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Blatt ousted as title pressure rises anew in Cleveland

A franchise-wide need to attain a championship played a big part in the firing of David Blatt and the promotion of Tyronn Lue.

POSTED: Jan 25, 2016 6:06 PM ET

By David Aldridge

BY David Aldridge

TNT Analyst

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Carl Bernstein may well have been one of the dozen or so most important American journalists of the 20th century. (Okay, one man's list, in no particular order: Edward R. Murrow, David Halberstam, Ida Tarbell, Sam Lacy, Lowell Thomas, Roger Ebert, Studs Terkel, Richard Ben Cramer, Walter Cronkite, Howard Cosell, and Bernstein's partner at The Washington Post, Bob Woodward.)

Woodward and Bernstein did a little reporting on President Richard Nixon's administration, you may recall, to some effect, and after Watergate, Woodward went on to write books, but Bernstein didn't transition as quickly.

In the late '70s, he left the Post, and in 1980, he moved out of print journalism all together, accepting a job from ABC News president Roone Arledge to become bureau chief of ABC's Washington Bureau. That Bernstein had never been a television reporter, much less a television executive, was of little concern to Arledge, who liked to accumulate stars for his then-fledgling network news operation.

Tyronn Lue Takes Over

NBA TV's Sekou Smith discusses the new head coach in Cleveland, Tyronn Lue.

Bernstein's ascension was met with not-surprising resistance from the people in the D.C. bureau, most of whom were veteran reporters and producers who didn't understand why they had to answer to a guy who'd never done any television before and never run an office. After a few weeks of difficulties, Bernstein asked Arledge to come down from New York to give him a public backing, which Arledge did. After a few more weeks, when his relationships with his new employees didn't get much better, Bernstein asked Arledge to come down again and back him again, which he did, again.

But when Bernstein asked Arledge to make a third trek to D.C., Arledge balked.

"Carl," Arledge recalled in his autobiography, "I can't make them respect you."

Less than three years later, Bernstein quietly left ABC, and went back to print reporting, ultimately writing a terrific book about Hillary Clinton. Overall, Bernstein's place in history is assured and that temporary blip on his resume long forgotten.

Bernstein was smart and capable, and obviously was a great journalist. But he wasn't able to reach the people he needed to reach in order to do well in his new job. With time, and patience, he may well have grown into the position, but network news is not known for having either of those qualities in abundance.

Neither is the NBA.

And so coach David Blatt was fired in Cleveland last week, after a season and a half in which he couldn't gain LeBron James to view him as an equal -- someone whose opinion should be heeded -- which was the only thing that mattered.

Lue on Coaching Change

Tyronn Lue says the coaching change will not be a big deal if we just be ourselves and play hard.

The late, great Chuck Daly used to say that NBA players allow you to coach them. It is never a balanced, even relationship. It never has been. If Tim Duncan woke up one morning and wanted coach Gregg Popovich gone, he'd be gone. Players are the rare commodity. Coaches, unfortunately for them, are not. And the nice, sweet guy in high school doesn't usually date the homecoming queen, either.

The Boston Celtics' dynasty of the late 1950s and '60s was built on one thing, and one thing only -- the rock-solid relationship (not friendship, not mentorship, relationship) -- between Bill Russell and coach Red Auerbach. Everything else flowed from what those two men asked of and received from one another. If they hadn't come to a meeting of the minds, there would have been no ghosts in the old Boston Garden. That was the spine upon which everything else was built.

Put it this way: whatever Auerbach was selling, Russell was buying. Doesn't mean they always agreed. But Russell carried out what his coach wanted.

Blatt is very smart and talented, having won championships all over the world, in places where teams hadn't won in a long time. He can X and O with anyone on earth, and if he had an occasionally defensive side when asked about his coaching chops over the last year, he'd earned it. But the NBA is no different from the rest of U.S. society in that there is often little interest among most people here in much of anything that happens outside our shores.

Red And Me: Part One

The story of Boston's all-star Bill Russell and his relationship with the head coach Red Auerbach.

James, clearly, did not respect Blatt. Maybe, more accurately, he didn't respect the idea of Blatt, as someone who had authority over him, someone that he had to listen to because he was the coach. That was the difference between Blatt and Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, for example. Spoelstra wouldn't hesitate to call out James for mistakes, in the film room or on the practice court, something Blatt was apparently reluctant to do. Spoelstra wasn't the only one, but he was the main one.

Then again, Spoelstra knew he had the full backing of Pat Riley and the Heat organization behind him.

One of Blatt's supporters believe that Blatt's firing was "1,000 percent LeBron." There is no question that in the Cavs' grand scheme of things, James carried, and carries, the hammer. But multiple things can be true at the same time.

In improvisational and comedy classes, one of the first exercises students have to master is the "yes, and" concept, in which they agree to accept the premise of a dialogue with their partners (the "yes" part) while adding new pieces of information that may take the dialogue in a totally different direction (the "and" part). For example: you are an immigrant new to this country. Yes. And, you curse every third word. Go.

Yes, LeBron had problems with Blatt. And, there was inconsistent continuity on the roster, as Blatt tried to integrate both Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving back into the offense as each returned from substantial injury. And, the Cavaliers came up very short against the top teams in the West. And, there is immense, generational pressure on everyone in the organization -- from city starved for its first professional sports championship in five decades, and from owner Dan Gilbert, who desperately wants to be the person to deliver said championship.

And, James is 31, with a ton of miles on him, with five straight Finals runs, and three Olympic appearances. The Cavs' contending window is neither as wide nor as long as you may think. If that made GM David Griffin act sooner than expected in firing Blatt, or even sooner than many believe he should have, well, that is life in the big city.

It is interesting that James' camp -- the same camp that was effusively praised for laying the groundwork for James's return to Cleveland in 2014 -- is now singled out for all the blame for Blatt's firing. You can't just pick the parts of the enchilada that you like to eat.

Cavaliers Post Game: Tyronn Lue

Tyronn Lue speaks with the media following Saturday night's game versus the Bulls.

Still, many around the league -- not just crackpots, but sober guys who've been around a long time -- believe, and always will, that James either out front (or behind the scenes) got Blatt fired.

James' love for his nearby hometown of Akron comes honestly, and if he can lead the Cavaliers to a ring, he will be lionized in Northeast Ohio for the rest of time. His agent, Rich Paul, ditched The Decision and the whole dog-and-pony show of 2010, holding meetings during James' free agency in the summer of 2014 with interested teams, and with Gilbert, in private. And Paul and James' manager, Maverick Carter, delivered Moby Dick. Now they have to deliver a championship. Nothing else will do.

Make no mistake, though. It can be extremely difficult to coach LeBron James. He is ridiculously intelligent about the game; he sees what's going to happen 10 seconds before it does. And he has often insisted on carrying out his vision.

But it is now up to James to make the Cavs' locker room a better functioning place. He can either keep being the Alpha Male, or he can figure out a way to really make others feel like they have some ownership of the team.

He has to do more than chat poolside with Kevin Love in the summer and talk about Love getting the ball more at the start of training camp. He has to do it. He can't keep dominating every conversation, every meeting, every practice.

There's an old saying: just because you grow doesn't mean I have to shrink.

Lue on Team Spirit

Tyronn Lue says the Cavaliers' spirit is not right and needs an adjustment.

"Shame he can't be happy being the best player in the world," said someone who's seen a lot of this up close. "Organization and culture matters. He may win another ring but he isn't making it any easier on himself."

It was no secret James was closer with Tyronn Lue, the new coach, than he was with Blatt. Anybody with eyes could see their interpersonal dynamics at work on the bench, with James constantly seeking out Lue's input. Nor was it unknown that James' agency, Klutch Sports, had leverage over the franchise once it secured Tristan Thompson as a client. (This is hardly the first time an agent or player has used influence to help associates. Dan Fegan had the Golden State Warriors on lockdown when he had Jason Richardson and Troy Murphy and Al Harrington there. Upon Michael Jordan's hiring in Washington, Jordan associates were soon scattered throughout the organization, including Curtis Polk, Fred Whitfield and Rod Higgins -- all of whom followed Jordan to Charlotte once he bought the then-Bobcats.)

I never would criticize any player for getting as much money as they possibly can during what is, almost always, a limited playing career. And I never will criticize any player for demanding as much control as possible. But that doesn't mean the team has to grant it. Miami did not, and still got James for four seasons, in the prime of his career. He led them to four straight Finals appearances and back-to-back titles.

Cleveland has shut off some avenues that were previously open. None of James' associates ride on the team plane any more, as they frequently did during James' first tenure in Cleveland. But there's no question that James' kitchen cabinet thought Blatt wasn't up to the job. And James certainly did and said nothing to try and save Blatt once his job was on the line.

But James, more than one person close to him says, is tired. It was telling that the first thing Lue said upon taking the job was that the Cavs weren't in good enough shape to play the way he wants. That's more running, more lifting, more stretching on a body that has already logged 37,235 career minutes.

It is all on LeBron James's head now, more than it ever was before, the angst of an entire region. Lue is not likely to become Pat Riley; he will be a sidebar to Cleveland's history, no matter what happens. No, the Land's fate is up to LeBron. Merely being great will not do. He will have to kill all the dragons, do more than he did in the Finals last year, for that wasn't good enough, and the Warriors and Spurs and Thunder are still better, way better right now. Only a parade will shut everyone up. Win or go home, indeed.

DRIBBLES

Udonis Haslem, one of the few, uninjured Miami Heat players, was nonetheless grimacing as he contemplated all the walking wounded.

"Two years in a row," he said last week.

Nearby, Luol Deng's eye was swollen shut, having been assaulted by an unwanted finger from the Washington Wizards' Kelly Oubre. Hassan Whiteside, with a freshly strained knee, was gingerly picking himself up off his chair. Dwyane Wade could not lift either of his shoulders, a bad thing for a basketball player. And Goran Dragic, while nicely dressed, did not have on a Heat uniform, which is what he came to Miami to wear.

Whiteside Gets Injured

With no obvious contact Hassan Whiteside falls to the floor in pain and would leave the game.

A season of fits and starts is currently trending south for the Heat. Miami has lost seven of its last eight to fall into -- depending on how you look at it -- a four-way tie for fifth or eighth place in the East ... with six of the next seven on the road. When Miami does get home for a while in early February, just before the All-Star break, the following opponents roll in: the Los Angeles Clippers, the San Antonio Spurs, the Indiana Pacers, the Wizards and the Golden State Warriors.

Miami hasn't gotten on track all season, despite posting quality wins over Oklahoma City, Cleveland, Toronto, Atlanta and Dallas and hasn't had a win streak longer than three games. The current slide, though, is all about the injuries, which have reduced the expected five-man starting lineup of Dragic, Dwyane Wade, Deng, Chris Bosh and Whiteside to just Bosh and a rehabbing Wade, who returned to the floor Friday in Toronto.

The Heat was already shorthanded, with Josh McRoberts, who has supposed to have been a key cog in the rotation the last two seasons, again sidelined with a knee problem that's kept him out since early December. Backup big Chris Andersen has been a DNP most of the season, but hasn't been with the team since suffering a knee bruise mid-month. And Beno Udrih, acquired in December from Memphis for Mario Chalmers, has been out more than a week after straining his neck against the Denver Nuggets.

All-Star Top 10: Dwyane Wade

Check out the top 10 plays from Eastern Conference All-Star Dwyane Wade!

"With our situation, we're going to drop," Bosh said. "We know that. It just can't be too far. With the way things are going, I just want to get to All-Star break, and then regroup and talk about everything else after that. We've got to find a way to win as much as possible during All-Star break, with guys in and out of the lineup. Just different lineups; we don't know who's available and all those things. We just have to make sure that we don't slip too much. We'll have a week off eventually to let our minds and bodies heal. And try to hit the ground running. And when it's time, we've got to be urgent. I don't know if we'll be on the outside looking in, but we'll be right there."

It is indeed the second straight season the Heat hasn't been able to get its imagined team on the floor. Whiteside's meteoric ascension from the basketball hinterlands to a massive awaiting payday in 2016 was the bigger story last year, but Miami's projected starting lineup only played 34 minutes together. Wade was in and out of the lineup the first half of the season. Bosh missed the second half after developing blood clots in his lungs.

And McRoberts, who was imagined to be a playmaking point forward when the Heat gave him a four-year, $23 million deal in 2014, played just 17 games before being shut down for the season with a knee injury.

This season's injuries have left Spoelstra with a bench that now includes NBA D-League callups Jarnell Stokes and Josh Richardson, second-year point guard Tyler Johnson starting and even bigger minutes for rookie Justise Winslow and vets Amar'e Stoudemire and Gerald Green. Miami was already one of the slowest teams in the league in terms of pace; with so many players now injured, it's impossible for the Heat to win any kind of up-and-down, high-scoring game.

"I don't necessarily say it like that, but I can see where you're going," Spoelstra said. "And I wouldn't argue that. What we say is we're probably not going to be a team that's going to try to score 130 on you. We're a possession basketball team. And that means both ends of the court. We want to grind defensive possessions with a tough, physical, gritty mentality. And then offensively, we have to be an execution team. We're not going to be a team that shoots 40 threes."

Bosh, Wade Overpower Pacers

Chris Bosh scores 31 points with 11 rebounds while Dwyane Wade added 27 points to lead the Heat to a come behind victory over the Pacers in overtime, 103-100.

Finding continuity even when and if everyone's back on the floor will take even more time, and the Heat doesn't have the luxury of time. Miami is tied with the Wizards in the loss column, with Orlando one off in losses, Charlotte two and New York three.

Wade has an impingement in his right shoulder, that he says doesn't allow him to open up the shoulder and perform regular movements. He strained his left shoulder in Utah, near the beginning of the Heat's long, long road trip; Miami is in a stretch of 14 of 16 games away from home after playing 14 of its first 19 at American Airlines Arena.

He played against the Toronto Raptors on Friday, scoring 22 points, but is nowhere near 100 percent.

"It's what we've been dealing with all year," Wade said. "I don't get it. It's the second year in a row we've had these kind of injuries. You kind of start asking what happened -- did somebody make a deal with the devil or something? It's very unfortunate. At this point, we would love to be able to get everyone back to have those chemistry issues at this point. I think that's the biggest focus right now, for our training staff and for each player, is to get as healthy as possible, so you can get at least one guy back, and then two guys back, and you look around one game, you might have everybody back in their uniform."

Miami didn't hesitate giving Dragic a $90 million deal last summer after getting him from Phoenix before the trade deadline, looking forward to the 29-year-old teaming with Wade in the backcourt through the balance of Wade's remaining career. For now, that has to wait. Dragic strained his calf two weeks ago at Golden State.

But we definitely still have enough talent to win some games going into the break. But it's going to take a team effort. We don't have as much room for error as we had, especially defensively.

– Miami Heat forward Udonis Haslem

"Now I'm just trying to get loose in that muscle, try to get stronger, of course," Dragic said. "I still haven't even started running that. When I start doing that, I'm going to know a little bit better the time frame of when I can get back. But I'm positive. Hopefully I can start running in a few days, but we'll see."

Whiteside has been a defensive terror, anchoring Miami's top-10 defense (third in points allowed, sixth in defensive rating) by inhaling a league-best 3.9 shots per game. If Whiteside is now out for an extended period, the Heat will be left with using Bosh or Stoudemire at center, with some Haslem thrown in.

Miami would have to make up for Whiteside's shotblocking in different ways, using their bigs' activity to try and compensate. Stoudemire has given Miami some good minutes, and Stokes, called up from Sioux Falls, at least provides some activity and a live body. Haslem hasn't played much with Bosh this season, but that may be a down-the-stretch lineup for a while.

Westbrook, Thunder Top Heat

Russell Westbrook records his second straight triple-double and Kevin Durant adds 24 points as the Thunder defeat the Heat.

"We definitely can win some games," Haslem said. "How many remains to be seen. Every night presents different challenges. Some games we may match up better than others. But we definitely still have enough talent to win some games going into the break. But it's going to take a team effort. We don't have as much room for error as we had, especially defensively. We've got to make teams work their offense and make it scrappy defensively, because we don't have the offensive firepower."

McRoberts and Dragic are on the road trip, with the hope that they'll be among the first back on the floor. Dragic hopes to return Friday against Milwaukee.

"It would be hard even if you stay home and watch on TV," Dragic said. "You're a part of this family, this team. You want us to do well, and of course, it's bad times for us right now. But we need to stay positive and try to get healthy first, and then try to make that push. It's not only us. Every team is going through that, like Washington at the beginning of this season. Hopefully this injuries, they're going to stop soon, and we can be healthy and play again."

It makes one wonder if it wouldn't make more sense for Wade, voted in as a starter, or Bosh, a likely coaches' addition, to skip All-Star weekend in Toronto next month. But both said last week that they plan to play. It will be Wade's 12th straight All-Star and if Bosh is picked, it will be his 11th consecutive All-Star game.

"One day, I'll have it off, so you can't worry about it now," Wade said. "I'll have it off for a long time one day. And it's a special year, too. I know this All-Star weekend is going to be honoring one of our game's greats in Kobe (Bryant) as well. I want to be there, and I planned to be there since last year."

Whiteside Dominates In Denver

Hassan Whiteside finishes with 19 points, 17 rebounds, and 11 blocks, as Miami holds on to beat Denver 98-95.

Bosh says he's good either way. But coming back to his normal production and status after being laid up with a life-threatening malady less than a year ago -- and returning to Toronto, where he was the focal point and face of the franchise for the first seven seasons of his career before joining the Heat in 2010 -- would be extremely gratifying. Even as Spoelstra insisted during the LeBron Era that Bosh was truly the indispensible man, Bosh was frequently the target of fan ire for perceived shortcomings.

Now, he's in full view, the focus on his all-around game, his defensive chops and his leadership. It wasn't easy subjugating his game to James, something Kevin Love is struggling with in Cleveland (and which Bosh warned him about).

"There's a sense of pride in it," he said of his All-Star status. "I've been participating in the weekend every year. So it might as well not stop now. It's hard work, just really being consistent and being a good player. It adds a lot -- Olympics, you want to go deep in the playoffs, the All-Star break. There's no break in what we do if you want to be successful."

After four straight Finals appearances (2010-14), there is, leaguewide, absolutely no sympathy for Miami, and the Heat knows that. Spoelstra, of course, continues to talk about finding ways to win while half his team is out. At some point, though, you just run out of people.

"We still have opportunities to build habits, and that's something we're reminding guys every time out," Spoelstra said. "At some point, you look down there and you smile when there's not bodies. But we've all been around this league long enough. It happens to every team at some point. You just have to weather the storms. This, too, will pass -- hopefully sooner rather than later."

TOP O' THE WORLD, MA!

(previous rank in brackets; last week's record in parenthesis)

1) San Antonio [1] (2-0): Since their last loss, on Christmas night in Houston, the Spurs have won 13 straight by an average margin of 18 points. Tim Duncan hasn't played in four of the games, with Tony Parker sitting for three and LaMarcus Aldridge for two. And only once has a Spurs player played more than 40 minutes (Kawhi Leonard, against LeBron and the Cavaliers).

2) Golden State [2] (3-0): Broke out of their supposed ennui pretty strongly in Cleveland.

Spurs-Warriors Preview

The GameTime crew previews the highly anticipated clash between the Spurs and Warriors tonight on NBA TV.

3) Oklahoma City [4] (3-1): Must admit, before looking hard at some stats this week, I had no idea how effective and efficient an offensive season Enes Kanter is having.

4) Toronto [6] (4-0): Eight straight wins after blowing out the Clippers on Sunday night, the Raptors' longest win streak since taking nine in a row in 2002.

5) L.A. Clippers [5] (2-2): Tonight's episode of "Josh Smith -- the Clipper Years" will not be seen ... forever.

6) Cleveland [3] (2-2): Eventful seven days in the 'Land, wouldn't you say?

Bulls vs. Cavaliers

Pau Gasol scores 25 points leading the Bulls to a 96-83 win over the Cavaliers in Cleveland.

7) Atlanta [7] (2-2): Hawks were 25-16 on the road last season, fourth-best in the league. This season they're just 11-12 on the road after back-to-back losses last week at Sacramento and Phoenix.

8) Chicago [9] (2-2): Is it just me, or does Derrick Rose look more like his old self this month? Back to attacking the rim rather than taking all those 3-pointers. He missed a lot of floaters in Cleveland Saturday, but he was getting the blowby first, and that's encouraging.

9) Memphis [11] (2-1): Grizzlies continue to take a few steps forward, then a big step or two back.

10) Dallas [10] (2-2): Odd stat: Mavs played their fifth and sixth overtime games of the season last week.

11) Houston [12] (2-2): Josh Smith, a comfortable shoe the Rockets thought they'd mistakenly donated to Goodwill.

12) Boston [15] (2-2): Celtics have a chance to solidify their standing in the East with a very soft schedule before the All-Star break.

13) Detroit [13] (1-3): Stan Van Gundy says his team appears to be "firmly committed to being mediocre." Ouch. But grammatically, that is spot on, SVG! (I love adverbs. Sue me.)

Pistons vs. Nuggets

Danilo Gallinari scores 30 points and grabs six rebounds as the Nuggets defeat the visiting Pistons, 104-101.

14) Indiana [14] (1-2): Really like Myles Turner. He's going to be a good one.

15) Miami [8] (0-3): When all of a team's athletic trainers are on the road trip, that's not a good sign.

TEAM OF THE WEEK

Sacramento (3-0): Kings have won five straight for the first time since the beginning of last season to move into the last playoff spot in the West. (Unfortunately, the coach who started 2014-15 at 5-1, Mike Malone, is now in Denver.) If Sacramento beats Charlotte tonight at Sleep Train Arena, it will be the franchise's first six-game win streak since January, 2005.

TEAM OF THE WEAK

L.A. Lakers (0-3): Hard to find daylight in a week when you lose three games by an average of 16.7 per. Add in the three others losses during the current six-game slide, and the average margin of defeat swells to 18.7 per game. Another rough patch in a season of them.

NOBODY ASKED ME, BUT ...

Who should be the reserve All-Stars in the Eastern and Western Conferences?

Last week, I gave my picks for who should start in the Feb. 16 game at Air Canada Centre in Toronto. Fans picked Toronto's Kyle Lowry and Miami's Dwyane Wade in the East backcourt, with the Knicks' Carmelo Anthony, Indiana's Paul George and Cleveland's LeBron James in the frontcourt.

In the West, fans picked Golden State's Stephen Curry and Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook in the backcourt, with the Lakers' Kobe Bryant (the leading vote getter, with 1,891,614 votes, who will be playing in his 18th and final All-Star game), the Spurs' Kawhi Leonard and Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant in the frontcourt.

That leaves seven spots in each conference for the league's coaches to select. They have to vote for at least seven players in their own conference: two guards, three frontcourt players at any position and two "wild card" selections of anyone at any position. They cannot vote for their own players. Commissioner Adam Silver will select replacements for any player, either voted in as a starter or reserve, who subsequently cannot play.

So, here are the 14 guys I think have earned a trip north of the border (or, if you're a Raptor, a trip across town):

*** EASTERN CONFERENCE *** (West Reserves here)

GUARDS (two mandatory)

DeMar DeRozan, Toronto Raptors

John Wall, Washington Wizards

DeRozan is having a career season (just in time for free agency this summer), posting career highs in scoring (23.2 points per game, 10th in the league), assists (4.1) and free throw attempts (8.1). DeRozan only trails James Harden in free throw attempts and makes. He's scored 30 or more eight times since the start of December, and is tied for 10th in the league in Offensive Win Shares.

DeRozan Scores 33

DeMar DeRozan drops 33 points on the Heat.

Wall has carried the injury-riddled Wizards for seven weeks, winning December Eastern Conference Player of the Month honors by becoming the first player since Chris Paul in April of 2009 to average 22 points, 11 assists, 4.0 rebounds and 2.0 steals in a month. He's third in the league in assists behind Rajon Rondo and Russell Westbrook, tied for fourth in steals per game (2.1) and is averaging a career-high 19.9 points per game. The Wizards would be a Lottery team without him.

Kia Awards: John Wall

The Wizards' John Wall is the Kia Eastern Conference Player of the Month in December.

FRONTCOURT (any position)

Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons

• Chris Bosh, Miami Heat

Paul Millsap, Atlanta Hawks

Here's a great example of someone having a great season, but whose impact won't be appreciated by those who love their "Hack A-" strategy. Drummond leads the league in rebounds, offensive rebounds and defensive rebounds. If he were to maintain his current average of 15.4 boards a game, it would be the highest since 2002-03 (when the Pistons' Ben Wallace grabbed 15.4 rpg).

Drummond Stars vs. Pacers

Andre Drummond scores 25 points and grabs 29 rebounds versus the Pacers.

Per NBA.com/Stats, Drummond leads the league in total rebound percentage (24.5 percent) and Defensive Rebound Percentage (33.7). He leads the league in double-doubles (37). He's second in Defensive Win Shares (3.3), fourth in Defensive Rating (95.4) and 17th overall in PER (22.6). And, he's top 20 (1.7, t-14th) in steals per game to boot. But Drummond is a terrible free throw shooter (35.4 percent) and teams have fouled him deliberately to take advantage of that -- understandable, since he shoots almost 52 percent from the floor, with his emerging halfcourt game including a lot more than dunks. But, he should be in Toronto.

Bosh leads Miami in scoring (19.9) and is shooting a career-best 37.8 percent on 3-pointers. He's earned a return to his old home city after recovering from blood clots in his lungs last year. You can make a case for teammate Hassan Whiteside, who is blocking everything in sight this season, is second in the league in field goal percentage (.613) has a higher PER (23.5, 12th in the league) and is third in the league in Defensive Rating (93.3). But with Wade voted in by the fans, it's hard to make a case that the 23-21 Heat deserve three players on the team.

Bosh Solid vs. Pelicans

Chris Bosh erupts for 30 points on 11-25 shooting with two triples, 10 rebounds and four assists to lead Miami over New Orleans on Christmas day.

Atlanta's egalitarian offense tends to suppress individual numbers, but Millsap is having a terrific season at both ends, averaging 18.4 points and 8.8 rebounds per game, leading the Hawks in both categories. Among forwards, he's 13th in assists. He does work at the defensive end, currently ranking fourth in Defensive Win Shares (2.7) and 11th in Defensive Rating (98.3). But, per NBA.com/Stats, he's also sixth among East forwards -- trailing just James, Pau Gasol, Bosh, Greg Monroe and George -- in Player Impact Estimate (15), and ninth overall in Efficiency (23.6). Just an outstanding all-around player.

Millsap Punishes Blazers

Paul Millsap scores 23 points with nine rebounds, Kent Bazemore adds 23 as the Hawks top Portland 104-98.

WILD CARDS (any position)

Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls

Isaiah Thomas, Boston Celtics

Butler is an easy call, posting career highs in points (22.5, 11th in the league) and assists (4.2) per game in becoming Chicago's top offensive option. He's currently fifth overall in the league in Win Shares (6.9), and 15th in Efficiency (22.1), while leading the league in minutes per game (38.2).

Butler Goes For 53 Points

Jimmy Butler explodes for 53 points with 10 boards and six assists to lead the Bulls over Philadelphia in overtime 115-111.

Thomas may not be everyone's choice here, but he's been a catalyst for Boston, in the starting lineup at point guard and with the ball in his hands down the stretch of games. He's filled up the stat sheet this season, currently ranking 10th in the league in assists per game (6.6) and 12th in scoring (21.7). Fans vote for the players they want to see: I want to see Thomas, who's become a complete player and earned his first All-Star berth.

Thomas' 38 Points

Isaiah Thomas ties a career-high scoring 38 points on 12-20 shooting, dishes out seven assists and grabs three rebounds in a close defeat to Detroit.

*** WESTERN CONFERENCE *** (East Reserves here)

GUARDS (two mandatory)

• Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers

Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors

Paul has never been more valuable or better, rolling right along at age 30 as one of the league's premier points, and has picked up his game even more in the absence of Blake Griffin. He's still unguardable when he attacks, still deadly in the clutch. Paul's name is all over the league's leader boards: tied for second in assists (9.7), tied for fourth in steals (2.1), seventh in NBA.com/Stats' Player Impact Estimate (16.7). The 2013 All-Star MVP is an easy call for his ninth appearance.

Paul Carves Up Blazers

Chris Paul scores 21 points, adds 19 assists to help the Clippers take down the Trail Blazers 109-98.

Thompson gets the nod here over the likes of James Harden, Damian Lillard and Tony Parker. Splash Brother No. 2 trails only his backcourt mate, Curry, in made 3-pointers this season, falling just outside of the top 10 in the league in 3-point percentage (.425) in averaging a robust 20.5 points per game. And Thompson also has continued defending at a high level for the Warriors.

Thompson Scores 43 vs. Suns

Klay Thompson explodes in the third quarter with 27 points and finishes with 43 on 15-22 shooting to propel the Warriors over the Suns.

FRONTCOURT (any position)

Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors

• Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers

DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings

Green was in the top three among West forwards until the very end of fan voting, when Leonard overtook him. That's fine, but I don't really have to explain why Green is a no-brainer pick, do I? He leads the defending champs with 7.3 assists per game, which happens to be seventh in the entire league. A 6-foot-6 power forward is in the top 10 in assists. That doesn't happen very often. He's not only a pressure release, he often leads the break, able to find Curry and Thompson in transition after they sprint to the 3-point line. And, he's 14th overall in rebounds per game (9.5). And, he allows the Warriors to switch everything defensively. And, he's GSW's emotional leader.

Green Notches Eighth Triple-Double

Draymond Green records a triple double scoring 11 points with 13 rebounds and ten assists versus Portland.

Griffin has been out since Christmas, when he tore his left quad tendon. You can make an argument that that should disqualify him from consideration, just as Kyrie Irving doesn't get a nod from me this season because he's missed so many games. Griffin's fallen beneath the minimums required to be included among league leaders in most categories. But Griffin played at an MVP level for two months before getting injured. He was averaging a career-best 23.2 points per game, along with 5.0 assists per game. He, as much as Paul, was the Clippers' primary playmaker this season, having earned everyone's trust to make scoring passes from the elbows or key. And despite the missed time, he's still fifth in the league in PIE (17.4). For me, he's in.

Blake Griffin's Big Night

Blake Griffin scores 40 points and grabs 12 rebounds during the game versus the Jazz on Wednesday evening.

Cousins is, simply, the best center in the game. Even before the Kings' surge that has them currently in the eighth and final playoff spot in the West, "Boogie" had done enough to warrant a second straight All-Star spot. He's so skilled on the block, and getting the ball in his hands on almost every play, he abuses almost all defenses, averaging 26.7 points per game, third-highest in the league. But he also does work on the glass, averaging 11.4 boards, fourth-best.

Cousins Dominates Pacers

DeMarcus Cousins notches a new career-high exploding for 48 points and 13 rebounds to lead Sacramento over Indiana.

WILD CARDS (any position)

• James Harden, Houston Rockets

• Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers

With respect to Anthony Davis (who, not being voted in as a starter by fans, will have to be first-, second- or third-team all-NBA at the end of the season to avoid losing a boatload of cash), we go with Harden -- whose Rockets are having a slightly less disappointing season than Davis' Pelicans. Slightly.

Harden is well off his MVP-level form of a season ago, again the subject of seemingly defense-indifferent GIFs. He's not shooting the ball nearly as well, or playing as efficiently. But it's impossible to ignore the offensive production he's put up -- 27.6 points per game, second in the league only to Curry -- for a Rockets team that still requires him to have the ball in his hands on almost every possession. And Harden is still top 10 in assists (7.0 per game, good for eighth place) and eighth in PER.

Harden's Triple-Double vs. Dallas

James Harden records 23 points, 15 rebounds and 10 assists to lead the Rockets over the Mavericks.

I really wanted to put Tony Parker on as the final selecton, even though, like almost all the Spurs, I'm sure the 33-year-old Parker is totally indifferent whether or not he makes a seventh All-Star appearance. San Antonio, though, surely should be represented by more than just Leonard in Toronto, and Parker has been at the center of San Antonio's great season thus far, playing the best he has in years.

But I can't penalize Lillard for his franchise's decision to tear down the franchise and start over once LaMarcus Aldridge left for San Antonio. He's just as lethal as ever, currently sixth in the league in scoring (24.6 points per game) and eighth in assists (6.9). "Dame" isn't getting any love from the Olympic selection folks, not even making the list of 30 finalists for the U.S. team going to Rio in August. He deserves to get his passport stamped someplace sweet this year.

Lillard's Solid Night vs. Warriors

Damian Lillard does it all for the Blazers as they come up short against Golden State.

The All-Star reserves will be officially announced this Thursday at 7 p.m. Eastern on TNT.

*** EAST RESERVES ***

... AND NOBODY ASKED YOU, EITHER

Frozen Dreams. From Sean Sheehy:

As a frustrated Timberwolves fan, I'd like to know how you think we could fix our team? Specifically, I have three questions: What trades should we make? Who should we look for in the coming free agency? Who would be the best fit at coach? I look forward to your thoughts!

Time, Sean. Just time. That's all. The Wolves don't have to and shouldn't make any quick-fix trades. Other than moving Kevin Martin to a contending team, which I'm sure is forthcoming, I'd stand pat. Minnesota has a great young nucleus with Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, and its coaches have loved the development of Gorgui Dieng and Shabazz Muhammad in the last couple of years. And while that young talent will draw the attention of lots of veteran coaches, I see no reason to replace interim coach Sam Mitchell. He's demanding but fair. In terms of free agency, if the Wolves are going to keep Wiggins at the two long term, they need to add a three. I don't know; they did give Nicolas Batum an offer sheet a few years ago, right?

Towns Dominates vs. Dallas

Highlights from Karl-Anthony Towns as he scores 27 points on 12-19 shooting with 17 huge rebounds in an overtime loss to Dallas.

He is unsure whether to believe in Magic, whether in a young girl's heart or a grizzly veteran forward. From Rodney Smith:

What is going on with the Orlando Magic? Is it the players, or Scott Skiles just hasn't found the right rotation?

Just the normal struggles of a young team, Rodney. Elfrid Payton hasn't been as consistent with the energy night in and out that Skiles wants, and while Victor Oladipo said nothing publicly about coming off the bench, he wasn't happy about it. Took a while for him to get his arms around it. The first-round pick, Mario Hezonja, has struggled shooting the ball (40.9 percent). Nicola Vucevic has been terrific, but the Magic hasn't gotten consistent play out of most of its young players, and the defense is nowhere near where Skiles wants it. But Orlando is still very much in the chase for the last couple of playoff spots in the east. First and foremost is doing better at home, where the Magic is just 12-11 this season.

Three-Card Monta. From John Motroni:

Caught a game last week and caught another glimpse of a great player who should be, at some point in his career, an All-Star. Monta Ellis was, for years, the only reason to see the Warriors. For many reasons, he had to be traded. But none of those reasons were because of his heart or his skill. I feel bad that another All-Star game will take place, and most likely another championship, without Monta Ellis on the roster.

Monta reminds me of Dale Ellis, the old gunner (14th all-time in 3-pointers made) and prolific scorer when he was in Seattle in the late '80s and early '90s. Ellis was one of the best shooters of his generation and clearly a weapon that would help any team, but he kept bouncing around during his career and only made one All-Star team when he probably should have made several. In that same vein, I don't see a path for Monta to make one any time soon.

Send your questions, comments, criticisms and anything that gets you as fired up as Tian Tian was discovering snow for the first time to daldridgetnt@gmail.com. If your e-mail is sufficiently funny, thought-provoking, well-written or snarky, we just might publish it!

MVP WATCH

(last week's averages in parentheses)

1) Stephen Curry (33 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 9 apg, .564 FG, 1,000 FT): Young fella has serious handles in mimicking his hero. Don't know how they are so gifted so soon.

2) Kawhi Leonard (19.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 2.5 apg, .423 FG, .938 FT): So, so close to gaining membership to the "190 Club": 50 percent from the floor, 50 percent on 3-pointers, 90 percent from the line. Currently, Leonard is at 50.2 percent from the floor, 47.8 percent on threes and 88 percent from the line -- 186!

3) LeBron James (20.3 ppg, 6 rpg, 7.8 apg, .472 FG, .611 FT): If ever a team needed leadership -- real leadership, in all its facets -- from its star player, the Cavs need it from James, right now.

4) Russell Westbrook (21.5 ppgm 8 rpg, 10.3 apg, .427 FG, .667 FT): First All-Star Game start and fifth overall appearance.

5) Kevin Durant (28 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 5.8 apg, .465 FG, .800 FT): Seventh All-Star appearance for KD, tying him for second on the franchise's all-time list with Jack Sikma, and two behind the record (sorry, Seattle) set by Gary Payton. "The Glove" was in nine All-Star games (1994-2003).

BY THE NUMBERS

$3,000,000,000 -- Estimated value of the New York Knicks by Forbes, in its annual valuation of the NBA's 30 teams. The magazine estimates 13 of the league's teams are worth at least $1 billion, up from just three two years ago. Joining New York in the Billionaires' Club, according to Forbes, were the Lakers ($2.7 billion), Chicago ($2.3), Boston ($2.1), the Clippers ($2), Golden State ($1.9), Brooklyn ($1.7), Houston ($1.5), Dallas ($1.4), Miami ($1.3), San Antonio ($1.15), Cleveland ($1.1) and Phoenix ($1).

31 -- Seasons since an NBA team averaged more than 30 assists per game in a season, when the 1984-85 Lakers averaged 31.4 assists per game en route to the championship. Entering tonight's (hopefully) epic tilt with the Spurs (10:30 ET, NBA TV), the Warriors are averaging 28.9 assists per game -- an assist and a half more than they averaged last season when they went 67-15 and rolled to the ring.

14 -- Consecutive losses by the Milwaukee Bucks to the Pelicans in New Orleans, who haven't beaten them there since January, 2003. Weird; it's not like the Pels/Hornets have been a dominant bunch at home during that time.

I'M FEELIN'...

1) Do not bother me with trades and/or firings at 10:30 p.m. tonight. I mean it. Do. Not.

GameTime: Spurs vs. Warriors

NBA TV's Brent Barry looks ahead at Monday night heavyweight match-up between the San Antonio Spurs and the Golden State Warriors.

2) Welcome back, Coach Kerr.

3) Compelling read on veteran forward Reggie Evans, and how he's giving back to his hometown of Pensacola after growing up there slinging crack.

4) When a fictional town can clown you without fear of repercussion.

5) C'mon, this is funny and clever. Sure beats that guy in Brooklyn who just says 'you're gonna miss' over and over.

NOT FEELIN'...

1) If tonight's matchup that the entire NBA universe has been waiting on all season, between the league's two best teams, degenerates into Hack-a-player, I don't want to hear one word of protest from the Just Make Your Freethrowers. Not one word.

2) Not sure how the NBA should handle the dual coaching dilemma for the All-Star Game. No one, least of all him, should feel comfortable with the idea of Tyronn Lue getting to coach the East All-Stars, just a couple of weeks after getting the Cavaliers' coaching job. Out West, now that Steve Kerr is back on the bench, he can't coach the team a second year in a row, so San Antonio's Gregg Popovich would be in line, as the Spurs have the next-best record in the conference. But what about Luke Walton, under whose watch as interim coach Golden State went 39-4? He would have had the West job if Kerr hadn't returned. I don't have a good answer in either case, but the league needs to figure out one.

3) Feel bad for Eric Gordon. Just can't get right. Out 4-6 weeks after breaking his finger. In the next life, may you never know the words "disabled list."

4) If you can figure out the Bulls -- now 8-2 against the six teams ahead of them record-wise in the league (Golden State, San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Cleveland, the Clippers and Toronto), but just 6-4 against the league's bottom six (Philly, the Lakers, Brooklyn, Phoenix, Minnesota and Milwaukee) -- send a note.

5) How can we accept the poisoning of an American city not because of terrorism or criminality, but rank indifference? How can we not demand that those in political power be held accountable for ignoring the citizens of Flint, Michigan, who said for more than a year that their drinking and bathing water was contaminated, and whose children were suffering because of it? Do we care that little for people who are poor and predominately of color? What does that say about us?

TWEET OF THE WEEK

--Jazz center Rudy Gobert (@rudygobert27), Sunday, 10:57 p.m. Not sure exactly what he was referring to, but it was no doubt the "Crying Jordan" meme that is attached to anyone, anywhere, who has had a bad day doing whatever it is they do. I agree with the Stifle Tower; it's time to retire Crying MJ.

THEY SAID IT

"It smelled like Morton's."

-- Stephen Curry, joking about the visitor's locker room aroma after the Warriors routed the Cavaliers Monday night in Cleveland. Curry had angered some Cavs when he said Sunday that he hoped the locker room at Quicken Loans Arena "still smelled like champagne," a reference to the celebration he and his teammates had in there after winning the NBA Finals in June. After Monday's 132-98 smackdown of the Cavs, the Warriors had food catered in from the famed steakhouse.

"It's always the case where it's like the older sibling is the more poised, responsible, less adventurous one, you know what I mean? If they're standing there on a cliff and they're getting ready to bungee jump, Pau might ask how the bungee jump works. 'Is it completely safe?' And Marc, being the younger one, would just jump."

-- Kobe Bryant, in a terrific Sports Illustrated piece on the Gasol Brothers.

"Any time I go into a situation I want to have a real opportunity. If I'm going to invest myself in something, I want to have a real opportunity in that. Last time I did that, I felt the decision was already made before the decision was made. Whether I played good or bad, I felt like it didn't matter."

-- Blazers guard Damian Lillard, to The Oregonian, on why he thinks he was one of the final cuts from the 2014 FIBA World Cup team that went on to win the gold medal. Lillard was not one of the 30 finalists named for this year's Olympic team.

Longtime NBA reporter and columnist David Aldridge is an analyst for TNT. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.