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Assessing Zach LaVine's All-Star chances in crowded East reserve field

Assessing Zach LaVine's All-Star chances in crowded East reserve field

NBA All-Star voting begins Christmas Day, with starters to be announced on TNT on Jan. 23 and the network revealing coaches’ picks for reserves a week later.

In other words, Zach LaVine’s candidacy for the Feb. 16 All-Star game is about to shift into overdrive.

Ever since the NBA tabbed Chicago to host its first All-Star game since 1988, the local drumbeat for Bulls’ participation in the big-boy game began. Sure, everybody wants to see LaVine commit to the dunk contest as part of Saturday night’s extravaganza.

But the Bulls haven’t had an All-Star since trading away Jimmy Butler in June 2017 after the third of his three straight appearances. So what are LaVine’s chances?

After a slow start for both his own game and team success, LaVine is putting up All-Star numbers of late. In December, he’s averaging 26.1 points while becoming more adept at decision-making and closing situations.

Overall, he’s averaging 23.6 points, 4.6 rebounds and 3.8 assists and shooting a career-best 39.5 percent on 3-pointers.

"I expect myself to play that way," LaVine said. "It should be this way. Obviously last year I got off to a really hot start with all those (30-point) games. I feel like I've been more efficient, at least in this stretch. I'm just reading the game. Obviously, you have good and bad games. But the way you can affect the game I feel I've done a good job of that."

Will it be enough?

One wild card will be to see if Kyrie Irving repeats as a starter. He hasn’t played for the Nets since Nov. 14 after injuring his shoulder. Fan voting, for which Irving likely will fare well, accounts for 50 percent of the starters’ nods, with 25 percent each determined by player and media voting.

If Irving is voted a starter and can’t play in the game, that would open up another reserve spot. A reserve would slide into Irving’s slot and Commissioner Adam Silver would name an injury replacement for Irving.

Coaches vote for two guards, three frontcourt players and two wild card players for their reserve selections.

Kemba Walker joined Irving as a starter last season and, with averages 22.6 points, 5.4 assists and 4.1 rebounds, is a lock to be a repeat selection either as starter or reserve after leaving the Hornets for the Celtics.

Here are other locks: Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, 76ers center Joel Embiid and Heat forward Butler. If 76ers guard Ben Simmons, Raptors forward Pascal Siakam and Wizards guard Bradley Beal aren’t locks, they’re close to it.

There is typically momentum for previous All-Star selections, and while Beal plays for the 9-20 Wizards, the two-time All-Star’s monster numbers of 28.3 points and 6.8 assists are even more impressive when it’s considered how much defensive attention he draws.

One of Butler or Siakam likely will slide into the starting spot created when Kawhi Leonard left the Raptors to join the Clippers in the Eastern Conference.

One reserve from last season — Pacers guard Victor Oladipo — definitely won’t make it because he hasn’t played due to injury. Two others, Magic center Nikola Vucevic and Raptors guard Kyle Lowry, have played well but also missed significant time to injuries. And a last one, Blake Griffin, has been injured and ordinary.

That leaves LaVine in a crowded field of potential reserves that includes Hawks guard Trae Young; Heat center Bam Adebayo; Bucks forward Khris Middleton; Celtics forwards Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown; Pacers forward Domantas Sabonis; Pacers guard Malcolm Brogdon; Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie; Pistons center Andre Drummond; and Raptors guards Lowry and Fred VanVleet.

Here is where it’s important for the Bulls to build on their recent success, even as their schedule toughens. Coaches typically reward winning teams with their reserve selections, which obviously would benefit all of the above except for Young, Dinwiddie and Drummond. And Dinwiddie’s advanced statistics are currently better than LaVine’s.

Hypothetically, let’s assume the East starters are Simmons, Walker, Antetokounmpo, Butler and Embiid. That leaves lock or near-lock reserves of Siakam and Beal. It’s almost certain the Bucks’ and Celtics’ winning will warrant a second All-Star. So add Middleton and Tatum.

Hypothetically, that leaves three spots to fight for from LaVine, Young, Brown, Sabonis, Brogdon, Dinwiddie, Lowry, VanVleet, Drummond and Adebayo.

LaVine is doing his part to make his first All-Star game. But he has plenty of competition.

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NBA forces Jimmy Butler to change jersey just before Heat-Nuggets tipoff

NBA forces Jimmy Butler to change jersey just before Heat-Nuggets tipoff

Throughout his career, including his rise to stardom with the Bulls, Jimmy Butler always has been comfortable making the grand, uncomfortable statement.

So it shouldn't surprise anyone to hear Butler reply "I don't care" when asked if he received a league explanation for making him switch jerseys just before the Heat's Saturday tipoff against the Nuggets, both teams' first game in the NBA's 22-team restart.

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Butler took the court for a game won by the Heat 125-105 wearing his No. 22 with no name on the back, a stance he revealed two weeks ago he wanted to take for his statement on racial inequity.

 “I love and respect all the messages that the league did choose. But for me, I felt like with no message, with no name, it’s going back to like who I was. And if I wasn’t who I was today, I’m no different than anybody else of color," Butler said on July 14. "And I want that to be my message in the sense that just because I’m an NBA player, everybody has the same rights no matter what. That’s how I feel about my people of color.”

The NBA's restart has featured ample opportunity for players, coaches and referees to address the systemic racism plaguing the country, with most wearing "Black Lives Matter" T-shirts as they warm up on a court emblazoned with the same message. Most teams also have been taking a knee during the playing of "The National Anthem" before games.

But Butler's preferred jersey statement didn't fall under the social justice messages agreed to by the league and players association. So just before tipoff, he walked to the Heat bench, took off his no-name jersey and replaced it with one wearing his name "BUTLER" underneath his No. 22. The agreed-to social justice messages like "EQUALITY" and "JUSTICE" appear above the names on other jerseys.

This appeared to be a compromise since Butler got his wish to have no name above his No. 22. He said he hopes the league changes its position and hasn't ruled out making the same symbolic act before each tipoff even if the league doesn't.

"I decided to change because my teammates probably needed me a little bit today," Butler said.

That they did. Butler posted 22 points, seven assists and four rebounds in the victory over the shorthanded Nuggets.

Butler also commented this week on the Knicks' hiring of Tom Thibodeau. Butler rose to stardom under Thibodeau's coaching with the Bulls and flourished for one season with him in Minnesota before forcing his way out of town with a trade to the 76ers. Thibodeau, who also served as the Timberwolves' president of basketball operations, had traded Zach LaVine, the draft rights to Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn to the Bulls for Butler.

"Obviously, I'm happy for him," Butler said. "I think he's going to do well. He's going to turn those young guys into some real players, some superstars, some All-Stars. All of that good stuff.

"I know he's been itching for this. I know he has been preparing for it. When you talk about Thibs on the big stage, I think they go hand in hand."

 

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Bears, Bulls and Cubs all in top 20 of Forbes’ most valuable sports teams

Bears, Bulls and Cubs all in top 20 of Forbes’ most valuable sports teams

Forbes released its annual sports team value rankings on Friday. Three Chicago teams made the cut: the Bears, Bulls and Cubs.

The Bears checked in at No. 13 with an estimated value of $3.45 billion, making it the sixth-most valuable NFL franchise behind the Dallas Cowboys, New England Patriots, New York Giants, Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers — quite the return on investment for the reported $100 the McCaskey family bought the team for in 1920.

Meanwhile, the Bulls and Cubs tied at No. 17 with twin $3.2 billion valuations. Jerry Reinsdorf and a group of investors purchased the Bulls for $16.2 million in 1985; the Ricketts family purchased the Cubs for $700 million in 2009.

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By Forbes’ calculations, that makes the Bulls and Cubs the fourth-most valuable franchises in their respective sports. In the NBA, the New York Knicks, Los Angeles Lakers and Golden State Warriors registered higher valuations than the Bulls. The New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers and Boston Red Sox checked in ahead of the Cubbies.

All three Chicago teams gained value over the course of the year. In Forbes’ 2019 rankings, the Bulls and Bears were valued at $2.9 billion, and the Cubs at $3.1 billion.

The NFL boasted 27 teams in Forbes’ top 50, by far the most of any sports league (the Buffalo Bills, Detroit Lions, Cleveland Browns, Cincinnati Bengals and Tennessee Titans were the only clubs not represented). The NBA was second with nine.

And with three teams listed, Chicago tied with San Francisco and Boston as the third-most represented markets in the top 50. New York, with six teams, was first in that category; Los Angeles, with five, was second.