will start in his first All-Star Game this weekend. (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images)
Rockets guard James Harden will reportedly replace Lakers guard Kobe Bryant in the Western Conference's starting lineup during Sunday's All-Star Game in New Orleans.
Yahoo Sports reports that Thunder coach Scott Brooks has selected Harden, his former player, to stand in Bryant, who is sidelined with a knee injury. He will join a Western Conference starting lineup that also includes Warriors guard Stephen Curry, Thunder forward Kevin Durant, Timberwolves forward Kevin Love and Clippers forward Blake Griffin.
Bryant, 35, was voted in as a Western Conference started by the fans despite playing just six games this season as he recovered from an Achilles injury and then subsequently injured his right knee. Bryant didn’t make his season debut until Dec. 8 because of an Achilles injury, and he suffered a knee injury that has sidelined him since Dec. 17. Bryant will be reevaluated after the All-Star break and there’s no clear timetable for his return.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver named Pelicans forward Anthony Davis as Bryant's injury replacement on the West's roster, but the duty of selecting the starting lineup replacement falls to the Western Conference's coach.
Harden, 24, was selected by the coaches as a reserve. He is making his second All-Star Game appearance and this would be his first appearance as a starter. Harden is averaging 23.9 points, 5.3 assists and 4.7 rebounds per game in his fifth NBA season.
Bryant finished second among Western Conference backcourt players in the fan vote, tallying roughly 988,000 votes. Harden placed fifth with roughly 470,000 votes, trailing, in order: Curry, Bryant, Clippers guard Chris Paul and Rockets teammate Jeremy Lin.
The decision is hardly surprising. Harden is the only true two guard on the West's roster and there were no current Thunder players among the West's reserves, leaving Brooks unable to promote one of his own players. Brooks' options, aside from Harden, included only point guards (Blazers guard Damian Lillard, Spurs guard Tony Parker and Paul) and frontcourt players (Blazers forward LaMarcus Aldridge, Davis, Rockets center Dwight Howard and Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki).
Harden spent his first three NBA seasons with the Thunder, who selected him with the No. 3 pick in the 2009 draft, and he was a member of the Oklahoma City team that advanced to the 2012 Finals. The Thunder then traded Harden to the Rockets in a blockbuster deal before the 2012-13 season after contract extension talks hit a wall.