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Bulls' Rose should be a lock for All-Star start

With the first results of NBA All-Star voting due on Thursday, Sam Smith provides his list of starters.
"The first returns of fan voting for starters will be announced later this week and it’s difficult in looking at, frankly, what is a fairly weak Eastern Conference ballot, to see Rose not being voted in," writes Sam Smith. (Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images)

Derrick Rose
"The first returns of fan voting for starters will be announced later this week and it’s difficult in looking at, frankly, what is a fairly weak Eastern Conference ballot, to see Rose not being voted in," writes Sam Smith.
(Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images)

2011 NBA All-Star Game: Vote for the Bulls now!

All that MVP chanting is nice, but like with the title, only one player gets that award. It is better to take a shot at what comes next, the biggest midseason honor in the NBA, starting the All-Star game. And I think Derrick Rose is a lock.

The first returns of fan voting for starters will be announced later this week and it’s difficult in looking at, frankly, what is a fairly weak Eastern Conference ballot, to see Rose not being voted in.

Although the fans’ voting gets criticism, I like it and believe with occasional exceptions, the fans get it right. Sometimes the vote will go for a big name over someone having a good season, but that’s OK. It’s an exhibition and fans should get to see the stars.

There’s two ways to look at the voting—you can consider who should start or try to guess whom the fans will vote in to start.

The reserves are selected by a vote of all the coaches in that conference with the commissioner selecting additions when players go out with injury.

So with the first results due Thursday, here are my All-Star starters:

Eastern Conference

Guards: Derrick Rose and Dwyane Wade. I believe Rajon Rondo is more deserving than Wade. But Wade is way more popular, his jersey perennially ranking in the top five in sales, while Rondo never makes the list. By the way, Rose’s jersey sales now rank ahead of Wade’s, and Rose is having a far superior season, a legitimate MVP candidate at a time Wade has slid as he’s teamed with LeBron James. As a top five scorer, a regular on the highlight shows now and his team doing well, it’s hard to imagine Rose not getting a start.

As for the reserves, who’ll be picked in late January—not by the All-Star coach but by a vote of all the coaches—Rondo will be one. Then I’m guessing, and we still have six weeks to go so things can change, Ray Felton and Ray Allen, the latter given the Celtics’ play with the coaches always favoring players from winning teams. Not that he deserves it, but the biggest name missing should be Vince Carter.

Forwards: LeBron James and Amar’e Stoudemire. With so many bad teams in the East, this All-Star team may have representatives from only the Celtics, Knicks, Bulls and Magic. This is the other no-brainer with these two the best summer free agent acquisitions and having the biggest impacts. For backups, I figure the Celtics’ Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, and then it’s tough among Chris Bosh, Josh Smith, Danny Granger and Luol Deng. With Joe Johnson out hurt, Atlanta probably will deserve someone and if they keep winning Smith should get in.

Center: Dwight Howard. No contest there, but it should be interesting the backup between Joakim Noah and Al Horford. I’d say Noah sneaks in as long as the Bulls have a better record than the Hawks or are close. The coaches love his effort, but Horford is the Hawks’ rock.

Western Conference

Guards: Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul. Unquestionably, Deron Williams belongs ahead of Paul, but mostly little people vote and they love li’l Chris. That, of course, could change as the Hornets are sliding and Paul could become a trade topic again. This position, by far, is the most talented of any in the NBA. There may be three players who don’t make the All-Star team from West guards who could start for the East.

So Williams is a certain pick, along with Manu Ginobili and Russell Westbrook. The coaches will go with one more West guard as the Western Conference center group is the worst in All-Star balloting history. Part of the fault is a flawed ballot which misplaced several players, either putting them in the wrong position or leaving them out when they are starters, like Tyson Chandler off the ballot for Brendan Haywood. Or putting on guys who had no chance playing in the first half, like Mehmet Okur. And forgetting Paul Millsap all together. So which one from among Steve Nash, Tony Parker and Jason Kidd? And that’s not even counting great seasons from Monta Ellis and Eric Gordon. Parker’s Spurs have had the best record along with Kidd’s Mavs. But Nash has carried a decimated Suns roster. I break the tie with Nash for the entertainment factor, but it could be any of the three.

Forwards: Dirk Nowitzki and Pau Gasol. Gasol probably should have been listed among centers as Andrew Bynum was hurt, and is no All-Star, anyway. So should have Tim Duncan, so he could have earned a sentimental All-Star trip, which he won’t get now, though the Spurs have informed the NBA they want Duncan listed only as a forward. Too bad. It likely will cost him this season. For the reserves, it has to be Blake Griffin, who might even sneak in on fan voting as his dunks are the leading YouTube videos. Then they’ll add Kevin Durant. I’d say Lamar Odom is the next deserving, given Carmelo Anthony’s halfhearted play this season as he pines to be traded. Kevin Love, Rudy Gay and Luis Scola have had good seasons, but their teams have done too poorly.

Center: Yao Ming. I know, he doesn’t play. You’ve got to take a look at this list of 12. There never has been one like this that has lacked at least one player who deserved to have a chance to be an All-Star until this ballot: Biedrins, Marc Gasol, Nene, Bynum, Haywood, Okafor, Camby, Kaman, Okur, DeMarcus Cousins (are you kidding me?), Robin Lopez and Yao. Yao will get voted in by the international vote, and as he’ll play some by then he’ll start. If Yao were ruled ineligible for injury, I’d hold my nose and select Nene.

Mayo accepts new role as a reserve

-- O.J. Mayo is known to be a friendly guy and one of his pregame routines is to chat with the referees and wish them well. So one game recently, Mayo was fulfilling his custom when the official said, “What’s the real reason you aren’t starting?” Mayo said it was just the coach’s decision. “No,” the referee said. “What’s the real reason?”

One of the great mysteries of the NBA this season has been the head scratching disappearance of Mayo. This was the No. 3 pick in the draft whom Pat Riley was talked out of taking No. 2 behind Rose. Mayo didn’t disappoint, averaging 18 points and shooting 38 percent on threes his first two seasons. Then he opens this season better, averaging 18.7 points with four of his first six games at least 20 points and 17 of 37 on threes in that stretch, 45 percent with an average of 16 shots per game in 37.7 minutes. So then nothing happens and Mayo goes to the bench, where this month he’s averaging 6.8 points in 21.3 minutes and about seven shots per game.

Mayo’s never been known as a problem guy in any way, a hard worker and good teammate and when I caught up with him last week, he remained mystified, though neither angry nor depressed.

“It was a surprise,” Mayo admitted. “The coach figures it’s best for the team. Obviously, the coach wants to win; the organization wants to win. If they feel it’s for the betterment of the team, I’ve got to accept my role.”

By all accounts Mayo has. There has been no pouting, no laments to the media, no trade demands, though Mayo remains in constant speculation, lately with some bogus rumor about a deal to the Knicks and, of course, my longstanding suggestion the Bulls try to figure a way to pry him loose.

It’s obvious Mayo wants a more prominent role, but I was impressed with his professionalism when I spoke with him.

“I don’t try to be a controversial guy or cause controversy,” said Mayo. “I’m pretty sure the coach wants to win and he feels he’s doing what’s best for the team, so I’m for that.

“But it is like a ceiling over your head,” Mayo says. “That’s what it feels like. If you go on feelings, it’s the kind of thing where you can feel unappreciated. I’m a hard worker, but at the same time I want what’s best for the team. If we need to strengthen the bench in the scoring department, I‘ve got to be for it because I want what’s best for my team.

“It is hard (mentally),” Mayo conceded. “I’ve never come off the bench. Now, my third year as a professional, you’re asking me to do something I’ve never done before. But I’m a bigger person than to bring drama to our team. I’m not about that. I want everyone to be happy, especially my teammates.

“It’s just people think I did something wrong,” said Mayo. “That’s the main thing I want to get out there. I didn’t do anything wrong. I’m not a bad teammate. I had a stretch of three games that were bad (before the benching), but anyone can have that. Coach just came to me and said he was thinking of this before the season. I’ve sacrificed my game because my second year we added new pieces to the team (Zach Randolph and played more half court, away from Mayo’s open court preference). Sometimes it feels like I’m the one always sacrificing. So I hope at the end of the day I’m not the one to get hurt.”

One of the issues for the Grizzlies was the same one the Bulls faced a few years back on whom and when to pay. The Bulls paid Kirk Hinrich, which distracted Luol Deng and Ben Gordon and then it all came crashing down. Similarly in Memphis, where they extended Rudy Gay and Mike Conley with Randolph and Marc Gasol in their final seasons. And Mayo coming up for an extension after this season.

So the assumption is in that small market in the bottom third in attendance they aren’t about to pay Mayo, and may not pay Randolph, who makes $17.7 million. If that were the case, I could see the Grizzlies perhaps taking Taj Gibson to pair with Darrell Arthur and a draft pick for Mayo, though the Grizzlies are said to want much more if they deal Mayo, which doesn’t seem imminent. The Knicks’ name has come up, which it does for basically everyone.

Though I could see Orlando. This week marks the Dec. 15 date when free agents signed this summer can be traded, something of the unofficial beginning of the trading season. Mostly teams wait until closer to the February trade deadline as they believe they’ll get a better deal then. But if there’s anyone who looks like they have to deal it’s the up and down Magic, just a game ahead of the Bulls.

The Bulls don’t see that the Magic has any problems the way they generally blow out the Bulls. But the Magic has higher aspirations and seems basically to have no chance—they’ve fallen behind Miami despite the Heat’s poor start—the way they are composed. Vince Carter is just not going to do it as your second.

I still think a deal with Washington for Gilbert Arenas given GM Otis Smith’s fondness for Arenas is the most likely. But what about Memphis moving Randolph and Mayo to Orlando for Carter to give them a big name with just one season after this and Brandon Bass, a solid four who can play with Gasol and with a reasonable contract? Then Rashard Lewis stays at three, his natural position and where’s he’s been lately, and the Magic get an inside scorer and presence in Zach (with Howard does anyone outrebound them?) and Mayo to work the perimeter. Maybe Orlando throws in the rights to former No. 1 Fran Vasquez or Ryan Anderson, a good shooting four who is underutilized. Of all the contending teams, you know the one who has to do something to have a chance is the Magic. And Mayo would be a wonderful addition for someone.

Back to reality for New Orleans

-- So I wondered how the Hornets were doing it those first few weeks and given wins over quality teams it seemed legit. Guess again. You can say it’s because of the now league orphan status, but their shooting guard and small forward can’t score, which we thought, their power forward is good for about every other game and Chris Paul isn’t quite that Chris Paul yet after being out last season. Yes, they defend much better, but after that 8-0 start they’re 6-9 and once Houston gets Aaron Brooks back and if the Grizzlies get going, both are threats to pass them as they have more talent and the Hornets could be out of the playoffs. So this is where the league has a problem with this takeover, or as no one basically is saying team bankruptcy. As some team executives I’ve talked to believe, it’s only a matter of time before Paul has had enough. How is it a more valuable franchise that is losing money and with its top player perhaps ready to walk in one year? And how does the league trade him when that could upset the balance of power somewhere or give someone a huge last piece toward a title? And you think Obama has problems with his party.

Collins finds gem in Meeks

-- I kept hearing how great Jodie Meeks could shoot, and then he’d never play. But Doug Collins in Philadelphia may have found a gem with Meeks starting now for Evan Turner and shooting 51 percent on threes with the 76ers coming on after Sunday’s rout of fading New Orleans. No one has lost tougher games this season than the 76ers, but they’re just a game and a half out of eighth and I’d give them a good shot to make the playoffs in the weak East as they’ve won five of seven and the two losses played Miami and Boston down to the end. Collins has done a good job resurrecting Thaddeus Young getting him more to a slashing mid range game like Scott Skiles did for Luol Deng. … In New Jersey, Avery Johnson is about giving in and going young, benching free agent Travis Outlaw after Troy Murphy and talking about committing to rookie Derrick Favors. Maybe it is the players. Suddenly, Johnson and Byron Scott don’t look like such great coaching choices and with Amar’e Stoudemire and Ray Felton, Mike D’Antoni is looking like a pretty good coach again. … That said, and I argue this around the league, I believe you can win playing D’Antoni’s style. The Knicks are flying and got a real win Sunday over Denver as Carmelo Anthony miraculously recovered from sitting out most of the road trip with “tendinitis” to play 37 minutes in his supposed next home and fire off 27 shots, more than double anyone else on the team. As for D’Antoni, his Suns dominated Eastern teams and it is pressure to keep scoring when you know the opponent is. East teams aren’t accustomed to that and I wouldn’t dismiss the Knicks too quickly. They have Boston and Miami this week, which means there’ll be “sources” saying LeBron James and Kevin Garnett still want to play in New York. … As for that franchise record of 30-point games Stoudemire broke Sunday the news reports keep mentioning it was Willie Naulls’. Anyone know who he is? I do as I grew up in New York and was a big fan of the whale, as he was known playing for some of the worst teams in NBA history, usually teaming with my guy Kenny Sears. What, you don’t remember him, either? We keep hearing about this legendary franchise everyone should want to play for and you are breaking the records held by Willie Naulls?

NBA news and notes

-- It was a painful loss for the 76ers last week to Boston on that final play when Kevin Garnett slipped that switch on the screen and got a lob for a layup. The play was much discussed, but what was overlooked was how the Celtics think nothing any more of throwing lobs to Garnett, which we haven’t seen in two years and doubted we ever would again. Perhaps the best thing the Celtics have going for them this season is the Garnett renaissance with Garnett again beating guys down court and finishing on lobs. His rebounding is up almost three a game and the Celtics are rebounding better even without Kendrick Perkins. “It’s the old KG,” Chauncey Billups said recently. … It’s difficult to figure out anymore what goes on in Detroit, but now Austin Daye is out of the rotation and Ben Gordon hasn’t even played 20 minutes the last two games and has scored in single digits five of the last seven games while Richard Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince and Ben Wallace basically eat up minutes and seem little to care what happens as they’ve had their years. Hamilton was ejected with technical fouls for the third time this season and then they blew a 25-point second half lead to Toronto Saturday as Wallace attempted 13 shots in scoring a career high 23. That’s the ticket, Ben Wallace career high scoring. … What does John Salmons do in the summer? It’s another one of those starts, the last two getting him traded, as Salmons is averaging 12.8 points on 37 percent shooting. … The Bulls have moved up to fifth in defensive field goal percentage. The Heat is first followed by the surprising Pacers, whom the Bulls host Monday. Indiana has gotten defensive interior protection from Most Improved candidate Roy Hibbert and a different kind of comeback from Brandon Rush, seemingly done after a drug suspension but now among the league’s best shooters over 44 percent on threes. … The league’s disaster area is Cleveland, eight straight losses now and heading into Miami this week for another LeBron reunion. After the Cavs’ surrender last week and subsequent condemnation for their amity toward LeBron, expect someone to take out LeBron to at least get the city back on their side. Though they may not care. Opening day starters Jamario Moon is now inactive and J.J, Hickson, once an untouchable even in a potential trade for Amar’e Stoudemire, has been benched, and Hickson says he doesn’t like it. "I'm not adjusting very good," he told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "I don't think it's any secret. Coach knows I'm not happy. My teammates know I'm not happy. But as a professional basketball player, you deal with it as a pro." Sounds like it.

-- It was good entertainment Sunday night with Dwight Howard defending Blake Griffin as the Magic held on. Griffin had his third game of at least 25 points, 15 rebounds and five assists. There have been five such games in the NBA this season and Griffin has three. The Magic, meanwhile, broke their four-game losing streak that produced another one of those popular team meetings. Their offense continues to stagger with decreased shooting percentages, increased turnovers and fewer trips to the foul line, in effect, less efficiency and aggressiveness. They’ve got issues. … Now that was a tough team meeting as Michael Jordan bawled out his listless Bobcats after Saturday’s 31-point home loss to Boston and coach Larry Brown said no one is listening to him and maybe Boris Diaw was playing the best. That usually precedes a Brown departure. "I guess it comes down to leadership. I guess it's Gerald's and my fault,” Stephen Jackson told the Charlotte Observer. It would seem Jackson is headed to a contender at some point soon. … Has he hit the rookie Wall already? John Wall has sat out seven games for a variety of ailments and this month is shooting 36 percent as his scoring average has decreased every month. You’d have to say the rookies having the greatest impacts thus far are Griffin and the Knicks’ Landry Fields. … With the Heat having won eight straight and nine of 10 to take the lead in the Southeast, is Erik Spoelstra a candidate for Coach of the Year? Said Jerry Sloan before the Jazz played the Heat and lost: “They execute very well. Defensively, they’re very, very sound and strong. I think he (Spoelstra) does a terrific job for a young coach or an old coach either, it doesn’t make any difference. I think he’s done a great job.”

-- Good one from my buddy Eddie Sefko in Dallas who after backup centers from France, Ian Mahinmi and Alexis Ajinca, were big in a win over Golden State, he labeled them the “Stifle Towers.” … The stunning start of the Spurs (say that fast five times) continued Sunday to 20-3 with a win over Portland and its dead men walking bunch as Brandon Roy limped up another four of 16. But the Spurs continue to get production beyond their big three from Richard Jefferson, George Hill and Gary Neal with Hill in double figures off the bench the last 11. … Interesting backgrounds traced by the Minneapolis Star of Kevin Durant and Michael Beasley, who grew up together in Washington, D.C, were AAU and elementary school teammates, went to the same high schools and both were No. 2 overall picks. "I wasn't good at all," Beasley said. "All I could do was rebound. That jump shot Kevin's got? Kevin's had that his whole life. Every time I grabbed a rebound, I'd just throw it out.”… Andre Miller blasted the NBA for that suspension that broke his 632-game consecutive game streak after he pushed down Blake Griffin. But Miller was right. He got pushed hard twice on previous plays by Griffin, and then retaliated in kind. Nothing wrong with that. The NBA again just went too far in its discipline. The refs got it. None of the plays drew a foul. … My NBA insider buddies are telling me the Clippers’ Eric Gordon is the next Andrew Toney. Not a bad comparison. Gordon gets overlooked in the Blake Griffin excitement and the Clippers’ poor record, but he was another who had a big summer with USA Basketball and is continuing (Rose, Odom, Love, Westbrook, etc.) and is averaging 24.3. If he begins to make threes, which he should, he’s going to be a tough one to stop and give the Clippers a heck of a one/two as former Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro returns to the United Center on Saturday. … The Bulls are in Toronto Wednesday, where Peja Stojakovic has played in two of 11 games since being traded there. He’s a major buyout candidate who should be able to fit one someone’s playoff roster. Expect him playing back in Europe next season. … The Thunder coaches are scratching their heads about James Harden and shooting 36 percent this season. … Free Carl Landry! One of the league’s real gamers is wasting away amidst the Kings’ mess and it would be the charitable thing to give him a chance where he can make a difference. Doing the little things for Sacramento just gets you a 10 point loss instead of 20. In his final season, he’d be a bargain pickup for someone in contention. … Is it the Kings that drive you to drink or living in Sacramento? As Sacramento Bee put it when assistant Mario Elie was arrested on suspicion of drunk driving last week: Cops 7, Kings 0. Five Kings have been so arrested since 2006, including Antoine Wright, owner George Maloof (actually in Las Vegas), Andres Nocioni and former coach Eric Musselman. Also, Tyreke Evans was arrested for driving 130 miles per hour, but not drinking, Ron Artest was arrested for domestic abuse and dog neglect, while former Kings Chris Webber and Jason Williams were arrested for drag racing, but acquitted. Ever convicted? No, not convicted. … And speaking of Artest, he is shooting 25 percent and averaging four points in six games this month in what seems a combination of decline (he is 31 and has lived hard) and comfort as he’s gotten his title. It was interesting post game against the Lakers last week to hear Pau Gasol complaining about too many bad shots by others, Artest confused about the offense and Andrew Bynum putting of his return. It’s not that easy a team to coach. Maybe that’s why Phil seems ready to leave.

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