Posts Tagged ‘Chicago Bulls’

Time for Butler and Rose to prove, or build, their on-court chemistry


VIDEO: How does Jimmy Butler’s reported deal help the Bulls’ future?

CHICAGO – Jimmy Butler got a lot of mileage, and an even bigger pile of moolah, from gambling on himself last season with the Chicago Bulls.

From this point forward – from the moment he signs that five-year, $95 million contract he reportedly accepted Wednesday when NBA free agency began – it’s the Bulls and their fans who are gambling on Butler.

So he might as well stop now with the “basketball’s just a day job” statement he tosses around a couple times in a RollingStone.com interview posted Thursday. And he needs to get a whole lot more convincing that the relationship between Bulls backcourt mate Derrick Rose and himself is solid enough, professional enough, to get Chicago’s NBA entry where it wants to go.

Butler’s most pertinent comments were what he said about published reports that he and Rose were at odds last season in what some felt was a battle over pecking order within the team.

Here’s what Butler, in the interview conducted after the Bulls’ postseason but before his free agency, told RollingStone.com:

“I don’t think we have any issues. I think we’re fine. I think we’re two basketball players that want to win games. That’s where I’ll leave it at. I think we just wanna win, bring a championship the city, to the organization. I think that’s our job. And I think we’re gonna do whatever it takes to make that happen. I have a lot of respect for the guy.”

Before we parse that, some context: Rose still is the darling of many Chicagoans, a native of the city’s South Side who established himself soon after he arrived in 2008 as the Bulls’ best player since Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen by becoming the youngest MVP in league history in 2011. Three knee surgeries and 185 missed games over the past three seasons allowed Butler to develop into the team’s most impactful player.

Rose’s rehabs and Butler’s own injuries have limited their time together on the court – they have teamed in only 53 games, with the Bulls going 33-20. Butler had a breakout 2014-15, earning an All-Star selection and Kia Most Improved Player Award honors while Rose played inconsistently and missed 31 games.

In Chicago’s two rounds against Milwaukee and Cleveland, Butler averaged 22.9 points on 17.8 field-goal attempts while Rose averaged 20.3 on 19.6. In their Game 6 elimination by the Cavaliers in May, a noticeably passive Rose took only four shots after halftime and scored two points in 17 minutes compared to Butler’s 12 shots and eight points in almost 22 minutes.

The reports of friction surfaced soon thereafter. General manager Gar Forman addressed them on Draft night (“I’ve read about the friction. I haven’t seen it”) without quelling any.

So what should people make of Butler’s “I don’t think we have any issues. I think we’re fine” comment? Or his “I think we’re two basketball players that want to win games. That’s where I’ll leave it at” remark? While he also said he never read the reports – healthy enough, given what passes for media these days – he stopped well short of a full-throated condemnation, not to mention expressions of camaraderie with Rose.

Was it an indication that Butler doesn’t enjoy playing alongside Rose? Was it a hint that whatever chafing might exist is coming from Rose’s direction rather than his own? There’s not enough there to work with and, frankly, any sweeping pronouncements now might ring hollow until all concerned step on the Advocate Center practice court.

But the bottom line for Chicago’s NBA fans is, there’s no time and even less tolerance for any high-school stuff. If the Bulls’ window as an Eastern Conference contender is still open at all, it’s an opening that’s narrowing. Rookie coach Fred Hoiberg is going to have plenty to do without coddling Butler and Rose into playing nice together. If Walt Frazier and Earl Monroe could manage to mesh their way to a Knicks title back in the day, if Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook find enough basketball to get all the way to The Finals, Rose and Butler can.

Butler’s emergence is what the Bulls have been hoping for – and what Rose long has needed: a backcourt sidekick with game and ability to lessen his load offensively and handle defensively perimeter players Rose can’t. Butler, meanwhile, has spent four seasons doing terrific work, yet almost everything he’s achieved has felt like a bonus. Now those things and more are expected – and they’re being paid for at top dollar.

So toying with a music-and-culture journalists about hanging with Mark Wahlberg, wanting to impress Taylor Swift with his singing voice and portraying himself only as a basketball player by day is fine in July. Butler is known within the Bulls as a fun-loving cut-up and he seems playful in the interview overall. After his hard-knocks upbringing in Tomball, Texas, and No. 30 selection out of Marquette as the final first-round pick in 2011, he has earned the right to walk through a few new doors opened to him.

But focusing on the untapped promise not just of himself but the Bulls overall, and building the chemistry with Rose (vice versa) needed for them to function nightly as one of the NBA’s elite backcourts has to be a 24/7 commitment. It need not wait till training camp, either.

The Bulls gambled on Rose to the tune of five years and $94.3 million right after his MVP season, and largely have lost on that deal. It’s on Butler to see that it doesn’t happen again, especially for some silly reasons.

Blogtable: Assessing the 2015 Draft

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Where are these 5 going? | Best/worst free-agent move ahead? | Assessing 2015 Draft



VIDEORelive all 30 picks from the first round of the 2015 Draft

> Let’s wrap up the Draft: Which lottery player is in the best position to make an instant impact next season? Which one is in the worst? And give us a later pick (say after No. 20) who you think will impress in 2015-16?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Jahlil Okafor will help Philadelphia immediately, in my view. He’s not coming in for a redshirt year like Nerlens Noel or Joel Embiid. He has low-post scoring potential straight out of the box and seems to bring maturity that will help him transition to NBA life. I don’t like sticking anyone with “worst,” so I’ll just say I’m leery of Kristaps Porzingis’ “hip stiffness.” If that costs him his summer league training and lingers into the season, we might be looking at an unplanned “redshirt” sort of year. Among later picks, I sense Chicago will give No. 22 Bobby Portis every opportunity to succeed, given rehabbing holdovers in the Bulls’ frontcourt (Taj Gibson, Joakim Noah) and an organizational desire to turn the page on the Tom Thibodeau era. Portis seems quite confident and one of those “sponge” learners.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Karl-Anthony Towns is the class of 2015 and fits in perfectly with Andrew Wiggins and shows immediately that the Timberwolves are most definitely on course to eventually be contenders.  Even though Kristaps Porzingas is the right pick in the right place at the right time, New York fans and media will make his life miserable if the 19-year-old doesn’t produce like he’s 29 right away.  Down at the bottom of the draft, Bobby Portis is a skilled big man who’ll make the Bulls stronger up front.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comFirst of all, the draft is never wrapped up. How dare you suggest otherwise. There is no avoiding the truth. Don’t even try. But anyway…. Emmanual Mudiay in Denver and Willie Cauley-Stein in Sacramento are in the best position to make an immediate impact, WCS because he is close to NBA ready after three seasons and Mudiay because he will have that much of an opportunity. He could be the opening-night starter. The Nuggets may give him the ball with instructions to make something happen. The inexperience will be obvious at times, and he is not at the top of any grouping of NBA-ready, but other rookies will dream of the immediate job description. The worst position for an immediate impact? Myles Turner with the Pacers. I think Turner will end up having a nice, long career. He will be good. But he needs time. Much of his situation, though, will depend on what happens with Roy Hibbert and/or David West. That will determine whether Indiana needs bigs to step in or whether Indy will continue to rely on the veterans for another season. Two names for the after-20 crowd: Justin Anderson with the Mavericks and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson with the Nets.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comNot exactly going out on a limb, but it’s hard to imagine Karl-Anthony Towns not having an impact when he’ll be guaranteed heavy minutes and responsibility in Minnesota from day one. In Utah, where the Jazz are pretty set at power forward with Derrick Favors, Trey Lyles might find it hard to get playing time right away. As for the sleeper, I’m gonna cheat and nominate the 19th pick. Jerian Grant is a straight-up baller and should get ample opportunity with the talent-starved Knicks.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: A few guys will have an opportunity to play and put up decent numbers. Jahlil Okafor is one of those guys, but he could make an impact in the standings as well. The Sixers were the worst offensive team in the league by a very wide margin last season, so someone who can put the ball in the basket and draw a double-team will make an impact. Kristaps Porzingis, however, looks like he will need time, which Carmelo Anthony doesn’t have. The timelines of the two most important players on the roster don’t match up, and if the Knicks get a couple of bigs in free agency, Porzingis might not develop very quickly. Justin Anderson is the late first-rounder (21st to Dallas) who could look pretty good this year. He’s a three-year college guy who’s ready to contribute and could have an opportunity if Monta Ellis signs elsewhere.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Justise Winslow and Stanley Johnson have the best opportunities for instant impact because of their skill sets and the need for what they bring to their respective situations. I feel for Kristaps Porzingis … there’s just no way he can escape the pressure of New York. And I like R.J. Hunter as the late pick who will impress in the 2015-16 season. Shooters with ridiculous range always make us take notice. But he’s much more than just a shooter and he’ll be a nice fit for a Celtics team that needs someone to help space the floor.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: D’Angelo Russell is going to be Rookie of the Year: He will fill a huge need for the Lakers, who will be reducing Kobe Bryant’s minutes and weaning him (as best they can) off the ball. Cameron Payne was drafted into a terrific situation with Oklahoma City, but if we’re taking about making an instant impact then we’re probably asking too much. The Thunder are going to be trying to win a championship next season, and rookie backups usually don’t play crucial roles on teams with such high aspirations. R.J. Hunter (No. 28 to Boston) will fill the Celtics’ instant need for shooting and has the maturity to take advantage.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I think Jahlil Okafor is going to have a huge year. It seems strange for the Sixers to draft a guy who is healthy and can play right away, but here we are, and with Nerlens Noel shoring up the defense, Okafor should be able to do what he does best: get buckets. As for a later pick, I’ll give you two that I really like and was surprised to see fall into the bottom third: Bobby Portis to the Bulls, and R.J.Hunter to the Celtics. Boston needs outside shooting, which Hunter can provide. And Portis can go to NBA big man school with Noah, Pau Gasol and Nikola Mirotic.

Take that, MJ and LeBron: Bulls’ Butler earns $46 million in single season


CHICAGO – All this talk about LeBron James, master strategist, working his contract levers, pulleys and buttons to become, in a few years, the NBA’s first player to earn $40 million in a season is fascinating.

But it’s already false.

Chicago’s Jimmy Butler already has done it. He did it in the 2014-15 season, actually. It’s just up to Butler now whether he wants to scoop up that enormous payday from the table sooner or later.

Follow along: The Chicago Bulls tried back in October to sign Butler, their diligent, developing shooting guard, to a reported four-year, $44 million contract extension. Butler, rather daringly, turned it down. He looked at that massive chunk of change – while still locked in to the rookie contract he signed as the No. 30 pick in 2011, worth just over $2 million last season – and shook his head no.

Butler believed in himself, in his skills, in the Bulls’ Tom Thibodeau and the rest of the coaching staff and, most of all, in the work ethic that has returned significant improvement with every passing season. And sure enough, the 6-foot-7 product of Tomball, Texas, via Marquette had a breakout season: NBA All-Star, Most Improved Player award, a 20.0 scoring average, another All-Defense Second Team berth and a top-six ranking in win shares (11.2).

So on Tuesday, with Butler about to test restricted free agency, word got out that the Bulls were about to offer him a maximum-salary deal to blow away the competition. In fact, ESPN.com reported that Butler postponed or cancelled the typical wine-and-dine meetings with the Los Angeles Lakers, Boston Celtics, Philadelphia 76ers and Dallas Mavericks.

There likely was going to be some wiggle room, eventually, in what Butler chose to do. Would he opt to sign a shorter contract to hit free agency again sooner, unrestricted and on the market with the heftier TV revenues in play? Sure, why not – Butler had gambled before and won.

But the size of Chicago’s alleged max offer made clear both how much the Bulls value Butler (any chafing with backcourt ‘mate Derrick Rose reportedly is overstated) and how gutsy and lucrative his risk-taking was: Five years, $90 million.

To put it another way, that is $46 million more than Butler’s signing opportunity eight months ago. For one extra year on the previous deal, yes, but really for the production he already turned in and the potential he solidified this past season.

That is how Jimmy Butler became a $40 million-a-year man.

Top 5 Free Agents of 2015 (by position)

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — This time two days from now, we’ll be in the throes of the wild and wacky Free Agency season that marks every NBA summer. Who will change addresses? Who will stay put? Who knows. What we do know is that these are the players, in one man’s opinion, that are sure to be on the wish lists of teams with salary cap space to spare this offseason.

*** FREE AGENCY COVERAGE JUNE 30 ON NBA TV: The Starters, 6:30 ET | Free Agent Fever, 7 ET & 11:30 ET ***

Point Guards


VIDEO: Goran Dragic puts up a fantastic game against the Suns in Miami

1. Goran Dragic, Miami Heat (Unrestricted Free Agent, Player Option) — The mercurial Dragic is the template for the modern point guard and will be treated as such by suitors this summer.

2. Reggie Jackson, Detroit Pistons (Restricted Free Agent) — Young (25) and just scratching the surface of what he can do running a team as a starter.

3. Brandon Knight, Phoenix Suns (RFA) — More scorer than facilitator, Knight is an ideal fit alongside Eric Bledsoe in the Suns’ up-tempo attack.

4. Rajon Rondo, Dallas Mavericks (UFA) — Will a disastrous finish to his season in Dallas cost the hard-nosed Rondo this summer?

5. Ish Smith, Philadelphia 76ers (UFA) — Quality production in limited opportunities suggest there is much more to Smith’s game than meets the eye.

Shooting Guards


VIDEO: Jimmy Butler was the Kia Most Improved Player of the Year Award winner in 2014-15

1. Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls (RFA) — The top guard, regardless of position, on the market this summer, Butler gambled on himself and it should pay off handsomely.

2. Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat (UFA, Player Option) — Even at 33 with all of the wear and tear of 12 seasons in the league, Wade remains one of the league’s most versatile and dynamic players.

3. Danny Green, San Antonio Spurs (UFA) — An ideal fit for the role he played with the Spurs, Green’s skill-set is a fit anywhere in today’s NBA.

4. Monta Ellis, Dallas Mavericks (UFA) — Another casualty of a somewhat lost season in Dallas, Ellis in search of the right fit for a tweener who shot just 28 percent from deep last season.

5. Wesley Matthews, Portland Trail Blazers (UFA) — An Achilles injury ended his season early, but the rugged and relentless Matthews remains a top priority for the Trail Blazers.

Centers


VIDEO: Marc Gasol has become the focal point of a contending team in Memphis

1. Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies (UFA) — The Grizzlies’ famed grit-and-grind approach does not work without their All-NBA center in the middle of the mix.

2. DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers (UFA) — A defensive force in need of an offensive arsenal to match, Jordan’s not a lock to return to Los Angeles … at least not with the Clippers.

3. Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs (UFA) — Still near the top of his and the big man game after 18 outstanding seasons in the league, Duncan has the energy for at least one more title chase.

4. Greg Monroe, Detroit Pistons (UFA) — Monroe is the ideal 5-man for the small-ball era, with his face-up game and ability to bang in the paint.

5. Brook Lopez, Brooklyn Nets (UFA) — An elite scorer, Lopez is still coveted in a game that isn’t as reliant on dominant big men as it once was.

Small Forwards


VIDEO: LeBron James’ best plays from the 2015 playoffs

1. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers (UFA, Player Option) — The best player on the planet will be paid as such while also leveraging his power to affect change (on the roster and beyond) in Cleveland.

2. Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs (RFA) — The future of the program in San Antonio, Leonard is poised to become the leader of the pack in every way imaginable for the Spurs.

3. DeMarre Carroll, Atlanta Hawks (UFA) — His development as a knock-down (40 percent) shooter from beyond the 3-point line adds to his versatility and value on the open market.

4. Tobias Harris, Orlando Magic (RFA) — Harris has loads of admirers in front offices around the league, folks who appreciate his production for a young (22) hybrid who has still has a high ceiling.

5. Khris Middleton, Milwaukee Bucks (RFA) — A knock down shooter from deep (41 percent) and from the line (86 percent), Middleton showed his mettle in the postseason by serving as the Bucks’ catalyst.

Power Forwards


VIDEO: LaMarcus Aldridge’s highlights from 2014-15

1. LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland Trail Blazers (UFA) — Aldridge is everything a team could want in a modern power forward, complete with range to the 3-point line and the ability to dominate inside as well.

2. Kevin Love, Cleveland Cavaliers (UFA, Player Option) — The Cavaliers’ Finals run without him was revealing, but also a reminder of what they were lacking without the ultimate floor-spacer in the lineup.

3. Paul Millsap, Atlanta Hawks (UFA) — Few players have raised their stock the past two seasons the way Millsap did by assuming a dominant role for a Hawks team that rolled to the best season in franchise history.

4. Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors (RFA) — The Warriors’ championship, and Green’s role in helping make it happen, will be factored into the huge raise he is set to cash in on this summer.

5. Tristan Thompson, Cleveland Cavaliers (RFA) — A ringing endorsement from LeBron James always helps, but wasn’t needed for a player who dominated the glass the way Thompson did in the playoffs.

Bulls shift focus to frontcourt when Portis falls to them


VIDEO: Instant analysis on Bulls’ draft pick Bobby Portis

CHICAGO – The Bulls went shopping for a point guard and came home with a power forward.

Landing Bobby Portis, a jack-of-all-trades forward from Arkansas, was too good, and too unexpected, to pass up, which is why Chicago grabbed him at No. 22 in the first round of Thursday’s NBA Draft. But most of the Bulls’ focus had been on point guards, both as backups to Derrick Rose and – given that it is Rose we’re talking about – injury insurance.

Anyone who fills that role next season, however, will come via trade or free agency, much the way the Bulls have plugged the spot before (Aaron Brooks, D.J. Augustin, Nate Robinson). Portis brings a bundle of skills, but he’s more likely to be the picker and the roller than the ball handler.

“I can do a lot of different things,” Portis told reporters late Thursday. “I don’t have to have the basketball to score. I’m a guy who moves well without the basketball. I’m a guy that picks and pops, picks and rolls.”

Various scouting reports cast Portis as a big man skilled in multiple areas, without being dominant in any one. He’s 6-foot-11 with a 7-2 wingspan, the Bulls said. Multiple mock drafts penciled him in for Milwaukee at No. 17, with most projecting him to go between Nos. 13-20. With veteran Taj Gibson recently undergoing ankle surgery and center Joakim Noah coming off a down season limited by knee trouble, Portis brings depth the Bulls would rather not need.

Fred Hoiberg, the Bulls’ new head coach, faced Portis last season when his Iowa State team hosted the Razorbacks. He recalled Portis hitting six of seven shots in the first half, “all from the perimeter,” and finished with 19 points and eight rebounds.

“They play a different system at Arkansas – it’s a lot of pressure,” Hoiberg said. “It’s the ’40 minutes of hell,’ with a lot of pressing and he was in the back of that press quite a bit. With the turnovers they created, he probably wasn’t able to show his full package.

“The thing I’m excited about is his ability to play all over the floor,” Hoiberg added. “He was a guy who can hurt you from inside and out. … He moves very well for a kid that size, which is very important for the pace we’re going to want to play with.”

Portis also plays with an edge, Bulls GM Gar Forman said, that his employers welcome. An admirer of Kevin Garnett, Portis – who will have to lose his college headband, given Bulls tradition – said he tries to play as angry as that NBA veteran. “I envision that the player on the [other] team slapped my Mom,” he has said.

Speaking of edge, Forman addressed reports circulating after the Bulls were eliminated by Cleveland in the Eastern Conference semifinals that Rose and Jimmy Butler – the 2015 Most Improved Player and his team’s No. 1 priority to re-sign when he hits unrestricted free agency July 1 – chafed in the playoffs as competing alpha dogs.

“I’ve read about the friction,” Forman said. “I haven’t seen it. I think in all of our minds, you’ve got two guys who can attack, that want to run, that can play off the dribble, can play-make for themselves and for others. They haven’t had a chance to do it a whole lot because of injuries, but there’s no reason those two shouldn’t be able to play at a high level and, in our opinion, be one of the best backcourts in the league.”

Morning shootaround — June 20


VIDEO: Curry addresses fans at Warriors victory parade

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Sixers court doctor ‘Dream Team’ for Embiid | Lakers face limited choice at No. 2 | Did Warriors’ exuberance trump league memo? | Avery coulda been a contendah

No. 1: Sixers court doctor ‘Dream Team’ for Embiid — The Philadelphia 76ers have done so ding-dong-dandy well at drafting a basketball team with all their high picks lately that they apparently are branching into another field: medicine. The team’s front office is sparing no expense in rounding up the best possible sports physicians and orthopedists to examine the right foot of untested 7-foot center Joel Embiid. Keith Pompey of the Philadephia Inquirer wrote about the latest in Embiid’s unnerving foot plight:

76ers CEO Scott O’Neil said on the Breakfast on Broad show Friday that three more doctors will evaluate the latest setback in the healing of Joel Embiid’s right foot.

“We’re still waiting,” O’Neil said. “We have another three doctors to come see him. The nice thing about jobs like these – you can literally get the best experts in the world. All you have to do is call and they love to see us.”

He added that the franchise could get an answer about the 7-foot center’s future in “a couple of weeks.”

The team announced last Saturday night that Embiid had a setback in his recuperation. The 2014 first-round draft pick from Kansas missed what would have been his rookie season after undergoing surgery last June to repair a stress fracture in the navicular bone in his right foot.

It is unknown if Embiid, 21, will have to undergo another surgery, which could sideline him for part of next season. The team is still gathering information, and nothing has been ruled out.

The Cameroonian big man is not expected to participate in the two NBA summers leagues the Sixers will participate in next month although O’Neil said his status is not known. It’s also not known how long he will be sidelined.

O’Neil confirmed that Embiid has been shut down from working out.

There’s a chance this injury will hinder Embiid’s career the way it has for other 7-footers. Like Embiid, Yao Ming suffered a stress fracture in a navicular bone in 2008 and again in 2009. That injury forced Yao to retire in 2011.

***

No. 2: Lakers face limited choice at No. 2 — The Los Angeles Lakers appear to want no part of any “We’re No. 2! We’re No. 2!” chant, whether it pertains to their status as basketball tenants at Staples Center or to the spot in which they’re sitting for Thursday’s NBA Draft. They’re in the semi-awkward position of having to wait for the Minnesota Timberwolves to choose their man – most likely between Kentucky’s Karl-Anthony Towns or Duke’s Jahlil Okafor – before getting their five minutes on the clock. And while 28 other teams would be more than accommodating to welcome Okafor into their fold, the sense that he’s being forced on them – the way a cheap magician forces a certain playing card when doing his parlor tricks – has the Lakers already feeling a little snubbed. After all, they’re the Lakers and Minnesota is the Timberwolves. And yet… As Mark Medina writes for the Los Angeles Daily News:

In less than a week, the Lakers will embark on an NBA draft that could significantly influence the pace of their massive rebuilding project. So with six days remaining before that date on June 25, the Lakers have scheduled numerous workouts in hopes for more clarity involving their No. 2, 27 and 34th picks.

The Lakers [were scheduled to] host a private workout for Duke center Jahlil Okafor on Friday afternoon at the team’s practice facility in El Segundo, marking the second individual workout Okafor has had wearing a purple and gold practice jersey. The Lakers also plan to host a private workout on Saturday both for Ohio State guard D’Angelo Russell and for prospects that might be available at the No. 27 and 34th draft slots. The Lakers will then have private workouts next Monday and Wednesday just for prospects they would consider with the 27th and 34h picks.

The Lakers also held a second workout on Thursday for point guard Emmanuel Mudiay, though his session entailed training with prospects slated for the second round. On Monday, the Lakers invited Latvian forward Kristaps Porzingis for an individual workout after seeing him train last weekend in Las Vegas.

The Lakers have also become increasingly doubtful they will have a workout for Kentucky center Karl-Anthony Towns. The Lakers believe their lack of progress with those efforts stem from most NBA mock drafts predicting the Minnesota Timberwolves will select with their No. 1 pick. But the Lakers will accommodate their workout schedule should Towns and his representatives express interest in a workout.

It isn’t likely this sort of stuff will buoy the Lakers’ hopes, a sighting by the Twins beat writer for MLB.com:

***

No. 3: Did Warriors’ exuberance trump league memo? — A league directive is a league directive, right? When the NBA sends out an advisory to all its member teams to tread lightly when talking about restricted free agents – as ESPN and other outlets have reported – you’d expect that to be taken seriously and heeded. After all, there has been and can be a chilling effect to RFA players’ market value if prospective bidders are convinced their time is being wasted, thanks to the players’ most recent teams going big with the we’re-gonna-match rhetoric. The National Basketball Players Association doesn’t think that’s right and is said to be monitoring such talk, with the possibility of legal action against teams that engage in it. It’s not just some made-up problem, either, according to CBSSports.com‘s Matt Moore:

It’s a smart move by the NBPA. The comments generally fall inside two categories. One, to make a player feel loved and let fans know that they’re not going to let a key member of a team go, and two, to discourage teams from putting a bid in on a player knowing they’ll only be tying up their cap space while setting the bar of an offer for the player’s team to match.

In a broader sense, this speaks to a larger problem of the general lowdown underhandedness implicit with the restricted free agency device. A player is granted free agency at the end of his rookie contract, but he’s not actually free in the agent sense — he can negotiate with other teams, can sign offer sheets, but doesn’t actually control where he goes. New Orleans guard Eric Gordon very badly wanted to go to Phoenix several years ago, and the Suns’ training staff might have done wonders for his unreliable body. Despite public angst over the deal and a plea for the Pelicans to not match, New Orleans decided to keep the player they in essence traded Chris Paul for.

A more nefarious situation occurred without such a public stance in 2009. Josh Smith of the Atlanta Hawks –before he was the reclamation project that was waived by the Pistons and became an unlikely playoff contributor for Houston — was a restricted free agent in 2009. Teams knew that the Hawks would match any offer, though, and Smith just sat there on the free agency pile before eventually signing an offer sheet with the Grizzlies in the hopes Atlanta would let him go. They did not, and instead got Smith back on a bargain. Meanwhile, last summer the Suns pulled the same trick with Eric Bledsoe, forcing a nasty holdout that stretched on until August. Bledsoe eventually got the kind of big-money deal he was after, but it took the threat of the qualifying offer in order to force the Suns to move.

Banning public comments about a team’s determination to keep their restricted free agency star won’t stop word of a team’s intentions from getting around and impacting value. But it at least keeps it in the behind-curtains world of league rumors and provides a few more percentage points of leverage for a player as he and his agent negotiate a better position.

So then we get to Friday and the Golden State Warriors’ championship parade in downtown Oakland. Looks like somebody forgot about the memo:

***

No. 4: Avery coulda been a contendah — Because Avery Johnson, former NBA point guard, one-time NBA champion (1999) and two-time head coach (Mavericks and Nets), is a pretty good self-promoter, one’s first response is to chalk his comments up to bluster. When he says he likely would have landed one of the four recent open coaching jobs if only he’d held off on moving into the college ranks to coach Alabama, it’s easy to think, “Yeah, and my Uncle Fred can say the same thing now that the jobs are all filled.” But Johnson, a New Orleans native who interviewed with that team before it hired Monty Williams in 2010, sounded pretty convincing when he talked with John Reid of the New Orleans Times-Picayune:

”I know without a shadow of a doubt, that if I had waited, there would have been a high probabiliity I would have got an NBA job based upon the conversations my agent was having with some people,” Johnson said by telephone Thursday. ”But the main thing is that there is no turning back. I’m here at the University of Alabama and this is the right situation.”

Jonnson, 50, would not disclose what NBA teams his agent had exploratory conversations with.
The Pelicans were one of four teams, which included the Orlando Magic, Chicago Bulls and the Denver Nuggets, that had coaching vacancies last month. However, all of those jobs have been filled now.

The Pelicans hired Alvin Gentry on May 30 to replace Monty Williams, who was fired after five seasons. Gentry will be formally introduced by the Pelicans on Monday afternoon. He took part in the Warriors’ parade celebration in Oakland, Calif., on Friday. The Warriors won their first NBA championship in 40 years on Tuesday night after beating the Cleveland Cavaliers in six games in the NBA Finals.

Johnson is close friends with Pelicans executive vice president Mickey Loomis and he is a longtime friend of Saints and Pelicans owner Tom Benson.

”Sometimes change is hard,” Johnson said. ”But from what I’ve heard, Alvin did a nice job interviewing for the job. I think his experiences with the different head coaching jobs that he has had and assistant coaching jobs, he brings a wealth of experience to the franchise.”

Johnson said it is just a matter for the Pelicans to put the right pieces around star power forward Anthony Davis to win big in the Western Conference. [Davis] ended the season with the league’s highest player-efficiency rating at 30.8, which is the 11th highest for a single season in NBA history.

Davis also was a first-team All-NBA selection, finished fifth for the league’s MVP award and averaged 24.4 points and led the league in blocks with a 2.9 average during the regular season.
”I tell you what, his plays are going to work a whole lot better with Anthony Davis,” Johnson said.”I’m happy for Alvin.”

Johnson last coached in the NBA in 2012,when he was fired by the Brooklyn Nets after a 14-14 start.

Johnson was the NBA Coach of the Year in 2006 after leading the Dallas Mavericks to their first NBA Finals appearance but they lost to the Miami Heat. In almost seven seasons as an NBA coach, which included four seasons with the Mavericks starting in 2004, Johnson compiled a 440-254 record.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Melvin Hunt, the interim Denver Nuggets coach who won’t be returning under Mike Malone, has found a spot on Dallas coach Rick Carlisle‘s staff. … Portland guard Steve Blake has exercised his player option to stick with the team next season for a reported $2.1 million. Blazers fans still await decisions on Arron Afflalo (his, if he wants to be back for $7.3 million) and Chris Kaman (theirs, if they want him back for $5 million). … Taj Gibson‘s ankle surgery is going to sideline the Chicago Bulls backup big for an estimated four months. … If Steve Nash is a future Hall of Famer, so is Shawn Marion. Huh? That’s ESPN.com’s claim and they’re sticking to it. … Former GM Danny Ferry‘s buyout and exit from the Atlanta Hawks moved forward with approval of the team’s board. … J.R. Smith didn’t do enough for the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Finals but he has done wonders for the “phunkeeduck.” Yes, the “phunkeeduck.”

Morning shootaround — June 17


VIDEO: Top 5 plays from Game 6 of The Finals

NEWS OF THE MORNING

LeBron, Cavs face bevvy of decisions| Report: Butler to pursue short-term deals | Report: Gordon likely staying with Pelicans | Nowitzki ‘guessing’ Ellis opts out

No. 1: What’s next for LeBron, Cavs? — The Cleveland Cavaliers put up a mostly valiant fight in The NBA Finals, but ultimately were short on firepower and succumbed to the Golden State Warriors in Game 6 to lose the series. LeBron James was great all series and was arguably the MVP of these Finals, too, but that’s all over for now. James and the Cavs must ponder the offseason and some choices lie in wait for LeBron himself, writes Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com:

James’ foreseeable future is in Cleveland. With the ability to opt out of the two-year deal he signed with the Cavaliers last offseason, James must now decide just how much he wants to influence the Cavs as they enter a summer full of uncertainty and potentially massive spending.

The Cavs prefer he give a lot of input. In past similar situations, James has skewed toward passive-aggressiveness from the shadows. Taking such a position now would only add to the anxiety the franchise is sure to feel.

As if the Golden State Warriors’ championship celebration on the Cavs’ floor Tuesday night wasn’t bad enough, the Cavs’ immediate future is troublesome: James, Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson, Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith and Matthew Dellavedova could all be free agents by July 1.

James, Love and Smith have player options for next season and all are expected to decline them. Thompson, Shumpert and Dellavedova are expected to receive qualifying offers from the Cavs and they will become restricted free agents, giving the team the right to match any offer they receive. And the extensions Kyrie Irving (five years, $90 million) and Anderson Varejao (two years, $20.3 million) signed last year are also set to kick in.

Internally, the Cavs have discussed their payroll needing to balloon to between $100 million and $110 million for next season, according to sources.

When James does re-sign with the Cavs this summer, it’s probable it will be to another one-year contract plus a player option. Even if this route makes financial sense for James with the salary cap expected to surge following the 2016-17 season, it will keep the Cavs uncomfortable going forward.

But that’s the point: He doesn’t want his organization to be comfortable.

Welcome to the modern NBA, where James doesn’t just control every facet of the game, he controls every facet of the organization.


VIDEO: LeBron James talks after the Cavs’ Game 6 defeat

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Morning shootaround — June 12


VIDEO: The top 5 plays from Game 4 of The Finals

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Iguodala saves Warriors in Game 4 | Report: Hoiberg pursuing Spurs’ Boylen | Anthony ahead of schedule on rehabReport: Sixers meeting with Saric’s team

No. 1: Warriors wake up thanks to Iguodala — Heading into Thursday night’s Game 4 of The Finals, the Golden State Warriors had played 95 games. In every one of those, small forward Andre Iguodala did not start. But staring down a 2-1 series deficit, Golden State coach Steve Kerr decided to switch that up and gave Iguodala the nod. It paid off swimmingly for player, team and coach as Iguodala had 22 points and eight rebounds and the Warriors won 103-82. Our Shaun Powell was on the scene and details how ‘Iggy’ made this series pop again:

The return of The Team That Won 67 Games was quite a sock, if not a shock, to the system of LeBron James and the Cavaliers. It was combustible and complete what the Warriors did Thursday in Game 4, hitting shots and throwing booby traps and doing everything possible to avoid the dreaded 3-1 deficit and also seize momentum in a series that returns to Oakland.

And so the scenes to take away from a 21-point Warriors Game 4 shellacking of Cleveland is this: LeBron bleeding and wheezing from the challenge of carrying a team, and Andre Iguodala welcoming it.

Iguodala scored 22 points with eight rebounds and was the first line in a trapping Warriors defense that finally reduced LeBron’s shots, points and impact. It was the first blowout result of a series that, until Game 4, had a pair of overtime games and another game decided by two points. It was a thorough performance by the best and most consistent Warriors player in this series, and once again Iggy displayed his high value to the Warriors on both ends of the court. Of course, coach Steve Kerr’s decision to bench the sloth-like center Andrew Bogut for Iggy will be described as an Auerbachian move, except Iggy’s minutes were virtually identical as the previous three games, and Bogut was so ineffective to this point anyway that Kerr didn’t really have a choice.

The difference-maker for the Warriors, once again, was Iguodala, the only player immune from the NBA Finals fog that swallowed up most of his teammates. Not only is Iguodala taking up scoring slack with the inconsistency shown by Curry and Klay Thompson, but he also has the grinding task of checking LeBron. And while LeBron has had big scoring games, he hasn’t shot the ball exceptionally well (50-for-129 in the series) and Iguodala had a key stop of LeBron in the closing minutes of regulation in the Game 1 win.

“He’s one of the X-factors and he came to play,” said LeBron. “He was in attack. He was very, very good for them.”

The Warriors signed Iguodala three years ago for this very reason, to be a unifying force on a developing team and serve as an example of how to defend, which then was Golden State’s only weakness. Since he arrived the defense gradually improved.

Iguodala isn’t the same player now as he was then; his numbers have decreased with age, although Kerr never lost faith in him. Iguodala went to the bench mainly because Kerr wanted to feed the confidence of Harrison Barnes, not because Iguodala was suddenly a slug.

“I mean, he’s our most experienced player and he’s one of the smartest players I’ve ever been around,” said Kerr, a member of championship teams in Chicago and San Antonio. “He sees the game. He’s got a great basketball mind.”

When Iguodala took the new role in stride at the start of the season, his teammates took notice. It’s not often when a proven player buys into the idea of being replaced in the lineup by an understudy. Some players rebel. Iguodala adapted, as did David Lee when he took a seat for Green, which allowed Green to have a career year.

And guess what? Bogut fell in line when he took a seat in Game 4. It’s now contagious.


VIDEO: Relive the best moments from Andre Iguodala’s big Game 4

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Blogtable: Best arena atmosphere you’ve ever been in?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Thoughts on these Finals? | Best arena atmosphere? | Next player-turned-analyst?



VIDEOVIDEO: Trey Kerby of The Starters sees just how loud Warriors fans can be

> A lot has been made about the crowds at Oracle and Quicken Loans arenas. What’s the best NBA arena atmosphere you’ve ever experienced in all your years covering the league?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com It’s not always about cheering and celebrating, you know. That’s why I’m going with Game 6 of the 1998 Finals at the then-Delta Center in Salt Lake City. There was a desperation in the stands that day from the Utah Jazz fans, facing elimination by the Chicago Bulls – again. And for a lot of others, there was a real sense that the Bulls’ championship run and, once more, Michael Jordan’s career might be ending. So as Jordan stole the ball away from Karl Malone late, followed by the play that became The Shot (push of Bryon Russell included), that was like the air being sucked right out of that building. It was excellence personified, the classic ending … if not of Jordan’s career, of the very best and most memorable part of it.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com I’m planting the flag in two old places that no longer exist — Boston Garden and Chicago Stadium. Boston Garden, with its upper deck that practically hung out over the court, had an intimate, we’re-in-this-with-you feel, a rousing, knowledgeable fan base, and was almost a living, breathing organism during the Larry Bird era. Chicago Stadium seemed to have the broad shoulders of Chicago, felt vast and overpowering and was absolutely, positively the loudest arena ever and nobody is in second place. During the first three-peat when the starting lineups were introduced, the PA announcer barely got out the first syllables of “From North Carolina …” and the roof (and your head) would rattle. I’ve been to Oracle, The Q, OKC and they just can’t touch it.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com It’s so hard to pick one. Chicago Stadium was deafening when Michael Jordan was introduced before games, Boston Garden had a magnet that pulled people to the front of their seat as Larry Bird released from the perimeter, and there wasn’t a night of leaving Oracle Arena without your ears buzzing in the 2007 playoffs as the Warriors shocked the Mavericks in the first round and Baron Davis demolished Andrei Kirilenko with a dunk in the West semifinals. But nothing beats Arco Arena in the 2002 Western Conference finals, Sacramento Kings vs. Los Angeles Lakers, ear plugs mandatory. It was the noise, of course, from voices to cow bells, but the building itself made a big difference. Arco — now Sleep Train Arena — was a barn, a gym, a comfortable corner hangout. The intensity of the Lakers-Kings relationship and the hellacious energy from fans is still unforgettable. The outcome was not a good one for Sacramento, but the atmosphere was perfect.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com Hard to beat the old Chicago Stadium during the Michael Jordan years. The rickety place had stairwells that led nowhere, the concourses were narrow and outdated and the smell of stale beer and hot sausage on the fryer filled the air, but the place shook. I thought it might crumble from the noise when Jordan hit those 3-pointers in Game 1 of the 1992 Finals against the Blazers and gave “The Shrug.” Honorable mention: The original “Hive” in Charlotte, the Charlotte Coliseum.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com The craziest NBA atmosphere I’ve been in was Game 7 of last year’s first round at the Air Canada Centre. That was a loud building in the first place, but when the Raptors came back from 10 points down with less than six minutes to go to pull within one, and then forced a turnover in the final seconds to give themselves a chance to win, I think I heard the noise in my deaf ear. One other cool atmosphere was at the Meadowlands (really) for the Nets vs. Knicks first-round series in 2004. The crowd was 50-50, which mean there was cheering for every basket and a lot of back-and-forth between fans of the two teams.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: That’s an extremely difficult question. There are so many games to choose from. But the one that sticks out for me is Game 4 of a 2011 first-round playoff series between the eventual champion Dallas Mavericks and Portland Trail Blazers at the Rose Garden. Brandon Roy put on a show for the ages to rally the Blazers to an 84-82 win that saw the home team outscore Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavs 35-15 in the fourth quarter. Portland rallied from an 18-point hole early in the fourth quarter to tie the series at 2-2. The wave of energy going through the building in that fourth quarter is like nothing I ever experienced before that or anything I’ve felt since. It was unreal. I woke up the next morning and my ears were still ringing.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com The atmosphere in Boston, in both the old Garden and the new Garden, has been consistently intimidating in the playoffs. The feeling in the old place helped create a mystique for Larry Bird‘s Celtics, and in the new building the fans fed off the energy of Kevin Garnett. It is the consistency of the support that stands out: We’re talking about a span from the 1980s to 2010 and yet it has felt as if nothing changed.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog The Cleveland crowd tonight for Game 3 was pretty great, but there are two instances that I’ll never forget:

1. The Detroit Pistons crowds in 2005 were LOUD, and then they went completely silent when Robert Horry went crazy from the perimeter in Game 5 of The Finals. That silence was deafening.

2. I know Miami fans were criticized for leaving early during Game 6 of the 2013 Finals, but the majority of them stayed in place, and when Ray Allen stepped back and knocked in the three to tie the game with seconds left, a buzz went through the American Airlines Arena unlike anything I’ve felt before in an NBA arena.

Morning shootaround — June 6


VIDEO: The Starters discuss Kyrie Irving’s injury

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Kyrie Irving has fractured kneecap, out for Finals | LeBron: I’m not ‘discouraged‘| Tom Thibodeau has ‘no regrets

No. 1: Kyrie Irving has fractured kneecap, out for Finals — When Kyrie Irving limped off the floor during overtime of Game 1, he did his best to mask the pain he was clearly experiencing. One day later, after an MRI, it’s worst fears realized for Irving and the Cavaliers. The Cavs announced yesterday that Irving suffered a fractured kneecap and will miss the remainder of the postseason. Irving’s injury will require surgery, which typically has a 3-4 month recovery period. While Irving missed several playoff games dealing with tendinitis in his left knee, the Cavaliers say this injury is unrelated. As Irving himself posted on Instagram

I want to thank everyone for the well wishes. Saddened by the way I had to go out but it doesn’t take away from being apart of a special playoff run with my brothers. Truly means a lot for all the support and love. I Gave it everything I had and have no regrets. I love this game no matter what and I’ll be back soon. To my brothers: You already know what the deal is. And to Delly: “ICE it down del” *Big Perk voice *

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No. 2: LeBron: I’m not ‘discouraged‘ — With Irving out, along with Kevin Love and Anderson Varejao, the Cavs may not be able to get things to go their way. But LeBron James has been around long enough to have seen plenty before, and according to Cleveland.com’s Joe Vardon, LeBron isn’t discouraged by being down a game in the Finals …

In his storied career with 12 seasons nearly complete, James can say he has and has not been in this situation before. The odds were already long for a Finals triumph and now they’re longer, but if there is a player with the skills and experience to navigate this situation, it’s James.

He’s 1-5 in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, and his Cavs lost Game 1 (and Game 3) of the conference semifinals to the Bulls.

In Miami, where James won two titles and played in four Finals, both championships followed defeats in Game 1. He battled through playoffs at times with a hobbled Dwyane Wade (who missed one playoff game with James) and an injured (as in, out for nine games) Chris Bosh.

But James never lost Wade and Bosh at the same time, like he has here with Irving and Kevin Love. And yet, when the Cavs lace them up for Game 2 Sunday, it will not be the first time James takes the floor in a playoff game without his two Cleveland wingmen.

Irving, of course, has been battling foot and left knee issues for weeks. When the Cavs trailed the Bulls 2-1 in the conference semis and Irving was clearly hurting, James talked about “not being shattered” around teammates in what appeared to be a bleak moment.

Then James went out and won Game 4 with a turnaround jumper at the buzzer, not dissimilar from the shot he missed against the Warriors.

Irving missed two full games in the conference finals against Atlanta. Cleveland won both of those games and James nearly averaged a triple-double in the series.

“There are a few things that you would love to have going late in the season,” James explained. “That’s being healthy, having a great rhythm, and then you need a little luck as well. We’ve had a great rhythm. We haven’t had much luck, and we haven’t been healthy.

“But I haven’t gotten discouraged.”

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No. 3: Tom Thibodeau has ‘no regrets‘ — It’s been a few days since the Chicago Bulls fired coach Tom Thibodeau, ending a five-year run where the Bulls experienced plenty of success, but also plenty of bad luck. Speaking for the first time since then, Thibs said despite any issues he had with Bulls management, he wants to move forward, writes Nick Friedell…

“Obviously, there were some issues, and I don’t want to get into all that,” Thibodeau said. “I’m very proud of what the team did. … I think any time when you have a pro franchise, there’s going to be some carping that goes on along the way.”

During a news conference to announce Thibodeau’s firing, Forman and Paxson stressed the need for a better communicator and painted a picture that Thibodeau wasn’t listening to much of the input from the front office.

Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf also issued a statement hinting that there were communication issues.

“While the head of each department of the organization must be free to make final decisions regarding his department, there must be free and open interdepartmental discussion and consideration of everyone’s ideas and opinions,” the statement said. “These internal discussions must not be considered an invasion of turf, and must remain private. Teams that consistently perform at the highest levels are able to come together and be unified across the organization — staff, players, coaches, management and ownership. When everyone is on the same page, trust develops and teams can grow and succeed together. Unfortunately, there has been a departure from this culture.”

Thibodeau said Friday that he wasn’t worried about comments from the Bulls’ front office in the immediate aftermath after the decision was made.

“I don’t worry about stuff like that,” Thibodeau said. “I know for me, I put everything I have into each and every day. So I have no regrets. I’m going to let the record speak for itself.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban is donating $5 million to his alma mater, Indiana University, for a technology center … Royce White is closing in on a return in time for Summer League … The Knicks will work out draft prospect Emmanuel Mudiay next week … Why Arn Tellem is giving up being a sports agent and joining the front office of the Detroit Pistons …