LeBron James may be one of the NBA's longest-tenured players, but perhaps even more impressively, he's also gaining quite a bit of ground among general managers. In 2018, the NBA scrapped its longtime East vs. West All-Star format in favor of a draft. James, the NBA's best and most popular player, is the only four-time captain in league history. He hasn't given up his seat since the format was adopted, so if you consider him an All-Star GM since 2018, 12 of his 30 current contemporaries were hired into their current positions after James was.
James' competition, though, has faced just as much turnover as a typical front office. Stephen Curry was his first opposing All-Star captain. Giannis Antetokounmpo took over the past two seasons. On Thursday, Kevin Durant will try his hand at drafting against James. On Wednesday, though, CBS Sports will give it a shot first. Below is our expectation of how the 2021 All-Star draft will play out. (Note: Since Durant is not actually playing in the game due to a hamstring injury, and only drafting, there will be an additional starter in the pool as his replacement.)
No. 1 pick, Team LeBron (Quinn) selects ...
Ready for your mind to be blown? James and Curry have never played on the same team in a documented, organized game of basketball. By the time they got to the same conference, the All-Star format had switched to a draft. They never played for Team USA at the same time. Unless there are offseason scrimmages we don't know about, James and Curry have never worn the same uniform. It's time to rectify that injustice. The basketball world deserves to see LeBron and Steph on the same team, if only once.
No. 2 pick, Team Durant (Herbert) selects ...
As if Durant would do anything else with his first pick. Beyond the obvious personal and professional connection here, Irving won All-Star Game MVP in 2014 and Rising Stars MVP in 2012. You don't need me to explain why his game translates so well to this setting. (Fun fact: Irving has never played against James in an All-Star Game. You know he is going to be motivated.)
No. 3 pick, Team LeBron selects …
Earlier this season, LeBron revealed that he wanted Nike to launch his own "Team LeBron" brand with Doncic as its first signee. Doncic has been open about his reverence for James growing up. James has selected Irving whenever he's had a chance in these drafts, but with his former Cleveland teammate off the board, he turns to the player many view as his stylistic heir.
No. 4 pick, Team Durant selects ...
The choice here is between the 2020 All-Star Game MVP and the back-to-back NBA MVP. Let's go with Leonard, who gives Team Durant the frontcourt scoring it would normally get from Durant. In crunch time, he'll D up, too.
No. 5 pick, Team LeBron selects ...
He's the two-time defending MVP. He was a captain in this game last season. He's been sitting here too long. This is the obvious pick.
No. 6 pick, Team Durant selects ...
There are two centers available, both of whom are in the mix for MVP. Jokic's game is more fun. Embiid brings better defense. I'm choosing fun. I'm choosing the Sombor Shuffle. I'm choosing one-handed no-look passes. The vibes are going to be immaculate.
No. 7 pick, Team LeBron selects ...
Giannis and Embiid protecting the rim for me in crunch time? Yes, please. Embiid posted a strong 22-point, 10-rebound line in the 2020 All-Star Game, so I know he'll take this thing seriously.
No. 8 pick, Team Durant selects ...
This isn't exactly a "choice," but Team Durant is happy to add one of the best scorers alive. With his handle and his ability to hit tough shots, it should not surprise anyone if he wins All-Star Game MVP this year or at some point in the future.
No. 9 pick, Team Durant selects ...
It is appropriate that Tatum is the last pick among the starters because he's in this pool as Durant's injury replacement. Given all the playmaking in this starting five, Team Durant will ask Tatum to reprise his early-career role as a 3-and-D guy, but if he decides he wants to launch a bunch of pull-up 3s instead, that's not a bad thing.
The reserves pool: James Harden, Jaylen Brown, Julius Randle, Nikola Vucevic, Domantas Sabonis, Zach LaVine, Ben Simmons, Damian Lillard, Chris Paul, Paul George, Rudy Gobert, Zion Williamson, Donovan Mitchell, Devin Booker
No. 10 pick, Team Durant selects ...
Team Durant is loyal, obviously, and Harden will likely be in the closing lineup. And yes, I am aware that Nick Nurse repeatedly picked on Harden down the stretch of last year's game. That strategy didn't lead to a win, and if it happens again, I'm confident that everyone will be locked in, ready to help and recover. (Remember, Harden almost made the Elam Ending game-winner in 2020, a 3-pointer that was waved off as he was called for an offensive foul.)
No. 11 pick, Team LeBron selects ...
You were expecting someone else? LeBron picked his close friend a year ago, and, despite coming off the bench, Paul was on the floor in crunch time. Have all the fun you want with your team, James/Kevin; I want the guy who's going to be there when it's time to win.
No. 12 pick, Team Durant selects ...
Absolutely tailor-made for this. Give me all of the Zion alley-oops. I understand the Paul pick, but I feel extremely fortunate that this guy is even available here.
No. 13 pick, Team LeBron selects ...
LeBron likes to stay in the Klutch family when he can, and he wanted Simmons badly enough to trade for him in the 2019 All-Star Draft. That he's the best perimeter defender in the NBA doesn't hurt, either. Plus, I couldn't let you have all of the transition fun. Letting Simmons and Jokic pass to Zion just wouldn't be fair.
No. 14 pick, Team Durant selects ...
It's an All-Star Game. I want a bunch of dudes who will shoot deep pull-ups, especially when Embiid is on the floor. Lillard is also simply the best player available, so this is an easy call.
No. 15 pick, Team LeBron selects ...
I have plenty of 3 and plenty of D, but not enough guys who can do both. This isn't a sexy pick from an All-Star perspective, but I want to win, and George is going to help me do just that.
No. 16 pick, Team Durant selects ...
Three-and-D means 3-pointers and dunks in this game, so Team Durant is thrilled to add one of the greatest dunkers of all time -- and the 2016 Rising Stars MVP -- to the roster. Honestly, I was tempted to take LaVine with my previous pick, but I figured my best chance of getting both him and Lillard was to take Lillard first.
No. 17 pick, Team LeBron selects ...
OK, fine, you've forced my hand. I guess I have to take at least one more ridiculous shot-maker for the sake of the fans this game is apparently being played for. Gimme Booker, the guy LeBron recently called the most disrespected player in the NBA. Considering he was initially snubbed off this roster entirely and wound up going No. 17 in this 23-player draft, James might have a point.
No. 18 pick, Team Durant selects ...
A ridiculous shot-maker, you say? Mitchell fits that description just as well as Booker does, and Team Durant is now absolutely stacked with players who are capable of erupting. The plan is to see who goes off and ride the hot hand.
No. 19 pick, Team LeBron selects ...
How have we let the one guy who takes this game seriously slide all the way to No. 19? Rudy doesn't even know this is an exhibition. Screen assists might not be all that enjoyable in a vacuum, but Gobert is going to make every other player on my team more fun. And if your parade of difficult shot-makers dares to trespass in his paint, he's going to block their shots into the ninth row.
No. 20 pick, Team Durant selects ...
I was totally ready to pick Gobert here for some rim protection, but I'm happy to get the new and improved version of Brown. Like Tatum, he is needed more for his defensive versatility than his shot-making on this particular team, but, I mean, he's proven he can make tough shots with ease, so that's a bonus.
No. 21 pick, Team LeBron selects ...
We're down to nothing but bigs, so I'm taking the smallest among them in both literal stature and playing style. Among the three players remaining on the board, Randle is far and away the likeliest to give us a memorable All-Star highlight. Call me crazy, but I don't think any of us will be telling our grandchildren about that really cool baseline jumper Nikola Vucevic made in the All-Star Game one time.
No. 22 pick, Team Durant selects ...
I was hoping you'd take Randle. Since my guards are mostly bucket-getters, I'm ecstatic to add a second point-center to the roster. While he doesn't bring the defense that Gobert does, Sabonis is similar in that he'll set hard screens as if it were a normal game. And unlike Gobert, against cross-matches he'll go to the post and bully people. Enjoy your baseline jumpers. Let's go!
No. 23 pick, Team LeBron selects …
Missing out on Vucevic in the 2019 All-Star Draft is no doubt the greatest regret of LeBron's career, but fortunately, he gets to correct it here.
Quinn (Team LeBron): You were definitely at a disadvantage when it came to the starters, James. My captain is playing and yours isn't. That gave me the talent advantage, yes, but also an identity to build around. LeBron gets his off-ball shooter in Steph, his high-IQ mind-meld partner in Luka and his lob threat in Giannis. I feel very good about that fivesome. I'm a bit more worried about my bench.
Rudy was the right pick in a vacuum at No. 19, but with the board so loaded with bigs afterward, I'm not sure he makes sense on my team. Embiid, Giannis, Simmons, Gobert, Randle and Vucevic is a bit too much size for my taste, especially with so little shooting in that group. Can I interest you in a Gobert-for-Brown swap?
Herbert (Team Durant): Deal! I don't know if I'll need Rudy out there for defense, but I'm happy to have the option. And while I'll freely admit that Team LeBron has the more star-studded starting five, I love my combination of unstoppable scorers, frontcourt passing and crazy dunking. I must also point out that you could have real spacing problems.
If there's an area of weakness, it's one I just created by accepting your trade offer. In Leonard and Tatum, Team Durant has two big, switchable wings in the starting lineup, but there's nobody like that on the bench. Hmmm, do you have any interest in swapping George for Lillard? I kind of can't believe I'm even making this offer, but I need to balance my roster a bit.
Quinn (Team LeBron): With James, Simmons and now Brown on my bench, I think I can afford to be without George. You've got yourself a deal. I'm not sure how exactly I'll solve the Curry-Doncic-Lillard-Paul backcourt logjam in crunch time, but I think I'll just take your advice and ride the hot hand. That's what the All-Star Game is all about, isn't it?
Final Rosters (After Post-Draft Trades)
|Team LeBron James (Quinn)||Team Kevin Durant (Herbert)|
The actual 2021 NBA All-Star Draft will take place Thursday, March 4.