The rosters were only recently finalized for the 2014 NBA All-Star Game, but it pays to always look ahead in this business.
With some three months of data to pour over, the hoops world had more than enough data to whittle down each conference to its 12 best.
There were some crushing snubs and a few head-scratching surprises, but that's the nature of this beast. With no clear-cut criteria to follow for the roster formation, it's impossible to please everyone.
Of course, that leads us to perhaps the greatest thing in the realm of professional sports—the debates. Rather than grading which selections the fans and coaches got right and which ones they missed, though, why not put a forward-thinking spin on that debate?
Now that we know what this All-Star class looks like—at least until any injury replacements are needed—let's see how they'll compare with next season's crop.
What could bump someone out of a roster spot? Maybe their team is overachieving and due for regression, their production is declining or they simply didn't deserve the one they got.
And what might upgrade someone to an All-Star level? Things like a clean bill of health, another year of seasoning or suiting up for a franchise on the rise.
With five first-time All-Stars on the docket, there's a different feel to this round of the world's greatest pickup game. Next season could see a similar amount of turnover, but these changes will bring some familiarity along with them.
Dirk Nowitzki's All-Star nod was far from a career achievement award.
His numbers speak for themselves: 21.6 points, 6.2 rebounds, .483/.393/.908 shooting slash.
They don't speak with quite the same volume anymore, though. From 2005-10, he was making All-Star trips with 25.3 points and 8.7 rebounds. The first set of figures are impressive, the latter are no-brainers.
It's called the effect of Father Time, and it happens to everyone. Even 7-footers with a seemingly unguardable fadeaway.
If the Dallas Mavericks still sat among the Western Conference elites, Nowitzki wouldn't have any problems sticking around. But this is an old squad barely sticking inside the playoff picture—not exactly an All-Star resume enhancer.
None of this should matter to the 12-time All-Star. He'll be 36 by the next midseason classic. A weekend's worth of rest, as opposed to competing against the game's greatest athletes at a break-neck pace, might be a bigger prize for this aging face of the franchise.
This is what happens out West. One transcendent talent eases into his twilight years, while another grabs the baton and carries it for the next decade-plus.
NBA coaches seem to think Anthony Davis' superstar ascension hasn't fully started yet. That's fine. They have their reasons.
"He’s young, the 19-26 Pelicans aren’t good and there are tons of worthy candidates at his position," SI.com's Ben Golliver wrote.
New Orleans' record definitely didn't help his case, but you wonder if that current weakness might be a strength in the future. Between a dramatic offseason overhaul and a nasty attack by the injury bug (Davis, Jrue Holiday and Ryan Anderson have all suffered significant injuries), the Pelicans were fighting an uphill battle to stay competitive.
However, I think his age was the biggest factor keeping him out of the action. Coaches know once he cracks the All-Star rotation, he'll be in there for a long time.
Talent—and top-shelf production—can only be denied for so long. Davis won't give them a choice next season.
Apparently, the coaches thought the most expensive roster in NBA history needed to be somehow represented in the All-Star Game.
Even then, it wasn't an easy call to make. According to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, Brooklyn Nets guard Joe Johnson was the last man in so to speak, edging out Toronto Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry by the slimmest voting margin.
The fact Lowry, an eighth-year veteran already playing for his third different team, was the East's biggest snub says plenty about the state of the conference. That won't always be the case.
Even in a watered-down East, Johnson's credentials are questionable at best: 15.7 points, 3.4 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 14.9 player efficiency rating. For someone who's earned six previous All-Star selections on the strength of his scoring, his box score is noticeably absent of any "wow" factor.
He got by with it this time around. Barely.
It won't be nearly as easy next season.
Remember him? Youngest MVP in league history ring any bells?
Of course it does. Even after his comeback from a serious knee injury was derailed by another serious knee injury after only 10 games, Derrick Rose still finished with the fourth-most fan votes among Eastern Conference backcourt players.
Needless to say, missing significant time for health reasons two years in a row is a serious cause for concern.
However, he's not the type of talent that you bet against. He needed just seven games after an 18-month layoff to hit the 20-point mark. He reached 20 points again in his 10th game before exiting with the torn meniscus that put him back on the shelf.
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said his superstar point guard is "doing great" with his rehab, via K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune. Fans will need to see it to believe it, but the only thing to do for now is take Thibs at his word.
Assuming Rose makes it back to the floor in one piece, he'll reclaim the All-Star spot he's already held three times. If 10 games draws up that kind of fan interest, imagine what 40 would do for his campaign.
What can I say, folks? The West is deep.
And that this might be as backcourt-heavy as the West gets. "I'm struggling to see how four reserve guards make sense given how stacked the crop of West big men is this season," ESPN.com's Tom Haberstroh, who also called Lillard his biggest surprise selection in the West, wrote.
Lillard is 23 years old and already has Rookie of the Year honors and an All-Star Game selection under his belt. He also lets it fly at Stephen Curry frequency from deep (7.2 attempts per game) with a better three-point success rate (41.3 percent) than Golden State's splash artist (39.9).
Lillard's also driving the league's highest-powered offense (109.5 points per 100 possessions) and leading the No. 3 team in the conference standings.
Clearly, good things are in his future.
That said, this has been a dream-like season for the Blazers and Lillard was still far from an All-Star lock. He's more sieve than stopper defensively, and even his offense has shown signs of vulnerability (16.7 points on .389/.286 shooting over his last 11 games).
If Portland stumbles in the standings—this team won 33 games last season—his roster spot is as good as gone.
Injuries won't keep these hobbled point gods away from us forever.
After three knee surgeries in 2013, hopefully Russell Westbrook is becoming more comfortable with the rehab process. Remember, this is the same player who shrank a four-to-six week time table down to a mere two games at the start of the season.
He's never been one for time frames.
"Yeah, I don't pay no attention to none of those projections, man,” Westbrook said, via Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman. “I just wake up and try to get better each and every day. That's it.”
So, while frustrating, it seems encouraging as we move closer to the All-Star break without seeing him on the floor. He's a dynamic player, but he needs to be healthy to make that kind of impact.
Assuming there are no setbacks in his future, the three-time All-Star will soar back to his prominent perch among the West's best. It's hard to say how healthy he's been this season, and he still posted 21.3 points, 7.0 assists and a career-best 6.0 rebounds.
The Oklahoma City Thunder aren't better without him, but their current nine-game winning streak shows how much this roster has grown without him. This roster is talented, young and continuing to grow.
The No. 1 seed, which OKC could own for years, deserves more than one All-Star representative. It will get more when fans remember just how dominant a healthy Westbrook really is.
At some point, the San Antonio Spurs won't be the San Antonio Spurs anymore. At least, not the way that we remember them.
Coach Gregg Popovich understands this as well as anyone, so he's done what he can to delay the inevitable. Considering this team is less than 12 months removed from an NBA Finals appearance, it's hard to argue with his methods.
We can study them, though, and see the type of effects they've had on the individuals. The way they've dropped Tim Duncan below the 30-minute and now out of the All-Star Game for just the third time in his 17-year career.
The 31-year-old Tony Parker doesn't require quite as much monitoring, but he is averaging fewer minutes than he's seen in any of the last three seasons (31.4). He's still turning his floor time into 18.1 points and 6.2 assists, and his Spurs (33-13) are still winning.
In the crowded Western Conference backcourt, though, Parker has no margin for error. Whether the standings or the stat sheet ultimately brings his demise, something will be giving the six-time All-Star selection a rare February breather.
Something tells me his coach will be OK with that.
DeMarcus Cousins is one of those stop-and-stare players.
People with this kind of size (6'11", 270 pounds) aren't supposed to move the way he does. He plays with power and finesse, bulldozing defenders on the low block or blowing past them in the open court.
He's one of three players (along with All-Stars Kevin Love and LaMarcus Aldridge) averaging better than 22 points and 11 rebounds, and pacing that trio with a 48.8 field-goal percentage. Sacramento's woeful record (15-30) meant Boogie would need his stat sheet to reach the ridiculous level, and the Big Man got it there: 22.6 points (10th), 11.6 rebounds (tied for fifth), 1.78 steals (ninth) and 1.20 blocks (22nd).
"I thought if you look at his numbers and if you look at those numbers alone, he's worthy of an All-Star roster spot,'' Kings coach Michael Malone said, via Dwain Price of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "But the coaches vote, they decide to leave him off. I think a large part of that is our (15-30) record, to be very honest."
If it's a problem now, why won't it be one next season?
Because the Kings are a lot more talented than their record suggests. An offseason ownership change, front-office overhaul, new coach and two major midseason trades have made it hard to keep up with who's even in Sacramento anymore.
This team needs time to come together. A full offseason should do the trick.
As Love's Minnesota Timberwolves (23-22) proved, Cousins doesn't need the Kings to be great. And as Blake Griffin's 11 technical fouls (the same amount as Cousins) have shown, fans and coaches can overlook attitude problems.
Boogie should be on the dance card this season. He'll hear his name called this time next year.