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Missing Millsap: inside the ballot battle

“If you see Paul Millsap, speak well of me.”

That was my parting message to my fellow All-Star ballot selectors as we concluded our discussion of the Western Conference forward nominees on our conference call on Oct 19. I’d tried my best to get Millsap on the ballot. I figured he’d flourish with the additional minutes coming his way now that Carlos Boozer left Utah to go to Chicago. I pushed and pushed for him.

But sometimes we get boxed in. We can only pick 24 guards, 24 forwards and 12 centers from each conference and we must nominate at least three players from each team. And some of the other media members on the panel thought Millsap’s numbers would diminish once Mehmet Okur came back from injuries. Their final argument: it was, after all, Paul Millsap. He’d never averaged more than 13.5 points or 9.5 rebounds in a season. Those numbers worked just fine for the Jazz but didn’t scream “All-Star!”

So we left him off. We put Carl Landry on in order to get our third Sacramento King. Ron Artest hasn’t put up big numbers for the Lakers, but he didn’t play a big role in their championship run…and besides, don’t you like the possibility of Artest in the All-Star game in Los Angeles?

Then Millsap started doing big things. And in the midst of his 46-point breakout against Miami I texted a fellow said “Man, y’all shoulda listened to me on that Paul Millsap All-Star call.”

Millsap was averaging 20 points and 11 rebounds and shooting 60 percent at the time. Now he’s at 21.5 points, 9.5 rebounds and 58 percent shooting…and doesn’t appear on the All-Star ballot released Thursday.

That’s what happens when you have to pick the nominees in October. As a panelist texted me yesterday, “Even Millsap couldn’t predict his production.”

This was my first time on the panel of media members. It took a lot of roster reviewing, depth chart analyzing and preseason game box score reading to prepare for the conference call, but the call itself went smoother than I expected, save for my Millsap filibuster.

If I had to do it over again, I’d replace Trevor Ariza with Millsap. I e-mailed the NBA’s ballot coordinator the day after the Miami game to request an adjustment, but he told me it was too late. The process of printing the ballots had already begun.

Now would I expect fans to vote Millsap into the starting lineup ahead of, say, Carmelo Anthony and Dirk Nowitzki? No. But the fans – and more importantly, Millsap – at least deserve to have that option.

At least the coaches will have their chance to add him to the reserves. I’m guessing there will be less resistance on that call.