On Sunday morning, the Clippers announced that Blake Griffin will undergo surgery for a staph infection in his right elbow, sidelining him at least through the All-Star break. Beyond the injury’s implications on the Clippers, there is a more immediate impact: the All-Star game.
Griffin was slated to be a starter in next Sunday’s game at Madison Square Garden, having been one of three frontcourt players voted in by the fans. Now that he’s out, commissioner Adam Silver gets to name his replacement.
That part is easy. There are other candidates — Mike Conley, Zach Randolph, Monta Ellis — but by far, the loudest All-Star snub last week was Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard. There’s almost no way Silver names someone else besides him.
The more interesting part is that now, Western Conference head coach Steve Kerr gets to name two starters. In addition to Griffin being out, Kobe Bryant will not play after being voted in as a starter. So that’s two spots in the starting lineup, in addition to Steph Curry, Anthony Davis and Marc Gasol.
There are several different directions Kerr could go here. It helps that he has some wiggle room with the positions, considering Davis and Gasol are already in the power forward and center spots. When it was just Bryant he had to replace, there was a question as to whether he’d pick James Harden, a leading MVP candidate who absolutely deserves to start the All-Star game based on performance, or his own player, Klay Thompson. Now, since the two wing spots are essentially interchangeable, he can start both without any backlash.
The other leading candidate to get a starting spot is Kevin Durant. He’s missed a large chunk of the season with injuries, but he is the reigning MVP and one of the most popular players in the league. As a small forward, he fits with the starting lineup as it stands. Nobody would begrudge Kerr starting him.
But the smart money is on Thompson and Harden. It’s the best of both worlds: Kerr gets to take care of his own players and start the “Splash Brothers” together, while also respecting Harden and the season he’s having.