The seven-man media panel that selects the 120 names that appear on the All-Star ballot -- a panel that includes our own Ric From Cincinnati: ESPN The Magazine's Ric Bucher -- did pretty well if the biggest omissions are Dallas' Devin Harris
and Seattle's Chris Wilcox
But there is one minor ballot controversy.
and the San Antonio Spurs
are not pleased that Duncan has been listed as a center on the ballot for the first time in his career.
OK, OK: This actually bothers the Spurs more than it bothers Duncan, who was clearly pretending to be devastated Thursday night when he said: "Obviously, it's tough."
San Antonio's dismay, furthermore, doesn't really stem from the fact that Duncan is now certain to lose out on a starting spot to Houston's Yao Ming
The Spurs' point is that they've officially listed Duncan as a forward at every opportunity from the moment he came to the league in 1997
and that they didn't know A) that the panel had the power to reclassify Duncan or B) that Duncan was indeed reclassified until the ballots were released Wednesday.
While Duncan has ranked alongside Shaquille O'Neal as the game's foremost back-to-the-basket force for a decade now and certainly makes you think he's a center, San Antonio notes that Duncan has been joined in the starting lineup by various centers -- David Robinson, Rasho Nesterovic
or one from the current tag team of Fabricio Oberto
and Francisco Elson
-- in pretty much every game he's ever played. Which can't really be argued.
But what I can and did do -- something I've wanted to do for a long time -- is ask Duncan why he has a philosophical problem with being listed as a center, as we've always heard.
"I'm not playing as a center and I don't like being labeled a center," Duncan said. "Without trying to cause too much of a stir, it just seems like a limited position. I think I can do a little bit more than what a center is labeled as [doing]. But it's just a label."
I'll never understand why Duncan and Kevin Garnett
insist on being listed at 6-11, because they apparently regard inclusion in the 7-Footers Club to be even more limiting, whereas I see their 7-footness as something that only makes their versatility more impressive. But I get what Duncan is saying here about the center stuff.
PS -- The biggest All-Star ballot omission is actually the Clippers' Sam Cassell
, not Harris or Wilcox. Still a factor in this league even though he's turning 38 next week, Sam I Am merits one of those 24 guard slots in the West out of mere respect. League rules, however, dictate that each team must have at least three players on the ballot, which undoubtedly explains why Cassell lost out to the likes of Portland's Jarrett Jack
and Seattle's Luke Ridnour
PPS -- The complete ballot panel, in case you're wondering, was comprised of Pro Basketball Writers Association president Rick Bonnell (Charlotte Observer), David DuPree (USA Today), Ernie Johnson (TNT), Jack McCallum (Sports Illustrated), Mike Monroe (San Antonio Express-News), Sam Smith (Chicago Tribune) and Bucher.
PPPS -- Antoine Walker
appears on the ballot as a West guard because the Wolves, again, had to have three names on the ballot and were down to two when Ricky Davis
was dealt to Miami in the 'Toine deal.
The injury is apparently not serious; Tracy McGrady
is only expected to miss a week for the Rockets with a sprained elbow.
But any missed game by a big name is a big deal at the top of the Southwest Division, with the three Texas teams already scrambling to avoid finishing in third place.
I know it's early, but don't forget how the seedings work. The team that finishes second in the Southwest can still claim a No. 2 or No. 3 seed overall in the West as long as it has a better record than the division winners in either the Pacific or Northwest. The Southwest's No. 2 team will at worst be seeded fourth.
Finishing third in the Southwest, by contrast, is very likely going to be a nightmare. The division's No. 3 team is almost certainly looking at the No. 5 seed, which typically results in an unappetizing first-round matchup as well as a spot in the No. 1 seed's bracket.
playing as a point guard in spots?
operating as a point forward here and there?
George Karl has been forced to get creative early, thanks to an injury hex that has seemingly claimed all of his ball-handlers. But the new wrinkles appear to be working, given how Denver rallied from a bad loss at New York and a close-your-eyes hammering in Boston to win four straight games entering the weekend.
The Nuggets also averaged nearly 116 points in the victories -- on the road in Indiana and Washington and home routs of Cleveland and Portland -- despite the unavailability of Chucky Atkins
, Anthony Carter
and Mike Wilks
. They finally got Wilks back Wednesday for the Portland game, but the Nuggets have also been dealing with the latest in a string of long-term setbacks for Nene while trying to restrict Kenyon Martin
to a nightly load of 25 minutes or less in Martin's comeback from microfracture surgery on both knees.
"George has done an incredible job of mixing and matching his pieces to hold us together," said Nuggets vice president of player personnel Rex Chapman. "We've pretty much played the first nine games without any point guards, but he's always been one of the best at adjusting to situations and making the most of what he has."
Five questions with Sixers guard Kyle Korver:
The Sixers were a much more competitive team (30-29 overall, 18-11 after the All-Star break) after Allen Iverson
was traded in December. So is it safe to assume that teams won't be sleeping on you guys this season?
I think people are still sleeping on us. I don't think people are gearing up for us here by any means. But we've got to get that chemistry flow that we had at the end of last year. We played really tough, hard-nosed basketball.
What's it like to play for a team that everyone knows is basically starting over?
We're definitely in a building mode, but I don't think we're as far back as everyone's saying. We have some great pieces. We're missing a piece -- a down-low presence to post up -- but if we get that piece we've got a lot of complementary pieces that we can play around him. It's obviously hard to find that piece, but we're in a position where we'll have a lot of cap space [in the summer of 2008], so we'll have some opportunities to do some stuff. I don't feel like we're that far from it.
Where does that leave the Sixers in the meantime?
I think the goal for this team is just to get the rest of us ready for whenever we can complete this building process -- they say they have a three-year plan -- so that the rest of us are ready to go. We do have a lot of pieces and a lot of pieces that mesh well.
But isn't it tough to be in a building mode when you were always considered a playoff team if nothing else?
I would rather be on this team than some of those other teams that we had. I mean, sure, we had a shot at making the playoffs every year. But we didn't have that championship [potential]. I've got no problem with being a part of this team right now and taking a couple bumps and bruises and in the end being able to really make a run.
You're one of the vets on this team now, so how do you preach patience through the bumps and bruises?
It's hard. We've taken some beatings, both through the media and on the court, to be honest. You've got to find a way to keep on going through those times. But I think we've done a good job with it.