OAKLAND – The fact literally looms over the Warriors every time they practice at their downtown facility, the way the long rectangular sign attached high on one of the walls lists their All-Stars of the California era.
The recent history – or lack thereof – is impossible to avoid. Players have learned it by osmosis by now. Latrell Sprewell made the 1997 showcase in Cleveland as a reserve and no Warrior has since. It looks down as a constant reminder.
That will almost certainly change in the 2013 game in Houston. Golden State is 22-10, has the fifth-best record in the Western Conference and is playing particularly well as coaches begin to focus on the vote to fill out the roster following the fan selection of starters. The Warriors have two deserving candidates, David Lee and Stephen Curry. At least one should make it.
Unless Lee and Curry come close enough to splitting the coach’s balloting, Lee in the frontcourt and Curry among the guards, that they cancel each other out and end up hurting the Warriors’ chances of ending the dry spell.
Will it happen? Probably not.
But could it happen? Yes. Agonizingly, frustratingly, disappointingly yes.
“Who knows,” said Warriors coach Mark Jackson, who will be able to lobby colleagues but not vote for his own players. “I can’t figure out these coaches sometimes.”
Lee is averaging 20.2 points and 11.1 rebounds while shooting 53.8 percent. Curry is at 20.4 points, 6.5 assists and, although 43.6 percent overall, 45.6 percent from behind the arc. Both are leaders in a very good locker-room atmosphere. Both have been huge factors as Golden State made the move from lottery regular to playoff possibility and then kept going, all the way to being part of the lead pack for home-court advantage as the season nears the midpoint.
Western Conference coaches will reward the Warriors for the start, made all the more impressive because it has come mostly without Andrew Bogut and entirely without Brandon Rush. Exactly how they will reward is where it could get interesting. Golden State expecting two representatives in Houston is probably overly ambitious given how many other teams need to be similarly saluted, and so it becomes a numbers game at some point. Curry over Lee, Lee over Curry – this could become a conflict.
“Great problem to have,” Curry said. “That’s all I can say. You can play out all the scenarios and say who deserves what. But the fact that you have two legitimate shots at having a Warriors representative in Houston after 15, 16 years, that’s a big deal.”
External factors are at play as well. If Jeremy Lin of the Rockets moves back ahead of Chris Paul of the Clippers in fan voting and joins Kobe Bryant as the starting guards, Paul takes one of the reserve spots and hurts Curry’s chances. But if Lin does not win the popularity contest and Paul is in the opening lineup, there is more room for Curry.
This may end up with Jackson on the spot, with coaches asking him who is more deserving of the two. He wouldn’t like that and he would never say which Warrior got his nod if it came down to that, but it’s realistic to think he will have some voice in a situation where his team may not get the ideal outcome of both Lee and Curry going.
“I would hope that it’s realistic,” Jackson said of the chances of having two representatives. “And again, if we continue to do what we’re doing. I will say that because there’s some tough games coming up. But to me, as a coach, I would get phone calls from coaches last year asking or making their case for their players. I think it’s important for coaches around this league to not just jot down names because they’re names. I think it’s important. And I’m not saying this because it’s my guys. I took pride in doing it last year and there were none of my guys. Whoever it may be, if there’s a guy that’s deserving of an All-Star opportunity, put his name down and disregard that his name does not sound as hot when you write it down as somebody else’s.”
Jackson is partly wrong – Curry and Lee are hot names, not long-shot underdogs trying to establish themselves in the league. But point taken. It could get that interesting come voting time.