NBA releases All-Star ballot, here are my early votes

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You can vote — and not just if you’re a Republican in Iowa.

The NBA opened All-Star Game voting to the fans on Wednesday, so you can pick who will not play any defense in Orlando Feb. 26. Fan voting picks the starters, the coaches for the teams help pick the rest of the squad. You can vote on NBA.com, from your phone or at NBA games.

The list of players is pretty good this year, no glaring oversights. Sorry Heat fans, leaving Mario Chalmers out of the East guard debate is not a serious oversight.

So who to pick? It’s way too early to cast an official ballot, but if I had to right now…

Eastern Conference

Guards: Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade. Deron Williams, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo just miss but should make the team, and throw in Joe Johnson if you really want to. But think about it.

Forwards: LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony. I really wanted to make a case for Andre Iguodala, who is playing very well, but ‘Melo has been better. James has been James, he is still the best player walking the planet. If Orlando’s Ryan Anderson keeps playing like this, I want him to make the squad. Amare Stoudemire and Chris Bosh are acceptable here, too.

Center: Dwight Howard. Howard announced as the center in Orlando at the All-Star Game either in a Nets uniform or with trade rumors swirling around him will be the story of that weekend, regardless of what happens. Second best may be Spencer Hawes in Philly, who is playing better than you think. I could live with JaVale McGee.

Western Conference

Guards: Kyle Lowry, Kobe Bryant. We’ll see if he sticks with these numbers, but Lowry has been amazing this season — 15 points and 11 assists per game for the Rockets. Go ahead and vote for Chris Paul if you want, I can live with that. I like Ricky Rubio and Steve Nash, but no. And I voted for Kobe because he might find me and beat me up if I didn’t. Same applies to you.

Forwards: Kevin Durant, LaMarcus Aldridge. First, Tim Duncan is still not a forward. Just have to say that every year. This is tough because if you want to vote for Kevin Love, Pau Gasol, Blake Griffin, Rudy Gay, Dirk Nowitzki or a host of others I’m good with that. All deserving. I picked Aldridge because Portland needs the representation, they have been a great surprise this season. You could make an All-Star team of Western Conference forwards that would compete with the rest of the league combined. And they could play Tim Duncan at center.

Center: Andrew Bynum. I could live with Nene here, but Bynum has been a beast so far. For fun I might just start a campaign to get DeMarcus Cousins named to the team, just so another coach has to deal with his ego for a while.

Joel Embiid out with left knee soreness for Game 3 vs. Nets

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The Philadelphia 76ers will be without Joel Embiid on Thursday night as they take on the Brooklyn Nets in Game 3 of their first round series.

Embiid is battling left knee soreness and although he had a statistically-important performance as the Sixers took Game 2, it was obvious he was in some kind of reduced state of ability.

Veteran center Greg Monroe will start in Embiid’s place, but it will be hard for the Sixers to match Embiid’s production. The Cameroonian star is Philadelphia’s best player, and the 76ers are a hot and cold team.

Not having Embiid on the floor will seriously alter how they respond to the spunky Nets, who already took Game 1 from the higher-seeded Sixers.

The fact that Embiid needs to rest is also drawing some ire from folks on social media. The question is why Embiid did not rest earlier in the series — or even the end of the regular season when he was in and out of the lineup — and prepare for the coming playoff run?

However things go on Thursday, folks around the league will have their eyes glued to the injury report to see updates on Embiid’s status.

Grizzlies’ Kyle Anderson undergoes thoracic outlet decompression surgery

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Kyle Anderson was playing a solid role off the bench for the Grizzlies this season, 8 points and 5.8 rebounds a game, serving as a secondary ball handler and shot creator. Slo-mo was doing his thing.

However, by the end of January, the pain radiating from his shoulder — something he now says he had been playing through for a couple of years — got to be too much. He never played another game after Jan. 30.

Thursday he had thoracic outlet decompression surgery to relieve the problem. Anderson is expected to make a full recovery and be ready to go next training camp.

For comparison, this is the same surgery the Lakers’ Brandon Ingram had.

Anderson is on a very reasonable contract, three years and $28 million remaining. He can be part of what is going to be built in Memphis going forward, but if they are tearing down and rebuilding — meaning a summer trade of Mike Conley — he could bring back assets in a trade.

Either way, he should be healthy and ready to go next summer.

Jerry West on NBA draft: ‘I don’t know how you could pass Zion Williamson’

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A rumor started buzzing around NBA Twitter last week, a second-hand report that NBA legend and Clippers’ consultant Jerry West was praising Murray State guard Ja Morant, saying he would take him in front of the presumptive No. 1 pick Zion Williamson.

The source of that rumor: comedian Jeff Garlin, saying it on the Dan Patrick Show.

Jerry West himself went on the Dan Patrick show Thursday and shot that down saying “it Would Be Like Passing Jordan in the draft.”

Two players were picked in front Jordan in the 1984 Draft. The Houston Rockets took Hakeem Olajuwon, and while Jordan went on to be Jordan nobody can fault the Rockets for how this picked turned out — two titles and a Hall of Fame big man in your organization is an amazing draft.

The one everyone talks about was Portland at No. 2, when executive Stu Inman and coach Jack Ramsey decided they were set on the wing in Clyde Drexler and needed a big man, so they selected Sam Bowie out of Kentucky. Bowie might have had an excellent NBA career if injuries had not plagued him, but he was no Jordan. It’s the ultimate NBA cautionary tale — draft the best player on the board, not according to need.

Williamson is projected by teams as the best player on the board. By far. Even the Morant fans have him a clear second. Plus, Williamson comes in hugely popular and a brand unto himself — he will sell tickets and sponsorships. Not drafting him would be a stupid business decision, not to mention a basketball one.

Whoever lands second in next month’s draft lottery will do well with Morant. Whoever is third will likely get R.J. Barrett out of Duke and… let’s just say that’s where it gets interesting.

Likely top-10 pick Jarrett Culver of Texas Tech declares for NBA draft

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We all knew this was coming, but on Thursday he made it official:

Texas Tech’s Jarrett Culver is declaring for the NBA Draft, where he is expected to be a top-10 pick. He made the announcement at a rally on the Tech campus Thursday, then took his message to social media.

Culver, a 6’6” wing player, passes the eye test for an NBA wing, he can shoot from the outside (he only hit 30.4 percent from three this season, but it was 38 percent the season before and his stroke looks good), he can put the ball on the floor and get inside, and he may have the best feel for the game of any wing prospect in this draft. The only question is athleticism — he’s not a classically explosive, and the NBA is loaded with freak athletes on the wing.

Still, Culvert looks like a rotation wing player with the potential to be more, and that should land him comfortably in the top 10 in this draft (likely 5-8).