The Portland Trail Blazers do not have much history with NBA All-Star starters. The franchise last had a player voted into the game’s starting lineup in 1994 (Clyde Drexler), although LaMarcus Aldridge did get an injury replacement starting nod a few years ago.
Current Blazers stalwart Damian Lillard might end that 27 year drought this season. Lillard currently sits comfortably in third in the fan voting for Western Conference guards:
Nets‘ Kevin Durant and Lakers‘ LeBron James lead the NBA’s first All-Star fan voting returns. Warriors’ Stephen Curry and Wizards’ Bradley Beal join Durant and James as leaders at positions. pic.twitter.com/ukvOeyx49H— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) February 4, 2021
Lillard almost certainly isn’t going to catch Luka Doncic or Steph Curry in the fan vote, but he also won’t be passed by Ja Morant. A few years ago finishing third would have been as useful as finishing tenth, but the new rules that give weight to both player and media vote might give Lillard a chance.
The key question: Can Lillard pass Doncic in both the player and media vote to leapfrog into second and secure a starting spot?
Mavericks’ struggles help Dame
Doncic beat Lillard in both votes last season so on the surface it might be a long shot to root for Dame. But the Mavericks have been pretty not-good this season. Dallas, currently sitting at 11-14 and No. 13 in the west, has significantly underachieved — likely competing with the Heat for the “most disappointing team in the league” award thus far.
The Blazers have not met preseason expectations either, but the injury-depleted narrative around the team may work in Lillard’s favor. Especially if he can keep the Blazers ahead of the Mavericks until the players and media cast their votes. Lillard’s Bubble MVP explosion also happened subsequent to last year’s voting. Doncic will certainly become the perennial top guard in the west soon, but the circumstances are aligning this year to give Dame at least a puncher’s chance.
What would this mean for the Blazers?
It’s hard to quantify what an All-Star starter would mean for Portland. With the exception of Drexler’s early-’90s run and Bill Walton and Maurice Lucas in 1978, the franchise has never been on the radar of All-Star voters. We’re in uncharted waters, basically.
While the small market anti-bias is certainly a factor, the dearth of All-Star success is also an unfortunate reminder that the city hasn’t had an NBA star who has transcended to true nationwide fame in decades. Lillard being voted in ahead of Doncic would certainly be a victory in terms of notoriety for both the player and the franchise. It’s unclear (unlikely?) if Lillard being voted in as a top-two guard would affect anything substantive, like free agent prospects, but it certainly won’t hurt as a moral boost in an otherwise disappointing season.
Ballot box stuffing
In closing, I’ll drop this interesting historical reminder that the NBA All-Star vote has always been weird:
Yeah, looking through the newspaper archives, they report it as obvious ballot box stuffing. A Hubie Brown quote is prominent in the wire write-ups.— Eric Griffith (@EricG_NBA) January 3, 2021
Kind of interesting to also see that neither Magic nor Bird were selected by players as starters. pic.twitter.com/Dz2E3ykQ4t