Dwane Casey is anything if not a realist and when the NBA announced the reserves for next weekend’s all-star game in Orlando it didn’t come as a shock that Andrea Bargnani was not extended an invitation.
It wasn’t for lack of trying on the part of the Toronto Raptors coach. He campaigned tirelessly on the merits of his own power forward, who had been enjoying a breakout season before a calf injury derailed his all-star momentum.
Bargnani will miss his ninth successive game, 14th overall this season, with a strained left calf muscle when the Raptors try to snap a three-game losing skid Friday night against the Boston Celtics at the Air Canada Centre.
“I’ve tried to politic for Andrea but I know it was a tough call, just because of the number of games that he’s played,” Casey said following Raptors practice earlier on Thursday, before the names of the all-star reserves had been released.
“That didn’t stop me from calling people, texting coaches, my friends and everything in the East, trying to rally some support for him.”
It was not enough as Thursday night Bargnani, to no surprise, was overlooked in favour of the likes of Chris Bosh of the Miami Heat, Roy Hibbert of the Indiana Pacers and Luol Deng of the Chicago Bulls, who were all added to the Eastern Conference side.
There is no doubt in Casey’s mind that Bargnani, Toronto’s seven-foot power forward, is a worthy all-star candidate. And he is certain he would have made the showcase had he remained healthy.
“I wasn’t selling woof tickets,” was the quaint way Casey put it.
The numbers would back up his claim.
Bargnani’s average of 23.5 points a game is second highest among bigs in the NBA, trailing only Minnesota’s Kevin Love, who was setting the pace with 25 heading into play on Thursday.
Love was selected as a reserve for the West.
There is also no doubting Bargnani’s importance to his team.
With Bargnani in the starting lineup this season the Raptors are 6-7, a .461 win percentage. Without him they’re 2-12 (.142).
When Bargnani is playing, Toronto averages 90.5 points a game; without him it’s 86 points a game.
Casey would have to be a skilled lobbyist along the lines of Jack Abramoff to garner enough all-star support for a player toiling on a bad team (8-19) who has played less than half the season.
After fan balloting determined the starters for the annual NBA corporate schmooze, it was left to the NBA’s 30 coaches to choose an additional seven players for both the Eastern and Western Conference teams.
Each coach had to vote for players within their own conference, including two guards, two forwards, a centre and two other players regardless of position.
Casey participated in two all-star games as a member of the Western Conference coaching staff in 1996 and 1998. Back then Casey was working in Seattle for top-flight SuperSonic teams, coached by George Karl, which featured Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton.
Casey said he witnessed first hand what it meant to both those players to play in all-star games and how it helped boost their confidence and their careers.
He’s hoping the same for Bargnani, whose NBA journey until this season had been perplexing after being the No. 1 pick of the 2006 NBA draft.
“I’m sure it [an all-star berth]would give Andrea that same boost – and he’s going to make it,” Casey said.
Bargnani’s return is still unknown and Casey has another worry – a nagging ankle injury that forced guard Jerryd Bayless to miss the fourth quarter of Wednesday’s game against the Milwaukee Bucks. Bayless didn’t practise on Thursday and Casey said his availability against the Celtics remains a question mark.