By Sean Sylver, 98.5 The Sports Hub
With NBA Christmas behind us and the calendar showing Barbara Walters’ favorite numbers, there are plenty of real concerns among Eastern Conference teams. With nearly half the season in the books, just three games separate five of the six legitimate contenders. The trading deadline is just over a month away. But today, we’ll focus on a more trivial pursuit: the NBA All-Star voting.
The first batch of fan voting was announced Thursday, with three Celtics among the top 12 vote-getters (so far) in the East. Kemba Walker (in a virtual tie with Kyrie Irving, who hasn't played since Veteran's Day) has a legitimate shot to get in as a starter.
New TV spots are touting Jayson Tatum and recent Eastern Conference Player of the Week Jaylen Brown for the midseason showcase. While Walker has appeared in just one All-Star Game to this point in his career, management has apparently decided the young guys need a bump. So what would it take for Boston’s under-25 dynamic duo to represent in Chicago?
If Kemba is a gimme, so are Giannis Antetokounmpo, Joel Embiid, Pascal Siakam and Jimmy Butler. Those five players play for the best teams in the East and are among the top seven in overall fan votes. Throw in at least one of the Malcolm Brogdon/Domantas Sabonis combo from Indiana, plus leading backcourt vote-getter Trae Young, and you’re up to seven. Bradley Beal is having the best statistical season of his career. Bam Adebayo has been a revelation in Miami. That makes nine.
After that, things get tough. If you want to include both Jaylen and Jayson, you can only pick one more player. Ben Simmons has been there before. So has Khris Middleton. Spencer Dinwiddie has kept the Nets afloat. Zach LaVine is a scoring machine. Five-time All-Star Kyle Lowry is the second-best player on the defending champs.
Say Simmons is the 10th guy. Would you pick Jaylen and Jayson over Dinwiddie? Over Brogdon or Sabonis? Over all those other guys? Maybe you would. But that doesn’t mean the coaches will make the same choice when the decision comes to them.
Boston’s collection of top flight talent has been wildly entertaining. It's almost impossible to predict who’s in line for a special performance on any given night. It’s also limited anyone from putting up particularly gaudy season averages. And while the Celtics have the second-best record in the East, it’s difficult to argue they should have three All-Star representatives when other contending teams are limited to one or two.
It’s now 25 years since the Garden (then FleetCenter) opened with Dino Radja as the crown jewel of the Celtics’ roster. The Green drafted the Split, Croatia native in 1989, but had to wait through the end of the Big Three era (and the passing of Reggie Lewis) to see the 6-foot-11 now-Basketball Hall of Famer in action. Radja averaged nearly 17 points and seven rebounds for Boston in an era overshadowed by the team’s losing record.
Why bring up Dino Radja, nearly 23 years after Rick Pitino tried to deal him for Clarence Weatherspoon, prompting his return to Europe? It's this stat line from Enes Kanter against the Hornets: 13 points, 14 rebounds and six blocks. We hadn't seen that level of output from a Celtic since Dino in 1996.
Daniel Theis threw a block party early in the year. Kanter has been coming on strong. The Celtics' center position is doing all right.
Half-Man, Halfway to the Early Bird Special
Speaking of 90’s stars, Vince Carter is back in Boston with the Hawks tonight. The former North Carolina Tar Heel will become the first player in NBA history to play in four different decades, a feat even Kareem Abdul-Jabbar missed by a good six months.
If you'd bet me in 2004, as Carter was Anthony Davis-ing his way out of Toronto, that he'd one day be among the top five all-time in games played, I'd have taken that wager. But somehow, he's still here, on the edge of his 43rd birthday.
Coming Up Next
The Celtics abandoned a five-game winning streak against a hot shooting (52 percent) Toronto team last Saturday night. They have a chance to develop a new one over the next week and a half. With a 109-92 New Year’s Eve win under their belts against Charlotte, their next four games are against the Hawks, Bulls, Wizards and Spurs, teams that are a combined 42 games under .500.While anything can happen in the NBA (like the Raptors running the C’s out of the gym without three of their starters) navigating the five-team logjam behind Milwaukee in the Eastern Conference will require a pile of wins. The difference between the second and third seed in the East, right now, is a first round matchup with the Nets, or one with the Pacers and a returning Victor Oladipo.
Sean Sylver can be heard on 98.5 The Sports Hub. You can follow him on Twitter @TheSylverFox.