One of the most intriguing stories in sports so far in 2011 is the NHL’s break with tradition in the assembling of its All-Star teams. Rather than leave the rosters up to popular vote and coach selection, the league opted instead to have the two teams selected by a pair of captains. This idea has been near-universally praised, as it should be: in addition to mixing up the rosters and not limiting it to conferences, it opens up a whole new level of potential “he snubbed me on the All-Star team, I’m killing him in our playoff series” drama. Needless to say, the NBA adopting a similar system for picking its All-Star teams would be a win-win. Andrew Lynch, the lead blogger for FanSided’s excellent Phoenix Suns site Sun ‘n’ Gun, felt the same way, and he and I spent a good 45 minutes last Friday throwing out hypothetical All-Star draft scenarios over Twitter. We decided to sit down and hammer out a mock draft, with LeBron James (played by me) and Kobe Bryant (played by Andrew) as the two team captains. Enjoy:
The top two vote-getters were Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard. Dwight, however, ceded his team-captain spot to LeBron James, saying in a statement only he could get away with making: “Everyone knows LeBron’s the King of Decision-making. Besides, I’ve got a feeling I know who he’s going to pick first.”
LeBron won the coin flip and was awarded the first overall pick. Although the speculation was that he would, in fact, take Howard first, he ended up playing it safe and taking superstar teammate Dwyane Wade. They’ve already gone through the “can they share the ball?” media cycle once this season, and he doesn’t want to start that up again.
In his own sign of solidarity, Kobe took the most productive Spaniard he’s ever played with, Pau Gasol. In a game where he’d be without the security of the triangle, Kobe wanted a player with whom he was familiar and who would crash the boards and play defense.Why didn’t Kobe take Dwight and throw off LeBron’s plans? Kobe, when asked, merely insinuated that he’d beaten Howard once before and would have no problem doing so again.
LeBron figured Kobe would, like him, take his own right-hand man first, and so took Dwight Howard second, as expected. Given the hit in popularity LeBron took this summer post-Decision, he figured he could do worse than to take the superstar who is his polar opposite in public approval and likability. That, and it’s Dwight Howard. Taking him high in a draft like this is usually a good call anyway.
Up to this point, the name of the draft game had been loyalty, but Kobe wouldn’t miss an opportunity to take advantage of a betrayed teammate and to drive a wedge in between the Heat’s Big 3. In continuing with his infatuation with tall, long players that could get him plenty of rebounds, Kobe selected Chris Bosh, hoping that the slight by Team LeBron would fuel Bosh like ladies-of-the-night make a Charlie Sheen binge run on all cylinders.
In a (supposedly) completely unintentional follow-up to Kobe’s Bosh pick, LeBron inadvertently gives PTI two weeks of material by taking Kevin Durant, implicitly agreeing with KD’s “fake tough guy” assessment of his teammate. When asked about this, LeBron insisted that he didn’t know what “fake tough guy” meant until someone told him.
Anything LeBron can do, Kobe can do better – especially when it comes to drawing media (and triple-team) attention. They said it could never happen. But in a scenario where Kobe has to win one game in order to save us from the aliens, Bob Ryan style – that is what this game is for, right? – he selects Kevin Garnett. In taking cheap shots at the Suns, Kobe sees in KG the reflection of a true warrior, like himself, and a man who can show Durant and Howard that there’s nothing to smile about on a basketball court. Kobe taking a Celtic? Forget whether or not he’s clutch – we’ll be talking about this one until Kornheiser makes another “skirt” comment.
LeBron would be ridiculous as the point guard on this team, but we’re all well aware that he doesn’t want to play the position. So it comes as no surprise that he selects close friend and fellow CAA client Chris Paul next.
As it so often goes in picking teams, Kobe responds in kind by selecting a point guard. Given what he’s doing in Chicago and the current play of Deron Williams and the Jazz, Kobe takes Derrick Rose to set up his harder-than-necessary shot selection.
LeBron’s next pick is a can’t-miss from a storyline standpoint as well as a from a basketball one. He knows all too well that Kobe’s squad will be the crowd favorite given that this year’s game is being held in his house, so he takes the city’s other hot commodity, Blake Griffin. LeBron and/or CP3 throwing lobs to Griffin. Think about that for a minute. You’re already in love with this All-Star-draft concept.
Kobe Bryant cares not for your foolish, misguided notions of entertainment. Kobe bathes in the blood of the vanquished, sustains on the hearts of orphans and seeps wins from every one of his pores. Count. The. Rings. Kobe simply wants to win this game, carry LeBron’s head home on a pike, and carry his precious conch onto the NBA Finals. And what better way to prepare for a war than to recruit a German? Kobe takes Dirk Nowitzki for his defense and spacing of the floor – and besides, someone on this team is going to need to be an effective clutch shooter.
In selecting Russell Westbrook next, LeBron both fills the need for a backup point guard on his squad (all but guaranteeing he won’t have to play it himself), and reunites Kevin Durant with his most trusted teammate. This opens up all kinds of possibilities for trotting out the Oklahoma City tandem in the second unit, which is just absurd.
And now, Kobe is angry. He’s going to need a backup point guard of his own, and he knows who he should pick. But can Kobe really take another Celtic in Rajon Rondo – particularly one who may or may not have beef with his first point guard, Derrick Rose? For now, the answer is a resounding “no,” but Kobe makes things interesting by taking another Laker, Lamar Odom. How will 3 Lakers and 1 Celtic get along? From a basketball standpoint, I’d say “wonderfully.”
LeBron is faced with a dilemma: he, like Kobe, is well aware that the correct pick there would have been Rondo, and is tempted to take him himself. But he also knows all too well that pairing him with any Celtic will drudge up ghosts of the “did LeBron quit in the semifinals?” storyline. Besides, he’s already got two elite point guards. He opts instead for Amar’e Stoudemire, who is having a monster year in New York.
It’s simple math from here, folks. A 1 negates a 1, and 3 > 2. Now that he has three Lakers on his team, Kobe feels leagues more comfortable selecting another Celtic, especially one that plays defense as well as Rondo. In the breaking of the seventh seal and the heralding of the Apocalypse, Kobe takes his second Celtic in Rajon Rondo. Expect hellfire and brimstone, with a touch of smog, at Staples Center.
Kobe may have undercut the Heatles’ ability to play together in this game, but LeBron wants to give buddy Carmelo Anthony a taste of what it would be like to play with Amare Stoudemire. Or at least, that’s how the media will inevitably portray it. Asked about this, LeBron declined to comment, saying that just as Melo must do what’s best for his family, he wanted to do what was best for his team.
Let’s not kid ourselves – Kobe would play all 48 minutes in this game if he could. And a younger Kobe might be able to keep up the intensity required by this bout for four full quarters, but he no longer has that energy. In order to give himself approximately 4 minutes of rest, Kobe selects Manu Ginobili, as his team takes on a very foreign flair.
Likewise, LeBron realizes he needs to give Wade a real backup. While he considered playing it safe and taking Ray Allen, he ultimately decided to go with a semi-sleeper, Houston’s Kevin Martin, quietly having a terrific season.
With 2 point guards and 2 shooting guards, Kobe continues with his philosophy of big, long players that can score effectively, play excellent defense, and get rebounds. Kobe takes the most under-appreciated player in the league, Al Horford.
LeBron decides to counter Kobe’s selection of another big man by going small, taking another high-volume scorer, Monta Ellis, to bring off the bench.
Keep your friends close and your enemies closer – particularly when you’re trying to win the most prestigious basketball exhibition game in history. Few are more familiar with the prowess of the Celtics and the Spurs than Kobe, and he shows his respect for the silver and black by selecting Tim Duncan to anchor the lineup when the team absolutely needs a stop.
With his last pick, LeBron selects LaMarcus Aldridge, mostly because I want to break character for a minute and make a last-ditch plea for why he deserves the nod on the West squad. Kevin Love may have the gaudy rebounding averages, but Aldridge is almost singlehandedly keeping Portland in the playoff hunt with Brandon Roy out.
Kobe is fairly content with his roster of bigs with a few guards scattered in, but he understands that a combo guard could go a long way toward making or breaking his success in this game. With the final selection of the 2011 All Star Game draft, Kobe picks a man who handle the rock, dish assists, and shoot a high percentage from anywhere on the court: Steve Nash. (What? You didn’t expect me to be completely unbiased, did you?)