The starters for the 2012 NBA All-Star Game in Orlando were announced Thursday night (West here, East here), with the usual group of superstars and even more super superstars. Now, we must decide the reserves for both the East and West squads. While most discussions of reserves concern merit based on season-to-date performance, that approach neglects that the All-Star game is an exhibition intended to be a fun advertisement for the NBA as a whole. The goal shouldn't be just to pick deserving players, but to make the game an entertaining look at what's most worth watching in the NBA. With that in mind, I chose the seven reserves for each team that will make for the most exciting game. Not everything makes sense based on the stats and standings, but that's not the point. Below, find the East selections. For the West, go here.
PG Deron Williams, New Jersey Nets: The Nets are a horrible team, and Williams' stats have suffered this year as he finds himself surrounded with (maybe) one starter-level NBA player. Nevertheless, the quality of an All-Star game is often defined by the degree to which point guards get the other players involved, and Williams is one of the best floor generals in the league. On top of that, he's likely to be a player of major importance this summer as he decides between accompanying the Nets on their move to Brooklyn (with Dwight Howard, maybe) or joining an established contender like his hometown Mavericks in free agency. Williams matters to the long-term health of the league, and an All-Star game without him would represent a serious case of myopia.
PG Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers: New players are exciting, whether for one team or the league as a whole, and it's in the NBA's best interest to promote those guys whenever possible. Irving deserves to get in on the merits, too, with 18.1 ppg and 4.9 apg in only 28.8 minutes as the Cavs battle for a playoff spot. He's only going to get better and play more, and the league should take advantage of his budding stardom as soon as possible. Hype only seems stupid when a player's success peters out -- Irving's not going to get to that point for some time.
PG Jrue Holiday, Philadelphia 76ers: The Sixers are one of the league's surprise teams, currently holding a 16-6 record that has them tied with Miami for the second-best record in the conference. They're going to be a notable story in the playoffs, even if they're only the victims of a first-round upset, and fans need to get acquainted with their players. Holiday has been one of the major factors in their success, improving every game as a floor leader and, for the sake of aesthetics, versatile enough to play alongside one of the East's other talented point guards during the ASG itself. His stellar defense won't come across in an exhibition context, but he's athletic enough to do a few things that everyone will remember.
SG/SF Andre Iguodala, Philadelphia 76ers: Holiday is Philly's up-and-comer, but Iguodala is the best representative of what they do well: He's capable of playing multiple positions and contributes in every aspect of the game. Plus, for the sake of watchability, he's the sort of leaper that could catch and finish any number of alley-oops from the East's many quality point guards. Oh, and who doesn't like a story about a veteran finally finding himself after many years of sitting on the cusp of stardom?
PF Josh Smith, Atlanta Hawks: Smith has never made an All-Star team, although he was the most egregious snub two years ago in Dallas. There are few players as exciting in the league (at least when he chooses not to shoot jumpers), so it stands to reason he'd produce at least one obscene dunk and an out-of-nowhere dunk that ramps up the defensive pressure on both sides for at least a few minutes. And while the Hawks have settled into a weird middle ground in which they're a playoff mainstay with no chance of making a legitimate run, they're relevant enough that an ASG without any of their players would seem like a poor overview of the NBA landscape.
PF Chris Bosh, Miami: Yes, Bosh is easy to mock and looks like some kind of human-dinosaur hybrid from an underground remake of "The Flintstones." He's also really good, a consistent producer, and potentially the difference between the Heat falling short once again and finishing as champions in June. Bosh matters to the league, even if commentators try to marginalize him at every opportunity, and an East squad with three members of the NBA's most talked about team would reflect just show large a shadow they cast over the rest of the league. And don't you want to see him awkwardly react to everything that happens during Saturday's festivities?
PF Amar'e Stoudemire, New York Knicks: Stoudemire in no way deserves to make this team based on his production this year; the Knicks are a massive disappointment in part because he hasn't figured out how to coexist with Carmelo Anthony, a player he desperately wanted in blue and orange. Yet, by all other metrics, Amar'e is a star, the sort of player who defines discussion about the Eastern Conference more than most of the players who came before him on this list. He also needs a kick in the butt right now, or at least a reminder that we expect much more from him. Consider this selection a display of good faith, a sign that we still believe he's the star he's supposed to be. It can also serve as a warning that a failure to live up to this billing will leave him off next year's team. If Amar'e fears one thing, it's not being taken seriously anymore.
Toughest snub: The Indiana Pacers, like the Sixers, figure to play a major part in this spring's playoffs. So why are they not included on this list? The easy answer is that they have no clear choice, at least by entertainment value: Danny Granger hasn't had a particularly great year, and Roy Hibbert fits the bill as a much-needed big man but plays with a style that can charitably be described as deliberate. So, unfortunately, we must leave them unrepresented. That's not all bad, though, because the franchise's reputation as a deep, hardworking squad plays into the idea that they don't have one true star. In the end, this might not be the worst outcome.