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NBA AM: Revisiting All-Star Roster Expansion

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Will NBA All-Star Rosters Expand?

On Thursday night, one week after announcing the starters for its 66th annual All-Star game, the NBA announced the 14 All-Star reserves that were voted in by the league’s coaches.

Of the players selected, three were first-timers: Kemba Walker of the Charlotte Hornets, Gordon Hayward of the Utah Jazz and DeAndre Jordan of the Los Angeles Clippers.

Each and every season, though, there seem to be deserving players left on the outside looking in. Over the years, there has been discourse revolving around whether the league would consider expanding the All-Star rosters to as many as 15 players, with Commissioner Adam Silver confirming that the league was considering the idea back in February 2015.

Since then, however, there haven’t been any indications that this is something that the league is inclined to do in the near future. While one league source says that roster expansion remains an item under consideration, there are many involved in the process that feel that the very fact that there don’t seem to be enough spots for each of the seemingly deserving players is exactly what makes being an All-Star special.

Take Kemba Walker, for example. In Charlotte, Walker has quietly improved as a professional and has already exceeded the expectations that many had for him while he was growing up in New York City and later starring at the University of Connecticut. Walker is one of three first-time All-Stars, and after being considered a snub last season, there’s no doubt that he will find special satisfaction in his finally winning the honor. Knowing that he’ll be playing in the mid-February classic while the likes of Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony won’t, for a player like him, is a badge of honor.

The concern from the league is that roster expansion could dilute the distinction, and it’s quite easy to understand that perspective.

The Biggest Snub of Them All?

Dwyane Wade has been named an NBA All-Star every year since 2005, while Carmelo Anthony has only missed one All-Star game since first earning the designation back in 2007. Between the two, they have 21 combined All-Star appearances. Neither being named an All-Star this season is fairly easy to understand, especially as the coaches rightfully make room for more deserving players from more successful teams.

Unfortunately, Memphis Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley wasn’t one of them.

For many years, Conley has been considered to be one of the most underrated players in the league, and despite being the recipient of the richest contract in NBA history, he may continue to hold that distinction. At this point, Conley merits mention with Lamar Odom and Jalen Rose as being among the more talented players to never earn an All-Star nod.

To his credit, though, Conley is more a victim of circumstance than he is an underachiever. One could fairly argue that Conley is enjoying his best season as a professional, turning in a career-high 18.6 points and 6.2 assists per game. He impacts both ends of the floor and has been a winner for the gross majority of his career. Truth is, if Conley were playing in the Eastern Conference, he is likely to have had at least a few All-Star appearances by this point.

Unfortunately for him, the Western Conference has been loaded with star guards. In the past, the likes of Tony Parker, Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and even Brandon Roy were guards who were deemed to be more deserving, and today, he is competing against the likes of Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum, James Harden, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Gordon Hayward, Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul—three of whom didn’t make the team this year.

In a season where the Golden State Warriors feature four All-Stars, it’s worth pointing out that Conley would probably earn a nod if the Grizzlies managed to arrive at an All-Star break with him playing at a high level and the team owning a top-four seed in the Western Conference, but it’s difficult to imagine a seventh seed getting two representatives in the game, and it’s also to difficult to argue against Marc Gasol’s warranting a spot on the squad.

Conley may be the owner of the richest contract in NBA history, but as always, there are certain things that money just can’t buy.

Enes Kanter Out Six-to-Eight Weeks

As he exited the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Thursday night contest against the Dallas Mavericks, a frustrated Enes Kanter slammed a folding chair on the team’s bench. According to a report from Royce Young of ESPN, Kanter fractured a bone in his forearm. As a result, he is expected to miss six-to-eight weeks with the Thunder expected to give an updated timeline on his return at some point on Friday.

What makes this most interesting for the Thunder is how it will impact the team in the standings. Assuming the six-to-eight week timeline holds true, Kanter may return to the lineup between March 10 and March 24. Fortunately for the Thunder, due to the All-Star break, they will have a nine-day stretch wherein they won’t play. Even still, Kanter may end up missing between 20-25 games.

Although the Thunder enter play on January 27 as the sixth seed in the Western Conference, they lead the eighth seed by seven games in the standings. By now, we should have learned better than to doubt Russell Westbrook, but over the coming weeks, it will be interesting to see how the Thunder fare in Kanter’s absence. While it may be a stretch to expect the Thunder to yield enough ground to slip into the eighth spot, doing so would set up a potential first round playoff meeting with Kevin Durant and the Golden State Warriors. Imagine that.

The Cleveland Cavaliers have shown us that any team is capable of an extended slide. That becomes even more true when one of their principle players goes down. The march toward the playoffs out West may have become all the more interesting.

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About Moke Hamilton

Moke Hamilton

Moke Hamilton is a Deputy Editor and Columnist for Basketball Insiders, covering the NBA and international basketball.