The 2014 NBA All-Star Game is already old news, which means it is now officially time to look ahead at which superstars are most likely to visit Madison Square Garden for the 2015 exhibition.
Don't worry; most of the old favorites will be there. Injuries are always a concern, and health plays a role in a couple of predictions. But guys like LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Anthony Davis won't miss out on next February's tilt unless the events of Space Jam play out for real.
Barring an extraterrestrial talent-sucking basketball, they'll be there.
But who will join them?
Will declines keep guys like Kobe Bryant and Dirk Nowitzki from adding another All-Star pin to their warm-up jackets? Will first-timers like Damian Lillard stick around? Will any rookies from the loaded 2014 draft class sneak onto the roster?
Even more intriguingly, will Carmelo Anthony show up at MSG as a member of the New York Knicks?
Questions abound, and we've got a year to think about them.
But who's got time to wait that long?
Lineups featuring two point guards are becoming increasingly common throughout the NBA, and the starting backcourt for the East next year—the one we're predicting anyway—will reflect that trend.
Though he'll be just 22 years old when the 2015 All-Star Game rolls around, Kyrie Irving will already be a seasoned veteran of the NBA's annual exhibition. The Cleveland Cavaliers point guard made his first All-Star appearance in 2013, when he was just 20 years old.
He snatched a starting nod in 2014 by capturing the second-most votes among East guards and, well, you can see where this trajectory is headed, can't you?
Irving is primed to contend for a starting spot for years to come. It's possible he'll tire of the front-office ineptitude that has scuttled his career in Cleveland and eventually think about skipping town. But he's not going anywhere in the near future.
There'll be a spot for him as an East starter for a while.
Joining Irving will be John Wall, another point guard enjoying a steady climb up the NBA hierarchy.
Wall is the elder statesman of this duo (he's already 23), but he's still young enough to enjoy some serious growth before 2015. Just this year, he's added an improved jumper and a better understanding of pace. Toss in his win in this year's dunk contest, and it's easy to see him becoming a mainstay in the starting lineup.
LeBron James and Paul George are both locks to return to the starting lineup next year. They're elite two-way superstars, beloved by fans and very much at the top of their games. In fact, George might have yet another growth spurt in his development.
That's a scary thought.
At any rate, there's no way James or George miss out on a repeat entry as East starters in the frontcourt. Carmelo Anthony's shot at returning to the starting lineup is a much more interesting thing to consider.
Lately, competing narratives have arisen that divide fans into two distinct camps when it comes to 'Melo. Depending on which camp you belong to, he's either a selfish, overrated gunner who bears most of the responsibility for the New York Knicks' unenviable plight or a victim of terrible ownership and a woeful supporting cast who's doing everything he can to keep a sinking ship afloat.
If the first narrative wins out, it's possible Anthony's long-held public favor could diminish. That might result in a demotion to the bench instead of another slot in the starting lineup. If the second triumphs, we might see the 'Melo-as-hero narrative take over—in which case he'd likely retain a starting spot.
Of course, there's also a third possibility where Anthony finds a Western Conference team to pay him max money after exercising his early-termination option this summer. From the sound of it, 'Melo would like to stay right where he is.
Per Frank Isola of the New York Daily News, Anthony said: "I told people all the time, always say, if it takes me taking a pay cut, I'll be the first one on Mr. Dolan's steps saying, 'Take my money and let's build something strong over here.'"
Even with that assurance, it's best to include the possibility that 'Melo isn't on this roster at all in 2015.
A lot has to happen for Michael Carter-Williams to make the All-Star team next year. The lanky point guard must sort out his broken jumper, drastically improve his defense and, most of all, pray the Philadelphia 76ers manage to win a few more games.
That third task might be asking a bit much, but I'm betting MCW develops his game enough to make his first All-Star Game. Plus, we've got no reason to expect the Sixers to slow their pace or cut Carter-Williams' minutes.
That means he'll continue to get a nice statistical bump, which certainly won't hurt his chances.
As the 76ers struggle through the final two months of an utterly lost season, don't get too caught up in MCW's personal hiccups or his team's 40-point defeats. Carter-Williams is going to take a big step forward next year—big enough to crack the All-Star Game.
Were it not for injury, Rajon Rondo would have made it five straight All-Star nods this year. But his torn ACL robbed him of most of this season and, consequently, a spot on the 2014 roster.
He'll rectify that next year.
Centers fell out of favor in this year's starting lineups. That probably had something to do with the elimination of the position from the voting process. When pitted against more recognizable and conventionally entertaining guys like James, George and Anthony, it's easy to see why old-school bigs aren't capturing fans' attention like they used to.
Just because centers aren't a part of the starting lineups anymore doesn't mean they should have to give up their roster spots entirely.
Hibbert and Noah visited New Orleans this year, so their inclusion shouldn't come as a surprise. Drummond, though, is the newcomer.
Per Basketball-Reference.com, the Detroit Pistons center leads the league in rebound percentage and boasts a player efficiency rating of 22.4.
Not bad for a 20-year-old big man just barely scratching the surface of his talent. Expect him to make his first All-Star appearance next season.
Maybe we should start the campaign to play all three centers at the same time right now. Who's with me?
I realize how crazy it sounds to include Derrick Rose as a wild-card selection, especially when it means excluding guys who made the team this year like DeMar DeRozan, Paul Millsap and Chris Bosh. Every one of those players could easily make a return engagement in 2015.
Plus, Rose is now facing the difficult task of coming back after nearly two full years away from the game. He didn't look like much in his abbreviated return earlier this year, and it's hard to come up with a reason to believe he'll be any less hesitant and athletically diminished in 2015.
So, in the interest of full disclosure, Rose is in this spot because I—and people who love basketball everywhere—desperately hope he belongs here.
Consider this prediction a plea to the hoops gods, a desperate prayer for at least one more terrific season from D-Rose.
Having dispensed with the drama, Al Jefferson is the other wild-card selection. He could have made the team in 2014, and the Charlotte Bobcats appear to be building toward respectability. He'll be a controversial but deserving pick next year.
There's a way for Chris Paul to miss out on a starting spot next year, but it involves an alien invasion, nuclear war and the ensuing cancellation of the 2014-15 season.
Otherwise, he's probably going to make it.
There's not a better point guard in the league right now, and we're approaching the point at which Paul might deserve consideration as the best ever. He's in his prime, his team is going to win a ton of games going forward and his dominance as a facilitator is unmatched.
Russell Westbrook will join CP3, taking the starting spot back from Stephen Curry. That's no knock on the Golden State Warriors' clean-cut assassin; it's an acknowledgment that Westbrook is a more impactful, more dangerous player.
Plus, he'll be motivated to prove he hasn't lost a step after three knee surgeries. I think we can all agree there's nothing scarier than Westbrook with a chip on his shoulder.
Anthony Davis is the big mover here, folks. He'll go from being an injury replacement in 2014 to a starter next year.
Most likely, he'll hang on to a spot with the first unit for another decade or so.
If that sounds at all hyperbolic, go ahead and try to find an NBA pundit who's willing to put any sort of limit on Davis' ceiling. You can't do it.
At just 20 years old, he's already one of the most menacing defenders in the league. And his offensive skills are nowhere near fully developed. Soon, his incredible hands, smooth jumper and advanced sense of space will help him develop into a player who comes closer to averaging 30 points per game than 20.
Per B/R's Adam Fromal:
Remember that he grew up playing point guard and is still figuring out how to maximize the gifts of his lanky frame. Remember that he's only 20 years old. Remember that he's only just starting to tap into his immense potential.
Go ahead and argue with the case for Davis as a budding superstar. I dare you.
And if you need any explanation for why Kevin Durant and Blake Griffin belong in the starting lineup, you might want to make sure you didn't black out for the past few years. Their credentials speak for themselves.
Picking the guards in the West is on the Mount Rushmore of difficult NBA decisions.
Sorry, are we done with Mount Rushmores now? Have we moved on to Holy Trinities? Dynamic Duos?
It's so hard to keep up these days.
Anyhow, Stephen Curry and James Harden could both probably start in the East, but they're stuck coming off the bench in their current conference. At the same time, they've got a half-dozen worthy competitors breathing down their necks for a roster spot.
Both Curry and Harden could stand to shore up their defensive games, but as far as All-Star competition is concerned, they're perfect. They're offensive dynamos capable of taking over contests with unstoppable onslaughts, which makes them favorites among voting fans and coaches.
Kevin Love and LaMarcus Aldridge will return to the All-Star Game in 2015. Both are playing exceptionally well this year, and both are showing no signs of slippage.
Barring injury (a caveat we could include for every player mentioned so far), they'll be back.
The most interesting frontcourt reserve is DeMarcus Cousins, a man many believe should have been on the roster in 2014. After all, he ranked ninth in points per game, fifth in rebounds per game and sixth in PER heading into this year's All-Star Game, per Basketball-Reference.com.
The case against Cousins is pretty simple: He doesn't conduct himself with the maturity most coaches want in an All-Star candidate. That's an awfully tough image to shake, especially because the Sacramento Kings will likely continue their losing ways for at least another couple of years.
He'll have a hard time keeping that trademark scowl off his face for the foreseeable future.
But the numbers are terrific, and Cousins has gotten better about controlling his temper this season.
If he can stop whining and blaming officials every three seconds, his productivity will be too hard to ignore. Are we ready for a world in which Cousins is an All-Star?
Looks like we'll find out.
Dwight Howard's look-at-me demeanor and crippling desire to be liked shouldn't count against him here. For all those personal shortcomings, it's just not right to exclude him from next year's roster predictions.
He's enjoying a bounce-back season in Houston, complete with better numbers and far fewer foot-in-mouth episodes. Besides, we filled up the East reserves with three centers and a power forward. The West needs somebody to match up—if we're pretending defense is actually a thing in All-Star games.
Eric Bledsoe is the final selection here, and he was the toughest man to include. It's not that Bledsoe is undeserving. It's not even that his surgically repaired knee makes projecting his performance a dangerous exercise.
It's that he makes it over so many deserving candidates. There's just no right way to complete this roster without snubbing a whole bunch of worthy players.
So, with apologies to the many, many snubs Bledsoe's inclusion creates, it's time to give some forward-looking love to the Phoenix Suns' future max-salary stud. Before his injury, Bledsoe was rolling. A tenacious defender and an aggressive rim-attacker in the mold of Westbrook, E-Bled was on his way to a breakout campaign.
Only James, Curry, Paul and Westbrook matched his stat line of 18 points, 5.8 assists and 4.3 rebounds from his abbreviated effort this year.
He'll pick up where he left off next season.
We've heard so much about the incoming 2014 draft class that you might think it odd none of its members are included on the predicted 2015 All-Star rosters. Consider this, though: In the last 20 years, only Grant Hill, Tim Duncan, Yao Ming and Blake Griffin have been named to the All-Star Game as rookies.
Maybe Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker will make a leap between now and next February. Or perhaps they'll reveal themselves to be much better suited for the NBA game. But it's extremely rare for any first-year player to crack an All-Star roster, and I'm not prepared to say any incoming rookies are on par with the aforementioned quartet.
The "Old" Dudes
You'll note Kobe Bryant, Dirk Nowitzki, Tony Parker, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh all failed to make the cut. Bosh and Parker were the toughest omissions, as they're still very much in their primes. And Nowitzki is in the middle of a renaissance season. You could make a strong case that all three of them belong.
But Kobe, Dirk and Wade are all on the downslope of their careers. Some combination of natural decline and inevitable injury should work to keep that trio from participating next year.
There are too many to name, especially in the West.
Damian Lillard, Goran Dragic and Ty Lawson were all difficult snubs. I offer my sincerest apologies to each of them. There was just too much competition for too few spots.
Hopefully, they'll get over it.