Friday, Feb. 4, 2011
By Aggrey Sam
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.