Philadelphia, PA – For the most part, the NBA's coaches do an Star Game.
With so few slots available there are always a number of players who are going to feel slighted but you can almost always defend the ones picked. That changed a bit this time around with three big names selected that have no business being in Orlando in late February.
Dallas' Dirk Nowitzki, Boston's Paul Pierce and the Suns' Steve Nash will all be enshrined in Springfield one day but their selection as All-Star reserves this season smacked as more of a lifetime achievement award and was a direct slap in the face to players like Kyle Lowry, Rudy Gay, Josh Smith and Danny Granger.
In the West, the 33-year-old Nowitzki, who has struggled with conditioning and a balky knee in this lockout-shortened season, is arguably having his worst campaign as a professional. Despite his travails, Nowitzki was humbled by the respect he received.
"I am really excited to make the All-Star Team this year," Nowitzki said. "It was a tough road back to full health for me, but I am honored that the coaches thought enough of me to make me an All-Star. It has been a privilege to represent the Mavericks organization over the last decade and I look forward to doing it again in Orlando."
Nash, who turned 38 earlier this week and is as crafty as ever, becomes just the fourth player in NBA history to earn an All-Star selection at 38 or older, joining a Hall of Fame club that includes only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Michael Jordan and Karl Malone.
He's also got some solid numbers and is currently enjoying the best statistical season for a point guard 38-or-older, averaging 15.1 points and an NBA-best 10.0 assists entering play tonight. However, Nash pilots a team that is just 11-15 and is a major liability at the defensive end.
TNT aired the All-Star reserves selection show and a number of its analysts were up in arms over the picks of Nowitzki and Nash, former teammates in Dallas as well as past NBA MVPs.
"Clearly, we gave Steve Nash and Dirk Nowitzki a lifetime achievement award," Charles Barkley said. "Kyle Lowry should've been an All-Star. I'm rewarding Kyle Lowry. No disrespect for Steve Nash."
"Rudy Gay is the biggest snub [in the West]," the Hall of Famer added.
Cross over to the East and Pierce, who has come on a bit lately, even admitted surprise to TNT's Craig Sager when he was selected. In fact, most thought if Boston was going to have an All-Star this season, it would be point guard Rajon Rondo, the team's one ascending player.
"I would've liked to see my man Rondo on there" former C's big man Shaquille O'Neal said. "Rondo is still the best point guard in the game. He's the best true point guard in the game."
Barkley concurred: "Paul Pierce is a great player but he did not deserve to be on the team."
Chris Webber took to social media and Twitter to make the case for the Hawks' Smith:
"Josh smith. Call 911.You got robbed. No mask no gloves- its fingerprints- all over the place call first 48-no call Atlanta CSI- Call the FBI," the former All-Star Tweeted.
Kenny Smith was similarly perplexed with who wasn't on the team.
"The contributions from Danny Granger and Josh Smith, when the game is on the line, have been well above some of the other guys," the former point guard said.
What makes the selections of Nowitzki, Nash and Pierce so puzzling is that the coaches didn't rely solely on reputation. There were five first time All-Stars selected in Chicago's Luol Deng, Philadelphia's Andre Iguodala, Indiana's Roy Hibbert, Portland's LaMarcus Aldridge and the Grizzlies' Marc Gasol.
"I could not be more proud of Andre Iguodala for being recognized as an All- Star," said Sixers coach Doug Collins. "Andre has meant so much to the success of our team this season and he is one of the most talented, unselfish players I have ever had the opportunity to coach."
In the grand scheme of things, the actual NBA All-Star Game, like all the rest in professional sports, is meaningless. The honor, as you can see by Collins' reaction to Iggy's place on the team, remains anything but.
Being named an All-Star is still a major deal for NBA players, whether it's a veteran on the downside of a spectacular career like Nash, or a first-timer like Iguodala and Company.
Missing the cut, meanwhile, is often a tough pill to swallow, especially when All-Star appearances don't dot the resume on a yearly basis.
There's no guarantee players like Lowry or Smith will ever be back at the precipice again, making their neglect by the coaches harder to understand and defend.