The 2017 NBA All-Star Game was the highest-scoring affair in the contest’s history, with the Western and Eastern Conference squads combining for 374 points. That broke the previous record of 369 total points … set in 2016.
The NBA is in the midst of an unprecedented offensive explosion as teams like the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets push the boundaries of pace, space and bucket-generating efficiency. Nowhere has the shift toward layups, dunks and 3-point carpet-bombing been on clearer display than in the annual All-Star Game, where the combination of highlight-seeking and a general aversion to expending effort (especially on the defensive end) during an exhibition affair plunked two-thirds of the way through an 82-game season has led to skyrocketing point totals — and plummeting levels of competition.
For many fans, that has made the event more of a chore to sit through than a showcase to celebrate. After this year’s game, though, coaches and players alike also seemed more interested than usual in lamenting the uncompetitive nature of the proceedings.
“For me, I would love to play in a competitive game,” said Cleveland Cavaliers and East point guard Kyrie Irving. “I know we play in competitive games in the summer, pickup games, but I think going forward, the All-Star experience will probably get a little harder in terms of defense […] It’s all in good fun, but I definitely think that, if we want a competitive game, guys will probably have to talk about it before the game because some guys [are] trying to get ready for the second half of the season is far more important, which I totally get.”
“Hopefully, in the next few years when I’m in these All-Star Games, it gets a little more competitive,” added Boston Celtics and East point guard Isaiah Thomas. “It’s hard to just keep going up and down and taking the open shots.”
(Well, clearly not that hard: Thomas managed to get up 15 shots, including 10 3-pointers, in just under 19 minutes of floor time.)
Such complaints have a long, rich history, but this time around, the sentiments might prompt change in the near future. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said Friday that Los Angeles Clippers point guard and National Basketball Players Association president Chris Paul reached out to him after this year’s All-Star Game to express interest in shaking things up, and the commish sounds interested in obliging.
“Chris said, ‘We need to fix this,'” Silver said while speaking on a panel with FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. “There is kind of a groupthink notion out there that when you have general managers and coaches in essence saying, ‘Go easy, don’t forget this is just for fun.’
“I just think this is one where we just have to reset,” Silver continued. “Chris’ suggestion was let’s get back with maybe the same group we negotiated the collective bargaining — Michael Jordan on the owners’ side, Jeanie Buss, Wyc Grousbeck, James Jones, Kyle Korver and LeBron [James] and others — let’s all get back together and figure out a way to do this.” […]
“It is an All-Star Game, and you are out there to have fun,” Silver said. “You hear people talking about 4-point shots, something that’s not about to happen in the NBA but maybe in an All-Star Game; maybe there’s a few spots on the floor where it is a 4-point shot, maybe there’s a half-court shot in the last minute that is 10 points. I don’t know. Maybe those are crazy ideas.
“I encourage people [to email] Adam@NBA.com,” Silver added. “We will change it by next year. It shouldn’t be playoff intensity, but the guys should be playing.”
FiveThirtyEight’s Chris Herring said it sounded to him like Silver was kidding around when he raised the notion of a 10-point shot. I, for one, find that incredibly offensive. If we besmirch the integrity of Rock ‘N Jock rules, we as a society are well and truly lost.
While Silver and his cohorts consider prospective tweaks, Warriors coach Steve Kerr — who led the Western Conference squad this year — echoed his post-All-Star Game assertion that creating a more competitive game is “up to the players, really,” during a chat with ESPN’s Chris Haynes:
“I think we could talk about gimmicks and talk about anything we want, whether it’s the money or involves charity, it just comes down to the players taking it seriously,” Kerr said. “I don’t think they have to be out there taking charges, but it’s a collective thing. I think they have to decide, maybe with the players’ association, they have to decide what they want that game to look like, and right now, it’s a joke.” […]
“In my mind, what’s happened is everybody is trying to be so cool out there that you almost feel guilty if you play hard,” Kerr said. “Maybe the best thing to do will be to watch a tape of an All-Star Game from about 1985, because it was a different game back then. It wasn’t like guys were diving on the floor for loose balls and taking charges, but it was competitive. And I think you’re just as likely to get hurt not trying than you are competing at 75 percent. And that’s all they need to do, is compete at 75 percent. Right now, they’re like at 10 percent, and that’s embarrassing.”
And yet, despite the “embarrassing” nature of the festivities, the fact that just about everybody involved agrees that nobody’s exactly giving maximum effort, and the increasing volume of complaints about how the All-Star Game is broken and needs to be fixed … more people watched last month than had tuned in for the Sunday night event in four years.
Sure, the die-hards among us want to see the best of the best going at least kind of hard for at least the last five minutes or so of the fourth quarter, but maybe casual fans do just like tuning in to see some dunks, some 40-footers, some sweet passes and John Legend singing at halftime. Maybe how big an issue this actually is depends on where you’re sitting.
However large a problem the relative level of competition in the All-Star Game really is, the ever-helpful Draymond Green believes he has the solution.
“Raise the money,” Green told Haynes. “I’m serious. That’s how you’re going to make it more competitive.”
The collective bargaining agreement between the league and its players stipulates that “players on the winning team [in the All-Star Game] shall each receive $50,000 and players on the losing team shall each receive $25,000.” Twenty-two of this year’s 24 All-Stars average at least $11 million per year on their current contracts, and the other two — Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks, whose rookie extension hasn’t yet kicked in, and Thomas of the Celtics, whose wildly below-market deal runs through the summer of 2018 — will soon join them. An extra $25,000 for trying harder probably isn’t all that compelling a motivation for guys who pocket that in per diems.
“All-Star is about offense and giving the crowd a show, but if [fans] want to see a little more defense as fans and everything — I mean, nobody wants to go out here and get hurt,” New Orleans Pelicans star and 2017 All-Star MVP Anthony Davis said after this year’s game. “It’s all about fun. You probably need to do a few more incentives.”
The new CBA that was ratified in December, which will go into effect July 1 and run through the 2023-24 season, includes a $600,000 total increase in All-Star “awards,” but that raise covers the prizes for the All-Star Game, Rising Stars Challenge and All-Star Saturday skills competitions, “to be allocated in a manner agreed upon by the parties.” Whether that pool can beef up the kitty for the main event enough for the players to get interested, or whether the league and players are willing to reopen negotiations on the possibility of increasing the size of this particular pie, remains to be seen.
In the meantime, here’s hoping the commissioner gets serious about the 10-pointer, and perhaps even the 50-pointer. As always, in times of turmoil and doubt, we should let Bill Bellamy and Dan Cortese be our guides.
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