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Coaches drop the ball on NBA All-Star selections

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Coaches drop the ball on NBA All-Star selections

Friday, Feb. 4, 2011
9:00 a.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

SAN FRANCISCO--The fact that no Bulls players were named an Eastern Conference All-Star reserve isn't a travesty, miscarriage of justice or any other cliched phrase to describe outraged indignation. It is, however, a tad confusing.

The two prime candidates themselves--Carlos Boozer and Luol Deng--each admitted a desire to participate in this month's league showcase, but acknowledged they were no shoo-ins. Deng has consistently expressed skepticism he'd be picked and while Boozer was more optimistic, he too, took a wherever-the-chips fall approach.

Boozer has delivered on the expectations heaped upon him since arriving in Chicago via free agency, giving the Bulls their first true low-post threat in years. But despite posting the 20-and-10 numbers that made him such a force in Utah, making his season debut in December put him firmly behind the eight-ball when it came to midseason honors.

The under-appreciated Deng, quietly enjoying perhaps his best all-around professional campaign, has thrived as a third option on offense and a defensive stalwart. Despite getting vocal support from first-year Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau--the understated "Thibs" also lobbied for Boozer; his pointed stumping on his players' behalf was out of character, but demonstrated the hoops purist's belief that they were worthy of taking part in the Staples Center festivities--the Sudanese native was also passed over.

Again, no surprise. What doesn't make sense, though, is the fact that four members of Thibodeau's former team (Boston's Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo) were named to the East squad, the third wheel of a team the Bulls are neck and neck with (Miami's Chris Bosh) made it and two players from a team a notch below Chicago (Atlanta's Al Horford and Joe Johnson) were also selected.

Of the aforementioned reserves, Rondo is the obvious no-brainer and if the Celtics were rewarded for having the conference's best record, then it makes sense that Allen (having one of his best seasons in years) and Pierce (the team's leading scorer) garnered the support of the East's coaches. But Garnett, who's been injury-plagued--although he's appeared to be as healthy as he's been since Boston's championship season in 2008--is questionable, regardless of being the anchor of the Celtics' vaunted defense.

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Since that's sacrilege in some observers' minds (most of whom don't reside in the Windy City), let's give the future Hall of Famer the benefit of the doubt. But what about Bosh?

An underwhelming start to the season by the Heat's heralded trio was remedied soon enough, but even as the team surged, too often was Bosh more of a spectator than the sometimes dominant force he was in Toronto. Rightfully, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade have taken turns carrying Miami and Bosh has prudently opted to be utilized when called upon, but while that strategy has paid off in the win column, it isn't much in the way of commentary on his stardom.

Then, there's the Hawks duo of Horford and Johnson. The steady Horford's selection can't be argued much, as injuries took Bulls center Joakim Noah out of the running (assuming Noah maintained the averages he put up, he almost certainly would have beaten out his college teammate) and the other center candidate ion the East, Milwaukee's Andrew Bogut, has been playing at less than 100 percent for a underachieving Bucks team.

Johnson, on the other hand, is a different story. The high-priced free-agent returnee is his team's top player, but after the Hawks' disappointing playoff showing last spring, the smooth swingman needed to make a strong statement with virtually the same Atlanta team back. Instead, the Hawks have seemingly regressed--they're a clear notch behind the East's elite of Boston, Chicago, Miami and even retooled Orlando--and while Johnson has come on strong as of late, like Boozer, he's dealt with injury issues (admirably missing only nine games after elbow surgery) and his numbers are below his usual standards.
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But this isn't just another extended annual whine about who's undeserving of being an All-Star and why the local team got snubbed. It's more about trying to decipher the rhyme and reasoning of the selections.

If Boston gets four players to highlight their first-half season success, then why does Atlanta--which has remained stagnant at best--also have multiple All-Stars, especially when one isn't Josh Smith, who has become one of the most dynamic (albeit occasionally inconsistent) two-way forwards in the league? And forget the Bulls for a second--Knicks point guard Raymond Felton has been almost as important to New York's improvement (and Charlotte's slow start to the season following his departure in free agency) as fellow Big Apple newcomer and All-Star starter Amar'e Stoudemire, yet was also snubbed.

The Western Conference, with its superior talent, was more of quandary for its coaches. One can't argue the choices of Utah floor general extraordinaire Deron Williams, MVP candidate Dirk Nowitzki of Dallas, rising star Russell Westbrook of Oklahoma City or San Antonio scoring leader Manu Ginobili.

With the game in Los Angeles, the worthiness of Clippers rookie sensation Blake Griffin is a moot point; team success doesn't matter when that perennially sad-sack franchise has suddenly become must-see TV based on the excitement factor of an individual player. The selections of big men Tim Duncan of the Spurs and Pau Gasol of the Lakers are where it gets tricky.

Similar to Garnett, Duncan's legacy and his team's dominance--San Antonio owns the league's best record--deserve respect, but it's also a fact that he's having his worst season ever. If anything, Spurs point guard Tony Parker should be on the team, as San Antonio's system has dramatically shifted to a more guard-oriented, fast-paced scheme, of which he and the aforementioned Ginobili are the focal points.

As for Gasol, he hasn't even been the best Lakers frontcourt player this season; that honor belongs to versatile and selfless forward Lamar Odom, currently serving as the team's sixth man with starting center Andrew Bynum back in the lineup. Meanwhile, Gasol has been up and down, a reflection of the two-time defending champions and seems to have been chosen due to his reputation more than anything else, even when classified as a center (the position where he started before Bynum's return) instead of power forward.

Still, neither Gasol nor Duncan can be considered completely undeserving. They simply haven't had elite seasons thus far, compared to others in the West.

The conference's most egregious snub was Minnesota's Kevin Love, the league's top rebounder. Although he toils for the lowly Timberwolves, the ground-bound power forward is on pace to be the first NBA player to average at least 15 boards per game since Dennis Rodman did it for the Bulls.

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Don't think a player from a subpar team (or multiple players, given that Griffin was a lock to make it) should play in the game? Well, how about Portland's LaMarcus Aldridge, who's broken out of his shell and kept the M.A.S.H. unit Trailblazers afloat?

If another guard is a preference, then there's high-scoring NBA minutes-leader Monta Ellis of Golden State or even Phoenix's Steve Nash, valiantly fighting the good fight for less-talented Suns squad.

Actually, if speculation is correct, Nash will be the commissioner's choice to replace injured Houston center Yao Ming--the lone starter the fans truly got wrong; New Orleans point guard Chris Paul, as usual, is debatable when compared to Utah's Williams, but the Hornets have been the better team--meaning any hopes Mavericks center Tyson Chandler had of being a position-specific replacement will be gone in the wind. Chandler, the former Bulls draft pick, has helped Dallas develop a defensive identity and is arguably the West's best man in the middle.

Overall, there isn't really all that much to quibble with. Again, it's more about understanding the method to the madness.

If individual success is the biggest factor, then where's the Love, let alone Ellis? If it's about team turnarounds or carrying a team through adversity, then why didn't Felton, Boozer andor Deng (though their exclusion somewhat strengthens Bulls All-Star starter Derrick Rose's MVP case by default) or even Nash, who also fills the reputation requirement (not residency, all you followers of Chicago's mayoral campaign; the next mayor should be somebody with a viable blizzard emergency plan for Lakeshore Drive) that must have been used for Garnett and Duncan?

Truth be told, in a year where the fans finally got the voting right (mostly, with Yao being the exception), the coaches dropped the ball. Not because of who they chose, but the confusion in understanding how they reached their final conclusions.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.com's Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

NBA Buzz: Jabari Parker experiment could be coming to an end

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USA TODAY

NBA Buzz: Jabari Parker experiment could be coming to an end

FAILED JABARI PARKER EXPERIMENT COULD BE COMING TO AN END

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It was supposed to be a celebratory occasion. A Chicago prep sensation coming home to start a new chapter of his NBA career with the team he cheered for growing up on the city’s south side.

Jabari Parker’s family and some close friends were in attendance at a news conference at the United Center last summer to formally announce the signing of the Simeon H.S. star to a two-year, $40 million dollar free agent contract. After 4 injury-marred seasons in Milwaukee, the 23-year old Parker was ready to blossom as a high scoring forward for his hometown team.

Except something didn’t feel right. Maybe it was the past experience of facing so many questions about his injuries and the pressure of being the No. 2 overall pick in the 2014 draft, but Parker seemed uncomfortable with many of the innocent and obvious queries tossed his way by the Chicago media. His responses were mostly short and guarded, hardly reflecting what most assumed was a day of celebration for the Parker family.

Making the news conference even more awkward was the difficulty Bulls’ front office executives John Paxson and Gar Forman had in explaining how Parker would fit with the glut of players at his preferred power forward position. We were told it was worth taking a chance on a talented 23-year old free agent who fit age-wise with the rebuilding effort. Parker would be brought in as the starting small forward and the coaching staff would decide on the best way to construct the rotation. And, if things didn’t work out, the 2nd year of the contract was a team option.

6 months later Parker has gone from starting small forward to reserve, from reserve to starting power forward after injuries to Lauri Markkanen and Bobby Portis, from starter to reserve after Markkanen returned and then completely out of the rotation in mid-December when new head coach Jim Boylen wanted more effort from Parker on the defensive end and in practice, and less individual play on offense.

At that point, the Bulls’ front office began working with Parker’s agent to start exploring trade scenarios, and that’s where things stand today two games after Parker was returned to the rotation, reportedly because he met the criteria set by Boylen when he was benched in December.

Parker probably improved his prospects for finding a new home by scoring 29 points while playing reserve minutes in the Bulls’ last two games against the Jazz and Lakers. Jabari told reporters in Salt Lake City he’s thought about playing for the Jazz in the past since he owns a home there and is a member of the Mormon church.

Utah is trying to make a playoff push after a slow start, and they could have an interest in acquiring Parker. A trade for Derrick Favors’ expiring contract would work under salary cap rules, but would the Jazz be willing to give up Favors’ interior defense and rebounding for a small bump in scoring?

Similarly, the Dallas Mavericks have let teams know they’re willing to trade starters Dennis Smith Jr. and Wesley Matthews. Dallas is looking for a 1st round pick in any deal for Smith Jr., but would they be willing to trade Matthews for Parker straight up? The Mavs are still hoping to make the playoffs this season, and acquiring Parker would allow them to move Harrison Barnes back to his more comfortable small forward spot with proven scorers at 4 of the 5 starting positions alongside rebounding machine DeAndre Jordan. And, Matthews could provide the Bulls some much-needed 3 point shooting as well as a respected veteran presence.

We’ve also seen reports of Parker potentially being included in a trade involving Knicks’ center Enes Kanter, with Kanter going to Sacramento, Parker to New York and the expiring contracts of Zach Randolph and Kosta Koufos and maybe a 2nd round pick coming back to Chicago. Obviously, this type of deal would do nothing for the Bulls in the short term, but if they can pick up a draft asset, acquiring expiring deals is probably the best they can do in any trade for Parker.

Reflecting back to that summer afternoon when Jabari was introduced to the Chicago media, the basketball fit didn’t seem right at the time, especially after the Bulls had just matched the four-year, $78 million dollar offer sheet for Zach LaVine.

In a recent interview after the Justin Holiday trade, Paxson told reporters he had no regrets about the Parker signing, saying with the cap space the Bulls had available it was worth the risk to take a flyer on a 23-year old player with proven offensive talent. He also indicated Parker would probably get another chance to re-join the rotation for the Bulls, and we’ve seen that happen in the last week.

Still, with Boylen given the mandate to change the Bulls’ “culture” into a defense-first, hard-working, tough-minded team, it’s pretty clear Parker isn’t a long-term fit. Sports fans and many of us in the media love the story of a hometown hero starring for his city’s pro team. But the Jabari Parker homecoming story appears to be coming to an end soon, almost certainly by the February 7th trade deadline.

AROUND THE ASSOCIATION

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The amazing James Harden is putting together an incredible run of high-scoring games that just might earn him a 2nd straight MVP award. Harden poured in 57 points Monday night in the Rockets’ win over Memphis, topping the 30-point mark for the 17th straight game, the longest streak the NBA has seen since the days of Wilt Chamberlain.

Since All-Star point guard Chris Paul went out with a hamstring injury last month, Harden is averaging 41.2 points, almost single-handedly lifting the Rockets into position to earn home court advantage in the opening round of the playoffs. Houston is playing without Paul, starting center Clint Capela and high-scoring 6th man Eric Gordon because of injuries, but thanks to Harden’s brilliance, they haven’t skipped a beat.

Gordon could be back by the weekend, and Rockets’ coach Mike D’Antoni is hopeful Paul will be ready to play sometime next week, but Capela is out 4 to 6 weeks after suffering a thumb injury, ending his hopes of making the Western Conference All-Star team. Still, with Harden playing at a Jordan-like level, the Rockets should be right in the mix for a top 4 seed until Capela returns.

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Those reports of the Golden State Warriors’ demise may have been a bit premature. The 2-time defending champs marched into Denver Tuesday night and destroyed the team that had owned the best record in the West, 142-111.

The Warriors scored an NBA record 51 points in the first quarter, hitting 19 of 25 shots from the field, including 10 three pointers! Steph Curry is playing at an MVP level, Klay Thompson has regained his long range shooting stroke, and Golden State should be even stronger when 4-time All-Star DeMarcus Cousins makes his debut Friday night against the Clippers.

Sure, you can debate whether a ball-dominant player like Cousins will fit with Golden State’s free-flowing offense, but Cousins was averaging 25 points and 13 rebounds for New Orleans when he ruptured his Achilles last January, and his ability to score inside and out gives the Warriors yet another option on offense come playoff time.

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Out East, the Boston Celtics continue to search for consistency. Boston was supposed to run away with the conference championship with the return of veteran All-Stars Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward from injury to join the talented young players who led the Celtics to Game 7 of the conference finals last season.

But Boston continues to sputter, losing 8 of its last 15 games. The Celtics are stuck in 5th place in the East with a 25-18 record. And, Irving created headlines when he called out some of his teammates in the locker room following an embarrassing loss in Orlando over the weekend.

He tried to explain his motivation to reporters the following day after the team returned to Boston, saying “It came from a place where I asked for a trade and I’m coming here and I believe in this organization and I want these young guys to be successful. In order to do that, we all got to be on the same page and have that mindset that, a championship or nothing. And sometimes that can get the best of me at times.”

Irving announced to Celtics’ fans during an open training camp scrimmage at T.D. Garden that he planning to re-sign with Boston when he hits free agency this summer. But if the Celtics can’t figure things out by the time the playoffs roll around, you can expect the Knicks and Nets to come calling with max offers for the New York native.

So, don’t be surprised if always-aggressive Celtics’ GM Danny Ainge offers a trade package including Jaylen Brown, Terry Rozier and any number of the four 1st round draft picks Boston holds in the 2019 draft for an established star for the stretch run.

If we’ve learned anything in this era of NBA free agency, it’s that star players have been known to change their minds after disappointing playoff runs, and those decisions can impact franchises for years to come.

 

Pippen: Zion Williamson should sit out rest of the season

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USA TODAY

Pippen: Zion Williamson should sit out rest of the season

Pro Basketball Hall of Famer and 6-time NBA champion Scottie Pippen knows a few things about success and talent, and the former Bull thinks consensus top pick Zion Williamson should sit out the rest of Duke’s season and prepare for the NBA draft.

Speaking on ESPN’s ‘The Jump’ on Tuesday, Pippen was asked about the Duke freshman, “I would shut it down… I would stop playing because I feel that he could risk a major injury that could really hurt his career.”

Williamson is averaging 21.2 points per game and 9.4 rebounds per game for the top-ranked Blue Devils. Most NBA experts, including our own Mark Schanowski, have the 6-foot-7 forward as the NBA Draft’s top pick this June.

Fellow Hall of Famer Tracy McGrady added “Football players are doing it, why not? College football players are skipping bowl games and they’re getting ready for the combine.”

The Chicago Bulls currently hold the second worst record in the league at 10-34. New NBA lottery rules go into effect this season that give the three worst teams in the league the exact same odds of landing the top pick — 14 percent.

 

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