How to solve the NBA All-Star Game coaching dilemma

Toronto Raptors coach Dwane Casey. (Alastair Grant/AP)

Well, what the hell: if make-believe NHL all-star John Scott can go to Nashville and wear a generic jersey that will make him stand out as even more of a goof for not politely declining and ending this charade, why can’t a fired coach run the Eastern Conference squad in the NBA All-Star Game?

I kid, of course. Not about Scott, the goon who was voted in for yuks by NHL fans and who is taking advantage of his 15 minutes of fame in Nashville for god knows what reason, but about the idea trotted out by new Cleveland Cavaliers head coach Tyronn Lue that David Blatt, the man he replaced on Friday, should still get to coach next month’s all-star game in Toronto.


First, you’d have to think Blatt is smarter than Scott or, at least, has more pride. Plus, the idea that he’d want to coach a team with the man whose people knifed him in the back — LeBron James — is … well, there’s pride again, right?

The coaches for the NBA All-Star Game are the two coaches whose teams are atop each conference at the conclusion of play on Jan. 31. With a caveat: the same coach can’t be named on consecutive years. That’s presented a dilemma this season, since the head coach of the West-leading Golden State Warriors, Steve Kerr, was the West coach last year and due to his health assistant Luke Walton has been running the show until recently. So, technically, naming Walton to the all-star game would mean an assistant coach was getting the honour over other head coaches.

There are implications for the all-star hosts, the Toronto Raptors. They are two games back of the Cavaliers and before Jan. 31 have home games against the Washington Wizards, New York Knicks and Detroit Pistons. The Cavaliers have games in that time against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Phoenix Suns, Pistons and San Antonio Spurs. The Raptors still have time to make head coach Dwane Casey the East’s all-star coach — with a little help — but what happens if the Cavs are in first after Jan. 31?

The idea of a coach not being able to work consecutive all-star games is silly, almost as silly as the NBA telling Walton he is eligible to win a coach of the month award while saying his record will remain 0-0 because interim results don’t count. Geesus. The NBA head office has apparently declared Lue eligible to coach the game, but that’s just as silly. If the standings don’t change, it should be Casey and San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich, whose team is second in the West, who get the nod. A better move given the extraordinary circumstances would be to hold a vote among the coaches themselves. Come to think of it, that might be the way to do it permanently.

Hey … anything that gets Pop up on the game’s biggest stage is a good thing. As for Casey? It would be a fine thing for a coach who does not have a contract for 2016-2017.

It is, quite simply, one of the most remarkable sports stories of this or any other year. Actually, no, I’ll go further: it is one of the most remarkable stories I have read. Ever.

It’s a story about how Canadian track star Priscilla Lopes-Schliep, a bronze medallist in the 100-metre hurdles at the Beijing Olympics, who has also tried out for the Canadian bobsleigh team, discovered she had a gene mutation that forced her to make a dramatic and potentially life-changing alteration to her diet after a 39-year-old muscular dystrophy patient in Iowa, Jill Viles, began to wonder whether a condition that caused her muscles to wither also explained the dramatic musculature of Lopes-Schliep.

It was counter-intuitive, to say the least: a woman who had grown up with her muscles wasting thinking there was a similarity to Lopes-Schliep, whose muscled and veined frame resulted in all manner of whispers about drug use and caused her to be subjected to what might be called aggressive drug-testing at meets.

Viles contacted David Epstein, author of one of the most important sports books of the past 15 years, "The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance," and an investigative reporter for ProPublica after hearing him on Good Morning America. Viles, an intern at Johns Hopkins University, sought out pictures of Lopes-Schleip and told the author she believed the lack of fat on Lopes-Schliep’s arms and her bulging veins was the result of a similar mutation, and told Epstein that her knowledge of the situation had already helped her father avoid a potentially-serious medical condition. Epstein contacted Kris Mychasiw, Lopes-Schliep’s Montreal-based agent, to set up a meeting between the two women and exchange information.

Viles and Lopes-Schliep, it turns out, both have the same sub-category of partial lipodystrophy, known as Dunnigan-type. Not only did it explain Lopes-Schliep’s dramatic body — and make her treatment by fellow athletes, fans and administrators even more shameful — it allowed the athlete to change her diet to possibly avoid serious pancreatic issues. This is the link. I can’t do it justice, so read.

• The most eagerly awaited NBA game of the season takes place Monday night at 10:30 p.m. ET (Sportsnet One) when the 40-4 Golden State Warriors take on the 38-6 San Antonio Spurs. It’s the first time in NBA history that two teams with at least 38 wins through 44 games have met this late in a season, and it’s the first time two teams with a winning percentage above 85 per cent through 44 games have met.

You can run out of superlatives discussing these teams and their players, but let’s start with Steph Curry, who is only getting better. Curry averaged 23.8 points in winning the Most Valuable Player award last season and he’s increased his average by 6.3 points. That’s the most ever by a reigning MVP, ahead of Larry Bird (plus-4.5 points per game to 28.7 from 1983-84 to 84-85); Steve Nash (plus-3.3 to 18.8 from 2004-2005 to 2005-2006); Lew Alcindor (plus-3.1 to 34.8 from 1970-71 to 1971-72); and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (plus-3.0 to 30 from 1973-74 to 1974-75).

• Kudos to sports clothing giants Adidas for withdrawing their sponsorship from the IAAF over doping cover-up concerns. According to the BBC, Adidas ended its 11-year, 23-million pound sponsorship deal with the international sports governing body four years early after a damning report from former WADA president Dick Pound. Too bad Adidas didn’t have the corporate stones to formally join four of FIFA’s other major sponsors in demanding the ouster of Sepp Blatter.

• The Florida Panthers are laying down some historical markers along the path back to relevance. Their win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday, coupled with a 4-0 shutout of the Chicago Blackhawks on Friday was the first time a team had defeated the previous season’s Stanley Cup finalists on consecutive days since the Calgary Flames did so in 1990-91 when they beat the Boston Bruins and Edmonton Oilers on back-to-back days.

Unless you’re one of those stone agers who still harbour the misguided notion that inflated salaries equal inflated ticket prices, the smart thing to do is to side with players in any dispute with management because while there’s always shared responsibility, it’s been my experience that the player and his representatives exacerbate the issue, maybe, five per cent of the time. It’s management that controls the process.

But, man … Jonathan Drouin and his agent Allan Walsh are turning Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman into a martyr. I have no problem with athletes determining their own fate; it’s why I had no issue with the Lindros family bulldozing their way through Eric Lindros’ junior and early NHL years. Fair play to them if they can pull it off. But Drouin’s holdout is just petulance. He signed his entry-level contract. So deal with it. Beyond that, introducing another dynamic at a time when Yzerman is dealing with the possibility of losing Steven Stamkos for nothing seems a misguided power play.

Jeff Blair hosts The Jeff Blair Show on Sportsnet 590 The Fan from 9 a.m. to Noon ET

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