Thursday December 10th, 2015

The NBA’s 2016 All-Star voting process officially opened on Thursday bearing three important changes: a new hashtag, a new voting method, and a new designation for one of the league’s most popular and polarizing stars.

Perhaps the most newsworthy change to this year’s voting process concerns Lakers star Kobe Bryant, who last month announced his plans to retire at the end of the 2015–16 season.

Throughout his career, Bryant has been listed as a “guard” or, more recently, in the “backcourt” section. For the first time this season, Bryant is listed in the “frontcourt” section, a move that reflects his shift to small forward for the Lakers. This might seem like a subtle change, but there are clear winners and losers in the process that leads to the NBA's first All-Star Game outside the USA.

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Bryant, for one, is a big winner. As one of the league’s brightest stars, Bryant has been voted in by fans as a Western Conference starter every year since 1998. While injuries and declining play didn’t dampen his popularity in recent years, he would have faced extremely tough competition from the likes of Stephen Curry, James Harden, Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook to claim one of two backcourt starting spots for the West. Instead, he’ll vie for one of three frontcourt spots against guys like Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis and Blake Griffin.

That might not sound easier, but it should be. Last year, Harden finished third among West guards even though he tallied more than one million votes, the fifth-highest total among all vote-getters. Meanwhile, Griffin earned a starting nod with “only” 700,000 votes.

By changing Bryant’s positional designation, the NBA has therefore significantly increased his chances for an All-Star send-off. Even though Bryant’s play has often been hard to watch for a Lakers team that possesses the West’s worst record, his farewell tour will very likely include a stop at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre for the Feb. 14 showcase.  

Harden, Westbrook and Paul are all clear winners, too. Curry’s extraordinary popularity and the Warriors’ hot start virtually guarantee that the reigning MVP, and last year’s leading vote-getter, will be back as a starter this year. Now, the other leading candidates based on merit will get to duke it out against each other without Bryant getting in the way.

There are both direct and indirect losers to consider. First, there are the starting frontcourt candidates. Durant and Davis are probably the safest bets to rack up huge vote totals, leaving the likes of Griffin, Marc Gasol, Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki and others fighting for reserve selections if Bryant does indeed claim the third starting spot.

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There’s a trickle-down effect on the West team, too. If Bryant claims one of the starting spots, that forces whoever he displaces, like Griffin, to the bench. That’s one less spot for a candidate who is more deserving than Bryant on pure merit. Players like Gasol, DeMarcus Cousins, Damian Lillard, Klay Thompson and LaMarcus Aldridge are all at greater risk of being left off the team entirely if Bryant is voted in as a starter.

Fan voting to determine the starters for the All-Star Game will run through Jan. 18 at and through various social media channels. This year, fans can vote on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram by writing out a player’s first and last name alongside the “#NBAVOTE” hashtag. The 2015 voting process utilized the “#NBABALLOT” hashtag.

In addition to voting on the league’s website and app, social media and via text message (send a player’s last name to 69622), fans can vote using Google searches for the first time this year. Searching “NBA Vote All-Star” pulls up a collection of team logos that begins the voting process. Search “NBA Vote Warriors,” “NBA Vote Cavaliers” or any other team name to vote directly for players on a specific team.

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