Zach LaVine

Zach LaVine Enters Protocols, Expected To Miss Multiple Games

APRIL 16: LaVine entered the health and safety protocols after registering a positive coronavirus test, says Joe Cowley of The Chicago Sun-Times. Assuming it wasn’t a false positive, that means the All-Star guard will likely miss at least a couple weeks or so.


APRIL 15: Bulls star Zach LaVine is expected to miss several games after entering the NBA’s health and safety protocols, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski (via Twitter).

Wojnarowski’s report comes on the heels of the Bulls’ PR department announcing that the team had to call off Thursday’s practice due to the protocols, per K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago (Twitter link). Since there’s an expectation that LaVine will miss multiple games, it sounds like he either came into close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19 or registered a positive test himself.

It’s bad timing for the Bulls, who have lost four consecutive games – and 10 of their last 13 – as they attempt to hang onto a play-in spot in the Eastern Conference. The 22-32 club holds the No. 10 seed for now, but is just one game ahead of the Raptors and Wizards, and two games ahead of the Cavaliers.

Assuming they’re not affected by the protocols, Tomas Satoransky, Coby White, Garrett Temple, and Denzel Valentine are among the players who could see a bump in minutes with LaVine unavailable.

Bulls Notes: Roster Turnover, LaVine, Markkanen, Ball

The Bulls were among the most active teams at the trade deadline, adding five new players to their roster, but so far the changes haven’t worked out the way they hoped, writes K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports. Chicago has gone just 3-7 since then while playing a difficult schedule that featured nine road games and seven against playoff contenders.

“Every night we have one category I would say we don’t perform well,” said center Daniel Theis, who was one of the new additions. “One night it’s turnovers that cost us a game. (Sunday), we didn’t get to the line a lot. (Monday), we didn’t shoot the ball well from 3. Now we’ve got to put together a complete game. If we play defense like (Monday) and we make our shots, we’re gonna win games.”

There’s more from Chicago:

  • Before the Bulls hosted Orlando tonight, Magic coach Steve Clifford talked to his former center, Nikola Vucevic, about the adjustment to a new team, tweets Josh Robbins of The Athletic. “He’s getting comfortable here (with Chicago),” Clifford said. “I think it’ll be a great place for him. He’s very upbeat, very excited about his teammates … loves (Bulls coach) Billy (Donovan).”
  • The decision to trade for Vucevic was a way for the Bulls’ front office to show Zach LaVine that they’re serious about winning, according to A. Sherrod Blakely of Bleacher Report. LaVine is widely expected to turn down an extension offer from Chicago in order to sign a more lucrative deal as a free agent, Blakely says.
  • The addition of Vucevic has cut into Lauri Markkanen‘s playing time and there’s reason to question whether he’ll return next season, Blakely adds. Vucevic and Markkanen both excel as scorers, but haven’t been effective as a defensive combo. “In the right kind of system, Markkanen could be a really good player,” an Eastern Conference executive told Blakely. “I don’t know if Chicago is it; it’s certainly not it if they think him and Vucevic can play together.” The Spurs may make a strong effort to sign Markkanen this summer, according to Blakely.
  • The Knicks are eyeing Pelicans guard Lonzo Ball in free agency and their main competition could come from the Bulls, sources tell Marc Berman of The New York Post. Chicago was involved in trade talks regarding Ball at last month’s deadline.

Bulls Trade Didn’t Take Vucevic By Surprise

Former Magic center Nikola Vucevic was aware that he could be dealt prior to the blockbuster than sent the All-Star big man from Orlando to Chicago, he told Alex Kennedy of Basketball News in a Q&A session.

“It wasn’t out of nowhere, we’d had discussions prior to it, so it was kind of mutual; it wasn’t just out of nowhere,” Vucevic said. “They pretty much just let me know that the trade was happening and said, ‘You’re going to Chicago.’ Honestly, even though I had an idea that it could happen, it was still a big shock to me.”

The Bulls are 3-5 in games that Vucevic has played since the deal. He’s averaging 22.9 PPG, 10.3 RPG and 3.6 APG for Chicago, which currently holds the 10th spot in the Eastern Conference, the last postseason berth under the new play-in format.

Vucevic had more than an inkling that he could be headed to the Bulls.

“I knew that there were a couple (of interested teams), but I didn’t know where I’d land or all of the details because that’s something that the front office was handling,” he said. “But I knew of the teams that were interested; I knew that part.”

Here’s more from Kennedy’s interview with Vucevic:

  • Vucevic is impressed by the Bulls’ roster and believes they’ll be contenders in short order.  “That’s one thing I’m very excited about: the team has great potential. It has very good structure, and we’re built to be successful for years to come, which is very important in this league. “
  • Vucevic played with some talented guards in Orlando over the years but he says Zach LaVine is better than any of them. “I’ve never played with anyone who’s as good of a scorer as Zach is, so I think it’s going to be great for me to have a guy like that on the ball a lot. In some of the games, it’s shown already in some of our two-man game action, although we haven’t played together a lot. It’s going to be hard to defend.
  • Vucevic believes that the trade showed potential free agents that Chicago is intent on becoming relevant again in the East. “I think by making these moves, the Bulls already sent a strong message to the rest of the league that they really want to win now, but making the playoffs would send a strong message, too. And when you make that step and have some success, it also attracts other people to want to play for a team like that.”

USA Basketball Expands Finalist List for Olympic Roster

Fifteen players have been added to the list of finalists for the U.S. Olympic Men’s Basketball Team, USA Basketball announced today in a press release. The group will eventually be pared down to 12 players who will participate in the Olympic Games, which are set for July 23 to August 8 in Tokyo.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich will serve as coach for the U.S. team, with Warriors coach Steve Kerr, Villanova coach Jay Wright and former Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce as his assistants.

No tryouts will be held this year. Instead, USA Basketball will choose the final roster by early summer. Training camp is scheduled to being in early July before the conclusion of the NBA playoffs.

“With the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics from 2020 to 2021, it’s important that we continue to remain flexible and consider all players who can contribute to our efforts to field the best USA team possible,” USA Basketball men’s national team managing director Jerry Colangelo said. “These additions we are announcing today will help ensure that we are doing that. Having a larger player pool than what we normally have is critical because of all of the uncertainties we face about availability. But for USA Basketball to receive the commitment of so many outstanding players remains an indicator of the great honor of representing your country means to these men.”

The new names under consideration are:

  1. Jarrett Allen (Cavaliers)
  2. Eric Gordon (Rockets)
  3. Jerami Grant (Pistons)
  4. Blake Griffin (Nets)
  5. Jrue Holiday (Bucks)
  6. DeAndre Jordan (Nets)
  7. Zach LaVine (Bulls)
  8. Julius Randle (Knicks)
  9. Duncan Robinson (Heat)
  10. Mitchell Robinson (Knicks)
  11. Fred VanVleet (Raptors)
  12. John Wall (Rockets)
  13. Zion Williamson (Pelicans)
  14. Christian Wood (Rockets)
  15. Trae Young (Hawks)

Forty-two players remain from the original list, which was announced in February 2020:

  1. Bam Adebayo (Heat)
  2. LaMarcus Aldridge (Spurs)
  3. Harrison Barnes (Kings)
  4. Bradley Beal (Wizards)
  5. Devin Booker (Suns)
  6. Malcolm Brogdon (Pacers)
  7. Jaylen Brown (Celtics)
  8. Jimmy Butler (Heat)
  9. Mike Conley (Jazz)
  10. Stephen Curry (Warriors)
  11. Anthony Davis (Lakers)
  12. DeMar DeRozan (Spurs)
  13. Andre Drummond (Cavaliers)
  14. Kevin Durant (Nets)
  15. Paul George (Clippers)
  16. Draymond Green (Warriors)
  17. James Harden (Nets)
  18. Montrezl Harrell (Lakers)
  19. Joe Harris (Nets)
  20. Tobias Harris (76ers)
  21. Gordon Hayward (Hornets)
  22. Dwight Howard (Sixers)
  23. Brandon Ingram (Pelicans)
  24. Kyrie Irving (Nets)
  25. LeBron James (Lakers)
  26. Kyle Kuzma (Lakers)
  27. Kawhi Leonard (Clippers)
  28. Damian Lillard (Blazers)
  29. Brook Lopez (Bucks)
  30. Kevin Love (Cavaliers)
  31. Kyle Lowry (Raptors)
  32. JaVale McGee (Cavaliers)
  33. Khris Middleton (Bucks)
  34. Donovan Mitchell (Jazz)
  35. Victor Oladipo (Rockets)
  36. Chris Paul (Suns)
  37. Mason Plumlee (Pistons)
  38. Jayson Tatum (Celtics)
  39. Myles Turner (Pacers)
  40. Kemba Walker (Celtics)
  41. Russell Westbrook (Wizards)
  42. Derrick White (Spurs)

Two players removed from that list are Warriors guard Klay Thompson, who is out for the season with a torn Achilles tendon, and Celtics guard Marcus Smart. Sources tell Shams Charania of The Athletic that Smart turned down an invitation because of injury concerns due to having a short offseason and playing late into consecutive seasons (Twitter link).

Simons, Stanley, Toppin To Compete In Dunk Contest

Anfernee Simons of the Trail Blazers, Cassius Stanley of the Pacers, and Obi Toppin of the Knicks will compete for the annual Slam Dunk title at halftime of the All-Star game on Sunday at State Farm Arena in Atlanta, the NBA announced in a press release.

Simons, a 6’3” guard, is averaging 8.2 PPG in his third NBA season. Stanley is a 6’5″ rookie guard on a two-way contract after being selected in the second round last fall. He recorded a maximum vertical leap of 44 inches in the 2020 draft combine. Toppin, a 6’9″ rookie forward and lottery pick, is averaging 4.6 PPG in 25 games off the bench.

The 3-Point Contest, which will be held prior to the game, has a lot more star power. Suns guard Devin Booker and Warriors guard Stephen Curry, former winners of the long-ball contest, head the list of participants. The Celtics’ Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, the Bulls’ Zach LaVine and the Jazz‘s Donovan Mitchell round out the six-man field.

The Skills Challenge, which will also be held prior to the game, also has plenty of All-Star firepower. Mavericks guard Luka Doncic and Suns guard Chris Paul head that six-man listKnicks forward Julius Randle, Pacers forward Domantas Sabonis, Magic center Nikola Vucevic and Trail Blazers forward Robert Covington round out the field.

Super-Max Candidates To Watch In 2021

The Designated Veteran Extension, as we explain our glossary entry on the subject, is a relatively new addition to the NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement. It allows players with 7-9 years of experience, who would normally qualify for a maximum starting salary of 30% of the cap, to qualify for a “super-max” contract that starts at 35% of the cap, a level normally reserved players with 10+ years of experience.

A player who has seven or eight years of NBA service with one or two years left on his contract becomes eligible for a Designated Veteran Extension if he meets the required performance criteria and hasn’t been traded since his first four years in the league. A Designated Veteran contract can also be signed by a player who is technically a free agent if he has eight or nine years of service and meets the required criteria.

The performance criteria is as follows (only one of the following must be true):

  • The player was named to an All-NBA team and/or was named the NBA Defensive Player of the Year in the most recent season, or in two of the last three seasons.
  • The player was named the NBA MVP in any of the three most recent seasons.

Technically, players like Gary Harris and Evan Fournier meet the criteria related to years of service with one team and could theoretically become eligible to sign a super-max extension this year, but they’re obviously not viable candidates to make an All-NBA team in 2021.

There are, however, a few players who are more realistic candidates to qualify for a super-max veteran contract based on their All-NBA candidacy. Let’s dive in and examine a few of those cases…


Joel Embiid (Sixers)

When Embiid first signed his five-year, maximum-salary contract with the Sixers back in 2017, he had appeared in just 31 games over the course of his first three NBA seasons, making the investment a risky one. The deal included some injury protection for Philadelphia, giving the team the ability to waive Embiid without fully guaranteeing the salaries in later years of the deal if one of the injuries he experienced early in his career became a recurring issue.

The idea of the Sixers waiving Embiid seems absurd now. While the former third overall pick hasn’t exactly been an iron man since the start of the 2017/18 season, there are no longer any concerns about his career being derailed by health issues before it could really get off the ground.

Embiid will have seven years of NBA service under his belt at the end of the 2020/21 campaign and if he earns a spot on an All-NBA team, he’d have done so twice in the last three years, having made the Second Team in 2019.

For now, he looks like an awfully safe All-NBA bet — his 30.0 PPG, 11.3 RPG, .519/.415/.858 shooting line, and solid defense have made him a legit MVP candidate. Health is always the wild card for Embiid, but as long as he stays on the court for most of the second half, an All-NBA spot should be a lock. That would make the big man eligible to sign a super-max extension with the Sixers this offseason.

Embiid remains under contract through 2023, with a $31.6MM salary in ’21/22 and a $33.6MM figure for ’22/23. A super-max extension would tack on four years to those two seasons and would start at 35% of the ’23/24 cap.

It’s too early to know exactly where the cap will end up in 2023/24, but if we use a conservative estimate and assume it will rise by 3% annually in each of the next three summers, that would result in a four-year total of up to $187MM on a new Embiid deal that runs through 2027. It will be fascinating to see how eager the 76ers would be to put that extension – which would cover Embiid’s age-29 to age-32 seasons – on the table.


Nikola Jokic (Nuggets)

Like Embiid, Jokic has played like an MVP candidate and is a lock for an All-NBA spot, barring an injury or another unexpected development. Jokic, who was the All-NBA Second Team center in 2020, is making a case for a First Team spot this season, averaging 26.7 PPG, 10.9 RPG, and 8.5 APG on .564/.421/.879 shooting through 33 games for the Nuggets.

Unlike Embiid, however, Jokic will only have six years of NBA experience at the end of the 2020/21 season. That means that even though he can technically gain super-max eligibility by earning an All-NBA nod for the second straight season, Jokic wouldn’t officially be able to sign a new extension with Denver until 2022, once he has his seven years of service.

This is the same situation Giannis Antetokounmpo found himself in last year — he gained super-max eligibility following the 2018/19 season based on his multiple All-NBA spots and his MVP award, but wasn’t able to actually sign that super-max contract until the 2020 offseason, once he had seven years of service. The Bucks, of course, planned all along to offer him the super-max as soon as they could, and it’s probably safe to assume the Nuggets will do the same for Jokic.

Jokic’s current contract is virtually identical to Embiid’s, with matching $31.6MM and $33.6MM cap hits for the next two seasons after ’20/21. Because Jokic wouldn’t be able to sign a super-max until 2022 though, he could get a five-year extension at that point — if we once again assume annual 3% cap increases, that deal could be worth up to an eye-popping $242MM.


Zach LaVine (Bulls)

While Embiid and Jokic have clear paths to All-NBA spots in 2021, LaVine is a longer shot to get there. The Bulls guard is having the best year of his career and currently ranks sixth in the NBA with 28.7 points per game, but he’s not a strong defender and Chicago’s place in the standings is unlikely to do him any favors with All-NBA voters.

Stephen Curry, Damian Lillard, Luka Doncic, and James Harden look like the top contenders to fill the guard spots on the first two teams, which means LaVine would be competing with stars like Bradley Beal, Kyrie Irving, Devin Booker, Donovan Mitchell, Ben Simmons, and Jaylen Brown, among others, for a Third Team spot.

LaVine’s current deal pays him well below the max, at just $19.5MM annually, so earning an All-NBA spot would make him eligible for a massive raise. If we once again count on annual 3% salary cap increases, a super-max extension for LaVine would could be worth up to $235MM over five years, starting in 2022/23.

Even if he beats the odds and earns an All-NBA spot, LaVine seems unlikely to receive that sort of offer from the Bulls, who traded Jimmy Butler to Minnesota when his super-max eligibility loomed a few years ago. But the super-max wrinkle would further complicate LaVine’s contract situation, which should be very interesting to monitor even if he falls short of an All-NBA team.

Because he’s earning just $19.5MM next season, LaVine would typically only be eligible for a four-year, $104.8MM veteran extension — the Bulls would almost certainly put that offer on the table, but LaVine would probably pass, since he’d be eligible for a far higher salary as a free agent in 2022.

It’s worth considering, however, that Chicago projects to have a significant chunk of cap room available during the 2021 offseason, giving the team the option of renegotiating the final year of LaVine’s contract to give him a raise and a more lucrative extension. That may be the most likely outcome for the first-time All-Star, who is a super-max long shot but is still likely to command more than the $26MM annual salary the Bulls can offer without a renegotiation.


Luka Doncic (Mavericks)

To be clear, Doncic will not be eligible for a starting salary worth 35% of the salary cap on his next contract. But the Mavericks star is being mentioned here because he’ll likely become eligible for a lesser form of the “super-max” contract.

When a former first-round pick is entering the fourth and final year of his rookie contract, he’s eligible to sign a rookie scale extension that starts at 25% of the cap. But if that player has met the super-max performance criteria listed at the top of this story (based on MVP, DPOY, or All-NBA honors), his rookie scale extension can instead start at 30% of the cap.

Most of the time, a player who signs a rookie scale extension that can start at 30% of the cap does so conditionally — for instance, Jayson Tatum was on the 2019/20 All-NBA Third Team, then signed a rookie scale extension prior to the ’20/21 season. Because his extension will go into effect next season, Tatum still has to earn an All-NBA spot again this season to meet the super-max criteria (an All-NBA spot in the most recent season, or in two of the past three seasons) and to qualify for that 30% starting salary.

Doncic, on the other hand, has a chance to pull off a rare feat. Because he was named to the All-NBA First Team in just his second season, he’ll become eligible for a 30% starting salary if he earns All-NBA honors again this year, in his third season. It wouldn’t matter whether or not he’s an All-NBA player again in 2022, because he would have already met the necessary benchmark — two All-NBA berths in three years.

Assuming Doncic earns an All-NBA spot this season, which looks like a safe bet, he’d be eligible to sign a five-year rookie scale extension worth a projected $201.5MM, which would begin during the 2022/23 season.

Like Tatum, Donovan Mitchell, Bam Adebayo, and De’Aaron Fox all signed rookie scale extensions in 2020 that will increase in value if they meet certain performance criteria, so they’re worth keeping an eye on this season too.

Photos courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Central Notes: LaVine, Young, Lamb, Nance, Pistons

Zach LaVine is enjoying a career year in Billy Donovan‘s first season with the Bulls, and the success of that pairing bodes well for the team’s long-term outlook, says K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago. Donovan won’t be going anywhere anytime soon, and word around the NBA suggests that LaVine won’t be either, Johnson adds.

With LaVine expected to be unavailable on the trade market in the coming weeks, the Bulls’ most valuable trade chip could be Thaddeus Young. ESPN’s Bobby Marks (Insider link) says a handful of league executives identified Young as a player who could impact the playoff race if he’s moved, noting that he’s a versatile big man on a reasonable contract who has plenty of postseason experience.

The Bulls currently hold the sixth seed in the East and figure to be in the mix for a playoff spot – perhaps via the play-in tournament – but Marks argues the club should take a big-picture view and consider moving Young, especially if a team is willing to give up a first-round pick for him.

Johnson, on the other hand, contends in a separate NBC Sports Chicago story that moving Young for anything short of a lottery pick or a very promising young player might be a mistake. As Johnson explains, the veteran forward has had a positive impact on LaVine on and off the court, and LaVine and the Bulls’ other young players need to get some postseason experience at some point — Young could play an important role in helping get them there.

Here’s more from around the Central:

  • It has been a full year since Jeremy Lamb suffered a torn left ACL, and while it takes some players a while to get back to 100% following that injury, the Pacers guard has thrived since making his season debut on January 20, writes Wheat Hotchkiss of Pacers.com. Lamb is averaging 12.2 PPG in just 24.7 minutes per contest, and has made an even 50% of his three-point attempts through 17 games. “It’s great to see how far I’ve been able to come,” Lamb said. “I’m still getting stronger, still working on it, but it’s encouraging.”
  • Cavaliers forward Larry Nance Jr., who underwent surgery on his hand earlier this month, is making positive progress and recently had his cast removed, tweets Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com. Nance was ruled out at least six weeks when he underwent the procedure, so we won’t see him back until sometime after the All-Star break.
  • Missing their top two point guards, the Pistons are seeing some positive signs from Dennis Smith Jr. and Saben Lee, says Rod Beard of The Detroit News. Lee, who has averaged 15.3 PPG and 4.3 APG in his last three games, is showing why GM Troy Weaver referred to him as part of Detroit’s “core four” of rookie building blocks, despite the fact that Lee was a second-round pick who signed a two-way deal, writes Keith Langlois of Pistons.com.

Bulls Notes: Markkanen, Young, LaVine, Mokoka

It’s “highly unlikely” Lauri Markkanen will play again before the All-Star break, writes K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports. Meeting with reporters before tonight’s game, Bulls coach Billy Donovan provided an update on Markkanen, who has missed the last nine contests with a sprained right shoulder.

“He makes progress, but he has not done anything contact-wise, he’s done nothing that at this point in time would show us that he’s going to be back within the next week,” Donovan said. “Could it happen? Sure. Do I feel like it’s likely it’s going to happen? Probably not.”

Markkanen’s original prognosis was two to four weeks, and Johnson notes that the full four weeks will take him to March 8, three days before the Bulls start the second half of their season. Markkanen has played in 14 of Chicago’s first 30 games and is averaging a career-high 19.1 PPG.

“The biggest challenge I think for Lauri right now is because of the injury, if he reinjures it or hurts it again relatively quickly on his return, it’s going to almost put him back to ground zero again,” Donovan said. “So he’s working with the medical staff and he’s doing what he can physically to keep himself in condition.”

There’s more from Chicago:
  • With second-half schedules released today, Thaddeus Young believes the Bulls can make a strong playoff push in April, according to Joe Cowley of The Chicago Sun-Times. The team’s slate for April includes a game with the Timberwolves and two each with the Grizzlies, Hawks and Cavaliers. There are also some matchups with teams they will battling for playoff spots, such as the Pacers, Knicks and Heat. “I’m an analytical guy,” Young said. “I look at the numbers, I look at who’s in front of us, I look at our schedule and I’ve seen months where we can kind of take care of business and really push some leeway and some gaps in between us and other teams. I see in April where we can really cover some ground on some teams that we can really step in and face and make sure we take care of business.”
  • Zach LaVine has higher goals now that he has been named an All-Star for the first time, notes Sam Smith of NBA.com. “You want to be MVP of a championship team,” he said Tuesday after learning that he had been selected as a reserve. “Obviously, if we continue to play the right way and I’m playing at a high level, I can see myself as All-NBA team. If I continue to up my defense and being consistent, I can see myself as an All-Defensive team guy.”
  • Second-year swingman Adam Mokoka, who is on a two-way contract, has been transferred to the G League and will join the Austin Spurs, the Bulls announced (via Twitter). He has seen limited playing time in seven games this season.

2021 NBA All-Star Reserves Revealed

The 2021 NBA All-Star reserves have been revealed. Below is the full rundown of the 14 players scheduled to join the previously announced 10 starters for the March 7 contest in Atlanta. All-Star reserves are selected by the league’s head coaches.

Eastern Conference Reserves:

Notable omissions this season include recent Heat All-Stars Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo, two-time Bucks All-Star Khris Middleton, recent Hawks All-Star point guard Trae Young, Raptors guard Fred VanVleet, recent Pacers All-Star big man Domantas Sabonis, and Sixers forward Tobias Harris.

Brown, LaVine, and Randle are making their All-Star debuts. Harden is the most decorated among the All-Star vets among the East reserves, as he will be appearing in his ninth All-Star contest.

Western Conference Reserves:

Lillard, who just barely missed out on a starting nod to Mavericks guard Luka Dončić, earns his sixth All-Star mention as he mounts a sleeper MVP campaign with the Trail Blazers. Paul will be playing in his 11th All-Star game, for a fourth different team (he did not earn an All-Star nod in either of his two Rockets seasons, but made it with the Clippers, New Orleans Hornets, and Thunder).

Snubs in the West include recent Suns All-Star shooting guard Devin Booker, Spurs guard DeMar DeRozan, and 33-year-old Jazz point guard Mike Conley, the latter of whom may go down in history as the best NBA player never to make an All-Star team. Williamson, the No. 1 pick in the 2019 draft, is a first-time All-Star. Last year, his teammate Brandon Ingram made his own All-Star debut.

Conley may still have his day in the sun, however. Kyle Goon of the Orange County Register notes that Lakers All-Star big man Davis, recovering from a right calf strain, will likely not be healthy in time to partake in the currently-planned All-Star game, and thus another Western Conference All-Star should eventually be named by NBA commissioner Adam Silver to replace the eight-time All-Star.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Central Notes: Drummond, Love, Merrill, LaVine

With veteran Cavaliers center Andre Drummond now benched for the express purpose of being preserved for a trade, Sam Vecenie of The Athletic examines his possible on-court value and most likely trade or buyout destinations.

“If [you] had a bad center situation, I understand going after him,” a rival executive opined. “But I wouldn’t give up anything real [in a trade].” The Raptors are cited as being able to theoretically construct a workable deal for Drummond. Clubs like the Nets, Clippers, Lakers, Trail Blazers, Mavericks and Rockets could be open to adding Drummond if he’s bought out of his $28.7MM contract.

There’s more out of the Central Division:

  • Cavaliers power forward Kevin Love practiced with Cleveland on Wednesday, per Kelsey Russo of The Athletic (Twitter link). Russo tweets that Love did not practice with the club on Saturday, though head coach J.B. Bickerstaff would not officially term his absence a setback. “I’ll let our medical staff handle that,” Bickerstaff said. Love has appeared in just two games for Cleveland thus far this season.
  • Rookie Bucks guard Sam Merrill has been recalled from a stint with the Memphis Hustle in the G League bubble, the team announced Friday. Merrill is averaging 6.1 MPG across nine games for Milwaukee.
  • Bulls shooting guard Zach LaVine appears to be cementing his case for his first All-Star berth with efficient scoring on a near-.500 Chicago squad that is currently the No. 9 seed in the East. LaVine’s play could put him in line for a lucrative contract extension this summer, writes Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times. “I try to let my game speak for itself,’’ LaVine said. “I let [the press] assess that and put the numbers behind it on the things I’ve done versus my contract and other players.” LaVine is averaging 28.9 PPG while shooting 51.8% from the floor and 42.9% from deep. He pulling down 5.4 RPG and dishing out 5.1 APG.