AT AN ARENA NEAR YOU – Welcome to the latest installment of the CSN Insiders notebook, just weeks away from this year's all-star game which features a first for this year's all-star starters.
In addition to the fans picking their favorites to start, a select panel of media members (I was fortunate to be among the media folks chosen) as well as players also had input into selecting this year's starting five.
The fan vote counted for 50 percent while the media and players had an equal input of 25 percent.
There was controversy of sorts in both the Eastern and Western Conferences with at least one starting position, but all the starters are at a minimum deserving to be an all-star this season.
Even with a couple players viewed as being slighted (Boston's Isaiah Thomas and Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook stand out), this new voting system to determine all-star starters works. Under the old format, Chicago's Dwyane Wade and Golden State's Zaza Pachulia would have been starters even though neither has had an all-star worthy season and more significant, would have taken a spot on the all-star team away from a player who was more deserving.
But in addition to the all-star talk, trade rumors continue to swirl as we get closer to next month's trade deadline.
Typically, trade rumors center around teams that have underachieved thus far this season.
When you look at teams that fall under that umbrella this year, the Detroit Pistons stick out.
After a strong finish last season in which they won 10 of their last 14 games and returned to the postseason as the eighth seed, expectations were high this season that they could contend potentially for a top-4 seed and home court advantage.
Not including games played Sunday, the Pistons (21-24) are ninth in the East.
Our CSN Chicago Insider Vincent Goodwill (a former Pistons beat writer) sheds some light on the most recent trade talk involving Detroit which is clearly looking at ways to shake up its roster between now and next month's trade deadline.
Jackson-Rubio trade in the works? Depends on who you ask
The Detroit Pistons found themselves in the center of a juicy but puzzling rumor this week, when ESPN reported the Pistons were engaged in talks with the Timberwolves for a Reggie Jackson for Ricky Rubio swap.
The Timberwolves are shopping Rubio, and the Pistons have struggled to regain the magic they finished off last season with since Jackson has returned from a knee injury.
But Stan Van Gundy shot down the rumor, going as far as telling Jackson, "I'm not trading you for Ricky Rubio.”
"I'm not denying that the discussion took place -- they take place all the time,” Van Gundy said. "But that's a lot different than consideration. And clearly we didn't make that move."
But one wonders, if they're shopping Jackson, what exactly will they be looking for in return? A more facilitating point guard, as Jackson is more of a scorer, or is this a chemistry thing as the Pistons have battled fits and inconsistency all season, nowhere near some scribes' prediction of taking the next step to becoming a 50-win team. – by Vincent Goodwill
Paul George getting an extension?
Has Paul George slipped a bit from his standing as one of the dominant players in the NBA? If he has, his boss doesn't think so as Larry Bird has reaffirmed his commitment to George before George is scheduled to hit free agency in two more seasons.
With the new collective bargaining agreement again tilting the scales toward the smaller markets, the Pacers can extend George with years remaining on his contract for in upwards of $200 million—a tough thing to turn down even if George has his sights on leaving for greener pastures.
Bird told the Indianapolis Star earlier this week that he wants to do an extension to keep George around long-term. George's play has slipped a little bit from his standards, averaging 22 points with six rebounds and three assists and a Player Efficiency Rating at 18.9 as the Pacers haven't elevated themselves from the muck of the East with new personnel, a new coach in Nate McMillan and high expectations coming into the season.
"I don't want to get into Paul's free agency. Before the year started, I told Paul and I said, ‘Look, if you want to sign a long-term deal, we're willing to do that max (contract) and if you want to wait, I understand,” Bird said. "But this year, we're not going to worry about it, we're not going to talk about it and he's going to make the decision that's best for Paul when it comes down to it.” – by Vincent Goodwill
Chicago's desperate rotation search continues
The Bulls have been searching…and searching…and searching…for some type of consistency in their playing rotation.
And Fred Hoiberg pulled an unexpected twist from his coaching bag by inserting second-round pick Paul Zipser as a sixth man Saturday night against Sacramento.
The 22-year old German forward responded with three triples and scored 13 points in 23 minutes, even playing crunch time minutes as the Bulls narrowly escaped the Kings at home.
"It's more excitement than nerves when coach told me I was going to play,” Zipser said.
He's impressed the veterans leaders with his work ethic, Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade.
"He works hard. He comes in and just does his job,” Wade said. "If you look at him, he's just strong. He's very strong. Just being consistent and staying with it. He's got his opportunity a few games back and he has all the confidence in the world in himself. When he gets in there, he looks for his shot.”
Said Butler: "I be forgetting his name, I just call him Zip. When you're out there, you're like everybody else. You have the freedom to do whatever you want on the offensive end."
With the Bulls trying to figure out if Doug McDermott and Nikola Mirotic will ever be consistent, along with wondering if Denzel Valentine and Bobby Portis (their last two first-round picks) will ever pan out, they have another player to add to the evaluation fire. – by Vincent Goodwill
Jabari Parker benched for revealing info from team meeting
Jabari Parker is having a career year for the Milwaukee Bucks but apparently still has to learn the ways in which their locker room has to be run.
According to ESPN, Parker was benched for disclosing the contents to a team meeting to the media, in the midst of their present five-game losing streak. The Bucks are a young and burgeoning team in the East, going through the ups and downs with Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo leading the way.
Parker has finally begun to fulfill the expectations of being the second pick in the draft a few years ago, perhaps feeling like it gives him license to speaking up.
"I spoke up for the first time, and it didn't go my way," Parker said to the media. "I was getting thrashed, but hey, as long as I give them another perspective, I did my job."
Apparently, the Bucks have a rule about team meetings being spoken about publicly and Bucks coach Jason Kidd left Parker's punishment up to his teammates.
They voted he not start for the next game, a road loss to the Miami Heat. Parker played 32 minutes anyways, scoring 16 points with seven rebounds. – by Vincent Goodwill
LeBron Olympic-bound one more time?
If you thought LeBron James' Olympic days were over, Gregg Popovich's presence as coach may persuade James to return in the 2020 Games.
James told the Associated Press that Popovich taking over for Mike Kryzyzewski as coach "factors a lot” into his thinking of whether he'll play in the next Olympiad. James didn't play in the 2016 Games, after having played in every games since 2004, right after entering the NBA.
James' respect for Popovich is well-known, as James has called the Spurs coach the best coach in NBA history. Of course, James has some skin in that statement. Popovich's only loss in the NBA Finals came from James' 2013 Miami Heat, a series James won MVP and solidified himself as a clutch player.
Popovich's Spurs have gotten the better of James' teams, in 2007 and then 2014 with the Spurs avenging their loss to the Heat in a five-game beatdown. And of course, it's a way for James to tweak 11-time championship coach Phil Jackson, too. – by Vincent Goodwill
Lowe-down defense by Wizards assistant
Who was that on the court?
Courtney Lee was distracted by Wizards assistant coach Sidney Lowe in Thursday's loss to Washington when Lowe stepped on the floor for the Knicks final possession. Lee heard Lowe and thought he was a Wizards' defender closing in on him, so he drove and kicked the ball to Brandon Jennings who bobbled the final shot.
"I don't know if the league should look into that — that was a tactic and it worked,” Lee said, via the New York Post. "I thought it was a player. I thought it was a guy rotating down. I think it's something they need to take a look at. But I still think I should've shot it. He fooled me. I still should've took the shot at the end of the game.''
Lee noted he should have taken the shot himself. The Wizards beat the Knicks 113-110 at Madison Square Garden. Afterwards, the NBA fined Lowe $5,000 and the Wizards organization an additional $15,000. – by Jessica Camerato
Fans love Embiid; Media, players? Not so much
Joel Embiid got the votes that mattered most to him.
Embiid finished third among fans for the Eastern Conference All-Star frontcourt, a feat for a rookie who is also playing under minute and game restrictions.
"It shows that the fans support me, that's why I'm not even mad,” Embiid said. "The fans are going stick up for who they love, and I love that.”
Embiid ranked fifth in the media vote and lost pace with the players, where he finished eighth.
He would have made the starting lineup had the votes been left up to the fans. But he doesn't want to see a change in the voting system; he thinks the change could come in the ballot format.
"There's a lot of talented big men in the league, especially at the center position,” Embiid said. "That's something the NBA should think about, putting the center back on the All-Star ballot.” – by Jessica Camerato
Olynyk's future still in green?
There may not another player on the Boston Celtics roster as difficult to get a read on, than Kelly Olynyk. A 7-footer with 3-point shooting skills, he has the kind of talent that plenty of teams will pay big money for. But knowing that it's unlikely that talent will shine consistently, how much is he really worth? And if you're the Celtics, how much do you want to pay to keep him?
Olynyk has done his part to avoid questions about his future, preferring to instead keep his focus on the present.
Well Olynyk's past and his present seem like one in the same as far as there being periods of time when he shows both the potential and inconsistent play that has dogged him during his four seasons in Boston.
One thing we all know: Olynyk is going to get a multi-year deal that will play him at least eight-figures per season.
At this point, the only question is whether that check will be cut by Danny Ainge and the Celtics, or another team. – by A. Sherrod Blakely
Late push by Canada propels DeRozan into All-Star start
The kind of season DeMar DeRozan has had, no one questions his credentials to be an all-star this season. But in order to be an all-star starter, well let's just say he had a little – OK, a lot – of help in making that happen.
The revamped system this year for choosing all-star starters involves fans as usual, in addition to media and current players.
DeRozan finished in a tie for the fifth and final spot among the East starters with Boston's Isaiah Thomas.
But the tie-breaker, fan voting, gave the nod to DeRozan who had about 41,000 more fan votes than Thomas.
And you can bet that the Canadian voting block played a pivotal role in DeRozan getting the starting spot.
"I remember the last couple of days I was watching on Twitter and just to see hockey guys, all the support from the Prime Minister, different ways of voting, strategies from the fans in Canada and the fans all over … it was awesome,” DeRozan told reporters after being selected. – by A. Sherrod Blakely
Acy returns to the NBA
Quincy Acy may have earned back his spot in the NBA. The Nets are expected to sign Acy to a second 10-day contract.
Acy had four seasons on his resume before he was left searching for a new job in November when the Mavericks waived him. He inked a 10-day deal with the Nets on Jan. 10.
The small forward averaged 6.3 points and 2.0 rebounds in just 7.5 minutes over four games, including nine points in five minutes against the Raptors, who drafted him with the 37th pick in 2012. – by Jessica Camerato
Beal's All-Star hopes take major blow
Hoping to make a push for his first All-Star selection as a reserve, Bradley Beal's timing for a slump couldn't have come at a worse time with coaches voting this week.
After a 113-112 loss to the Detroit Pistons on Saturday, Beal is shooting 1-for-21 from three-point range in his last three games.
While defenses are blitzing him on pick-and-rolls and trying to trap the ball out of his hands, Beal still is getting quality looks. He's not just missing wide-open shots, but he's missing them badly.
On the bright side, the oft-injured shooting guard is more durable. He had his head slammed on the floor in a hard fall in Detroit and then clutched his left knee when he was fouled on a fast-break drive to the basket.
DeMar DeRozan has been the best at the position in the East this season, with Beal likely the best option among the other two guards. He has scored 42 and 41 points, set a career-high with nine assists and has been an exceptional perimeter defender.
Before Beal's slump, he'd shot 48% from three-point range in the previous eight games. And 48% overall. – by J. Michael
Nearl resurfaces with Hawks
After one season with the Wizards that was ruined by a hip injury and locker room discord, Gary Neal has resurfaced after signing a 10-day deal with the Hawks.
Neal needed his labrum repaired in April and played in three D-League games before coming to Atlanta, which is in need of guard help.
Neal was one of the better scorers off the bench for the Wizards, but quickly rubbed teammates the wrong way for what several described as "selfish” play to CSNmidatlantic.com at the time. Neal is near the end of his career and was trying to cash in during a time that the salary cap was exploding.
Fortunately for Neal, he has a good relationship with Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer from their days with the Spurs. Former Wizards teammate Jared Dudley described Neal as "always professional.” Neal's current contract ends Jan. 27. – by J. Michael
Walker: All-Star nod is 'last thing I'm going to think about'
A lot of point guards can make their case for being an All-Star in the East. Kyrie Irving already has been selected as a starter but either John Wall, Kemba Walker, Kyle Lowry or Isaiah Thomas likely will end up being left out when the coaches' vote is revealed this Thursday.
Don't count Walker among those concerned about it even though he has never been an All-Star.
"Not really. Especially because where my team is but I really don't care honestly,” said Walker, who is averaging career-highs of 23.2 points, 46.6% overall shooting and 42.3% three-point shooting. "It's really starting to get old, hearing about it. If my name is called of course I'll be super-excited but if not we'll have to move on.
"My main focus and goal right now is to win. We haven't been doing a great job at winning consistently. We haven't played consistent games as of late. All-Star is the last thing I'm going to be thinking about right now.” – by J. Michael
Curry's play 'enormous factor' in public support of new arena
After two delays and a site change, the Warriors finally broke ground on their new arena to be constructed in San Francisco. Though Kevin Durant was on hand to represent the players, the Warriors surely realize another member of the team was influential in generating the goodwill required to receive public backing.
That would be Stephen Curry, back-to-back MVP, leader of a the 2015 NBA championship team and arguably the most popular athlete in Bay Area history.
"It was an enormous factor,” Warriors co-owner and Hollywood dealmaker Peter Guber said of Curry's presence. "It can't be discounted, the way this shined a light on the organization. It provided tremendous momentum.”
Curry has spent the past five years wowing fans locally and nationally. He is most responsible for delivering a championship sooner than anyone had a right to expect. Furthermore, he offers the bonuses of accessibility and likability -- two characteristics not associated with such megastars as Joe Montana or Barry Bonds.
The most recent indicator of Curry's popularity came when he was voted -- ahead of MVP candidate Russell Westbrook -- to start for the Western Conference in the 2017 All-Star. With the ballots submitted by fans, players and media, the fan vote was the tiebreaker in Curry's favor.
Griffin return near; Paul out until at least March
Once the most athletic power forwards in the NBA, he was a staple on the nightly highlight shows, soaring for high-flying dunks that threatened the lives of rims all around the league.
Remember Blake Griffin? After missing 15 games two seasons ago, 47 games last season and 19 so far this season, Griffin, a month removed from arthroscopic surgery on his right knee, pronounced himself ready for his latest return.
"It was good to get some real work in besides just running and shooting," the five-time All-Star told reporters after a workout on Friday. "Now it's kind of up to them."
"Them” refers to the Clippers, who say Griffin should be cleared no later than the middle of the week. No doubt they want him back as soon as possible, as point guard Chris Paul underwent surgery last week and is not expected back before March. – by Monte Poole
Walton: Ingram advancing 'fast than most 19-year-olds'
As Luke Walton attempts to rebuild the Lakers, it's becoming more and more apparent that his essential pillar is Brandon Ingram, a skinny kid born 19 years ago in North Carolina.
Much is expected of power forward Julius Randle and point guard D'Angelo Russell, but it's Ingram who is emerging as the likeliest franchise player.
The latest indication came when Walton assigned the rookie to Pacers star Paul George. Not only did the Lakers win, but Ingram posted 15 points, seven rebounds, three steals and two assists. He finished plus-14, while George was minus-15.
"The game looks like it's slowing down to him,” Walton told reporters. "It normally takes rookies and young kids much longer than half a season for that to happen. He's advancing much faster than most 19-year-olds or rookies in general would be.”
Ingram's numbers have improved appreciably over the last few weeks, and he is getting more playing time. He generally comes off the bench behind veteran Luol Deng. That could be changing, perhaps sooner than anyone could have expected. – by Monte Poole
Chandler a keeper for the Suns?
The Suns sit near the bottom of the Western Conference standings and with the NBA's trade deadline quickly approaching, you would think they would be sellers. But there is at least one veteran that head coach Earl Watson would like to keep around.
"I have very little input, but if it was up to me, I love Tyson Chandler,'' Watson told reporters this week. "I think our front office loves Tyson Chandler. Tyson wants to be a part of this process. He doesn't mind the work and building."
Chandler, 34, is in his 16th season in the NBA. He's averaging 8.3 points and 12.3 rebounds in 33 games this year for Phoenix. … Jared Dudley missed the last four games with dizziness. – by James Ham
NBA Report: Cousins did not foul Wade
Sacramento is in a tailspin. The Kings have lost five straight and are just 2-10 over their last 12 games after Saturday's brutal loss to the Chicago Bulls on a blown call by the officials.
The NBA's two-minute report confirmed that DeMarcus Cousins didn't foul Dwyane Wade with 18 seconds remaining and the game tied at 99-99. Chicago went on to win 102-99.
"Cousins (SAC) has his hand on Wade's (CHI) back while he is airborne, but he does not extend his arm and push him and the contact does not affect the shot attempt," the official two-minute report reads.
The Kings, losers of five straight and eight of their last nine, came down with the rebound after Wade's miss and should have had a possession with a chance to take the lead.
"Yeah thanks the team feels so much better now that it's cleared up!" Cousins wrote on Twitter Sunday afternoon. … Earlier in the week, veteran forward Rudy Gay went down with a season-ending torn left Achilles against the Pacers. He is scheduled to undergo surgery on Monday in New York. – by James Ham
Dekker makes the most of his shot at starting
Second-year forward Sam Dekker spent much of his rookie season out with injuries, so there's still a lot he has to learn about the NBA.
One lesson he clearly has taken to heart already, and that's staying ready.
In his first career start, he did more than just help Houston knock off the always-physical Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday.
Dekker scored a career-high 30 points in a game where his shooting shined just a little brighter than the handful of mistakes he made that his head coach Mike D'Antoni made sure he knew about during the game.
"He's one of those guys that needs a lot of hugging, needs a lot of kicking," D'Antoni told reporters following the win. "I love him. I love his game, but he has lapses, rookie lapses. What we're trying to do is, we're worried about the playoffs. You don't win a series when you make mistakes like that, so he's got to learn that and hopefully will.” – by A. Sherrod Blakely
Spurs roll along with Leonard leading the way
Death, taxes and the San Antonio Spurs. Those are the only guarantees in life. The Spurs rolled up the Cleveland Cavaliers in overtime Saturday on the back of Kawhi Leonard's 41-point performance.
Leonard is having the best offensive run of his career, posting 30 or more points in six straight games. Over the stretch, the NBA's reigning defensive player of the year is averaging 34.7 points per (60.2% overall, 48.3% 3-point range), 5.2 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.7 steals. … Pau Gasol is out indefinitely after undergoing surgery on the fourth metacarpal on his left hand this week. – by James Ham
Davis: 'This is where I want to be'
Anthony Davis came into the NBA four-plus seasons ago with the hope that he could be an elite, difference-making player. And to his credit, he has not disappointed. But the same can not be said for the Pelicans organization which has not been able to surround Davis with enough talent, healthy talent, to be a legit playoff contender.
For most of the game's elite players, this normally results in them keeping open the possibility of moving on to a more playoff-ready situation.
"This is where I want to be,” Davis recently told reporters. "I love the city, I love the culture.” – by A. Sherrod Blakely
Mavericks on good side of history for a change
This has been one of those seasons where the Mavericks haven't had much to feel good about. And when you start talking about historical performances, you can understand why they might want to avoid such conversations.
But for one day, they could embrace their place in history after delivering a 122-73 beating to the Los Angeles Lakers which is the standard by which all blowouts of the Lakers will be measured against.
The 49-point margin of defeat was the largest suffered by the Lakers in franchise history which surpassed a couple of 48-point losses. It also extended Dallas' winning streak over the Lakers to 13 in a row which is their longest over any other team in the league.
"We had a good day,” coach Rick Carlisle told reporters after the win on Sunday. "They struggled, and I think we had something to do with their struggles. On days like today, it looks easy, but it's not.”- by A. Sherrod Blakely
Westbrook on All-Star snub: 'It is what it is'
The All-Star starters are in and Russell Westbrook is not on the list. Despite dropping an incredible 21 triple-doubles this season and averaging 30.6 points, 10.4 assists and 10.6 rebounds a night, Westbrook will have to come off the bench behind two-time MVP Stephen Curry and James Harden of the Houston Rockets.
"It is what it is,” Westbrook told reporters this week. "That's the nature of the business, the game. I just play. I don't play for All-Star bids. I play to win championships, and every night I compete at a high level, and it'll work out.”
OKC has lost 3-of-4, but they have been without starting center Steven Adams who is in the league's concussion protocol after bouncing his head off the floor against the Kings last Sunday. – by James Ham
Dennis Lindsey for GM of the Year?
While teams like Golden State and Boston were swinging for top free agents this summer like Kevin Durant and Al Horford, Lindsey took a more conservative approach to assembling this year's Utah club.
And man has it worked.
The Jazz are tied with the Los Angeles Clippers (29-16) for the fourth-best record in the Western Conference and seem poised for a return trip to the postseason for the first time since 2012.
The play of Gordon Hayward and Rudy Gobert has been instrumental, but three separate moves made by Lindsey gave them something they desperately needed: proven veteran leadership.
It's not a coincidence that the Jazz are now in playoff position after offseason trades for established veterans Boris Diaw, George Hill and Joe Johnson.
No one is sensing the Jazz are title-contenders just yet. But if they are to reach that level in the near future, many will look back at this season's squad and the veterans Lindsey brought in as the catalyst to what's shaping up to be a very bright future for the Jazz. – by A. Sherrod Blakely
Rubio (personal) misses game against Nuggets
When it was announced that Ricky Rubio was not going to be in the lineup for Sunday's game against the Denver Nuggets, thoughts immediately shifted towards him being traded.
But Minnesota head coach Tim Thibodeau squashed that quickly by indicating Rubio was not with the team for personal reasons, but added that he expected him to be back in town late Sunday night and rejoin the team in time for practice on Monday. – by A. Sherrod Blakely
Williams on the move...again
In a move that was all about the Denver Nuggets saving money, they acquired Mo Williams and cash from Atlanta for 2005 draft pick Cenk Akyol, and then immediately waived him which would have saved them about $1.7 million.
Turns out the Philadelphia 76ers had the same idea because by claiming him off waivers, they will wind up saving about $1.1 million if he clears waivers.
Denver did the move to bring their salary cap hit up to $77 million from $75 million. Teams below the salary cap floor ($84 million) have to distribute whatever the salary cap shortfall is to evenly to players currently on the team at the end of the season. So the closer teams below the salary cap floor can get to that $84 million floor, the less money they have to distribute to their players. The move will bring the Sixers within $5.6 million of the salary cap floor. – by A. Sherrod Blakely