Like a fastball to the ribs, Zach LaVine saw it coming. But it still hurt when LaVine Thursday wasn't selected among the reserves for the Eastern Conference All-Star team.
It's still possible if there is an injury that LaVine could be added since the commissioner selects injury replacements.
"You just saw the trend where they went for players on winning teams," LaVine told reporters before Friday's Bulls game in Brooklyn. "It sucks. Everybody (who has excelled this season) feels like they are deserving. But there are only so many spots. A lot of guys can make their case."
Nets coach Kenny Atkinson expressed dismay neither of his guards, Spencer Dinwiddie or Kyrie Irving, was named despite the Nets being in playoff position all season, albeit with a sub-.500 record. The Wizards Bradley Beal called his omission "disrespectful" and said while averaging 28 points per game he expected to be selected even though the Wizards have a poor record. Beal's fiancee weighed in on the Wizards post game show to call the process laughable and the NBA a joke. The Suns released a statement from the general manager calling Devin Booker an All-Star. Even though the Western Conference coaches didn't add him. The West coaches did vote for two players from teams with losing records, Damian Lillard from Portland and Brandon Ingram from New Orleans. The East coaches selected reserves only from teams with winning records.
LaVine was more accepting than angered, more confident than resigned.
"I don't think there are 12 players in the East who have had a better year than me."
LaVine is having his best NBA season, averaging a career best 25.1 points per game. He's also averaging career bests in rebounding and steals and among the league's top 20 in scoring and steals and fourth among East players in scoring. It's rare for a player averaging at least 25 points per game to be left off the All-Star team. Yet, LaVine, Beal and Booker all are averaging more than 25 per game. It has set off a debate about what is an All-Star. Is it an exciting player who performs at a star level or a player who perhaps produces less offensively but whose team has a winning record?
The focus on winning to be an All-Star has been common in recent years, though earlier in the NBA it was not unusual for players from losing teams who were having high level offensive seasons to be All-Stars.
"That's the way it goes," said LaVine. "I'm not going to let it define me or who I think I am. I think I know who I am every time I step on the court. I'm still going out there to help us make the playoffs.
"I understand why," LaVine acknowledged. "I don't think there are 12 players in the East who have had a better year than me. But like I said to you (media) guys at the beginning of the year, it's on winning. A lot of our individual success comes with winning and when that comes for us, I think we'll be happy as a group because not just me, but the coaching staff, the other players, the whole city of Chicago (will benefit). I think that's a bigger target point and when we get to that winning, I think everyone succeeds."
Not only was LaVine snubbed, but Coby White was left off the roster for the Rising Game of top rookies and sophomores while, shockingly, three players from the losing Charlotte Hornets were selected for the team. The NBA usually tries to add a player from the home city of the game. But it seems this year the NBA took special delight in trying to keep Bulls players out of the weekend. Wendell Carter Jr. was selected for the roster with the league knowing Carter could not participate with an injury. Zion Williamson was added to the roster even though he's only played four games this season. He also doesn't play back to back games. Since the Pelicans are scheduled to play Thursday and the Rising Stars game is Friday, it's even possible Williamson might want to skip the Feb. 14 Rising Stars game.
"I'm not going to let it define me or who I think I am. I think I know who I am every time I step on the court. I'm still going out there to help us make the playoffs."
LaVine could participate in one of the contests, but he said he hasn't decided yet.
"Still thinking about it," LaVine said. "I'll probably want to do something. We'll figure out what I want to do the next couple of days."
LaVine is a two-time slam dunk contest winner. So it probably wouldn't make much sense to enter a contest which now is often relegated to reserve players. The top NBA stars never enter the dunk contest any longer. LaVine also said he's thinking about the three-point and skills contests.
"If I feel up to doing it," LaVine said about the contests. "Obviously my fatigue level and what events it would be and how much I have to put into it. For the dunk contest, I haven't practiced at all. So I'm not just going to walk into something and throw up at an L. I've got to see if I can win. You have to take all of that into consideration. I (also) have to think if I want to do it now (three point contest).
"I think I'm somebody you can count on each day," LaVine said. "(You) know what you are going to get from me and even on bad days, learn how to figure it out and turn it on at the right time and help us win games. I felt I went to the offseason to get better at things I wasn't as good as last year and I'm still learning."
Starring for the Bulls if not yet with the official league jersey.