By Jason Clinkscales / @asportsscribe
Kenny disrespected a box of rocks, so call this a defense of said solid matter.
Actually, this is more of a consideration. Voting in the All-Star games of all sports is, at best, a flawed exercise in high-wattage entertainment. There’s no doubt of the popularity principle for the fans and the matter of familiarity (or laziness, some say) for coaches causes conniptions among the sporting nation. From injured players being voted as starters, to the “lifetime achievement” selections to the derided “every team represented” caveat in baseball, these contests won’t ever suit the fancy of every observer, but there’s certainly room for alterations.
Though this is mostly a discussion in relation to the NBA’s All-Star Game, here are some proposed solutions that can be applied with appropriate tweaks to all team sports.
For starters, shortening the voting window can do wonders. It may seem like a slap in the face of the people who obsessively vote, but in reality, it’s not. Internet voting has made the All-Star game a bit more accessible to fans than ever before, as people don’t have to attend games or stop by arenas and stadiums on off-days to vote in person. Nor do they need to go to sporting goods stores to pick up paper ballots anymore. Though paper ballots are still a solid portion of tallies, internet voting has long since surpassed them as hanging chads are as old-school as Chuck Taylors. Through social media, fantasy sports platforms and the numerous broadcasts of games, leagues will have the same reach in a smaller time frame as they do now.
The biggest benefit of a shorter window is that players and teams won’t have to resort to lengthy campaigns to garner fan votes. Atlanta’s Josh Smith – who Kenny makes a strong case for as (at the least) a reserve for the Eastern Conference squad – wouldn’t trail any of the leading forwards by an insurmountable margin early in the process if the ballots are available after at least 30 games (in a normal, non-lockout season) have been played.
In shortening the voting window, fans could be assured a more accurate ballot. Players can get hurt any time, but the most unfortunate ones can be lost for an entire season. Since said injuries are unpredictable, it’s not uncommon to have ballots feature someone who is completely unavailable for their own team, let alone for an exhibition. In a shorter window, if a player is incapable of playing during a significant part of the regular season campaign, he can be replaced or removed accordingly.
This matters, because in 2001, Grant Hill (ankle, four games played) and Alonzo Mourning (kidney ailment, no games) were voted as starters, despite not being able to suit up much or at all in the first half of the 2000-01 season. Though this hasn’t happened in the eleven years since, nothing has been done to ensure that it couldn’t happen again.
Further, leagues should set a minimum appearances limit to All-Star ballots. Constantly, there are gripes about the large voting window creeping into the early part of the season. Teams are just getting into a flow and players get hurt enough to sit out for stretches. A significant amount of games – say 2/3 of the contests played before the end of voting – would be a fair barometer of which players are most deserving. That may not be necessary for LeBron James or Blake Griffin, but it could be for ‘fringe’ players like Brandon Jennings or Monta Ellis, who have lower profiles because of the lack of national exposure, highlight reels or historical team success.
While players do appreciate the fans’ votes, reality does set in: The All-Star break can be a time to heal as the second half becomes the playoff push. Though many do the responsible thing of bowing out of the exhibition, there wouldn’t even be a need for them to do so if they do not play the sufficient amount of games. That Carmelo Anthony may not even be ready to play for his Knicks, let alone his Eastern Conference, for another week or so, is unfortunate. Where Rajon Rondo was essentially left off the roster for missing stretches of games for Boston, Anthony was assured his spot, because he was voted in by the fans. It’s a spot that could have been left open for any of the ‘snubbed’.
All of that sounds good, but what about the coaches? They’re so caught up in their own squads that they are unable to render a fair vote for the reserves (or pitchers and reserves in baseball). However, they are still charged with the responsibility to select the players that best represent their sports in this capsule of a season. Between ‘lifetime achievement’ selections (Paul Pierce this season, perhaps?) and players tabbed from bad teams (Deron Williams for New Jersey), the coaches’ picks were roundly met with criticism, especially in this lockout-shortened season.
The amendments to the fan voting could very well be applied to the coaches’ voting as well. They would naturally be passed onto the coaches as minimum appearances and ballot replacements could eliminate much of the complacency.
There may still be the safe selections: Tim Duncan can average six points and three rebounds in his eventual final season, but out of respect for his career, he could be chosen over younger and more deserving players of that campaign. There may still be the great-stats-for-bad-team picks or the fifth-best point guard in a conference being left off. Yet, there will be less wiggle room for coaches to go with the lazy selection.
Some or all of these solutions may have been suggested countless times before by fans and media over the years, so what you read may not be exactly new, and even these solutions have their holes, fans will still vote for ‘brand names,’ and coaches may still stick with a familiar face or two. Injuries are not something you’d call convenient. However, under a few proper confines, All-Star voting can be rid of some of the predictability and laziness that makes Kenny – and some of us – contemplate the intelligence of stones.