Examining early-season All-Star candidates in both conferences


Examining early-season All-Star candidates in both conferences

With at least a 30-game sample size to evaluate the play of the leagues elite talents, as well as the NBA announcing the latest results of voter balloting Thursday, now is as a good a time as ever to start predicting who could play in Februarys All-Star Game.

Barring injury, the fans control who will start the annual contest currently, Bostons Rajon Rondo and Miamis Dwyane Wade comprise the Eastern Conferences backcourt, with New Yorks Carmelo Anthony, the Heats LeBron James and Kevin Garnett of the Celtics making up the frontcourt, while the West is dominated by players in Los Angeles, as Oklahoma Citys Kevin Durant is joined by the Clippers duo of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, along with Lakers tandem Dwight Howard and Kobe Bryant as top vote-getters but the coaches select the reserves in both conferences.

In the East, a case has already been made in this space for Luol Deng to make his second All-Star appearance, with Bulls teammate Joakim Noah making the trip to Houston with him for his first crack at the annual game. However, it gets a bit murky after that.

RELATED: Deng, Noah making early cases for All-Star consideration

New Yorks Tyson Chandler should be a lock, given the Knicks record and his impact on their defense and overall interior game, which would probably push Clevelands Anderson Varejao, despite his gaudy numbers, out of the equation, as its highly unlikely that three true centers, regardless of their versatility, will come off the bench, especially considering their similar defensive-oriented games.

Miamis Chris Bosh, more of a natural power forward, is another shoo-in and while he doesnt have a lot of name recognition nationally, so is emerging Philadelphia point guard Jrue Holiday. That leaves three spots remaining.

With the success of the Hawks, Josh Smith should finally get the nod after getting snubbed last season and because of the lack of great guard play in the East this season Derrick Rose being sidelined doesnt help it says here that second-year Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving makes his first appearance, partially to compensate for Varejaos probable absence, but also because of backlash, conscious or not, toward Brooklyns Deron Williams, whos had a subpar campaign and is now deemed a coach killer following ex-Nets head coach Avery Johnsons dismissal after Jerry Sloans dismissal in Utah coincided with his reported behind-the-scenes grousing.

For the final spot, if not Williams, maybe one of Milwaukees undersized scorers Brandon Jennings or Monta Ellis makes an inaugural appearance, though Bostons Paul Pierce could garner a lifetime-achievement spot. As muddled as the East is, the West is no easier.

Assuming Jeremy Lin isnt voted in the Rockets point guards popularity in China cant be discounted, after Yao Ming, before truly blossoming as a player, made the All-Star team early in his career over Paul, the Clippers league MVP candidate who holds a semi-tenuous lead at the moment, his Houston teammate, James Harden, as well as fellow Southwest Division guards Russell Westbrook of the Thunder and San Antonios Tony Parker, will probably make the team.

Golden States Stephen Curry has been tremendous for the surprising Warriors and even with all of the talented big men in the West, its tough to name a more deserving guard in the conference, aside from the aforementioned named players.

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At the moment, its also hard to make an argument against Tim Duncan of the Spurs, as the future Hall of Famer is having a bit of a renaissance year and San Antonio is winning, as always. The same goes for Zach Randolph of the Grizzlies, the leagues double-double champ and a big reason Memphis appears to some observers to be a legit NBA Finals contender.

After that is where it gets tricky, but for the final spot in the West, another Warrior, David Lee, looks like he fits the bill, as hes finally putting up meaningful numbers now that Golden State is winning games.

One could make cases for other big men such as Oklahoma Citys Serge Ibaka (not enough of a consistent factor offensively), Minnesotas Kevin Love (missed too much time with injuries), Portlands LaMarcus Aldridge (lack of team success), Memphis Marc Gasol (hard to justify two teammates being on the All-Star team when theyre both big men, unless one is voted on by the fans or the team is just that dominant) and Houstons Omer Asik (like Ibaka, not yet a nightly scoring threat and the Rockets are still just a fringe playoff team) but the oft-maligned power forward is having an individually successful campaign on a winner.

Theres room for debate and still plenty of time before everything is settled, but heres an early look at how things might shake out. Obviously some people wont agree, but as the old adage goes, thats why they play the games.

NBA offseason gone wild as league executives go into overdrive to compete with Golden State

NBA offseason gone wild as league executives go into overdrive to compete with Golden State

NBA free agency doesn't officially begin until 11 p.m. Chicago time on Friday, but league executives have already gone into overdrive in their race to create the next super-team to compete with the Golden State Warriors.

Rockets GM Daryl Morey hinted he had a big move up his sleeve last week, suggesting the Warriors "aren't unbeatable." Well, Morey unveiled that big move on Wednesday, rounding up a bunch of non-guaranteed contracts from all over the league to help him acquire Clippers' All-Star point guard Chris Paul before free agency even begins.

Paul met with Clippers officials on Tuesday, and basically told Doc Rivers he was going to sign with Houston as a free agent, so if the Clippers wanted to get anything for him, they better work out a trade right away. The return L.A. got in the 7-for-1 deal was hardly overwhelming, headlined by Chicago native Patrick Beverley and super-sub Lou Williams, and it showed once again how league executives are powerless if a star player decides he wants a chance of scenery.

Paul and James Harden wanted to play together, and Morey and his staff came up with a creative way to get it done. And, by all reports, Morey isn't done yet. The Rockets are hoping to swing a deal for either Paul George or Carmelo Anthony as a third star in the frontcourt, giving them a shooter's chance against the champion Warriors.

George is one of the biggest chess pieces being moved around boards in executive offices all around the league. Ever since George informed Pacers management he isn't interested in re-signing with the team, GM Kevin Pritchard has been searching for the best possible deal.

The Cavaliers would love to add George as the new third star on their super-team with LeBron and Kyrie Irving and send Kevin Love to the Pacers or to a third team that would provide Indiana with young players and/or draft picks.

Boston is hoping to trade some of Danny Ainge's treasure-trove of draft picks to bring George in, but only after they make a free agent run at Utah All-Star swingman Gordon Hayward, who played his college ball for Celtics coach Brad Stevens at Butler. Remember, making a trade for George carries a lot of risk, since he's eligible to become a free agent next summer and could wind up being a one-year rental.

George has told anyone who will listen he plans to sign on with the Lakers in the summer of 2018, but will new Lakers President of Basketball Operations Magic Johnson get antsy with all the trade interest in George and try to bring him in now? Is it worth it for Magic to give up young players like Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson if he can just wait a year and sign George without giving up any assets?

We're already hearing reports of George trying to recruit Warriors sharp-shooter Klay Thompson to join him on the Lakers when Klay becomes a free agent in 2019. And, speculation continues about LeBron heading west to join the Lakers if the Cavs come up short of a championship again next season.

So many questions as we approach the start of free agency. Where will Derrick Rose end up after a fourth knee surgery? Will the Clippers be interested in bringing Rose in to play with Blake Griffin and keep Lob City going? And what about veterans like Kyle Lowry, Paul Millsap, Serge Ibaka, Danilo Gallinari, Andre Iguodala, Kyle Korver, J.J. Redick, Pau Gasol, Taj Gibson, George Hill, Jrue Holiday and Jeff Teague? What kind of market will they find with fewer teams having the kind of cap space we saw last summer?

And, where will Carmelo Anthony wind up now that Phil Jackson is out as Knicks President? Jackson might be the greatest coach in NBA history after winning 11 championships with the Bulls and Lakers, but it was clear the Zen Master was overmatched as a front office executive. Phil didn't want to travel to scout top college prospects, didn't stay on top of day to day roster moves around the league, and insisted on saddling his coaches with running an offense that didn't translate in today's game.

Maybe now Jeff Hornacek will be able to run his up-tempo offense that had some success in Phoenix instead of Phil's beloved triangle. But don't count on Anthony being a part of next season's Knicks team. Reports out of New York suggest the organization is still intent on dealing Melo, problem is that nasty no-trade clause that Phil gave Anthony on top of a $127 million contract back in 2014.

In the coming weeks, you can count on hearing all kinds of Anthony-related rumors. Maybe a trade to Houston, Boston or even Philadelphia. And, if Melo is able to convince the Knicks to buy out the remainder of his contract, look for him to join forces with LeBron in Cleveland for a shot at that elusive championship ring.

The Knicks may have rid themselves of Phil’s front office mismanagement, but their roster is still a mess with no easy solutions in sight.

The great thing for NBA fans is the buzz created by all the speculation. NBA offseasons are the most impactful of any sport since the acquisition of a star player can cause a major shift in any team's fortunes. Unfortunately here in Chicago, don't expect any free agent buzz this year, unless you're excited about the possibility of a Dwyane Wade buyout.

Bulls Executive VP of Basketball Operations John Paxson made it clear the Bulls are going in a new direction and will be patient and disciplined in their rebuild. That means no spending on veterans this summer as the front office keeps its power dry for some time in the future when the Bulls are closer to being a playoff contender again.

Player development will be the focus of the next couple seasons as Fred Hoiberg and his staff try to find out exactly what they have in young players like Lauri Markkanen, Kris Dunn, Denzel Valentine, Bobby Portis, Cameron Payne, Paul Zipser, Jerian Grant, Cris Felicio and Niko Mirotic.

Ideally, the Bulls will lose enough games next season to put themselves into position to land a top-3 pick in next year's top-heavy draft. Paxson talked about building a contending team through the draft, and that will require a lot of patience from everyone involved. Adding a Michael Porter, Jr. or Luka Doncic to a young backcourt of Dunn and Zach LaVine and a promising "stretch 4" in Markkanen could be the foundation of the next Bulls playoff team.

So, while the league's top teams engage in a massive arms race to try to close the gap on the Warriors over the next few weeks, all will be quiet in the city of Chicago. The buzzword for Bulls fans for the foreseeable future is PATIENCE.

Bulls Talk Podcast: An NBA gone wild and Zach LaVine sit down interview


Bulls Talk Podcast: An NBA gone wild and Zach LaVine sit down interview

On the latest BullsTalk Podcast, Mark Schanowski, Kendall Gill and Vincent Goodwill delve into the blockbuster news of Chris Paul being traded to the Rockets. Will any other teams try to go all-in?

With Phil Jackson parting ways with the Knicks, Goodwill shares the behind-the-scenes story of how James Dolan hired Jackson to run his franchise. 

Then, Schanowski sits down with the newest Bull Zach LaVine to discuss recovering from his ACL tear, his love of Space Jam and moving to Chicago.

Plus, the guys break down their first impressions of LaVine and his potential in a Bulls uniform, and how the new CBA is actually leading to teams getting rid of their stars rather than keeping them.

Finally, what will the Bulls do with Dwyane Wade, and where will Derrick Rose end up?

Check out the latest Bulls Talk Podcast right here: