NBA fans have spoken, and they've made one thing clear: they think it's time for some new blood at All-Star Weekend.
The NBA announced the starting lineups for the 2014 All-Star Game in New Orleans on Thursday night, with Miami Heat star LeBron James and Oklahoma City Thunder scoring champion Kevin Durant leading their respective conferences atop the fan balloting. The two MVP candidates will be joined by four first-time All-Star starters — Paul George of the Indiana Pacers and Kyrie Irving of the Cleveland Cavaliers in the East, Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors and Kevin Love of the Minnesota Timberwolves in the West — setting up the annual midseason exhibition as a showcase for a new crop of up-and-coming stars ages 25 or younger.
After finishing second to Kobe Bryant last year, James received the most fan support this time around with more than 1.4 million votes, about 20,000 ahead of the West-leading Durant. First-timers George (just over 1.2 million) and Curry (nearly 1.05 million) also topped the million-vote plateau.
James and George are joined in the Eastern frontcourt by New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony, who received 935,702 votes. (Remember, as was the case last year, All-Star squads will start three "frontcourt" players, not two "forwards" and one "center.") Heat guard Dwyane Wade, who received 929,542 votes, will join Cleveland's Irving, who logged 860,221 votes.
Despite being limited by injury to only six games, and despite his request that fans vote for other players while he rehabilitates from his second major leg injury of the past year, the Los Angeles Lakers' Bryant has once again been voted an All-Star, receiving 988,884 votes. He's joined in the West's starting lineup by Los Angeles Clippers star Blake Griffin, who received 688,466 votes, and — in something of a surprise — Minnesota Timberwolves power forward Kevin Love, who finished with 661,246 votes. Both Griffin and Love surpassed Dwight Howard over the past two weeks; in the third round of voting returns, released Jan. 9, the Houston Rockets center led Griffin by nearly 9,000 votes and Love by more than 26,000 ballots. (Minnesotans, it seems, voted early and often.)
This will mark the first time since 2000 that an All-Star Game has featured four first-time starters. That year, the newbies were Allen Iverson of the Philadelphia 76ers, Vince Carter of the Toronto Raptors, Tim Duncan of the San Antonio Spurs and Eddie Jones of the Charlotte Hornets.
In addition to breaking new ground as individuals, the four first-timers will end All-Star starter-less periods for their respective teams, too. Irving will be the first Cavalier to start an All-Star Game since James flew south in 2010. Love is the Wolves' first starter since Kevin Garnett in 2007; George will break a Pacers streak that's one year longer, (Jermaine O'Neal, 2006). Curry breaks the longest drought — he'll be the first Warrior to start an All-Star Game since Latrell Sprewell in 1995.
While Bryant surely appreciates the honor of being voted to his 16th All-Star Game — a mark that gives him the second-most All-Star berths of all time, behind only fellow Laker legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's 19 — he reiterated his preference for not playing and for giving younger players the opportunity to shine, according to Yahoo Sports NBA columnist Marc J. Spears. It might not be his call, though, as detailed by Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News:
“With all due respect to the fans that voted me in, I appreciate that and they know how much I appreciate that, but you have to do the right thing,” Bryant said. “My fans know you have to reward these young guys for the work they’ve been doing.”
But Bryant also sounded aware the NBA may force him to suit up anyway.
“The rule is you have to go in there and play or you miss the next two games,” Bryant said. “It means somebody will have to lose a spot, unfortunately. The backups will be playing a lot. I’ll do my two minutes and sit down.”
Bryant said he will see a doctor during the first week of February to determine how far along he is in his rehabilitation from the left knee fracture he suffered in mid-December. If he doesn't get cleared and is ruled unable to play in the All-Star Game, the NBA will name a replacement player to the Western Conference roster, and the West’s coach will choose another player to enter the starting lineup. The same thing happened in the Eastern Conference last year, when the Boston Celtics' Rajon Rondo was rendered unable to play due to a torn anterior cruciate ligament, leading NBA Commissioner David Stern to name Brooklyn Nets center Brook Lopez as his replacement on the roster, and Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra to name Chris Bosh as his replacement in the starting lineup.
The switch to a frontcourt/backcourt system went into effect last season, but the 2013 All-Star Game still featured a center in the starting lineup for each conference — Howard, then of the Lakers, in the West, and Garnett, then of the Celtics, in the East. This time around, though, neither team will feature a traditional big man for the opening tip, which ought to be kind of cool. (Quick, everyone, bet on who's going to jump!)
The East's starting five held fast from the first round of ballot returns back in December, while two early Western front-runners — Howard and Clippers point guard Chris Paul — were overcome in the end. Paul's shoulder injury just after the start of the new year likely impacted his final vote total, although the 2013 All-Star MVP did say on Wednesday that if he's physical able to do so, he plans to play in this year's exhibition.
Howard, on the other hand, has been pretty great in January, averaging just under 20 points, 11 rebounds, three combined blocks and steals, and two assists per game since the start of 2014 for the Rockets, who have won eight of 10 and sit fifth in the West with a 29-15 record. It seems, however, that Love's monster numbers (25 points, 13 rebounds, 4.1 assists per game on 45.9 percent shooting from the field and 38.6 percent from 3) held greater sway with fans of late ... which apparently surprised nobody more than Love, according to a Thursday item from Jerry Zgoda of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune:
The Wolves just finished an afternoon practice in Oakland and Kevin Love without outright saying it said he didn't make the Western Conference's starting five in worldwide fan balloting that will be announced tonight on TNT.
He has dinner plans scheduled in San Francisco tonight and said he doesn't plan on watching the announcement show, even though it starts at 4 pm here in California and 6 pm back home in Minnesota.
He said he'll consider it a moral victory if he comes within 10,000 votes of Clippers forward Blake Griffin, whom he trailed by 17,000 in the last fan balloting results that were released last week.
"I guess the question is how close was I," he said.
Apparently not, Kevin. Congratulations.
The 63rd NBA All-Star Game will air live on TNT from New Orleans Arena on Sunday, Feb. 16, 2014. Here's how the final returns shook out:
1. LeBron James, Miami Heat: 1,416,419 (10th All-Star appearance)
2. Paul George, Indiana Pacers: 1,211,318 (second appearance)
3. Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks: 935,702 (seventh appearance)
4. Roy Hibbert, Indiana Pacers: 524,809
5. Chris Bosh, Miami Heat: 406,867
6. Kevin Garnett, Brooklyn Nets: 209,398
7. Joakim Noah, Chicago Bulls: 181,145
8. Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons: 163,798
9. Tyson Chandler, New York Knicks: 137,512
10. Luol Deng, Cleveland Cavaliers: 121,754
11. Jeff Green, Boston Celtics: 121,040
12. Carlos Boozer, Chicago Bulls: 103,502
13. David West, Indiana Pacers: 95,363
14. Paul Pierce, Brooklyn Nets: 95,034
15. Josh Smith, Detroit Pistons: 75,433
1. Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat: 929,542 (10th appearance)
2. Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers: 860,221 (second appearance)
3. John Wall, Washington Wizards: 393,129
4. Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls: 359,546
5. Ray Allen, Miami Heat: 250,909
6. Rajon Rondo, Boston Celtics: 174,654
7. Lance Stephenson, Indiana Pacers: 148,382
8. DeMar DeRozan, Toronto Raptors: 131,228
9. George Hill, Indiana Pacers: 129,533
10. Deron Williams, Brooklyn Nets: 126,423
1. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder: 1,396,294 (fifth All-Star appearance)
2. Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers: 688,466 (fourth appearance)
3. Kevin Love, Minnesota Timberwolves: 661,246 (third appearance)
4. Dwight Howard, Houston Rockets: 653,318
5. LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland Trail Blazers: 609,172
6. Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs: 492,657
7. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans: 286,247
8. Andre Iguodala, Golden State Warriors: 266,611
9. DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings: 255,005
10. Pau Gasol, Los Angeles Lakers: 247,323
11. David Lee, David Lee: 232,210
12. Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks: 201,873
13. Chandler Parsons, Houston Rockets: 174,512
14. Omer Asik, Houston Rockets: 130,344
15. Andrew Bogut, Golden State Warriors: 127,947
1. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors: 1,047,281 (first appearance)
2. Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers: 988,884 (16th appearance)
3. Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers: 804,309
4. Jeremy Lin, Houston Rockets: 628,818
5. James Harden, Houston Rockets: 470,381
6. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder: 317,338
7. Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers: 280,966
8. Tony Parker, San Antonio Spurs: 258,751
9. Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors: 162,984
10. Ricky Rubio, Minnesota Timberwolves: 124,230
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