Moved by the respect displayed by his peers, Devin Booker stilled the excitement brewing inside knowing what might inevitably come next.
Despite sitting at eighth in voting by fans for the 2020 NBA All-Star Game after final results were released, Booker came in fourth for guards in the Western Conference in the votes submitted by the players.
“That was good news, something similar to last year,” Booker said last Friday afternoon before dropping a 35-point, 10-assist double-double later that night in a win over the San Antonio Spurs. “I don’t know what the player rank was last year, but I even spoke on that and said I’m happy that’s the situation. I earned respect from my peers, the guys that spend countless hours in the gym that we get to compete against. So that means a lot to me.”
What’s not so significant for Booker these days is actually making the NBA All-Star Game. While the vast majority of players around the league view earning a selection as key in defining their career legacies, Booker’s recent circumstances somewhat jade his perspective.
Responding diplomatically to the question of whether making the All-Star team enhances a player’s career legacy, Booker points to the game’s current format to explain his ambivalence.
“It’s not even East versus West really,” Booker said. “So, we’ll see. It’s not my decision to determine anybody’s legacy. And I don’t think it determines anybody’s legacy because of the format now.”
Many of Booker’s peers disagree, including his own coach, Monty Williams, who played nine seasons for five teams in the NBA and never was selected to play in the league’s annual midseason showcase.
“I never did it, but when you have that kind of talent it absolutely is important,” Williams told NBA.com. “You want to be known as one of the best players, and when you put up those kinds of numbers and help your team win games, I think that should be recognized. All the factors should be put into the equation. So, I think it is important.”
So does San Antonio Spurs guard DeMar DeRozan, a four-time All-Star, who has twice been named to the All-NBA team.
Lacing up a pair of pink sneakers from the Kobe Bryant Nike line in New Orleans ahead of the Spurs’ win over the Pelicans in Zion Williamson’s electrifying debut, DeRozan squinted curiously when asked whether NBA All-Star appearances help to cement a player’s legacy.
“How many people have you asked this?” DeRozan asked. “Because I think it’s important. Anybody coming into the league, you want to be an All-Star. Obviously, after being there X amount of times, you get a different feel for it. But I think it’s important, you know what I mean? You want to check off everything down the list once you come into the league. I remember when I first was a part of the USA team. I felt like I had to be a part of this because not everybody gets this opportunity, and this goes on your resume forever.
“Same with All-Stars, same with championships, same with First-, Second-, and Third-Team All-NBA; all of those things. Not too many people get the opportunity to have that. Even the playoffs. You want to make it to the playoffs, then you want to make it out of the first round. Then you want to make it out of the second round. You want to know what it’s like to have a conference finals, and then ultimately win a championship. So, I think All-Stars are definitely important to your legacy.”
For some players, that sentiment changes over time.
At the end of your career, everybody looks at what you’ve accomplished, not only as a team, but also individually.
A four-time All-Star as a Portland Trail Blazer, LaMarcus Aldridge signed with the San Antonio Spurs before the 2015-16 season, and has since earned three more trips to the All-Star game. Aldridge entered this week having connected on a career-best 42.7% from 3-point range, and with 50 made 3-pointers through the first 42 games, he’s on pace to more than double his previous career-high of 37 buckets from deep, which he set during his final season in Portland (2014-15).
In the win over the Pelicans on Wednesday, Aldridge registered his 16th game with 30-plus points and 10-plus rebounds as a Spur.
Still, Aldridge faces long odds to make this year’s All-Star team, which is why he’s thinking more about vacationing in Cabo San Lucas during All-Star 2020 than actually playing in the game.
“I think it’s important to make the team for players who feel like they’re playing at that level,” Aldridge said. “You put the work in, and you feel like you’re a top 10 or 15 guy in the league or in your conference. So, I think it’s definitely important for guys to make it. Some guys actually have bonuses tied to it in their contracts. I don’t have those types of things. Some guys have shoe contract stuff tied to that. But I think more than that, it makes the respect be known around the league among your peers that you are playing at that high of a level.”
Aldridge admits the importance of making the All-Star team started to wane for him after being snubbed a couple of seasons during his time in Portland.
Perhaps Booker, in his fifth year, feels similarly as he still hasn’t been selected for his first All-Star game. Neither has Utah’s Mike Conley, one of the league’s most underrated point guards for the majority of his 13-year NBA career. When Conley’s teammate Rudy Gobert didn’t make the roster last year, he said “it’s just about my legacy” and eventually ended the interview with tears in his eyes.
Meanwhile, Atlanta’s Trae Young cried after finding out he made the team last week.
It means that much.
“You want to make it and have that as something to add to your legacy, just to be seen as one of the top players,” Aldridge said. “But anything can happen. So, you really can’t put all your energy into that. It’s about winning. I think if you win, and you take care of your season, then everything else takes care of itself.”
Mavericks power forward and one-time All-Star Kristaps Porzingis agreed.
“It does matter of course,” Porzingis said. “At the end of your career, everybody looks at what you’ve accomplished, not only as a team, but also individually. Now, my mindset is always once you’re winning and you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing with your team, then all of the individual accolades come with that. That’s my mindset. So, I try not to focus too much on the individual things. I want to win. I want to be remembered as a winner. That’s where my mind is at.”
Five-time All-Star center Al Horford shook his head and wagged a finger when it was suggested that for some players, All-Star selections aren’t legacy defining.
“No, no, no, it matters, no question,” Horford told NBA.com. “Obviously, I can speak only for myself, but I always play to win, and for my teams to do well. But you definitely want to be recognized. You want to be acknowledged. You want to be in those positions and have that experience, no question about it.”
Perhaps deep down, Booker longs for all of that, too. It’s certainly clear he’s miffed about not ever making an All-Star team despite being one of the league’s most dynamic scorers over the last three years. The argument that team success plays a role probably falls on deaf ears for Booker, too, considering Young was recently named an All-Star starter for the East team.
The Atlanta Hawks have the worst record in the conference.
Meanwhile, Luka Doncic, James Harden and Damian Lillard were the only guards in All-Star player voting to receive more votes than Booker. Doncic, Harden, and Lillard all ranked ahead of Booker in fan voting along with Russell Westbrook and Donovan Mitchell.
Booker tied for fourth in voting among members of the media, who were allowed to vote for just two backcourt players. Doncic, Harden and Lillard were the only guards to receive votes.
Fan voting accounts for 50% of the vote, while the ballots tabulated among the players and media accounts for 25% each.
Through the first half of the season, Booker averaged a career-high 27.0 points to go with 6.3 assists per game and 4.0 rebounds while shooting nearly 51% from the field.
Booker could still make his first All-Star team if he’s selected by the coaches, who are tasked with choosing the reserves for the game. It will be announced Thursday night on TNT.
I feel I’ve played at an All-Star level for the last three years …
Williams is certainly campaigning on Booker’s behalf.
“The players know, and the coaches should know,” Williams said. “If you look at that list of guys, how many of those guys get blitzed as much as Devin? How many of those guys have played without their second-best player for close to 30 games? You look at the efficiency with how he’s played, and he plays on all three levels. He never ducks a matchup. I forget who wrote it, but somebody was talking about his defensive lapses. Yet he never ducks a matchup. If you had to produce that much on offense, you’d have a few lapses also. You never see Devin take the easiest guy. So, the players know, and I believe the coaches know. I hope it works out for him.”
As for Booker, he’s understandably uncomfortable with the prospect of his legacy being built on the foundation of All-Star selections, considering he’s been worthy of the honor over the years.
Booker pulled a hood over his head walking off the court Friday at the AT&T Center in San Antonio as an idling bus waited. Looking up on the walk to the bus, Booker spotted the large replicas of the Spurs five championship banners lining the wall and pointed at them.
“I feel I’ve played at an All-Star level for the last three years, so I’m not going to let anyone else decide my legacy,” Booker told NBA.com. “I care more about getting some of these.”
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