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Schanowski: Will Bulls' All-Star Drought End?

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Schanowski: Will Bulls' All-Star Drought End?

Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2010
5:08 PM

by Mark Schanowski
CSNChicago.com

You've heard it so many times in recent years, the Bulls haven't had a representative in the All-Star game since the end of the Jordan era in 1998. Well, that streak should come to an end Thursday night when the reserves are announced for the Feb. 14 game in Dallas. Derrick Rose has been one of the top players in the league over the last 20 games, averaging 23 points and six assists a game, while cutting down his turnovers. More importantly, he's almost singlehandedly led the Bulls on a hot streak that has him within a game of the .500 mark. If that's not worthy of an All-Star spot, the Eastern Conference coaches just aren't paying attention.

With that said, here are my picks for the All-Star reserves for both conferences.

Eastern Conference

GUARDS
Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls: Derrick got off to a slow start because of that preseason ankle injury, but since early December, there hasn't been a better guard in the conference outside of Dwyane Wade. Rose has dramatically improved his jump shot, making him almost unguardable. And just as importantly, he's really learned how to dissect opposing defenses. He shoots the jumper when defenses sag, and attacks the basket when the opening present themselves. He's been especially aggressive in late game situations which is the mark of a true star.

Joe Johnson, Atlanta Hawks: Johnson really should be starting in the game, but the fans decided to vote for Allen Iverson's reputation instead of the player who truly deserves the honor. Johnson is the guy who makes the Hawks go. He's a 6-foot-7 guard with the ability to knock down three-point shots and attack the basket. He's also an underrated defender. Can you imagine Rose and Johnson in the same back court? It could happen next season if the Bulls go hard after J.J. in free agency.

Rajon Rondo, Boston Celtics: We know all about Boston's Big Three, but Rondo has emerged as the second most important player on that roster behind Kevin Garnett. Bulls fans know all about his ability to put up triple-doubles, he almost averaged a triple-double in last spring's classic playoff series. Rondo has picked up where he left off in the playoffs, and his ability to change the game on both ends of the floor makes him a unique talent.

FORWARDS
Chris Bosh, Toronto Raptors: Another guy who would look awfully good playing with Rose and the Bulls next season. Bosh is putting up the best numbers of his career as he gets ready to jump into the free agent market this summer. He's always been a good shooter from the perimeter, but this season he's added an improved post-up game, and he's also been much more aggressive going after offensive rebounds.

Gerald Wallace, Charlotte Bobcats: This guys is one of the most underrated players in the league. He scores, rebounds, blocks shots and runs the floor as well as any small forward in the league. He's been among the league's rebounding leaders all season, even though he plays on the perimeter. The Bobcats have been one of the league's pleasant surprises in the first half of the season, and Wallace is the biggest reason why. The trade with Golden State for Stephen Jackson has also helped. Jackson is averaging almost 21 points a game, but his past reputation will kill his chances of being named to the team.
Antawn Jamison, Washington Wizards: The easy choice would be to go with Boston's Paul Pierce, but Pierce is having an ordinary season by his standards and the Celtics have leveled off after a hot start. In my opinion, two All-Stars, Garnett and Rondo, is more than enough. Jamison has quietly been a beacon of light in the darkest of seasons for the Wizards. He's averaging almost 22 points and nine rebounds a game, and has handled all the media attention over the Gilbert Arenas gun situation with class and dignity.
CENTER
David Lee, New York Knicks: I would love to go with Joakim Noah for this spot, and Noah is my choice for the league's most improved player at the midway point. But Lee's numbers are hard to ignore. He's averaging 19 points and 11 rebounds, while shooting 55 percent from the field. And, until the recent 50-point home loss to Dallas, the Knicks looked like a team that could contend for a playoff spot in the East. Give Lee a lot of the credit for making the Knicks competitive on most nights.

Western Conference

GUARDS
Brandon Roy, Portland Trailblazers: Maybe it's because he plays in a small market in the Pacific time zone, but Roy is one of the most under-appreciated stars in the league. He can score, he defends and he's the go-to guy for Portland at the end of close games. The Blazers have done a good job of putting together a talented young roster, but Roy is the guy that makes this team dangerous.

Chris Paul, New Orleans Hornets: Paul has had a frustrating first half of the season, missing time because of an ankle injury and dealing with an underachieving team. But he's still one of the top 10 players in the league and puts on an all-around show every night. New Orleans is still in playoff contention in the West, and it's only because of Paul's individual brilliance that they even have a chance.

Deron Williams, Utah Jazz: You could certainly argue for the Denver Nugguts' Chauncey Billups in this spot, but the former Illini star has never been named to an All-Star team, and this season the game is in his hometown of Dallas. So, with Williams and Billups having comparable numbers, I'm giving the nod to Deron. He's been the driving force for all those good Utah teams since he came into the league, and he was a member of the Olympic championship team in 2008. It's about time he gets picked for an All-Star game.

FORWARDS
Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks: You've got to have the hometown scoring star in the game, and Dirk is still at the top of his game. Dallas has emerged as one of the best teams in the West this season, and Nowitzki is their leader. He still knocks down the mid-range jumper with ease, and he's getting more points in the mid-post.

Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder: One of the rising stars in the league. He's averaging 29 points a game and shooting 48 percent from the field, even though every opposing team knows he's the guy who will have the ball in his hands at crunch time. This will be the first of annual All-Star appearances for the OKC star.

Zach Randolph, Memphis Grizzlies: Along with the Thunder, Memphis is turning heads around the NBA with an above .500 record in the far superior Western Conference. Z-Bo was considered a selfish player at every one of his other NBA stops, but he's fit in perfectly with the Grizzlies, scoring 21 points a game to rank 12th in the league. Normally this spot would go to a guy like Pau Gasol or Carlos Boozer, but looking at it objectively, Randolph has had the better first half, and he deserves to go to Dallas.
CENTER
Chris Kaman, Los Angeles Clippers: Another player who's been maligned over the years for not helping his team win, Kaman has quietly put up excellent numbers for L.A.'s other team. Kaman is averaging 20 points and nine rebounds, helping the Clips stay close to .500 in the West. When they get Blake Griffin back next season, the Clips might finally be ready to make a move upwards.

As always, a lot of deserving players are left off this list. In the East, Josh Smith (Hawks), Al Horford (Hawks), Stephen Jackson (Bobcats), Pierce, Noah, Brook Lopez (New Jersey Nets) and Brandon Jennings (Milwaukee Bucks) all deserve consideration. Same thing in the West for guys like Monta Ellis (Golden State Warriors), Billups, Boozer (Jazz), Tony Parker (San Antonio Spurs), Rudy Gay (Grizzlies), Tyreke Evans (Sacramento Kings) and Aaron Brooks (Houston Rockets). But it's impossible to include all the deserving players with the limitation of 12 man rosters. Let's just hope Rose is one of the 24 All-Stars introduced on Feb. 14.

Mark Schanowski hosts our Bulls pre- and postgame studio coverage with 15-year NBA veteran Kendall Gill. You can also watch Mark on SportsNite, Sunday through Thursday at 6:30 and 10.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Are the playoffs in sight for the Bulls?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Are the playoffs in sight for the Bulls?

On this episode of the SportsTalk Live Podcast, David Haugh (Chicago Tribune), Seth Gruen and Ben Finfer join Chuck Garfien on the panel.

The Bulls win again. Do they dare think playoffs? Vincent Goodwill joins the guys to discuss.

Plus, they debate where the “Minneapolis Miracle” ranks amongst the greatest plays in NFL playoff history and if Tom Ricketts is right to say that Sammy Sosa needs to put everything on the table to rejoin the Cubs family.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below:

Should Zach LaVine's minute-restriction make way for the Bulls' winning restriction?

Should Zach LaVine's minute-restriction make way for the Bulls' winning restriction?

The time goes by fast for Zach LaVine, from tip-off to the time he’s subbed out for Denzel Valentine as part of his minute-restriction plan.

“It goes by really quick. I look up, I’m like man, it’s already seven minutes,” LaVine said. “But that’s why I’m trying to make the most of the 20 minutes, think I’m doing a good job so far. I set out to help in every way I can.”

For the damage he does in his limited time, it’s making the Bulls and their winning-restriction plan go to mush, as he put up 18 points with five rebounds, five assists and more importantly, more minutes will be on the horizon sooner rather than later. After the Bulls’ 119-111 win over the Miami Heat Monday at the United Center, one has to wonder if the Bulls are approaching a crossroads for the season—or if unfortunately for the front office, the checkpoint on the long-term plan has already been unwillingly passed to the point of no return.

At 17-27, the Bulls are, in a sense, where they didn’t want to be—straddling the line between going for a playoff spot or getting as bad as possible to get in the best possible position for the lottery.

They’re here because Kris Dunn is playing like a top-half point guard and Lauri Markkanen is performing like a top-three rookie, shooting the three with a volume that would be the best for a first-year player in NBA history—a perfect fit for Hoiberg’s system.

Markkanen is growing perhaps into the superstar they hope to draft in June while LaVine will do everything he can to prove he’s more than a max player but a legit superstar who can play winning basketball along with filling up a box score.

And they’re managing to win close games at a rate experienced teams usually do, playing with a poise and freedom that stemmed from low expectations and a 3-20 start.

“We knew they were on a winning streak and just tried to play hard,” Markkanen said after a 17-point, nine-rebound night. “And play unselfish like we always do. And we had much success, so that tells a lot.”

The Heat was in a similar position last season, starting out 10-31 before making a charge so strong the Bulls had to win every game down the stretch to secure the final playoff spot.

After a so-so start, the Heat are nearly on a 50-win pace with a similar roster and no one with the ceiling of LaVine or Markkanen—along with having to replace Dion Waiters’ scoring and swagger, as he’s out for the season with ankle surgery.

John Paxson took the reins this offseason and firmly made the decision to begin a painful and possibly long, rebuild. But when affordable acquisitions like Justin Holiday starts shooting 50 percent from 3-point range and torches the Heat for seven triples and 25 points, it makes then plan harder to execute.

When Nikola Mirotic sprinkles some pixie dust on his game before the start of the fourth quarter to go from being scoreless to scoring 18 in the last 12 minutes to close out their third straight win, it puts the pressure firmly on the front office to make a big decision, yet again.

“The thing we’re chasing is that we’re trying to continue to grow and get better,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “Take steps in the right direction. That’s all we talk about. We’re not talking about what’s at stake.”

Hoiberg is keeping his eyes and ears away from the front office's plans, as it does him no good but to bunker down with his locker room and peck away at this record.

He may not be discussing it with his team, but LaVine said the team is watching the Eastern Conference standings, game-by-game. At six games behind eighth-seeded Detroit, there’s four teams between the Bulls and a playoff spot—while being four-and-a-half games behind the Orlando Magic at the cellar.

And with the Magic rumored to be going all-in on selling before the trade deadline, willing to unload Evan Fournier, Elfrid Payton and Mario Hezonja, according to the New York Times, it’s clear they’re trying to cement themselves at the top of the lottery.

The Golden State Warriors are coming to the United Center in two days, and it’s likely the requisite beating will take place to quell some of the immediate optimism. But after that, the Bulls have some winnable contests that will likely have them right about where they are now, with each passing game lessening the likelihood of plummeting to the bottom.

It leaves Paxson and the front office in a precarious position, as the team is playing with more spirit and togetherness thus leading to praise the front office for its roster construction.

Trading a fourth-quarter performer like Mirotic would go over well in most circles, and although Mirotic is saying all the right things about having the most fun in his NBA career and wanting to play more with Markkanen, he still wants out and he prefers to go West.

One could see the Bulls taking a deal from the Utah Jazz in the form of expiring contract Joe Johnson and a protected first-round pick, then possibly buying out Johnson and letting him go to a contender with the pick being the crown jewel of the deal.

The longer he stays, the more games the Bulls win, the harder this becomes—and one has to ask about the futures of Robin Lopez and Holiday—who would be valuable as a reserve for a playoff team.

But would the Bulls trade anybody for the sole purpose of getting worse in the meantime? Hard to say but hard to envision Paxson doing anything less than what he deems equal value.

This season started with drama, proceeded as planned but took a turn towards something unexpected—and rather quickly.

And like LaVine’s minutes, the Bulls will have to make another decision because deadlines are approaching faster than even they could foresee.