David Blatt’s dismissal as coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers has added a bizarre twist to next month’s All-Star Game in Toronto. The Cavs have the best record in the Eastern Conference, which means their staff was on track to coach the East All-Stars.
But Blatt has been replaced by Tyronn Lue, who will coach just five games before the deadline of Jan. 31 and a grand total of 11 games between now and the All-Star break before presiding over the East in the midseason showcase … if it happens.
The NBA has yet to fully commit to Lue coaching the All-Star Game, saying over the weekend that it will look at the situation and make a decision by the end of January. Lue even said that Blatt coaching the All-Star Game would be “sweet,” but that’s not happening.
The host Raptors are second in the East, four games in the loss column behind the Cavs and riding an eight-game winning streak. Dwane Casey is probably more deserving than Lue, but this is an unprecedented situation confronting commissioner Adam Silver.
Also, this comes alongside an equally strange development in the West, where the Golden State Warriors have the best record for the second straight season – under a different coach. Some say Luke Walton should not be eligible to coach the West because he was part of Steve Kerr’s staff that had the honor a year ago and is ineligible under the “Riley Rule.”
However, Walton won Coach of the Month earlier this season, despite the fact that his record is technically 0-0 rather than 39-4. The league has not ruled out Walton coaching the All-Star Game, either.
“We are reviewing our rules around the West coach situation to determine what is appropriate,” NBA spokesman Tim Frank said.
I won’t throw my two cents into either of those conundrums, although Sheridan has advocated for Walton and chimed in yesterday with a piece looking at the post-Blatt effect on the rest of the East. But we do have a couple of pennies to spare regarding which reserves are chosen for Toronto – no matter who coaches them.
Starters: LeBron James, F, Cleveland; Carmelo Anthony, F, New York; Paul George, F, Indiana; Kyle Lowry, G, Toronto; Dwyane Wade, G, Miami
My Reserves: DeMar DeRozan, G, Toronto; Jimmy Butler, G, Chicago; Paul Millsap, F, Atlanta; Pau Gasol, F-C, Chicago; Andre Drummond, C, Detroit; John Wall, G, Washington; Isaiah Thomas, G, Boston
Toughest Cuts: Kemba Walker, G, Charlotte; Reggie Jackson, G, Detroit; Chris Bosh, F, Miami; Al Horford, C, Atlanta
The East has a little more diversity this season because (a) the conference has more good teams; a dozen are two games below .500 or better and (b) no team is making a case for overloading the roster as the Atlanta Hawks did with four All-Stars a year ago. That said, there are still some difficult decisions.
“At the end of the day, I think you’re going to have a few guys that are going to be on everybody’s ballots and then it becomes who you’re most scared of when you’re preparing to play them,” Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens said.
DeRozan, Butler and Drummond are no-brainer selections as reserves. You could easily argue that DeRozan and Butler should be starting ahead of Lowry and Wade. And Drummond has been the East’s best big man by far.
The overall quality of guards – specifically point guards – perhaps has never been better in NBA history, which is why Walker and Jackson get bumped even though both wild card spots were used on backcourt players. Walker has made a tremendous push since Christmas to keep injury-riddled Charlotte afloat and Jackson has justified Detroit’s investment in him. But Wall and Thomas have been slightly better in carrying their teams, and Jackson has been the second-best player on the Pistons, who shouldn’t have two All-Stars.
The same case can be made for Gasol over Horford and Bosh at one of the big spots. While Bosh may be Miami’s best player this season, he was hurt by Wade’s selection by the fans, because the Heat don’t deserve two All-Stars. The Hawks probably don’t either, and Millsap has been better than Horford. In fact, Millsap is having the best season of his career.
So the Bulls have two All-Stars, while the Cavaliers have one? Well, ask yourself this: Which of James’ teammates has been better than Gasol this season?
Starters: Kevin Durant, F, Oklahoma City; Kobe Bryant, F, LA Lakers; Kawhi Leonard, F, San Antonio; Russell Westbrook, G, Oklahoma City; Stephen Curry, G, Golden State
My Reserves: Klay Thompson, G, Golden State; Chris Paul, G, LA Clippers; Draymond Green, F, Golden State; Anthony Davis, F, New Orleans; DeMarcus Cousins, C, Sacramento; James Harden, G, Houston; Blake Griffin, F, LA Clippers
Toughest Cuts: C.J. McCollum, G, Portland; Damian Lillard, G, Portland; Rajon Rondo, G, Sacramento; Gordon Hayward, G-F, Utah; Dirk Nowitzki, F, Dallas; LaMarcus Aldridge, F, San Antonio; Marc Gasol, C, Memphis
In terms of wins and losses, the chasm between the West and East has gotten smaller this season. The West is 133-119 against the East and actually trailed in the head-to-head matchups until about two weeks ago. But the West still has a huge advantage in the number of All-Star-caliber players, many of whom won’t be going to Toronto.
Automatic choices as reserves are Green, the second-best player on the best team; Cousins, who has been doing a Shaquille O’Neal impersonation since the calendar turned to 2016 and has the Kings in the West’s final playoff spot; Davis, whose numbers are too good to ignore even though the Pelicans have been awful; and Thompson, the conference’s best two-way guard. After that, it gets really hairy.
The Mavericks and Grizzlies probably deserve an All-Star based on their records, but have Nowitzki and Gasol really played at an All-Star level compared to their competition? Aldridge has been better than both of them, and it’s easy to argue that the Spurs deserve two All-Stars.
The logjam at the big spots is created by our selection of Griffin, who was the best player on the Clippers – and clearly better than Aldridge, Nowitzki and Gasol – until he got hurt. It is possible that the West coaches don’t give him the same benefit of the doubt.
And Griffin’s absence has sparked the emergence of Paul, who is averaging 21.3 points and 11.5 assists in January. He has to be taken over Rondo, because the Kings don’t deserve two All-Stars. Neither does Portland, so if you believe McCollum deserves a spot, you have to first find one for Lillard, who has been spectacular.
We can see the arguments for Lillard over Harden, whose numbers are still pretty awesome even though the Rockets have slipped, and Aldridge over Griffin, who has now missed a month.
Oh, and one last thing. When Davis was asked his reaction to not being voted as a starter, he said, “I don’t care. I’m worried about what’s in this locker room.” But he should care. A lot.
Now that Davis isn’t a starter, the only way he can enact the “Derrick Rose Rule” and push his contract extension to 30 percent of the cap is by winning MVP – which isn’t happening – or by making one of the three All-NBA teams. Davis plays forward, the same position as James, Durant, Green, Leonard, George, Griffin and Aldridge, all of whom are on better teams. There are six all-NBA forward spots. If Davis gets squeezed, it will cost him $25 million.
THE END OF CIVILIZATION AS WE KNOW IT: In Wednesday’s mess at Houston, Rockets forward K.J. McDaniels did not play in the first half but started the second half. He committed five intentional fouls in nine seconds on Detroit center Andre Drummond to put the Pistons in the bonus, then sat down and didn’t play again.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: Miami Heat forward Chris Bosh, whose team is down to nine healthy players while it trudges through a stretch of 11 road games in 12 contests:
“I can find something on iTunes or something, a nice little medley going right now in A minor. That’s sad, right?”
TANKS A LOT!: Since Christmas, the Philadelphia 76ers are 5-9 with two overtime losses. Meanwhile, the Brooklyn Nets are 4-12, the Orlando Magic are 3-10, the Phoenix Suns are 2-12, the Minnesota Timberwolves are 3-13 and the Los Angeles Lakers are 4-14.
LINE OF THE WEEK: Kemba Walker, Charlotte vs. Utah, Jan. 19: 47 minutes, 16-33 FGs, 6-11 3-pointers, 14-15 FTs, nine rebounds, eight assists, two steals, three turnovers, 52 points in a 124-119 overtime win. It was a career high and a franchise record points for Walker, who showed it wasn’t a fluke by cracking open a 40 at Orlando four days later.
LINE OF THE WEAK: Andre Drummond, Detroit at Denver, Jan. 23: 18 minutes, 2-5 FGs, 0-4 FTs, eight rebounds, one assist, one block, two fouls, one turnover, four points in a 104-101 loss. Matched up against the immortal Nikola Jokic, the All-Star hopeful had his worst game of the season with a season low in points and his third-lowest total rebounds. How bad was Drummond? When I first looked at the box score, I thought he had gotten hurt.
TRILLION WATCH: After last week’s historic performance by Milwaukee’s Rashad Vaughn, there was more quantity than quality from the heroes of zeros, all of whom were guards. There were 2 trillions from Cleveland’s Jared Cunningham and Portland’s Tim Frazier on Monday, Orlando’s Devyn Marble on Wednesday and Dallas’ John Jenkins on Sunday. And there were 3 trillions from Detroit’s Darrun Hillard on Monday, the Clippers’ C.J. Wilcox on Thursday and Charlotte’s Aaron Harrison on Saturday. Special mention goes to Oklahoma City’s Andre Roberson, who ruined a 15 trillion in Sunday’s loss to the Nets by getting one assist and one turnover to go with his zeroes in the rest of the box score.
GAME OF THE WEEK: San Antonio at Golden State, Jan. 25. For the second straight week, the projected best game begins just hours after publication. Let’s hope the first meeting this season between the league’s best teams is better than last Monday’s ballyhooed Warriors-Cavs matchup.
GAME OF THE WEAK: Phoenix at Philadelphia, Jan. 26. Are the Suns actually going to get swept by the Sixers in the season series? It could happen. Prior to Saturday’s last-second win over Atlanta, Phoenix had lost 15 of 16 games. One year ago today, the Suns were 26-19 and owned the Lakers’ 2016 first-round pick, which now belongs to the Sixers.
TWO MINUTES: When LeBron James took the court for new Cavs coach Tyronn Lue in Saturday’s loss vs. Chicago, it marked the first time since March 20, 2005 that his coach was a former player. That was Paul Silas’ last game as Cleveland’s coach. Since then, James has played for Brendan Malone, Mike Brown, Erik Spoelstra and David Blatt. … Dirk Nowitzki and Chandler Parsons both missed potential tying 3-pointers in the waning seconds of Friday’s 109-106 loss to Oklahoma City, ending Dallas’ record streak of consecutive home overtime games at four. The only other team to play four straight home OT games is the 1984-85 Mavs, who had two regular-season games and two playoff games go to an extra session. … These were the top four selling jerseys from October through December, which included Christmas wish lists: 1. Stephen Curry; 2. LeBron James; 3. Kobe Bryant; 4. Kristaps Porzingis. Carmelo Anthony, purportedly still the face of the Knicks, fell to 15th. … The Wizards have had more than their fair share of injuries this season. On Wednesday, they beat up on the injury-plagued Miami Heat, who were without Dwyane Wade, Goran Dragic, Beno Udrih, Josh McRoberts and Chris Andersen, then lost Luol Deng and Hassan Whiteside to injuries during the game. But Washington coach Randy Wittman wasn’t playing any violins. “I don’t want to hear about anybody else’s problems,” he said. “We’ve got enough of our own problems. If you look at it like that, they’re coming with injury problems. That’s what has happened, the flip side of it, when we’ve gone into places and won some pretty tough games with our own injury problems.” … When Dallas rallied to beat Minnesota in overtime Wednesday, it was the Mavericks’ 10th win this season in games where they have trailed by at least 10 points, the most in the NBA. It also was the Timberwolves’ 11th loss after leading by double digits, also most in the NBA. … The Magic are 1-9 in January and haven’t scored 100 points in a regulation game. Orlando visits Memphis on Monday, beginning a stretch of five of six on the road. After a loss to Atlanta, Magic forward Tobias Harris said, “We as a team have to decide how we’re going to play. Are we going to play team basketball together as a unit or do you want to go out and play one-on-one basketball, freelance and hopefully somebody gets hot? Our team, we’re not going to win games like that.” Orlando lost at home to Philadelphia in its next game. … Joe Prunty’s stretch as interim coach of the Bucks is over. Jason Kidd returns to the bench Tuesday vs. Orlando after undergoing hip surgery that sidelined him for a month. Prunty was 8-9 as coach of the Bucks, but his most significant decision came last week, when Milwaukee had one game in five days – a visit to Miami. Prunty made the unconventional (some might say potentially disastrous) decision to have the team fly to Miami after Saturday’s game in New Orleans and spend four nights in alluring South Beach – two before the game, the night of the game and the following night. The Bucks left Miami on Thursday morning. That will get players on your side.
Trivia Answer: Cedric “Cornbread” Maxwell. … Happy 71st Birthday, Byron Beck. … Rich Paul should be eligible for Executive of the Year.
Chris Bernucca is the managing editor of SheridanHoops.com. His columns appear Monday during the season. You can follow him on Twitter.