DALLAS — When Pistons coach Maurice Cheeks made each of his four All-Star teams from 1983 to 1988, the NBA had 23 teams. Twelve players from each conference, one made up of 12 teams and the other 11, made the All-Star team.
Today the league boasts 30 teams, 15 in each conference. That’s seven more teams and approximately 105 more players than in Cheeks’ day (approximately because not all teams carry a full 15-man roster). Yet only 12 players still represent each conference in the All-Star Game. The NBA has not only grown by the number of teams and players, but it has also evolved in the style of play, the development of young players and, above all, their remarkable athleticism.
“You got guards that are big guards, they run, they jump,” Cheeks said. “These guys are more athletic than when I was playing, from [point guard] to [center]. These guys, they play more pick-and-roll, they shoot the ball from a 4-position or 5-position.”
More athletic, of course, doesn’t necessarily mean better, but there certainly is an argument to be made for a number of players awaiting an All-Star call. And here we are again anticipating the unlucky All-Star snubs maybe more than those who actually make the team. There’s that many All-Star-worthy candidates, particularly in the overloaded Western Conference, that multiple players will be heading to the beach Feb. 14-16 instead of to New Orleans for the 63rd All-Star Game.
The seven All-Star reserves in each conference, as selected by the respective conference coaches, will be announced at 7 p.m. (ET) Thursday on TNT.
“Like the West this year is just rife with great players,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. “There’s going to be half-a-dozen guys who miss just because there’s not enough spots.”
Which begs the question: Is it time to expand the All-Star roster?
A few years ago the NBA expanded the active game-day roster from 12 to 13. Why not do the same for the All-Star roster? Better yet, just take it all the way to a full 15-man roster.
LeBron James lobbied for just that a year ago on Twitter: “Always believe there should be 15 on both rosters so there’s no snubs.”
There will probably always be a snub or two, but that’s no reason not to expand rosters. Carlisle is a member of the league’s competition committee, but he declined to acknowledge if the topic has come up in past meetings.
“Categorically, I wouldn’t see the harm in it on the one hand,” Carlisle said. “On the other hand, how much do you want to water down the privilege? That’s the other thing to consider. Not that it would always be a water-down situation.”
That’s when Carlisle noted that half-a-dozen players in the West could be on the outside looking in, even with injuries that will keep Kobe Bryant out and potentially Chris Paul, too, in the West, and Derrick Rose, plus Rajon Rondo (who recently returned from an ACL injury) in the East.
“You add one spot and five other guys miss. I don’t know,” Carlisle said. “The other thing is if you’re coaching the game, which I’ve had the privilege to do once as a head coach and once as an assistant, is you add another guy to the mix, it’s hard enough to get guys minutes as it is. You always love the guys that say ‘Hey, I’ll just play a few minutes here or there, I’m good.’ Then the guys who don’t get in there enough, and then the next time they play you they’re trying to kill ya. The minutes thing is another part of it.”
Carlisle was joking, sort of, about the last part, but divvying up playing time is a fair point. Still, there seems like there will always be veteran players like a Tim Duncan (played eight minutes last year) or Dirk Nowitzki, who would be happy to be on the team, play a few minutes and give way to some of the younger stars. Or a younger player who will earn minutes for future appearances, such as a Brook Lopez, who logged 11 minutes last year as an All-Star newbie.
An expanded roster could also help perk up TV ratings in certain markets. In Phoenix, more TVs will be tuned in if Goran Dragic were selected to the team instead of leaving the Suns without a representative. Same with New Orleans if Anthony Davis were to make it as one of 15 instead of snubbed by a roster of 12.
“There’s a lot of arguments that would favor it, but there are some that would probably caution against it,” Carlisle said. “But, I think this league is all about recognizing great players, especially great players that are winning great players, and that’s what guys in the All-Star Game are.”