One day after snapping a four-game losing streak by defeating the ever so powerful New Jersey Nets, the sixth-place Phoenix Suns received a moderately-expected piece of good news: the West’s starting lineup.will in fact join Amare Stoudemire in
Not the Lakers, not the Celtics and certainly not the one-star Cavs can claim two of their own in an All-Star starting lineup this year, so if nothing else the 2009-10 Phoenix Suns have now accomplished that. Nash and Amare are only the second pair of Suns to ever start an All-Star Game together, joining Barkley and Majerle in the 1995 game hosted by Phoenix.
Amare, buoyed by his viral video campaign and a league that placed him at the center position rather than the forward spot, ran away with this election from the start. In the end he nearly doubled up the Lakers’ Andrew Bynum by accruing over 1.8 million votes while Bynum failed to crack the million mark.
But we’ve known Amare would be there for weeks. The biggest intrigue revolved around Steve Nash, who trailed Tracy McGrady by a couple thousand votes as of the final update on Jan. 7 despite T-Mac only playing in six games and being sent away from the Rockets as they explore trade possibilities. Both Nash (1.2 million votes) and Chris Paul (1.05 million) surged ahead of the China-backed McGrady in the final vote.
The next question is, did the Suns deserve two? Considering they have blown 10 double-digit leads since Dec. 11 and have recorded an 11-15 record since their 14-3 start, I would say no more than one Sun deserved it, and that would have to be Nash (seventh trip), who is enjoying a career season at 35. He’s averaging 18.6 points per game and 11.2 assists per game, numbers that are just a shade below what he put up during his MVP years.
You could certainly make a case for Paul, who is recording slightly better stats than Nash (19.3 and 11.3). But when you consider Paul’s Hornets rank below Nash’s Suns in the West hierarchy out of the playoff picture (10th) and the fact that the Hornets went 4-4 in eight games CP3 missed to injury (not much worse than their .537 overall winning percentage), Nash clearly was a good choice. Plus, Nash’s Suns destroyed the Hornets with Paul but lost to them without him, although in reality this debate is not a huge deal because Nash and Paul were both going to be All-Stars anyway. The big news with this was that an undeserving T-Mac isn’t stealing anyone’s spot.
All along Nash hasn’t really cared an ounce about the potential honor, even joking after Wednesday’s game that he wasn’t going to be able to sleep he’s so nervous about the results. But I think starting an All-Star Game a week after his 36th birthday in a city whose owner thought his career would head downhill at age 30 has got to be quite a thrill. Nobody loves Nash more than Suns fans, but no matter how many times he rips their heart out, Mavs fans are a close second. Nash helped put that franchise on the map, so it’s got to be special for the “old man” to start an All-Star Game in that city.
Amare could not have taken a more different approach than Nash to securing his spot, as the closest thing Two Time did to a viral video campaign was a video essentially making fun of people like Amare who put so much time and effort into a viral video campaign.
But if you’re talking results, for the second year in a row Amare’s videos helped lead him to an All-Star start, even if it would be nice if he would just let his play do the talking rather than his acting skills with David Spade.
Still, this was not all about Spade and YouTube, as Amare leads the Suns with averages of 21.0 points and 8.7 boards per game and has been a beast of late, averaging 22.6 and 9.5 in January and 21.2 and 10.2 in December after a slow rebounding start to the season. He has also scored at least 18 points in 20 of 24 games, including 11 of his past 12.
Bynum’s 15.6 and 8.4 can’t match that, and Chris Kaman’s comparable 20.4 and 9.3 lose out when considering Amare’s team is better.
So for who he was placed on the ballot against, Amare was just as deserving as Nash. But would he be a better choice than Pau Gasol? Averaging 17.0 and 11.2 and leading the Lakers to a 21-3 record in games he plays, I would certainly put Gasol over Amare on my ballot, and that’s just to name one of the players listed as a forward who may be a better choice than Amare. Zach Randolph (20.8, 11.5) also comes to mind.
This problem of the ballot has nothing to do with China, as John Hollinger writes. Positional distinction is a thing of the past in the NBA, yet it remains intact on the ballot. Instead of listing players by position, there should just be guards, wings and bigs, as there are in the actual league.
But that’s an issue for another day. Today Suns fans can celebrate Amare making the All-Star team for the fifth year in a row in which he did not have microfracture surgery.
In a season of inconsistency for the Phoenix Suns, the one constant source of dependability has been Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire. So although it’s a bit iffy that the fading Suns are the only NBA team with a pair of All-Star starters, that duo has played like stars all season long nonetheless.