By Chris Le
Compared to my Western Conference ballot, which seemed as wide open as the Democratic and Republican primaries, my picks for the East’s starting five were walks in the park. The ease with which I selected my All-Stars probably attests to the Eastern Conference’s relatively weaker pool of talent. And that’s why the East will continue to be inferior to the West. It’s still a talent-based league.
Interestingly though, if I looked at each starting five, I’d probably have to say that the East’s is stronger. It’s in the reserves where the quality of the two teams is separated. The Western bench wouldn’t look like a bad starting All-Star squad. I mean, Steve Nash, Brandon Roy and Chris Paul didn’t even make the fans’ starting lineup, and one of them will make the First Team All-NBA. This fact speaks to the fans’ insanity of choosing Allen Iverson over the aforementioned three, but it also highlights the level of competition in the West. Geez, even in an article about the East, I can’t help but bring up the West.
Eastern Conference Squad
Chauncey Billups, Detroit – Admittedly, I kinda left Chauncey out to dry at the beginning of the season. I thought he was slipping and in position to be passed by maybe five or six established and rising point guards. As things turned out, though, Billups has been the most consistent floor general behind perhaps only Steve Nash and Chris Paul. Strong as an ox, as clutch as they come, Billups does everything you expect of a point and does them well.
Jason Kidd, New Jersey – The Nets are pretty awful but without Kidd, they’re on the level of the New York Knicks. He remains a nightly triple-double threat on a team that barely knows what to do with his passes. A player as gifted as Kidd deserves better teammates than Vince Carter, the poster boy for underachievers. Too bad All-Star and Team USA games are so far and few between because those are the only times Kidd is surrounded by decent players.
LeBron James, Cleveland – Watching him every year, we acknowledge the frightening fact that he has room to grow. But when he actually does improve, like he has this year, it never ceases to amaze. Once again his numbers are ridiculous, and he continues to carry a weak team in a strengthened Eastern Conference. Definitely a top-three MVP candidate. A no-brainer top choice whether your criteria include excellence or excitement.
Kevin Garnett, Boston – Finally with teammates that deserve him, KG has taken the Celtics to levels beyond expectations. His intensity, unselfishness and commitment to defense have been contagious. He is the heart of the team with the best record in the NBA and as a result, he leads the MVP race – not to mention the Defensive Player of the Year Award (well, him and Marcus Camby).
Dwight Howard, Orlando – Who would’ve thought Howard would be this good – putting up 25 and pulling down 20 with regularity, Moses Malone good – this fast? Even with an expanded but still limited offensive arsenal, Howard has evolved into the scariest center in the league. With the dearth of quality big men in the East, this was the easiest choice on my ballot.
Eastern Conference Reserves
Richard Hamilton, Detroit
Paul Pierce, Boston
Caron Butler, Washington
Antawn Jamison, Washington
Chris Bosh, Toronto