No easy choices for All-Star reserves

662130.png

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.

NBA Playoffs observations: Officiating, Draymond Green, LeBron James

snc_sports_biz_insider_thibs_talks_bulls_04-27_640x360_678065731978.jpg

NBA Playoffs observations: Officiating, Draymond Green, LeBron James

The officiating has overshadowed some bad basketball and some really great finishes to start the second round of the playoffs.

I’ve never seen a finish like the last 13 seconds of Game 2 with San Antonio and Oklahoma City, where there were so many violations and missed calls, the league almost issued an apology for it.

Manu Ginobili embellished the contact from Dion Waiters on the start of the wild finish, but there shouldn’t have been contact in the first place. His reputation could’ve hurt him...

Or it was truly possible the official wasn’t looking at Waiters’ upper body, only counting off the five-seconds.

I talked to numerous officials in the aftermath, with each in agreement they’d never seen a play like that before, from start to finish.

We as viewers have the benefit of replay. The officials don’t have that luxury in the moment, and therefore it makes us as the public more skeptical about what we see compared to what they call.

By and large, though, the NBA refs do a pretty good job of catching calls, while also understanding nobody wants a whistle-fest for 48 minutes of basketball.

And we say we want the refs to swallow their whistle and not to decide the games, well, they did that in the finish of San Antonio and Oklahoma City.

After all that controversy, it’s hard to remember the Spurs beat the brakes off the Thunder in Game 1...remember?

Russell Westbrook catches a lot of flak that should be aimed in the direction of his coach, teammates and front office. Yes, that includes Kevin Durant.

But I’m not sure you can truly “win” with Westbrook, given his style of play doesn’t lend itself to late-game execution because he can’t slow down.

But being frenetic is what makes him special, right?

Who cares if Draymond Green is a superstar or not, he certainly is extremely valuable to Golden State, which maximizes everything he does so well. Green doesn’t make other players better in the traditional sense, but he enhances what you do well, which is just as important.

Winning Game 2 should buy the MVP, Stephen Curry, an extra few days of recovery before pushing him back to action over the weekend.

Nights like Game 2 between the Warriors and Trailblazers make me rethink my voting on Defensive Player of the Year.

My ballot was Kawhi Leonard, Green, and Atlanta’s Paul Milsap.

But speaking of Atlanta, I can’t see them challenging the Cavs for anything beyond a game in this series.

It looks like the Cavs realize that, too. And it should be a sweep. Why? The Hawks just don’t have enough. On the floor or the sideline.

With Kyle Korver’s struggles, one should know the easiest thing in the NBA to find is perimeter shooting, and no team should be married to it in the form of one player or another (Hint, hint, Chicago Bulls management) 

During the season, I talked to a personnel man in Los Angeles, who said the Cavaliers wouldn’t win a title unless LeBron James took a step back from doing everything and allowing others to flourish.

By “others”, he meant Kyrie Irving and made the comparison about Dwyane Wade deferring to James starting in 2012, which lead to the Miami Heat winning two titles.

More on Wade in a moment.

Would James’ ego and game work without being a high-volume, high-usage player, especially ceding a spot in the hierarchy to the likes of Irving? That’s the most interesting development that will come out of the Hawks-Cavs second-round series.

Moving back to Wade. Whenever you think he’s done, he pulls another rabbit out of his hat—and the Heat look poised for a meeting with the Cavs in the conference finals.

If there’s a team to truly challenge Cleveland, Miami’s length on defense and shot blocking could be an interesting antidote to Cleveland’s high pick and rolls.

Not only with Wade but Goran Dragic and Joe Johnson, the Heat has three supreme shot creators down the stretch of games, who can facilitate, get to the rim and make free throws.

That makes them beyond dangerous. 

Not as dangerous as Chris Bosh seems to be to his own health. He desperately wants to play, but the Heat won’t give him clearance.

Think about how rare that is, a team that desperately wants to win, but will not put a player in danger to do it. Sounds simple and humane, but think how many franchises in all facets of sports would try to take every precaution but letting a player make his own decision about playing.

I commend Bosh for wanting to play so badly, he’s going to the union so he can risk his life, potentially.

Think about how that sounds.

With his health situation sprouting in two straight years, one wonders if Bosh should even think about playing beyond this playoff run.

That said, the Heat almost gave one away to the Raptors, a team nobody believes in for good reason.

A team led by DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry seems like it has a very low shelf life—the second round.

Speaking of Lowry, it’s past time to call him a playoff underachiever. He’s played over 30 playoff games and isn’t shooting 40 percent for his career.

That desperation triple that sent game 1 into overtime was three of his seven points.

That desperation triple shouldn’t have counted considering he stepped out of bounds before picking up his dribble.

The officials will get another round of derision after the NBA releases its two-minute report Wednesday.

One wonders how bad the Bulls feel watching the Raptors, a team they’ve dominated the past two years, being in the second round while they’re at home.

Lowry’s probably still shooting in the bowels of the Air Canada Centre after hours.

And it probably won’t help.

Timberwolves' Tom Thibodeau appreciative of time with Bulls

snc_sports_biz_insider_thibs_talks_bulls_04-27_640x360_678065731978.jpg

Timberwolves' Tom Thibodeau appreciative of time with Bulls

There's likely a lot Tom Thibodeau would love to get off his chest.

But the newest head coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves continued to take the high road on his tumultous ending with the Bulls when he spoke to David Kaplan Monday morning on ESPN 1000.

Thibodeau, who was hired by the Timberwolves in April as head coach and president of basketball operations, said he was appreciative of his five seasons with the Bulls.

"I felt I had a great job here and I had great guys to coach," he told Kaplan. "That part, you're disappointed that it's going to end, but you know if you're in pro sports. These things happen. I was disappointed that we weren't able to win the championship, not only for our players, but for the fans here and for Jerry (Reinsdorf). Jerry took a chance on me and I'll always appreciate that he did that. I enjoyed my time here.

"Obviously I loved living here and appreciate all the support we received for our team over the five years I was here," he added. "I know what the Bulls mean to this city and I know how the organization feels about the support that they receive from the fans. This is a great, great sports city and I certainly appreciate all they did for me as well."

Thibodeau's departure coincided with Fred Hoiberg's arrival at the helm. The Bulls struggled in their first year post-Thibodeau, missing the playoffs for the first time in eight seasons.

Thibodeau alluded to myriad injuries the team faced, including the season-ending shoulder injury to emotional leader Joakim Noah.

"Jo (Noah) is a big hit. You can't underestimate that, but along with Jo going down I felt that the East had gotten a lot better," Thibodeau said. "When you combine those things, and sometimes that happens. They're still a really good team. I think Fred is an excellent coach. They have to be healthy. That's a big thing for the organization, and unfortunately that hasn't been the case for the last few years."

The Bulls and Timberwolves will play twice next season.

Tom Thibodeau all smiles after seizing all the power in Minnesota

snc_thibs_presser_04-26_640x360_674492995563.jpg

Tom Thibodeau all smiles after seizing all the power in Minnesota

With the controversy behind him and a future that’s envied by virtually every team not in the playoffs, former Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau embraced his introduction as Minnesota Timberwolves coach as a new beginning.

Of course, the smile was a little wider considering the title he’s also walking into the door with, as President of basketball operations. He’ll be able to create and establish his own culture as basketball czar, with comrade Scott Layden as general manager.

Layden will do the daily, dirty work, but Thibodeau will have final say in basketball matters—a responsibility he craved in this year away from the sidelines, and also evidenced by his partnership with the popular firm Korn Ferry, the firm that helped place Stan Van Gundy in Detroit.

"For me, personally, this is about alignment," Thibodeau said at his introduction. "It's not about power. It's not about any of that stuff. I've known Scott a long time. We've shared philosophies with each other about certain things. He was the person that I really wanted. So I'm glad we had the opportunity to get him."

Like Van Gundy, Thibodeau had a rocky relationship with his previous employer before turning the tables in his next stop to become the all-knowing basketball being.

Scathing comments after his firing last spring from Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf stung Thibodeau, according to reports, but was offset by Thibodeau thanking Reinsdorf for taking the chance on hiring him, not the ugly, forgettable ending.

“I don’t want to keep going back to Chicago, that’s gone,” he said afterward. “When I look back in totality, there was a lot more good than bad. That’s the way I prefer to view it. The next time you go around, you want to do it better. You analyze different teams, see the synergy between front office and coach and you try to emulate that.”

It’s easy to take the high road when two of the league’s brightest and youngest talents—Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins—are in your stead, healthy and ready to bust out.

And it’s easy to take the high road when there’s no barrier between what you want to happen and what will happen inside the building—a tricky proposition, it should be said.

The natural conflict that often exists between a front office and coach—one takes a more immediate view of matters while the other must consider the long-term effects of the franchise as a whole—won’t exist at all with Thibodeau and Layden because the hierarchy is clear.

It’s Thibodeau at the top and everyone and everything must bend to his will, per se. Considering the way he felt about the way things transpired in Chicago, where he reportedly clashed with Gar Forman and John Paxson over myriad issues, no one can be too surprised he followed the model laid out by Gregg Popovich, Doc Rivers and Van Gundy, among others.

And like Van Gundy, Thibodeau has the task of getting the team with the longest conference playoff-less streak back to the land of the living—a feat Van Gundy accomplished this season with the Pistons, his second. The Timberwolves haven’t made the postseason since 2004, when Kevin Garnett won MVP.

It was four years before Garnett and Thibodeau connected in Boston in the 2007-08 season, helping the Celtics end a 22-year titleless drought. It’s Garnett, and players like Derrick Rose, Luol Deng, Jimmy Butler and Joakim Noah who helped Thibodeau earn this reputation as a master motivator and defensive wizard.

He thanked those players among others, as well as late Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders, who drafted the likes of Towns and Wiggins with the long-term view of having them develop at their own pace with the likes of veterans like Garnett and Tayshaun Prince there to guide them.

Thibodeau the coach will be there to prod, poke and push the greatness they’re expected to possess, the same way he did with Rose, Noah and Butler to varying degrees.

Thibodeau the coach won’t have much patience for mistakes, but Thibodeau the executive must resist the “trade everybody” emotions many coaches have when players go through down periods.

Having perspective was never one of his strong points, as he squeezed every ounce of productivity from his teams, but perspective must be his greatest ally in his second act in the spotlight.

Taking a long-term approach in a season when it came to minutes and players’ bodies was something he reportedly bristled at—and even if the narrative was somewhat exaggerated, the rap remains on him, unlikely to shake until proven otherwise.

Now he must take a long-term view in everything, and has to deal with the politics that come with being a top executive in the NBA, a task much easier done in fantasy than application.

Perhaps he gained that perspective in 11 months off after being fired from the Bulls, and using the time to gain insight into other franchises operations while watching the Bulls crumble from the inside.

The Bulls got what they wanted with his ouster, and it was a case of “be careful what you wish for”.

Eleven months from now, one wonders if the same mantra will apply to the coach who wanted it all and got it all.