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The NBA : Western All-Stars Unstuffed in Middle

When it was reported last week that Seattle SuperSonics employees stuffed ballot boxes to ensure guard Dale Ellis’ inclusion in the Western Conference starting lineup for the All-Star game, National Basketball Assn. officials neither condoned nor condemned the action.

The league’s silence, as well as the SuperSonics’ claim that every team does the same, could be taken as criticism of fans for not having sense enough to recognize a player’s accomplishments and vote regardless of hometown allegiance.

Unethical as ballot stuffing may be, however, and as biased as fan voting for the starting lineup may be, seemingly the biggest problem with the league’s All-Star selection process is in choosing the remaining players.

Coaches in each conference vote to fill out the remaining seven roster spots, theoretically righting any injustices the fan balloting may have caused. They select two centers, two forwards, two guards and the top third-place vote-getter in any position. They cannot vote for their own players.

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A few deserving players have been excluded because, for instance, they happen to be guards instead of forwards.

The Eastern Conference substitutes will be named today, followed by those in the Western Conference on Wednesday. And this season, seemingly more than ever, a few deserving players will not be going to Houston on the second weekend in February.

The greatest inequity this season figures to be on the Western Conference team.

Only one center, Houston’s Akeem Olajuwon, truly deserves to make the team. But the Lakers’ Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and another center--perhaps, Utah’s Mark Eaton or Portland’s Kevin Duckworth--will make the squad simply because of their position.

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So, whereas two undeserving players make the team, two forwards or guards with clear All-Star credentials may be excluded.

The Western Conference has a wealth of quality guards. Magic Johnson and Ellis were voted in by the fans, and Portland’s Clyde Drexler and Utah’s John Stockton seem assured of All-Star berths.

Lafayette Lever, the Denver Nuggets’ third-leading scorer and leader in assists and rebounds, seemingly is a good bet for the at-large berth, unless the coaches decide to select a fourth forward.

But until injuries and illness last week stopped Dallas’ Rolando Blackman, the Lakers’ Byron Scott and San Antonio’s Alvin Robertson, those guards also seemed more worthy selections than any of the backup center candidates. Dallas point guard Derek Harper also would be a better selection than any center other than Olajuwon.

Scott was a victim of the selection process last season, when he had the best season of his career but was left off. His statistics are down this season, partly because of the internal bleeding that has currently sidelined him. But Scott still is the third-leading scorer on the conference’s best team.

Speaking of worthy candidates--James Worthy, the Laker forward--may not make a second straight All-Star trip. Utah’s Karl Malone and Denver’s Alex English were the fans’ selections. Candidates for the other two--or, possibly, three--spots are Worthy, Phoenix’s Tom Chambers, Golden State’s Chris Mullin, Dallas’ Mark Aguirre, Utah’s Thurl Bailey and Houston’s Otis Thorpe.

There are tough choices, too, in the Eastern Conference.

At center, Cleveland’s Brad Daugherty, Atlanta’s Moses Malone and Boston’s Robert Parish are competing for the two backup spots to New York’s Patrick Ewing.

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At forward, backups for Philadelphia’s Charles Barkley and Atlanta’s Dominique Wilkins, chosen as the starters, could be Cleveland’s Larry Nance, Boston’s Kevin McHale or Milwaukee’s Terry Cummings.

At guard, New York’s Mark Jackson and Cleveland’s Mark Price and Ron Harper are the reserve candidates.

Barkley recently lodged this complaint about the fans’ balloting.

“It’s just a contest where people vote for the guys at home,” Barkley, who finished second among Eastern Conference forwards, told Philadelphia writers. “They should vote for the best players. Dominique Wilkins beat everybody by 200,000 votes at the forward position. I don’t think he’s 200,000 better.

“First, he should be 200,000 behind me, if you go by performance. I think I’m the best forward in the East. I think that goes without saying.”

Anything else, Charles?

“I’m scared to play with Michael (Jordan) and Dominique, because I know I’m not going to get any shots,” he said. “How am I going to get any shots with Moses, Michael and Dominique on my team.”

When Seattle forward Xavier McDaniel heard that club employees stuffed ballot boxes for Ellis, he was puzzled.

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“If we stuff the ballots, why didn’t I get more votes?” McDaniel asked. “My name’s on the ballot, too.”

Maybe they are trying to tell him something.

Chronically unhappy Jay Vincent finally got his wish and was traded, along with Calvin Natt, by the Denver Nuggets to the San Antonio Spurs last Thursday for David Greenwood and Darwin Cook.

But Vincent, who spent most of the season on the injured list, arrived in San Antonio with a noticeable paunch and huffed and puffed his way through Friday night’s game in Dallas.

Afterward, Vincent admitted, “Yeah, I need to lose about 5 pounds.”

Observers estimated that 10 or 15 pounds is more like it.

Mark Aguirre’s latest trade request coincided with a stretch in which the Dallas Mavericks have lost 10 of 14 games. This time, the Mavericks’ moody forward was considerate enough to list his preferred teams to Dallas writers.

Aguirre’s wish list, not necessarily in order:

1) The Lakers, where his friend, Magic Johnson, plays.

2) Detroit, where his friend, Isiah Thomas, plays.

3) Chicago, his hometown.

“I’ve heard Isiah has been begging for me in Detroit,” Aguirre said. “To play with Michael would be a dream. I’ve got three of them on my list--Isiah, Air Jordan and Magic.”

Maverick Coach John MacLeod seemed as pleased to read Aguirre’s wish list as former Maverick Coach Dick Motta had been.

“When you’re talking about your desire to play for somebody else, I just don’t think it’s healthy,” MacLeod said. "(Aguirre) is playing with us, and that’s where his focus should be. His comments should be about our ballclub.”

First, Jack Ramsay left the Indiana Pacers and Frank Layden resigned as the Utah Jazz coach because of the stress of NBA life. Next came Sacramento Coach Jerry Reynolds, who collapsed during a game, apparently because of stress.

Last week, another NBA coach became a casualty.

Wes Unseld of the Washington Bullets spent the second half of his team’s victory over Indiana last Thursday in the locker room, receiving treatment for back spasms that began while he stalked the sidelines during the first half.

Assistant coach Bill Blair guided the Bullets to the victory, although the Bullets nearly squandered a 23-point third-quarter lead.

Unseld also missed Friday night’s game at Chicago but returned in time to guide the Bullets to an overtime victory over Cleveland Sunday.

Jim Petersen, Sacramento Kings forward who has been mulling the choice of unrestricted free agency or a long-term contract with the Kings, reportedly will choose security.

Petersen is expected to sign a 5-season, $6-million contract with the Kings.

“I think there would have been other offers,” he said. “But I also think, ‘Why sit there and look around when I can get a deal I’m comfortable with now?’ You look at a guy like Danny Manning, and you realize your career could end in a heartbeat.”


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