Bernucca: Can the Eastern Conference Even Field an All-Star team?

AS14_NewOrleans_LogosheetAmid its myriad injuries, its dozen teams below .500 and its 44-98 record against the Western Conference, 159299855_Rondo_ASPortsthere is a looming question regarding the Eastern Conference:

Can the East even field an All-Star team?

A year ago, Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo, Luol Deng, Joakim Noah, Tyson Chandler, Kyrie Irving, Brook Lopez and Jrue Holiday were among the East’s All-Stars. You can make the argument – irrefutable in some cases, strong in others – that none of those players should be invited back this season.

And a handful of the usual suspects with All-Star resumes – Derrick Rose, Deron Williams, Paul Pierce, Joe Johnson, Al Horford – won’t fill the void because they have been injured or awful.

Not even Rudy Gay – who at $17.9 million is the league’s highest-paid player who never has been an All-Star - can grab one of the spots now that he has been traded to the West.

So who will be filling the dozen spots? Lotsa Pacers, lotsa Heat and lotsa guys making their All-Star debuts.

Let’s start with the no-brainer returnees. Miami’s trio of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh should all be there. Ditto Indiana’s Paul George and New York’s Carmelo Anthony, who has actually been better than he was last season, even though his team hasn’t.

You can add Irving, who will get voted in by the idiots fans even though other point guards are far more deserving. Deathly afraid of losing him, the Cavaliers have turned him into a diva with training wheels who doesn’t defend or make his teammates better.

And now it gets really hard.

So let’s try to make it easier.

Right off the bat, toss everyone on the Celtics (no standouts), Sixers (no defense) and Bucks (no hope).

Al HorfordNow discard everyone on the Nets. The play of perennial All-Stars Garnett, Pierce, Williams and Johnson has ranged from sub-par to embarrassing. Lopez probably would have made it with his numbers at a very shallow position, but he is out for the season.

Forget about Rose and Rondo; you have to be physically able to play to be an All-Star. Forget Chandler, who has missed more games than he has played. Forget Horford, who was a lock until his season unfortunately ended with a torn pectoral muscle. And forget Holiday, who was traded to the West.

That leaves six spots. Keeping in mind that there are still three weeks of campaigning, here’s who should make it and who shouldn’t.

ARRON AFFLALO, G: He’s sixth in the East in scoring and having the best year of his career. He’s also on an awful team that isn’t elevated one bit by his 22 points per game. NO

BRADLEY BEAL, G: Certainly someday down the road. But the Wizards deserve one All-Star at the most, and he’s not the guy that makes them go (or stop). Missing nine games doesn’t help, and Washington was 5-4 without him. NO

LUOL DENG, F: He is clearly the most deserving member of the Bulls as their best two-way player. The question is whether the Bulls (11-17), who won 45 games with the same core a season ago, deserve an All-Star. Has missed eight games, including the last four. NO

DeMAR DEROZAN, G: The Raptors got nothing for the present for Andrea Bargnani, next to nothing for Rudy Gay and nothing special from Jonas Valanciunas but still lead the Atlantic Division (such as it is). A big reason is DeRozan, who has shown there is life after Chris Bosh. YES

ANDRE DRUMMOND, F-C: He leads the East in rebounding and double-doubles and is among the leaders in steals, blocks and dunks. But he’s also Detroit’s fifth-leading scorer, and the Pistons need to stop sliding. Soon. Andre Drummond
Just not now. NO

ROY HIBBERT, C: The conventional numbers are almost underwhelming, but his blocks, league-leading rating and win shares prove his value as the game’s most impactful defensive player, which should be rewarded. YES

PAUL MILLSAP, F: Easily the best player to move West to East in the offseason and could benefit from the change of scenery and his teammate’s misfortune. Having one of his better seasons. The Hawks deserve one All-Star. YES

JOAKIM NOAH, C: There are better candidates on his team and better candidates at his position. And his team isn’t good and his position isn’t deep. NO

JOSH SMITH, F: The little girl with the curl. He is Detroit’s best all-around player but doesn’t lead the team in any category, is fifth in PER and already has been benched twice this season. NO

LANCE STEPHENSON, G: You would have laughed at this in October, but Stephenson has shown he is no joke. Did you know he leads the Pacers in assists? He also is the runaway leader in rebounding among guards and leads the NBA in triple-doubles. I’ll help Frank Vogel with the campaign. YES

JEFF TEAGUE, G: His numbers are comparable to any point guard under consideration but probably gets squeezed by the idiots fans who will vote in Irving and the fact that he has a worthy teammate in Millsap. NO

Kemba WalkerKEMBA WALKER, G: The Bobcats are in the playoff picture, and the biggest reason is Walker, who gives them hope with his chutzpah. Not the playmaker that other East point guards are, but Charlotte needs him to score. Loves the big moment. YES

JOHN WALL, G: We’ve been waiting for this for three years. It’s not the scoring or the playmaking or the shooting, all of which have improved. It’s the assumption of responsibility and the leadership, which top picks and max guys are supposed to do. YES

DAVID WEST, F: With his reputation and resume, he might nose out teammate Stephenson among the East coaches. But among East bigs, teammate Hibbert and Millsap – and maybe Drummond – are more deserving. NO

TRIVIA: Which NBA team has the most top-five draft picks on its roster? Answer below.

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