Roy Hibbert didn’t have to think about his answer. This wasn’t anything to ponder, like choosing between Schnauzers at the Westminster Dog Show or swirling a fine wine across one’s palate one more time before rendering judgment.
This was instant and heartfelt, Hibbert’s answer when asked about the new NBA policy of voting for “Frontcourt” on the All-Star ballot.
“It’s bull!” the Pacers’ center said.
Hibbert, naturally, has some skin in this change. He was in Orlando last February for All-Star Weekend, a member of the East squad as his reward for a strong first half in the frenzied post-lockout season. It was a proud moment in his young career, it was fun (despite his 10-minute appearance in the game) and Hibbert probably imagined making a few more trips to the annual showcase.
So, the league’s announcement that centers would henceforth be lumped in with forwards on the fans’ ballots hit Hibbert where it hurt. Mind you, this conversation took place late in the preseason, soon after the decision was made public. The man’s feelings were raw.
“It’s making it harder for true centers,” Hibbert said. “It makes the pool a lot bigger. It’s whatever the people want. Last year, I wasn’t going into the season saying, ‘Hey, I want to be an All-Star.’ It kind of happened. I just played my game, so whatever happens this year happens.”
With the initial returns of fan balloting due out Thursday, it was going to be interesting to see how centers were faring. The change was made for several reasons. The one most often cited by the NBA was an evolution in today’s style of play away from traditional centers, driven by a scarcity of the dinosaurs who once ruled the hardwood. When long-but-lithe forwards such as Kevin Garnett and Chris Bosh willingly shift to the middle for Boston and Miami, respectively, it’s pretty clear the ranks of bangers have (literally) thinned.
Another suspected factor is the shortage of legitimate stars at the position – even teams that play with a quote-unquote true center often go with a grinder there, not some future Springfield enshrinee. That might not mesh so well with a game that is all about highlight plays and shadow defense.
“I understand that the NBA is getting smaller,” Chicago center Joakim Noah said. “I understand the fact that maybe having centers on the court in an All-Star Game, it’s less flashy. They want people to drive it into the paint and shoot it.
“For the show of it, it’s probably better not to have a center in there. Opening up the court makes it better for the more athletic players, and I think the NBA cares about that a little bit.”
Fine. But guess what? Rounding up 12 legitimate candidates per conference wouldn’t seem like such a chore this season. And sending a couple from each side to Houston wouldn’t require reaching down for a 2012-13 version of ex-All-Stars Jamaal Magloire or Brad Miller, who logged a combined 31 minutes in 2004 at the glamorous Staples Center.
For the West, Memphis’ Marc Gasol, Utah’s Al Jefferson and the Lakers’ Dwight Howard wouldn’t have to apologize to anyone. Out East, just going with the traditional types and disregarding teams’ records, there’s Noah, Cleveland’s Anderson Varejao, New York’s Tyson Chandler and Brooklyn’s Brook Lopez, among a few possibles.
It still might work out for some of them. If they aren’t voted in as starters by the fans, getting snubbed in a crush of forwards, the backup spots on each roster still are selected by the conference coaches. Those guys might not worry about showbiz or trends.
“At the end of the day, [earning the coaches' votes is] the biggest honor to me,” Noah said. “If you’re a center and you deserve to be in it, you’ll be in it.”
But if not? Hibbert shrugged off the question. “Who said, ‘The times are a-changin’?’ ” he wondered. “Bob Dylan? The times are a-changin.’ “