NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: Bulls GM hasn’t ruled out re-signing Deng — A few weeks ago, Bulls GM Gar Forman was quoted by both ESPN.com and Bulls.com as saying he doesn’t plan to tinker with the team’s roster too much in the wake of Derrick Rose‘s season-ending injury. While Forman can’t control if players end up in trade rumors (as has been the case of late with Luol Deng), he can support them as best he can. Deng, who will be a free agent this summer, is part of the Bulls’ future and Forman is hoping he and Deng can come to an agreement on a deal, writes Nick Fridell of ESPNChicago.com:
General manager Gar Forman is still hopeful the Chicago Bulls can work out an extension with Luol Deng.
“We value Luol a lot,” Forman said on “The Waddle & Silvy Show” Tuesday on ESPN Chicago 1000. “And Luol is a big piece of the success we’ve had the last several years though we haven’t gotten to our ultimate goal. We think Luol is going to continue to be a big piece, a big part of what we’re doing. I know a lot was said about that we couldn’t come to an extension last summer but if you guys really study the NBA, especially since this new CBA — going into the CBA and since the new CBA has been in effect, it’s very, very rare that extensions get done so the fact that one didn’t get done was not an indicator of where we’re at with Luol at all.”
Deng, who is in the final year of his contract, couldn’t get an extension worked out last summer. He told ESPN.com’s Chris Broussard earlier this year that he would like to retire as a Bull but his name has surfaced as a possible trade target given the fact that the Bulls’ championship aspirations evaporated when Derrick Rose went down with another knee injury.
“Lu is valued here and continues to be a big part of what we’re doing,” Forman said. “Obviously once we get into the offseason we’re going to have to sit down with Luol and have to come to terms on another contract, but Luol is a big piece of what we’re doing, and he has been, and our feeling is he’ll continue to be.”
No. 2: No timetable for Kirilenko’s return to Nets — Of the 18 games the Nets have played so far, offseason free-agent addition Andrei Kirilenko has played in just five of those games. Back spasms have kept the multifaceted forward out of Brooklyn’s lineup and continue to be a problem for him. Worse yet for the Nets is that neither he nor the team have any idea when he’ll play again, writes Mike Mazzeo of ESPNNewYork.com:
Two epidurals and three setbacks later, Brooklyn Nets forward Andrei Kirilenko still has no timetable for when he will return to the lineup.
Kirilenko has already missed 13 games this season because of back spasms.
“I’m afraid of giving a timetable, because in the previous occasions, we’ve given a timetable, but it doesn’t work,” Kirilenko said.
Kirilenko said this time he needs to take more time off before returning to full contract practice.
“What I’m doing right now is a lot of physical therapy and kind of strengthening the core,” Kirilenko said.
“Right now I’m just thinking everyday I’m gradually getting better and better. It’s just frustrating because there’s a lot of games and you want to play but you’re missing so much.”
N0. 3: GM Hinkie changes mindset in Philly — A look at the standings this morning, like most mornings, finds the Philadelphia 76ers within striking distance of a playoff berth. Despite a front-office and roster overhaul in the offseason, the Sixers continue to stay in the thick of things in the East thanks to a philosophy focused on the science of winning games that has been driven by new GM Sam Hinkie. Tom Sunnergren of ESPN.com has a great piece looking at how Hinkie has worked to set a new groundwork for success in Philly:
When Sixers owner Josh Harris sat behind a podium at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine on May 14 and told the world that he’d hired then-Rockets assistant general manager Sam Hinkie to run his franchise, it represented a stunning about-face for the organization. In the course of a month, Doug Collins and the Doug Collins Philosophy of Basketball — the 76ers’ face and animating force the previous three seasons — had been repudiated with breathtaking swiftness. With a single hire, an organization that was as mired in traditional thinking as any in the sport had suddenly and completely devoted itself to a bold new pursuit: mastering the science of winning basketball games.
Hinkie, a Daryl Morey acolyte who quietly made a name for himself in league circles as perhaps the most probabilistic thinker in a singularly rational Houston front office, threw down the gauntlet almost immediately. On draft night, in his first meaningful move as general manager, Hinkie traded his best player (or at least the player widely believed to be his best) in exchange for a significantly more valuable asset: a future. In return for Jrue Holiday, the rookie GM landed Nerlens Noel (the consensus No. 1 prospect in the run-up to the 2013 draft), a top-five protected pick in 2014 that’s likely to wind up in the lottery and substantially improved odds of gaining a top selection with his team’s own pick in the same heralded draft. The move was a game-changer.
The stark changes have extended to in-game strategy, as well. The 76ers’ shot charts between this season and last don’t look anything alike. A Philadelphia team that, under Collins, led the NBA in 16- to 23-foot shots in 2012-13 with 24 a game (deepening the self-inflicted wound, the team was only 28th in field goal percentage from this range), now leads the league in attempts from within 5 feet of the basket and places 12th in 3-pointers attempted.
When asked how conscious the decision to move away from the midrange game was, Hinkie was blunt. “Conscious,” he said with a smirk. “I don’t have a good scale for degrees of consciousness, but it’s something our coaches have focused on.”
And while up-tempo basketball has become something of an analytic shibboleth, the previously sluggish Sixers are leading the NBA in pace of play, using 102 possessions per 48 minutes, almost 10 more per game than they used in 2012-13.
The Sixers were one of the first 15 subscribers to SportVU, the camera systems that capture player movement and turn it into actionable data, and have since been installed in every NBA arena. While the organization has been tight-lipped about how precisely this intel influences its X’s and O’s, Hinkie admits to being an enthusiast, and one of the earliest adopters, of the technology. “We [in Houston] were customer zero,” he told a group of bloggers at an October breakfast.
“It’s like a lot of competitive environments,” he said of the NBA. “There’s an advantage, and then it goes away quickly. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t new ones. You have to find new ones.”
The team’s methodical approach to training is complemented by a new and unique emphasis on nutrition. While the players don’t have strictly individualized diets prescribed to them by the team, they are grouped into several nutritional tiers based on their body-mass index and body fat percentage.
Both the emphasis on fitness and nutrition have the full-throated support of the coach Hinkie hired, Brett Brown, and the staff the organization built around him. Everyone in Philadelphia is pulling in the same direction.
Brown worked closely with the Australian Institute of Sport during his time as coach of the country’s national team and spoke glowingly of its methods after he was hired to lead the 76ers. “You look at cutting-edge technology that comes out of sports science and the [Australian] Institute of Sport is among the leaders around the world, very globally recognized as cutting edge … My main influence is what went on at the Olympics and at the Institute of Sport and my earlier days [in Australia].” During Brown’s stint in San Antonio, the Spurs became one of the first NBA teams to start using Catapult.
Brown’s staff is like-minded, brought in from organizations that are among the most forward thinking in the sport. Chad Iske and Vance Walberg came over from Denver, Lloyd Pierce from the Grizzlies and Billy Lange from a Villanova basketball program that places a premium on science. This isn’t an accident, Hinkie explained. “We’ve come from similar environments,” the GM said. “Our coaches all come from environments where they value [analytic thinking], and that’s why they’re here. … This is natural for a lot of people in our office. Because of where they’ve been. Because of what they’ve been doing.”
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Long-limbed Bucks rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo isn‘t done growing and will likely one day be a 7-footer … Former Sixers forward Royce White is optimistic he’ll get another shot in the NBA … Nuggets center Timofey Mozgov has earned minutes and the trust of coach Brian Shaw …
ICYMI Of The Night: This is what makes NBA players so great: they make shots in games that most of us can’t even make when goofing around at the local court …