By Mike Monroe
The NBA changed its All-Star ballot position designation this season, placing selected candidates only as frontcourt players or guards.
The change had been announced, but a few hours before, it came to be known as the Tim Duncan rule.
The Spurs and their captain famously objected in 2007 when Duncan’s name appeared on the ballot as a center, rather than a forward. The team never had designated him as anything but a forward and didn’t appreciate a panel of media experts decreeing he was really a center, even though he routinely defended centers once David Robinson retired after the 2002-03 season.
The league accommodated the protest, allowing all votes cast for Duncan to count at forward, and he made it into the starting lineup at that position.
But Duncan’s streak of consecutive All-Star appearances ended last season when the fans picked young guns Kevin Durant and Blake Griffin as starters, and the Western Conference coaches opted not to add him as a reserve.
Then, Duncan discovered the joy of a long midseason weekend with his family.
“I enjoyed it tremendously,” he said Monday morning from a courtside seat at the Toyota Center, where this season’s All-Star Game will be played Feb. 17.
Duncan is in the midst of a resurgent campaign that had his coach campaigning a bit during the recent six-game Eastern Conference road swing for his inclusion on this season’s Western Conference team.
Duncan, Gregg Popovich told media representatives from Boston to Orlando, should not have been excluded last season and is playing even better this season.
Duncan intends to put a halt to any and all future stops on Popovich’s Tim-for-All-Star tour.
“I will not be campaigning,” he said. “I haven’t heard what Pop’s been saying, but I guess I’ve got to talk to him.
“I wouldn’t complain if I’m not on the (All-Star) roster. I want to play well and want to feel good about what I’m doing on the court, but I am not going to be unhappy if I don’t make it.”
A few hours later, Duncan would struggle for three quarters against the Rockets’ young big men, Omer Asik and Greg Smith, missing 8 of 9 shots before dominating the post in the fourth quarter and overtime of another Spurs road win.
There was no intent to diminish All-Star talk, but being outscored 19-10 by Asik might tamp down some of the Duncan-deserves-the-All-Star-Game chatter.
Popovich can’t help himself from talking about Duncan. With his team off to an 18-4 start, and Duncan putting up numbers not seen since the last time he was an All-Star starter, Popovich is asked repeatedly to explain how his 36-year-old captain has managed to roll back time.
Wouldn’t Rockets coach Kevin McHale, a Hall of Fame power forward for the Celtics, also have some insights about how a 36-year-old adapts his game to age?
“I retired,” McHale said, and indeed, his knees had betrayed him by the end of 13 seasons.
With flecks of gray at the corners of a chin beard he has been nurturing for more than a week, Duncan can’t define the changes in his approach to the game that account for what he has done through the first quarter of the season.
“It’s a continuation, more than anything,” he said. “I haven’t done anything specific. I understand my role a little bit more, and I work within those confines. I’m feeling healthy, so it’s all working together.”
Shouldn’t a player determined to defy age do something about those gray hairs that curl through the edges of his beard?
“Everybody keeps telling me I need to color them or pluck them,” he said. “But why? I don’t care. They are what they are, and it is what it is, and I’ll take it.” Spurs Nation