Three shots at guessing the (kind of) secret NBA All Star draft order

For several years until this one, interest in the All Star game has waned, with teams playing little defense, and hardly trying on the other end of the court and fans - understandably - growing increasingly bored with the lackluster offensive fiesta.

The NBA took radical measures to address this waning interest, completely revamping how teams would be constructed. While "East" and "West" All Star designations are still assigned to those elected, the game itself will change to see a snake draft-style selection from both conferences to take place to create the "East" and "West" teams, leaving both tied to actual conferences in name only, aside from captains.

Perhaps the most interesting wrinkle is the top vote-getter in each conference selecting the teams - and for some mysterious reason (OK, not so mysterious - nobody playing wanted it known who got picked last), the NBA decided to not televise the draft of the teams. So much potential drama and excitement, wasted.

Or was it?

Now half of the NBA media sphere is, along with half of NBA fandom, trying to divine the order the two top vote-getters chose (LeBron James and Stephen Curry) and despite the selection itself having come and gone, we're still spilling ink and straining eyes reading the tea leaves for hidden narratives and signs of enmity. 

Does Kyrie Irving's presence on Team LeBron mean they are cool again? Are there any clues to stars who might want out of their current situation? Most importantly, the one thing they wanted us to be clueless about has become the one thing we most want to know - who got picked last?
What we know

The NBA is far from a hermetically-sealed barrier to top-secret information getting out to the general public. In fact, it might just be the most gossip-y, soap opera-esque of the major US sports. That's part of the attraction, really, as the chisme-fueled backstories are themselves a major part of the reason the draft of the All Star teams was kept secret - in turn, generating more chisme.

Some details have managed to get out  - we (probably) know LeBron took Kevin Durant first, perhaps to keep the Golden State Warriors from putting together too much of their starting unit on one of the teams.We also (reportedly) know Steph took Giannis Antetokounmpo next, and that while James had first crack at the starters (all of whom had to be drafted before reserves), Steph got first crack at the reserves - meaning he got two picks in a row after finishing up the starters. Now, all we need to do is figure out...everything else.

We decided to put our heads together and try to figure it out for ourselves here at CelticsLife, with a little bit of explanation as to why they picked certain key players (especially regarding those on the Boston Celtics), so without further ado, let's dive in:

Mark Allison

Starters: 1) LBJ: Durant; 2) SC: Giannis; 3) LBJ: Davis; 4) SC: Harden; 5) LBJ: Cousins; 6) SC: DeRozan; 7) LBJ: Irving; 8) SC: Embiid. Reserves: 9) SC: Thompson; 10) LBJ: Westbrook; 11) SC: Green; 12) LBJ: Love; 13) SC: Towns; 14) LBJ: Porzingis; 15) SC: Butler; 16) LBJ: Aldridge; 17) SC: Horford; 18) LBJ: Beal; 19) SC: Lilliard; 20) LBJ: Oladipo; 21) SC: Lowry; 22) LBJ: Wall.

First thing first, it is absolutely criminal that this All Star draft wasn’t televised. I’m shocked that the NBA and TNT or ESPN didn’t understand the ratings bonanza it would have been and push harder to put it on TV. They kept it off TV because they didn’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings. Sad! Both Lebron and Steph said afterwards that it was a real shame that the fans didn’t get to see it, so hopefully that’ll change going forward.

As for the draft itself, Curry said in a Warriors’ post game interview last night that people were “sleeping on his team”. I’m not certain that Steph was even awake during the draft. I’m hopeful that the guys play a tad more serious given the new format, but let’s be real, it doesn’t matter. Team LeBron is going to win by 30, with a score of 157-127.

We know Durant was the first pick. Clearly Steph answered with Giannis and James Harden, and then Bron Bron took the Bash Brothers from New Orleans. Curry answered with DeMar Derozan and Joel Embiid, as he needed some size against that monstrous front on Team LBJ, and with LeBron as the best player on the board, that solidifies his starting five with Irving. A lot of people were saying Curry could have waited out and took Irving late because LeBron would never draft him, but those people forget that LeBron is desperate for everyone to like him - and this is his olive branch of sorts.

As for the reserves, Curry made another dim move not taking Russell Westbrook with his first selection. Guaranteed he took his two buddies in Klay Thompson and Draymond Green in some order. LeBron again gets the best player available. It’s almost like he’s done this before:
John Wall was picked last. His teammates don’t like him, players around the league don’t like him, heck, even his own fans don’t like him.

One thing in defense of not televising the draft -  we would have never got to witness this video, which has vaulted into place as an all-timer for me:
Odie Waukewan

Starters: 1) LBJ: Durant; 2) SC: Harden; 3) LBJ: Cousins; 4) SC: Giannis; 5) LBJ: Davis; 6) SC: Embiid; 7) LBJ: Irving; 8) SC: DeRozan. Reserves: 9) SC: Green; 10) LBJ: Westbrook; 11) SC: Thompson; 12) LBJ: Aldridge; 13) SC: Lilliard; 14) LBJ: Wall; 15) SC: Butler; 16) LBJ: Beal; 17) SC: Towns; 18) LBJ: Love; 19) SC: Horford; 20) LBJ: Porzingis; 21) SC: Lowry; 22) LBJ: Oladipo.

I'm also hearing Giannis went before Harden, but that must be mistaken. How could Harden slip to the fourth pick? I don't buy it. The starting five were fairly easy to predict, and my guess is that most people will have chosen a similar order to what I have.  The toughest decision of the round was LeBron’s third overall pick, where he had to decide between Cousins and Giannis. It must have been difficult to pass on the Greek Freak, but Team LBJ already had the captain and Durant on the squad. They’d take the starting shooting guard and small forward spots. Giannis just didn’t fit in the lineup. Plus, LeBron is a fan of Boogie's, and was one of many who congratulated the big-man after his 42/23/10 performance against the Chicago Bulls. Hot hand, plus already having the top two small forwards in the league makes Boogie the right pick.
It makes sense that Kyrie would wind up on LeBron’s team, because Steph already had a starting point guard: himself

DeRozan was the ugliest boy at the dance from the get-go, and therefore, got comfortable on the bleachers while everyone else found a date to dance with. He eventually got asked to hit the dance floor, but it was because a nice young lady felt bad for him. 

Picking the reserves gets a bit more tricky, but I’m confident that Steph chose his remaining two teammates with the 9th and 11th overall picks. Why? Because only a true homer would pass up on Westbrook with that pick. He was clearly the best player left on the draft board, and if the West wasn’t so stacked at the guard position, he would have been an All-Star starter. Plus, the Warriors have almost romantic relationships with one another. You know Curry had his eyes on Klay and Draymond since the rosters were announced.

Straight ogling

It’s for that reason that I think LeBron chose Kevin Love fairly early. He didn’t need any more bigs, having already selected Boogie, AD, and LaMarcus Aldridge, but he couldn’t let Steph show him up. LeBron is all about his image, and he wasn’t going to leave this draft looking like the bad guy who let his own teammate slip to be the last overall, or be picked by the enemy. I don’t think LeBron wanted KLove on his squad. He made the decision solely so that the media wouldn’t chastise him. 

People were speculating that Al Horford was Steph’s last pick, but I don’t think so. I think that LeBron went center-heavy to start the draft, and Steph caught up with him in the mid-late rounds. He got Karl-Anthony Towns and Big Money Al to give his team some height, and once LeBron went large to start, you had to figure that those other bigs would stick around for a while on the draft board because LeBron needed to add some ball handlers. 

Kristaps Porzingis went late in my predictions. It’s just the way that the draft played out. A lot of tall guys were chosen early, so he slipped to the bottom. Simple as that

LeBron’s team is built, and I think they will take the game on February 18th. It’s going to weird for me to root for LeBron and KD, and against Al Horford, but my lord is Team LBJ well-rounded. I mean, their sixth man is Mr. Triple-Double himself, Russ. Final prediction: Team Lebron 169, Team Steph 160 - GM LeBron finally comes out on top. 

Justin Quinn

Starters: 1) LBJ: Durant; 2) SC: Giannis; 3) LBJ: Davis; 4) SC: Harden; 5) LBJ: Cousins; 6) SC: Embiid; 7) LBJ: Irving; 8) SC: DeRozan. Reserves: 9) SC: Thompson; 10) LBJ: Westbrook; 11) SC: Green; 12) LBJ: Wall; 13) SC: Horford; 14) LBJ: Porzingis; 15) SC: Butler; 16) LBJ: Aldridge; 17) SC: Towns; 18) LBJ: Beal; 19) SC: Lilliard; 20) LBJ: Oladipo; 21) SC: Lowry; 22) LBJ: Love.

I have to agree that not televising the All Star draft was a disappointing error. I think if your ego is so fragile that being picked as the last guy on a team representing the very best basketball players on earth (whether it's an accurate representation is a conversation for another time) through a subjective process probably as indicative of the captain's personal idiosyncrasies as of actual talent, being so humbled may actually be a good thing. But, the die's been cast, so I'll explain how I think the process (not The Process) went down.

I'll go ahead and buy into the reporting of selections one, two, and four (why don't we know about selection three? Conspiracy theorists, get to work!), but I am skeptical James and Irving are actually buddy-buddy as some narratives seem to guess at. In my mind, Curry might just as easily avoided Irving in a meaningless game in the hopes that it might further aggravate the leader of the Cleveland Cavaliers when he's at his regular-season weakest in more than a decade.

Petty? Sure. But what has the league been of late if not petty?

I also agree that LeBron probably took Durant to keep Steph from making the West a test-run for new ring-chasers - and maybe even to get in the ear of his new "teammate" in much the same way. Perhaps I'm projecting, but if trash-talking wins games, why not work at folks in a longer-term approach based on similar principles? Hey, cut me some slack - we don't have much to work with here.

I also think Steph took Horford as soon as he was done locking up the rest of his teammates from the Warriors - he's already been dealt a loss by the Celtics this season, and probably knows one of the biggest reasons for Boston's success has been Al's quiet contributions on defense and distribution.

I decided to go with Love as the last man in, as he was taken by LeBron, and based on what we're hearing out of the land of burning rivers, he's not exactly welcome in the King's court of late. While it's not the most compelling reading, I also think Team LeBron is going to feast, though perhaps not quite as much as Mark believes - I'll guess a much lower overall total, anticipating some actual effort on defense for a change, with the East taking it at 121-101.

Summary: The consensus seems to be they ought to find a way to get this on-air next year, and that LeBron has a future in front offices, at least based on our winning predictions. We don't seem to agree about Kyrie, with Mark taking the strategic angle, Odie the logical, and myself the dramatic one, but whatever was going on there, I'll be surprised if we don't hear more about the overall order - especially the Irving bit - long before tip-off if recent weeks are any indication of gossip staying out of the press in the NBA.

The game itself will be played on February 18th in Los Angeles at Staples Center, televised by TNT; no word on whether the not-so-secret tunnel will be blocked - for the sake of entertainment, let's hope not.

For more stories by Mark, click here. For more by Odie, click here. And for Justin, click here.

Image: NBA
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