The NBA announced on Wednesday that Gregg Popovich would coach the Western Conference team during the All-Star Game in Toronto on Feb. 14.
Great. Pop is the natural choice. And by rule, he was the only one, considering the conference-best Warriors’ Steve Kerr helmed the West last year, and coaches can’t lead All-Star teams in back-to-back seasons. Popovich has won five NBA titles. Popovich will coach his fourth Western Conference All-Star team. Popovich is fantastic.
The coach of the Eastern Conference All-Stars, however, still remains to be seen. Via the NBA’s release:
Head coaches whose teams have the best records in each conference following the games played two weeks prior to the All-Star Game serve as the All-Star Game head coaches, but no head coach is allowed to participate in two consecutive All-Star Games.
Two weeks before the All-Star Game is this upcoming Sunday, four days away. During that time, the Cavaliers, who lead the Raptors by two games in the East, play three times. It’s possible Cleveland could fall to second in the conference over the next half-week, but it’s not likely. So, get ready for a "Tyronn Lue will be coaching the Eastern Conference All-Stars" announcement at some point in the near future.
And that moment is going to be terrible. Terrible for Dwane Casey, the Toronto coach who has led his Raptors to a 30-15 record. Terrible for David Blatt, who had helped the Cavs to a 30-11 record before being fired and replaced by Lue just five days ago. Terrible for 99 percent of the NBA fan base who probably had no idea who Tyronn Lue was until last week.
It’s not like Casey is the biggest name in NBA history. And it’s not even like we care that much about All-Star appearances for coaches, anyway.
But at the same time, you shouldn’t be able to walk off the street and luck into the game. It’s simultaneously an honor for the individuals and an exhibition for the fans. Putting Lue in the game doesn’t wrap around either of those concepts. Can’t the NBA deviate from the usual system because of extenuating circumstances this one time? Lue himself had said it would be "sweet" if Blatt could coach the All-Stars.
If Kobe Bryant can start because the fans just want to see him play, why can’t we make a concession for those we want to see coach? Maybe Luke Walton, who led the Warriors to a 39-4 record as Kerr’s interim, can jump over to the other bench and coach the East against Pop. Or some NBA celebrity can step in. Or if you want the Cavs coach so badly, maybe LeBron James should player-coach.
Of course, in the grand scheme of things, this doesn’t matter. I’ll get myself all riled up over this for the next week and then will forget about it as soon as the All-Star break ends, and we all get back to our normal routines. But some coach is losing out on a titular career achievement because of this, and that’s unfortunate all around.
Many speak highly of Lue, and he may very well end up being a great coach. But All-Star weekend is supposed to honor individuals for what they have done, not what they might do. Lue simply doesn’t have the sample size. He hasn’t been given the opportunity. He’s coached a grand total of two games in his entire head-coaching career, which spans all the way back to the olden days of this past Friday.
This can be the NBA’s chance to do something convivial after being put in an awkward spot. Because it’ll be disappointing if a game that is always so personality-filled, that is supposed to be fun for the fans while also honorary for the individuals, ends up prioritizing rigidity over the spirit of the weekend.