Storyline: All-Star Selections

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Beasley, the former No. 2 pick who’s had a journeyman career, says the rebuilding Knicks, if Carmelo Anthony stays, will make the playoffs as a “five, six seed’’ because of their scoring potency. Beasley also made an outrageous boast that he still has faith, at age 28, he’ll become an All-Star and “one of the best in the NBA’’ with more playing time. Introduced to the media during a Tuesday press conference in Tarrytown, Beasley said he’s hoping Anthony, who grew up in Baltimore, a stone’s throw from Beasley’s D.C.-area hometown, doesn’t get traded.

Even a loss in this year’s playoffs won’t deter a player who’s fueled by those who don’t believe in him. He’s still sore about not making the All-Star team this year, something Jensen says they talk about. “I wish you’d made it, but I’m glad you didn’t,” the coach told Gobert after the All-Star snub, knowing the frustration would make him a better player. Jensen mentored Gobert through his first few seasons, tapping into his natural physical gifts to mold him into an elite NBA defender who is slowly learning how to play on the other end of the court.

Did you gain any motivation from your NBA All-Star snub? Damian Lillard: I’d be lying if I said I didn’t gain any motivation from it. It was one of those situations where last season it didn’t happen and I knew I should’ve made it. Last year, I was averaging like 25 points, seven assists and five rebounds and we were at maybe the seventh spot [in the West] at the [All-Star] break and I didn’t get in. I smacked my lips at it and thought, That’s crazy. But after it went through and I didn’t make it, that made it a lot easier this year.

A day after the NBA selected New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony as an injury replacement for the upcoming All-Star Game, several people have questioned the decision — including the player who was arguably the biggest snub, Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal. “I’ll never say a player doesn’t deserve to be on the all-star team. For one, Carmelo is a great player. Hell, he’s been one of the best offensive threats in the league for years now, and I’m taking absolutely nothing away from him. But the process of it does not make sense. If they reward winning, then I don’t understand how the decision was made,” Beal said Thursday morning. “It was kind of weird to me.”

When it was announced that Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love would miss the All-Star Game because of an injury, Beal and others were considered for the open spot. His agent, Mark Bartelstein, stayed in contact with the league office and pushed for Beal. Even more so, Beal’s play as well as the 33-21 Wizards’ rise in the East standings seemed to make him a front runner to fill the position. However, late Wednesday night NBA Commissioner Adam Silver picked Anthony, replacing a front-court player with another forward.

“I don’t get it,” said Bartelstein, who represents numerous NBA players, including Beal. “The reality of it is, if the coaches took a vote today for the guy who should be in the All-Star Game, there’s no doubt in my mind it’ll be Brad. I just think it’s wrong. I certainly talked to the league office. We make a strong statement all the time of how winning is rewarded and I don’t understand. There’s no team winning at a higher level than the Wizards are right now. So Brad’s in the center of all that. Nobody can question he’s playing not just at an all-star level, but at an elite all-star level.”

The NBA says it uses internal screening and third-party vendors to screen out fraudulent votes. The league added a tweak this year that sources say was born of Pachulia’s suspiciously high finish a year ago: Fans hold only 50 percent of the vote to determine All-Star starters. The vote of current players counts for 25 percent, and a media panel has the final 25 percent of the say. Those mediating factors knocked Pachulia out of the All-Star Game. But they didn’t answer the most basic question: Is the NBA All-Star fan vote a sham?

TO THE CASUAL observer, the Pachulia vote was the most alarming. But to John Kelly, the startling outlier was the Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard. Kelly is the CEO and founder of the New York-based social media intelligence firm Graphika, which monitors, categorizes and maps social media traffic for public and private clients. Graphika sifted through more than 5 million tweets on behalf of ESPN and found all sorts of interesting things about NBA All-Star voting, including 10 hyperactive bot accounts voting for Leonard about 1,000 times per day, a figure that Kelly called “outrageously high.”

And of all the ways you could vote, Twitter, in particular, seemed to be hot for Leonard. For players such as Pachulia, Kevin Durant and Draymond Green, a typical account that voted for them on Twitter did so about three times. For Leonard, the number was, per Graphika, 6.46, the highest in the league. More starkly, about 39 percent of the tweets attempting to cast for Leonard came from accounts created since Dec 1, 2016. And those votes were coming from new accounts with names like @kawhibot.

The announcement that the Knicks’ Carmelo Anthony would replace the injured Kevin Love on the Eastern Conference All-Star team came during the Heat’s 117-109 victory over the Rockets Wednesday and following the game Whiteside took the news in stride. “Congratulations to Melo,” he said. Whiteside, who led the Heat with 23 points, 14 rebounds and five blocks, then lamented the fact that not one center is on the East team. “I would have loved for a center to represent the East but that’s not the way the fans want to see it,” said the 7-footer. “I have really no control over that, I’m trying to make the playoffs.”

Carmelo Anthony would prefer to rest up over the All-Star break but would consider going as a sub for Kevin Love, who will miss six weeks with knee surgery. Anthony, however, said he would be thrilled if teammate Kristaps Porzingis were chosen. Porzingis finished sixth in the East frontcourt voting and the five ahead of him either are going or are injured. Commissioner Adam Silver decides. “I would love for him to get it,” Anthony said. “If he has an opportunity to get it and they call for him, I would love for him to take that spot and kind of represent New York down there in New Orleans.”

And as one of four players who have made an All-NBA team in each of the past three seasons – along with LeBron James, Stephen Curry and Chris Paul – Aldridge would’ve liked for his reputation as a five-time All-Star, along with the Spurs’ stellar record, to have led to him joining Leonard in New Orleans for the All-Star Game. “I’m older, so I’m not going to come home and be mad or anything,” Aldridge, 31, told The Vertical. “But I do think that it was wrong for Golden State to have four [All-Stars] and we’re a few games behind and only have one. It is what it is. I’m in this position and I’m going to enjoy my break and just come back fresh.”

So you didn’t think you would be selected as an All-Star? DeAndre Jordan: After practice on Thursday, I had my trip to Hawaii ready to go. I was superexcited about it. I was waiting for this one last little thing [All-Star announcement]. I was leaving at 6 in the morning [of Feb. 16] and was ready to rock. Someone texted me and said, ‘Hey, you got to cancel that trip to Hawaii.’ I was like, ‘No, this is done. This is set. What’s up?’ I was thinking that they would have known at practice if I made it or not. They didn’t say nothing at practice, so I was like, ‘Cool, I didn’t make it. I’m about to set my trip up.’

Who was the first person you contacted? DeAndre Jordan: I called my mom and said, ‘I’m not going to Hawaii.’ And she was like, ‘Why not? What’s going on?’ So I said, ‘I made the All-Star team.’ She said, ‘Oh, my God. For real? Don’t play with me, boy.’ I said, ‘For real.’ She said, ‘DeAndre, stop playing.’ I said, ‘This is what I was told,’ She said, ‘What they say? They better not be bulls—ing, you.’ I said, ‘Mom, I’m telling you what they told me.’ So she was superexcited. I called my brothers and told them. They were superexcited. I told my son and he is only 13 months old. And he looked at me like, ‘All right. Whatever. I don’t know what you’re talking about.’

Choosing to turn a negative into a positive, Lillard is electing to fuel his play with an inner fire created by being snubbed again, and – like he did during a postgame interview following Friday’s win over the Memphis Grizzlies – he’s not afraid to admit that. “Not subconsciously, consciously,” Lillard said when asked whether the snub is subconsciously motivating him. “Anytime something like that happens, you gotta find the right place to put it. You can’t make yourself get too much into it, and take yourself out of what the team is doing. You’ve gotta try throw yourself into the team and be better. That’s what I gotta do. I gotta be better, and that’s the bottom line.”

Damian Lillard, SL-All-Star Selections, All-Star, Portland Trail Blazers

The playoffs are the overall goal for Lillard and the Blazers, not individual All-Star appearances. “This year I’ve been more consumed with our team.” Lillard said. “We haven’t had a great season and we are trying to turn that around. I’m more concerned with that, anyway. “You always want to be part of things like [the All-Star game]. Obviously you feel some kind of way about it because you feel deprived of something that you worked hard for and that you earned, that you produced for. But like I said, we got our own problems to worry about and that’s what we need to be focused on.”

Goran Dragic has been Miami’s best player this year, leading the team with 19.6 points per game and 6.5 assists. But Dragic, like Whiteside, did not do enough for the coaches to vote him onto the East squad. “Didn’t even look,” Dragic told me Friday when I asked if he was watching Thursday’s announcement. “I’m not about that. It would be nice to be there but it’s not my priority. I just want to do my job, play the games that count. This is a great opportunity to have some days off to recover my body.”

Love will be making his fourth appearance in the annual showcase of the league’s best players. It will be his first since coming to Cleveland. And this time he was voted in by Eastern Conference coaches who have recognized the statistical leap he’s made in his third year with the Cavaliers. “I think I was really able to play my game this year and Ty (Lue) has done a great job of putting us in the right spaces to be effective,” Love said. “I think there’s something to be said for starting and the fan vote and the player vote and media as well. But coaches also goes a long way.”

“I thought I deserved it,” said Embiid, who has missed the last two games with a left knee contusion and is listed as questionable for tonight’s game against the Houston Rockets at the Wells Fargo Center. “Not that I care about my stats, but that was one of the points that could have been proven.” He is averaging 19.8 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocked shots while appearing in 30 of the Sixers’ 44 games.

With a smile, Lillard nodded to acknowledge McCollum, then after answering a question about the team’s ball movement, he turned his attention to McCollum. “You have a question?’’ Lillard asked. “Yes, Dame,’’ McCollum said. “I do, actually: “Looking around the NBA, there are a lot of good players who haven’t made All-Star games yet. Do you think it’s fair for coaches to vote in guys who put up pedestrian-like numbers and get into the All-Star game? Or do you think all stars should be players who change teams, drastically?’’

Coaches, players, fans and media are on the other side of the door, deciding his fate. The Milwaukee Bucks forward probably won’t make the Eastern Conference All-Star team this season. But if he continues to play the way he’s playing and continues to improve, an All-Star bid is in his near future. “He’s on the cusp of being a star and one of the best. He’s going through the process. He has to earn his stripes. He doesn’t want it to be handed to him,” Bucks coach Jason Kidd said. “One of the small steps is winning. When you sprinkle in the ingredients of winning and being consistent and doing what he’s doing on a nightly basis takes you to becoming that star. He’s on the verge of that.”
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December 13, 2017 | 10:05 pm EST Update