We've known that the 2014 NBA All-Star Game will be held in New Orleans since two Aprils ago, shortly after New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson reached a deal to purchase the then-league-owned Hornets, which paved the way for the birth of the Pelicans and, by extension, the rebirth of the Charlotte Hornets. (Kind of a big couple of days there.) Now, according to a pair of Tuesday reports, we're getting closer to locking down the destinations for those traveling to the next two February exhibition extravaganzas. A word to the wise: Dress warm.
First, Fred Kerber of the New York Post reports that preparations for holding the 2015 All-Star Game in New York City and dividing hosting duties between the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets — which incoming NBA Commissioner Adam Silver discussed during this past February's All-Star Weekend in Houston — are nearing completion:
Plans to split the activities between the two teams were proposed openly last February, but the arrangements under which the Sunday All-Star Game would be staged at Madison Square Garden and other festivities — such as the dunk contest, 3-point shootout and skills competitions — would land at Barclays Center have not yet been publicly announced.
“There are still some logistics to be worked out, but it looks like the announcement will be this week,” one source said.
Kerber also reports that the NBA would like to keep the ASG in NYC again in either 2017 or '18, with an eye toward reversing the roles proposed for the '15 affair. In that scenario, "Barclays Center would house the All-Star Game while the Garden would showcase the other events," but the Nets and Barclays have yet to decide whether they're on-board with that idea. The 2015 game would mark the fifth total All-Star appearance in New York, and the first since 1998.
The '15 ASG apparently won't be the only midseason celebration announced this week, according to Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun:
Multiple sources told the Toronto Sun Tuesday that the Raptors are on the verge of landing the 2016 NBA all-star weekend.
An official announcement is expected shortly that will reveal further details of how one of the sport's biggest weekends will tie in to the Toronto Raptors' 20th-anniversary season.
Say it with me now: WHITE VEGAS!
Wolstat says there are still some elements to be nailed down in the Toronto plan, but bringing the '16 All-Star festivities north of the border in celebration of two decades of Raptors basketball was something that Tim Leiweke — the recently hired president and chief executive officer of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, the parent company that owns the Raptors, the NHL's Toronto Maple Leafs, Major League Soccer's Toronto FC and the Air Canada Centre in which the Raps play — identified as a top priority shortly after taking the job in late April.
“I think it would be great for the fans. I think they deserve a little bit of positive news," he said at the time, according to Eric Koreen of the National Post.
Given the five straight losing seasons since the Raps' last playoff berth, the loss of former star Chris Bosh in free agency, the dual crash-and-burn of former No. 1 pick Andrea Bargnani and former personnel boss Bryan Colangelo and the general malaise that has hung over the franchise for most of its 18-year history, I'd be hard-pressed to disagree.
He expanded on those sentiments a month later, calling the 2016 game "a flag in the sand that we’ve planted with the NBA."
“It is a must-have, in my opinion, and it will be at the centrepiece of how we rebrand [the Raptors organization]," Leiweke said, according to Robert MacLeod of The Globe and Mail. “The change is going to be this: Toronto’s not bidding on the 2016 all-star game. Canada is. And that’s where we’ll begin the change.”
I'm not sure if players who'd prefer a warmer locale will necessarily buy into the rebranding beginning in the middle of February, but this seems like pretty rad news for a fan base that's too often over the years been treated as an NBA outpost rather than a thriving international destination. Leiweke seemed to get that, too, in discussing the drive toward bidding for All-Star Weekend with Koreen:
"I’ll be honest with you: I was a little puzzled with you when I was learning and doing some due-diligence with the Raptors that there seemed to be some belief and people that speculated that it was a place that players didn’t want to go to or players didn’t want to stay or maybe it wasn’t as hot of a NBA marketplace as it could be. I disagree with that.”
This could present an opportunity for the new-look Raptors, with the likes of Leiweke and Masai Ujiri at the helm, to strut their stuff and show the upper echelon of NBA talent that Toronto is home to a first-class organization, and that Canada — a prospective basketball power on the rise — is a legitimate major market city and should be considered a first-tier choice rather than a fall-back option in free agency.
That's what Blake Murphy of Raptors Republic is hoping for, anyway:
An additional consideration from a basketball perspective is that this is an opportunity to introduce a lot of basketball talent and personnel to the city of Toronto. We often hear criticism that Toronto can’t attract free agents or isn’t a great place to play, even though current and former players speak to the contrary (hello, Charles Barkley). Customs and border concerns aside, this is a great chance for the franchise to show potential players, coaches and management figures that Toronto is well worth the hassle at the airport.
If and when these plans get finalized — and if the Nets wind up going for the switcheroo arrangement that would bring All-Star back to New York in either '17 or '18 — the only current NBA cities remaining that will not have hosted All-Star Weekend would be Memphis, Oklahoma City, Portland and Sacramento. With all this cold weather on tap, here's hoping the next open slot goes to one of the West Coast towns ... or, failing that, someplace where you could lock yourself inside and warm yourself up with some nice, tasty barbecue. Bloggers ain't that picky.