Bulls’ Pau Gasol voted all-star starter

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Pau Gasol has been voted an all-star starter. | Associated Press

Pau Gasol’s first season with the Bulls has gone better than anybody expected. On Thursday he was rewarded.

Before the Bulls’ game Thursday against the San Antonio Spurs, Gasol was announced as one of the Eastern Conference’s three front-court starters. Gasol, 34, entered the day second on the Bulls with 18.7 points per game and while leading them with an average of 11.4 rebounds.

“(Getting voted in) means you get the appreciation and admiration of the fans that want to see you there,” Gasol said. “To be one of the fan favorites, I think it’s another big honor and great recognition, so I’m excited about it.”

His 24 double-doubles led the NBA, and on Jan. 10 his 46-point, 18-rebound game against Milwaukee was the NBA’s first 46-18 performance in almost four years.

The all-star appearance will be Gasol’s fifth, and first since 2011. It will also be his first appearance as a starter after garnering 974,177 votes.

“I think he’s earned it. I think he’s played at an extremely high level the entire season,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “He’s been strong on both sides of the ball.”

Gasol signed a three-year contract with the Bulls in July, leaving the Lakers after spending parts of seven seasons in Los Angeles. One of the teams that courted Gasol was the Spurs, and though coach Gregg Popovich was disappointed to lose him, he has no problems with the veteran’s new home.

“I’m thrilled he’s in the East,” Popovich said. “We tried to convince him to come to San Antonio and he chose Chicago. He made a good choice. He fits right.

“If we weren’t going to get him I certainly didn’t want to see him on another team in the West, that’s for sure.”

Gasol will start for the East alongside LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, John Wall and Kyle Lowry at the Feb. 15 all-star game in New York. He and Memphis’ Marc Gasol will become the first pair of brothers to start on opposing teams in an all-star game.

“Just very fortunate to be able to experience this and get this type of recognition,” Gasol said.

Jimmy Butler finished fifth among Eastern Conference guards with 455,756 votes, slightly ahead of sixth-place Derrick Rose’s 379,994.

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