From Sarunas Marciulionis to Kevin Garnett, the influx of international players and high school kids jumping directly to the NBA dramatically has changed the game. With the NBA's best gathering this weekend in Los Angeles, I have decided to change the All-Star game, fantasy-style, PURE FANTASY. There will be three All-Star teams, the international stars, the college guys and the high school kids who skipped college. It's a five-on-five, round-robin tournament. The first team to five wins becomes the champion.
After hours of analysis with my NBA buddies, the rosters were finalized. The international squad has Steve Nash and Peja Stojakovic in the backcourt with Dirk Nowitzki and Tim Duncan at forward and Yao Ming at center. Yes, I know Duncan was born in the Virgin Islands, technically a U.S. territory. But, that's not part of the 50 states. And as you'll see, we need him on the international squad to balance out the lineups. Also, I know Duncan and Nash both went to college in the U.S., but their international status supersedes their schooling.
The high school stars are loaded. We're talking nuclear firepower. Let's start with LeBron James and Kobe Bryant at guard, Tracy McGrady and Kevin Garnett up front with Jermaine O'Neal in the middle. Wow! A double-shot of espresso for the scorekeeper. He's gonna need it.
Finally, the stars who went to college, even if it was only for a pit stop on the way to the pros. Allen Iverson and Jason Kidd in the backcourt, Paul Pierce and Chris Webber at forward with Shaquille O'Neal at center.
For this exercise, everybody is healthy, at 100 percent.
Don Nelson, who was a pioneer in scouting Europe for talent, coaches the international squad. Master motivator Phil Jackson coaches the high school stars, keeping egos in check. Iverson's former coach Larry Brown guides the college guys. Let the games and arguments begin.
The first thing that jumps off the page is that the high school team is flat-out scary. Like thoroughbreds in the Kentucky Derby, they can blow everybody off the track. Or can they?
"I don't know if they can share the ball," Yahoo! Sports' NBA analyst Steve Kerr says. "The players have to fit together. How would you define their roles?"
Will anybody pass the ball on this team or maybe set a pick?
The irony is that 19-year-old LeBron might be the most willing passer in the group. Talent is not an issue with the high school kids, but chemistry will be tricky.
Original Dream-Team member Chris Mullin, now a special assistant with the Warriors, thought Kobe and T-Mac would get frustrated playing together.
"And I don't think Jermaine O'Neal is really a center. How is he gonna guard Shaq?" Mullin asks.
Ah yes, the Shaq problem.
"Shaq is still the most dominant player in the game," says Minnesota Timberwolves general manager Kevin McHale. "But he needs different people around him. Iverson and Pierce are one-on-one guys. Shaq needs a pure shooter to work with on the wing."
"Shaq is Shaq," Kerr says. "Nobody can stop him, but his team's weakness will be shooting."
That's where the international team has everybody beaten. They'll shoot like a SWAT team. With two-time MVP Duncan and Yao inside, nobody is driving down the middle on the internationals.
"They'll score a bunch of points," McHale says, "but they may give up even more. They'll be just like the Mavericks.:
Some of the match-ups for the Euros are frightening. Peja and Nowitzki trying to stay with Kobe and T-Mac on the perimeter or in the open court. Yikes! It's a dunkathon waiting to happen.
"The Internationals are gonna play well together," Mullin says, "but individual defense is gonna be a problem."
The beauty of the match-ups is that while Kidd and Shaq have the athleticism to hang with Kobe and Garnett, they might get killed by the pick-and-roll when they play the internationals.
You can see Duncan setting screens for Nash and Nowitzki all day long. Neither Shaq nor Webber will want to stray from the basket to defend – and if either does, Duncan steps to the wing and destroys them with his patented bank shots.
So, who wins our all-star fantasy tournament?
McHale likes the high school studs. "There's just too much talent to stop them."
Mullin and Kerr both picked the college guys, pinpointing the duo of Kidd and Shaq as unstoppable together. "Kidd separates them from the high school team," Kerr said. "Their two-man game will rub off on everybody," Mullin added.
Marciulionis, who started the NBA's European connection when he arrived from Lithuania in 1989, stared at the fantasy rosters over and over. He shook his head and smiled.
"Put it together," he said. "Let 'em play."