BOSTON -- When it comes to makes an All-Star team and who doesn’t, the fault lines of disagreement often exist with one side wanting players rewarded for popularity, the other for production that impacts winning.
Muddying the waters even more so this year in the East has been the number of likely All-Stars (Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, Victor Oladipo and Blake Griffin to name a few) who would normally be All-Star no-brainers, who have missed most if not all of this season due to injuries.
And let’s not forget All-Stars from the East who took their talents out West - Kawhi Leonard (Los Angeles Clippers) and D’Angelo Russell (Golden State Warriors).
Still, as much as we know that there will be a notable change coming to this year’s All-Star Game and its entrants from the East, there’s a clear and undeniable divide as to who the new faces added to the mix will be.
You can pretty much bank on Atlanta’s Trae Young getting his first All-Star nod this season and likely as a starter. He has been the leading vote-getter among East guards in each of the first two voting returns.
The Celtics have a couple of prominent talents who have played their way into the conversation in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
In Indiana, Domantas Sabonis and Malcolm Brogdon will get strong consideration as well.
Don’t forget about Philly’s Tobias Harris, Miami’s Bam Adebayo, as well as high-scoring players on struggling teams, such as Chicago’s Zach LaVine or Brooklyn’s Spencer Dinwiddie.
“I don’t envy the coaches having to pick the reserves this year,” a league executive told NBC Sports Boston. “There’s always a bit of splitting hairs with that, but it just seems there’s even less separation this year.”
Celtics coach Brad Stevens has consistently said he puts a premium on what players add to a team’s success when he's picking his All-Star reserves.
For his sake and the Celtics, he better hope other coaches feel the same way.
When asked specifically about Brown versus Tatum, the executive said, “getting both of those guys in, is a big problem for Boston. Because they are so close, both might wind up not getting in; that’s a definite possibility.”
But the executive pointed out, “That’s called a good problem right there. The fact that your guys are even in that conversation means that they’re doing a lot of the right things in games and the team, obviously, is winning.”
He added, “That’s a problem most teams would love to have, for sure.”
POPOVICH: ‘LOAD MANAGEMENT’ THESE DAYS IS ‘FARCICAL’
San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has often been viewed as the load management originator for how he has paced his core guys in terms of minutes played and resting them dating to when Tim Duncan was on the team.
Since then it has become the rage of NBA teams who won’t hesitate to shut down one of their best players for a night to get him some rest; even if it’s a nationally-televised game or there's no injury of note that they are recovering from or soreness that they are dealing with for that matter.
Popovich has seen its use expand and finds it “silly”, adding that he doesn’t deserve the credit for the popular rationale used these days by teams to rest their best players.
“I didn’t do any kind of load management,” Popovich said. “If there’s credit in that, I don’t deserve it. If there’s the opposite, I don’t deserve that either. I did it because I wanted those guys to have longer careers. I never did load management.
Popovich added, “I never took out a sheet of paper and said, “He’s going to do this. He’s going to do that.’ Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker played more minutes than anyone in the world, when you count what they did in the summers for so long and when they started to play pro ball. It was just logical to try and watch their minutes. Tim Duncan, the second year he hurt his knee and I kept him out of the playoffs. He could have probably played but I kept him out. From that day on, I wanted to make sure he was going to be healthy. So whenever I could, I gave him some rest. If that’s load management, so be it. Load management today is kind of farcical to some degree.”
As the Feb. 6 trade deadline approaches, more names will begin to surface as players who might be on the move.
One of the more prominent names being bantered about lately is the Detroit Pistons' Andre Drummond.
With Blake Griffin recently undergoing knee surgery and listed as being out indefinitely (multiple league sources anticipate Griffin won’t return to playing this season), moving Drummond for future assets will at least ensure they get something in return with Drummond expected to opt out of the final year of his contract and become a free agent in 2020.
Any team making a deal for Drummond will do so with the intent of re-signing him to what would likely be a max or near-max contract which is a huge commitment to a young, talented big who doesn’t stretch the floor akin to most of today’s big men.
Among the teams talked about as a possible suitor is Boston. The Celtics would likely have to include Gordon Hayward in such a deal as well as a first-round pick.
Because like any team that takes on Drummond, the same concerns exist with Hayward, who can also opt out of the final year of his contract and become a free agent this summer.
Boston has resisted giving serious thought to moving Hayward for a center in part because of the solid play - most nights at least - of Enes Kanter and Daniel Theis.
But a three-game losing streak has in some respects exposed the Celtics on multiple levels, including their lack of frontcourt size.
Another player to keep an eye on is Jrue Holiday.
Considered near-untouchable before the start of the season, the struggles of the Pelicans may result in New Orleans shipping the former All-Star out this season.
And remember, they have Lonzo Ball, Frank Jackson as well as former Celtic E’Twaun Moore, who can also slide over and run the offense in a pinch. Holiday is owed $25.4 million next season and can opt out and become a free agent in the summer of 2021.
I’m told to keep an eye on the Denver Nuggets, who are playing better of late and have established themselves as one of the better regular-season teams out West.
Still, for them to take that next step towards being an elite club in the playoffs, they could benefit greatly from the addition of Holiday whose two-way talent would be an upgrade in their quest to go deep into the playoffs.
JIMMY BUTLER-T.J. WARREN BEEF
The on-the-floor tiff between Jimmy Butler and Indiana’s T.J. Warren was mildly entertaining.
But Butler’s postgame comments on the incident? Priceless.
It was the kind of braggadocious banter that you rarely hear players say for public consumption.
“It’s tough for him because I can guard him and he can’t guard me,” Butler told reporters. “At the end of the day, that’s what it comes down to.
Butler added, “You have to watch your mouth in certain situations. There’s some (expletive) you don’t say as a man. He gotta see me the next time. Because I feel like what he said was truly disrespectful and it’s all good because … I ain’t scared of nobody. He talking about, ‘oh, we gonna fight, this-that, this-that, it is what it is to me. He’s soft. He’s not even in my [expletive] league, nowhere near me. If I were his coach, I would never put him on me, ever again.”
NBA PLAYERS GIVING BACK
The fires in Australia have been raging on for quite some time now, with financial assistance coming in from all corners of the globe - including the NBA.
Nine players with Australian ties, a list that includes Aussie and ex-Celtic Aron Baynes, have partnered with the NBA Players Association Foundation and the NBA and committed $750,000 to the relief and recovery efforts.
According to CNN, 27 people have died nationwide due to the fires, with thousands of homes having already been destroyed or damaged since the brush fire season began this past summer.
The fellas from Down Under aren’t the only ones making a difference in the lives of those in their community.
Hawks guard Trae Young has teamed up with the non-profit RIP Medical Debt to cancel more than $1 million in medical debt for families in the Atlanta area.
“The city of Atlanta has welcomed me with open arms,” said Young. “Giving back to this community is extremely important to me. I hope these families can find a bit of relief knowing that their bills have been taken care of.”
- Victor Oladipo says he will be back in the Indiana Pacers lineup on Jan. 29, almost a year to the day (Jan. 23) that he ruptured his quad tendon.
- Zion Williamson continues to trend towards a return sooner rather than later. He’s now back to practicing with the New Orleans Pelicans, who play the Celtics in Boston on Saturday night, and could be activated at any time. When he does return, New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry said the top overall pick in last June’s draft will play limited minutes.
- Cleveland Cavaliers coach John Beilein and the brouhaha over his “thug” comment seems to be on pace to die a quick death. But as they look to bolster their roster going forward, league executives wonder if this incident will make an already difficult task of recruiting free agents to Cleveland, even more daunting.
- The Sixers are 4-4 without Joel Embiid this season.
- There’s still a lot of season left, but Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo and Houston’s James Harden are still viewed as the front-runners for MVP.
Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Pelicans-Celtics, which tips off Saturday at 6:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Mike and Scal have the call at 7 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.