MIAMI — The last time the NBA had an All-Star Game without Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki, there were articles out about how gas prices were soaring.
The talk was it could exceed $1.50 a gallon.
“That was a long time ago,” Miami guard Dwyane Wade said of 2001.
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The last time the NBA had an All-Star Game without Garnett was 1996. You don’t want to know what gas prices were then.
Three impressive All-Star streaks might come to an end when reserves are selected Thursday for the Feb. 26 game in Orlando. Garnett, 35, a Boston forward, has been picked for 14 straight games, which has him tied with Shaquille O’Neal, Karl Malone, Jerry West and Kobe Bryant (counting Bryant’s inclusion this year) for the most consecutive selections in history.
Duncan, 35, a San Antonio forward, has played in 13 straight, never having missed one since he was drafted in 1997 (there was no game in 1999). And Nowitzki, 33, a Dallas forward, has appeared in the past 10 games.
All are former MVPs, but all are showing age and have slipping stats, which should mean vacation time on their hands this All-Star break.
“Generations are changing,” said Heat forward Chris Bosh, who’s expected to be named Thursday to his seventh All-Star Game. “Those guys were the heroes when I was growing up. Now, times are changing, and we all get older. Sometimes new guys are going to come up. … It’s always going to be changing evolutions, one guy out and another guy in.”
But never in All-Star history might so much history be left by the wayside. Then again, one might want to wait until Thursday to be completely sure.
This isn’t a normal year for All-Star voting because the season started nearly two months late due to the lockout. When votes for reserves were due at the NBA office Tuesday, teams had played between 21 and 27 games. That’s roughly a third of the 66-game slate having been completed.
In typical 82-game seasons, teams had played in the close to 50 games when coaches voted on reserves. So the season was often around 60 percent over when choices had to be made.
But could the short season force coaches to vote as much upon reputation as what players actually have done this season? At least one says he will alter how he votes.
“I think a little of both,” Toronto coach Dwane Casey said. “It’s just a short season. … You look at the body of work (from before this season) and maybe consider the short season.”
Casey isn’t just talking. He said he voted for Garnett, whom he once coached at Minnesota, as an East reserve. While Casey doesn’t vote on West players, he said he would vote for both Duncan and Nowitzki if he were a coach in that conference.
Nowitzki is averaging 17.2 points, the fewest since his rookie season of 1998-99; Garnett is putting up 13.7, the fewest since his rookie season of 1995-96; and Duncan is averaging 13.8, slightly better than his career low of 13.4 from last season. Duncan was able to keep his All-Star streak alive last season, but a primary reason was the Spurs having the NBA’s best record when votes were due (they’re now tied for sixth-best).
Cleveland coach Byron Scott and Miami’s Erik Spoelstra both said they voted for All-Star reserves as they would any other season. But Spoelstra does see how the lockout-affected campaign makes it a more difficult voting process.
“It is a short sample size,” Spoelstra said. “And to be perfectly fair about it, some of the teams we haven’t played.”
If a short season does lead some coaches to consider reputation more than normal, Nowitzki has the best shot of the veteran big men to see his All-Star streak continue. He’s coming off being named Finals MVP in leading the Mavericks to the title, but he hasn’t been in the best of shape this season and recently was on the bench for a four-game stretch.
“If I’m in that conference, I would have to vote for him just because of his body of work,” said Casey, a Mavericks assistant the previous three seasons. “MVP (of the Finals), he had an injury and you still have to look at that. And I know this guy deserves to be an NBA All-Star.”
Nowitzki, though, doesn’t agree. With the West extremely deep at forward, he said earlier this week he doesn’t believe he should be selected as an All-Star.
Duncan has been saying for a while he’s ready for his streak coming to an end. He was surprised when he made last year’s team.
“When you’re a guy who has been in multiple, multiple All-Star Games, I think if you ask those guys, they would love to see other guys that deserve to get in,” Wade, about to play in his eighth All-Star Game, said of the prospect of Garnett, Duncan and Nowitzki sitting home. “All-Stars are about who’s played at an All-Star level that season. … The guys that have been doing it for a long time, 12 or 13 years, they don’t mind if someone gets the nod over them if they’re having a great year. They’re probably happy for them.
“(Nowitzki) may not (make it). But at the same time, you never know. Sometimes you do go off reputation. You know, Dirk, he’s an All-Star. He’s one of the best players in the game. … You can never shake your head at guys like Dirk and K.G. making it. But you also can’t shake your head when there are other guys having (big) years. LaMarcus (Aldridge of Portland) should make it. Kevin Love (of Minnesota) should make it.”
Few doubt those two will get the nod. But if there’s a spot available in either conference when it’s not as clear cut, how many coaches might take reputation more into account than usual?
It might not be enough to keep streaks alive for Garnett, Duncan and Nowitzki. So, be prepared for a real changing of the guard in the NBA.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @christomasson