I've been complaining, for years, about the lack of all-star caliber centers on the Western Conference all-star ballot. Last year, I voted for the oft-injured Andrew Bynum, but wished the ballot-makers listed someone more deserving - a Tim Duncan or Kevin Love or LaMarcus Aldridge - at the center position.
This year that problem is solved - in a couple of ways. Dwight Howard plays in the West now, giving the conference a legit starting center (though this year there are a couple of very solid options). But the new-look ballot actually eliminated the center position; this year, we're simply voting for three "frontcourt" players.
Voting for the 2013 NBA All-Star game runs through January 14. Starters will be announced on January 17th, as part of TNT's pregame show. The All-Star Game will be played in Houston on February 17.
Voting continues until January 31st. Teams will be announced on February 2nd.
Guard - Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers
Paul continues to be the premier point guard in the West - and probably the best all-around player at his position in the league.
Early-season injuries distance Paul from the pack a bit. Steve Nash figures to get a boost at the polls now that he's a Laker, but he has missed a significant chunk of the early season with a broken leg. Popular Minnesota guard Ricky Rubio could draw votes as well, but he's still recovering from last year's knee injury.
It will be interesting to see how well Jeremy Lin fares in this year's voting.
Guard - Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers
Russell Westbrook is probably the better player at this point. And James Harden certainly deserves a mention here. But we all know Kobe's going to start the game, right? So why fight it?
Forward - Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
He's a three-time scoring champion. He's won gold medals at the World Championships and the Olympics. He's led his team to the NBA Finals. What hasn't he done?
Celebrated his 25th birthday.
That's almost unfair.
Forward - Kevin Love, Minnesota Timberwolves
Love missed the first two-plus weeks of the season with a hand injury. In his return to the lineup, against the Denver Nuggets on November 21st, he dropped 34 points and grabbed 14 rebounds. He's scoring well over 20 points per game, despite the fact that he's wearing a protective glove on his still-healing shooting hand.
With all due respect to Tim Duncan, my second choice for this spot would be Zach Randolph, if only because the Grizzlies - one of the league's best teams this season - should have a representative in the starting lineup.
As with the Kobe Bryant selection, Howard is the choice here, in part, due to the the inevitability of it all. You could make a very convincing case that Memphis center Marc Gasol is more deserving. But he won't generate the fan support that Howard - a seven-time all-star and three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year - will get, especially now that he's a Laker.