It seems the voters for February's NBA All-Star Game have this millennium/New Year's thing on their minds. It looks like it's out with the old and in with the new.
Many of the league's grizzled superstars, such as Utah forward Karl Malone, Cleveland's Shawn Kemp, Indiana's Reggie Miller, Washington's Mitch Richmond and Utah guard John Stockton, barely have registered in fan balloting for the Feb. 13 game in Oakland.
Instead, Generation Xers Vince Carter, Allen Iverson, Kevin Garnett and Shaquille O'Neal are the fan favorites.
Based on early returns, the Eastern Conference starters, which are decided by fans, will be Iverson and Charlotte's Eddie Jones (if his injured elbow heals) in the back court, Toronto's Carter and Detroit's Grant Hill at the forwards and Miami's Alonzo Mourning at center.
In the West, Phoenix's Jason Kidd and the Lakers' Kobe Bryant would start at guards, Garnett and Tim Duncan would be the forwards, and the O'Neal would be at center.
Coaches select the reserves, and it is likely some of the aging players, such as Malone, would be added.
New York small forward Latrell Sprewell is not far behind Hill in the voting. But since the game is in Oakland, where Sprewell cursed fans this year in his first return since being traded from Golden State, coaches might not add him to the team. Sprewell's choking of then-coach P.J. Carlesimo isn't something the coaching fraternity has forgotten either.
"I would hope they were beyond that," Sprewell told Newsday. "That they would decide on my play as opposed to the incident."
Sacramento forward Chris Webber appears to be hurt by playing in a small market, as he trails Garnett, Duncan and Portland forward Scottie Pippen by fairly wide margins in fan voting. However, Webber could be named an all-star by coaches.
No Wizards rank in the top 10 in voting at any position.
Nets Talk Postseason
The New Jersey Nets, who have won nine games in December, eight in a row at home and moved out of the Atlantic Division cellar -- now occupied by Washington -- are talking playoffs. After starting 2-15, New Jersey improved to 12-18 with a 102-92 victory over Orlando last night.
"Right now we have more team confidence," guard Kerry Kittles, who missed much of the early season while recovering from offseason knee surgery, told the New York Daily News. "Everyone is feeling their groove and playing aggressive, and that has been the difference."
Coach Don Casey said Kittles has been the difference. Since his return Nov. 30, the shooting percentages of forwards Keith Van Horn and Kendall Gill and guard Stephon Marbury have improved. Having Kittles as another offensive option has lightened Marbury's scoring load and forced opponents to be more accountable on defense.
"Kittles coming in opened the floor because he runs so well," Nets Coach Don Casey told the News. "He gives us a spot-up shooter, and he's electric on defense. The light at the end of the tunnel got brighter and gave us hope."
The talented Nets might also get rebound-mad Jayson Williams back in time for a playoff push. Williams is still recovering from the broken leg suffered last season in a collision with Marbury but is expected to begin practice in late January or early February.
The firing of Golden State Warriors coach P.J. Carlesimo Monday came as no surprise; neither did the overwhelming negative reaction from former players.
"Sprewell just kind of beat us to the punch," Warriors forward Donyell Marshall told the Contra Costa times. "It could have been me, it could have been Adonal Foyle. It could have been any one of us. P.J. was over the top. I wouldn't have choked him, but there would have been an argument. Something was going to happen."
Carlesimo was viewed as overbearing by many of his former players. His .289 winning percentage (46-113) was the worst of any noninterim coach in Golden State's 53-year history.
"My first two years it was difficult to deal with," Foyle said of Carlesimo's belligerent style. "The truth is it was difficult. Me and Donyell seemed to get the most of P.J.'s stuff. I've learned to take it. I've learned over my three years not to let it bother me. But my first two years, I didn't."
Sprewell told Newsday, "It really didn't matter to me one way or the other."
However, he also said Carlesimo was not solely to blame for the Warriors' woes.
"The problems were there before he got there and continued throughout his term," he said.
Ilgauskas May Return to Practice
Cleveland center Zydrunas Ilgauskas, out all season with left foot problems, is expected to return to practice in the next two to three weeks.
"He gives us another low-post option, and he will alleviate a lot of pressure off Shawn [Kemp]," Cavs Coach Randy Wittman said.
Any production from the 7-foot-3 Ilguaskas might be an improvement over the current contingent of Mark Bryant, Andrew DeClercq and Mark Hendrickson, but it might be a reach to expect Ilgauskas to be close the player he was in 1997-98, his only full season.
Ilguaskas missed all but five games last season with foot problems and has been idle for months.
The injury news isn't quite as optimistic for Heat guard Tim Hardaway. The player many feel Miami needs to get to the NBA Finals has missed 17 games with a jammed right knee that has not responded to treatment. It is unknown how long Hardaway will remain out, but sources said Hardaway is very concerned.
Hardaway is in the last year of his contract and hoped to have a big season to earn in the area of $10 million a year. However, this injury -- he has had knee problems before, including last season -- and his age, 33, may weaken his bargaining power with Miami.
The Heat wants to be careful how it spends because it finally could have enough money to be a player in free agency after the 2000-2001 season.