It's time for an All-Star overhaul.
Another Rising Stars Challenge featured shoddy basketball with no defense. Sure, some of the dunks were fun, and Ricky Rubio made some ridiculous passes, but 40 minutes of fast breaks gets tiring.
The Haier Shooting Stars Challenge (which showcased Allan Houston looking like he was in NBA form) is cute, but let's be honest, unnecessary.
There's a reason why arenas aren't filled up 30 minutes before gametime to watch pregame shootarounds. And there's a reason fans shouldn't be subjected to 30 minutes of it during the Foot Locker 3-Point Contest.
Sure, the Slam Dunk Contest used to be great when Michael Jordan and Dominique WIlkins were going head to head, and when Vince Carter resurrected it with a ridiculous arsenal of dunks in 2000. But with all the props, and all the no names (Jeremy "5.6 minutes per game" Evans, for example), and all the unoriginality, it's just a giant disappointment year after year, and needs to be laid to rest.
And tonight, you already know what you're getting from the All-Star Game. Aggravating in-game commentary, 3 1/2 quarters of hot dogging, and if the game is close, a small dose of intense hoops. Of course, you have to endure a ton of theater to get there, including what should be a brutal halftime show. No thanks.
So let's get down to business, and save what has the potential to be a great weekend. After all, there isn't a sport that has individual star power like the NBA. It needs to be showcased in some way. But how?
Three. On. Three.
Think about when you step on to your local YMCA court with your 15-year-old gym shorts, tube socks and disintegrating headband, for a game of 3 vs. 3. When you're playing, it doesn't matter if all you've got is a 12-foot set shot, or if you are a former Division II baller -- for anywhere between 11 and 21 points, it's the most intense part of your week.
After the game, you hit the locker room, and inevitably start talking about the best three-man groups in the league. The discussion is especially pertinent today with teams loading up with "Big Threes." It usually comes down to "I'd rather Westbrook, Durant and Harden over LeBron, Wade and Bosh!," with the Philadelphia fan chiming in "Nobody could survive 20 minutes against super-athletes Sweet Lou, Iggy and Thad Young," and the hopeless Hornets fan who mutters, "I can't even name two guys on my team."
Let's bring this to life.
In place of every event at All-Star Weekend, a three-day, 32-team, 3 vs. 3 basketball tournament.
I know, that's a lot of players. But this year, 64 different players (including the old-timers and WNBA players from the Haier Shooting Stars challenge) were invited to All-Star Weekend. The 32-team 3 vs. 3 tournament would include 96 players. Is it fair to call 96 different players All-Stars? Of course not. But is Evans, or Chase Budinger, or Anthony Morrow a true All-Star? Of course not.
Here's the format:
Each team's fan base gets a week to vote for which three players will represent their team. So Spurs fans have the chance to get Matt Bonner to the All-Star Game instead of Richard Jefferson, and Tracy McGrady has an outside chance of showing the youngsters how it's done for Atlanta.
That gives us 30 teams, an unbalanced amount for a bracket. So the Thursday before All-Star Weekend, the NBA holds one last 24-hour fan vote to pick a "wild card" team for the Eastern and Western Conference. We'll call this the "Rajon Rondo Rule," because Celtics fans hate Rondo, and he'd never have a chance to make it to an All-Star Game as long as KG, Truth and Shuttleworth are around.
You wind up with a pair of 16-team brackets, the East and the West. Teams are seeded based on their record at the All-Star break with no re-seeding after each round.
The first round is held on Friday. Each match-up is one game played to 21. Two-pointers are one point, 3-pointers worth two. Halfcourt format, allowing two games to go on at once. (Starting to get exicted?) The clear line is the 3-point line, the higher seed gets the ball first, it's winner's ball out after each point, you call your own fouls, and you have to win by two. You know the rest.
The second and third rounds take place on Saturday. The second round is the same format as the first round -- one game to 21, win by two. Once you get down to eight teams, you move to a best two-of-three series with games to 15. Only in the third game you have to win by two.
And on Sunday, you have the Final Four. Best two-of-three, games to 15, and again, only the third game is win by two.
Televise all of this, and after three days, you wind up with up to 45 games of 3 vs. 3. (YouTube is already drooling at the thought.) And don't pretend that's too much, or that you're not interested; it'll be moving quick enough that the games wouldn't drag on, and I've seen the line of people at LA Fitness watching a bunch of 40-somethings go at it. You'd be glued to the TV.
Plus, consider this: In 45 3 vs. 3 games, you wind up with plenty of pretty passes by the league's best point guards (Skills Challenge), a ton of treys since they're worth two points (3-Point Shootout), and a ridiculous amount of in-game dunks (miles better than jumping over Roy Hibbert).
And why stop here? Let's play out what would have happened this year. Then pretend you're not convinced we have a solution.
ROUND 1 (FRIDAY)
1. Miami (LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh) vs. 16. Charlotte (Gerald Henderson, Kemba Walker and Byron Mullens)
You'll always have a chance at a massive first round upset. We've seen superstars try not to take All-Star Weekend seriously, while fringe players that wind up in the different skills competitions usually bring it. But that wouldn't be the case here, even if Bobcats fans voted Michael Jordan in, and even if he accepted. Miami advances.
8. Boston (Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen) vs. 9. Wild cards (Rajon Rondo, Anthony Morrow, Tyson Chandler)
We seed the wild card ninth, after the playoff teams. Yes, a ton of Atlantic Division bias, but wouldn't we rather see Morrow rather than Carlos Boozer or David West? And, oh yeah, Rondo gets Boston in Round 1. Wild card advances.
4. Philadelphia (Lou Williams, Thaddeus Young, Andre Iguodala) vs. 13. Toronto (DeMar DeRozan, Jose Calderon, Amir Johnson)
If Andrea Bargnani was healthy, the Raptors would be a sleeper in this competition. You can't bounce back from the Andrea-to-Amir downgrade, though. Philadelphia advances.
5. Orlando (Dwight Howard, Ryan Anderson, Jason Richardson) vs. 12. Detroit (Greg Monroe, Rodney Stuckey, Tayshaun Prince)
There's definitely a chance Sweden would organize a voting campaign to get Jonas Jerebko in the game. Alas, Prince beats him out. And then the Magic beat Detroit down. Orlando advances.
3. Indiana (Danny Granger, Roy Hibbert, Paul George) vs. 14. New Jersey (Deron Williams, MarShon Brooks, Kris Humphries)
Pacers fans leave Darren Collison home, opting to go with a pair of shooters and a big man. I don't see Hibbert's game translating in an NBA 3 vs. 3 game. New Jersey advances.
6. Atlanta (Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, Jeff Teague) vs. 11. Milwaukee (Brandon Jennings, Ersan Ilyasova, Carlos Delfino)
No doubt about it, the Bucks have my favorite roster in this tournament. *DISCLAIMER: THIS TOURNAMENT WAS NOT ORCHESTRATED AS A WAY TO FINALLY GET JOSH SMITH IN THE ALL-STAR GAME* Atlanta advances.
7. Knicks (Carmelo Anthony, Amar'e Stoudemire, Jeremy Lin) vs. 10. Cleveland (Kyrie Irving, Antawn Jamison, Ramon Sessions)
Had Knicks fans done their homework and seen the value of the three-ball, Steve Novak would have earned a trip over Amar'e. They didn't, and we have to figure if Irving went 8-for-8 from three in the Rising Stars Challenge, he'd go unconscious in a 3 vs. 3 game when he'g guarded by Melo, too. Cleveland advances.
2. Chicago (Derrick Rose, Luol Deng, Joakim Noah) vs. 15. Washington (Nick Young, John Wall, JaVale McGee)
UPSET ALERT! As long as Nick Young and JaVale McGee are in Washington, the Wizards would always be a darkhorse in this competition. Washington advances.
1. Oklahoma City (Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka) vs. 16. New Orleans (Greivis Vasquez, Marco Belinelli, Jarrett Jack)
You know Thunder fans would get Ibaka in the competition, even with James Harden on the roster, just to watch him pile up stuffs.The best chance at a 21-0 game. Oklahoma City advances.
8. Portland (LaMarcus Aldridge, Nic Batum, Gerald Wallace) vs. 9. Wild Card (James Harden, DeAndre Jordan, Isaiah Thomas)
Thomas?! Think about it: fan voting, he's been on fire, and the chance to pair him with Jordan. Love the trio, Blazers have no shot. Wild card advances.
4. Dallas (Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry, Vince Carter) vs. 13. Golden State (Monta Ellis, Stephen Curry, David Lee)
The Mavericks' roster is built for a tournament where 3-pointers are worth twice as much as other field goals. Considering the Warriors' apathy on defense, and who Dallas sends, this will be the quickest game in the first round. Dallas advances.
5. Lakers (Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum) vs. 12. Utah (Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Gordon Hayward)
I could see Jefferson and Millsap hanging with Gasol and Bynum. But Hayward vs. Kobe? Eesh. Lakers advance.
3. Clippers (Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, Caron Butler) vs. 14. Phoenix (Marcin Gortat, Steve Nash, Grant Hill)
The Clips might have the most unrealistic roster of the field. Is there any chance the L.A. fan base sends Caron over DeAndre? But considering his ability to hit the trey, he needs to get in. Clippers advance.
6. Houston (Kevin Martin, Kyle Lowry, Luis Scola) vs. 11. Minnesota (Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio, Michael Beasley)
Would Minnesota fans actually vote Beasley in over Nikola Pekovic? I don't know. That aside, this is the most intriguing first-round match-up. You get Martin, who may translate as the best 3 vs. 3 player in the competition, and you get Rubio, who would be a master with only three guys playing defense. Figure a 30-28 final. Minnesota advances.
7. Memphis (Rudy Gay, Marc Gasol, Tony Allen) vs. 10. Denver (Ty Lawson, Al Harringon, Arron Afflalo)
Allen launches a massive Twitter campaign, and he winds up leading votegetter in the entire competition. I think the Nuggets' best lineup would be Andre Miller, Danilo Gallinari and Chris Anderson. But Lawson will get more votes than Miller, Gallo is hurt, and Birdman may unofficially be banned from All-Star Weekend after his performance in the 2005 dunk contest. Memphis advances.
2. San Antonio (Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, Matt Bonner) vs. 15. Sacramento (Marcus Thornton, Tyreke Evans, DeMarcus Cousins)
Matt Bonner sighting! I don't think San Antonio has any chance against DMC three-on-three, though. Sacramento advances.
CONFERENCE QUARTERFINALS (SATURDAY)
1. Miami (James, Wade, Bosh) vs. 9. Wild cards (Rondo, Morrow, Chandler)
The Heat gameplan to stop Morrow, putting James on him. Wade drops back, daring Rondo to shoot on every possession. The strategy works out, and Miami advances. Afterwards, LeBron says the Heat "don't really care about a silly competition." Yeah, right. Miami advances.
4. Philadelphia (Williams, Iguodala, Young) vs. 5. Orlando (Howard, Richardson, Anderson)
I think if you took these 96 players, put them in a gym, and had a fantasy draft for the 3 vs. 3 tournament, Howard, J-Rich and Anderson would be taken in the first 30 picks; Howard because he's Howard, Anderson because he is one of the best 3-point shooters in the competition, and Richardson because, for some reason, everybody has a feeling he'd be elite in this format. They're right. Orlando advances.
14. New Jersey (Williams, Brooks, Humphries) vs. 6. Atlanta (Johnson, Smith, Teague)
In hindsight, is there any chance the Nets fan base doesn't vote to send an all-Williams lineup? New Jersey advances.
10. Cleveland (Irving, Jamison, Sessions) vs. 15. Washington (Young, Wall, McGee)
After the Wizards demolish Cleveland, some commentator has the audacity to call Washington the "George Mason of this 3 vs. 3 tournament." Really, were likening one of the best Cinderella schools in NCAA Tournament history to the Wizards? I TOLD YOU HOW SERIOUS THIS WAS. Washington advances.
1. Oklahoma City (Durant, Westbrook, Ibaka) vs. 9. Wild cards (Harden, Jordan, Thomas)
Harden, like Rondo, gets the chance to take on his teammates. Unlike Rondo, he has no shot. Oklahoma City advances.
4. Dallas (Nowitzki, Carter, Terry) vs. 5. Lakers (Bryant, Gasol, Bynum)
Yes, Kobe, Pau and Bynum make up a great three-man unit when you're playing five-on-five. But we're not. And here, you take Terry over Gasol 11 times out of 10. Dallas advances.
3. Clippers (Paul, Griffin, Butler) vs. 11. Minnesota (Love, Rubio, Beasley)
CP3 vs. Rubio, Blake vs. Love and Butler vs. Beasley?! Are you kidding me?! You mean to tell me that Saturday afternoon, you're not finding a T.V., turning it to TNT, and watching this match-up? You know we're getting bonus basketball here. Clippers advance.
7. Memphis (Gasol, Allen, Gay) vs. 15. Sacramento (Evans, Thornton, Cousins)
Like Washington in the East, the Kings seem to have much more of an interest in winning a 3 vs. 3 tournament than winning regular season games. Bad news for the Grizzlies. Sacramento advances.
CONFERENCE SEMIFINALS (SATURDAY)
1. Miami (James, Wade, Bosh) vs. 5. Orlando (Howard, Anderson, Richardson)
Where to begin here. You have the ultimate NBA Big Three and the ultimate YMCA Big Three. You know how seriously LeBron, Wade and Bosh are taking this tournament, but you also know that Orlando is so relaxed that it's intimidating. The Heat have refused to shoot the three-ball this year. Hurts them here. Orlando advances in three games.
14. New Jersey (Williams, Brooks, Humphries) vs. 15. Washington (Wall, Young, McGee)
On paper, it looks like this tournament has been set up perfectly for Washington. The Wizards cruise to a Game 1 win; to celebrate, Young and McGee hold an impromptu Cinamon Challenge. That bugs Williams a lot. He goes off for 27 of the Nets' 30 points in the next two games. New Jersey advances in three games.
1. Oklahoma City (Durant, Westbrook, Ibaka) vs. 4. Dallas (Nowitzki, Carter, Terry)
At this point, the contest has gained so much steam that Charles Barkley, Shaquille O'Neal and Kenny Smith break this series down for 30 minutes in a TNT special. I'm at a loss, too. When in doubt, though, you always take Terry in the clutch. Dallas advances in three games.
3. Clippers (Paul, Griffin, Butler) vs. 15. Sacramento (Evans, Thornton, Cousins)
After getting demolished in Game 1 as Evans shoots 1-for-11 from the field, Cousins suggests the Kings implement a Hack-A-Blake system. The sold out crowd starts taunting DMC and booing the Kings relentlessly, and the Clippers pick up the only sweep of the round. Clippers advance in two games.
CONFERENCE FINALS (SUNDAY)
5. Orlando (Howard, Anderson, Richardson) vs. 14. New Jersey (Williams, Brooks, Humphries)
Williams really, really wants to convince Dwight to come to the Nets. So in the first game, he goes 7-for-7 from three, then lofts a pretty alley-oop to Humphries for the win. Feeling bad he embarrassed his potential future teammate, Deron starts to take it easy. Orlando takes advantage, coming back to win in three and advance to the finals. Orlando advances in three games.
4. Dallas (Nowitzki, Carter, Terry) vs. 3. Clippers (Paul, Griffin, Butler)
On the first point of Game 1, Paul hits Griffin for an alley-oop, who proceeds to shatter the backboard. The Mavs, exhausted from all the 3-on-3 the last couple of days, take advantage of the 30 minute delay to rehydrate and get their legs underneath them. The result? Dallas advances in two games.
5. Orlando (Howard, Anderson, Richardson) vs. 4. Dallas (Nowitzki, Carter, Terry)
No, it's not the sexiest match-up. But the contest would have been hammered if it were chalk all the way through, and we wound up with a Miami vs. Oklahoma City finals. To ramp up the stakes, Howard says that if Orlando can't win a 3 vs. 3 tournament, he'll demand to be traded to the Nets immediately because of the weak supporting cast. (Apparently, Williams charmed him the round before.) Anderson steps up, and his effort is enough to get one win, but Richardson doesn't seem to really care, and it hurts the Magic. Carter proceeds to have a huge third game, holding his own personal dunk contest with Richardson playing lazy defense. Dallas wins in three games.
In the end, the defending champion Mavericks win the inaugural 3 vs. 3 tournament, Howard gets dealt to New Jersey, and we don't have to pretend this is impressive. Successful weekend, no?
(Thanks to my pops for help hashing this dream tournament out.)