AP National Writer
Kobe Bryant gets to start one more All-Star Game.
No complaints here.
As one of the greatest players in NBA history, he deserved a proper send-off — especially since he’ll have to spend the rest of his farewell season playing for one of the league’s most abhorrent teams.
But when the fans chose Bryant as a starter for the Western Conference, a nod that was really more of a lifetime achievement award that anything he’s done lately for the Los Angeles Used To Be The Lakers, they ensured a more worthy player would be left at home.
The snub will be almost as glaring in the East, where an aging (but, as far as we know, not planning to retire) Dwyane Wade landed a starting spot. Sure, he can still get it done, but this isn’t the Flash we once knew.
Nothing we can do about that now.
So, let’s fill out the remainder of the 12-man squads for the Feb. 14 game in Toronto, knowing the best we can do is make sure the 11 best players from each conference are properly represented:
DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento: A marvelous player who has matured after a rocky start to his NBA career. The leader of a rapidly improving Kings team, he played in his first All-Star Game a year ago as an injury replacement for Bryant. Cousins shouldn’t have to count on a similar misfortune this time.
Anthony Davis, New Orleans: Another dominant young big man who tends to get overlooked playing on a mediocre team in the Big Easy. A top 10 scorer and double-figure rebounder, the All-Star Game is his rare chance to shine on a national stage.
Draymond Green, Golden State: Stephen Curry gets all the glory, but Green is the glue that holds together the defending champions. Hard to believe he was only the 35th overall pick in 2012. A defensive stopper, he has also become a force offensively.
James Harden, Houston: The Rockets have been a big disappointment, leading to the firing of coach Kevin McHale early in the season. Don’t blame the mercurial Harden, the league’s second-leader scorer behind Curry.
Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas: The Mavericks have been a pleasant surprise, in no small part because of the 37-year-old German. Others may have gaudier stats, but Nowitzki is aging better than a fine French wine. “He draws the double teams that allow everyone else to play off,” TNT’s Kenny Smith said Thursday night when the All-Star starters were unveiled. “The other guys flourish because he’s on the floor.”
Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers: Still only 30, it seems like he’s been around forever. Just pencil him in and move on.
Klay Thompson, Golden State: The other half of the Splash Brothers, he would have top billing on any team except the Warriors.
Deserving: As difficult as it is to leave the Clippers’ Blake Griffin off the team, it pains us even more to bypass San Antonio’s Tony Parker.
Jimmy Butler, Chicago: He should’ve been a starter instead of Wade, but a lock for his second straight All-Star appearance. “He’s been the best player on the Bulls,” TNT analyst Charles Barkley said. “Other than LeBron James, he’s been the second-best player in the Eastern Conference all year.”
DeMar DeRozan, Toronto: The home fans should get to see two of their favorites, with DeRozan joining starting guard Kyle Lowrie in a showcase of the most dynamic backcourt this side of Golden State.
Andre Drummond, Detroit: The beast of the boards, he easily leads the NBA in rebounding (15.5) and is a big reason for the Pistons’ rise in the standings.
Pau Gasol, Chicago: At 35, the Spaniard shows no signs of slowing down. Good luck finding a more well-rounded player.
Paul Millsap, Atlanta: Hey, we found someone who can give Gasol a run. The Hawks have slipped from last season’s 60-win form, but Millsap is having another stellar all-around year. He clearly deserves his third straight All-Star appearance.
Isaiah Thomas, Boston: My, how this former second-round pick — all of 5-foot-9 — has blossomed since being dealt to the Celtics, the third team in his young career. “He’s the Celtics’ closer,” Barkley said. “When the game’s on the line, it’s Isaiah’s game to win or lose.”
John Wall, Washington: Still one of the top point guards in the league, even if the Wizards have been a bit of a disappointment.
Deserving: Miami’s Chris Bosh has flourished since escaping LeBron James’ shadow in South Beach. Maybe Wade will elect to use the break to rest his aching body. If so, his teammate should be the one who replaces him.