five is better than one” comment by MJ seems to have gotten into his head because he took the one-on-one match-up very seriously. Kobe’s block of ’Bron’s J and the defense along the baseline were highlight moments of the game for sure.
Scott: It’s between Kevin Garnett telling Craig Sager that he looked like a Christmas ornament in that suit and Kevin Hart on the TNT set with the fellas at halftime. There were plenty of cool moments in the game (CP3 working as a magician for the West and Kobe checking LeBron obviously come to mind). What makes the NBA so unique is how it seems to involve so much more entertainment beyond what we see between the lines.
Boadu: Eh...nothing was really the “best,” but I noticed several things. Kyrie Irving’s ball handling is prettier than a Playboy Playmate. Did you see the way he split the double team with one hand and finished in the lane in the first quarter? Man! At the end of the second half, Carmelo Anthony strapped up Kobe Bryant and made Black Mamba look weaker than the Geico gecko. If Melo can do that to Kobe, why the hell doesn’t he ever play defense that well in games? Thank God I’m not a Knicks fan and don’t pay that much attention to him because I’d be livid if I did. Kevin Hart at halftime with the TNT crew was comedy. Lastly, I really want to shadow Chris Paul’s son for a week and interview him. He was side-by-side his daddy all weekend and was right next to his dad as he accepted the All-Star game MVP.
Dunson: The best moment of the All-Star Game was a two-parter. Kobe’s two authoritative blocks of LeBron James’ late fourth quarter shot attempts felt personal, especially in the wake of Jordan taking Black Mamba’s side in the LeBron-Kobe debate. LeBron may have a significantly larger physique than Jordan and Kobe, but, at times, it feels like Kobe knows Papa Jordan loves watching him put Little Brother LeBron in a headlock and seeing LeBron seem too intimidated to fight back.
5. What will be the biggest story during the second half of the season?
Sandy: Will the Lakers make the Playoffs, and if they do, what can they achieve? If Kobe doesn’t make the postseason, can you imagine what might happen? What Jerry Buss might do? THAT is the saga of the league until mid-April, and perhaps beyond.
Peters: The Lakers’ below average season will continue to get headlines, but the biggest basketball storyline of the second half will continue to be LeBron James’s offensive dominance. Despite Kobe lightweight embarrassing him last night in the All-Star Game, LeBron is playing out of his mind this year and he won’t be letting up anytime soon.
Boadu: It’s going to be a tie. The Lakers are going to make the playoffs. Kobe Bryant isn’t going out like that. The team has too much talent for the switch not to flip sooner or later. The second story line will be when the Knicks defeat the Heat and make it the NBA Finals to face the Thunder. Sure, the Heat look like they could beat the ’92 Dream Team, on their worst day, but that’s why they play the games. Knicks beat Heat, Lakers slide in the back door. Don’t believe me, just watch.
Scott: LeBron is going to be the biggest basketball story because he’s the greatest player in the world. The ad that used to say, “We’re all witnesses” never rang so true. I’m still consumed by the hot mess going on with the Lakers, though. Dwight Howard has been clear about not wanting to draw attention to his upcoming free agency, but speculation on where the Lakers go from here isn’t going anywhere until we know something.
Dunson: As the Lakers gear up for a surge to the playoffs, we'll be observing how much longer Kobe keeps up his act as the de facto point guard, or how long it takes for Dwight's right shoulder too fall off. More importantly, despite the smiles he flashed throughout All-Star Weekend, the Dwight Happiness Index is currently at an all-time low. A strong second -half would go a long ways towards convincing him to remain in Tinseltown.