Bulls' Deng deserving of an All-Star nod

NBA All-Star reserves will be announced Thursday, and Sam Smith believes Bulls forward Luol Deng has made his case to be selected. But it’s not going to be easy for Deng, who just returned from missing two weeks with a wrist injury, he writes.

The NBA announces the All-Star reserves Thursday, and if Luol Deng isn’t selected for the East team, that means Derrick Rose has to be the MVP again.

I know I’ve said LeBron James and Kevin Durant are leading that race. But if Deng still isn’t an All-Star with the Bulls basically having the best record in the league all season, then Rose has to be the league’s best player by far. After all, James plays with two All-Stars, as Chris Bosh is a lock to be named a reserve. Russell Westbrook, who was all-NBA last season and a certain All-Star, is with Durant. Many believe Oklahoma City sixth man James Harden should also make the team. Already, the Lakers and Clippers have two starting All-Stars each.

But it’s not going to be easy for Deng, who just returned from missing two weeks with a wrist injury. The East is loaded with deserving forwards in Paul Pierce, Josh Smith, Bosh, Danny Granger, Andre Iguodala and Amar’e Stoudemire. Heck, Kenny Smith on the TNT show picked Carlos Boozer for his team of East reserves.

An assistant coach friend of mine who is not with the Bulls gave me the ballot vote of his head coach for the East team and it looked like this: Bosh, Granger, Joe Johnson, Pierce, Deron Williams, Roy Hibbert and Iguodala. I had another coach get back to me Monday and say he was adding Deng to his ballot after Deng returned from injury this weekend.

So the voting is more fluid this season with all the injuries. The coaches' ballots are due Tuesday. As an aside as I've been asked, the coaches for the All-Star game will be decided by the team record at the end of play Feb. 15 with the Bulls staff now favorites in the East. And then if they got there, maybe Deng could explain to the other players why everyone was practicing Saturday night.

The point is the field is wide open this time because, in part, of the short season that has injuries and older veterans coming along slowly skewing the early play. Plus, some coaches are saying with the erratic scheduling they still haven’t even watched half the players in their conference.

But the season marches on with the All-Star game in three weeks. The starters for the East are Derrick Rose and Dwyane Wade at guard, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony at forward, and Dwight Howard at center. For the West, it’s Chris Paul and Kobe Bryant at guard, Blake Griffin and Kevin Durant at forward and Andrew Bynum at center.

To me the All-Star game should be about two things: Entertainment and endorsing winning. You should only be an All-Star from a team with a losing record if you are an extraordinarily entertaining star that just happened to fall into a cursed season of injuries or mishaps. So I’ll favor the winners as the fans usually provide enough entertainment with picking the starters. So here’s my view of what the reserves for the team should look like:

Eastern Conference

Guards: Andre Iguodala and Joe Johnson. I’d almost add Lou Williams to the list as he really plays starters’ minutes even off the bench. For impact, I’d like to go with Kyrie Irving. But I hesitate with rookies and the Cavs still are struggling to get to .500, but wouldn’t be close without the terrific rookie. I know the Nets have lost Brook Lopez, but Deron Williams has been as much detriment this season as positive. And Brandon Jennings is better, but no All-Star. Johnson’s been steady in helping keep Atlanta strong even with Al Horford out and I give him the nod barely over Josh Smith, who has cooled of late. Iguodala’s numbers aren’t as good as in the past, but he’s given things up in the cause of winning and has been the rock for that surprising team. He should be a certain All-Star.

Forwards: Deng and Bosh: Bosh was terrific with Dwyane Wade out and has played at a consistently high level. Some coaches ballots could list him at center as the league now allows a player who plays some center to be listed there if there are no worthy center candidates, as is sometimes the case. Deng should be a definite the way he’s played an all-around game. This will be the test of whether coaches actually watch the games. This is not because I watch the Bulls all the time. I never suggested Deng before, but he’s well deserving now.

Center: Roy Hibbert. The Pacers center wouldn’t provide any highlight material and still has his awkward moments. But he’s enough of a legitimate center making an impact on a winning team to deserve a shot. Joakim Noah might have with a better start.

Wild Cards: Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo. They’ve been good at different times. Pierce has come on strong when Rondo was out, averaging more than 20 the last few weeks while Rondo just returned and was carrying the load alone while the veterans got into shape and still among the leaders in assists.

Western Conference

Guards: Russell Westbrook and Tony Parker. Westbrook may cause some angst at times, but he is a major talent and half the main one/two punch for the league leading Thunder. And he’s great for All-Star games. Parker has hung in there to be the big one for the surprising Spurs with Manu Ginobili hurt and Tim Duncan used periodically.

Forwards: Kevin Love and LaMarcus Aldridge. Pretty easy choices as either could legitimately been named a starter. Although guard gets all the credit in the NBA, there are some very strong forwards in talent.

Center: Marc Gasol. Yes, the other Gasol. Who ever thought that trade would produce him as the All-Star of the family. Anyway, with Zach Randolph out and Rudy Gay ever erratic he’s been the rock of an on-the-edge contending Grizzlies with a double/double average and among the leaders in blocks. Ah, the wonders of dieting.

Wild Cards: Paul Millsap and Ricky Rubio. Now that the Timberwolves are at .500, why not? Who would you rather watch in an All-Star game? I know Rubio’s a rookie, technically, though he’s played in Europe professionally for years. He’s one of the more exciting players to come into the NBA and that’s what All-Star games also are about. As for Millsap, he’s the do everything for the surprising Jazz. I leave out Steve Nash reluctantly and Dirk Nowitzki, although Dirk’s been on and off injured and not up to standards like Duncan. You might want to find a place for someone from Denver, but not quite yet.

Will Westbrook remain in Oklahoma City?

-- You wonder if the Thunder would rather have my Russell Westbrook for Rajon Rondo proposal. Sure, the Thunder has the league’s best record by percentage points over the Bulls, and I did point out regarding Bulls and fanciful Dwight Howard trade talk you don’t — or no one ever has — blow up a first place team. But Saturday’s action continued to raise questions about Westbrook and the fit come playoff time with the pressure up like it was last spring. Tony Parker had a huge game, 42 points, in the Spurs win. It happens. But with Parker getting going against Westbrook, who really isn’t a point guard, he seemed to lose control. So Westbrook began ignoring everyone to go back at Parker, throwing up wild shots and then committing frustration fouls. Westbrook is a wonderful talent, but like in last season’s playoffs in pressure or situations of potential frustration, he tends to forget it’s not him first. So why would Boston want him? You can begin retooling with a talent like that if your top players are aging. But, like with the Bulls, I suspect the Thunder will see how far this group can go before making any significant changes. And with Westbrook’s extension and the poison pill provision it’s probably a moot point, anyway. But, hey, it’s Super Bowl Sunday and I’ve been distracted by Madonna. ... The big hero in Saturday’s Cavs win over the Mavs was, of course, rookie Kyrie Irving, the likely Rookie of the Year with his second driving layup score for a win in a week. But perhaps the biggest cheers were for Dallas’ Dirk Nowitzki, whom Cavs fans call a "Caverick." That’s because Nowitzki and his Mavs not only denied the hated LeBron James a championship, but Nowitzki declined to leave Dallas as a free agent despite never having played for a title and not playing with another All-Star. Cavs fans chant that he is a true MVP. ... Tough going for another rookie, Sacramento’s Jimmer Fredette, who had his second straight DNP (did not play) in the overtime win over Golden State. Said Fredette to the Sacramento Bee: “I never sat out an entire game before, not even in high school, unless I was hurt or something. But I'm just trying to be a good teammate. I'll keep working and finding ways to get better." He’s now also behind rookie Isaiah Thomas. DeMarcus Cousins had a 21/20 in that win. ... The Timberwolves are .500 for the first time in February in seven years, though February came a lot faster this season. In apparently trying to diminish the severity of Kevin Love’s foot facial to Luis Scola, Timberwolves media excised all the Rockets’ players’ comments about the incident from the post game notes for media. Love figures to be suspended.

NBA news and notes

-- Big deadline this week for the guys at the end of the bench as it’s guarantee date. Decisions must be made by Tuesday. The Bulls are expected to keep their guys, Brian Scalabrine and John Lucas. But some of the other guys in that situation include Jannero Pargo, Jerry Stackhouse, Damien Wilkins, Earl Barron, Solomon Jones, Eddy Curry, DaJuan Summers, Steve Novak, Gary Neal and Jeremy Lin. It’s the first of several dates where players will come on the market again, though I suspect the Bulls, if they make a move, are looking more toward the buyout date in late March when higher level veterans could be available. ... The Pistons Lawrence Frank is working on a Tim Floydian 6-36 coaching record his last 42 games with the Nets and Pistons. ... I loved the advice Mychal Thompson, the Lakers’ broadcaster and former No. 1 overall pick and NBA center with Portland and the Lakers gave his son, Mychal, who is trying to find some time with the Cavaliers: "I told him you have to treat every day like another job interview. Every day at practice he has to convince his coaches and his teammates he deserves to be there. He has to be a professional and he has to be prepared for when his opportunity comes." It’s great advice and what being a role model is about. Thompson’s other son, Klay, is a promising first round shooting guard pick of the Warriors. A third brother, Trayce, plays in the White Sox organization. Now that’s a sporting family. ... Varejao’s 20/20 last week was the first for a Cav since Carlos Boozer in 2004 ... You wouldn’t know it by the tough night he had against the Bulls Saturday, but Brandon Jennings has been having a big bounce back season shooting almost 44 percent after being the worst shooting regular starter in the NBA last season. ... Is Kevin Love the new Bill Laimbeer? Nah, I can’t put that one anyone. But a few days before Love’s foot fault against Luis Scola, Love tangled with the Pacers’ Danny Granger and promised: "I've said all along I've never liked the Pacers. I guarantee the next time we play them it will be just as physical. They all think they're tough guys. I just don't know where that comes from. That just blows my mind. It makes me laugh." Where’s the love? ... And then there was Pacers’ coach Frank Vogel responding to Derrick Rose’s comment that the Pacers celebrated a bit much after winning in Chicago. Vogel told ESPN radio: "I know they've got a couple guys on their team who celebrate on every play." I just think guys are not getting enough sleep.

-- The Charlotte Observer is wasting little time with the obvious and printing lottery selections with Nos. 1 through five as Chicago’s Anthony Davis of Kentucky No. 1, and then Andre Drummond of Connecticut, Harrison Barnes of North Carolina, Jared Sullinger of Ohio State and Jeremy Lamb of Connecticut. I haven’t watched much college ball yet, but I watched Barnes and Sullinger this weekend and they hardly are big time NBA players. They look like decent third or fourth starters. The Bobcats need way, way more than that. Better hope for No. 1. ... The latest case study for how not to build a team again comes from Orlando, where they had to suspend Glen "Big Baby" Davis — it’s not like the name didn’t warn them — for some more baby behavior. Insiders say the immature Davis has become a buddy in disruption for the equally childlike Dwight Howard. The thought now is the Magic’s hole card to persuade Howard to stay is to fire coach Stan Van Gundy. Though we see how well that worked with LeBron James in Cleveland. ... Maybe the Bulls can get Courtney Lee, one of those shooting guards they’ve long had interest in, though really just mild. When the Rockets lost to Minnesota, Lee and Kyle Lowry both questioned why the staff didn’t make any adjustments to counter a hot Michael Beasley. The talk is the team is looking to trade Lowry and might as well with Lee, who got burned trying to defend Beasley. The Houston Chronicle reported the day after the outburst that Luis Scola suggested to players: "Shut the (deleted) up and play!" Reporters told coach Kevin McHale that rookie Marcus Morris was unhappy about being sent to the D-league. Asked if Morris was happy, McHale said: "I forgot to ask him that, but I will next time." ... Rick Adelman has been playing Beasley off the bench, taking him out if he’s not hot, the perfect spot for him like it was for Ben Gordon with the Bulls. Unless someone comes in and offers free agent Beasley too much. It wasn’t too long ago some big media sites were writing Beasley should be the No. 1 pick over Derrick Rose. And pretty close to that draft. Go back and check. ... That once seemed promising Ray Felton pickup in Portland isn’t going very well with Felton the target of fan and media disappointment with erratic floor play and shooting 20 percent on threes as the Trail Blazers are in the market for a point guard again. Maybe they’ll go for unhappy Andre Miller who’s coming off the bench in Denver. Oh, right. That’s who they traded to get Felton ... They’ve turned on Greg Oden now in Portland, where they are suggesting he chose minor surgery now to get ready for free agency in the summer to try to be healthy elsewhere and not try to come back wth the Trail Blazers. With his injuries and playing time, the Oregonian calculated it cost the ‘Blazers $71,000 a basket for Oden in five seasons while Kevin Durant has done better. ... J.R. Smith has been offering himself to several teams via Twitter. I’m not a big fan of the device, though it is interesting to see how few Americans can spell. No wonder he just used initials for his name. ... This food fight going on in Utah between Karl Malone and Jazz owner Greg Miller, not quite as popular with players as his dad, Larry, is fairly unbecoming and shocking that an owner other than Dan Gilbert would engage a legendary player this way in a blog post calling him unstable and a liar. Hardly any other owner would do that, though few know what blogs are, anyway. Hey, it’s just players talking. That’s what they do. Mark Jackson would say you’re better than that. Still, what gets lost in all this is that it was Deron Williams who basically tried a mutiny on Jerry Sloan. The owner and GM are right. They begged Sloan to stay. But in trading Williams they also acknowledged what Sloan was saying as well. ... Shaquille O’Neal’s ex-wife went to Twitter to commend the latest famous dunk of Blake Griffin last week. I’m still contemplating the meaning of that. ... The longest double digit rebounding streak this season? Kevin Love. Second? No, not Dwight Howard. Marcin Gortat at 15 games and counting. Another nice Orlando move ... It’s apparently not true that several teams offered to kiss Kenyon Martin’s lips tattoo in recruiting him. ... With the Warriors season heading south you figure there’s a good chance they deal Monta Ellis, often rumored in trades. He’s averaging 21.3, but that’s a three year low and he’s shooting just 25 percent on threes and 42 percent overall, barely above his rookie year low for new owners who talked regularly about being a playoff team.

-- The new Joakim Noah this season appears to be Anderson Varejao, averaging 10.8 points and 11.9 rebounds for the Cavs. He is averaging 16.8 points and 15.3 rebounds the last four games with Cavs wins over Boston and Dallas. Said Dirk Nowitzki: "He’s an animal in there. What he's great at is he's relentless. Not that he's that strong or has unbelievable hops. He's got a great nose for the ball and he just keeps coming." ... After never really having a chance in Detroit with the Iverson debacle, Michael Curry is quietly reestablishing his credentials with Doug Collins in Philadelphia. Said Collins: "He’s done an incredible job. He’s been what Thibs was for Doc (Rivers) for me, basically a head coach to free me up to have more time with guys and build relationships and teach." ... The Celtics have turned it around and I admit to being surprised after seeing them, and just as much so with Paul Pierce, who is averaging 22.3 points and 7.2 assists in the stretch as the Celts have won eight of their last nine with wins over the Magic, Pacers and Grizzlies in that stretch after most of their wins had been against sub-.500 teams. ... Deron Williams was outplayed on consecutive nights in losses to Ricky Rubio and Jeremy Lin, the latter Williams admitting he’d never heard of. Williams coughed up the ball twice in the last 30 seconds to cost the game against Minnesota and then got burned repeatedly in the fourth quarter as the Knicks pulled away. Williams, though, finally seems to be giving up the pouting and casting blaming glares at teammates all game as he’s done most of the season in his latest leadership role. ... The Bulls get a look at old friend Keith Bogans Monday in New Jersey as the Nets are giving him a look and he’s giving them some solid minutes off the bench and perhaps more time Monday with Anthony Morrow attending a funeral. Said Avery Johnson: "We needed to get some veteran help, guys who know how to play. He obviously was a starter on a pretty good team last year with the Bulls." ... I loved the New York Post story last week quoting anonymous sources who said Mike D’Antoni "would not be fired today." But no one was making any guarantees after midnight. And, to think, he turned down coaching Derrick Rose and the Bulls for that. D’Antoni’s in his final season and is a good coach, but he will get the immediate blame for the assembling of a bad roster. Yes, that’s how it works. Assistant Mike Woodson, brought in allegedly for defense, is considered the imminent interim and there was a column last week there saying The Knicks’ defense was too predictable because of Woodson’s penchant for switching, which got him fired in Atlanta. They don’t even let them take the job before they second guess them. Though I have to add it’s much more confusing there now. I was there with the Bulls last week and you know to avoid problems in New York by walking away from all the people talking to themselves. But now with those ear cell phones people seem to be talking to themselves everywhere, which makes it even scarier.