BROOKLYN, N.Y.: The NBA released its All-Star ballots on Tuesday, and to the surprise of most everyone, Cavs backup forward Omri Casspi was on it. The other two nominees, Kyrie Irving and Anderson Varejao, are certainly worthy, but Casspi’s inclusion is peculiar.
He hasn’t started a game since March 3 last season, and he’s only appeared in three of the Cavs’ first seven games. So how exactly does that qualify for an All-Star Game nomination?
A four-man panel of Steve Aschburner from NBA.com, TNT analyst Kenny Smith, Toronto Star writer Doug Smith (who is also the president of the Pro Basketball Writers Association) and the Houston Chronicle’s Jonathan Feigen had to determine the ballots in October before the start of the regular season.
Each team needs a minimum of three candidates. Rookies, outside of the No. 1 overall pick, traditionally aren’t included. That meant Dion Waiters wasn’t eligible.
Aschburner said the panel had little trouble coming up with the first two players — Irving and Varejao — but obviously struggled coming up with the third.
“I think there was probably a sense of optimism from preseason stories that last season was the aberration for [Casspi] and this would be an improved season,” Aschburner said. “Not having a real track record with anyone else there, we had to have three Cavs and it came down to those three. I don’t know that anyone else’s name from the frontcourt came up.”
The league office has no input in the selection process, and Aschburner said Casspi was not added for his international appeal in Israel.
“There was no steering from the NBA to give extra consideration to international players from overseas,” Aschburner said. “It was trying to gauge who would be the third-most likely Cavalier for the ballot. If it couldn’t be Waiters, who would it be?”
Casspi seemed equally surprised Tuesday when he learned of the nomination.
“Good to know,” he said.
Asked if he’ll get increased votes from the Israeli community, Casspi chuckled.
“I don’t know; we’ll have to wait and see,” he said. “I’m not really concerned or thinking about it. I’m focused on what I need to do tonight and for the season to help my team.”
In hindsight, Alonzo Gee or Tristan Thompson would have been better alternatives. The four-person panel does not receive suggestions from individual teams, and the list is not cleared with teams prior to release.
Nominations were changed this year to eliminate the center position. Now there are simply 24 nominees for the backcourt and 36 for the frontcourt.
“We have 35 who belong,” Aschburner said, “and probably one who doesn’t.”
The Cavaliers received their first look at the Barclays Center, the new $1 billion home of the Brooklyn Nets. Talks of the Nets moving from New Jersey to Brooklyn surfaced eight years ago when Byron Scott was coach.
“I’m glad it finally happened for him,” Scott said of Nets coach Avery Johnson. “I thought when it was proposed it would happen a whole lot sooner and I think everybody else thought the same thing. I’m glad it happened for him.”
Superstorm Sandy forced the Cavs to alter their travel plans. There was a question whether or not their original hotel would have power restored in time for this trip, so the Cavs switched hotels. As a result, the bus ride to the arena took more than 90 minutes.
“I’m looking forward to playing here. From the outside it looks nice,” said Kyrie Irving, who grew up in West Orange, N.J., and famously says he was a Nets fan until the team fired Scott.
Irving had a launch Monday night in the New York City area for his new Foot Locker commercial.
Zeller close to return?
Scott is hopeful Tyler Zeller will return to the lineup Saturday, when the Cavs host the Dallas Mavericks. He is still in the league’s concussion program, but Scott is hopeful he’ll be cleared in time to practice at least once before Saturday.
“I think it’s realistic,” Scott said of Zeller’s availability. “Hopefully he’ll get a chance to practice Thursday or Friday. Then if all goes well, I’m hoping he’ll be ready to play Saturday.”
Jason Lloyd can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Cavs blog at http://www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow him on Twitter http://www.twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ. Follow ABJ sports on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.