Kemba Walker and Trae Young being named All-Star starters could help Zach LaVine

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USA Today

Kemba Walker and Trae Young being named All-Star starters could help Zach LaVine

On Thursday, the NBA revealed the East and West starters for the 2020 All-Star Game in Chicago. Take a look:


Bulls fans will be honed in on the East selections given Zach LaVine's absence, though his realistic chances of starting the game have been slim-to-none since the first month of the season. In the last round of fan voting returns, LaVine was sixth among Eastern Conference backcourt players. He finished there, as well:


LaVine will get a chance to slide into a reserve slot, but the East’s starting backcourt of Kemba Walker and Trae Young leaves a crowded field to contend with. Guards competing for the seven reserve spots include Ben Simmons, Khris Middleton, Kyle Lowry, Bradley Beal, Malcolm Brogdon and Jaylen Brown. And that's without mentioning frontcourt favorites in Bam Adebayo, Jimmy Butler, Jayson Tatum and Domantas Sabonis.

But a modicum of good news did come from this announcement for those stumping for LaVine: Kyrie Irving's omission from the starting lineup. Irving, who has only played 15 games this season, had been second in fan voting at the time of last returns. Had he snuck in with the starters, LaVine would have also had Walker or Young to compete with for a reserve spot, both of whom he matches up with unfavorably. One has to figure Irving's odds of being selected by coaches as a reserve aren't high.

LaVine's chances still aren't necessarily great, but the coaches' picks for reserves will be announced on Jan. 30. If LaVine is shorted there, as well, there remains the possibility of an injury replacement down the road, which commissioner Adam Silver would select (this is probably his best shot).

Once the final pool of players is decided, they'll be drafted by team captains Giannis Antetokoumpo and LeBron James on Feb. 6.

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Plenty of fascinating storylines heading into the 2nd half of NBA season

Plenty of fascinating storylines heading into the 2nd half of NBA season

With NBA teams reaching the midpoint of the 82 game regular season marathon over the past week, we have a pretty good idea of which teams are legitimate championship contenders, which teams are likely to make the playoffs, and which teams are starting to focus on lottery odds.

Right now, the Bucks, Lakers, and Clippers look like the class of the league, with teams like Philadelphia and Boston in the East and Denver and Utah in the West hoping to challenge for a spot in the Finals.

With just three weeks to go until the NBA trade deadline on February 6, it will be interesting to see which of the contending teams are able to strengthen their rosters. You can expect to see veterans like Andre Drummond, Marcus Morris, Markieff Morris, Danilo Gallinari, Andre Iguodala, Hassan Whiteside, Kent Bazemore, Robert Covington, Alec Burks, Glenn Robinson III, Malik Beasley, former Bulls Derrick Rose and E’Twaun Moore, and possibly current Bulls Thaddeus Young and Denzel Valentine to be mentioned in a variety of trade rumors as we get closer to the deadline. 

Utah already got a big boost with their trade for combo guard Jordan Clarkson, and the Minnesota Timberwolves started their sell-off on Thursday by trading veteran point guard Jeff Teague and reserve Treveon Graham to Atlanta for swingman Allen Crabbe.

Plus, the two L.A. teams are competing to add free agent point guard Darren Collison, who unexpectedly retired after last season. And, as always, there will be a number of veterans who get bought out of their contracts and are free to join contending teams before the March 1st deadline for playoff eligibility.

So, as we anticipate an active month of personnel moves ahead, let’s take a look at how some of the traditional NBA awards would play out and our "most surprising" and "most disappointing" teams at the midway point:

Most Valuable Player: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks

When Giannis Antetokounmpo was presented his 2018-19 MVP award outside of Fiserv Forum last year, he told the adoring crowd not to call him MVP anymore until he won the award next season. Giannis dedicated himself to an offseason of working on his short list of weaknesses (outside shooting, late-game decision-making), and he came back an even better player. Antetokounmpo has increased his numbers in just about every major statistical category, and his 3-point shooting has improved enough to open up driving lanes. The Bucks are currently on pace for a 70 win season, thanks to Antetokoumpo's play. 

Sixth Man of the Year: Montrezl Harrell, Los Angeles Clippers

Harrell’s teammate Lou Williams has pretty much owned this award in recent seasons, and Sweet Lou is still the leading scorer among non-starters. But Harrell’s play on both ends is one of the keys to the Clippers’ championship hopes. He’s currently averaging 19.2 points and 7.3 rebounds, shooting 57.3% from the field. Plus, he plays much taller than his listed height of 6-foot-7 with all-out hustle and relentless work on the boards.

Most Improved: Brandon Ingram, New Orleans Pelicans.

The 2nd overall pick in the 2016 draft had been viewed as largely a disappointment during his three seasons with the Lakers. Matter of fact, when the Lakers were negotiating the Anthony Davis trade with New Orleans, their priority was finding a way to keep Kyle Kuzma out of the discussion, not Ingram. Well, all Ingram has done since joining the Pelicans is average 25.1 points (11th in the NBA), 6.8 rebounds and 4.2 assists, while keeping the team afloat as they wait for the regular season debut of Zion Williamson next week.

Rookie of the Year: Ja Morant, Memphis Grizzlies

Unless Zion averages 25 points and 15 rebounds per game in his half-season with the Pelicans, this award will go to Morant in a landslide. Morant has been nothing short of sensational, leading the young Grizzlies into playoff position at the midway point. Morant’s athleticism is off the charts, and his spectacular ball-handling and high-flying dunks have been featured nightly on highlight shows. He’ll be one of the faces of the league over the next decade.

Defensive Player of the Year: Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz

This award could probably go to Antetokounmpo as well, since the Bucks are No. 1 in the league in defensive rating, and Antetokounmpo can defend all five positions. But the recent trend has been to go with the best rim protector, and Gobert has established himself as a defensive force for the Jazz. Gobert is currently 3rd in the NBA in rebounds and 7th in blocked shots. 

(By the way, did you know the much-maligned Hassan Whiteside leads the league in blocks and is 4th in rebounding? P.S., he won’t win the award!)

Coach of the Year: Nate McMillan, Indiana Pacers

With apologies to the coaches of the conference leaders, Mike Budenholzer and Frank Vogel, no coach has done more with less to this point than McMillan. While waiting for the return of star guard Victor Oladipo from a serious leg injury (expected to be on January 29th against the Bulls), McMillan has the Pacers in 5th place in the East with a 26-15 record. Not only has Oladipo missed the entire season, but key players Malcolm Brogdon, Myles Turner and Jeremy Lamb have all been out for multiple games because of injuries.

Most Surprising Team: Miami Heat and Dallas Mavericks (TIE)

We could probably throw the Oklahoma City Thunder in here as well, but not many analysts expected the Heat or Mavericks to be competing for a top-4 seed in their respective conferences. Jimmy Butler has been the leader of the overachieving Heat, who are getting better than expected production from young players Bam Adebayo, Kendrick Nunn, Duncan Robinson and Tyler Herro. While out West, the incredible Luka Doncic is a top-5 MVP candidate, leading the Mavs to a 26-15 record (currently 6th) with incredible stats of 28.8 points, 9.8 rebounds and 9 assists per game. The international duo of Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis will be fun to watch for years to come.

Most Disappointing Team: Portland Trailblazers 

Plenty of options here, but Portland gets the nod. Don’t forget, the Trail Blazers were in the Western Conference Finals last spring. To be fair, injuries have played a role in their 18-24 start, but with a backcourt of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, Portland’s record should be significantly better. The Blazers even brought Carmelo Anthony out of exile to provide some much-needed scoring support. Big man Jusuf Nurkic should return after the All-Star break, and the Blazers are only a game and a half out of the final playoff spot in the West but don’t be surprised if the front office decides to blow up the roster ahead of the February 6 trade deadline.

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Miami Heat's crowded rotation should interest Bulls

Miami Heat's crowded rotation should interest Bulls

Similar to the Bulls, but amid much different circumstances, the Miami Heat are dealing with a bit of a roster crunch. Their rotation has been excellently managed by NBA Championship winning coach Erik Spoelstra, but they still possess veterans who are hoping to see an uptick in playing time, just like Thaddeus Young in Chicago.

In a report from South Florida Sun-Sentinel writer Ira Winderman, Miami frontcourt players Kelly Olynyk and James Johnson have recently discussed how they have dealt with not being extremely involved in what has been a great Heat season thus far. Possible first-time All-Star Bam Abedayo (15.8 points, 10.4 rebounds, 4.6 assists per game) and Meyers Leonard have held down the Heat frontcourt for most of the year, both playing in all 40 games to this point in the season. Olynyk is at 19.8 minutes per game for the season but has only played in one of the Heat's last five games. 

Heat forward James Johnson has only played in 10 games on the season but has seen a slight uptick in playing time, averaging 17.3 minutes per game over four games in January. But that numbers figure to come way down, possibly all the way to zero, when Justise Winslow returns to full health. And of course once Winslow returns, there is no guarantee he gets, minutes, making him an intriguing (although unlikely) target.  

For all of the reasons listed above, the Bulls should be interested in the Heat's roster right now. While they are likely looking to preserve 2021 salary cap space,  recent history indicates that Miami is always in 'championship hunt mode' and will always look for ways to improve their current roster while worrying about cap-space saving moves later. On that note, per Basketball-Reference.com, Johnson, Leonard, and newly signed rookie Chris Silva are the only players currently on the roster playing more than 60% of their minutes at power forward. 

The Heat, again one of the best teams in the league, aren't desperate for forward depth but could possibly use a defensive-minded forward to close over Leonard for certain matchups in the postseason. 

Enter Thaddeus Young. 

It's easy to see how a closing lineup of Butler-Kendrick Nunn-Duncan Robinson-Young-Adebayo would be smothering defensively. And while Young is not the elite floor spacer that Leonard is, he shot 35.4% on corner 3-point shots last season with the Pacers. It is not inconceivable that he could return to that type of accuracy in a slightly different role with a Heat team with a bit more on the roster in terms of threats on offense. 

Young has played a whopping 97% of his minutes at power forward for Chicago and while the Bulls have made attempts to get him more playing time, the situation lingers as an awkward one. Young is definitely a talented enough player to deserve more than the 22.2 minutes per game he is currently receiving with the Bulls but. As he has said himself: "we have different things that we're trying to do. Like I said, we're trying to develop guys and we're trying to win at the same time."

Miami is a team that—while filled with young talent—is firmly in "win-now" mode. While the Heat likely wouldn't be able to give Young the 30 minutes he is used to, they would be able to supply him a chance to fight for a title with the best homecourt team (18-1) in the league. There are no reports of mutual trade interest between the Heat and Bulls right now but with the Feb. 6  NBA trade deadline fast approaching, the Heat are a team that the Bulls should definitely have their eye on. 

Attention Dish and Sling customers! You have lost your Bulls games on NBC Sports Chicago. To switch providers, visit mysportschicago.com.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.