TORONTO - The Raptors haven't had an All-Star player since Chris Bosh left town but that could change this February, especially if coach Dwane Casey has his say.
"I'm pushing our guys," Casey said after practice Friday, making the case for his backcourt duo, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, to get voted in as first-time All-Stars. "I don't know if we can get two [but] I'm going to push two and hope to get one, because both guys are playing at a high level."
The Raptors' coach initially broached the subject in Miami on Sunday. "They're playing like All-Stars," he said. "You look at the other guards in the East and they're right there with them." Since then, he has been busy campaigning to his peers.
"All my friends, all the coaches, [I've] talked to them about it, texted them, they did me the same way when they were trying to get their guys in last year," Casey admitted.
"I'll beg the coaches, bribe them with lunch or dinner, whatever, when we have a coaches meeting," he joked. "But it's what we should be doing as an organization, and we are doing it as an organization and I'm doing it with the coaches."
More than likely, Miami's Dwyane Wade and Cleveland's Kyrie Irving will get the nod from fans to start in the backcourt for the Eastern Conference. The league's coaches will then vote in the reserves, two backcourt players, three frontcourt and two wild-card spots (players at any position).
There's a legitimate case to be made for both Raptors guards to represent the East as reserves in the annual midseason showcase, taking place on Feb. 16 in New Orleans.
DeRozan is 13th in the NBA in scoring, averaging a career-best 21.2 points per game. He has made notable strides as both a passer and a defender, once considered to be holes in his game. He's recorded five or more assists in eight of 34 games after doing so 12 times last year and accomplishing that feat in just five contests combined over his first three seasons in the league.
"Look at what he's doing," Lowry said of his teammate. "He leads our team in scoring, he's done a great job of being our go-to guy, he's been a complete professional and he gets better every single night."
Lowry has been Toronto's most valuable player, carrying the team at the point guard position. In his eighth season, Lowry is averaging career-bests in points, assets and steals while shooting his highest percentage from three-point range. His career-best streak of 24 consecutive games with six or more dimes recently came to an end, topping his previous high of eight straight. He's fourth in the league in assist-to-turnover ratio.
"Look at the stat sheet after he plays," said DeRozan, making the case for Lowry. "Any given night he gives you 16 points, 11 rebounds, nine assists, somewhere around that margin every game. That's just what he [does]. He goes out there and plays hard, he's scrappy, he's a bulldog when he's out there on that court. He's definitely a leader, he definitely wants to win, I see it in his eyes."
True to character, both players were hesitant to make their own case but neither could downplay what the honour of being named to the All-Star squad, alongside the league's best, would mean to them.
"It would be an unbelievable, phenomenal thing, it would be humbling," Lowry admitted. "I'm sure if either one of us [makes] it, it would be a great time and a great accomplishment and achievement to tell our families and our kids one day."
Lowry made sure to follow up that statement with a reminder that he, DeRozan and the rest of the team remain far more concerned with their collective success than individual accolades. The Raptors' recent success could be the very thing that nets them their first All-Star since Bosh was named to the team in 2010.
"We deserve it," Casey said proudly. "Our record, we're ranked at the top of our division, we're number four in our conference so we do deserve All-Star ranking and All-Star consideration with our players, because those guys are playing at a very high level."
Entering Friday's slate of games, Toronto is one of just four teams in the East with a record at or above the .500 mark. As a team, the Raptors have gone 11-5 since the early-December trade of Rudy Gay with both Lowry and DeRozan - the team's two leading scorers - playing key roles in the resurgence.
Although his percentages have dropped slightly, DeRozan is taking the same amount of shots as he was pre-trade and he's averaging nearly two more assists per contest. Lowry is tied for fifth in the league in assists since the trade was made on Dec. 8, averaging 8.4 to go along with 17.6 points.
While Lowry may be more deserving of the honour given his value over replacement this season, DeRozan should have a favourable shot at earning recognition from the league's coaches. DeRozan is highly thought of as a hard working, evolving player and has been universally praised by opposing coaches this season, whereas Lowry has developed a reputation for being somewhat combative.
"Kyle's showed he's a positive leader," Casey said of his point guard, who - in the final year of his contract - came into training camp with a renewed focus, in the best shape of his career. "I think that was the biggest question among coaches around the league, could he be a positive leader and be productive on the court. He's done that."
"I think they're [both] very well respected. DeMar has been playing at a very high level, being very efficient, not just a volume shooter, so he's done that. Everything those guys have [done have answered] the questions about them as players. Plus on top of that they've put us at the top of our division."
The Raptors' backcourt duo, or at least one of them, could be the beneficiary of a weak Eastern Conference. Unlike the loaded West, the conference's player pool reflects its overall inferiority. Their primary competition figures to come from Washington's John Wall (19.7 points, 8.7 assists), Orlando's Arron Afflalo (21.0 points, 4.5 rebounds, 4.0 assists), Atlanta's Jeff Teague (16.8 points, 7.9 assists) and Indiana's Lance Stephenson (13.4 points, 6.6 rebounds, 5.2 assists).
All-Star starters will be announced live on the TNT broadcast Jan. 23 and the reserves will be revealed a week later, also on TNT.