No agendas. At least you won't see any on this NBA All-Star ballot. Oh, and no Kobe Bryant, either.
He's one of the leading vote-getters despite spending less time on the court than the poor sap who gets to interview Gregg Popovich during TV timeouts. The fans are usually correct, for the most part, every year when voting for the starters but there are always hiccups. See, that's what happens when the process becomes a popularity contest.
Spare me the argument that the All-Star Game should be about the players you want to see, rather than the players you deserve to see. If it came down to sending only All-Star format-friendly players to the game, then we'd all send a limo for Ricky Rubio every year. He's not coming within several bounce passes of New Orleans for the game.
So this was the best way for me to find a credible 24 players with as little second-guessing as possible. The only rule I kept intact was putting three front-court players and two backcourt players on the starting five, and filling out the reserves with two wild cards. Not only does that rule sound reasonable, it really didn't make the process too complicated.
After doing away with agendas and silly unspoken rules about how only players from winning teams are allowed to play -- as though DeMarcus Cousins is the reason the Kings are simply awful -- the selection process was rather easy and stress-free. For the most part, anyway. The hardest thing about coming up with an All-Star team this year is we actually have to submit a squad from the East. The game would be better off, and more fun to watch, if the NBA just put an "A" and "B" team on the floor from the West (and maybe that way, Rubio would make the cut). Or, as East coach Frank Vogel proposed in half-jest, just get six from the Pacers and six from the Heat to rep the East.
Sure, there were some tough omissions, as every year, but here's my 12 vs. 12 next month.
LeBron James. More than any other time in his Heat career, LeBron has looked like a solo act this season, with Dwyane Wade being preserved in ice (almost literally) for the long run. There are times, especially when Chris Bosh pulls a disappearing act, when LeBron probably feels like he's back in Cleveland with Mo Williams riding shotgun. He's having a typical LeBron year, nothing more or less, which means he's still the best overall player in basketball. Yet, you wonder: Will MVP voters suffer from "LeBron fatigue" when it's time to fill out that ballot?
Paul George. Let us pause for a moment and hail the 360 windmill dunk George executed with precision, and at the same time, give him hell for declining the chance to be in the dunk contest. Just because the Pacers own the best record in basketball, and might be the best team in basketball, and he's an MVP candidate, does he think the dunk contest is beneath him? If he does … well, he's right. George has morphed from a fringe star to a solid star almost overnight. He's not quite on the LeBron-KD level just yet. That said, living one floor down from the penthouse does come with a nice view anyway. He's the only player averaging at least 23 points, six rebounds and two steals a night.
Dwyane Wade. This is where injuries are really hurting the East squad. Wade has missed roughly 25 percent of the season … and he's lucky compared to Derrick Rose and Rajon Rondo, a pair of former All-Stars who would've been almost shoo-ins to start ahead of Wade. The only other option would be to elevate a few other guards who lack Wade's All-Star pedigree, and the temptation was there, but I just couldn't quite pull it off, because the margin isn't in their favor. From an all-around standpoint -- scoring, rebounding, defense -- Wade remains a cut above, even if it's a paper cut.
John Wall. This is the leap he had to make this season if he ever wanted to be lumped among the game's elite point guards. Wall fixed the one serious flaw in his game -- shooting -- to the point where he's now respectable. Teams used to give him plenty of space to shoot the jumper and now he sees more hands in his face. For him, that's the ultimate sign of respect.
Roy Hibbert. He's still a 7-footer who can't make half his shots (!) and can't even get eight rebounds a night. Both are almost unforgivable for an All-Star center. Let's just say, for his sake, thank goodness for defense and the lack of polished big men in the East.
Andre Drummond. Being third in rebounding and seventh in blocks gives him a slight edge here over Joakim Noah, who was a lot like Drummond last year when he made his first All-Star team. Can you imagine how good he'd be if the Pistons ran a few plays for him? Yes, he's still raw offensively, but the same could be said for half the starting centers in the East. Also, he wouldn't be on this list if Brook Lopez was whole.
Chris Bosh. Well, he had a monster game in Portland a few weeks ago and a few other decent ones, but nothing to suggest Bosh should be an All-Star starter. He's yet another front-court player benefitting from a so-so field.
Paul Millsap. One reason the Hawks haven't suffered since losing Al Horford for the year is Millsap, a much better player than you think. He's averaging almost 18 and 10 and yet plays entirely within the team concept. He's a player's player.
Carmelo Anthony. Playing in the All-Star Game will be the only time Melo won't feel miserable on a basketball court this season. Dragging around the Knicks in unforgiving New York will do that to a guy, even one of the most lethal one-on-one players around.
DeMar DeRozan. You want to make a case for his Raptors teammate Kyle Lowry instead? Go ahead, it wouldn't be too hard. Both are worthy, but in a coin flip, DeRozan is the choice.
Kyrie Irving. On second thought, why make it between two Raptors for one spot? Lowry in some ways is having just as good a season as Irving and getting far less hype. While his defense remains stagnant, Irving is a tough assignment offensively.
Lance Stephenson. OK, a confession: This is where the Lowry omission was the toughest. Stephenson is suddenly the trendy pick in basketball circles to make the All-Star Game, even though you could argue he's the fourth-most important player on the Pacers. Ask me next week about this spot and maybe I'll switch to Lowry.
Kevin Durant. Just as we all figured, Durant had a hidden gear that wouldn't be shifted until and unless Russell Westbrook was gone for an extended period. While the loss of Russ has hardly been beneficial to the Thunder, it has, in a warped way, given new appreciation for how truly remarkable Durant can be against any player and any team. He's shooting 50 from the floor, 40 beyond the stripe and 88 from the line. Deadly. Every part of his game is heightened right now, and while he was never a weak defender, that side of the floor is slowly rising to very respectable levels. Another two months like this and the MVP is his.
Steph Curry. Last year, Warriors coach Mark Jackson had strong words for the West coaches who left Curry off the roster. This year Curry might be the most deserving player, or at least the one we all want to watch, after Durant.
LaMarcus Aldridge. Last summer, feeling pessimistic about the Blazers' chances to win, he made noise about wanting to be traded. Today, his silence speaks volumes about where he and the Blazers are right now. With 24 points (many on a mid-range jumper that's almost automatic) and 11 rebounds, L.A. makes a strong case for being the game's premier power forward.
Kevin Love. This is where Love often gets a bad rap. Just because the Wolves are stumbling along below the playoff cut-line and loom as a strong candidate for most disappointing team (Western Conference version), is that really his fault? Love isn't a stat-collector; he's rather efficient especially for someone who handles a high load and makes an impact from all over the floor (inside in the paint, beyond the stripe, on the glass). Hard to really nit-pick with 25 points and 13 rebounds nightly.
Chris Paul. Out with a shoulder sprain, Paul might not play in the game and if so, we'll elevate James Harden. That said, he's not exactly in the Kobe category here, getting in on reputation while ignoring his actual court time. He played in enough games to more than justify his place in the starting lineup.
Dwight Howard. Maybe this isn't the time and place to slap Howard on the knuckles, but have you seen any of the low-post moves that were promised once Howard got to working regularly with Hakeem Olajuwon and Kevin McHale? Thought so.
Blake Griffin. He's averaging almost 25 and 10 since Paul went down and debunking the theory that his game was generously juiced by Paul's presence. Well, Griffin was a fairly decent player before Paul joined the Clippers, and lately has played perhaps the best ball of his career.
Damien Lillard. No sophomore slump here, Lillard is the real deal, bringing long-range shooting along with the ability to reach the rim. Still some rough edges on Dame that need work, and he's surprisingly not a high-assists guy (six a game) but the flaws are few.
James Harden. Look, he got paid, he's treated well in Houston, he's getting all the touches he needs and the Rockets are certainly no slouches now that Dwight is aboard. Yet you wonder if you placed Harden's hand on a Bible, asked if he'd rather still be part of Durant's posse in OKC, what would he say?
Tony Parker. Well, it would be criminal not to have a single Spur in the All-Star Game, so yeah, maybe that played a tiny role here. Parker wins a coin flip against Tim Duncan, who'd probably rather take the weekend off, anyway.
DeMarcus Cousins. Having shed some of his immaturity fat, Cousins is finally getting notice for being a highly skilled big man who, on nights he doesn't take off, is dominant. He brings a nice shooting touch, quick hands for steals and is demanding of the ball when the game's up for grabs. That said, how horrible would it be if Cousins suffers a terrible relapse and becomes the first player ever ejected from an All-Star Game? I like the guy -- Boogie is actually pretty chill -- but I'd like to see that.
Anthony Davis. The more you see, the more you like about a center who runs the floor, rarely takes plays off, sticks to his strengths (rebounding, defense) while substantially upgrading the area that needed improving (scoring). In such a short time, Davis has become an efficient 20 and 10 guy who also blocks three shots a game. The All-Star Game is being played on his home court, and while that wasn't a factor in this process, it'll be a nice added touch to the game.