At the NBA All-Star media availability on Friday, Eastern Conference coach Brad Stevens and Western Conference coach Steve Kerr said they would just roll the ball out on Sunday night (8 p.m. EST) and see if the scoreboards at the Smoothie King Center explode.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for a basketball junkie to be around high achievers, and for me it’s all about (how much) I love the game,” said Stevens, the former Butler University coach whose Boston Celtics are 37-20 and second behind only the Cleveland Cavaliers (39-16) in the East. “I grew up in the state of Indiana, where the game is really important. Whether it was high school or college or pros, there was always somebody to watch and somebody to learn from. To be around the best in this game is an honor.”
Stevens, who was 12 years old when the Indiana Pacers drafted Reggie Miller, is coaching his first All-Star Game, and he is a quick study. NBA All-Star Games are not about pick-and-roll defense and drawing up game plans.
“It’s great to be there, (but) I don’t know how much coaching you actually do,” Stevens said, laughing. “I know my lane. I think I’m going to get out of their way. I’ll be there if we want to draw something up or do something out of a timeout, but this weekend’s about the players. They’ve decided that coaches should be a part of it, so we’ll represent the coaches and go from there.”
Kerr, whose Golden State Warriors are 47-9 and No. 1 in the West, will have the opportunity to put four of his players on the court at the same time. Point guard Stephen Curry and forward Kevin Durant will start for the West, and shooting guard Klay Thompson and power forward Draymond Green are reserves.
One piece of drama left for Sunday night is the fifth player Kerr would have on the court if he chooses to play his four Warriors at the same time — and whether Kerr would put Thunder guard Russell Westbrook on the court with Durant despite their prickly personal relationship after Durant left Oklahoma City for Golden State in the offseason.
“The only thing I want is for our players to enjoy the weekend,” Kerr said.
Both Westbrook and Durant deftly deflected questions about being back on the same team for the first time in about nine months.
Someone asked Westbrook if he and Durant needed a “Kumbaya” moment to get past their widely reported differences.
“I don’t know what you all need,” Westbrook said. “I’m in a great place. I’m having fun, having a great time. I’m happy with my team now and looking forward to moving forward.”
Asked if he was excited to be teammates with Westbrook once again, Durant responded economically: “I’m excited to be here.”
Durant said, “Stuff that you guys think are important, I don’t think it’s important at all. Now it’s about all this other stuff.”
In reflecting for the past several weeks on having four Warriors on the All-Star team, Green said it is probably something that won’t happen often in the future.
“It’s pretty special — three of your teammates in the All-Star Game,” Green said. “You make up four of the 12 guys, and that says a lot about our team, most importantly. To share the floor with those guys, especially in an environment like this, means a lot.”
Even though this is Stevens’ first All-Star Game and each squad is filled with incredible talent, the Boston coach believes his 5-foot-9 point guard, Isaiah Thomas, might have a breakout performance among the tall trees.
“I would put out a ceiling on Isaiah,” Stevens said.
Thomas said, “I think some people still doubt. Some people don’t give me my just due and my respect. At the end of the day, it always comes back to my height. If I was 6-1, they would probably call me the best player in the world. It’s been like that my whole life. … I’m not saying I’m one of the best ever to put on a Celtics uniform, but I want to be in that direction.”