Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid, Oklahoma City’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Portland’s Damian Lillard had to have known they were going to the All-Star Game. Players averaging more than 30 points per game typically don’t have to worry about not hearing their name called.
Other players — like Miami’s Bam Adebayo, Indiana’s Tyrese Haliburton and Utah’s Lauri Markkanen — had reason for concern.
NBA coaches made them very happy. And probably made a few other guys very unhappy.
The reserves for the Feb. 19 All-Star Game in Salt Lake City were announced Thursday night. From the Eastern Conference, it was Embiid, Adebayo, Haliburton, Boston’s Jaylen Brown, Chicago’s DeMar DeRozan, Milwaukee’s Jrue Holiday and New York’s Julius Randle.
Even for a now six-time All-Star like DeRozan, it still matters.
“It’s everything,” DeRozan said. “I just hope anybody out there, whatever field you work in, never listens to the outside noise, to people doubting you, counting you out, everything. As long as you’re true to yourself, believe in yourself, you keep putting in the work with a genuine heart and genuine passion, you’ll be rewarded.”
From the Western Conference, the picks were Gilgeous-Alexander, Lillard, Memphis teammates Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr., Markkanen, Sacramento’s Domantas Sabonis and the Los Angeles Clippers’ Paul George.
“Every single year, starter or not, I’m competitive,” Embiid said. “Obviously you want to be the best. I felt like I put myself in position to be up there and the best.”
He was an easy pick. Other candidates probably were tougher for coaches to pass on - that list including Phoenix’s Devin Booker, the Los Angeles Lakers’ Anthony Davis, Atlanta’s Trae Young, all of them averaging around 27 points per game this season. Philadelphia’s James Harden, averaging 11 assists per game, also was left out; unless he’s picked as an injury replacement, his streak of 10 consecutive All-Star appearances is over.
Same goes for Denver’s Aaron Gordon. The West-leading Nuggets were hoping, and weren’t happy when the results were announced.
“Aaron Gordon deserves to be an All-Star,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “When you have the best record in the Western Conference, and you’ve had it for a while now, and you’ve been able to sustain that high level, and you look at the year that Aaron Gordon is having, to me it’s just a travesty that the coaches didn’t vote him in.”
The reserves are selected by the 30 NBA head coaches, who each cast ballots for seven players from their own conference.
“It means a lot,” Morant said on the TNT broadcast of the announcements. “Obviously, it shows my work that I’ve put in day in and day out. … Hopefully, Jaren gets picked on the same team as me.”
The 14 players who were announced Thursday join this pool of starters: team captains LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers and Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks, Brooklyn teammates Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, Cleveland’s Donovan Mitchell, Boston’s Jayson Tatum, Golden State’s Stephen Curry, Dallas’ Luka Doncic, Denver’s Nikola Jokic and New Orleans’ Zion Williamson.
Durant and Williamson are currently out with injuries. If either of them, or any other All-Star selection, cannot play for whatever reason then the task of replacing them falls on Commissioner Adam Silver.
James and Antetokounmpo will draft their teams live, shortly before the All-Star Game in a new twist this season; past All-Star drafts in the now-6-year-old captain’s format had been done ahead of time. Boston interim coach Joe Mazzulla will coach Antetokounmpo’s team; the Nuggets’ Malone is an All-Star coach now for the second time and will coach the team that James selects.
James - closing in on Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the NBA career scoring record - is 5-0 as a captain, having served as one in every season of this format. He got two of those wins over teams that Antetokounmpo selected. Abdul-Jabbar is expected at All-Star weekend, and Silver said in Paris last month that the weekend could provide the league with the opportunity to properly salute James taking over as the scoring leader, assuming it happens by then as expected.
The Rising Stars event is Feb. 17, the first night of the three-night All-Star weekend. All-Star Saturday - featuring the 3-point contest, dunk contest and skills competition - takes center stage the next night, followed by the 72nd All-Star Game on Sunday.
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