February 9, 2006
Chris Witty:
Gold-medal speed skater will be given the honor of carrying the U.S. flag during the Opening Ceremonies of the Torino Winter Olympics on Friday.
The Lead Item
Two Words For You:

The biggest question about tonight's announcement of the NBA All-Star Game reserves:

How many Pistons will make it?

Last month, there was some hype about the entire starting 5 being voted in, but that was back when they were still on a 72-win pace; that bandwagon has slowed this week with Detroit's two losses in their last 3 games.

The anticipation is that the NBA's best backcourt -- Billups and Hamilton -- are both locks (deservingly so), along with Big Ben. Rasheed Wallace was third among fan voting for forwards and has been rumored to make it. Tayshaun Prince is on the outside looking in. Four out of five, when there are only seven spots to go around the entire East? That's greedy.

Is the success of a team as a unit appropriate for an individual showcase like the All-Star Game? I'd argue it's not the place for that; the NBA Finals are. If fans wanted to see the Pistons' starting 5, they'd watch a regular season game.

The All-Star Game should reward individual success over team success. The Pistons are great precisely because they think of themselves as one unit, not multiple stars. That's not what the NBA All-Star Game is supposed to be about, but that's what it's shaping up to be this season.

Case in point: The hot rumor in D.C. is that Gilbert Arenas will be excluded. Now that's an All-Star-sized snub. He's the 4th-leading scorer in the NBA, coming off a 45-point game last night, no less. Despite struggling, the Wizards are a playoff team -- mainly because of Arenas.

(Fortunately, the NBA can make it right by naming Arenas to replace injured East starter Jermaine O'Neal on the roster; hopefully, Gilbert isn't so mercurial he'll dis the league back in retaliation.)

My East reserve nominees are loaded with players like Arenas -- like Bosh, Pierce and Redd: Dominant individual stars. I'd also put Vince Carter in there; Jason Kidd makes the Nets go, but Carter has been their top scorer -- and top star.

I love watching the Pistons starters play as a group, but if there's one place where team has little value, it's the NBA All-Star Game.

NBA: West Reserves
Where are the guards? The West reserves should be loaded with the conference's sick forwards: KG, Dirk, Brand, Marion. I'd give Marcus Camby a once-in-a-career nod (sorry Carmelo).

Rookies tend to get snubbed, but you can't deny the impact Chris Paul has had on the Hornets. And for my 7th spot, I'm rooting hard for wild-card Boris Diaw, the breakout talent of the year.

But there's no way Diaw makes it over a bonafide star like Tracy McGrady, the 6th-leading scorer in the league and the player who annually puts on the sickest displays in the game. But that's why we watch, isn't it?

Cuban vs. Jackson
"I own Phil Jackson." I could not love Mark Cuban any more right now than after his blog posting responding to Jackson's criticism following the Mavs' win over the Lakers on Tuesday.

George Washington: Wins 11th straight, ties best start ever
S. Alexander in Seattle: Thinks deal will happen to stay
Vlad Guerrero: Happy 30th birthday to one of MLB's best
Florida: 20-game home win streak snapped by S. Carolina
Grizzlies: NBA's top D team gives up 62 in 2nd to PHX in L
Jason Kidd: Appears to have lost his NBA All-Star mojo
What an old-school/new-school rivalry: Tuesday night, Jackson tried his usual mainstream media manipulation. We parroted his quotes about how Cuban intimidates the refs, even though in tracking officiating, Cuban is simply applying "Moneyball"-style principles of exposing inefficiencies in order to gain an advantage.

Cuban didn't need to wait for the media to ask him for his reaction; he responded directly via his blog, where he could put his entire argument out there, unfiltered, where the media could pick it up -- or fans could simply read it themselves.

Now, I'm not saying that Cuban isn't as much of a master manipulator as Jackson is. But the technologically savvy Mavs owner understands he can bypass traditional media and go straight to the fans with his argument.

CBB Rivalry Week
UNC vs. Duke is one thing, but tonight's game between Pitt (No. 13) and West Virginia (No. 10) is shaping up as the most intriguing of Rivalry Week.

In a Big East season arguably the deepest (if not the toughest) in conference history, the Mountaineers are unbeaten -- one reason they're highly underrated at No. 10 (they're my trendy Final Four pick).

Following the Steelers' playoff run, sports fans in Pittsburgh might be familiar with eye-opening road records. WVA has got one: In the last month, the 'Eers racked up wins at Villanova and across the country at UCLA.

(Insider has a fascinating column about WVA's confounding stats: For example, they are awful at offensive rebounding and drawing fouls. On the other hand, they are among the national leaders in fewest turnovers committed.)

Pitt/WVA has emerged as one of the nastiest rivalries in college sports. WVA star Kevin Pittsnogle might not want to bring his wife and newborn along for this one; it could get ugly. (9 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Tocchet Update
You know you're in trouble when the NHL hires a lawyer to run an internal investigation of you, and the last high-profile guy the lawyer prosecuted was the Unabomber.

Combined with the New Jersey attorney general, that's a new level of problems for Tocchet, but the NHL's inquisitor is a real problem for the half-dozen (dozen? or even more?) active players who allegedly bet with him.

Meanwhile, who wants to bet that the indefinite leave of absence the league granted Tocchet becomes permanent?

Is Vick "Lost"?
Is Michael Vick criticizing his coaches about the West Coast offense in today's Atlanta Journal-Constitution? You decide:

"We're not dinking and dunking the way it's supposed to be done. It may be hurting me. It may be hurting the offense. I'm a little lost right now."

Perhaps that would explain his mediocre 73 QB rating or Atlanta's 27th-ranked passing offense.

Vick's quote typifies the obvious disconnect between him and his coaches; most fans, I think, would agree with Vick. The Falcons coaches haven't done nearly enough to take advantage of his unique skills.

Tony K on "MNF"
I think it's a huge win for sports fans that Tony Kornheiser will be the third man in the booth for "Monday Night Football." He's the closest thing to Howard Cosell that the show has had since Cosell left.

Beyond Tony's inclusion, ESPN's interpretation of "MNF" as a whole is going to be a fascinating experiment in sports delivery -- and consumption:

Coverage begins Sunday night and will go whole-hog all day Monday, from "SportsCenter" to radio, to dot-com, to mobile. Even "PTI" will go on-location, and the capper is the game's new, earlier 8:40 p.m. ET start time.

Wayne Gretzky:
Did he have prior knowledge of Tocchet's alleged gambling ring? No evidence the Great One made bets, but he's tainted if he knew about it.
Today on ESPN.com
Quickie: Live!
Forde on WVU
Page 2 Index
Ranking Pistons Starters' Star-Worthiness
Chauncey Billups
Give him the big-game shot!
Rip Hamilton
Team-leading 21.6 ppg
Ben Wallace
Fro + Boards = Star?
Rasheed Wallace
The fans LOVE him.
Tayshaun Prince
Maybe on any other team

Martz hired (finally) to coach Lions offense: Can't wait to see what he does with those WRs, but what will he do about the, uh, Joey Problem?

NBA ASG: 3-point contest field announced. Defending champ Q-Rich is back, despite shooting only 31 pct from 3 this season. I'm taking Billups.

Rest of the field is Ray Allen (leads NBA in 3s made and attempted), Mavs mates Dirk and J. Terry and dark horse Raja Bell (leads field in pct).

NBA Tonight: 2nd-best team in the East (Heat) takes on 2nd-best team in the West (Mavs, riding a 12-game win streak). Does Cuban own Riley, too?

MLB Hot Stove: Nats offer Sosa an unguaranteed contract; Reds tap small-market talent for small-market problems and hire Twins' Krivsky.

Coming tomorrow: The shallowest Winter Olympics preview on the Quickie ever!

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