John Wall had a tough rookie season as the Wizards limped to a 23-59 record in 2010-11. But ask him about the NBA All-Star Game, and he offers a hint of a smile.
Wall had 22 assists in the rookies vs. sophomores game, many of them to L.A. Clippers star Blake Griffin and his former Kentucky teammate and good friend, DeMarcus Cousins of the Sacramento Kings. It was a performance that earned Wall the MVP, as the rookies beat the sophomores 148-140.
It was the highlight of his season, Wall said last year, and this year, he's going back as a member of the sophomore team.
Wall was looking forward to a rematch of sorts, but it's not going to happen. In a marketing move, the NBA has decided to turn the rookie-sophomore contest into the ultimate pick-up game.
Turner Sports NBA analysts Charles Barkley and Shaquille O'Neal will pick the teams from a pool of rookies and sophomores during a draft Feb. 16 to form Team Chuck and Team Shaq. The game, officially known as the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge, will be played Feb. 24 at Amway Center in Orlando, Fla.
"I don't like the changes," Wall sat flatly. "The rookies won the game last year. We wanted a chance to defend our title. Now they have something different going on. They changed it up on us. I don't know what it's going to be like now."
Not coincidentally, it was after the last NBA lockout during the 1998-99 season, when the league played a 50-game schedule and had no All-Star weekend, that the league made the format change to include second-year players. Since the lockout cost the NBA's top rookies their showcase game, a rookie vs. sophomore game was devised the following season.
But the biggest change would be if the league devises a way to add New York Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin to the roster. Although the 18 players selected for the game were chosen Feb. 8, Lin has become a world-wide sensation since making his first start for the Knicks on Feb. 6.
In four starts entering Tuesday, Lin had scored 109 points; the most by any NBA player since the 1976-77 season, when the NBA and the ABA merged. Forbes is reporting that Lin's brand is worth about $14 million, making him the fastest-growing athlete brand in the world.
"I think we'd all like to see him there," Turner NBA analyst and former Phoenix Suns general manager Steve Kerr said during a conference call Tuesday. "I imagine there may be talk of that [adding Lin] with the powers that be. When the selections were made, he had barely gotten into a game, but if that's a possibility, I'd love to see him there."
O'Neal likes the idea as well.
"Business-wise, I think it would be good," O'Neal said. "He has taken New York by storm. He is an NBA sensation. It's one of those Rocky-style stories; a guy you never heard of is now becoming a star. I think people want to see what the guy can do."
NBA commissioner David Stern was not a part of the call, but there's little doubt that Stern was listening, and at this very moment is trying to make it happen.
"If it's at all possible, I think we'd all like to see him play in that game," Turner NBA analyst Steve Smith agreed. "After two games, everyone talked about him being a fluke. But now, he's proven he belongs in the NBA."
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