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Reports: Bulls, Hoiberg nearing deal

UPDATE, 11:07 a.m., June 1: The Chicago Bulls are closing in a deal with Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg and could name him as the successor to Tom Thibodeau as soon as today. CBSSports.com’s Gary Parrish says Hoiberg is expected to travel to Chicago sometime today to put pen to paper:

Fred Hoiberg is expected to travel to Chicago later Monday and finalize a deal to become the next head coach of the Chicago Bulls, a source has told CBSSports.com.

A formal announcement could come as early as Monday night.

An NBA source said the Bulls would like to hold a press conference Tuesday.

CBSSports.com reported last Friday, a day after Chicago fired Tom Thibodeau, that Hoiberg and the Bulls already had what amounted to a “gentleman’s agreement” in place.

K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune reports a deal will be done no later than Wednesday and that star forward Pau Gasol addressed the firing of Thibodeau on his website:

Pau Gasol, who earned his first starting All-Star berth in the first season of his three-year deal with the Bulls, used his blog on his website (www.PauGasol.com) to thank Tom Thibodeau.

“Coach Thibodeau, (I) want to thank your trust and support this season,” Gasol wrote. “I am sure that his departure was a very difficult decision for the organization of the Bulls, but I am convinced that they have a solid plan for the success of the franchise. We all have high expectations for the coming season and will do anything to bring the ring to Chicago. Go Bulls!”

The Bulls are expected to announce Hoiberg’s hiring no later than Wednesday, according to sources.

That will shift at least partial focus to Hoiberg’s staff.

Speaking last week, Forman said the new coach — and Hoiberg obviously has college head coaching experience — will pick his staff.

“Our coaches have the ability to hire who they want to hire, with approval from the front office,” Forman said. “But more times than not, we’re going to be very supportive of who they want on their staff.”

Still, it’s not out of the realm of possibility for management to suggest a veteran coach

(more…)

Reports: Gentry hired as Pelicans coach

The Pelicans have hired Alvin Gentry, an experienced head coach who currently serves as the Warriors’ top assistant, to replace Monty Williams as their new coach, Marc Stein of ESPN.com and other outlets reported.

Gentry has previously been a head coach with the Heat, Pistons, Clippers and Suns, compiling a 335-370 record with a trip to the Western Conference finals in Phoenix in 2010. He was in his first season with the Warriors and figured to be one of the top candidates for openings around the league, with a good reputation around the league boosted by Golden State’s success.

He is scheduled to remain with Steve Kerr and the Warriors through the end of The Finals. That will avoid any disruption for Golden State and still allow Gentry to attend many New Orleans draft workouts and give his opinion prior to the June 25 selections.

Jeff Van Gundy, Tom Thibodeau and Vinny Del Negro were also reportedly candidates for the Pelicans, although the Thibodeau option never gained momentum.

 

Howard upgraded for Game 3 tonight

HOUSTON — The mystery surrounding Dwight Howard’s left knee is all but gone and the only suspense is whether his Rockets can bounce at home tonight from a 2-0 deficit against the Warriors in the Western Conference finals.

There was debate surrounding Howard’s health status until just a few minutes before the opening tip of Game 2 Thursday, but he wound up playing 40 minutes, scoring 19 points and pulling down 17 rebounds.

The 6-foot-11 center, who suffered a first degree sprain of his left knee as the result of a collision with teammate Josh Smith in the series opener, has been upgraded from questionable to probable for Game 3 at Toyota Center and said at the Saturday morning shootaround that he’s pleased with how the injury responded to the playing time and treatment he’s received.

“It felt pretty good,” Howard said. “We were happy about that. I didn’t want to linger throughout the whole playoffs.”

Maybe now Warriors will get more credit for defense

OAKLAND — The value of Draymond Green being named first-team All-Defense and Andrew Bogut making second-team?

“The value for Andrew is $1.9 million,” said their Warriors coach, Steve Kerr.

Yes, there is that. When Bogut finished with the second-most points at center in voting announced Wednesday, behind only DeAndre Jordan of the Clippers, it triggered a $1.935-million bonus in the extension Bogut signed in October 2013. Money matters and it particularly matters to Bogut in this case since he accepted a smaller guarantee in exchange for the possibility of greater incentives.

Beyond that, though, there is the visual of two Warriors making All-Defense, and with Green receiving the second-most votes and Bogut the eighth-most. The Warriors.

Maybe now the lazy narrative will end and people will see Golden State as more than a jump-shooting team that relies solely on out-racing opponents. That has not been the case for years. The Warriors were very good defensively last season, with Mark Jackson as coach, and they were very good again this season, under Kerr, finishing first in defensive rating and first in shooting defense.

The perception value.

“I think it’s just great that our guys were recognized for their efforts,” Kerr said. “The strength of this team, really the last couple of years, not just this year but the last two or three years has been the defense. No. 1 in defensive efficiency this year. Our work in the Memphis series the last three games defensively changed the series. A lot of people talk about us being a jump-shooting team. We are. But all those jump shots are really set up by our defense. Our defense allows us to stay in games like last night, where maybe we’re getting blitzed early, we usually can count on making five or six stops in a row, getting out and running and making some of those jump shots. That balance of the perimeter shooting with really good defense is kind of our identity.”

Trailing only Kawhi Leonard of the Spurs in first-place votes and total points is the latest moment in Green’s push to the forefront that had already included taking over the as the starting power forward after previously playing behind David Lee, finishing second in balloting for Defensive Player of the Year, also behind Leonard, and second for Most Improved Player. The only thing that makes it better is the timing — Green becomes a restricted free agent on July 1.

Bogut’s defense has been an obvious key as Golden State progressed from playoff newcomer in his first full season with the Warriors, 2012-13, to the top-seeded team in the Western Conference this season. Now comes the official acknowledgement.

“Financially it was really good,” he said. “I’m kind of used to kind of always just missing out, playing in Milwaukee for so many years. But it’s nice to be recognized. I really take pride in my defense and I think that’s the main role on my team, is to be a rim protector and to be a good defender. To get recognized for it is good. Hopefully the referees read the All-Defensive teams and I can get a few more calls going my way.”

The All-Defense announcement came the same day Golden State’s Stephen Curry was fined $5,000 by the league for flopping on offense in the fourth quarter of the 110-106 victory Tuesday in the opener of the Western Conference finals.

“These plays happen every day,” Kerr said. “I don’t think a game goes by where Jamal Crawford doesn’t flop six times on his three-point shots. It’s part of the game. And I don’t blame him for doing it because a lot of times the refs call it. Russell Westbrook does it. Everybody does it. To all of the sudden just randomly to fine Steph just seems kind of strange. Are we just choosing one time to do this? You can pick out flops every single game, half the guys out on the floor. It just seems sort of random.”

 

New stats tools helpful in heralding league’s defensive best

Capturing defensive value and impact through analytics, most NBA numbers-crunchers will acknowledge, still is pretty challenging. Compared to how those folks feel about their ability to track, measure and assess a player’s or team’s offensive components, the other side of the ball remains an inexact science.

But the NBA clearly is trying, as evidence by the supporting info provided with the release of its All-Defensive teams for 2014-15.

Consider what was noted about San Antonio forward Kawhi Leonard‘s finish as the first team’s top vote-getter. The league’s release read:

Leonard teamed with [Tim] Duncan to help San Antonio hold opponents below 100 points per game (97.0) for the 20th consecutive season. Leonard averaged career highs of 5.9 defensive rebounds and a league-leading 2.31 steals for the Spurs, who were 5.1 points better per 100 possessions on defense when he was on the floor than when he was off the floor, according to NBA.com/stats.

Most of those are old-school stats, no big deal. But the use of defensive rating and on/off numbers is an indication that even the so-called expert voters don’t have to guess, go by reputation or rely solely on anecdotal observations anymore.

Similar numbers were invoked supporting Golden State’s Draymond Green and Memphis’ Tony Allen as elite defenders:

The Warriors allowed a league-low 98.2 points per 100 possessions, a defensive rating that dropped to 96.0 with Green on the court and increased to 102.1 with him off the court. Memphis’ defensive rating was 8.7 points better with Allen on the floor (94.9 per 100 possessions) than with him off the floor (103.6 per 100 possessions). Green ranked 14th in the NBA in defensive rebounding (6.7 per game), and Allen finished third in steals (2.05 per game).

Also of interest in the announcement of the honors was the order of finish. The top three finishers in DPOY balloting – Leonard, Green and the Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan – all made the first team, but because positions are specified on the all-defensive ballots, Allen actually had the third-most points. First-team votes count two points and second-team votes count one.

With four guard spots available vs. two center spots, Allen had a better chance to appear on more ballots overall. Allen received 88 firsts and 31 seconds for 207 points, while Jordan went 84-19-187.

None of the breaks between first-team and second-team selections, or second-team and “others,” was close on points. But there were a couple quirky finishes. For instance, LeBron James received six first-place votes at forward to Duncan’s five, but missed a second-team forward spot on points, 64-47. Russell Westbrook got 13 first-place votes at guard, more than John Wall‘s seven, but also lost on points, 67-35.

Finally lucky, next challenge for Timberwolves is to be smart


VIDEO: Wolves owner Glen Taylor on winning top pick

It’s better to be lucky than good, the saying goes. But once lucky, it helps to be smart if one hopes to get or stay good.

That’s nobody’s saying, actually, but it is the challenge now facing the Minnesota Timberwolves and specifically Flip Saunders. Saunders, the team’s president of basketball operations, a part-owner and the Wolves head coach, got lucky at the NBA Draft lottery Tuesday night largely by being the opposite of good. The Wolves were b-b-b-b-bad to the bone this season, diving to the bottom of the league’s standings (16-66) with the single-mindedness of a bomb squad. They got rewarded when their 4-to-1 bet came in.

Now Minnesota not only has the No. 1 pick in the 2015 Draft for the first time in its 26-year franchise history, it likely will become the first team in NBA annals to have on its roster the three most recent No. 1 picks overall: Anthony Bennett (2013), Andrew Wiggins (’14) and either Jahlil Okafor or Karl-Anthony Towns, the two big men projected as this year’s top prospects.

All of which guarantees nothing. Since 1995, only two of the 20 players taken No. 1 overall have won NBA championships: Tim Duncan (1997, five) and LeBron James (2003, two). Eight never made it to an All-Star Game (six if you don’t count youngsters Bennett and Wiggins).

Stockpiling top picks is less important, it seems, than seeing talent and fit where others do not with later picks. It’s a formula executed masterfully by San Antonio and, as Britt Robson of MinnPost.com points out in a piece citing past misguided Wolves decisions, it looks to be working well for current title favorite Golden State:

It is by now an infamous part of Wolves lore that the team passed on Golden State guard and reigning MVP Stephen Curry (twice!) in the 2009 draft, taking Ricky Rubio with the fifth pick and Jonny Flynn with the sixth before the Warriors gleefully snapped up Curry.

But it is more instructive to look beyond Curry on the Golden State roster to appreciate how shrewd drafting fostered the 67-win team that now leads Houston in the conference finals and is the favorite to become NBA champions this season. You can go back to 2005, when the Warriors plucked Monte Ellis in the second round with the 40th overall pick. Seven years later, Ellis had become such a dynamic scorer that Golden State offered him as the main bauble in a five-player deal that enabled them to acquire Andrew Bogut, the top pick in 2005 and a current anchor of their low post defense.

Or go to the 2011 draft, when the Warriors, choosing eleventh, grabbed the shooting guard, Klay Thompson, who made Ellis expendable. The Timberwolves picked second in that draft and chose forward Derrick Williams, who was traded away for peanuts (specifically, Luc Mbah a Moute, who lasted 55 games in Minnesota) two years later.

Then slide up a year to the 2012 draft. The Warriors took their current starting small forward, Harrison Barnes, with the seventh pick. They acquired their current backup center, Festus Ezeli, with the 30th pick. And they grabbed their current power forward, Draymond Green — who just finished second in the NBA Defensive Player of the Year voting — with the 35th pick in the second round.

After recounting Minnesota’s sorry history of botched personnel calls, Robson snaps back to the present. On the heels of two fortunate outcomes – getting Wiggins last summer for one final season of Kevin Love and landing the No. 1 pick next month – he says it’s now on Saunders to maximize return from draft positions where hard work and keen eyes get rewarded against long odds. Specifically, the Wolves need to upgrade from dead last in 3-point attempts and 25th in accuracy.

In his season-ending meeting, Saunders himself brought up the need to become better from long range, and, in answer to my question, said that one of the later draft picks could be a good way to remedy that need. The Wolves currently own the first pick in the second round (31st overall), as well as the 36th overall pick, acquired in the Corey Brewer trade.

[Curry] is the reigning MVP, and had a wonderful game in Tuesday night’s win over Houston. But the most important player on the floor was …Green, the 35th pick in 2012, who keyed the surge with his defense and quickness after Golden State went to a smaller lineup.

Saunders and the Wolves have been uncommonly bold and uncommonly lucky in the past twelve months. At this propitious moment, it is time for this franchise to be uncommonly smart with all of the resources at its disposal.

NBA’s Frantic Four trying to change history


VIDEO: Relive the biggest moments from the semifinals

There’s no official and catchy distinction for the last teams standing in the NBA semifinals, no Final Four or Frozen Four or anything like that, but here’s one that might best describe the Golden State Warriors, Cleveland Cavaliers, Atlanta Hawks and Houston Rockets: Frantic Four.

Yes, there’s more than a sense of desperation. These are four franchises that haven’t won an NBA title in a combined 162 years. Not since 1958 for the Hawks (based in St. Louis then), since 1975 for the Warriors, since 1995 for the Rockets and since, like, never for the Cavs. There are adult fans of those teams who’ve never known the thrill of the ultimate victory or seen a parade or felt the need to brag. In the case of the Hawks, they’ve never been to the East finals before, and once they beat the Wizards last week and advanced, Atlanta nearly reacted as though it won a real championship.

And so, with regard to these four teams searching for a change of fate, we examine their level of desperation for this 2015 title and rank them accordingly.

No. 4: Houston Rockets


VIDEO: Houston wraps up its second championship in 1995

In the midst of a celebration in June of 1995, Rudy Tomjanovich grabbed the mic and uttered one of the most memorable lines in NBA history: “Don’t ever underestimate the heart of a champion.” Rudy T was tweaking those who thought the Rockets were too old to repeat, which they did, but it’s been a 20-season long dry spell since. Evidently, everyone correctly estimated the staying power of the Rockets.

That two-time championship team died gradually. The Rockets tried to tape it together with an old and broken down Charles Barkley and that crew eventually made the 1997 West finals. But they had to watch as John Stockton sank a buzzer-beating 3-pointer in Game 6 (in Barkley’s face) to send the Utah Jazz to The Finals. Then, in the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season, they added another dinosaur: Scottie Pippen. Within four years, all of the important pieces of the championship era were gone, including Hakeem Olajuwon, looking grotesquely out of place in a purple jersey with a cheesy reptile in Toronto.

Houston did give it another go with Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming, but injuries kept interrupting their time together and the Rockets advanced beyond the first round only once.

Since 1995, the Rockets have basically been a mixed bag, reaching the West finals once and then being mercifully teased by the T-Mac-and-Yao era. GM Daryl Morey then stole James Harden from OKC and signed Dwight Howard as a free agent and, well, here they are. In that span, they moved to a state-of-the-art downtown arena (Toyota Center) and enjoyed big crowds. Not exactly the picture of doom, which means, life without a title hasn’t been totally dreadful. (more…)

Gibson-Dellavedova ruckus rocks The Q


VIDEO: GameTime crew breaks down Gibson-Dellavedova altercation

CLEVELAND – Taj Gibson said he gave Matthew Dellavedova a look before things really got out of hand Tuesday night. “A look like, ‘What are you doin’, this is basketball, this isn’t wrestling,’ ” the Chicago Bulls forward said.

Didn’t matter. Within minutes, Gibson had been banished from the court at Quicken Loans Arena and had a towel thrown at him as he headed through a tunnel, exiting in a clamor worthy of a World Wrestling villain.

A ruckus that started with Gibson and Dellavedova, the Cleveland Cavaliers’ backup point guard, rapidly engulfed both teams and the sellout crowd early in the fourth quarter. Gibson and Dellavedova had banged a couple of times already, colliding in pick-and-roll switches and vying for rebounds, when it happened again with 10:25 remaining

The 6-foot-9, 238-pound Gibson pushed down Dellavedova, who stands 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds. Lying face down under the basket, the Cavs guard sended Gibson’s left leg between his, down near his ankles. So he clamped down, making it difficult for the Bulls player to move.

That’s when Gibson, claiming only to be freeing his leg, jerked his foot loose in what, in the primary camera’s view, appeared to be a swift kick to Dellavedova’s backside (or undercarriage).

Or as LeBron James, who was watching from the Cleveland bench, described it: “They kind of get tangled up a little bit, and then [Taj] kicks him in the ass. That’s what happened. And the skirmish starts after that.”

Gibson’s version differed considerably.

“I didn’t kick him at all,” he said. “He just leg-locked me. It got chippy at the end, of course. I tried to pull my leg back. It looked like I kicked him from the way and the force I was pulling my leg out, but … I have to deal with the consequences. They ejected me. I have to deal with whatever the league passes out. But I didn’t kick him at all.”

Gibson was assessed a flagrant-2 type foul, which carries an automatic ejection. The Cavaliers, with their fans fully engaged, rode the emotions of the moment to a little spurt that put them up 92-77 before James re-entered.

But Chicago righted itself enough to outscore Cleveland 24-14 the rest of the way, in spite of going down a second big man (Pau Gasol sat out his second consecutive game in the series with a strained left hamstring.)

“Both teams kind of swarmed the situation and made it bigger than what it was,” Gibson said. “Nobody threw any punches. I’m just sad I couldn’t finish the game and help my team.

“I mean, I didn’t say anything to him. We all react. But this is basketball – we can’t fight. I don’t know why guys always take to that kind of fuss, like they’re gonna do something. I just tried to pull my leg back. When you’re on TV, everything always looks different. But I just try to play basketball. I’m just frustrated I couldn’t finish the game.”

Gibson downplayed a hard screen he had set on Dellavedova to start the play and didn’t ‘fess up to any extra contact when shoving him for rebound position. The Cavs guard does tend to bounce around with kinetic energy, so it wasn’t clear if his reactions to Gibson’s bumps were entirely legit or accentuated.

But James felt Gibson had set the tone on a previous Aaron Brooks-Gibson pick-and-roll.

“It was a couple plays before that that kind of transpired that. Taj threw Delly across the lane a few plays before that on another box-out,” James said. “The same thing happened again: They ran a high pick-and-roll … and we switched. Taj elbows Delly in the back of the head and puts him on the ground.”

And that, James said, was when Gibson kicked his teammate.

Referee Joey Crawford assessed the flagrant-2 foul, reviewing the play while the crowd saw it five or six times on the massive videoboard at The Q – and reacted angrily with each replay of the alleged kick.

Gibson didn’t have much time to give his version to the referees. “Once that official makes a decision, that’s what it is,” he said. “It was really hard to get an explanation when it’s so loud in there. And we’ve got our security, Eric Buck, he just grabbed me and we tried to get off the court in a timely fashion.”

James said he made sure that no Cavs players left the bench area, which by NBA rules would bring certain suspensions from the hotly contested playoff series.

James added: “We just want to play ball. We know there’s going to be some games where it’s going to be physical. My message to my guys is, just play basketball. We’re going to protect ourselves, obviously. J.R. [Smith], Double-T [Tristan Thompson], they all came to the aid of Delly.”

Dellavedova is one of James’ favorite teammates, so the superstar’s protectiveness of his underdog Australian hustle player was understandable.

“Anyone who starts something with Delly, seriously, Delly doesn’t bother anybody,” James said. “He doesn’t even bother himself, so how’s he going to bother somebody else?”

Gasol out, Irving in as Bulls, Cavs cope

CLEVELAND – The cautious route vs. the gutsy route: the Chicago Bulls and the Cleveland Cavaliers were taking different paths toward the same desired destination, a spot in the Eastern Conference finals, in some key players’ handling of injuries.

The Bulls went into Game 5 at Quicken Loans Arena Tuesday night without All Star big man Pau Gasol for the second consecutive game due to a strained left hamstring. The Cavaliers, meanwhile, were counting on an increasingly gimpy Kyrie Irving, whose sprained right foot has led to a sore left knee since he began favoring the initial injury.

Gasol, 34, stretched and tested his left leg Tuesday morning before the Bulls’ shootaround and was only able to run at about “40 percent” effort, he said. Still to come: running at full speed, changing directions, jumping and exploding off that leg.

“Still some stuff I need to get done in the next 48 hours to be able to play an NBA game,” Gasol said. “I feel it’s improving. We’re doing everything we can to get me on the floor as soon as possible.

“By the tests that we did, clinically, it’s not a terrible strain. Otherwise it would put me out for a while. … Right now we’re just staying positive. Everyone’s working hard so I can be out there the sooner the better. Because we’re in an urgency situation.”

Gasol said he suffered hamstring strains – one per leg – twice previously in his 14-year career. One put him out for a month, the other sidelined him for two-and-a-half weeks. This one, which he first noticed in Game 2 and aggravated in Game 3, comes at an especially inconvenient time.

“Very difficult,” Gasol said of sitting on the side while the Bulls try to win the best-of-seven series against the Cavaliers. “Not to play at this time when we need everyone on the floor that we can possibly have, this is hard. I feel I can make a difference on the floor and help the team have a better chance.”

Irving, 23, feels the same way and is playing through his foot and knee discomfort. Cleveland’s All-Star point guard has left no wiggle room in recent days – he was playing, not sitting – so it would seem to fall to coach David Blatt, his staff and the Cavs’ medical staff to make sure a) Irving isn’t doing further damage, and b) his limitations aren’t hurting the team on the floor.

“I really feel we have been as conscious and as considerate of his physical state as possible,” Blatt said before the game Tuesday. “If [Kyrie] said to me, ‘I can’t go’ or ‘I don’t feel I can do this,’ we would be the last people to push him to do so. The results of his tests are such that, he has issues but they’re not issues that endanger him in terms of being injured going forward.”

Some diminished contribution from Irving still is better, apparently, than what some different but totally healthy Cleveland player can give them.

“His best in the worst of conditions is invaluable to us and we want to get that from him,” Blatt said. “I’m not going to stop playing him just because perhaps he’s not playing at 100 percent of his normal level. Because still what he’s giving us is extremely important to us.

“I won’t play him if he’s too badly hurt. Or if we’re in a situation where it endangers him going forward.”

Cavs turn to Thompson, Bulls prepared


VIDEO: Tristan Thompson won’t confirm he is starting Game 2

CLEVELAND – Tristan Thompson, who finished fifth in balloting for the NBA’s Kia Sixth Man Award as Cleveland’s first big man off the bench, will move into Cavaliers’ starting lineup for Game 2 against Chicago Wednesday, according to multiple reports.

The No. 1 problem facing the Cavaliers and coach David Blatt in their Eastern Conference semifinals series against the Bulls is plugging the lineup hole opened by Kevin Love‘s postseason-ending shoulder injury. Thompson is a logical choice – he ranked fourth on the team in minutes logged this season and played 37 minutes off the bench in Game 1 Monday.

Blatt started veteran wing player Mike Miller in that one, but Miller took only two shots, hit one, scored three points with five rebounds and was a minus-19 in 16 minutes. The other two veterans Blatt used in that rotation, James Jones and Shawn Marion, went scoreless in a combined 14-plus minutes.

At 6-foot-8 and 225 pounds, Thompson gives Cleveland a more traditional look up front, while freeing LeBron James from having to guard one of Chicago’s bigs. James prefers more freedom and less banging at that end, and the move meshes with what many expect to see a more offensively assertive Cavs superstar.

“The thing is, [Thompson] played 37 minutes in the last game, so we have an idea of who he is and how he fits in,” Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau said. “They can play him at the five, play him at the four. And because of all the things LeBron can do, that gives them great flexibility. Obviously the biggest concern will be the rebounding aggression.”

With 274 offensive rebounds in 2014-15, Thompson ranked fifth in the NBA, and he was fourth in offensive rebound percentage (14.5). In four games against Chicago, he averaged 9.0 points – his 36 points were only seven fewer than Love scored against the Bulls – and 8.4 rebounds.

Cleveland was 5-10 in the games Thompson started this season.

“The thing with Thompson,” Thibodeau said, “the second shots can really hurt you. And then they don’t play conventional after that. We could see the second lineup with all guards.”