NBA considering changes to All-Star Game format, with East vs. West possible again

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The NBA All-Star Game may soon return to an East vs. West format.

Commissioner Adam Silver said Tuesday in a televised interview on ESPN that changes are coming to the All-Star Game — and while stopping short of saying any decision has been finalized, he hinted that the current format of top vote-getters serving as captains and drafting their own teams may be shelved.

“Maybe a return to something more traditional, in terms of how the teams are presented,” Silver said in the interview on ESPN’s “First Take” program. “We went to sort of this captain-draft notion, but clearly, historically, it was East vs. West, so that’s something we are looking at.”

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This season’s All-Star Game is at Indianapolis on Feb. 18. The league has not yet announced any format changes.

The first 66 All-Star Games all had the East vs. West format. The last six have seen the leading vote-getters from each conference serve as captains who got to draft their teams; LeBron James served as one of the captains all six times, with Giannis Antetokounmpo the other captain three times, Kevin Durant twice and Stephen Curry once.

The last four All-Star Games have used a target score at the end of games, ensuring that the matchup ends on a made shot. Fourth quarters have been untimed; the winner is the first team to reach whatever the leading team had after three quarters, plus 24 points — the 24 is a nod to Kobe Bryant’s last jersey number.

The first year of the target score format saw a fourth quarter that was incredibly dramatic. Last season’s game, however, was almost completely uncompetitive and became a disaster in terms of television ratings — in part because some of the biggest names like James, Antetokounmpo, Durant and Curry all missed much or all of the All-Star Game because of injury.

“I mean, it’s fun to kind of get out there and do some dunks and stuff like that,” Utah’s Lauri Markkanen said after last season’s All-Star Game. “But we’re all competitors. I think everybody would enjoy too if we just play against each other and it gets competitive.”

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League officials said last week that they have been stressing to players the importance of improving the quality of the All-Star Game. It has been a talking point for years, as has the slam dunk competition — which got a serious shot in the arm last season when Mac McClung put on a show for the ages.

“When you turn on an NBA All-Star Game, I think people expect to see some competition,” said Joe Dumars, the league’s executive vice president and head of basketball operations. “There’s a happy medium somewhere between a hard-fought playoff game and what you saw last year. … When you have the reaction that fans had and people had around the game and just visually, it matters because it didn’t make the product look good.”

It’s unclear when the league will finalize any All-Star Game changes.

“We’ve lost sight a bit that it’s about the game at the end of the day,” Silver said.

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