Does the West Have an All-Star Center?
Bylaws have been checked. Rules have been scrutinized.
And, yes, it has been determined the West must start a center in February's All-Star Game in Dallas.
So, gentlemen, lace up your high tops. The race to be the starting center for the West is as wide open as the Yukon Territory.
Houston's Yao Ming, who has been voted by fans the starter the past seven years (he did miss the 2007 game due to injury), won't play before the All-Star Break due to a fractured foot. It will be interesting to see if he's even on the All-Star ballot. If so, he'll probably win the voting without stepping on the court.
Shaquille O'Neal, an All-Star last season with Phoenix, has moved to the East with Cleveland. So he's out of the mix.
Not a lot.
The only candidate with previous All-Star experience is Utah's Mehmut Okur, named an injury replacement in 2007. Keep in mind, though, that was the year All-Star had a very loose meaning in the West considering four injury replacements were named.
One presumes Minnesota's Al Jefferson again will be on the ballot at center even though he really is a power forward who often is forced to play out of position. But it remains to be seen how Jefferson will be come back from a torn ACL that ended his season last February after he had averaged 23.1 points and 11.0 rebounds. But for now, even though the Timberwolves should still be subpar, let's make Jefferson the favorite.
There's another guy in the mix who was hurt much of last season. The Lakers' Andrew Bynum, who at least did return late in the regular season from a knee injury before stumbling around in the playoffs, might be a year away from truly being All-Star worthy. But Bynum, helped by being with the Lakers, was third in fan voting last season behind Yao and O'Neal.
Want a darkhorse candidate? Denver's Nene averaged 14.6 points and 7.8 rebounds last season, and could be even better now that he has fully recovered from testicular cancer surgery in January 2008.
"My motivation is different than last year,'' Nene said. "Last year, I was trying to overcome cancer, and I surprised myself (with his play). This year is different. ... But my goal is not to be an All-Star. My goal is to help the team go farther than last season (the Western Conference finals). But, if I deserve (to be an All-Star), I will be there.''
Nene is fully healthy after suffering a broken left arm in Denver's last playoff game. He took about six weeks off, and said now his "arm is perfect."
The native of Brazil also got his Green Card during the offseason. He's working to become a U.S. citizen, while also maintaining his Brazilian citizenship, although that is still a few years off.
Want some other West All-Star center candidates? Golden State's Andris Biedrins is a Latvian double-double machine. Portland's Greg Oden is still raw, but don't count him out yet.
There's the two-headed Clippers monster of Marcus Camby and Chris Kaman, who strangely were both listed on the All-Star ballot last year at center, which meant Clippers fans weren't allowed by rules to vote for both. There's New Orleans' Emeka Okafor, who arrived from Charlotte for Tyson Chandler in a swap of big men.
By the way, don't dare call Tim Duncan a center. The committee that drew up the All-Star ballot two years ago tried to put him on at that position. The complaining was so loud from San Antonio he soon was switched back to power forward.
So there you go. Every possible West All-Star starting center candidate has been mentioned (and, yes, Erick Dampier, you were intentionally excluded even though the All-Star Game is in your home city). As for a reserve in the game who's a center, that's probably not going to happen.
The rules call for NBA coaches, who vote on reserves, to select a backup center. But coaches are allowed to vote for somebody who doesn't play the position regularly. So, with top-notch centers in the West as common as Halley's Comet sightings, they'll likely just slide a power forward over to that spot.
But somebody who's listed as a center is going to have to start the game for the West. For any big man out there who wants some day to tell his grandchildren he once started an All-Star Game, now's your chance.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.