By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com
The coaches of the Eastern Conference either did a great service or a whopping disservice to the selection of future NBA All-Star reserves.
Depending on how you want to frame it, they either broke with a phony tradition that was largely of their own making or they muddied things for the guys who will pick the All-Star backups in coming years.
They chose a player whose team has an 8-19 record. They chose New Jersey Nets guard Deron Williams
Good luck applying lofty standards or imposing arbitrary cutoffs now, coaches. By taking a name player having a swell individual season on a team that has lost 70 percent of its games, they have opened the door to every "fake superstar," as Charles Barkley referred to it during the selection-announcement show Thursday evening, jacking up an extra shot or padding some other category at the butt end of a nothing game.
Reward winning. Reward winning. That's what we get from the coaches all the time. It's an agenda pushed in large part to make their jobs simpler -- not just the task of choosing seven All-Stars reserves but their real, hard day jobs of coaching players who don't always list "team success" high among their personal priorities.
Sure, it's easier to say "this guy's in" and "that guy's out" when you can point to something tangible like their respective teams' records. But the coaches probably are committed less to rewarding good players from winning teams than they are to not rewarding talented guys playing on losers. Those are the players who can make their lives miserable if they start walking around with the validation of "All-Star" even though their team has flatlined since the third week of the season.
Now, just to be clear on this, Williams isn't that guy. He was an All-Star on Utah teams in 2010 and '11 that went a combined 91-73 while he was there. His personal W-L record, into his eighth NBA season now, is 67 games over .500. We really aren't even trying to pick on him.
But his team is 8-19. Williams hasn't done enough -- for whatever reason, and there surely are several, including Nets injuries -- to elevate that team, despite earning franchise-guy money ($16.3 million this season) and expecting franchise-guy treatment while he ponders his options for free agency this season.
Meanwhile, the East has a bushel of maybe-deserving players who did not make it on the All-Star roster despite playing for more successful teams. Like Josh Smith. Or Rajon Rondo. Or Brandon Jennings. Or Anderson Varejao. Since there are only four teams with records worse than New Jersey's, it figures the list would be lengthy.
"I'm not taking a guy from an 8-19 team when I can take a guy from a .500 team," Charles Barkley said on the TNT set Thursday. And the funny thing is, that used to the be exact rationale tossed out by coaches as their ballots came due.
Kenny Smith, Barkley's TV cohort, pushed a "reward winning" agenda so passionately, you'd have thought he had his eye on a coaching vacancy. "It's easy to score on a bad team," Smith said. "It's easy to do it because the game doesn't matter."
Williams is the only player in the NBA averaging at least 20.0 points and 8.0 assists. But then, the Nets used to have a guy who hit those numbers with little impact otherwise, and we all know how it has gone for Stephon Marbury.
New York's Carmelo Anthony (11-15), voted in by the fans, and Phoenix's Steve Nash (11-14), a West reserve, were the only other players from losing teams to be invited to Orlando for the big Sunday game. Just to see how well the "reward winning" criterion was applied, we added up the records of the All-Star starters' and reserves' teams. Here is the breakdown, by winning percentage:
• East starters: 87-45, .659
So it's not like Williams and his Nets baggage weighed down the East reserves too badly. Ditto on Anthony and Nash in their groups. But the coaches seem to have given up the right to hide behind team records next year and beyond, haven't they? Plenty of people will argue that's what the playoffs are for anyway; qualifying for the postseason is the team reward for winning.
If that was the approach, All-Star games could be all razzle and dazzle, alley and oop, with maybe a little bit of fame and lifetime-achievement mixed in. But please, coaches, get your stories straight.
Special congrats to first-time All-Stars Andre Iguodala, Roy Hibbert and Luol Deng among the East selections.
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