Golden State head coach Steve Kerr, after being sidelined from the Warriors’ first 43 games this season, finally was back on the sideline for their home game against Indiana Friday night at Oracle Arena (10:30 ET, ESPN).
But Luke Walton still might want to hold off making any personal plans for All-Star 2016.
Walton served as Golden State’s interim coach while Kerr recovered and rehabilitated from two offseason back surgeries. Kerr is back now as the Warriors’ coach of record, but the NBA reportedly still is considering whether Walton might be invited to coach the Western Conference All-Stars, assuming Golden State has the conference’s best record through games of Sunday, Jan. 31.
“We are reviewing our rules around the West coach situation to determine what is appropriate,” NBA spokesman Tim Frank said late Friday.
All-Star coaches, by NBA rules, are drawn from the team with its conference’s best record as of the official cutoff date, which is Jan. 31 this season. The exception is when a coach and his staff earned that honor the previous season, in which case the coaches of the second-place team handle All-Star duties. Kerr and the Golden State staff, including Walton, oversaw the West squad at the 2015 All-Star Game in New York.
Some had wondered, however, if Walton – because he had not served as “head coach” last February – might be eligible this time for the Feb. 14 game in Toronto. He was, after all, reported to be eligible for NBA Coach of the Year consideration even though his official head coaching record remains 0-0. The Warriors’ 39-4 mark technically goes on Kerr’s coaching record.
If Walton doesn’t coach the West All-Stars, the likely candidate is San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich. Either because of the “Riley rule” – the NBA spared coaches from working the All-Star Game in consecutive seasons in the 1980s when Lakers coach Pat Riley annually had his team atop the standings at the cutoff date – or because the Spurs overtake the Warriors, Popovich would be in line to go with his staff for the fourth time. He previously coach the West All-Stars in 2005, 2011 and 2013.
The Spurs (37-6) can’t be caught by the West’s third-best team, Oklahoma City (33-12). After Friday’s OKC victory at Dallas, both teams have four games by the Jan. 31 cutoff – even if San Antonio loses all four and OKC wins all four, the Spurs still would have the better record.
In another interesting twist, if the Cleveland Cavaliers remain in first place on Jan. 31, new head coach Tyronn Lue will be invited to coach the Eastern Conference All-Stars, the NBA also confirmed.
Lue, the Cleveland associate promoted to head coach Friday with the Cavaliers’ decision to fire David Blatt, would be accompanied by the rest of Cavs staff. Blatt not included, presumably.
Then again, there is some precedent for NBA figures no longer in the league to participate on All-Star Weekend. Guard Craig Hodges was invited to defend his title in the 3-Point Shootout in 1993 after the Chicago Bulls had waived him following the 1991-92 season. Back in 1977, forward Larry McNeil competed in the NBA’s first Slam Dunk contest at the All-Star Game in Milwaukee between being waived by the Nets in December and signed by Golden State in late February.
And of course, Magic Johnson famously played in and was named MVP of the 1992 All-Star Game after abruptly retiring when he announced in November 1991 that he had contracted the HIV virus.