Here at Hardwood Paroxysm, we LOVE roundtables. You might as well call us… the Knights of the Roundtable (yeah, I went there). This one doesn’t even have any particular subject. It’s just six random questions. I sent an email with six questions and a bunch of the guys (Matt Moore, Connor Huchton, Sean Highkin, Conrad Kaczmarek, Amin VafaÂ andÂ Steve McPherson) responded. Even though it was haphazardly thrown together, it still worked out really well. This is the part where you keep reading…Â
1. If abolishing the weekend in general or any specific event is out, what’s the one change you’d make to All-Star Weekend?
Matt Moore:Â Kill the game. I hate it. I hate it worse than the dunk contest, because there are down years and up years. The contest is so pointless. “Oh, it got close at the end!” NO ONE WAS TRYING. I’d much rather have a 3-on-3 tournament, 10 minute games. Randomly assign teammates from the 12 man rosters. Would be amazing, could space them out to work in throughout the weekend. So much better, not as exhausting,
Connor Huchton:Â I’d replace the Shooting Stars competition with a one-on-one tournament. I can’t think of a single person who’d be opposed to this. It’s a simple idea: Eight of the NBA’s best players, games to 11 or 15, and scoring by 1s and 2s. Think about what the tournament might have looked like this year:
First Round- LeBron vs. Westbrook, Wade vs. Kobe, Durant vs. Dirk, Rose vs. Paul
Second Round- LeBron vs. Durant, Kobe vs. Rose
Championship- LeBron vs. Kobe
Any combination of those matchups would be terrific. I didn’t include Dwight Howard because he doesn’t match up well with anyone, but there are other top-tier players that could be included. Again, I can’t imagine anyone wouldn’t want this over any given All-Star competition. And if the superstars are unwilling to participate, lower-level matchups, like Kyrie Irving against John Wall, could still be very exciting.
Sean Highkin:Â You mean besides not letting Chris Brown participate in the festivities and having everyone involved be generally okay with it? I think Saturday’s dunk contest proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that props and gimmicks need to die. Letting a teammate assist on one dunk is fine, but I’d like to see the contest get back to its roots, so to speak. Jason Richardson summed up my feelings on Twitter: nobody’s going to hold it against you if you do a dunk that’s already been done, as long as you tweak it slightly and use some creativity. I’d rather see a well-executed 360 windmill with no frills than ever have to witness Paul George plastering a backboard with stickers of Larry Bird’s face again.
Conrad Kaczmarek:Â Would it possible to put the Rising Stars Game and the All-Star Game on the same day? Just make guys like Blake Griffin choose between one or the other and have them both happen on Sunday. Start the Rising Stars Game at like 4 PM and then have the ASG later at 8 PM. The way it worked out this year is that some guys were actually playing the Rising Stars Game on the third night of a back-to-back-to-back. The All-Star Weekend is supposed to be a break, so I think the NBA should try to find a way to give these guys another day of rest.
Amin Vafa:Â I think I’d make the D-League more of a feature. Like, have the D-League dunk contest winner in the dunk contest (and 3pt contest, etc), and have the D-League All-Stars play the rooks/sophs in the Rising Stars challenge. This would create great exposure for the D-League, all the while adding some competitiveness back in the other events because I assume the pros wouldn’t want to lose to D-Leaguers.
Steve McPherson:Â My comprehensive plan for repairing All-Star Weekend is completely impossible to achieve, mostly because the cornerstone of it is removing the thick coating of corporate sponsorship slathered onto every damn thing that happens. I understand the machinery of capitalism and that this is just how this stuff works, but if, for instance, props were the death knell for everything exciting about the dunk contest, Kiaâ€™s presence in it last year (and the terrible commercial they made out of Griffinâ€™s dunk) was the last nail in the coffin. I think without such heavy and diverse corporate sponsorship, you could trim the number of events and have everything on one day, giving even the players who participate more time on either end to rest up. Have the rookies/sophomores in the afternoon (because I still want that), have the game in the evening (and donâ€™t let anyone participate in the rookies/sophomores whoâ€™s in the ASG proper), and have a trim, fighting-fit three-point shootout and dunk contest at the half. You neednâ€™t remove corporate sponsorship completely, but just make one company the sponsor for the whole thing, and spare us this David Foster Wallace-esque, Year-of-the-Tucks-Medicated-Pad silliness.
2. What was the best story of the first half other than Linsanity?
Matt Moore:Â The Nuggets thriving without Melo until injuries made them crash and burn. They were so much fun to watch. The injuries killed them because otherwise there would be too much joy in Mudville.
Connor Huchton:Â The Western Conference’s general mishmash of fun, exciting, and decent teams is appealing to me. If I had to pick an individual story, I’d say LeBron’s “I’m quietly having one of the best seasons ever.” year has been interesting to see unfold. When the best player in the game markedly improves, I’m intrigued.
Sean Highkin:Â The Minnesota Timberwolves being relevant. Besides the fact that Rubio and Love are a League Pass nerd’s wet dream, I just love that we live in a world where Clippers-Timberwolves has the ability to be the marquee game on ESPN’s Friday doubleheader.
Conrad Kaczmarek:Â TEBOW. Wait, what? But seriously, I think it’s the sudden relevancy of the Clippers. Although I’m not the guy who loves all of the big market teams becoming super powers, I sure do love seeing someone humble Kobe Bryant and his countless fanboys. Lob City has lived up to the hype as far as entertainment goes and probably exceeded it in terms of actual wins.
Amin Vafa:Â Kyrieeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee. He was already favored to be ROY, but the way he has elevated the play of the Cavs and the way he has developed a great late-game instinct this early is not only great for the Cavs on their road to recovery post-LeBron, but it’s WAY more than anyone expected of him. I’m looking forward to him for the 2nd half of this season, and I can’t wait to see what the Cavs will look like next year.
Steve McPherson: Iâ€™m going to have to be greedy and go with my hometown Timberwolves, and not just for Rubio, but for Adelman, Pekovic, and the establishment of Kevin Love as a legit star in the NBA. For a franchise thatâ€™s been the Island of Misfit Toys for so long, itâ€™s been great to see pieces come together in ways that actually make sense. Rubioâ€™s arrival has certainly been the best individual storyline, but itâ€™s doubtful it would have happened the way it has without Adelmanâ€™s steady hand and patience. His willingness to be intuitive with his lineups (that is, going with what works, whoever that may be) and to give Rubio a great deal of freedom in the offense have been the motor oil that has lubricated the Timberwolvesâ€™ engineâ€”which has also turned out to be a V8 Hemi thanks to the emergence of Nikola Pekovic as a legit NBA center. Rubioâ€™s ability to reward Pek for his good positioning has led to easy buckets and his offensive rebounding has been just ridiculous. The cherry on top was Loveâ€™s victory in the three-point competition. And he didnâ€™t even have to pump fake once!
3. In a hypothetical universe in which LeBron James does not exist, who is your first half MVP?
Matt Moore:Â Kevin Durant and it’s not close. His defensive step-up has been downright incredible.
Connor Huchton:Â In my eyes, the battle for second place in MVP voting is a definitive competition between Chris Paul and Kevin Durant. Paul is having his best season since 08-09 while leading the Clippers to contention; Durant has improved his all-around game, and the Thunder are the second best team in the league. I’ll give Durant the slight edge, but a vote for either player would be fine with me.
Sean Highkin:Â Probably Kevin Durant. Oklahoma City is the best team in the West, he and Russell Westbrook seem to have worked out their differences (for now), and he’s having a typically ridiculous season statistically.
Conrad Kaczmarek:Â In this hypothetical universe, Dwyane Wade probably has to step up a little bit and puts up even more ridiculous numbers, right? I guess that’s probably not the kind of answer you were looking for, so I’ll go with Kevin Durant. He’s the best player on the best team in the Western Conference and he’s certainly making a claim to be considered the second best player in the NBA. His defense seems to be drastically improved and he’s an absolute scoring machine. I was stunned to find that he did not have a 50-point game until his explosion against the Nuggets this year. I will not be stunned when he tops the half-century mark twice more before the regular season is over. Keep in mind that people still hate LeBron and the media hasn’t forgiven him for all of his shortcomings – they may get stupid and give Durant this award anyway.
Amin Vafa:Â See, I would have said Durant, but the Wizards beat the Thunder this year, so that’s an automatic disqualification. I guess I’ll say Lamarcus Aldridge, because even though the Wizards also beat the Blazers, Aldridge wasn’t playing. And he has been beastly this year, breathing life into a Portland team that everyone assumed would be tanking their way into oblivion.
Steve McPherson:Â This of course gets into the thorny question of what the MVP is supposed to mean, but based on the idea that this means the player who is most valuable to his team specifically and that value is generated by return on investment, I think it has to be Jeremy Lin. Hear me out. The Knicks entered the season without a real PG and with serious questions about how all the pieces of this team would fit together. When Meloâ€™s adaptation to a point forward role mostly flopped, it looked like the teamâ€™s high hopes would once again be dashed, but suddenly, the Knicks were in like Lin with all those wins (thatâ€™s my Clyde impression). I think Linâ€™s numbers will regress to the mean over the rest of the season, but as far as looking at just the first half of the season, no one has meant more to his franchise than Lin.
4. What specific team or player story are you watching in the second half?
Matt Moore:Â The Western flustercluck. There are 10 playoff teams for 8 spots, a mass of injuries, general instability, andÂ multipleÂ trade possibilities. This is going to get very, very weird down the stretch.
Connor Huchton:Â I’m interested to see how the Western Conference seeding falls. It’s a conference full of good, not great, teams, so what matchups are created and which teams earn higher seedings will determine how the playoffs progress. Basically, I’m fervently hoping for the first two rounds to somehow involve a Lakers-Clippers seven-game series.
Sean Highkin:Â The Lakers are the kind of trainwreck it’s impossible to look away from: no depth, the very real possibility that Gilbert Arenas is in their future, a front office in disarray, and a front three that’s still good enough that you can’t definitively count them out come playoff time.
Conrad Kaczmarek: I’m watching the Boston Celtics. I mean, I’m not actually going to watch their games because they play some of the most boring basketball possible, but I’m going to follow the story. They keep going through these mini-streaks of winning and losing. Just when you’re ready to call them dead, they rip off three convincing 5-point victories over the Wizards, Nets, and Pistons. The fans seem pretty decisively split on Rajon Rondo. Some people think, for some reason, that he’s among the best point guards in the game. Others, want him traded as soon as possible. Living in Boston, I get to experience their downfall firsthand. For some reason I’m seeing a whole lot more Boston Bruins gear than Boston Celtics gear these days. Hmm, that’s pretty puzzling (it’s not that puzzling).
Amin Vafa:Â I’m watching the trade deadline. According to the trade machine, it looks like about half the guys in the league (rough estimate) aren’t eligible to be traded until Thursday (March 1st). And the trade deadline is 2 weeks after that. With the Lakers having issues, Dallas having a Chandler-sized hole to fill, Houston needing revenge for the aborted-but-maybe-never-happened Gasol trade, Dwight Howard existing, and lots of teams vying for the lottery… the first half of March is going to come in like a lion and out like a much larger lion.
Steve McPherson:Â On the flipside of what I said about the MVP, Iâ€™ll be watching to see what happens with the Knicks as the season goes forward. In what is always a fascinating study of sheer ability vs. personality, I played as the Knicks against Myles Brownâ€™sÂ Timberwolves in NBA 2K12 the other night. As a video game team, theyâ€™re pretty much a dream. Lin, Smith, Melo, STAT, and Chandler all handle their positions amazingly well with Smith raining down corner 3s, Melo driving or shooting out of high post isos, and Amarâ€™e and Chandler catching alley-oops from Lin. Will it come together like that in real life this season though, or do egos take over and sink the whole thing?
5. The Western Conference is pretty wide open: who ya got?
Connor Huchton:Â The boring, obvious answer here is the Thunder. It’s the logical choice. The Thunder has (singular team names continue to be the worst) more talent than any other Western Conference team and currently hold the conference’s best record. But I don’t believe in boring answers (disregarding my previous four), so I’ll say the Mavericks do. The Mavericks have beaten several good teams in recent weeks, and have braved injuries and a (early on) struggling Dirk Nowitzki to hold the conference’s fourth best record. The Mavericks remain a deep team full of experienced players, sporting a strong defense and a star returning to form. Along with the Spurs and the Clippers, the Mavericks are one of three Western Conference teams capable of stopping the seemingly inevitable Thunder-Heat Finals’ series.
Sean Highkin:Â Honestly, I kind of like Dallas, not because I think they’re better than every other team but because I don’t think any one team could definitely beat them in a seven-game series.
Conrad Kaczmarek:Â OKC Thunder. They’re the most complete team right now. Something could change (like a Dwight Howard trade) or someone could get hurt, but right now the Thunder lead the pack. I already talked about how awesome Durant has been and Russell Westbrook is an absolutely phenomenal talent. When you combine that ridiculous one-two punch with a guy like James Harden, you’ve got one of the best cores in the NBA. Serge Ibaka provides a defensive presence and Durant is a clear go-to guy down the stretch. I’m not buying all of the chatter about a Westbrook-Durant conflict, so OKC is my team in the West.
Amin Vafa:Â I foresee an OKC/San Antonio WCF. If it comes down to that, I think OKC takes it, but not without Pop and his crew giving a huge fight over at least 6 games.
Steve McPherson:Â I still have to go with the Thunder. If any spectacular, record-breaking performance could be called an ugly win, it was the 50-40-triple-double game against the Nuggets. As eye-bulgingly ridiculous as Durant, Westbrook, and Ibaka were, having three players get stats like that is not how you want to play night in and night out. And yet, some of the knock on them in the playoffs last year was that the Mavs were able to take them out of their comfort zone, and this win showed that they can step outside of that zone and get it done. That ability to change up should help them enforce their will on other teams.
6. Who will be the biggest name on the move at or before the trade deadline and where is he headed?Â
Matt Moore: Dwight. But I have NO IDEA where he’s going.
Connor Huchton:Â I have no actual idea who might be traded, but it seems like this could be the year Monta Ellis is finally dealt. The Ellis-Curry backcourt continues to produce mixed results, and it’s eminently clear some change is needed for the Warriors’ to reach a point of playoff contention. At some point, mediocre results grow stale. Ellis is the type of player a contending team could use to their sizable advantage, if placed in the right situation, so I don’t see any reason significant trade interest wouldn’t exist.
Sean Highkin:Â Phoenix has steadfastly refused to trade Steve Nash, but I think Orlando swings a trade for him as a last-ditch attempt to convince Dwight Howard to stay (which, for the record, I don’t think will work).
Conrad Kaczmarek:Â First off, I think Dwight Howard is staying put. He ain’t going anywhere. With the obvious name off the board, it leaves some slim-pickings. It seems like the Lakers really want to move Pau Gasol, but I can’t think of a destination that makes a ton of sense. The Celtics are definitely looking in to moving Rondo, but I’m not sure he ends up going anywhere either. I think it’ll be a relatively quiet trade deadline, but there will be one surprise: Steve Nash heads to Orlando. In a final attempt to keep Dwight, Orlando will make a play for Nash and the Suns will let their superstar chase that championship ring.
Amin Vafa:Â I don’t think Dwight to LAL happens before the summer, which means Gasol to Houston or whatever won’t happen either. I think Beasley will wind up on the Lakers, and I have a sneaking suspicion that the Cavs will part ways with Sessions, Jamison, and Varejao. That’ll catapult them into the lottery, but I think the can get some good depth and picks out of that. And I think Varejao, if he ended up in Dallas, would help Dallas be a top contender again.
Steve McPherson:Â Although Howard to the Lakers isnâ€™t going to be a good move, I think it might just happen. The trend over the last couple years has been for deals that players want to get done getting done, from Melo to the Knicks to CP3 to the Clippers, and Howard couldnâ€™t be telegraphing his desire to get out of Orlando harder. The future of the Nets is too iffy, so when the Ides of March arrive, I wonâ€™t be surprised if Howard is a Laker.