Last Thursday night, Mavs and Luka fans everywhere huddled around their televisions, as the Inside the NBA on TNT crew was set to announce the All-Star starters. Everyone was aware how well Luka had done in the fan vote. He finished third, not just in West frontcourt voting, but out of the entire All-Star field. That would put him ahead of guys like Stephen Curry, Paul George, Kyrie Irving, and some of the game’s biggest names. He is an immensely popular player with a massive, cult-like following, but even those folks can admit that there were more deserving players for that starting lineup, so it was no shock when Luka was not included in the first five.
The real head scratcher came later, when it became known that the only reason Luka wasn’t named a starter, was because of how harsh the player vote was toward him.
Western Conference voting breakdown of fans, media and player votes for those interested pic.twitter.com/71DtRZS9S8
— Mark Followill (@MFollowill) January 25, 2019
Eighth in West frontcourt voting? Really? Him being behind both Steven Adams and Lamarcus Aldridge in player voting is what wound up keeping him out of the starting lineup, and what will likely keep him out of the game. No slight to those guys, they’re both good. Aldridge is having a great season and is a compelling debate when compared to Luka, but Steven Adams? Again, good player, but most would agree he hasn’t had the season Luka has.
So, what gives?
It’s a tale as old as time, really. The firmly entrenched, successful figure heads feel threatened or somehow standoffish about the young upstarts coming in to take their place. We have all heard of rookie hazing, this is another form of that, with maybe a little more contempt coming from the vets. It’s one thing to be good for a rookie, but it’s another thing entirely when you are just as good, or better than they are.
Luka acknowledged that this could be what’s happening.
Luka shares his thoughts on the player voting, and whether or not the vets at making him pay his dues pic.twitter.com/CRUqW97nIz
— Reese Konkle (@RKonkle_Mavs) January 28, 2019
Raptors head coach Nick Nurse seems to see it that way as well.
“Probably,” Nurse said succinctly when asked if he thought the players were making Luka pay his dues. “Any young player has to be really spectacular, and he has been really spectacular, to be able to vault right in there. I haven’t looked at the names, and who’d be in and who’d be out, and all that kind of stuff, but from what I’ve seen, he’s been incredible. ”
Making a point to ask all the coaches if they think the players are “rook’ing” Luka out of the All-Star game.
Add another to the list. We are 2 for 2: pic.twitter.com/6NZKXc55AH
— Reese Konkle (@RKonkle_Mavs) January 27, 2019
That certainly sounds like an admission. He sets the standard by saying, “He has to be spectacular,” and then admits that he has been just that.
That’s just just one man’s opinion though. And it’s not like Nick Nurse is some NBA-lifer who has been around the league and these guys for a long time. He is relatively new to all this.
So, I decided to ask Nurse’s predecessor in Toronto, Dwayne Casey, the same thing when his Detroit team was in town on Friday.
“Well, probably I would say that, but the fans spoke,” Casey said of the vets penalizing Luka. “Deserving to be an All-Star. The fans voted him in, and that’s the bottom line. What the players felt, I don’t know, but that could be a little bit of it.”
Since we were all thinking it, I asked coach Dwayne Casey if he thought the players were making Luka “pay his dues” based off the All-Star voting returns.
This was his answer. pic.twitter.com/3MvtTzqlKc
— Reese Konkle (@RKonkle_Mavs) January 26, 2019
A common theme when speaking with the coaches across the league about the All-Star selection process, is that they really value winning when selecting their reserves. After all, it’s their opinion who matters now that the player vote pushed Luka out of the starting lineup. A quick glance at the standings will tell you that is more bad news for the rookie.
Again, how is that fair? Luka was a top-three pick. Generally, when you are a top talent who is drafted that high, you are probably not joining a talent-rich roster. The Mavs were a 28 win team last year without Luka. They currently have 22 wins and January isn’t even over yet. Sure, there are a lot of reasons for that. Deandre Jordan has been nice, Dennis got better, Maxi Kleber and Dorian Finney-Smith’s progression has been tremendous, but make no mistake about it, the Mavs are this much better because of their prodigious 19-year-old. Nothing suggests that more than the fact that he has played the majority of his minutes with one of the worst net-rated five man lineups in the league (Smith, Doncic, Matthews, Barnes, Jordan), and he still has managed a dead even +/-, while the rest of his counterparts are all negatives.
So if you’re keeping score, that’s the coaches holding him accountable for things he’s not responsible for (situation), the players not giving him the appropriate respect for likely petty reasons, and the media and fans not having enough sway to will him into the starting lineup. Where’s the justice in that? After all, the All-Star game is for the fans. Over 4 million voters decided they wanted Luka to be there, and this isn’t some Dwyane Wade lifetime achievement award, where we put someone in to honor them. Luka has All-Star talent, production, and appeal.
Let’s stop the nonsense and get the kid to Charlotte.
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