Beard: NBA’s All-Star Weekend has lost its shine

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

The NBA’s All-Star Weekend needs some changes.

And quickly.

The familiar refrain is that the Slam Dunk Contest is horrible — and some wanted to get rid of it a few years ago. We’re almost back at that point. Sunday’s All-Star Game was more about the soap opera between Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant than the actual outcome. The West won, 192-182, which is absurd in itself.

Defense wasn’t only optional — it was verboten.

Unofficial host Anthony Davis had an All-Star record 52 points — bettering Wilt Chamberlain’s 55-year-old record of 42 points. Davis shot 26-of-32 and had 20 points in the fourth quarter, an obvious tip of the cap at not only breaking a record, but getting Davis the MVP.

The defensive malaise started in the first quarter. If a player drove below the free-throw line, he had a clear path to the rim and an easy dunk. That’s nothing new for the All-Star exhibition, but a total of 16 fouls were called in the game — five (!) by the East — and the West shot 59 percent.

This isn’t some fuddy-duddy commentary on the All-Star Game not being what it used to be. It’s just not a game anymore. It’s devolved into a dunking exhibition — better than even the Saturday event that’s supposed to feature the best aerial acts in the league.

At its best, the dunk contest is amazing theater, as it was last season, with the showdown between the Timberwolves’ Zach LaVine and Magic’s Aaron Gordon.

At its worst, well, it’s really bad. Take Saturday’s competition, which former Michigan standout Glenn Robinson III won — well, almost by default. Taking nothing away from Robinson, who had a couple of very good dunks, the contest fell flat.

It was reminiscent of Allan Houston donning a Pistons jersey and bumping the ball off his head before dunking it. Gordon was innovative in having a ball drop from a drone above the court and attempting (three times, unsuccessfully) to dunk it.

After last year’s drama and success in the dunk contest, we’ve devolved back to the times where multiple misses have sapped the energy and anticipation from the crowd. In many ways, the first round was better than the championship round, as Robinson edged Derrick Jones Jr.

What’s more, the dunk contest is more trite playground fare — dunking over multiple people and using other props — than the aerial creativity and pageantry of past years. The drone concept would have been cool if Gordon made the dunk on the first try, but much like Chris Andersen, Bobby Sura or Chris Carr, even multiple attempts couldn’t salvage it.

The NBA’s All-Star Game itself has sunk to third among the four major sports, only ahead of the Pro Bowl. Baseball’s All-Star Game still is the best — pitching is pitching, hitting is hitting and fielding is fielding — and the NHL All-Star Game, even with all the scoring, still are ahead.

If there’s going to be no defense in the exhibition — 192 points this year and 196 last year? — then what’s the point? Maybe the farfetched solution is just to eliminate the dunk contest, then judge the best dunks on Sunday as the dunk contest.

The Monday Drive takes a look at some tidbits from All-Star weekend:

Boogie’s night: DeMarcus Cousins found out just before his postgame interviews on Sunday that he was being traded to the New Orleans Pelicans for three players and two picks. There’s no explaining what the Sacramento Kings are doing, but this looks to rank among the worst trades in recent years. Cousins is a top-10 player in the league and a package that’s headlined by Buddy Hield and a first-round draft pick just doesn’t cut it. It seems that Kings owner Vivek Ranadive just didn’t want to give Cousins a $200 million contract moving forward.

Twin towers: Putting Cousins with Anthony Davis in New Orleans in the frontcourt — with Davis either as power forward or even potentially as a small forward — is intriguing. The Pelicans could surge toward the No. 8 seed in the West and set up an interesting first-round matchup against the Golden State Warriors. The long-term plan still needs to be worked out, but for the short term, things are looking up for the Pelicans.

Trade talks: No Pistons were in any of the All-Star events or the game, but plenty of names have been tossed around, including Reggie Jackson and some murmurs that Andre Drummond was involved in trade talks for Cousins earlier this season. It’s all talk, but Van Gundy has said that he’s had “preliminary talks” about every player on the roster this season. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. The deadline is Thursday.

Beyond the arc: Maybe the best part of the weekend contests was the 3-point contest, where Klay Thompson was dethroned by Eric Gordon. There’s not much more to add to that contest, but it’s just tough to predict how that’s going to turn out, unless Larry Bird or Craig Hodges is involved.

Mad dash: The Pistons have 25 games left in the regular season and still can make a move up in their seeding, sitting just a game from the Bulls in seventh place and two games from the Pacers in sixth. Their schedule could allow them to make up some of the room, but Van Gundy noted they need to play a certain style more so than just getting wins. With wins in six of the last nine games, they started trended in that direction.