With many of the NBA's brightest stars dealing with injuries, J.A. Adande and Israel Gutierrez take a look how this year's All-Star rosters are shaping up.
J.A.: Are you as concerned as I am that All-Star Weekend will be short on actual All-Stars? We're looking at Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul, Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook all potentially missing the game because of injuries and an Eastern Conference roster stocked with players who wouldn't even make an All-Division team if they played in the West (and if there were such a thing as an All-Division team).
The All-Star Game is meant to be a showcase, not an accurate reflection of the NBA's standings and stats. While Kobe, who's played all of six games this season, has never been less deserving of a spot on the team, his presence has never been more needed. He's still popular (only LeBron and Kevin Durant received more votes in the early balloting) and he's the guy who plays the hardest in these glorified pickup games, forcing everyone else to elevate their effort.
The All-Star Game is meant to be a showcase, not an accurate reflection of the NBA's standings and stats. While Kobe has never been less deserving of a spot on the team, his presence has never been more needed.
"-- J.A. Adande
Two years ago that intensity led Dwyane Wade to break Kobe's nose with a hard foul. And it caused the media to swoop in on LeBron after Kobe called him out for passing on the final possession. Let Lillard take the spot of another injured player. If you care to see a compelling game, you want Kobe on that court, you need Kobe on that court.
Israel: If for no other reason, I'll agree with you because Kobe can and will say anything that's on his mind. He's a no-filter All-Star, that's for sure. And when you're criticizing fellow All-Stars, that's always more interesting.
But I can't honestly say I need Kobe to play to make the game itself interesting. In fact, the last thing I want is to watch a version of Kobe that's not up to our expected standard. Can he pull off a 1992 Magic Johnson or 2003 Michael Jordan performance? Of course he can. But should we risk that?
I'd rather see a young, up-and-coming player like Lillard compete against the very best and see where he stands. I trust we'll see Kobe -- a deserving Kobe -- in the next two All-Star Games, so there's no need to play him just for nostalgia purposes. If you want a great quote, let Kobe be a guest color analyst. You want a broken nose, let Wade play against any other player who takes the game seriously. But no need to force in Kobe.
I am disappointed, though, that it looks like the Kobe-CP3 backcourt won't happen. What do we have to look forward to instead?
J.A.: You can start by looking for Paul George and Kyrie Irving to put on a show. Last year they looked surprisingly comfortable in their All-Star debuts, combining for 32 points. You predicted it portended bigger things to come, and George in particular made you look good. This time they should embrace the showmanship aspect of the All-Star Game. Dunk on people. Cross them up. Let the whole arena know you want to guard the other team's best player. That's what the game should be about. That's the difference between being an All-Star and a guy who made the All-Star team.
Steph Curry can more than make up for those missing stars. The self-passes off glass and the three-on-none fast breaks are great and all, but that happens every All-Star Game. It's not that often you see a shooter light it up.
"-- Israel Gutierrez
Israel: There's one first-timer in particular who should, and easily could, light up New Orleans next month. Steph Curry should've been an All-Star last year, and this year with Kobe and Paul out, he should be a starter for the Western Conference.
And to make up for last year's snub, he should take at least 15 3s. And in that setting, he could make all 15. Frankly, he can more than make up for those missing stars. The self-passes off glass and the three-on-none fast breaks are great and all, but that happens every All-Star Game. It's not that often you see a shooter light it up. And when you do, it's pretty memorable (I can think of Mitch Richmond and Glen Rice as a couple of the very few), so Curry should rack up about 30 All-Star minutes and see if he can break the point-a-minute pace.
But who plays with him? Filling this West roster is never easy, even with some regulars out.
J.A.: Curry, Lillard, James Harden and Tony Parker are the guards ... and I'd add Goran Dragic if Kobe can't play. Consideration for Monta Ellis, too. Kevin Durant, Dwight Howard, Blake Griffin, Kevin Love and LaMarcus Aldridge are locks in the frontcourt. Dirk Nowitzki, Anthony Davis and ... DeMarcus Cousins are all in contention for the final frontcourt spots. As monstrous as Cousins' numbers are (he's in the top 10 in scoring and rebounding), his Kings are further from the playoffs than every team but Utah. That's going to hurt him. Who ya got in the East?
Israel: I don't think we should be in any hurry to look at the East. I mean, no one else is, right? So I'm gonna take your "All-Star Game is a showcase, not a NBA stats and standings" argument to take issue with a couple of your fringe picks. Yes, those first nine should be locks. But Cousins should be, too, regardless of his team's record. The Kings have gone through some in-season roster turnover and have some impressive wins nonetheless (Heat, Rockets twice and Suns twice).
That would leave two spots, and no offense to Dragic (that's more of an ensemble performance out in Phoenix), but I'd rather see any pairing of Anthony Davis, Klay Thompson, Dirk Nowitzki, Monta Ellis or Ty Lawson in there before Dragic.
There's no need to punish guys on teams with losing records in the Eastern Conference. On your side of the country they're called 'playoff contenders.'
"-- J.A. Adande
J.A.: What, you don't want to see Dragic Eurostepping his way past the best the East can muster up? I think that would be fun. And don't think I'm letting you off the Eastern hook so easily. Account for your conference! LeBron, Melo, Paul George, Roy Hibbert, Dwyane Wade, Kyrie Irving and ... hmmmm. You've got your work cut out for you.
How about John Wall? Did you know he's eighth in PER among Eastern Conference players? And do you remember that 25-foot bounced alley-oop he threw to Blake Griffin in the 2011 Future Stars game? And did you see him dancing at the end of the clip? That's what I want to see in an All-Star Game. Besides, there's no need to punish guys on teams with losing records in the Eastern Conference. On your side of the country they're called "playoff contenders."
Israel: If I offered a distraction, can I get out of filling in the roster? Hey, LeBron should dunk! ... Didn't work, eh?
OK, fine. Wall is automatic. As are the other six you mentioned. I'll add Andre Drummond -- because any time a player's shooting percentage (.612) is almost twice his free throw shooting percentage (.364), it's impressive for some reason or another. Then we go with DeMar DeRozan, because despite having four capital letters in his name, he hasn't gotten nearly the attention he deserves in ever-changing Toronto.
Chris Bosh is also deserving, and it automatically begs the question, do the Pacers deserve a third participant as well? That depends on your "stats and standings" argument. I'd say Arron Afflalo's well-rounded stats are more deserving than Lance Stephenson's, but Stephenson has been a critical piece of the team with the best record in the conference. You could put them both in and call it a roster, but there's a strong argument to be made for Paul Millsap or Jeff Teague. I say Stephenson gets in (get that Heat-Pacers rivalry riled up by making him play alongside Wade), and add Millsap.
J.A.: You're on to something. If we're not going to have full-fledged All-Stars we can at least have some good All-Star beef. We need someone to fill the Derrick Rose "I'm having no part of the Heat and their shenanigans" role. Remember the intros in 2012, when Rose looked like he didn't even want to be in the same arena as Wade and LeBron as they danced their way onto the stage? If Lance Stephenson can bring the same level of animosity -- or at least disdain -- I'd consider him a worthy addition to the team.
I have another idea: since there aren't enough legitimate All-Stars in the East they should leave a spot open. Maybe they could give it to the winner of the dunk contest or 3-point shootout. Heck, give it to a fan in a lottery to encourage participation in the selection process. Vote and you'll have a chance to be on the team. Just keep voting for Kobe so at least we'll have some real All-Stars in New Orleans.
Israel: No gimmicks necessary. Stephenson would be interesting enough. It would remind you of the 2011 game, when Boston's big four and Miami's big three, in their first year together, were in the game, coached by Doc Rivers. This year's East squad will be coached by Frank Vogel, which would only make that dynamic more intriguing. Does he play LeBron 45 minutes? Or better yet, play Wade and his balky knees a full 48? Direct Roy Hibbert to spend the weekend mocking Bosh? I mean, if you don't have the supreme talent, you might as well have the better storylines.