By Art Garcia, NBA.com
We know the 10 players who will be on the floor as the 60th All-Star Game tips off in Los Angeles on Feb. 20 (8 p.m. ET, TNT). Now it's time to consider who the seven reserves should be for each conference. That's exactly what the Eastern and Western Conference coaches will be doing over the next couple of days, with their votes determining the 14 remaining All-Stars to be announced next Thursday, Feb. 3 during Inside the NBA on TNT.
LaMarcus Aldridge picked up the most recent Western Conference Player of the Week award just a few days ago. The Portland Trail Blazers, their communications staff and coach Nate McMillan didn't waste any time employing the well-deserved recognition in Aldridge's All-Star campaign.
The team release announcing the fifth-year power forward as the POW included the following quote from McMillan:
"This award shows that LaMarcus has become not just a leader for our team, but one of the best players in the league. He is definitely playing at an All-Star level."
Subtle? Maybe not, but not over the top, either. The Blazers also mailed out an "All-Star Passport" holder with Aldridge's stats and other reasons to consider his credentials, along with an attached zip drive imploring fans to "Vote LA."
Aldridge's chance to score an all-expense paid trip to Los Angeles for the Feb. 20 All-Star Game at Staples Center now resides with the West coaches, who will name the reserves for the game. The reserves will be announced Feb. 3 on TNT.
"The thing that I'll tell you, and I'll be very frank, is that the coaches' vote is always tipped heavily toward winning," Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said this week. "I'm no different than the rest of the voters. I think that's a major factor in who gets the votes."
Carlisle's criteria sets up quite the conundrum when it comes to Minnesota forward Kevin Love and the Clippers super rookie Blake Griffin. The two teams went into Thursday with a combined 27-63 record, though the Clips have been on an uptake in recent weeks.
Griffin is the runaway Rookie of the Year favorite, though that means little in terms of All-Star qualifications. Tim Duncan was the last rookie to be invited to the February showcase and that was 13 years ago. Griffin, despite averaging about 23 points and 13 rebounds, faces stiff competition.
"He deserves to be on the All-Star team, I think," Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said. "He's shouldered a ton of the load for us. Statistically, he's off the charts and he's only gonna get better."
Compare the numbers between Griffin and Love against Duncan, and it's no contest on paper. Duncan is having the worst statistical season of his career -- fewer than 14 points and 10 rebounds per game -- but San Antonio far and away owns the best record in the league.
Is Duncan an All-Star?
"Duncan's on a team that's winning every game," Carlisle said. "That's a big deal and it should be. As we get closer to it and I look at it, it's going to be some difficult votes for sure."
So, in the spirit of helping out, we offer these suggestions to fill out the Western Conference roster:
Deron Williams, Utah (27-19)
21.9 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 9.4 apg
The Jazz may be slumping lately, but their playmaker is at the top of his game. Think where Utah would be without D-Will, the team's leading scorer and fourth in the league in assists. In the eyes of many, he's the NBA's top point guard and rightfully so. Williams orchestrates the attack and often is the attack. He belongs in the MVP discussion and the All-Star Game.
Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City (29-16)
22.4 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 8.4 apg
Seeing him soar over foes six inches taller to grab an offensive rebound, only to slip a pass to a teammate for a dunk, is evidence of both unparalleled athletic ability and court awareness. Critics once questioned whether he was a true point guard. Now they wonder how many are better. He's half of the best scoring tandem in the league with Kevin Durant. Westbrook should join KD in LA.
Three Hardest Snubs
Monta Ellis (Golden State), Eric Gordon (Clippers), Steve Nash (Phoenix)
Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas (29-15)
23.3 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 2.4 apg
Nowitzki made a case for league MVP before he was injured and the Mavericks were 24-5. The case grew while he was out, with Dallas losing seven of nine. The offense funnels through Nowitzki, whose presence opens up the floor for teammates. Coaches love his game, his unselfishness and the way Nowitzki goes about his work. He has nine career All-Star Games under his belt. It'll soon be 10.
Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers (17-28)
22.6 ppg, 12.8 rpg, 3.5 apg
The Beast, BlakeShow or Blake Superior. Any way you slice it, this rook is a bad man and is going to be Rookie of the Year. The question before the West coaches is will this first-year pro snap the drought of rookies not playing in the All-Star Game. Double- and triple-teamed every night, Griffin still puts up numbers. The Clippers have also been winning lately. And, oh yeah, have you seen him dunk?
Three Hardest Snubs
Kevin Love (Minnesota), Lamar Odom (Lakers), Zach Randolph (Memphis)
Pau Gasol, LA Lakers (33-13)
18.6 ppg, 10.5 rpg, 3.9 apg
His toughness may be questioned at times, but his will to win and bring another title to Los Angeles shouldn't. The Spaniard's footwork is among the best in the league, giving the champs a true post presence with great hands for the triangle offense. Gasol is the team's leading rebounder and second only to Kobe Bryant in scoring. The Lakers can't threepeat without Gasol at his best.
Tim Duncan, San Antonio (39-7)
13.6 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 3.2 apg
Never mind that he's listed as a forward on the All-Star ballot -- as is Gasol -- Duncan is a center and has been for years. His numbers are way down, but his impact on the game and responsibility within the Spurs' system remains considerable. The two-time MVP is counted on to rebound and be the backbone of the defense, but Duncan can still go off for 25 any night.
Three Hardest Snubs
Nene (Denver), Al Jefferson (Utah), Emeka Okafor (New Orleans)
* NBA commissioner David Stern will choose an injury replacement for starter Yao Ming, thus two picks at center.
Manu Ginobili, San Antonio (39-7)
18.7 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 4.9 apg
The Spurs own the best record in the league by a South Texas mile. They deserve at least two guys in Hollywood, and that's not counting Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who will direct the West team. Manu is healthy, starting and wreaking havoc all over the floor. If Duncan is the Spurs anchor, Ginobili is the catalyst. There's also a solid case for Tony Parker to be head West next month, but Manu edges him by a nose. No offense.
LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland (25-21)
21.1 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 2.1 apg
Keeping the hard-luck Blazers in playoff contention in the absence of Brandon Roy and, it seems, half of his teammates at one point or another. Though not a physical power forward, this Texas-ex knows how to use his skill/finesse in a Nowitzki/Gasol kind of way. He's taken on more responsibility and become more productive with Roy out.
Apparently the Blazers' campaign worked, at least in this space.
Three Hardest Snubs
Rudy Gay (Memphis), David West (New Orleans), Luis Scola (Houston)
The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.