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James Harden, Kobe Bryant and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad All-Star Process

Kobe Bryant is out for the year with an injury, and his starting spot is up for grabs. Will James Harden be the one take it or will the convoluted All-Star selection criteria keep him on the outside looking in?

James Harden (L) is in the running to take the injured Kobe Bryant's (R) starting spot in the 2015 NBA All-Star Game.
James Harden (L) is in the running to take the injured Kobe Bryant's (R) starting spot in the 2015 NBA All-Star Game.
Scott Halleran/Getty Images

As much as the excuses are laid out, the reasons never really justify the results.

Kobe Bryant was voted as a starter into the 2015 All-Star game. This is not an article to bash Bryant, anyone that has voted for him, or anyone that supports his being voted in, but realistically there were many (and I do mean many) more deserving choices than Mr. Bean.

I understand the reasoning, Kobe is still one of the most popular players in the NBA:

Kenny Smith (NBA on TNT analyst) on Bryant vs. Harden: "This is a fan’s list. I’d rather see Kobe Bryant as a fan. If I’m a player, picking my team to win the championship this year, then I’m picking James Harden."

Now I can understand the stance on the "popular choice." The NBA has come under fire because the All-Star weekend has been underwhelming over the last few years (in particularly the Slam Dunk Contest). It should be fun, but that's not all it should be. Frankly, the attempts to explain a broken process is really a daunting undertaking and I don't plan on being the one to try.

I will say this: We may not universally agree on the criteria that should be, or is currently used, to determine who is an All-Star, but by taking a look at what being associated with "All-Star" does to a player, we may be able to trace those effects back to where "All-Star" at least has the defining view.

Not readily defining the effects of choosing an "All-Star" takes an accolade that is used to bring validation of a player's accomplishments and minimizes it. That's like saying graduating college and earning your master's degree is akin to being voted high school Prom King or Queen. The former has a true and tangible effect on the impact of your present and future (employment, earnings, etc.), while the latter does not impact much outside of that moment in time. One is based more on your meaningful effort, you earned it; one is not.

Let's be realistic about what an All-Star berth actually does:

It's used to build cases around a player's present and future earning potential. Jimmy Butler's play this year (20.5 points, 6.0 rebounds, 21.33 PER) is placing him not only in line for a max-contract, but he also forced himself into the early MVP race, ensuring that he's a no-brainer All-Star choice. He doesn't become one without the other. That doesn't happen in all cases, but in the majority of cases an All-Star berth validates a larger contract. On the other hand you can count the multiple players that are given max or near-max contracts and fail to turn into an All-Star (this one's for you Eric Gordon).

The "Derrick Rose" rule that was added to the Collective Bargaining Agreement is directly tied to being an All-Star:

A Designated Player may be eligible to earn 30% of the salary cap (rather than the standard 25%) if he passes certain criteria. To be eligible, the player must be voted to start in two All-Star Games, or be named to an All-NBA Team twice (at any level), or be named MVP.)

It's also used to make the case for if a player should end up in the Basketball Hall of Fame. A player like the recently retired Chauncey Billups gets a "big credibility boost" in his case, partially due to his five All-Star appearances. It's literally one of the main reasons that fringe candidates like Shawn Marion (4x All-Star) and former Rocket Tracy McGrady (7x All-Star) are making compelling cases, and why players like Antawn Jamison (2x All-Star, even though he's cracked the 20,000+ all-time point club) are not.

When news broke about Kobe tearing the rotator cuff in his right shoulder putting him out for the remainder of the season, I set out to write about how James Harden would replace him, but it's more than that.

Kobe's selection is a clear violation of something greater than just a "popularity contest" vote; especially when Harden was the first player to ever gain more than one million votes (1,069,368) and not be voted in as a starter. It's about the real value of being an All-Star, and it's far greater than who the fans want to see play. That needs to be a factor when we're looking at voting players into the game.

Harden has been phenomenal this year. He's a MVP candidate (most of us would say the leading candidate, especially when Steph Curry has more help, but I digress), based on the larger load he's carrying this season, and his defense has been world's better than in previous years.

But we (the general public) know this already, yet he missed out on a starting spot. If not for his otherworldly play, might have missed out altogether:

Charles Barkley (NBA on TNT analyst) on Rockets guard James Harden as a deserving All-Star starter: "James Harden should be starting. I love Kobe Bryant, but James Harden is in the race for MVP with [Warriors point guard] Steph Curry. He deserves to be starting in the All-Star Game. The Lakers stink and Kobe hasn’t played enough games. James Harden should be starting…plain and simple. Harden has been fantastic."

Clearly Chuck knows that there is something to be selected to start an All-Star game. Something meaningful.

From the looks of it (for the second season in a row), Harden will be able to start in the All-Star game....or will he? NBA commissioner Adam Silver would choose Kobe's roster replacement, but Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr (who today was chosen to coach the West All-Stars) chooses who actually starts in Kobe's place. He may be faced with quite the dilemma.

If budding shooting guard Klay Thompson gets selected as a reserve (which isn't a sure thing given Chris Paul, Damian Lillard, and Russell Westbrook are in line with him), then Kerr may be compelled to give his starting backcourt a chance to start in New York.

Either way, let's hope he makes the decision based on the value that "All-Star" bestows on players and of who's deserving of it, not because he falls in love with the story of starting the popular "Splash Brothers."