NBA All-Star Game and What Lies Ahead

In the 56th NBA All-Star game Sunday, the West overwhelmed the East, 153 to 132. The game was played in Las Vegas, which, unlike normal All-Star game sites, is not the home of an NBA team — although it could be in the future.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Renee Montagne.

The NBA staged its annual All-Star game last night with an unusual twist - the game was played in Las Vegas. Which unlike normal All-Star game sites is not the home of an NBA team. That could change of course in the future.

Commentator John Feinstein joins us now to discuss that and pro basketball at midseason. Good morning.

JOHN FEINSTEIN: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Why exactly did the NBA put the All-Star game in Las Vegas?

FEINSTEIN: This is going to shock you: money. They were offered a lot of money to come and play the game there. And there is a lot of basketball played in Las Vegas. USA Basketball, which of course runs the U.S. Olympic team, plays a lot of its games there. They're going to play a tournament there this summer. There's a lot of high school and college all-star games played in Las Vegas.

But clearly David Stern, the NBA commissioner, is looking around because he's got some franchises not doing that well. Specifically, the Sacramento Kings, whose owners the Maloof brothers own a casino in Las Vegas, are fighting with the city of Sacramento over a new arena.

He's got a lot of franchises looking to relocate, and clearly Las Vegas would be a potential site, although there is the gambling issue.

MONTAGNE: Right. Which is kind of a big deal for any professional sports league.

FEINSTEIN: It is a big deal. And Stern would have to negotiate something in terms of casino gambling on NBA games. And there would be concern of course having NBA players, who always are exposed to temptation when it comes to gamblers and gambling wherever they are, being in the heart of legal gambling in this country.

So I'm not saying it's something that's going to happen tomorrow, but it's certainly something that Stern is keeping an eye on. He's the smartest commissioner in sports. They've already set a little bit of a precedent by putting a women's team in the WNBA at a casino in Connecticut. So they're going in that direction a little bit, kind of feeling their way.

MONTAGNE: And so what about the game? The West won the game, 153 to 132.

FEINSTEIN: The West won, the West was won, yes. Typical All-Star game: no defense, 153-132 final. Nobody really cares who wins the game. But there were two things that were interesting from a basketball fan's standpoint. One, the dominance of very young players in the game.

Kobe Bryant is now an old man in this league at the age of 29. Shaquille O'Neal, 35, looks like a grandfather out there. You've got guys in their early 20s like LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony and Gilbert Arenas who are becoming the dominant players in the game.

The other thing, if you look at the standings, the West is clearly much better than the East yet again this year and the game and the final score reflected that.

MONTAGNE: Well, turning to the season so far, is there one team that stands out as a surprise?

FEINSTEIN: Well, there's a couple. I mean, one, the Utah Jazz, who've been down for a couple of years out in the West. Jerry Sloan has been coaching there since the early 20th century and has seen a lot of ups and downs. You know, with Karl Malone and John Stockton now long gone, they're a brand new team. And they're sitting in fourth place in the West, which is like being in first place in the East, and very much a competitive team again.

Over in the East, the Toronto Raptors, who have sort of been, you know, one of the really weak franchises year-in and year-out, now have a legitimate star in their center, Chris Bosh. And they might be a team when you get to playoff time, because there's no dominant team in the East, you look at and say maybe a young team like that might be a real factor in the Eastern Conference.

MONTAGNE: When all is said and done, realistically, is there any team in the East that might win the championship?

Mr. FEINSTEIN: I honestly don't think so. I don't think the Miami Heat, even with Shaquille O'Neal back now and back at .500 and Pat Riley, who decided to take time off from coaching while all his best players were injured, is now going to come back since they're healthy. I don't think they can get to the level that they got to last year when they won the NBA title.

The Detroit Pistons are the best team. The Washington Wizards have made a lot of progress. But I'm not sure, Renee, that there's a team in the East that if they had to play a Western Conference schedule and play Western Conference teams every night, I'm not sure there's a team in the East that would even make the playoffs in the West. That's how imbalanced this league is right now.

MONTAGNE: John, thanks you.

Mr. FEINSTEIN: Thank you, Renee.

MONTAGNE: The comments of John Feinstein, whose Final Four book, "Last Dance," is now available in paperback.

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