Bulls

No easy choices for All-Star reserves

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No easy choices for All-Star reserves

The reserves for Feb. 26s All-Star Game in Orlando will be announced Thursday and as usual, there are sure to be some snubs. Since the leagues coaches, who are consumed with their own teams, vote for the exhibitions reserves, there are usually some dubious choices among the annual selections.

But in this lockout-shortened season, theres an opportunity to rectify, at least once, the process. Perennial participants like 2011 Finals MVP Dirk Nowitzki are off to slow starts, while up-and-coming young players are having breakout seasons.

The starters for each conferences team, including Bulls point guard Derrick Rose, have already been voted in by the fans, but there will be much debate as to the other players who deserve the honor.

In the Eastern Conference, Indianas Roy Hibbert is the clear-cut choice to back up Orlandos Dwight Howard at center, as his Pacers have shown marked improvement and his rebounding along with Frank Vogels insistence on an inside-out offensive philosophy have been a major reason why. Backing up Miamis LeBron James and New Yorks Carmelo Anthony in the frontcourt, Atlantas Josh Smith, often maligned as inconsistent, has ensured that the Hawks remain a projected playoff team, even without frontcourt partner Al Horford, whos out for the season, should make his All-Star debut, while Miamis Chris Bosh, who receives frequent criticism for his lack of toughness inside, has put up stellar numbers this season, especially Wade was out of the lineup, is also deserving of a nod.

In the backcourt, there are two guards who should be locks behind starters Rose and Miamis Dwyane Wade: Bostons Rajon Rondo and surprisingly to some, Milwaukees Brandon Jennings, whose Bucks host the Bulls Saturday night. While the aging Celtics dont exactly resemble a contender at this early juncture of the NBA campaign, Rondo has been their best player and has improved as a scoring threat, while Jennings, after battling the sophomore blues a year ago, has kept the Bucks afloat with his dynamic scoring and playmaking and although New Jerseys Deron Williams may have the experience and better resume, Jennings is doing more with a similar amount of talent in his supporting cast, given that swingman Stephen Jackson doesnt appear fully motivated and center Andrew Bogut continues to struggle with injuries.

Meanwhile, Philadelphias versatile Andre Iguodala is the most recognizable player on a balanced 76ers team that has surprised many observers this season and while his scoring numbers are pedestrian, the Sixers, who currently lead the Atlantic Division over the more highly-touted Celtics and Knicks by a wide margin, deserve a representative. The final spot on the East team is a tough choice, but though his chances to make his All-Star debut have been derailed by a recent left-wrist injury, when examining his impact for the Bulls, a case could be made that Luol Deng is more deserving than the likes of Bostons Paul Pierce the Celtics have regressed and he got off to a slow start after missing the beginning of the season with his own injury woes for the East.

Although hes picked up his play as of late, Pierce got off to a slow start after missing the beginning of the season due to his own injury woes, but the Celtics have regressed, the grizzled veteran has had more than enough chances to represent the Celtics in the annual affair, he could use the rest, Rondo will give Boston a player in the game, and Boston simply doesnt deserve multiple players honored this season. If, for whatever reason, any of the starters or other reserves are unable to play, Torontos Andrea Bargnani, despite his Raptors woeful record, should be the first alternate considered after Pierce and Williams.

The Western Conference is a bit easier to call, as Memphis Marc Gasol who looks like the better Gasol brother on a more frequent basis these days is an easy choice as the backup to the Lakers Andrew Bynum. Behind starting forwards Blake Griffin of the Clippers and the Thunders Kevin Durant, last seasons biggest snub, Portlands LaMarcus Aldridge should be rewarded, along with the man who likely took his spot in Los Angeles last year, Minnesotas Kevin Love.

The final frontcourt spot is a bit tougher to decide, but as well as Denver has been playing, the Nuggets Danilo Gallinari should be rewarded for leading the way on a deep, balanced team; similar to the Sixers, Denver looks like a true contender in its conference, but the contributions of Gallo are easier to qualify than Iguodalas. Other candidates for the position include Lakers big man Pau Gasol (while rumors of the Lakers demise have been greatly exaggerated, Gasol is admittedly having a down year), Memphis Rudy Gay (the athletic forward has done well in making up for the absence of the injured Zach Randolph, but the Grizzlies have still underachieved in general) or the Utah combo of Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap, who are too close in production to make the call for the improved Jazz.

The guards in the West should also see some new faces in Houstons Kyle Lowry, who is quietly having an amazing season for new head coach Kevin McHales overachieving Rockets, and Golden States Monta Ellis, who is averaging a career-high in assists and is probably the best player in the league to havent ever received an All-Star bid. The final choice to back up Staples Center co-dwellers Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul in the backcourt is a no-brainer: Oklahoma Citys Russell Westbrook, who is almost as responsible for the Thunders success as superstar teammate Durant, with familiar faces Steve Nash of Phoenix (still leading the league in assists, but his Suns mediocrity cant be ignored) and San Antonios Tony Parker, once again having a solid year.

2-time All-Star Luol Deng signs 1-day contract to retire as a Bull

2-time All-Star Luol Deng signs 1-day contract to retire as a Bull

Luol Deng experienced plenty of highs and lows throughout his nine-plus seasons with the Bulls.

But his love for the organization that acquired him in a 2004 draft-day trade never wavered, even after it traded him to the Cavaliers in January 2014 in a move to exit the luxury tax.

That’s why Deng signed a ceremonial, one-day contract Thursday so that he could retire as a Bull.

“From the moment we made Luol Deng the seventh overall pick of the 2004 NBA Draft, the Chicago Bulls became a better team,” Bulls executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson said. “Luol carried himself with first-class professionalism and leadership, helping lead his Bulls team to eight playoff appearances during his time in Chicago. We’ll always remember his All-Star career and the fierce competitiveness he brought to both ends of the floor every night.”

“We’re very fortunate and humbled that Luol has chosen to retire as a Chicago Bull,” Bulls COO Michael Reinsdorf said. “He was a role model on and off the court during his nine-plus years in Chicago, and he gave everything he had to help us win. I want to thank Luol for not only what he accomplished on the court for the team, but also for the leadership he demonstrated through his philanthropic efforts.”

Deng, a two-time All-Star, is all over the franchise leaderboard. He’s tied for fourth by playing in parts of 10 seasons with the Bulls. He’s sixth in games played, fifth in minutes, fourth in points, fifth in field goals, ninth in rebounds, fifth in steals, seventh in 3-pointers and eighth in free throws.

But Deng’s impact with the Bulls moved past numbers. When he arrived with Ben Gordon, one season after the Bulls drafted Kirk Hinrich, Deng helped pull the Bulls from their post-dynasty funk and transform them into a perennial playoff team. He chose to play through a torn wrist ligament so that he could represent his adopted homeland of Great Britain at the 2014 Summer Olympics.

He became a two-time All-Star as Tom Thibodeau’s indispensable, two-way forward, consistently ranking near the top of the NBA in minutes played. And his community service through his Luol Deng Foundation featured Chicago and global reach.

The day after the trade to the Cavaliers, Deng talked to this author at length while standing inside the Cavaliers practice facility.

"I had an opportunity to play for a great organization. I've been very lucky to play 10 years for the only team that I ever knew as a kid," Deng said that January 2014 day. "I only knew Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and the Bulls when I was 7 years old and in Egypt. For me to be the fourth-leading scorer on that team, did I ever think a refugee kid in Egypt would even play for the Bulls? There's a lot of amazing things that have happened."

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Kris Dunn takes team-first approach to reserve role behind Tomas Satoransky

Kris Dunn takes team-first approach to reserve role behind Tomas Satoransky

Not even a reserve role can shake Kris Dunn’s resolve.

Continuing his completely different tone from the end of last season in his comments to reporters, Dunn took the news that he’ll back up Tomas Satoransky in stride Thursday in advance of the Bulls’ final preseason game versus the Hawks.

“Just being positive, cheering guys on. Just bringing my energy. I’m an energetic guy. That’s just my personality. I just bring it to the gym and allow that good energy to resonate on the floor and to the other guys,” Dunn said at the Advocate Center. “You need (depth) in the league. There are going to be games where the starters come out flat and the second unit is going to have to pick it up and allow them to come back in and finish the game. Just having depth is a good thing because injuries occur. You need backups you can trust.”

At the tail end of last season, as Dunn got publicly challenged by executive vice president John Paxson and phased out of the Bulls’ core in the team’s public comments, the guard acted sullen at times. But he reported to voluntary September workouts with a renewed energy and mental approach after a self-proclaimed offseason of reflection.

“I just appreciate Coach (Jim Boylen) talking to me and being straightforward and being truthful to me,” Dunn said. “I’m going to do my job and do what’s best for the team.”

Dunn started two of the first four preaseason games but largely played with reserves. Does he feel he got a fair shot at keeping his starting job?

“I’m not really going to speak on that. I feel I’m in a great spot. I love what the coaching staff is doing with me and the team. We have a great group of guys,” Dunn said. “We’re going to play hard every game and hopefully make that playoff push.”

And Dunn, who recorded six steals last Friday in Indiana, believes he still has an important role.

“My greatest strength right now is defense. I know that. My teammates know that. It’s no surprise to the team,” he said. “I bring it each day.”

Boylen is appreciative of Dunn’s attitude.

“Before I could even get out the words, ‘Kris, I’m going to bring you off the bench to start the season,’ he had already said, ‘Coach, I’m going to do whatever you need me to do and I’m ready for what you want me to do.’ Before I could even get it out. It was a two-minute conversation,” Boylen said. “I’ve always said he has great heart for the team. He has always been very coachable. He accepts criticism. He owns his mistakes. His response is all about the team and what we’re trying to build. It’s role definition and it’s role acceptance. His role acceptance is off the charts.”

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