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Morning shootaround — March 28


VIDEO: Highlights from Sunday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Bulls’ season on the brink | Blake Griffin’s return date set | Heat want to keep Whiteside, even with price rising | Kobe plans on playing final nine games

No. 1: Bulls’ season on the brink — Three straight losses to sub .500 teams has caused a panic in Chicago, where the hometown Bulls have been struggling with consistency all season. But a team meeting before Sunday’s practice and tonight’s game against the Atlanta Hawks (8 ET, NBA TV) exposed some issues that have plagued the team all season. With their season on the brink, the Bulls finally cleared the air, writes Vince Goodwill of CSNChicago.com:

There’s been a lot of talk and rhetoric in this underwhelming Bulls’ season to date, but perhaps there hasn’t been enough honest and raw communication between the principle parties as things have gone south.

To that end, there was a team meeting before Sunday morning’s practice, following their third straight loss to a sub .500 team, the latest a drubbing at the hands of the Orlando Magic.

There didn’t appear to be any furniture moving or expletive-filled rants by the coaching staff or the players, which one can interpret myriad ways.

“We did get together and talk. That was a big part of what today was about, getting in there and talking about some things and hopefully airing some things out,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “We came out and competed. We got after it in practice, not for long stretches because of our upcoming schedule. But I thought it was a productive day.”

As for the meeting, it seemed to have a measured tone, not necessarily one where guys got after each other for mishaps and mistakes, but presumably there was an air of responsibility for the current state of affairs.

“I don’t know about angry. I think just disappointed,” forward Mike Dunleavy said. “I think we feel like we can play better and win more games. I don’t think we’re a 60-win team or anything, but I think we should have some more wins right now, and probably be in a better position to get into the playoffs. But we are where we are, and we’ve got to make the most of it.”

Hoiberg termed the meeting “productive”, but with the schedule turning more treacherous and the Bulls having squandered a huge opportunity to close the gap on Detroit and Indiana, one has to wonder if it’s too little, too late.

“As always happens in those type of meetings, yeah,” said Hoiberg when asked if voices were raised. “You talk about things and obviously we have a lot to correct right now. We had a three-game win streak and the last three have been very poor performances by our team to say the least. I think it had to be done. And again, I thought it was productive.”


VIDEO: The Game Time crew tackles what’s going on in Chicago

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No. 2: Blake Griffin’s return date set — After months of wondering why his team would look like with a healthy Blake Griffin back in the mix, coach Doc Rivers will find out as early as the weekend. Griffin, who missed 42 games with a torn quad and a broken hand, is scheduled to return to the Los Angeles Clippers’ lineup April 3 after serving a team-imposed four-game suspension. Chris Paul, DeAndre Jordan and the rest of the crew kept the Clippers afloat in his absence, something they’ll have to do again tonight against Boston (10:30 ET, NBA TV). But there is no doubt that Griffin’s return is expected to provide a boost for a team with designs on making noise in the Western Conference playoffs. Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times has more:

A late regular-season game against an Eastern Conference team with a losing record just became one of the hottest tickets on the Clippers’ schedule.

Blake Griffin is expected to make his return April 3, against the Washington Wizards at Staples Center after the Clippers announced Sunday that the power forward had been medically cleared to play and would begin serving a team-imposed, four-game suspension for punching a team assistant equipment manager.

It will be the first of seven games in which Griffin will get to play before the Clippers open the playoffs. Griffin was sidelined since Christmas because of hand and quadriceps injuries before returning to practice Saturday.

Initial reviews of a player who has sat out 42 games were mixed.

“He had no endurance as far as his wind, but as far as just playing basketball, he looked terrific,” Coach Doc Rivers said before the Clippers defeated the Denver Nuggets, 105-90, Sunday at Staples Center. “It’s amazing watching what three months does, though, as far as memory of the sets and the timing. That wasn’t pretty, but overall he looked good.”

Rivers said Griffin would probably remain in the starting lineup.

“It’s how many minutes in a row can he play,” Rivers said. “If you went by [Saturday], it would be three. But hopefully by then he’ll be better. … Honestly, I don’t know if you can get him in condition to play 35 minutes or 30 minutes right away.”

Griffin’s value to the team was evident when the Clippers practiced end-of-game plays Saturday and realized all the ways they could utilize the versatile player.

“Everything is a lot smoother when Blake is on the court,” point guard Chris Paul said. “Just our continuity and the way our offense looks, it just gives our team an ultimate confidence.”

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No. 3:  Heat want to keep Whiteside, even with the price rising — It’s never too early to start planning for free agency and the future. In Miami, that future entails figuring out how to keep Hassan Whiteside in the fold and at what price. Heat boss Pat Riley always has a plan, so it should surprise no one that Whiteside is just one piece to the puzzle. Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald has more:

At one point earlier this calendar year, the Heat had serious concerns about making a huge financial commitment to Hassan Whiteside. But in the Heat’s eyes, Whiteside has helped himself considerably since, and Miami clearly would like to re-sign him this summer.

But the amount the Heat is willing to pay won’t be decided until after the playoffs, and no contract discussions have even begun, because an extension with Whiteside isn’t permitted until the summer, in accordance with league rules prohibiting extensions for players on two-year contracts.

Not only are teammates much happier with Whiteside than ever before, but Pat Riley approached him recently “and told me how proud he was of me and to keep building on that,” Whiteside said. Heat executive Alonzo Mourning expressed similar sentiments.

An opposing NBA general manager told me at the All-Star break that he could see a team paying Whiteside a deal starting at $17 million or $18 million.

Considering his sterling work since the break, and the enormity of cap space in the league this summer, Whiteside could snag a deal at or very near the first-year max, which in his case would be in the $22 million range, depending on the size of the salary cap.

Whiteside said the Heat has given him no indication about its interest in keeping him.

“They haven’t talked about [free agency],” he said. “They want to see how far we get this season with this team. Playoffs will speak a lot.

“I hope [there’s interest]. I like the organization. Pat Riley is always going to do a great job of adding people that are going to help you win. It’s not hard to sell to come to Miami. You can always recruit great talent.”

He said he wants to “win more than anything” and believes he can do that here. “I don’t know too much about free agency yet,” he said. “I’m going to learn, though.”

Whiteside reveres Riley and really likes it here, a friend said. But it’s unrealistic to expect Whiteside to give the Heat a discount.

“It’s going to be very interesting, isn’t it?” Warriors center Andrew Bogut said of Whiteside’s free agency. “You anticipate someone giving him a big deal. Bigs that can block shots these days are very valuable. He’s got an unbelievable body for a basketball player. He hasn’t had an easy journey. You have to respect that.”

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If the Heat can somehow lure Kevin Durant (a long shot), there wouldn’t be enough cap space for Whiteside.

Riley isn’t going to decide how much of this team to keep until he sees how it does in postseason. The odds of the Heat being able to keep everybody aren’t good, but it’s not out of the question.

After initial projections of an $89 million cap, teams are now operating under the belief it would be $92 million, ESPN reported. The Heat is doing projections with the more conservative number, as well.

Taking into account 2016-17 salaries for Chris Bosh, Goran Dragic, Josh McRoberts, Justise Winslowand Josh Richardson and required cap holds for open roster spots, that would leave Miami with just over $40 million in cap space with a $92 million cap.

If the Heat can somehow find a taker for McRoberts without taking money back, cap space could grow to $46 million.

Say, hypothetically, the Heat gives Whiteside $20 million next season.

With a $92 million cap, that would leave $20 million for Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng and Joe Johnson, likely not enough to keep more than Wade and Johnson. But if McRoberts is dealt, that would leave $26 million for Wade/Johnson and either Deng or another player.

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No. 4:  Kobe plans on playing final nine games — There will be no resting in the Los Angeles Lakers’ final nine games of this season, the final nine games of Kobe Bryant’s stellar career in purple and gold. Bryant is adamant about finishing his career this way, fighting through whatever discomfort he’s in and playing out the schedule. It’s as simple as that, writes Baxter Holmes of ESPN.com:

Nine games remain in Kobe Bryant’s 20-season NBA career, and the Los Angeles Lakers star plans to play every one of them.

“Yes, unless something drastic happens, God forbid,” Bryant said Sunday after his team’s 101-88 loss to the Washington Wizards at Staples Center.

“It’s pretty crazy to think. I’ve got four home games left? That’s kind of crazy,” Bryant said. “I didn’t realize that until right before tipoff — five home games left, and now it’s four. That’s pretty crazy.”

The 37-year-old Bryant has missed 16 of his team’s 73 games this season, often sitting out to rest or because of his injury woes, such as a sore right shoulder or a sore right Achilles.

Bryant has missed more home games than road games, as he tries to play in road venues that he won’t visit again. For instance, he plans to play Monday against the Utah Jazz in what will be his final game in Salt Lake City.

“I’ve had a lot of memories there,” Bryant said. “I got beat up a lot there, won a lot there. It’s always been one of my favorite places to play because the crowd is just sitting right on top of you. It’s one of those last arenas where you can really feel the noise. It’s pretty surreal that it’s going to be the last time there.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: If Rajon Rondo has his way, the Dallas Mavericks will “go fishing” at the same time the Sacramento Kings doIsh Smith would love to stick around in Philadelphia but he’ll have his options come summer … Dirk Nowitzki is prepared to play beyond the end of his current deal … From the Not-Exactly-Breaking News files: Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are a sight to beholdNot bad DeAndre Jordan, not bad at allWicked evaluations of Marcus Smart in Boston … It’s been a brutal season for the New York Knicks, but at least Carmelo Anthony has Syracuse (in the Final Four)

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