By Brian Spencer
As you may have heard, reserves for the 2010 NBA All-Star were announced yesterday. David Lee and Josh Smith were notable snubs in the East, while in the West it’s guys like Mr. Big Shot Billups and Monta Ellis that got the shaft.
Perhaps the bigger story leading up to Thursday’s announcement, however, was how wrong it is for Allen Iverson to be starting, even participating, in the game after being voted in by the fans. (At least Tracy McGrady didn’t make it, though we suspect a few of his votes conveniently disappeared to help avoid total embarassment.) Yes, Iverson doesn’t belong there, and the fan vote is problematic. We’ve known that for awhile now.
The fans did get one thing right, however: they didn’t vote in the Cavaliers’ $20 million sideshow attraction, Shaquille O’Neal. Yay fans! And thank god.
With Dwight Howard now, apparently and safely, assuming the mantle of the East’s shoo-in starter at center for as long as he’s in the conference, I suppose the possibility of O’Neal getting wrongfully voted in was a slim one. But, hey, the man’s been to a few All-Star games too many already, and if Iverson can still get voted in, and McGrady can “almost” get voted in (love them Houston Yaos!), there’s no reason to think the long arm of the fan ballot couldn’t have added one more sour note to the All-Star showcase.
In the end, Howard outpaced O’Neal by just over 1.5 million votes; not even close, so again, yay fans! On the other hand, boo fans! There were still over 856k ballots cast for the petulant over-the-hill big man, good for second overall behind Howard and nearly 600k more than Al Horford, who was named to his first all-star game as a reserve.
In case you haven’t been closely following the Cavaliers (nearly impossible if you have cable TV since it feels like 90% of their games are on either TNT, ESPN, NBA TV, and soon ABC), O’Neal has thus far been a colossal disappointment in his first and sure-to-be only season in Cleveland. Some will say the Cavs are “saving him” for the playoffs, and that might be true to some degree, but O’Neal set high expectations for himself and the ever-nervous (and oftentimes defensive) Cavalier fanbase upon his arrival. (“I’m here to win a ring for the king.”)
Shaquille O’Neal Photo Credit: Icon SMI
Yes, The Big Flop’s performance deserves scrutiny, and his mostly ineffectual contributions have had little impact on the Cavaliers’ dominant 36-11 record. Again, I’m not naïve as to the ultimate goal of having him (and his expiring $20 million contract) on the roster, and readily acknowledge that he’ll ultimately be judged as a Cavalier success or failure based on his postseason performances.
But, well… at 37 years old, do we really think he can still magically flip the switch in April? His per-game minutes are the lowest of his career (again, somewhat intentionally), but there’s no getting around the fact that when he has been on the court, he’s been very, very average: O’Neal’s pers of 11.3 points, 54.9% FG, 1.7 offensive boards, 6.6 total boards, and 1.1 blocks are all easily career lows. He’s your fifth-highest paid player in the NBA this season, folks.
Nobody expects the fans to overlook his stats—how can they when O’Neal is just so goddamned funny?—and to instead vote for the more deserving candidates like, well, literally every other center on the ballot (except for maybe Brad Miller… maybe). And fans, again, we do appreciate your stronger love for Howard, really. The next step for the NBA, assuming O’Neal doesn’t do the right thing and hang it up after this season, is to remove him from the ballot altogether next year.
He just doesn’t belong there anymore.