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Arenas a likely All-Star shoo-in

- The Washington Times - Friday, January 12, 2007

This year, in the case of Gilbert Arenas, the fans have spoken.

The Washington Wizards guard was originally left off last year's Eastern Conference All-Star team. But commissioner David Stern stepped in and put Arenas on the roster as a reserve when another player became injured.

This season, Arenas' sky-rocketing popularity and stellar play have him ranked third among Eastern Conference guards with 788,249 votes. Arenas trails only Miami's Dwyane Wade (1,371,850) and New Jersey's Vince Carter (1,002,707).

Paper balloting ends Monday. Online voting concludes Jan. 21.

The only mystery involving Arenas now is whether he will hear his name when starters are announced Jan. 25. But there are some potentially interesting scenarios involving coach Eddie Jordan and forwards Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison.

Jordan's status hinges on the Wizards' standing in the Eastern Conference.

Heading into last night, the Wizards (20-14) trailed Cleveland (22-12) for the best record in the conference by just two games. The Wizards are tied with Chicago for the fourth-best record in the conference behind the Cavaliers, Orlando and Detroit.

Pistons coach Flip Saunders coached the East last season and is ineligible to coach the team this year. So Jordan is in a four-way race with Cleveland's Mike Brown, Orlando's Brian Hill and Chicago's Scott Skiles to coach the East. The coach whose team has the best record Feb. 4 will coach the All-Star team.

"Eddie's done a fantastic job with that team," Charlotte coach Bernie Bickerstaff said last month.

Washington has had three different coaches for the All-Star Game: Gene Shue (1969), K.C. Jones (1975) and Dick Motta (1979).

While the process to determine the teams' coaches is simple and bereft of politics, the naming of the reserves is not, as Arenas learned last season.

The reserves will be named after the starters and will be voted on by each conference's coaches. The coaches will be asked to vote for two guards, two forwards, a center and two other players.

Butler, who has little chance of being voted in by the fans, seems as worthy of a trip to Las Vegas as perhaps any forward in the Eastern Conference. He's averaging career highs in points (21.2), rebounds (8.1), assists (3.9), steals (1.9) and minutes a game (40.0).

Jamison, who averages 19.4 points and a team-high 8.4 rebounds a game, made his lone All-Star appearance alongside Arenas in Denver two years ago. Like Butler, he isn't generating many votes.

Reigning defensive player of the year Ben Wallace of Chicago believes Butler belongs.

"Oh, definitely," Wallace said. "I think he's playing at an All-Star level. The things he's doing might be overshadowed by what Gil is doing, but no question he should make the team. He's kind of under the radar until you look at the stat sheet or the game film. Once you see that, you realize that he's killed you."

Butler said he was flattered that a "hardcore" player like Wallace -- a player he has "always admired" -- thought so highly of him. But Butler said victories mean more to him and his teammates than making the team.

"People are asking me how I feel about it. I'm not really in tune with the voting," Butler said after posting 26 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists in a 113-103 win over the Bulls on Wednesday. "But we're getting better and better as a team. If we keep doing this we'll end up where we're supposed to be."

Skiles lauded Butler for his play just after Butler helped bury his team. But when asked directly if he thought Butler deserved to play in the All-Star Game, Skiles didn't give Butler the ringing endorsement Wallace did.

"I don't know," he said. "I don't know about that."

But there is no debate about Arenas' place on the Eastern Conference team. Arenas, who has heard MVP chants at Verizon Center, ranks second in the league in scoring (30.2) and he leads the league in both free throws made (264) and 3-pointers made (106).

And Arenas would very much like to have his coach and teammates in Las Vegas with him.

"We're going to try to keep winning and hopefully good things will happen for everyone," he said.