The 2010 NBA All-Star Game will feature a plethora of NBA stars at various stages of their careers. Fans will see six veteran mainstays, 10 young stars, seven first-timers, six MVPs and one very surprising starter.
With so much talent on hand, which player presents the most intriguing story? Who could possibly turn the game into his own personal showcase? Which star has the most to gain? Who could use it to trigger a trade before the deadline on Feb. 18? Whom will we learn the most about? So many questions and so many potential answers.
For me, the most compelling player in Dallas this weekend is Kevin Durant.
Certainly Durant is no longer capable of surprising anyone. That ended after his one year at the University of Texas, after which he was the second player chosen in the 2007 NBA draft. His combination of length, silky smooth ballhandling, shooting touch and voracious scoring appetite had all of us predicting greatness. The only thing we weren't sure of was how long it would take.
A high-scoring rookie year left us with as many questions as answers. Obviously he could light up the court, but his shot selection, propensity for turnovers, unwillingness to get to the foul line and apathy toward rebounding and defense left a lot of room for improvement before we could crown him as the game's next great young player.
His second year showed progress but still left me wondering whether he was going to become more like Carmelo Anthony or LeBron James. Was he going to become a prolific scorer capable of going for 25 or 30 every night but never really put his stamp on the game in terms of playmaking on both ends? Or was he going to ascend to that rare plateau reserved for the game's true superstars?
The first sign Durant gave us that he was going to be extremely special was at the rookie-sophomore challenge a year ago when he lit up the rookies for 46 points and appeared as though he never broke a sweat. He was on a different level than the rest of the young talent on the court, and it left us pondering what Year 3 would bring.
This year, Kevin Durant the superstar has arrived. I don't throw around that label lightly. There are only four current players whom I would consider superstars: James, Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade and Tim Duncan. Now Durant wants a seat at the table.
I don't want to hear that a guy can't be a superstar until he has won big or at least gotten to the playoffs. LeBron was a certified superstar by his third season and hadn't been to the playoffs yet. When you see it, you know it. Durant has that "it" factor.
His ascension to the top shelf has come through hard work and attention to his weaknesses in his first two seasons. He has finally come to understand that he needs to be a consistent rebounder, a committed defender and a willing playmaker in order to be mentioned in the same sentence as the game's top players. At this point, he has accomplished all that and more.
Now he heads to Dallas as a first time All-Star and will get the opportunity to showcase his ridiculous talent simultaneously with the best talent the NBA has to offer. I understand that the All-Star Game is a glorified pickup game without even an illusion of defense, but the way he moves, how easy he scores, the explosion to the rim -- all of those things will be displayed alongside the players he strives to emulate. If he gets the minutes, he will create the opportunities, and he will dazzle us. He is a special talent and has never flinched when the spotlight burns brightest.
Durant will be an MVP and a scoring champion one day. I'm confident he will be a perennial All-Star. With a lot of luck, help, health and front-office support, he will likely become an NBA champion. Remember, there are only five seats at the main table. In Dallas, on Valentine's Day, we may just hear Kevin Durant's name called for seating.
Not that the other stars will make it easy. The starters in the West can all make a strong case for taking over the game. If Kobe decides to play, he will be making his 12th straight start, and he always loves the challenge of taking command of the stage when the NBA's elites gather. Anthony is off to the best start of his career and has cemented himself as one of the best pure scorers in the game. Steve Nash has slowed down time and is again carving up defenses with his unmatched flair, his dexterity and his remarkable shooting. Up front, Duncan continues to embellish the résumé of the league's greatest power forward of all time, and Amare Stoudemire will be more than willing to put on a show for whatever city he ends up in by the trading deadline.
Along with Durant, the West reserves feature a mix of first-timers, rising stars and one veteran staple of the February event.
Chauncey Billups rightfully replaces an injured Chris Paul and gets his fifth appearance. Unfortunately, Brandon Roy won't have the opportunity to make his third All-Star appearance after suffering a hamstring injury. Pau Gasol lacks the explosiveness to put up huge numbers in this type of game, but he deserves a spot based on the support he lends to Bryant on the West's best team. Dirk Nowitzki, in his ninth appearance, has a legitimate argument to be a starter but is happy to add another line to an already substantial list of accomplishments.
Finally, the West will be rounded out by two guys making their first appearance. Deron Williams, the game's best all-around point guard, and Zach Randolph, a stat-sheet-stuffing power forward who has played a huge part in the Grizzlies' turnaround.
The Eastern Conference starters will also have a say about Durant's impact.
Wade, if he isn't too tired from carrying the Miami Heat on his back every night, is always up for a good run and can easily win the game's MVP award if he gets it going. LeBron is well, LeBron. He is the game's best player, and I don't think it's all that close anymore. (Sorry, Kobe.) Kevin Garnett will give us the 70 percent he is capable of right now, and Dwight Howard will be there to show off his Volkswagen-sized shoulders.
The reserves include four first-time participants. Rajon Rondo, who has been the Celtics' best player this season, and Derrick Rose, who has regained the explosiveness we saw in last year's playoffs, will give us a peek at the next two truly great point guards in the Association. Gerald Wallace and Al Horford prove that hard work and relentless determination can be the ticket to an All-Star Game as well.
Finally, the East adds three names we are all familiar with. Paul Pierce is banged-up but more than capable of rallying for a big game. Joe Johnson brings his silky-smooth game for his fourth appearance. And Chris Bosh, perhaps the most coveted trade bait in the game, will join the West's Stoudemire as another player taking the term "showcase" to another level as he faces the prospect of a new mailing address by the end of the break.
There's an awful lot of talent heading to Dallas this weekend, and so many things would have to break just right for Kevin Durant, but his talent can create those kinds of breaks. If the game's resident superstars allow him to get his touches, Durant will take care of the rest. He may or may not lead Oklahoma City to the postseason, but in Dallas, without question, the man they call "Durantula" can give us a night we may be talking about for years -- the night he slid into the table and took a seat next to Kobe, LeBron, D-Wade and Timmy.
Tim Legler is an NBA analyst for ESPN.