Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant endorsed Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard for the 2014 NBA All-Star Game on Sunday.
Bryant, who is leading Western Conference backcourt players in the fan voting for a starting spot even though he is currently sidelined with a knee injury, suggested fans should vote for someone besides him.
J.A. Adande of ESPN.com reports on Twitter...
Kobe, unsure if knee will be right in time, on All-Star "My advice would be to vote for some of these younger players, the Damian Lillards"
Ramona Shelburne of ESPNLA.com reports on Twitter...
Kobe said he appreciated fan votes for All Star game, but thought he wouldn't be back to "put stamp on it" Vote for Damian Lillard instead
Bill Oram of the Orange County Register reports on Twitter...
Kobe says ASG decision based on whether he can play but tells fans vote for the "Lillards of the world, because they're more than deserving"
Update: Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times has the full quotes...
"I probably won't be able to come back soon enough to be able to make my stamp or my mark on the game," Bryant said before the Lakers' played the Denver Nuggets on Sunday night. "My advice would be to vote for some of the younger players, the Damian Lillards of the world, because they're more than deserving to be out there and play during that weekend."
"From where I come from, I really enjoy watching what the young guys are doing and how they're performing," he continued. "Even though there's so much respect that comes from me to play for the fans, I'd much rather see the young guys go on out there and play in the game."
In the most recent round of fan voting, released on Dec. 26, Bryant and Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul were on track to earn starting positions. Coincidentally, the Clippers announced Sunday that Paul is expected to be sidelined for six weeks with a separated shoulder. That timeline would put his All-Star Game availability into question as well.
Lillard ranked No. 8 among Western Conference backcourt players in the latest voting, trailing Bryant, Paul, Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry, Houston Rockets guard Jeremy Lin, Rockets guard James Harden, Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook and San Antonio Spurs guard Tony Parker.
Westbrook is also sidelined with a knee injury that is expected to keep him out until after the All-Star break.
The NBA will name roster replacements for Bryant and/or Paul if they are voted in as starters despite their injuries. The Western Conference's head coach would then select a starting lineup replacement from his roster.
For example, Boston Celtics guard Rajon Rondo was voted in as a starter by the fans last season but was unavailable due to a season-ending knee injury. Brooklyn Nets center Brook Lopez was later named by the league as Rondo's injury replacement on the roster. Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, coaching the Eastern Conference team, then chose Heat forward Chris Bosh as the starting lineup replacement for Rondo.
Given the voting disparity between Lillard and some of the guards in front of him, it's unlikely that Bryant's endorsement will impact the race in such a way that Lillard is voted in as a starter over Bryant and/or Paul. However, if Bryant, Paul and Westbrook all wind up as injury scratches, Lillard would be a very, very strong bet to make his first All-Star Game appearance as a reserve selection. This would be a lock, more or less.
A possible Western Conference All-Star team -- reflecting these various injuries and the fan voting results-- might look something like this...
PG: Stephen Curry, Tony Parker, Damian Lillard
SG: James Harden
SF: Kevin Durant
PF: Blake Griffin, LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Love, Dirk Nowitzki
C: Dwight Howard
New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis, Sacramento Kings center DeMarcus Cousins, Phoenix Suns guard Eric Bledsoe and Spurs center Tim Duncan, among others, could be in the mix for the final two spots if Bryant, Paul and Westbrook are all unavailable.
-- Ben Golliver | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter