The conference call is over and the All-Star teams are out! Who won the draft, who needs to be traded … and will the game actually be any better?
Our NBA experts answer the big questions about what happened and what’s next.
1. Who won the draft?
Amin Elhassan, ESPN Insider: We (the audience) did! There’s a great deal more intrigue and interest in this game as a result of this new format, and we’re all anxious to see if Team Curry’s shooting can overcome Team LeBron’s size advantage. This is fun! All-Star Sunday has its mojo back
Jackie MacMullan, ESPN.com: Steph Curry. He managed to draft two Warriors (we’re assuming Durant was off the board) and still snag Giannis Antetokounmpo and James Harden. Score one for team harmony, in addition to impossibly versatile scoring options.
Chiney Ogwumike, ESPN analyst & WNBA All-Star: Hands down, LeBron James won the draft. He secured the most coveted player, Kevin Durant. He secured the guy (DeMarcus Cousins) who just put up a peak Wilt Chamberlain stat line. He secured the latter player’s teammate, Anthony Davis, who just dropped 45 against the best team in the East. And most importantly, he avoids the hot mess of not picking Kevin Love.
Tim MacMahon, ESPN.com: I guess the players’ association since they took all the fun out of it.
Chris Herring, FiveThirtyEight: LeBron. He got the sport’s best player available in KD. He managed to quell the questions about his relationship with Kyrie Irving. He even got Cleveland teammate Kevin Love, who’s been the target of locker room criticism. And his starting five is much better from a shooting standpoint.
2. What’s the most exciting teammate pairing or potential matchup?
Ogwumike: LeBron and Kyrie. The only reason we were all tuned into last year’s All-Star Game was to see whether Russell Westbrook passed the ball to KD. This year, all eyes will be on LeBron James to see whether there will be any petty moments with his former point guard.
Elhassan: I think Team LeBron alone has so many interesting dynamics, between the plethora of teammate pairings he chose (Beal and Wall, Davis and Cousins) and the plethora of tensions (KD vs. Westbrook, LeBron himself vs. Kyrie). But as far as the actual basketball goes, it is interesting to note that Curry has the market cornered on shooting.
MacMahon: Any answer other than the awkward LeBron/Kyrie reunion is wrong. LeBron either decided to troll his former teammate or Kyrie was left last among starters. Either way, it’s juicy.
Herring: LeBron and Durant. Seeing those two as teammates will be extremely fun after watching them battle each other in last year’s Finals. They have a ton of mutual respect for each other, and one could argue that they’re the two best players in the world — now on the same team for a night.
MacMullan: Am I the only one who still remains fascinated by the passive-aggressive two-step of Durant and Westbrook? Will Russell wear his “Adopt a Cat” T-shirt to practice? Will KD roll in donning his cupcake hat with the ring perched on top? Kyrie and LeBron got nothing on these two.
3. Was the draft a good idea?
Herring: Yes, but televise it! Watching LeBron and Steph play coy during the back-and-forth with Ernie Johnson was silly, especially since they both seemed to feel it should have been televised in the first place. People would obviously make jokes about whoever got picked last, but these are arguably the 24 best players in the world. Their egos would be able to handle it.
MacMullan: I liked the idea of mixing it up, but there wasn’t enough blending for my taste. Three Golden State players are together, Washington’s backcourt remains intact, and Team LeBron sports the Pelicans’ twin towers along with 60 percent of the Cavs’ starting lineup in last year’s Finals.
Elhassan: I think this was an excellent idea; again, the level of excitement in anticipation of the game hasn’t been this high in years, if not decades. As far as improvements go, I have a solution that goes beyond the “televise the draft” demand that has been echoed throughout the basketball world. Next year, have the two captains pick their teams live on the floor before the game starts. That’s right, go old school and have everyone line up, have the two captains miked up and call out who they want on their team. As each player is selected, he’s handed the corresponding colored jersey. Roll the ball out and let’s have fun!
Ogwumike: The draft has brought the All-Star Game much-needed life, but it should definitely be televised. While drafting players on TV could possibly be awkward for the two captains and their allegiances, it’s simply the price the captains pay for being the most popular players in the league.
MacMahon: Not sure if anyone has suggested this yet, but this seems like an event that ought to be televised. And maybe put an extra logo on the last pick’s jersey or something to serve as a reminder that nobody really wanted him. (Just kidding.)
4. What’s your best (non-draft) All-Star Game fix?
MacMullan: Have Joel Embiid switch teams at halftime. He can talk smack to one group for 24 minutes, then link arms with them, implore them to trust the process and lather up the other half of the league for the final two quarters.
MacMahon: Give ’em something to play for. The winners get, say, $100,000 to give to their charity of choice. That would add a little extra motivation and do some good — donating money and shining light on causes that All-Stars really care about.
Elhassan: I really admire the outside-the-box approach the NHL has taken with its All-Star Weekend, making the skills challenges on Saturday night count toward the Sunday event. Breaking the players up into smaller groups and competing in a round-robin tournament on Sunday gives more fun and more meaning to the festivities, especially if you can introduce a large cash prize for a winner-take-all format.
Herring: Putting in a points-per-game limit in order to make the exhibition. As someone who enjoys good defense and fundamentals, I’d have to talk myself into this one. But last year, I talked with Paul Millsap, a four-time All-Star, about how awkward it is to be a guy who lacks flash in a fun, carefree game like this. Guys like Luol Deng and Joakim Noah simply don’t blend into these sorts of contests very well.
Ogwumike: Each player on the winning team gets $100,000 to give to a foundation or charity of his choice. I would also have as many recipients as possible of those charities in person at the game.
5. Take over as LeBron or Steph. What’s one trade you would make?
MacMahon: Any way LeBron can trade John Wall for his banana-boat buddy Chris Paul? How about Steph swapping Al Horford for Paul George? Can we please just pick the best 24 players regardless of conference next season?
Ogwumike: If I were Steph Curry, I would make the “teammate trade” of KD for Draymond (Green). He would get more size and scoring at the wing position starting the game to compete with LeBron’s beefy lineup.
Herring: Swap Horford for one of the reserves on LeBron’s team. I feel like he’ll almost be out of place without being able to set hard, aggressive screens for Kyrie. He can shoot from outside, so he should be fine, but he probably is the closest to what I was just talking about with guys who don’t quite fit the spirit of a game where no defense is played.
MacMullan: I would trade Damian Lillard from Team Steph to Team LeBron for Bradley Beal, purely for entertainment purposes. Then we can sit back and witness Wall and Beal trying to outscore one another while simultaneously watching Westbrook and Lillard try to make nice in the same backcourt after Westbrook intimated Paul George, not Lillard, should have been chosen. Awkward …
Elhassan: No trades! Play ball!