Kevin Pelton, SUPERSONICS.COM
| Feb. 9, 2005
Two Seattle SuperSonics friends and teammates were chosen for the Western Conference All-Star team yesterday, but how those selections are perceived could not be much more different.
For guard Ray Allen, making his fifth appearance in the last six years, an All-Star berth has almost become routine. For forward Rashard Lewis, an All-Star for the first time at age 25, it might just be the highlight of his career. Those around the two Sonics have responded accordingly.
"Everybody just went right over to Rashard, slapping his head, hugging him," said Antonio Daniels, describing the reaction when Coach Nate McMillan broke the news at shootaround. "Nobody really cared about Ray."
Lewis is one of 29 NBA players averaging 20+ points per game this season.
"People walked around yesterday and congratulated Rashard, and I guess they just assumed or expected I was going to make it that they didn't need to congratulate me, which didn't bother me," confirmed Allen after the Sonics practiced Wednesday. "I think people have always looked at me as an All-Star, which is a great feeling. That's kind of how I looked at myself and that's what I expected."
"To be able to be looked on in that light, you're going to be looked on as a consummate All-Star for years to come, is the best compliment to have as a player in the NBA."
Lewis, on the other hand, has had to work to reach All-Star status since being drafted by the Sonics in the second round of the 1998 Draft out of Alief Elsik High School. It's been a long journey that has taken Lewis from draft night, when his fall out of the first round stunned observers and left him in tears in the green room at the draft in Vancouver, to now, when he stands as one of the league's best players.
"It was more surprise, and I think I just had some type of shock go through my body," Lewis said today, recounting his reaction to the news. "The team was excited for me, I was excited, the coaches were excited. It felt like it was some type of celebration yesterday because I made the All-Star team.
"I'm extremely happy about it, but it's good to know that your teammates are happy with you even though it's only me and Ray that are going up there. Reggie (Evans) was saying in the locker room yesterday he felt like he made the All-Star team. That's a good feeling, because they are the reason why me and Ray are going."
Certainly, Allen's reaction was more understated. No one expected that Western Conference coaches - who voted for two guards, two forwards, a center and two wild cards - would omit Allen after a first-half that has seen him draw MVP consideration as the Sonics rank as the NBA's fourth-best team. Still, an All-Star selection is always an honor for Allen.
"It's not like you're just getting chosen because of your name," he said. "I'm getting chosen for what I've done that particular year."
For Lewis, much of the hard work has been done as he's improved his scoring average every season of his NBA career save last year, ramping up from the 2.4 points per game he averaged as a 19-year-old rookie to this year's 20.3 points per game. That development has taken him from the end of the bench to the rotation to the starting lineup to the team's third-best player to now an acknowledged "1A" to Allen's number one option on offense.
An All-Star berth, however, does not mean the work stops here.
"Don't let this be the last one," advised McMillan before last night's win over New Orleans. "You have to live up to being an All-Star player for the rest of the season and, as far as I'm concerned, the rest of his career."
"I'm extremely happy to be in it this year, but I have a lot more stepping stones I have to take, not just being a one-time All-Star, like a one-hit wonder," said Lewis. "I think I have to continue to improve because the Western Conference is so tough, there are going to be different guys who continue to make the All-Star team every year. There's four or five guys who are not on the team that could be on the team, guys that got injured early in the season and may have had a chance to make the team. So I think it's going to be a lot tougher next year for me to make it than it was this year."
Only three Western Conference All-Stars boast more All-Star Game experience than Allen.
The harder work right now for Lewis might be getting himself and his family to Denver. Lewis expects nine or 10 family members to travel to the All-Star Game, including his mother, his brothers and sisters, his step-dad and a couple of uncles.
"I haven't even made arrangements for me to get down there yet - they're already trying to figure out where they're going to start, what kind of flight they're going to get down there," Lewis said. "As soon as I leave here, it's time to get on the phone, figure out what we're going to do."
For Allen, that kind of stuff is old hat.
"I've got somebody to take care of all that - tickets, family, travel, all that stuff," he said. "I don't need to worry about it, I don't have to worry about it. From playing with USA Basketball and then the All-Star Game, you deal with the same people - photographers, NBA Entertainment, so you feel like you're around family when you see the same people. It's an old gathering of friends."
Allen described All-Star Weekend as "work," but that doesn't mean he'd rather have the time off as opposed to participating in the All-Star Game itself and Saturday's Foot Locker Three-Point Shootout (where he'll battle Sonics teammate Vladimir Radmanovic, against others).
"There will be a day when they won't be asking for me," said Allen. "You've got to take advantage of these moments. The three-point contest, the whole weekend will be over with in a couple of days and it's nice to say I competed and I did certain things. I'd hate to be the guy that turned it down because for the moment, I wanted to relax. Somebody else is out there having fun or winning. I want to be a part of that stuff."
McMillan worried that Lewis might be uncomfortable playing on the same court with the NBA's best players, something he observed when teammate Xavier McDaniel played in the 1988 game (the X-Man had two points and two rebounds in 13 minutes of action). Based on Lewis' comments today, McMillan needn't worry.
"Every time I get it, I'm going to let it go, because I know they're going to do the same thing," said Lewis. "Hopefully, I can get in while Ray's in and we can just look for each other. I've got to put it up, because I probably won't get that many minutes anyway. While I'm in there, hopefully I can just get it up."