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All-Star Tinkering

It's best not to spend too much time analyzing all-star selections in any sport. All of that head-scratching is bad for the scalp. But it's hard to avoid a scratch or two when you consider the picks for Sunday's NBA All-Star Game in Minneapolis. Why, for instance, did Karl Malone of the Jazz finish sixth in the fan voting among Western Conference forwards, behind the likes of Chris Mullin of the Warriors, A.C. Green of the Suns and even Antoine Carr of the Spurs, for goodness" sake? And how did the Bulls' B.J. Armstrong get more votes than any other Eastern Conference guard? Could it be that Michael Jordan left fans voting for Chicago guards by force of habit?

But as popularity contests go, the results of this one are, for the most part, hard to quibble with. Still, there's never been an All-Star roster that couldn't be improved with a little tinkering. Here are the rosters for the game, along with our changes:

•Eastern Conference

Starting guards: Armstrong; Kenny Anderson, Nets.

Reserves: Mookie Blaylock, Hawks; Mark Price, Cavaliers; John Starks, Knicks.

We would start Blaylock, who is having as good an all-around season as any guard in the conference, and Price, and we would leave Armstrong off the team because, as you'll see below, we want to add another forward to this squad. Some observers say that the Pacers' Reggie Miller was snubbed, but he's too one-dimensional for us.

Starting forwards: Derrick Coleman, Nets; Scottie Pippen, Bulls.

Reserves: Horace Grant, Bulls; Dominique Wilkins, Hawks.

It's hard to improve on this group, but we would add Charles Oakley of the Knicks. Sometimes players can have career years that are not statistically apparent. Oakley is one of the best defensive forwards in the league, a superb positional rebounder and in many ways the soul of his team.

Starting center: Shaquille O'Neal, Magic.

Reserves: Patrick Ewing, Knicks; Alonzo Mourning, Hornets.

No argument here.

•Western Conference

Starting guards: Clyde Drexler, Trail Blazers: Mitch Richmond, Kings.

Reserves: Kevin Johnson, Suns; Latrell Sprewell, Warriors; John Stockton, Jazz.

Drexler should be sitting this one out. Injuries have kept him from having his usual season. SuperSonic Gary Payton, one of the keys to Seattle's pressure defense, should be there in his place.

Starting forwards: Charles Barkley, Suns; Shawn Kemp, SuperSonics.

Reserves: Karl Malone, Jazz; Danny Manning, Clippers; Clifford Robinson, Trail Blazers.

Malone and Kemp should start because Barkley's been out with an injured right knee for several weeks. Sir Charles, however, should be a reserve because, as the leading vote-getter on the all-interview team, he automatically gets a spot on our roster. Like the Pacers' Miller, forward Dennis Rodman of the Spurs doesn't make this squad because he's a one-dimensional player.

Starting center: Hakeem Olajuwon, Rockets.

Reserve: David Robinson, Spurs.

Again, no argument.

Sun Shines

Phoenix forward Cedric Ceballos has played like an All-Star himself lately. With three of the Suns' key players—Barkley, Johnson (chicken pox) and Danny Ainge (sprained left ankle)—out with injuries and another, last season's rookie find, forward Richard Dumas, undergoing drug rehab, Ceballos has done more than his share to compensate. He has scored 40 points twice this season and averaged 27.5 points over his last six games through Sunday. "I've always known I could score if the opportunity presented itself," he says. "I'm just doing what needs to be done until we get all our firepower back."

The burst of scoring by Ceballos is all the more remarkable because he missed last year's Finals and the first 29 games of this season with a broken left foot. He wasn't activated until Jan. 9. "If we'd had Cedric for the Finals, we would have won the world championship," says Barkley. "Everyone is seeing that now."

The injuries have forced Phoenix coach Paul Westphal to use 13 different starting lineups, and the Suns have had to turn to the CBA for help, picking up guard Elliott Perry. Even with Ceballos's scoring, Phoenix, which was 30-14 and trailed the Pacific Division-leading Sonics by four games at week's end, needs good health more than anything.

Deals, Deals, Deals

Despite the rescinded trade between the Pistons and the Rockets that would have sent Sean Elliott, who failed his physical, to Houston for Robert Horry and Matt Bullard and two second-round draft picks, the next couple of weeks could be eventful because of the looming Feb. 24 trade deadline. But as usual there won't be nearly as many trades as there are rumors. Some of the talk involves teams that are considered championship contenders, but the theme this year seems to be dealing for high-profile free-agents-to-be, like Manning, Grant and Coleman, and not just adding one more horse for a championship run.

The Nets and Coleman, who can be a restricted free agent at season's end, discussed a nine-year, $90 million deal last week, but talks broke off. Now New Jersey is listening to offers for him. The most attractive proposal may be from the Heat, who are rumored to be proposing a package that includes center Rony Seikaly.

It seems that nearly everyone is taking a run at Manning, whom the Clippers would like to unload before he becomes an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. The Magic has been offering a package that includes forward Dennis Scott and draft picks for some time now. The Trail Blazers have dangled forwards Harvey Grant and Tracy Murray, and the Hornets have been rumored to be offering guard Hersey Hawkins and forward Scott Burrell.

But Manning and his agent, Ron Grinker, hold all the cards. There is bitterness between Grinker and Clipper owner Donald Sterling, and the possibility exists that Grinker and Manning will scuttle any potential deal by telling the interested team that Manning will test the market after the season. That would ensure that Sterling and the Clippers get nothing in return as they watch their best player walk away.

Line of the Week

Gheorghe Muresan, Bullets
Min: 24; Reb: 7; TP: 15

Muresan, Washington's 7'7", 315-pound Romanian rookie center, posted that line against the Knicks" Ewing on Feb. 2 in an 85-80 Bullet loss. It was part of the best week of Muresan's young NBA career. He also had 11 points and 11 rebounds two nights later against Philadelphia's 7'6" Shawn Bradley in the tallest center matchup in NBA history. Not bad for a player who was described as "a slow Mark Eaton" when he was drafted last June.



Blaylock (center) would be a lock to start if we picked the All-Stars.



Payton (20) should have joined Olajuwon as an All-Star, and Ceballos (23) is now playing like one.



[See caption above.]