By Ben Bolch
5:01 PM PST, February 15, 2014
NEW ORLEANS — The kids are taking over the place.
You can't toss a string of beads in the French Quarter this weekend without hitting a wide-eyed NBA All-Star.
The festivities have become one extended Rising Stars Challenge between the six players making their All-Star game debuts Sunday at the Smoothie King Center and the five back for a second appearance. At 20, Anthony Davis can't even enjoy one of those oversized fruity alcoholic drinks so popular on Bourbon Street.
Generation Next includes first-timers Stephen Curry, Damian Lillard, DeMar DeRozan, John Wall, Paul Millsap and Davis in addition to second-time participants Joakim Noah, Roy Hibbert, Paul George, Kyrie Irving and James Harden.
"We were just talking about this in the room with LeBron [James]," said Miami's Dwyane Wade, whose 10 All-Star appearances qualify him as a relative old-timer. "We were talking to DeRozan and Kyrie and Paul George and were like, 'Yo, when we came in we were in y'all's position and it was the Jason Kidds, the Kevin Garnetts, these players that we have so much respect for were at the All-Star game and they were the older guys who have been around 10 years and now we have.'
"It's crazy. It goes so fast."
When Lakers star Kobe Bryant made his All-Star debut in 1998, Michael Jordan was still playing for the Chicago Bulls and Bryant's teammates included Karl Malone, now 50. Bryant seemed mindful of the game's generational shift last month when he lobbied fans to vote for Lillard as an All-Star instead of him because injuries had limited Bryant to six games this season.
The fans didn't listen, ensuring Bryant would be selected as an All-Star for a 16th time, most among active players. Bryant, still recovering from a broken left knee, was replaced on the team by Davis and in the starting lineup by Harden.
Bryant won't be the only usual suspect missing from the game. All-Star mainstays Steve Nash, Paul Pierce and Garnett will be conspicuously absent because of injuries or declining production.
Of course, the rise of the NBA's top young players also had something to do with it.
"You can't slow down Father Time," said DeRozan, who is only 24 despite being in his fifth season with the Toronto Raptors. "I hate to see all the guys like Paul Pierce and Kobe and them get older in their careers and their time is almost up. You hate to see that but that's when the next group of young guys comes in and starts the string of being All-Stars."
It's easy to make the case that the kids are going to be around awhile.
Curry, who will be starting for the Western Conference team, is widely considered the best shooter in the NBA. Lillard and Wall are among the game's top point guards and Davis is already a defensive stopper who leads the league in blocked shots.
"He has every physical tool," Clippers forward Blake Griffin said of Davis. "He plays hard, he's skilled. He's a great player and his ceiling is incredibly high."
The same quote works for all of the second-time All-Stars too. George is in the discussion with Miami's James and Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant for most valuable player, Harden could be the league's best player at getting to the rim and Irving would be one of the most coveted free agents this summer if he opts out of his contract.
The impact of the newbies and second-time All-Stars is also reflected in the standings: eight of their 10 teams would make the playoffs if they started Sunday.
"The biggest thing to me is winning," said Washington's Wall, whose team is in sixth place in the East. "I still haven't done what I want to do, which is win a playoff series or a playoff game or even be in a playoff game. My biggest goal and ultimate goal this season is to be in the playoffs."
Lillard, whose Portland Trail Blazers are among the biggest surprises in the league, wasn't ready to say the youngsters have completely taken over.
"I think LeBron, K.D. and Chris Paul, those are the faces of the NBA if I had to say names," Lillard said, "but I think you're starting to see a lot of young guys to come in and find their way in the league."
They're no longer on their way. They're here, probably to stay.
"You see the young guys coming up and they are the future of the NBA," Wade said. "One day, they'll be doing the same thing we're doing. They'll be looking back like, 'Man, how fast did it go?'"
Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times