Jimmy Butler was the most valuable player of the 2017 NBA All-Star game.
No, he didn’t get the MVP trophy in New Orleans, which went to Anthony Davis with a record 52 points in the 192-182 West victory over the East team. Russell Westbrook had 41 points in slightly less than 20 minutes and even finished a lob from Kevin Durant, who had a triple double with 21 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. Everyone can relax; we think they are friends again. Whew! Giannis Antekokounmpo led the offense-starved East team with 30 points on 12 dunks.
Butler tied his career All-Star scoring high with six points, fewest among East starters, and two points more than West starter low Kawhi Leonard with four points.
For perhaps good reason. Butler and Leonard are serious basketball players, and if you were serious about basketball it was difficult to watch this abomination of a game, yet play in it.
So Butler and Leonard pretty much drifted between the circles on both ends in their short stints, Butler with an East starter low 19:29 minutes on-court, watching teammates make uncontested dunk after uncontested dunk, stand around idly as players shot jump shots and not even in the last few minutes did anyone much bother to try to stop someone or not give up an easy dunk.
It was obvious the West team was letting hometown guy Davis get the MVP award as he was put back into the game after Westbrook went on a tear of making three-point shots—he was seven of 13 for the game as the teams combined for 122 threes attempted. So Davis had 20 fourth quarter points to eclipse by 10 Wilt Chamberlain’s 1962 All-Star game record of 42 points.
Though Davis exceeding Wilt’s record is like Barry Bonds getting the home run record. Who takes that 73 seriously?
Sure, the All-Star game in the 1960s—and basically up to the last few years—was played for fun. But it also was played with at least a modicum, and often more, of pride and competitiveness. After all, it is a contest. It’s laughable to claim a record earned in a game—remember, not even Michael Jordan could break it because they played these games sincerely toward basketball standards through the 1990s—played this casually. But they’ve now become a farce of watching each other in little more than a well attended layup line.
Though Butler was too supportive to call out his teammates for the shame in which they conducted the game, it was clear neither he nor Leonard, regarded as two of the best two-way players in the NBA, wanted to demean the game the same way.
“It’s different,” Butler tried to offer diplomatically. “Basketball is basketball; it’s just fun to go out there and put on a show, to play, laugh, run up and down with guys who are not on your team every day. I just wanted to get up and down, get my legs moving and go on vacation.
“I take a back seat to all that (fancy stuff),” Butler said. “It’s still an honor to be here. I want to go out there and compete; that’s what I do. I’m not disappointed; it’s an All-Star game. It is what it is. Maybe we should try to go back to that; I don’t know.”
That was a reference to being asked about taking the game at least a bit more seriously, which Butler was too polite to offer. After all, as he said, it was an All-Star game, he got his first start and he did seem tired. Though sometimes boredom makes you feel weary.
Butler certainly looked bored watching the menagerie of dunks and basketball hijinks around him. He attempted four shots, all mid range jumpers, making three. We’ve seen Butler finish lob dunks in games, but usually taking advantage of a defender and rolling off back door. It just doesn’t seem the same when no one cares to intercept.
Perhaps the only player less engaged was DeMarcus Cousins, and we found out later why.
Cousins was reported traded after the game pending physicals to the New Orleans Pelicans to join Davis in New Orleans. It was a shocking move because Cousins was supposed to remain in Sacramento after promises from the Kings. It potentially hurts the Bulls since they have the Kings draft pick this season, but only if it’s not in the top 10 of the draft. Now it seems likely the Kings will get the top 10 pick.
Butler’s name has been rumored in trade talk, though there hasn’t seemed like any serious discussions.
“I never know what tomorrow brings, so I’ll just lay down, dream and hopefully wake up the next day,” said a contemplative Butler looking forward to his shorter All-Star break. “Am I anxious for (Thursday)? I don’t worry about that; I’ll be OK. Not saying I’m untradeable, but I don’t think about that. If I’m not in a Bulls uniform, I’ll give you (reporter) a hug and say goodbye to you. Hopefully I’m not going to die, but hopefully I’m not going to get traded, either. I won’t know. I don’t control that. Control what I can control, like going on vacation.”
In the game, there was the usual stuff, or unusual, with Durant and Westbrook connecting on a pass and dunk play after soap opera scenes this season of a Durant/Westbrook feud since Durant signed with the Warriors.
Stephen Curry threw an underhand pass off the backboard for a Davis dunk that no one bothered to try to stop. LeBron threw a pass off the backboard to himself for a dunk. One time Curry laid down on the floor and covered his head after Antetokounmpo had a steal and was going in for a dunk. That was funny. Curry was wearing a headband for some reason. West coach Steve Kerr said he thought it was his brother Seth.
LeBron dunked a bunch of times, though he also only played 19 minutes, like Butler. Westbrook fanned himself after making four threes in succession. Kyrie Irving had 22 points and 14 assists, though was quiet about his weekend opinion that the Earth was flat, which drew considerable media interest. It’s one of those things you hear, and these days you never know where that ends up or who’ll be tweeting about it.
The East did score 53 points in the first quarter, so the West did tighten up its defense after that. The West scored at least 47 points each quarter, and Butler was asked if he felt any pride in the East’s defensive effort that held the West under 200 points.
“What did they have?” he wondered.
Yes, he was into that game.
Butler did say he enjoyed teammate Paul George going one for seven on threes, though Butler said he thought it was zero for nine. With the West leading 97-92 at halftime, the embarrassment was apparently too much for Leonard. Kerr said he asked not to play in the second half. Butler played four minutes after halftime.
Yes, vacation could not come soon enough. Before the Bulls gather later this week for Friday’s game against Phoenix, Butler said he was heading for a mini vacation.
“It was fun, great weekend,” said Butler, who did go to the Dwyane Wade and Michael Jordan parties. “Got to see my guys East and West, and I’m ready to go home and get a real break now. I spent a lot of time with D-Wade when he was here. I got to see all my so called friends.
“Me and the guys are going to do a little traveling to some places and then lay down, go to a beach somewhere,” Butler said. “I’ll be in the gym somewhere, but it will not be in Chicago. It will be somewhere nice and weathery where the sun is out and there is some sand on the beach.
“I didn’t say I need the rest,” Butler corrected. “I need a change of scenery.”
Though Butler meant just for the next few days.
And thanks to the statement he made Sunday. It may just help save this game and the shame and dishonor it’s bringing to the NBA. That’s the true stuff of most valuable players.