Posts Tagged ‘Derrick Rose’

Bulls’ Butler a high-volatility stock


VIDEO: Butler plays preseason hero against Hawks

Asterisks abounded Thursday night, when Jimmy Butler went vintage-Derrick Rose – or one-off-Michael Jordan – down the stretch against the Atlanta Hawks.

* Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau had starters, including Butler, on the floor late in the Bulls’ mostly dismal performance.

* His Atlanta counterpart, Mike Budenholzer, was rolling with third-string Hawks.

* Rose, the Bulls player who would normally be called upon at such a point, was on the bench (prompting some predictable hand-wringing from critics who aren’t happy when the point guard plays a lot or when he plays a little).

* It still was the preseason.

* And Butler is in the midst of a salary drive, his performances this month potentially out of character, with the real impact of deal-or-no-deal in his contract extension talks to be determined later.

Still, the Bulls shooting guard did score 29 points – one more than his career high in three NBA seasons – in his team’s scramble back from 21 points to win. Butler got 20 of those in the final 5:11, an explosive stretch that might have been aided by the various asterisks but explosive nonetheless.

He did it, too, in ways that made the worriers feel a little better about Butler’s offense – no one questions his defensive effort or effectiveness – at a position where Chicago needs more oomph. Butler, who shot 39.7 percent from the floor (28.3 percent on 3-pointers), dramatically beat the buzzer from 26 feet in good form. He wound up shooting 8-for-14 and 12-for-16 from the line (9-for-11 in the fourth), and got some big love from teammates.

“We always tell him to take more [shots], but it’s going to be up to him to break that seal,” Rose said. “Thank God that he’s catching his rhythm right now and he’s building his confidence. He’s another threat offensively.”

Not last year, he wasn’t. But Thibodeau played Butler long minutes anyway, for his defense, out of need and in spite of distractions coming at the wing player from Marquette. Butler battled injuries early, played only eight games with Rose before the point guard went down again, then had his role tweaked after the Bulls traded veteran small forward Luol Deng in January.

“Jimmy has grown,” Thibodeau said Thursday night. “He’s more a scorer than to characterize him as a straight shooter. He’s an all-around scorer. He’ll find ways to put the ball in the basket.”

Butler, though you’d wonder where it came from, is said to have arrived at camp 10 pounds lighter. He looks more athletic and clearly has been more aggressive, leading Chicago after five October games with 18.6 points, 60.4 field-goal shooting, 43 free throw attempts and 144 total minutes.

“All summer I worked on my game. The biggest thing is confidence, taking shots I know I can make,” he said.

So, salary drive? Butler has two weeks left to land, per NBA rookie-scale rules, the contract extension available to players heading into their fourth seasons. Two years ago, Bulls forward Taj Gibson felt preseason pressure while his talks played out, and though he got his deal (four years, $33 million), the episode seemed to bleed into a subpar season. Butler has some folks wondering if he might go the other way if he gets paid – throttling back – or be adversely affected if he doesn’t get the extension done.

He said Thursday it hasn’t been a distraction. “Nope. Not at all,” Butler said. “I just try to play the game the right way. The whole contract situation is up to my agent (Happy Walters) and the Bulls organization. I just want to win games. Then the contract will take care of itself, whenever.”

And however much. The market for Butler figures to be as hot as it is fluid. Chicago reportedly would like to sign him now for what’s becoming called “Taj money,” close to Gibson’s 2012 extension. Butler might be anchored more by the three-year, $30 million, take-it-or-leave-it offer the Bulls put in front of Deng before trading him.

Then there’s the unpredictable marketplace of free agency, even with restrictions, should Butler get that far. Gordon Hayward landed his four-year, $63 million max deal that way – offer sheet from Charlotte, matched by Utah – and Chandler Parsons scored a three-year, $46 million contract with Dallas. And if Butler, who will make $2 million this season, were to play this out twice on a year-by-year basis, he would hit the unrestricted marked in 2016 as the new bonanza of TV rights cash officially kicks in.

Bulls VP of basketball John Paxson and GM Gar Forman, who will already have $50 million committed to four players next season (Rose, Gibson, Joakim Noah, Pau Gasol), won’t have Thibodeau at the bargaining table, that’s for sure. The coach who has leaned hard on Butler for two years will look to him even more.

Chicago added shooters over the summer but after Rose, Butler is the best choice to put real pressure on opponents, getting to the rim, getting to the line, throwing himself around to wreak havoc and create energy on nights when there’s none, like Thursday. With Deng’s departure, he is the defender who will draw the toughest assignments, the only one Thibodeau trusts to check other guys’ most potent scorers.

Butler was drafted last in the first round in 2011 and still sounds like an absolute underdog. “I’m from Tomball, [Texas],” he said earlier this week. “I’m not even supposed to be in the NBA, let alone be a star player. I just want to be wanted. I just want to play hard. I just want to help [us] win. End of story. Star player, role player, bench player, whatever it takes. Just let me win.”

Oh, Butler definitely is going to win, either with the Bulls or someone else. In this case, the victory will be noted not by a ‘W’ or an * but by a bunch of $’s.

Showing up is part of NBA skill set

John Stockton (here in 2002) played in every game in 17 of his 19 years with the Jazz. (Sam Forencich/NBAE)

John Stockton (here in 2002) played in every game in 17 of his 19 years with the Jazz. (Sam Forencich/NBAE)

Regardless of how many tools your go-to handyman has in his belt, no matter his craftsmanship and creativity, it doesn’t mean much if he doesn’t show up to work. The same holds true for chefs, pilots, cubicle drones and, yes, NBA players.

“Staying healthy is a skill” is the way some old-school types have put it, and while that might be too broad – neglecting simple ingredients such as luck and good genes – there is no doubt that durability is an asset. To a player and to his team.

Injuries are back in the headlines due to Kevin Durant’s foot fracture, Bradley Beal’s wrist, Rajon Rondo’s hand, Paul George’s leg and assorted dings, bruises and sidelining setbacks around the league. The key word, unfortunately, is back.

In the first few months of 2013-14, Kobe Bryant, Derrick Rose, Steve Nash, Marc Gasol, Brook Lopez, Al Horford and Russell Westbrook were ailing. The toll across several seasons before that included Rose, Horford, Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio, Andrew Bynum, Chris Paul, David West and the sad arcs of Brandon Roy’s and Yao Ming’s careers.

Despite heavy media coverage, the NBA’s analysis suggested that the injury rate remained largely unchanged across multiple years. Numerous theories were floated in search of an explanation for what injuries there were. Too much year-round basketball at a young age, some said. Too many games in the NBA season, from pre- through regular right onto post-, argued others. Shoe technology, court size, strength training, nutrition — all were factors examined by some, ignored by others, without much consensus, never mind solutions.

And maybe that’s all the explanation we’ll ever get: Athletes get hurt.

“It’s not like they just started happening,” Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said Monday, before his team’s preseason home game against Denver. “This is the way it’s been. If you look at anyone who’s played 10 years in this league, they usually have dealt with something. They had to get past something. Whether it was a knee injury, an ankle injury, a shoulder injury, wrist, finger, something. OK? So it’s all part of it.

“Hopefully you have the mental toughness to get through adversity. Most of these guys have it – you can’t get here without having that. But the injuries, it’s not like all of a sudden … we react like, we collect more data and injuries all of a sudden are something new. No, they’ve been a part of this league for a long time.”

How much a part? One way to gauge the durability of players is to check the rate at which they “showed up” for their teams on a given night. Call it a player’s “availability average,” as determined by his appearances as a percentage of his team’s total games during the same period.

Using regular-season games only, here are the availability averages for 25 NBA greats, all enshrined or likely to be in the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame:

  • 98.6%: John Stockton (1,504 of 1,526)
  • 98.0%: Gary Payton (1,335 of 1,362)
  • 97.5%: John Havlicek (1,270 of 1,303)
  • 97.2%: Bill Russell (963 of 991)
  • 96.7%: Karl Malone (1,476 of 1,526)
  • 96.2%: Reggie Miller (1,389 of 1,444)
  • 95.1%: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1,560 of 1,640)
  • 93.4%: Michael Jordan (1,072 of 1,148)
  • 92.7%: Wilt Chamberlain (1,045 of 1,17)
  • 92.1%: Jason Kidd (1,391 of 1,510)
  • 92.1%: Magic Johnson (906 of 984)
  • 91.8%: Isiah Thomas (979 of 1,066)
  • 91.7%: Oscar Robertson (1,040 of 1,134)
  • 89.6%: Dominique Wilkins (1,074 of 1,198)
  • 86.5%: Scottie Pippen (1,178 of 1,362)
  • 85.7%: Hakeem Olajuwon (1,238 of 1,444)
  • 85.3%: Moses Malone (1,329 of 1,558)
  • 84.1%: Larry Bird (897 of 1,066)
  • 82.2%: Jerry West (932 of 1,134)
  • 81.9%: Allen Iverson (914 of 1,116)
  • 79.4%: Tracy McGrady (938 of 1,182)
  • 79.1%: Shaquille O’Neal (1,207 of 1,526)
  • 78.8%: Charles Barkley (1,073 of 1,362)
  • 75.7%: Elgin Baylor (846 of 1,117)
  • 67.9%: Grant Hill (1,026 of 1,510)

Here, for comparison’s sake, are 25 of the league’s top active players (we’re assuming Ray Allen signs with someone) and their rate for “showing up:”

  • 97.1%: Kevin Durant (542 of 558)
  • 95.5%: Dwight Howard (768 of 804)
  • 95.0%: LeBron James (842 of 886)
  • 94.0%: Dirk Nowitzki (1,188 of 1,264)
  • 93.2%: Tim Duncan (1,254 of 1,346)
  • 93.1%: Paul Pierce (1,177 of 1,264)
  • 92.4%: Russell Westbrook (440 of 476)
  • 91.2%: Kevin Garnett (1,377 of 1,510)
  • 91.0%: Ray Allen (1,300 of 1,428)
  • 90.8%: Vince Carter (1,148 of 1,264)
  • 90.2%: LaMarcus Aldridge (577 of 640)
  • 89.5%: Tony Parker (940 of 1,050)
  • 89.2%: Carmelo Anthony (790 of 886)
  • 87.2%: Kobe Bryant (1,245 of 1,426)
  • 86.2%: Pau Gasol (905 of 1,050)
  • 85.5%: Chris Paul (617 of 722)
  • 85.3%: Steph Curry (336 of 394)
  • 85.2%: Steve Nash (1,217 of 1,428)
  • 82.1%: Manu Ginobili (795 of 968)
  • 81.2%: Dwyane Wade (719 of 886)
  • 78.9%: Rajon Rondo (505 of 640)
  • 78.2%: Blake Griffin (308 of 394)
  • 76.5%: Kevin Love (364 of 476)
  • 75.9%: Amar’e Stoudemire (735 of 968)
  • 60.7% Derrick Rose (289 of 476)

Durant’s average is going to take a hit as soon as Oklahoma City’s schedule begins without him in two weeks. His sidekick Westbrook will have to pick up slack for the Thunder – and Westbrook’s rate actually might be better than you expected, since his most notable breakdown came in the 2013 postseason.

Rose will be trying to boost a number that, historically, has him well below one of the NBA’s poster guys for bad luck, Grant Hill. Meanwhile, LeBron James, Dirk Nowitzki and Tim Duncan — even if they never reach Stockton’s or Payton’s mad numbers — probably don’t get enough acclaim for enduring the rigors of their work as well as they do.

“I think your mindset has to be right,” Thibodeau said. “They say Duncan never leaves the gym. And when you look at great players, that’s usually when you read about guys who have achieved something great. It’s usually them getting past adversity, then making great effort, and their readiness to accept the challenge.”

Asked whether good fortune or good genetics plays the greater role in good NBA health, Bulls forward Mike Dunleavy said: “Both. There’s also work that goes into it. The more you take care of your body year round, offseason and in-season, it directly affects your health, how many games you’re able to play and how many games you miss. But you can do the best job of that in the world and you can still get hurt.”

Nuggets coach Brian Shaw subscribes to the AAU-crazed, overuse theory and won’t let his kids play just one sport all year long because of that. He and his team are back after a 2013-14 season beset by injuries (Danilo Gallinari, JaVale McGee, Nate Robinson and others).

Shaw sees more attention focused on injury prevention and body maintenance, even if that gets circumvented by one awkward move or fluke moment. An NBA point guard for 14 seasons, Shaw said: “Before we kind of just did some jumping jacks, went down and touched your toes a few times, and went out and played. Now there’s a 15- or 20-minute period every day where the strength and conditioning coach activates the players’ muscles and warms them up.

“It takes some discipline to do those things that are monotonous to warm yourself up properly and cool yourself down after a practice, to ice and do all the things that are necessary for you to come back the next day.”

Thibodeau talked of two competing “schools of thought” for coping physically in the NBA. One loads up players with minutes and practices almost like weighting a baseball bat in the on-deck circle, so they’re in peak condition for what the schedules throws at them. The other preaches rest, recuperation and easing through the preseason and even the regular season to be as healthy as possible for the playoffs.

It’s no secret which school Thibodeau graduated from.

“The only way you can guarantee a guy not getting hurt is, don’t play him,” the Bulls coach said. “Don’t practice him, don’t play him. Don’t play him in the preseason, don’t play him in the regular season. Just don’t play him and he won’t get hurt.”

Morning shootaround — Oct. 14


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played Oct. 13

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Thibodeau wants more from Noah, Rose | Horford likely to return to lineup this week | Kidd explains Antetokounmpo’s new role | Burke getting better grip on NBA game

No. 1: Thibodeau wants Bulls to play sharper — The Chicago Bulls climbed to .500 in the preseason after last night’s 110-90 win against the Denver Nuggets, but the team’s perfectionist coach, Tom Thibodeau, wasn’t exactly thrilled with the outcome. According to Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times, Thibodeau is wanting a San Antonio Spurs-like focus from his team as the preseason wears on and he just hasn’t seen that yet from them. As well, Thibodeau thinks stars Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah have a lot more work to do:

There were signs in a 110-90 preseason win over the Denver Nuggets at the United Center on Monday night, but Thibodeau is looking for perfection — and if not perfection, at least a better effort in attempting to achieve it.

That starts with guard Derrick Rose and center Joakim Noah, whom he singled out.

With both players coming off injuries last season, restrictions on their minutes have handcuffed what Thibodeau wants to get done.

‘‘In order for [Rose] to get his timing, he has to play, and he has to work,’’ Thibodeau said. ‘‘Right now, his timing isn’t there. It’s a big adjustment for everyone. Everyone has to get used to what he does on the floor. The only way you can do that is by being out there.

‘‘It depends on the work he puts in when he shakes that rust off. The game is played collectively. There’s a lot of work for him and Jo. I’m concerned about that.’’

It’s not only what he hasn’t been seeing from his core players but what he has observed this preseason from the defending champion San Antonio Spurs. In the two preseason games the Spurs played overseas last week, veteran Tim Duncan played 33 and 35 minutes, while Tony Parker played 35 and 36.

‘‘I’m watching San Antonio, and they’re going after it,’’ Thibodeau said. ‘‘Parker, Duncan, they’re playing huge minutes right off the start. I think it’s a strong message what they’re saying right now. They’re preparing themselves to defend their championship. And so in order to get that way from them, you’re going to have to wrestle it away from them. They’re not just going to give it away. Your mind-set has to be right.’’

Thibodeau wouldn’t come out and say Noah and Rose haven’t had the right mind-set, but he was definitely setting the bar.

‘‘Oh, no, they’re working hard enough,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s getting ready to play in games. You’re going to have timing and conditioning by playing together.’’


VIDEO: The Bulls handle the Nuggets in a preseason rout

(more…)

Hang Time Road Trip: The Barbershop

By Sekou Smith

CHICAGO– You can travel across this great nation from ocean to ocean and everywhere in between and there always seems to be one place in every city and town where the truth is in surplus.

Pick a barbershop, any barbershop, and the expertise overflows from all corners of the building.

In Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood, the Hyde Park Hair Salon — yes, the same place President Barack Obama frequents when he’s back home in the Windy City — is where you go to get schooled on all things Chicago. And that mean Bulls, Bears, Blackhawks, White Sox and Cubs, but especially Derrick Rose and the Bulls.

All I needed was a fresh cut for the Hang Time Road Trip, my cohorts Rick Fox and Lang Whitaker insisted I get it straightened out before we go any further.

We got a whole lot more from Jaffar and the crew at the Hyde Park Hair Salon:


VIDEO: The Hang Time Podcast crew hits the barbershop in Hyde Park (President Obama’s shop)

***

Keep up with us around the clock on Twitter or Instagram (using the hashtag #HANGTIME):

Check the Hang Time Blog for our daily (video) podcast recapping our adventures and also Lang’s All-Ball Blog for our daily updates.

 

Hang Time Road Trip: Gasol’s Windy City Renewal Begins Now

HANGTIME_PASSENGER


VIDEO:  Pau Gasol describes his need for a new direction

By Sekou Smith

CHICAGO – Pau Gasol is doing his best to get used to his new surroundings.

He really is trying. But Chicago and Los Angeles are worlds apart. And as much as Gasol is embracing his new environment and new challenges here in the Windy City, he recognizes that the Lakers and that city’s rabid fans will be watching to see how he fares elsewhere.

Gasol’s tenure with the Lakers started with a bang, included back-to-back titles and ended with two grueling years of physical and emotional stress that wore the veteran power forward down a bit.

“It was tough, but professionally I needed to take a step in a new direction, ” Gasol told us on the bus Monday during Day 2 of the Hang Time Road Trip, where we parked and dug in with the Bulls on the morning of their exhibition opener against the Washington Wizards.

He had options in free agency, choices that any veteran in his shoes would love to have in the twilight of what should be a Hall of Fame career. Gasol could have stayed in Los Angeles and continued to play alongside his good friend Kobe Bryant. The Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs, New York Knicks and plenty of others pursued him.

There was something about these Bulls, though, something about this opportunity and the vision Gasol has for the remainder of his career that led him here. Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Tom Thibodeau and a team that is poised to challenge Cleveland for the top spot in the Central Division and Eastern Conference was a situation he simply could not ignore.

Check out our sit-down interview with Gasol for more details:


VIDEO: The Hang Time Podcast crew reflects on the Cavaliers preseason opener

***

Keep up with us around the clock on Twitter or Instagram (using the hashtag #HANGTIME):

Check the Hang Time Blog for our daily (video) podcast recapping our adventures and also Lang’s All-Ball Blog for our daily updates.

 

Hang Time Road Trip: First Impressions

HANGTIME_PASSENGER

By Sekou Smith

CLEVELAND – The results were what most of us expected, a Cleveland Cavaliers rout in their exhibition opener against Maccabi Tel-Aviv. The Cavaliers’ 107-80 thumping of their visitors from Israel was as convincing as the final score from Sunday night’s game at Quicken Loans Arena suggests.

It was an impressive first step for a Cleveland team that has incorporated shiny new parts (LeBron James, Kevin Love and coach David Blatt, first and foremost) to go along with a young core group that includes Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson in the starting five. Time will tell if the Cavaliers have what it takes to muscle their way through the Eastern Conference and into The Finals in their first season together, the way LeBron and the Miami Heat did during his first season there in 2010-11.

LeBron warned us when he decided to come back home that it would be a process, one that might not produce championship fruit right away.

That said, it’s hard to imagine how this compilation of stars, established and still emerging, doesn’t find its way deep into that championship contender’s realm when the dust settles. From first impressions alone, it’s hard to imagine anyone other than Chicago keeping the Cavaliers from their goal of winning the Eastern Conference.

They have to clear that initial hurdle before we even entertain a discussion about them knocking off the reigning champion San Antonio Spurs — or any one of the handful of teams that could win the Western Conference.

We will get a chance to compare and contrast the goings on for both of the frontrunners in the East; we’re on our way to Chicago now for some all-access time with Derrick Rose, Pau Gasol, Joakim Noah and the Bulls. We’ll report our findings once we hit the Windy City. In the meantime, we share our reflections from Day 1 of the Hang Time Road Trip in this first installment of the Hang Time Podcast (video version) from the front of the Hang Time Road Trip bus:


VIDEO: The Hang Time Podcast crew reflects on the Cavaliers preseason opener

***

Keep up with us around the clock on Twitter or Instagram (using the hashtag #HANGTIME):

Check the Hang Time Blog for our daily (video) podcast recapping our adventures and also Lang’s All-Ball Blog for our daily updates.

 

Morning shootaround — Oct. 5




VIDEO: Carmelo Anthony on chemistry with new teammates and more

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Melo wants less burden | McHale still confident | Lawson primed for jump | Rose gets physical
No. 1: Anthony hopes to get help carrying the load Carmelo Anthony could have jumped to Chicago or Houston or Dallas over the summer in order to join lineups where he wouldn’t have been the only big gun in the ammo belt. Of course, there was that matter of signing for $124 million in New York that changed his mind. But now with the season opener rapidly approaching, Melo says he looks forward to a time when he doesn’t have to do all of the heavy lifting at Madison Square Garden. Al Iannazzone of Newsday reveals Anthony’s discussion with new boss Phil Jackson, along with the news that Melo wants to jump back in the Olympic pool in 2016 at Rio:

“For this season right now, we have what we have,” Anthony said after practice Saturday. “We’re going to deal with that. That was a big discussion with me and Phil talking about — that was one of my things. I didn’t want to have to do it night in and night out. I wanted some nights when somebody else can pick up the load.
“Right now with the way we’re playing, I don’t have to do everything. But we haven’t had a game yet. We haven’t played one game.”

Jackson has shaken up the roster, trading for Jose Calderon, Samuel Dalembert, Travis Outlaw, Quincy Acy and Shane Larkin, signing Jason Smith and drafting Cleanthony Early. His biggest move, though, was re-signing Anthony.

But Jackson and new coach Derek Fisher are trying to establish a way they want the Knicks to play — unselfishly, and with a commitment to defense. Even if the Knicks aren’t a contender this season, Anthony sees some relief for him.

“It will be less pressure on me,” he said. “I can see that now in training camp. I feel that. I can see what we’re able to do with the little bit of time we’ve been together this week. I see other guys’ roles and how they’re implemented into the system and what they’re capable of doing. I think it’ll be easier. It’s still going to be a dogfight, but I think it’ll be a little bit easier where everybody is not keying in and focusing on me every single time down the court.”

***

No. 2: No new contract, no problem for McHale — The sting of Damian Lillard’s shot is still deep in his bones. The empty free-agent fishing expedition of the summer still hangs over his team. But even through Kevin McHale goes into the last year of his contract in Houston, Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle says the Rockets coach is comfortable in his own skin and confident that he can get the job done:

“I got pretty comfortable with myself a lot of decades ago,” McHale, 56, said. “I haven’t changed much.”
As he began his fourth training camp as Rockets coach, with only coaches and staff remaining from his first, there have been adjustments to the Rockets’ style. He has demanded the more physical style he once played. The Rockets have collected more of the types of players he had wanted all along. There are defensive tweaks.

Almost the entire second unit was rebuilt from last season.

Yet, as he enters the final season of his contract, McHale cites the same values, the same priorities he has been trying to instill since that difficult, rushed first season as Rockets coach. The most tenured players with the Rockets, Donatas Motiejunas and Terrence Jones, said there have been slight changes in schemes but not in their coach’s style.
“We’re all in this together,” McHale said. “The crazy thing about coaching is I’ve had players say I’m way too hard, I’m way too strict. And then you have guys that say, ‘You need to get on that guy.’ I always laugh at the guy that says, ‘You need to get on that guy more.’ I say, ‘Do I need to get on you more?’ They say, ‘No.’ When you’ve had 14, 15 guys on the team, and I learned this a long time ago, I’m not going to connect with everyone. But they’re going to play the system we’re playing. And I’m not playing. I have to give them the ability and the confidence so they can succeed.”

McHale inspires an unusual mix of reactions from players. He is referred to as “a players’ coach” so often it is practically in his job description. In many ways – particularly when demanding uncompromising effort – he is unbending, with little patience for a lack of commitment.

He has even less tolerance for excuses. That includes any suggestion that he is hampered by coaching in the final season of his contract. The other Rockets head coaches hired by owner Leslie Alexander – Jeff Van Gundy and Rick Adelman - never received a second contract after completing their four-year term. But neither seemed like a lame duck looking over his shoulder in his final season with the team.

McHale seems so secure in the way he works and what he values, he appears as unaffected by his contract situation in its final season as he was in its first.

“That has no bearing on me,” McHale said. “I never believed that. If you’re going to play better in the last year of your contract because it’s the last year of your contract, I question who you are. If you are going to coach better because you’re in the last year of your contract, I question that guy.

“I’m going to do the same thing I’ve always done. I’m going to work as hard as I possibly can with these guys, try to get these guys to be the best possible team we can be, and you know what, like as a player, you do the best job you can. If it’s not good enough, it’s not good enough.”

***

No. 3: Lawson says he belongs with elite at point — Coming off a season in which he posted career highs in points and assists per game, the Nuggets’ Ty Lawson told Christopher Dempsey of the Denver Post that he belongs in any conversation about the best point guards in the league. But Lawson knows that he will only get that recognition if he can turn his team’s performance around and make the Nuggets winners again in the rugged Western Conference:

Q: How big a year is this for you to establish the type of player you are?
A: For my career, this is the next step. I’ve got to make the next step. This year has to be that next step. I’m entering the prime of my NBA career, so this is where it either goes up or goes down.
Q: What do you need to do to get to that next level?
A: I feel like we have to win — because I feel like my numbers are elite numbers, what I did last year. The only thing separating me from everyone else is just winning. Chris Paul has gotten out of the second round. Russell Westbrook went to the NBA Finals. I feel like to get to that level, you’ve got to win games. Kyrie (Irving) this year, he’s going to get out of the first and second round. So that’s the goal.
Q: You mentioned Paul, Westbrook and Irving. Do you see yourself in that group as an elite point guard?
A: I do, minus just the winning. Especially for a point guard, that takes you to the next level. If you’re a point guard and you’re not winning but you’re killing it, it doesn’t matter. It’s a leadership role.
Q: When you look back at last season, how tough was it to go through?
A: It was huge. It was the first time I didn’t go to the playoffs in my whole career, from high school to … even elementary. I’m always used to winning or being in the playoff run, playing for something. It was tough.
Q: Is there a lesson to be learned from what happened last season?
A: Yeah, I think so. Just being professional. Going toward the end of the season, not saying that I didn’t feel like playing but saying we’re not playing for nothing, that’s not really professional. So, just learning that, learning professionalism, that took a big hit last year.
Q: Every year about this time, the leadership question comes up. Are you tired of that?
A: No, not really, because that’s an area I should work on, and that I think I have worked on. Being a leader, being out here being more vocal and also just showing by example is what it’s going to take.

***

No. 4: Thibodeau wants physicality from Rose — Just getting back onto the court and starting to building up his legs and his stamina at the FIBA World Cup in Spain was important for Derrick Rose. But coach Tom Thibodeau tells Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times that it’s the physical nature of tough training camp workouts that will get the former MVP back to the level that the Bulls will need this season:

”He’ll be able to handle it,” Thibodeau said. ”He just has to get used to it again. That’s why the USA Basketball stuff was so important, to get used to having contact. The more he does it, the better it is for him and the more you see the rust come off.
”Now you see him start to make some of the plays he’s capable of making. Now he’s starting to get a little bit of a rhythm and starting to shoot better, which we anticipated. That’s why him practicing and practicing hard is so important.”
A physical approach would seem to contradict what Rose was preaching this summer, when he said he had to be smarter about contact. Two season-ending knee surgeries since the 2012 playoffs might have an influence on his attitude.
”I think you’ll see that next year, just trying to keep people off my body,” he said in late July. ”Using a lot of floaters, using a lot of pull-ups, things like that, so that I won’t be touched as much.”
But the kind of contact that being aggressive around the rim brings isn’t concerning Thibodeau as much as the general physicality of an NBA game.
”In the NBA, you get into a pick-and-roll and there’s going to be a guy on your body,” Thibodeau said. ”And your challenge is you’re trying to create separation and get away from people. But when you’re a player like him, you’re also going to be trapped a lot. When someone is on you all the time — and someone will be on him all the time — you have to get used to that. . . . We’re not talking about driving to the basket and someone knocks him down. We’re talking about catch-and-shoot, pick-and-roll, even isolation — someone will be on him all the time.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: LeBron James will be back on the court in a Cleveland uniform when the Cavs open the preseason against Maccabi Tel Aviv tonight. … Steve Nash says he’s not concerned about a tweaked ankle at practice … Doctor says Rajon Rondo should return at 100 percent from broken hand.

ICYMI(s) of The Night: A sequence like this illustrates why Paul George, now rehabbing from a broken leg, remains among the best two-way players in the game today:

VIDEO: Paul George gets the steal and then caps the break with a fancy jam

Hang Time Road Trip: First stop, Cleveland

HANGTIME_PASSENGER

By Sekou Smith

CLEVELAND – At least Mother Nature has a sense of humor.

On the eve of Cleveland and Northeast Ohio’s favorite son’s first official game back in town, she greeted everyone with extremely chilly temperatures (somewhere just north of 40 degrees according to a digital reading on a bank clock downtown) this morning.

Welcome home, LeBron James … you’re not in South Beach anymore.

James traded Miami’s sizzle for the comforts of home and will take the court with the new-look Cleveland Cavaliers against Maccabi Tel-Aviv in the exhibition opener at Quicken Loans Arena tonight (6 p.m. ET, NBA TV).

And the Hang Time Podcast crew will be there to witness the return.

It’s the first leg of the Hang Time Road Trip, a six-day, seven-city NBA training camp odyssey road trip that will take us from the heart of what could be the toughest division in all of basketball this season (Cleveland, Chicago and Indiana at the top of the Central Division) to Philadelphia and New York, where rebuilding projects are in full swing, and down the East Coast and parts unknown (we’ll surprise you) before the bus heads back to our Atlanta headquarters next weekend.

We’ll sprinkle in some of the usual fun and craziness you are used to on the Hang Time Podcast, but our mission is hoops. And there is no better place to kick things off than here in Cleveland, where hope has been restored after one of the greatest summer franchise flips in NBA history.

We’re going to dig in and find out exactly what it’s going to take for LeBron, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving to turn things around immediately in this city that has missed its homegrown “King” terribly the past four years.

On Monday we’re going to investigate the situation in Chicago and see if Derrick Rose really is ready to resume his MVP ways, if Pau Gasol fits as well on the court as he does in theory and if all that we saw from Joakim Noah and the rest of that stout Bulls outfit did without Rose and Gasol is still there.

Tuesday we’ll visit the Pacers — yes, they still have our attention, despite a rough summer that saw them lose both Paul George (injury) and Lance Stephenson (free agency) from the team that won the Central Division with the best record in the Eastern Conference last season. Pacers boss Larry Bird doesn’t do panic. Neither does his coach, Frank Vogel, who has been unabashed in his belief that David West and Roy Hibbert will keep this team among the division and conference elite.

We will head East from there for Philadelphia, where Nerlens Noel‘s first season on the court signals the promise of what could be for a Sixers’ franchise in need of something to believe beyond just the promise of the future.

In New York, we’ll shine a light on the Knicks and see if Carmelo Anthony‘s right in his assessment of his revamped team — ‘Melo swears these Knicks are playoff bound … we’d love to hear what Phil Jackson and Derek Fisher have to say about it.

With so much real estate between New York and Atlanta, we’re bound to stumble upon an interesting situation or two on the ride home. But we’ll save something for the imagination. We’re keeping our options open and will make sure we deliver the hoops, hijinks and hilariousness you are used to on the Hang Time Podcast.

In the meantime, we’ll focus our attention on the LeBron, Love and Kyrie and these Cavaliers.

First impressions, even in an exhibition setting, are everything.

***

Keep up with us around the clock on Twitter or Instagram (using the hashtag #HANGTIME):

Check the Hang Time Blog for our daily (video) podcast recapping our adventures and also Lang’s All-Ball Blog for our daily updates.


VIDEO: Sekou Smith is ready to go in Cleveland

Rose gets shooters, not shot creator

The Bulls are still searching for a scorer to play alongside Derrick Rose.

The Bulls are still searching for a scorer to play alongside Derrick Rose.

CHICAGO – Almost from the day Derrick Rose arrived, the Chicago Bulls have sought a second shot-creator to ease his workload and pose as a secondary threat when the defense stymies their explosive point guard.

Six seasons in, they still don’t have one. Call it the curse of Keith Bogans or something.

What the Bulls do have, though, as camp opens on the 2014-15 season is a squadron of shooters unlike any in recent memory at United Center. None of them is likely to put the ball on the floor and make something out of nothing the way Rose and a few other rare talents in the NBA can.

But as far as putting it in the air to great acclaim — spotting up on the perimeter or cutting-and-catching for opportunities near or beyond the arc –the Bulls have upgraded considerably. They ranked dead last in effective field-goal percentage last season (47.1 percent), 24th in 3-point accuracy (34.8) and last on anything inside the arc (45.6).

It hasn’t been a constant — they had Kyle Korver from 2010-12, and Mike Dunleavy shot 38 percent on 3-pointers last season — but it has been a problem. Now, by design, after going to school on rivals such as San Antonio, Miami, Atlanta and others, Chicago can spot two, three or even four shooters in the halfcourt.

Consider:

The idea, of course, is to spread defenses and open seams for Rose. It’s the next best thing – or maybe an equally effective strategy – to having that second creator, with Rose coming off high pick-and-rolls and finding a quiver full of arrows.

Rose sounded excited after the Bulls’ first scrimmage Tuesday, seeing the new options and how diligently defenders stayed home.

“Just thinking about how I’m actually going to attack in the offense,” Rose said. “I’ve got a lot of space now, especially with Pau being able to knock down that li’l 12-foot shot or 15-foot shot. … It’s just going to be space to really move around.”

Space is important to Rose, providing the lanes he needs to get to the rim. It’s also important to his health because, barring some alternate uniforms made of bubble-wrap and Kevlar, the best way to keep Rose on the court is to keep crowds away from him in the paint. (Asterisk time: Rose was untouched on his two season-snuffing knee injuries.)

Having played only 50 games since his MVP season of 2010-11, Rose might seem ripe to make some serious adjustments in his style of play. He might not be able to do much to lessen the torque of his violent cuts and leaps in attacking the rim, but he can throttle back occasionally and be a little smarter in traffic. He knows it and so do his coaches.

“They’re trying to make the game as simple as possible,” Rose said of some intended tweaks this season. “If I have an open shot, shoot. If I have a pull-up, shoot it. Shoot a lot more floaters so that people won’t touch my body like they did in the past throughout the entire game. I think that really hurts you I think as an athlete — you need your years.”

Chicago needs Rose’s, certainly, after waiting for his knees and his psyche to fully mend. Being wary of unnecessary contact is one of the concessions he’ll try to make to the blown opportunities of the past two years. Not rushing to show everyone, all at once, just how back he really is? That’s another.

Thibodeau, an assistant on the Team USA staff this summer, talked with Rose prior to their FIBA World Cup tour about the impatience he showed last fall. His rush to return to his spot in the NBA’s hierarchy was rusty – until it ended abruptly with torn meniscus in his right knee after just 10 games.

Rose eased back a bit this summer, playing with Kyrie Irving and Stephen Curry in the USA backcourt. The Bulls don’t have that depth at point guard but they still don’t want Rose taking on too much, soon.

“Last year he was trying to get it all back in one day,” Thibodeau said. “I thought right before he got re-injured, he was starting to find a good rhythm again. This time, he’s not rushing like he did. But there’s a fine line for him, to still be aggressive, find a rhythm but not force it. I don’t want him to overthink it, I want him to play.”

Whether Rose is working the high pick-and-roll with Gasol or just bursting inside to kick out to Dunleavy, McDermott or Mirotic, the results can be just as effective as standing out top while Carmelo Anthony goes iso again and again.

“Just take pressure off of him,” said Gasol, who will try to develop an offensive chemistry not unlike what he had with Kobe Bryant in the Lakers’ best-of-times. “By playing well, by doing your job, by not having him have to force too much offensively or the pressure to create too much. When you have the weapons that we have, I think it takes pressure off of him. Creates and gives him space, and things become easier for him.”

Healthier, too.

Gasol needs Rose to run with Bulls


VIDEO: Pau Gasol, Derrick Rose and Tom Thibodeau look forward to a new day in Chicago

CHICAGO – The difference between Derrick Rose‘s first comeback and latest comeback is the difference between Mike Dunleavy and Pau Gasol.

A year ago, Dunleavy — a solid NBA veteran in search of the first .500 team of his career — joined the Chicago Bulls on a modest, role player’s contract to scratch his competitive itch more than his financial one.

Except Rose lasted just 10 games, the Bulls backed off their loftier ambitions by trading Luol Deng midway through the schedule and Dunleavy wound up starting and logging heavy minutes. He appreciated Chicago’s 48-34 finish and could take pride in becoming one of the NBA’s biggest bargains (salary per minute). But no Rose and a five-game ouster by Washington in the first round were profound disappointments.

Now the stakes are higher. The Bulls’ key offseason acquisition is a cut above, in pedigree and possibilities. Gasol brings a Hall of Fame portfolio, two championship rings and international acclaim to Chicago. He also brings greater expectations and a considerable role already reserved for him. Like Dunleavy, Gasol turned 34 this offseason. His high hopes and crossed fingers are pretty much identical too.

“It’s important to the whole team, for sure,” Gasol said of Rose and the Bulls’ dire need for their point guard to a) stay healthy and b) reclaim his All-Star, all-NBA and ideally MVP form. “I talked to him before I made my decision. He’s eager, he’s hungry. He’s been working extremely hard to be where he’s at today. Playing in the World Cup in the summer helped him, to be able to get some rust out. I think he’s ready.”

That’s as good as the Bulls have at this point — thinking that Rose is sufficiently recovered from the torn ACL injury in his left knee (April 2012) and the torn meniscus in his right knee (November 2013) to lug around their goals and dreams.

If he is recovered, the 2014-15 season in Chicago could be the brightest since Rose’s MVP year of 2010-11 and maybe even the Jordan-Pippen era of the last millennium. If not, it will be another long season of overachieving and pluck that probably leads nowhere — and a whole bunch of what-ifs for Gasol.

Gasol talked with the Spurs, the Thunder, the Heat and the Knicks. He got calls and tests from Pat Riley, Erik Spoelstra, Gregg Popovich and Phil Jackson, the coach with whom he won championships in L.A. in 2008 and 2010.

“I talked to many great, great players that I would be happy to play with,” the 7-foot, four-time All Star said. “Unfortunately I could only play with one team. So I picked a great situation, a great team, a great franchise, a great city.”

Upon making his decision, Gasol got another text from Jackson, the former Bulls coach, saying that, “I was going to love Chicago, that I was going to be happy here and that it was a great choice.”

If Rose’s health can be trusted, sure.

From his spot on Spain’s national team, Gasol saw a pretty spry and explosive Rose in the FIBA World Cup tournament. “I don’t have any doubt,” Gasol said. “I hope that he stays healthy, just like everybody else on the team. Everybody is subject to injury. But I believe in his health and I think he’s going to do fine.”

Gasol ($7.1 million in Year 1 of a three-year deal) and Nikola Mirotic ($5.3 million) essentially have slipped into the payroll spot opened by Carlos Boozer‘s amnesty. Boozer wasn’t a popular Bull, never quite appeasing United Center fans for not being LeBron James after his 2010 signing, or even playing up to his five-year, $75 million deal. Still, he did average 15.5 points and 9.0 rebounds in four Chicago seasons and showed up for all but nine games over the final three.

Gasol will need to maintain his numbers (17.4 ppg, 9.7 rpg) and step up his durability (55 games missed the past two seasons) to match or top Boozer’s statistical production. And Gasol is older.

Maybe Gasol can do contribute intangibly by how well he fits with fellow slick-passing big man Joakim Noah, with the shooters — Dunleavy, Mirotic, rookie Doug McDermott — that coach Tom Thibodeau can spot around him and, of course, with Rose.

Asked how the two of them might play off each other and boost the other’s effectiveness, Rose visualized and verbalized for the mob at Bulls media day.

“I automatically go to the fourth quarter, where he’s got the ball and I’m out on the perimeter, and I’m just waiting to get a set shot,” Rose said. “Other than that, let him work. You’ve got Joakim or Taj [Gibson] on the other side cleaning up everything else. And you’ve got two other shooters on the floor with me, Jo and Pau.

“I just see him in the post. I’m waiting for a jump shot. And you pick your poison.”

After waiting so long for Rose, seeing him take a pass from Gasol is an upgrade this team and the city will take.