Fixing The NBA All-Star Game: The Western Conference Logjam At Guard

Basketball, Sports — By on January 17, 2014 at 11:16 am

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Portland Trail Blazers

Kobe Bryant wants you to vote for Damian Lillard in the NBA All-Star Game. Kobe Bryant also knows that no matter whom he tells you to vote for, most likely he’ll still be among the top vote recipients. Therein lies the beauty and also flawed system that makes up the NBA’s most prized exhibition game.

We are about a month away from the 2014 NBA All-Star Game in New Orleans, and at this point of the season it’s possible to make very well-educated guesses on whom will be selected to the respective teams. As always there will be plenty of great stars representing the Eastern and Western Conferences. On the flip side of that there will be obvious, and sometimes not so obvious, snubs in the process.

The reason for this is because it is the All-Star Game. Fans want to see their favorite players all on one court playing against each other. It’s an event that has truly become a staple in sports, with festivities lasting the entire weekend. Casual and diehard fans tune into see the players they voted for to be in that game. It’s a popularity contest if there ever was one, but that is where the problem lies.

Contrary to popular belief, NBA players do care about this game. At the least, they care about the idea of it. Many of them dreamed their entire lives of getting drafted, winning a title and being recognized as one of the best in the game on the largest stages of the sport. To think otherwise is ridiculous in itself.

The NBA holds the unique distinction of being a player-driven league. It’s built on the accolades of its individual players more so than its teams, which is why the All-Star Game is what it is. There is an entire demographic of fans out there that don’t start paying attention to the NBA season until All-Star Weekend and only want to see stars they are familiar with.

That’s why guys like Lillard or Paul George get so much hype when people finally start paying attention despite the strong play they’ve been producing all season prior to this point.

These are the fans that ultimately want to see big names, not necessarily the best names. Monta Ellis is playing the best basketball of his career, but there are literally millions of people that would rather see Kobe in an undertaker suit introduced as a team starter.

Not that there is anything wrong with wanting to see stars. It’s an exhibition of the biggest names and the top talent the NBA has to offer. Fans should get a chance to vote in who they want to see most. It’s the NBA’s fault for not instituting a system that prohibited the top names that haven’t been playing from the selection process. While it’s certainly not bad to see the top names recognized, it is frustrating to watch deserving players miss out on a chance to play in such an anticipated match-up.

Let’s take a look at the top caliber of guards that could all potentially play in this game.

Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers: After making a return from injury, “Black Mamba” has been recovering from another that will likely keep him sidelined until after the break.

Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers: Currently out of action for four to six weeks, which most likely includes any All-Star actives just to be on the safe side.

Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder: Expected to return after the All-Star break from his most recent knee injury. Of course, if history is any indication, he could return a lot sooner than later.

James Harden, Houston Rockets: Healthy and a no-brainer for the West.

Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors: The most obvious snub from the 2013 game. This year there is no doubt that Curry belongs in the lineup.

Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers: Playing lights out on the second best team in the West. The All-Star selection process usually rewards winners, especially ones playing as well as Lillard.

Tony Parker, San Antonio Spurs: Quiet as it’s kept, Parker is having his usual season that is just as stellar as any of his peers. The Spurs also just happen to be number 1 in the West, so there is that.

Monta Ellis, Dallas Mavericks: The odd man out on this list. I have strong feelings on this, so let’s just say I’ll be revisiting this one in the very near future.

Looking at those names, it’s sad to say that most likely only five will be selected out of the seven. CP3 and Kobe are all but guaranteed to be voted in among the starters (despite both missing most of the month leading into the game due to injury). Westbrook would certainly have been selected as a reserve, but his own injury woes will keep him out this season.

That now leaves Tony Parker, James Harden, Steph Curry and Damian Lillard as the obvious choices. Of course, if CP3 indeed returns before the break, his inevitable starter slot will force another out of this equation. Keep in mind this doesn’t even list Ty Lawson, Goran Dragic and Mike Conley, who are having incredible seasons of their own.

The reason I focused specifically on the guards in the West is because once you go into the “frontcourt” selections (since they no longer acknowledge what a center is), you’ll start to see an abundance of names that will ultimately get snubbed by either voters or a process that rewards good players on winning teams as opposed to great players on terrible ones.

In all honesty, CP3 shouldn’t be on the ballot based solely off the length of his current injury. The same should be said for Westbrook, and Kobe should never have been eligible from the start. You would think after all those years of watching Yao Ming get unjustifiably voted into the lineup (Yao played all of five games in the 2010-2011 season) that David Stern and company would have put restrictions on the process.

So much for wishful thinking. Even still, one snub doesn’t take away from the show. Once the weekend arrives, and the excitement sets it, all is forgotten. We will all take part in watching the events because it is still one of the most entertaining games in professional sports today. It’s just unfortunate that all of the most deserving players aren’t included in the mix.

Esau Howard

Esau Howard is a Friend of the Program, a hoops enthusiast, and a sports scribe that appreciates the life shortening stress of competition at it's finest. Follow his musings on Twitter.

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