The 2014 NBA All-Star Weekend featured just 35 minutes of Sacramento Kings content with the brief appearance by rookie Ben McLemore in the disappointing Dunk Contest. The weekend had no other Kings participant, and aside from DeMarcus Cousins, no other player should have expected an invitation in the first place.
Given the organizations' goals of big improvements on the 28-win season, this year's All-Star Weekend could serve as a barometer of that improvement. Will more Kings representatives be selected this season? Let's consider the chances for each event.
The best (and likely, only) shot the Kings have at an All-Star birth is DeMarcus Cousins, but the deep Western Conference is still his biggest obstacle. He was averaging 22.5 points and 11.7 rebounds per contest before the break last year, but he was playing in the deepest conference in recent memory. Blake Griffin and Kevin Love started for the West, and the Coaches selected three big men - LaMarcus Aldridge, Dwight Howard and Dirk Nowitzki - ahead of Cousins. Anthony Davis was later added to replace injured Kobe Bryant.
Fast forward a year, and even with Love's departure from the Conference, it will still be a challenge for Cousins to make this year's squad. Griffin is a lock for a starting spot, while Howard, Aldridge and Davis all have bigger reputations among the voting NBA fanbase. The Coaches select the reserves, but they don't have the best reputation at the job (see last season's pick of Joe Johnson ahead of Kyle Lowry and Al Jefferson). Savvy veterans such as Nowitzki and Tim Duncan will also call for considerations for legacy purposes even if they don't match Cousins' individual numbers.
By no means are Cousins All-Star hopes a lost cause, and there are reasons for optimism. He spent a summer "rehabilitating" his image, and any success with Team USA will help his reputation around the league. The biggest need for Boogie to guarantee a roster spot is wins; while players from bad teams will always make All-Star rosters (Davis and Kyrie Irving made it in 2014 with teams below .500) it was a criticism that was lobbed at Cousins more than most. If he averages similar numbers to last season, continues to play tough defense, AND the team isn't in the tank come February, it'd be a lot harder for the Coaches to ignore.
There's also a chance that Rudy Gay could continue to build on last seasons' super-efficient play and snag an All-Star spot, but given the depth of the West, it's not a safe bet.
After 2014's disaster of a dunk contest wrapped up far too quickly, McLemore may not get the second chance he deserves. The Western team of McLemore, Damian Lillard and Harrison Barnes fell victim to a contest format that wrapped up after a short team dunk exhibition and only one show dunk from McLemore (which was as memorable for Shaq's gregariousness as it was for Ben's actual dunk). The Minnesota Timberwolves also added two highlight dunking rookies in Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine-the league might be eager enough to shine the spotlight on the rookies that they don't extend a second invitation to McLemore.
On the flip side, rookie Nik Stauskas has the talent to give the Kings their first Three Point Shootout contestant since Peja Stojaković in 2005. It's too early to know how much playing time Stauskas will earn this season, and a limited role would diminish his chances, but he's already gotten a reputation for his longball skills. If the league wants to showcase their young shooters, sneaking in Stauskas and fellow rookie Doug McDermott would be nifty.
The most promising event for the Kings (as it has been for the past six seasons) is the Rising Stars Challenge. While Sacramento has three youngsters capable of making the team (McLemore, Stauskas and Ray McCallum), the fact that McLemore and Stauskas will compete for playing time may limit their individual statistics enough to keep one (or both) out of the challenge.
Sacramento's front office has said they envision ways to play the two together, and if Michael Malone finds an efficient way to do that, it'd be a positive sign for their long-term potentials if they both earn a spot in the challenge. While McCallum is expected to play off the bench behind Darren Collison, Collison won't demand so many minutes that McCallum won't have a chance to show his abilities. If he builds off of his performances in this years' Summer League, he's a dark horse to represent the franchise on All-Star Weekend.
My nostradumbass predictions (Akis doesn't have that trademarked, right?): while Cousins isn't likely to beat out Griffin, Howard or Aldridge for starting votes, I'll stay optimistic that this will be the year he gets the nod from the Coaches as a reserve. With the influx of dunking talent arriving in Minnesota, I don't expect McLemore to get a second invitation to the Dunk Contest, and I also think Stauskas will need a year or two of longball success before he makes a Three Point Shootout. As for the rookie/sophomore game, I'll choose foolish optimism and predict that McLemore and McCallum make the squad by virtue of their mediocre sophomore draft class.