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NBA coaches explain how they make decisions on All-Star Game reserves

USA TODAY SPORTS logo USA TODAY SPORTS 24/02/2021 06:32:11 Mark Medina, USA TODAY

Every year, the 30 NBA head coaches make a decision that can be more difficult than drawing up a play, managing personalities or handling a rotation. They vote for the NBA All-Star reserves in the Eastern and Western Conference.

"It's never easy," Denver Nuggets coach Mike Malone said. "You're going to have talented players that are left off that team."

That explains why Malone initially said he delegated his votes to his two daughters. Malone stressed he was joking so NBA Commissioner Adam Silver would not think he was not taking the voting process seriously. Who could blame Malone, though, for considering such an option?

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A handful of NBA coaches conceded they agonize every year about making the right selections.

"It's a very difficult position to be in," New York Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said. "When you look at all the players that are having All-Star type years, you know there's not enough spots."

For the first 24 NBA All-Star Games, a panel of sportswriters and broadcasters selected each conference's starting lineups and three bench players. Coaches then filled out the rest of the roster, which grew from 10 players to 12 in 1961. Fans first voted for starters in the 1974-75 season, and it has since evolved into calculating the fan vote (50%) along with select media members (25%) and players (25%). Each conference's respective head coaches select the seven reserves.

Each coach is forbidden from voting for their own players to eliminate any self interest. Yet, coaches said they still agonize over the decisions for a few reasons.

A few argued that the roster size should increase from 12 to 14 or 15.

"Five of them are pretty easy almost every year. It's kind of a no-brainer," Portland Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. "When it comes down to the last two spots, that's when it's tough."

Teams have played games every other day during a compressed 72-game schedule in the middle of a pandemic. That has left them consumed with following the league's health and safety protocols while squeezing in whatever practices and film sessions they can before the next game.

Monty Williams wearing a suit and tie: Suns coach Monty Williams knows choosing NBA All-Star reserves is a difficult task that leaves worthy candidates off the team, like his young star Devin Booker. © Jason Getz, USA TODAY SportsSuns coach Monty Williams knows choosing NBA All-Star reserves is a difficult task that leaves worthy candidates off the team, like his young star Devin Booker.

"You're not as locked into the rest of the NBA. I'm just not," Orlando Magic coach Steve Clifford said. "You're scrambling to get ready for the next game. So there are some guys you haven't seen as much. The teams you played, you have a better idea of who they're playing. But then the other guys, you don't."

Coaches are also aware of the impact an All-Star nod can have on a player's career.

"There's been times I didn't vote for a guy and after the fact I felt like I wish there were more slots so I could vote for him," Phoenix Suns coach Monty Williams said. "That affects their livelihood. It affects their bonuses. It affects their standing. It affects their legacy. As a former player, I understand that. I want to be as fair as I can."

How do the NBA coaches try to establish fairness?

"Most coaches look at win-loss records as a major criteria," said Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle, the president of the National Basketball Coaches Association. "Then you get into some tough decisions."

Consider the mixed picture the majority of NBA coaches selected as reserves.

The Eastern Conference featured four reserves on winning teams, including Philadelphia's Ben Simmons, Brooklyn's James Harden and Boston's Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. The Western Conference had six reserves on winning teams, including Los Angeles Lakers forward Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Clippers forward Paul George, Utah's Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert, Portland's Damian Lillard and Phoenix's Chris Paul. But the reserves also included players on teams below .500, including Chicago's Zach LaVine, New York's Julius Randle, Orlando's Nikola Vucevic and New Orleans' Zion Williamson.

In what has become a yearly custom, criticism emerged on the so-called snubs that included Phoenix's Devin Booker, Milwaukee's Khris Middleton, San Antonio's DeMar DeRozan, Utah's Mike Conley, Charlotte's Gordon Hayward, Philadelphia's Tobias Harris, Sacramento's De'Aaron Fox, New Orleans' Brandon Ingram, Atlanta's Trae Young, Toronto's Fred VanVleet and Indiana's Domanta Sabonis. Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James publicly questioned Booker's exclusion.

The NBA has kept the coaches' votes confidential. Unlike the fan, media and player vote for the All-Star starters, the NBA does not release a tabulated breakdown for the league's reserves. And unsurprisingly, most coaches declined to reveal their current and past vote selections.

Washington Wizards coach Scott Brooks became the lone exception. In 2011, Brooks steered away from strictly evaluating players on their teams' win-loss records because he became enamored with Kevin Love, who had a four-month streak of consecutive double-doubles through 53 games, the longest NBA streak in 37 years. Love accomplished the feat during his third season with the Minnesota Timberwolves, which eventually finished with the NBA's worst record (17-65).

"Just because you're on a winning team doesn't make you an All-Star. Just because you're on a team that is not winning should not make you an All-Star," Brooks said. "I don't focus on just the winning teams. I focus on guys that are playing at a high level that are helping their teams."

How coaches focus on particular candidates often depends on the circumstances. Four of the 14 reserves are first-time selections: Brown, LaVine, Randle and Williamson. Five other reserves have appeared in an All-Star Game at least five times: Paul, Harden, George, Davis and Lillard. With Davis out with a right calf injury, it remains to be seen if Silver will choose either a young player or a veteran to replace him.

"There's some guys that have had great numbers that haven't been on winning teams that I've put on as well because their numbers are just so great that you can't ignore," Philadelphia 76ers coach Doc Rivers said. "But winning is the big decider. If it's close for me and it can go either way, I'm always going on record. My belief there is it's so much harder to get numbers on a winning team."

The other wrinkle: if it helps or hurts to play with an All-Star teammate. This year's team features a combined 13 All-Star tandems from the same team, including the Lakers (James, Davis), Clippers (Kawhi Leonard, George), Nets (Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Harden), Celtics (Tatum, Brown), Sixers (Joel Embiid, Simmons) and Jazz (Mitchell, Gobert). While Booker, Middleton, Conley, Ingram and Harris were excluded from joining an All-Star teammate, DeRozan, Young, VanVleet and Sabonis were the lone All-Star candidates on their respective teams.

"If a team isn't a playoff team or in a playoff hunt or has one of the best records in the conference, I think that weighs into whether you vote for a second All-Star," Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. "Or if they don't have any All-Stars, you vote for someone so they have somebody that represents them to reward them for having a winning record."

Nonetheless, Vogel stressed that coaches sort out these variables "almost case-by-case." No wonder Malone wished he could actually hand off the responsibility to his two daughters.

"It would be the exception where it would be clean and easy," Milwaukee Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. "There's always guys that are very, very good and deserving. It comes down to some hard decisions."

Follow USA TODAY NBA writer Mark Medina on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NBA coaches explain how they make decisions on All-Star Game reserves

24. helmikuuta 2021 8:32:11 Categories: USA TODAY SPORTS

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