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Nothin' but Net: All-Star Saturday needs major work

By Jim Brighters, NBA Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - If you were among the many who sat through All-Star Saturday Night festivities, you know that this evening needs a major overhaul.

When the highlight of a showcase of basketball athleticism is TNT's Charles Barkley and Shaquille O'Neal goofing on the contestants, or comedian/actor Kevin Hart for that matter, something is askew.

The various events of All-Star Saturday Night were underwhelming and sucked what little energy was in the Toyota Center out of the building completely.

If you're not part of the solution, then you're part of the problem, right? With that in mind, let's improve this semi-important night in the NBA.

First, acknowledgement of the good - the 3-point Contest is fine. There can be adequate drama in this shooting exhibition and when a player gets hot, like eventual champion Kyrie Irving did, it creates a buzz.

And we're done with the positives.

Next, a semi-compliment for an event - I don't hate the Shooting Stars contest. It isn't always riveting television watching guys in their mid-40s chuck up half-court shots, but as an appetizer, I can live with this.

Now, we're really done with anything remotely appearing as an endorsement.

Scrap the Skills Challenge yesterday. What is exciting about watching guards do drills they haven't done in years, and, to do them at half-speed? Dribbling around plastic defenders looks silly in 2013. They don't appear the least bit interested in being there.

Tony Parker, that was directed right at you.

In the NHL's All-Star Skills Competition, the events are fascinating. Hardest shot and fastest skater are both neat for the fans to see. It's not something that's necessarily shown in day-to-day competition.

Granted, throwing a ball into a tire isn't as easy as it looks, but it's not terribly difficult. Light the tire on fire, now we're talking.

What can we implement to replace it?

A game of H-O-R-S-E has been mentioned and even tried. Kevin Durant won the only two competitions back in 2009-10. It didn't go well. Creativity lacked to say the least as it disintegrated into a 3-point shooting contest.

If you impress upon the contestants that this event is designed to be fun and for the fans, maybe you get some mileage from H-O-R-S-E. If the guys take mid- range jumpers, who on Earth would watch?

That leads me to my suggestion, one that I fully realize would face serious roadblocks - a 1-on-1 tournament.

This one could be pooh-poohed by the Players Association possibly, but wouldn't it be cool to be the best "1-on-1 player of the year?"

No big names would probably do it (much more on that subject in a bit) out of fear of losing, but young guards and swing men should jump all over this idea. Since everyone is looking to make a name for themselves, what better way to do it than a 1-on-1 environment. Guys could even stand out for defense!

Have an eight-man tournament, play to 5, win by 2, 7 straight because we'll need to keep the games moving. Intersperse them throughout the night, have the championship before the Dunk Contest and it could work.

Imagine we got Irving, Damian Lillard, John Wall, James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Tony Parker, Brandon Jennings and Ty Lawson. That's great theater, no?

And now we've arrived on the night's main event, the Dunk Contest. This year's Dunk Contest was bad, no doubt about it, although slow-motion replay shows that a lot of the dunks are more impressive than originally thought.

As my predecessor, and current Sports Network NFL Editor John McMullen said, "Everyone reacts when it's bad."

The big problem, is, as everyone correctly states, the absence of star power. LeBron James should be a competitor. Blake Griffin should do it again after jumping over a car. All the top stars in the league should compete.

They're not going to.

I don't have an interesting theory as to why. The best one I've heard, again from my colleague John, is that they'd be embarrassed to fail. That could be the case, or maybe they think they're above the Dunk Contest.

Truth is, LeBron is bigger than the Dunk Contest. But where does it say that participating in the NBA's coolest exhibition makes you any less of a player or public icon? It doesn't. According to reports about the ouster of NBPA executive director Billy Hunter, James spoke passionately about the subject. Why can't he speak up now for what's best for All-Star Saturday Night?

James White threw down some amazing dunks on YouTube. Terrance Ross, your champion, is an impressive dunker. Gerald Green and Jeremy Evans the same, but these guys aren't on the minds of NBA fans. They play sparingly. You show up to the arena and why should you care about Jeremy Evans? You don't.

This Dunk Contest works successfully two ways: stars do it, or the dunks are amazing. We had neither in 2013. If we assume the big-time studs never return, we still need to tweak this thing.

First, no more 90 seconds to miss your dunks. You get one miss, a second chance and that's it. Listening to the air come out of the Toyota Center as every Gerald Green or White dunk clanked off the backboard derailed this event.

Credit should be given for trying something different, because we've seen every dunk imaginable. There will be a windmill dunk, there will be a lob dunk, there will be a throw it off the backboard dunk and there will be a leaping over someone or something dunk.

Short of someone doing a flip in mid-air for their dunk, all the while risking paralysis, we aren't going to see anything new. That just adds to the "We Need Stars" campaign, because watching a thunderous baseline reverse dunk is, after all, just somehow better when Griffin does it as opposed to Ross.

So here's how we fix it - be deadly serious about curtailing the number of misses. The league did just that in 2006 when Nate Robinson took a month (14 tries to be precise) to narrowly beat out Andre Iguodala.

Even now, 90 seconds is too long, or, if you keep that time frame, penalize for missed dunks. Personally, I cut it to one miss, then you better convert. It kills the event to watch missed dunk after missed dunk.

My other suggestion, which is, admittedly, out of the box, is to add a defender. This is not to advocate putting Dwight Howard or Serge Ibaka out there to be made a fool of, but find a local, small-college behemoth and tell him, "Jump up and down and don't try to block a thing. Go rogue and you'll regret it."

In attendance at the Philadelphia 76ers-Los Angeles Clippers game last week, Griffin and DeAndre Jordan had the opposing crowd out of their seats with their in-game dunks. Who knows if they were better than anything we saw on Saturday (Griffin's baseline, switch--of-the-hands dunk was infinitely better), but it gave fans pleasure, which is the end goal of this night.

Everything gets magnified with the element of opposition. Watch one of these dunkers go through his legs, then throw one down over a defender, and it will work.

The NBA's All-Star weekend is solid. The Rising Stars Game is fine and the All-Star game itself is reliable.

Saturday is not.

RANDOM THOUGHTS

- Gary Payton is the only Hall of Fame finalist who is a lock. I believe Bernard King, Rick Pitino, Jerry Tarkanian and Dawn Staley also are going to be enshrined.

- Mitch Richmond is closer to a Hall of Famer than I thought, but isn't there.

- See what happens when the players take over their own union? Results, that's what, and with James speaking about the subject, it was a win-win for the players. Jerry Stackhouse seems like someone who will wield more power. Maybe a replacement for Derek Fisher, who no one in the union seems happy with?

- The trade deadline looms on Thursday and the biggest name I expect to go will be Josh Smith from the Atlanta Hawks. My hunch is some package for one of the Milwaukee Bucks guards, Brandon Jennings or Monta Ellis.

- Jerry Buss, long-time Lakers owner passed away on Monday. His "Showtime" Lakers team were as important to the growth of the game as any team from any era.

- Movie Moment - Know what's a great movie based on a true story? "Hot Tub Time Machine."

- TV Moment - While not a fan since the early seasons, I thought it was interesting that the 28th season of "The Real World" will emanate from Portland. Portland is the best we could find. No offense to what is I'm sure a fine city, but it may be time to put this baby to bed.

02/18 12:54:18 ET