Posts Tagged ‘Jimmy Butler’

Blogtable: Your All-Star starters

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: Build with offense or defense? | Who will get traded? | Your All-Star starters



VIDEO: The Starters reveal their early All-Star starter picks

> You’ll get a chance to you change your mind in about three weeks, but give me your starting five (East and West) for February’s All-Star Game, based ONLY on performance this season.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: The guys I think earned it in the West are names who might actually get enough votes in the real balloting: Stephen Curry and James Harden in the backcourt, Anthony Davis, Marc Gasol and LaMarcus Aldridge in the frontcourt. Out East, I’m not sure my five all would prevail in the popularity contest but on merit, they should go: John Wall and Kyle Lowry at guard, with LeBron James, Pau Gasol and Kyle Korver up front. Korver, you ask? He’s having a season to make analytics fans swoon, someone from Atlanta deserves a spot and I like the idea of two Kyles in a five-man lineup.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comEast: Kyrie Irving, Kyle Lowry, LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Pau Gasol. West: Stephen Curry, James Harden, Anthony Davis, LaMarcus Aldridge, Marc Gasol. Durability counts, that’s why Dwyane Wade loses out to Irving and DeMarcus Cousins to Marc Gasol.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comEast: LeBron James, Pau Gasol and Chris Bosh (forwards), Jimmy Butler and Kyle Lowry (guards). West: Anthony Davis, Marc Gasol and DeMarcus Cousins (forwards), Stephen Curry and James Harden (guards). The option to change my mind in three weeks comes in especially handy with Cousins. If he returns strong from the viral meningitis, he holds the spot. If he struggles physically for long, his place becomes more precarious. It gets even worse if the Kings continue to drop in the standings — which dooms Carmelo Anthony on the East front line –or Cousins has a choppy adjustment to the Kings’ coaching change increased emphasis on playing up-tempo. Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge are waiting.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comWest: James Harden, Steph Curry, Anthony Davis, Blake Griffin, Marc Gasol. Pretty clear-cut there. They’ve been healthy and productive. East: Kyle Lowry, John Wall, LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Carmelo Anthony. Yeah, folks will hold their nose about ‘Melo, but that’s more because of the Knicks. He’s No. 6 in scoring and the East is lacking in star power on the front line.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Going by the positions on the ballot (veiled shot at my colleagues who included Lowry, Wall and Butler) … East guards: Kyle Lowry and John Wall.  East frontcourt: LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Pau Gasol. West guards: Stephen Curry and James Harden. West frontcourt: Marc Gasol, Anthony Davis and Tim Duncan. Duncan gets my final spot in the crowded West frontcourt (for now), because he’s more of a two-way player than LaMarcus Aldridge and his minutes are over 30 per game this season.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Based only on performance, in the East it has to be Kyle Lowry, John Wall, Jimmy Butler, LeBron James and Pau Gasol. In the Western Conference, where a preposterous surplus of candidates for five spots, I’m going with Stephen Curry, James Harden, Anthony Davis, Blake Griffin and Marc Gasol. I don’t think I’ll need that mulligan in three weeks either, even with Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant coming on the way they are for Oklahoma City and Kobe Bryant playing the way he has all season. I want to reserve my injury replacement spot for Klay Thompson, too. He’s been that good this season and the Warriors are rocking. He belongs in New York for the festivities.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: In the East, I’ve got LeBron James, Pau Gasol and Chris Bosh in the frontcourt, with Kyle Lowry and Jimmy Butler in the backcourt. In the West, it’s Marc Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge and Anthony Davis up front, with James Harden and Stephen Curry in the backcourt.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogEast: John Wall, Kyle Lowry, LeBron James, Jimmy Butler, Chris Bosh. If I could put Kobe at the 3, I would, because I think he deserves to make the starting five. But there are literally only two players in the West that I’d rate ahead of him, and they are both guards. Sorry, Mamba. West: Steph Curry, James Harden, Anthony Davis, LaMarcus Aldridge, Marc Gasol

For more debates, go to #AmexNBA or www.nba.com/homecourtadvantage.

Morning shootaround — Dec. 7




VIDEO: Highlights of the games played Jan. 14

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Warriors keep streaking | Two in a row for Philly | Rockets blast Suns

No. 1: Draymond Green-lights 12th straight — It takes a lot more than a one-trick pony to win 17 times in 19 games and it’s becoming more apparent with every passing day that the Warriors are far more than just the Splash Brothers. It was Draymond Green who stepped into the spotlight and led the way in Chicago as Golden State set a franchise record with a 12th consecutive win. Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle has the details:

“He was OK,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said. “I know it was his career high and his numbers were incredible, but that is kind of who he is.
“He’s just a winner.”
With All-Star point guards Stephen Curry and Derrick Rose never really getting it going and up-and-coming shooting guards Klay Thompson and Jimmy Butler producing stat lines similar to each other, Green helped the Warriors snap a five-game losing streak in Chicago.
The game was tied four times and the lead changed hands 10 times in the final 19 minutes, but the Warriors never trailed after a six-point spurt by Marreese Speights put them up 83-82 with 10:59 to play. Green made his sixth three-pointer to cap a decisive 8-2 run that extended the Warriors’ advantage to 95-87 with 6:24 remaining.
Green made more three-pointers than the rest of the team combined (five), had half of the team’s six blocked shots and four of the Warriors’ 14 steals. He added seven rebounds and three assists for good measure to a game in which he shot 11-for-20 from the floor, including 7-for-13 from three-point range.
“Oh man, I might lose my job if I do that too often. I don’t know if I can keep doing that,” said Green, who took 13 threes to Thompson’s eight and Curry’s five. “I don’t know if there’s going to many nights when I take as many three-point shots as them, but tonight, the shot was there. I didn’t turn it down too many times, and when I did turn one down, they told me to shoot it.”
His shot helped the Warriors (17-2) clinch a franchise-best seventh consecutive win on the road, equaling a record set in 1969 and tied in 2013-14. The last time the Warriors had an 11-game win streak overall, the Bulls snapped it in January 1972.

***

No. 2: Break up the Sixers — It may have taken them more than a month and a flirtation with NBA infamy to get their first win of the season, but the Sixers didn’t waste any time getting victory No. 2 when they outlasted the struggling Pistons in overtime. Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer notes how the young team is enjoying its sudden taste of success:

“We are on a great little run,” said point guard Michael Carter-Wiliams, who finished with 20 points, 15 assists, 8 rebounds, 3 steals, 2 blocked shots and 7 turnovers. “We played OKC tough. We came up a little short. But we wanted to build off that coming into this game.”
The Pistons dropped to 3-17 and lead the Sixers by only one game in the Eastern Conference standings. This was Detroit’s 11th consecutive loss. The Pistons are closing in on the franchise record of 14 straight losses.
The Pistons missed all 11 of their field goal attempts in the extra period. Their lone point came on Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s foul shot with 2 minutes, 37 seconds left.
“I was pleased with our defense in that overtime,” said Sixers coach Brett Brown, whose squad also held the Pistons to 18 points in the fourth quarter. “I thought our defense was tough.”
After the teams combined to miss their first nine shots in overtime, Henry Sims’ jumper gave the Sixers a 102-101 lead with 1 minute, 57 seconds left. Then Nerlens Noel’s 5-foot floater made it a 104-101 game with 29.9 seconds left. Carter-Williams and Robert Covington both added a pair of late foul shots in the seven-point win.
“Robert played great,” Carter-Williams said of Covington, who finished with a career-high 25 points off the bench. “I think Luc [Mbah a Moute], who had 14 points and 11 rebounds] made a couple of hustle plays. And Nerlens, Henry, and [Brandon Davies] were in there banging with their bigs and doing the best they can.
“So it was definitely a group effort.”

***

No. 3:Beverley returns in the nick of time — It’s been a tough start to the season for Rockets feisty point guard Pat Beverley as he’s missed 10 of the last 14 games with a nagging hamstring injury. But with Dwight Howard still sidelined and James Harden’s back finally giving out from carrying so much of the load, Beverley returned to make the big plays and shots that carried the Rockets to a fourth straight win and kept them on the heels of Golden State in the Western Conference race. Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle explains:

Beverley returned after missing the previous six games and 10 of 14 with a strained hamstring. But with the Rockets’ list of injuries growing nightly, they needed him to be back and at his best with the game on the line.
Beverley answered just in time, putting in the 3-pointer that stopped the Phoenix Suns’ charge and grabbing the rebounds that held them off 100-95 on Saturday night at Toyota Center.
“We don’t win that game unless Pat plays,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. “He made some big 3s and got some huge offensive rebounds.
“We were really struggling. We were running out of gas. James tweaked his back. Francisco (Garcia) is out. We were really running on fumes there.”
Even with Beverley back, the Rockets began the game with Dwight Howard, Terrence Jones, Isaiah Canaan and Kostas Papanikolaou out, with Papanikolaou spraining his right knee Friday. Garcia left in the first half with a sore right leg.
Harden had carried the Rockets through the weeks of injuries, but when his back tightened Saturday, he struggled to move on the floor, eventually leaving the bench area to try to stretch. He played the final seven minutes in obvious pain, grimacing as he left the floor in the final seconds.
“I had a real tight back,” Harden said. “It was hard for me to even move. It was hard for me to change directions, and it was hard for me to really move and push off. It was a tough night.”
Harden was unconcerned that the back would be an ongoing problem.
The Rockets started fast, building a 22-point lead with Donatas Motiejunas sinking hooks and Jason Terry putting in 3-pointers early. But in the fourth quarter, the Rockets went seven minutes without a field goal as their lead shrank from 16 points to seven.
Finally, with 2:30 remaining, Beverley nailed his fifth 3-pointer of the night, ending the Rockets’ dry spell just in time.
“Patrick brings something we don’t have and that’s a point guard who plays excellent defense, knocks down shots and is a great team player,” Harden said. “Without Pat tonight, we probably would have lost that game. It was great just to have him back.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Tiago Splitter could finally be back in the Spurs’ lineup Tuesday night at Utah… Brian Shaw says there’s not much daylight between Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant…  Are the Gasols the best brother combination in NBA history?…Andre Drummond admits that he made a fast mistake.

ICYMI(s) of The Night: A sequence like this illustrates why Paul George is 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

Blogtable: The league’s best 2 guards

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: The best 2s | Charlotte vs. New York | A sweet 16



VIDEO: Isiah Thomas has high praise for Chicago’s Jimmy Butler

> Rank the top three shooting guards in the league … under 35. What’s your reasoning?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: 1. Klay Thompson, 2. James Harden, 3. Jimmy Butler. This is pretty straight-forward for me. Thompson has the reputation and the paycheck as the best two-way shooting guard, with Team USA credibility behind him. Harden is the most dangerous offensively, and the position is called “shooting guard” for a reason. And I’ve seen Butler enough to know that, while his offensive game isn’t as developed as Thompson’s, his brand of defense and toughness can win you a bunch of games. Just missing my cut: Bradley Beal. Scoring chops, mature, guy who does little things, but oh those injuries.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: James Harden, Klay Thompson, Bradley Beal. Harden is the most unstoppable backcourt scoring force in the league right now, ranks second in league in points per game. He’s the best at getting to the hoop and drawing fouls and can fill it up on 3s. Also gets a half dozen rebounds and assists per game and this season is also making a solid defensive effort. Thompson’s improved post-up game has him closing the gap, but Harden’s free throws make the difference. Beal just needs a long run of good health to stake his claim with the top two.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: There’s a change at the top of the leader board. While I would have gone with James Harden in the past, I give Klay Thompson the edge now because of defense. Thompson has size, the shooting range, the ability to check multiple positions. And he’s only getting better. I’ll go DeMar DeRozan third.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Harden, Thompson, DeRozan. I just realized how watered-down this position actually is, especially compared to the golden age with Michael Jordan, Reggie Miller, Ray Allen, etc. None of my candidates are perfect, but Harden is extremely good at the skill that the position demands. So he’s my choice despite his defense. Funny thing, just a few years ago folks were wondering if the Raptors jumped the gun by giving DeRozan that extension.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: 1. James Harden. 2. Klay Thompson. 3. Dwyane Wade. Harden’s efficiency at such a high volume (Kyle Korver is the only shooting guard who’s a more efficient scorer) makes up for his defensive issues. Thompson is a pretty complete player, though he hasn’t had to be the lead guy like the other two. And Wade still gets it done when he’s healthy and when he decides to care on defense. This isn’t an easy question to answer because there are a lot of solid guys and nobody that’s not without his faults. I came close to squeezing Korver, Jimmy Butler, DeMar DeRozan, Joe Johnson, or Wesley Matthews on the list. And give 37-year-old Manu Ginobili any time.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Once a position of extreme depth and power, the move to “hyrbid” point guards who could be classified at either backcourt position clouds these rankings a bit for me. That said, James Harden tops my list. He’s an elite scorer who cannot be contained most nights because he can beat you from deep or by attacking and finishing at the rim and free throw line. Klay Thompson is No. 2 on my list. He plays both ends at an elite level and, in my opinion, is just now coming into his own as a true All-Star caliber player. I know he’s older and a bit broken down at this stage of his career, but on his best night Dwyane Wade still makes my top 3 at shooting guard. He can still do things, albeit on a far more infrequent basis, that only a select few at the position can. Wade’s ability to post up on offense and play both ends at the highest level keeps him holding on, so to speak.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: So far Jimmy Butler is having the best year, just in front of James Harden and Klay Thompson. Butler impacts the game at both ends, and his offensive versatility has been tremendous. Harden and Thompson (another strong two-way player) have been crucial to their teams’ hot starts. Dwyane Wade and DeMar DeRozan would be challenging (in addition to Monta Ellis) if not for injuries.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: So, what, anyone but Kobe Bryant? Because Kobe is the only 35+ two guard I can think of to whom this question would apply. So with KB out of the picture — and he would probably be in my picture otherwise — I’m looking for players who do more than just score. I want guys who give a hoot on defense and provide leadership, as well, and also have some room to grow. So I’ll go Klay Thompson first, James Harden second, and DeMar DeRozan third, with Bradley Beal right on their heels. But if you want, you can have any of those guys and I’ll still take Kobe, regardless of age.

Nacho Albarrán, NBA.com/Espana: Dwyane Wade, because is a very versatile player, a good shooter, rebounder and passer, a leader at last. And already he’s won three championship rings in six Finals. James Harden is the future on this position, because his strength, his shooting abilities and in going powerfully to the rim. He only needs to play better in the clutch games. Monta Ellis has grown as a more complete player in Dallas and is just pure show.

Aldo Avinante, NBA.com/Philippines: James Harden, Klay Thompson and Monta Ellis. Harden is my top shooting guard at the moment, he may get some flak because of his defense but the way he controls the game is almost effortless — he can score easily and when he puts his mind into it he can guard positions 1-4. Klay just keeps on improving and he is with the right system, with great teammates that look for him on offense. While on defense he is tasked to defend the best guard in the opposing them on a nightly basis. Monta is the most underrated shooting guard in the league. if you watch the Mavs you will see that he is their primary option on offense and he also has underrated defense.

Karan Madhok, NBA.com/India: Number 1’s gotta be James Harden – knock him for his defensive inability or over-reliance on the free-throw line all you want, but Harden’s ability to create offense for himself and his teammates is currently above far and beyond all other comers at his position. I’d give Klay Thompson second place in the list for scoring nearly 21 points per game and also developing into an elite perimeter defender on the opposite end. Number 3 is a tricky choice – if we were in the playoffs, I would’ve probably chosen Dwyane Wade, but the Heat SG’s inconsistencies knock him down a spot for me. I’d say the third-best shooting guard in the league is DeMar DeRozan. Although he’s currently hurt, DeRozan is the Raptors’ leading scorer and has helped them to early success this season.

Juan Carlos Campos Rodriguez, NBA.com/Mexico: 1. Stephen Curry is averaging 23.8 points, 5.3 rebounds and 7.8 assists per game, plus an impressive 41.3 percent on three-pointers, so in my opinion, he’s the best in the league. Let’s not forget that he’s also a great defender and he’s undoubtedly the Warriors’ leader.  It’s a delight to watch him play – spectacular passes, dribbles and stunning high-level layups. 2. Russell Westbrook with 24 points, 3.3 rebounds and 6 assists per game plus a percentage of 57.1 in three-pointers is an awesome weapon for the Thunder. What leaves me with doubts, even though his return was “wild,” was his aggressiveness when attacking the rim and defensively, the questions that we’d asked about him during his first seasons in the league. 3. James Harden‘s simply an offensive show, just look at his stats: 25.2 points, 6.3 rebounds and 6.7 assists per game – a confirmation of a great offensive talent that has the most famous “Beard” in the NBA.  However, his lack of commitment to become a better defender and his occasional lapses in the clutch forces me to put him in third place.

Marc-Oliver Robbers, NBA.com/Germany: How old is Kobe, after he fell into the fountain of youth? 28? I’m joking, but I’m really impressed by his performance so far at his age. I’ve expected a good comeback from him, but so good? Okay, let’s talk about the young fellas. I’m not a big fan of James Harden because of his defense, but his season is offensively so dominant, that you can’t choose someone else as the best shooting guard in the league so far. Behind Harden I have to pick Jimmy Butler. His improvement in the offense this season is so huge. Maybe he’s the upcoming franchise player of the Bulls. For third, I choose Klay Thompson. His game is not as variable as the ones of Butler and Harden, but if he catches fire no one can stop him.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA.com/Greece: James Harden, Klay Thompson, Dwyane Wade. From No. 1 to No. 3. I think that there is no need to argue about Harden. His 25.2 points per game speak for themselves. Thompson is one the best pure shooters in the NBA and the best under 30 years-old. Wade,  on the other hand, still has got game. He scores 20.5 per game, dishes 5.6 assist and makes a trick or two to finish at the rim despite the nickname “Flash” starts to fade out as he slowly creeps toward 35 years old.

Davide Chinellato, NBA.com/Italy: Right now it’s James Harden, Klay Thompson and Jimmy Butler for me. Harden is an MVP-caliber player, a guy who can win games by himself. Devastating from distance, his Euro-steps are a trademark; he’s also trying to play more with his teammates. Thompson is more than just Steph Curry’s sidekick: he’s a star in the making, great on defense, awesome on offense. Butler is the new face of this season, an early candidate for the Most Improved Player award. He’s one of the best 2-way players in the league after he transformed himself into a reliable offensive weapon during the offseason.

Simon Legg, NBA.com/Australia: Klay Thompson, Wesley Matthews and James Harden. My reasoning for Thompson and Matthews is pretty simple: they’re two of the best two-way guards we have in the league. Both guys can lock down opponents and influence things on defense and have become so important to their team’s overall success. From an offensive standpoint, these guys can hurt you in a number of different ways, but mainly due to their elite 3-point shooting which has become so important in today’s NBA. As for Harden, I’m probably contradicting myself due to his defensive limitations but he is the most explosive scorer at the position so it’s hard to keep a guy out like that. He sets up teammates, gets to the line at an abnormal rate and can hurt you in a number of different ways. If it was two years ago, Dwyane Wade finds himself in this list.

BlogTableBestSg2Amended
For more debates, go to #AmexNBA or www.nba.com/homecourtadvantage.

Morning shootaround — Dec. 1


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Nov. 30

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Kobe’s fire still burning | Free speech in New York | Pistons fading fast | KG tries to take a bite out of Noah

No. 1: Lakers get triple-double from Koke, beat Raptors — The showcase is not over for Kobe Bryant and perhaps the Los Angeles Lakers. That was clear in Sunday’s win over the Eastern Conference-leading Toronto Raptors, who saw Kobe school them for a triple-double (which including his career 6,00th assist). Even after all of these years, Kobe can still dial up a performance for the ages. Mike Bresnahan of The Los Angeles Times explains:

His game was nearly flawless, his numbers showed a triple-double and he became the first player in NBA history with 30,000 career points and 6,000 assists, gliding over the latter plateau with a third-quarter pass to Wesley Johnson that led to a successful 12-footer.

“It’s a huge honor. It means I pass more than people say,” Bryant said after accumulating 31 points, 12 assists and 11 rebounds at Staples Center.

The most important number could not be overlooked amid the backdrop: 36 years old.

Bryant shoved the momentum firmly toward the Lakers with a three-point play, making a 15-footer while moving left and getting fouled by James Johnson with 2:23 left in overtime.

Before shooting the free throw, Bryant took a long walk toward the other basket and pounded his chest with his right fist before heading back to the free-throw line.

“It’s crazy,” said Wesley Johnson, who had 13 points. “Especially seeing how he’s doing it. He’s still going at it. It’s not like he’s slow-footed or he still can’t get to the rim. He’s starting to play like his old self. This is definitely going to be something to tell my kids.”


VIDEO: Kobe Bryant drops a triple-double on the Raptors

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No. 2: Fisher fine with Stoudemire speaking his mind — Derek Fisher has more important things to worry about than the opinions of his players. The New York Knicks’ rookie coach has a season to worry about, a career even. Plus, he’s clearly a patriot and a believer in the freedom of all people to speak their mind, and that includes the sanctity of the locker room. That’s why Amar’e Stoudemire is free to weigh in on things in New York without retribution. Barbara Barker of Newsday has more:

“I think it shows some leadership from Amar’e, that he’s expressing how he feels about the team and his teammates and where we are as a group,” Fisher said. “I think it’s correct in terms of the assessment. And guys sometimes do that.

“It’s their locker room, so it’s more about how they feel than about how I feel about it. As long as guys continue to do the best they can, which I think Amar’e is trying to do, then sometimes you know some things may need to be said.”

Stoudemire ripped the Knicks after scoring a season-high 20 points against OKC. The problem was that no one else on the team scored more than 11 as the Knicks made only 38.7 percent of their shots in a 105-78 defeat.

“They played like they wanted it more,” Stoudemire said of the Thunder. “At this point, I don’t see how a team wants it more than we do. It’s unacceptable. We should be in desperation mode. We’re a team that’s fighting for a win. Right now, we got to have a higher sense of urgency and more enthused and mentally involved.”

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No. 3: Warriors hand reeling Pistons eighth straight loss — The alarm in Detroit should have gone off by now. The reeling Pistons have lost eight straight games under Stan Van Gundy, the franchise honcho and the coach. This team is worse than its immediate predecessor, meaning whatever changes Stan Van was going to implement have yet to take hold. How bad is it? Vincent Goodwill of the Detroit News tries to make sense of it all:

With his young center playing lifelessly and picking up his fourth foul early moments of the third quarter, Stan Van Gundy was incredulous, yelling “Fight! Fight!”, as the game predictably slipped away.

One has to wonder if it was then, or at any point in the game where Van Gundy’s thoughts drifted to what could have been, had he taken over the team he watched give the Pistons (3-14) their eighth straight loss and 11th and 12, the Golden State Warriors.

But the Warriors (14-2) weren’t offering Van Gundy total control this past offseason, and now he has total responsibility to fix this mess, one displayed on a Sunday afternoon for all to observe at The Palace, a 104-93 loss to perhaps the best team in the Western Conference.

Of all the control he has, Van Gundy can’t control the Pistons going 16 of 53 inside the paint, as they made seven of 27 in that range in the first half. As a whole, the Pistons shot 36 percent, a season low.

For the sixth time this season, they scored 40 or less before halftime — and for the umpteenth time, getting back on defense became a chore they were unable to finish.

“When you shoot 30 percent from the paint…if you look at the stats, three feet and in, we’re third in attempts,” Van Gundy said. “And last in field goal percentage. We barely finish over 50 percent of our shots, we’ve got a real problem.”

Whether it was because the hot shooting Warriors can beat you from the perimeter or an indication of his long-term plan, Greg Monroe went to the bench in favor of Kyle Singler. But aside from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope catching fire, scoring 23 while going 12-of-22 from the field, he still hasn’t found the right mix of players or the right scheme to turn this anemic offense around.

“If we had an answer, we’d change it,” said Monroe of the team failing to convert inside. “It’s really no other answer when you’re talking about layups and shots in the paint. I’m probably the culprit of it all.”

***

No. 4: Bite-gate is latest dust-up for KG and Noah — For once the Chicago Bulls can talk about something other than Derrick Rose after a game. Kevin Garnett made sure of it with the latest and perhaps strangest move of his colorful career. Apparently KG didn’t get enough of those Thanksgiving leftovers. He was busy trying to get a bite of Joakim Noah‘s hand during the Bulls’ win over the Nets Sunday. According to K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune, it’s the craziest thing Noah has seen in his colorful career, too:

Joakim Noah just smiled and shook his head in disbelief.

“Kevin Garnett tried to bite me. That’s crazy man. It’s unbelievable,” Noah said. “I don’t even know what to say.”

But then Noah said more about the incident, which rapidly circulated via social media following the Bulls’ victory over the Nets.

“I’m happy he didn’t connect,” Noah said. “If somebody tries to bite you, I think it’s a little bit more than trying to get in your head. It’s pretty amazing.”

The two players share a colorful and intense rivalry. Noah has alternated between praising Garnett’s intensity and admitting he respects him to bewilderment.

“I have fun playing against him when we win,” Noah said. “We’ve been doing some winning against him lately.I know how competitive he is and I know it drives him crazy to lose like that. I’m not worried about Kevin Garnett. I’m just worried about us, staying healthy and getting better. That’s really all I care about.”

Garnett laughed when questioned about the incident.

“I know how to bite somebody,” he said. “Obviously I was messing around in that moment. If I wanted to bite him, I’d have just … shout out to Mike Tyson …”


VIDEO: Kevin Garnett appeared to bite at Joakim Noah during Sunday’s game

***

SOME RANDOM LINKS: Slimmer and fitter Marc Gasol pushes the Memphis Grizzlies to the top …  The New Orleans Pelicans are taking a look at Dante Cunningham …  Steve Nash and Byron Scott have yet to discuss the Lakers’ situation and that’s apparently fine with Scott … Don’t forget about Dwyane Wade

Morning shootaround — Nov. 27


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played Nov. 26

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Stephenson not a star yet | Suns point guards slow to adjust | Butler has risen against the odds | Lopez a perfect fit in Portland

No. 1: Stephenson not a star yet — With a 4-12 record and the second longest losing streak in the league, the Charlotte Hornets have been the most disappointing team outside of Cleveland. The arrival of Lance Stephenson was supposed to give their offense a boost, but they rank 25th on that end of the floor and have regressed defensively. Stephenson is still starting, but has seen his playing time drop quite a bit in the last week. After he logged just 23 minutes in Wednesday’s loss to the Blazers, Hornets coach Steve Clifford provided a dose of reality regarding his team’s new “star,” as Michael Wallace of ESPN writes:

Hornets coach Steve Clifford believes Lance Stephenson’s problems adjusting during his first season in Charlotte are partly due to the guard’s struggles to live up to external expectations.

“To be fair, one of the things that’s made it more difficult for him is that he came here and people proclaimed him as the next superstar,” Clifford said Wednesday. “He’s not a star. He’s a guy that has talent to become a star. To be a star in this league, you have to do it over years.”

Clifford’s comments came after Stephenson was left on the bench for the entire fourth quarter for a second consecutive game, this time during Wednesday’s 105-97 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers that extended the Hornets’ losing streak to seven straight games.

A combination of preseason injuries and struggles since then to find his rhythm and a consistent role in Clifford’s offense has made Stephenson’s transition much more difficult than some anticipated.

***

No. 2: Suns point guards slow to adjust — At 10-6 after a win over the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday, the Phoenix Suns are in a playoff spot in the tough Western Conference. But they’re still trying to find their way, especially offensively, where they’ve taken a small step backward. One adjustment is the addition of point guard Isaiah Thomas, who joins Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic in an unconventional backcourt. Though the team is winning, it’s impossible for all three to get their deserved playing time every night. As Thomas tells CBS Sports‘ James Herbert, that can be tough to deal with:

With the Kings, he was shuffled in and out of the starting lineup, especially in his first two seasons. He watched Tyreke Evans, Aaron Brooks, Greivis Vasquez and Jimmer Fredette play the point in front of him. Thomas has learned that he can’t worry about the things he can’t control. Still, this is challenging. Thomas has proven he’s capable of producing like an All-Star, and so have Dragic and Bledsoe.

“It’s a tough situation,” Thomas said. “But you’ve just got to be ready for whatever circumstances coach puts you in. You gotta be ready when your name is called, but I’m not going to sugarcoat it. It’s tough.

“It’s not what I expected,” Thomas continued. “But coach has a tough job. Putting all of us on the floor and trying to mix up the minutes, it’s tough for him. So it’s not just tough for us as players, we just gotta be ready when our name’s called and just know, I mean, coach is trying to do what he thinks is best for the team to put us in a position to win. But the key word is it’s a tough situation. For all of us.”

***

No. 3: Butler has risen against the odds — The Chicago Bulls have one of the most improved offenses in the league, despite the fact that Derrick Rose has played just 6 1/2 of their 15 games. One reason is the continued development of Jimmy Butler, who has the best field goal percentage of the five players in the league averaging at least 20 points, six rebounds and three assists. Butler was the 30th pick in the 2011 Draft out of Marquette, where most teams didn’t see much talent in the 6-7 guard. ESPN’s Nick Friedell profiles Butler and his path to becoming a big piece of a title contender:

Jimmy Butler isn’t supposed to be here.

He’s not supposed to be in the NBA. He’s not supposed to be a key member of a Chicago Bulls team that has championship aspirations. He’s not supposed to be in the midst of an All-Star type season — the best of his career — in which he has carried the Bulls on both ends of the floor at various times. And he’s certainly not supposed to be on the verge of cashing in on a contract offer at season’s end that will likely pay him well over $50 million over the next four seasons.

The odds have always been against Butler. His path to the NBA is as unlikely as anyone who plays in the league given that his backstory (of being homeless at 13 before moving in with a friend’s family) reads like the basketball version of “The Blind Side.” No matter how many ups and downs Butler endured in his journey to the precipice of NBA stardom, the 25-year-old never stopped believing in himself. The same drive that helped get him out of Tomball, Texas, and into Marquette University is the same fuel that’s pushed him to average over 20 points a game early this season.

***

No. 4: Lopez a perfect fit in Portland — The Portland Trail Blazers made a 21-win leap from Lottery team to the second round of the playoffs last season, and have continued rolling with a 12-3 start this year. They’ve gotten improvement from all of their high-profile players, but the key to the transformation was the addition of a low-profile center. Joe Freeman of The Oregonian details the importance of Robin Lopez to the Blazers’ success:

After 96 regular season games and one memorable playoff series victory, it’s become clear that Lopez was the missing link for this franchise. A city that has watched the downfall of the beloved yet brittle Bill Walton, and the depressing breakdowns of Sam Bowie and Greg Oden, finally has a stabilizing force at the NBA’s most important position.

And while Lopez’s made-for-Portland personality and rugged, hustle-infused game have made him a Rip City fan favorite, it’s the things you don’t notice — the unselfishness, the unassuming disposition, the way he connects the Blazers’ chemistry — that have made the towering 7-foot, 265-pound center so important.

LaMarcus Aldridge is the Blazers’ best player. Lillard brings the big shots and big plays. Matthews provides defense, leadership and heart. And Batum is the glue, offering a touch of everything.

But Lopez is perhaps the most important piece, the linchpin to one of the most cohesive and talented starting lineups in the NBA. When general manager Neil Olshey shrewdly snatched Lopez in a trade for next to nothing, he didn’t just nab a starting center entering his prime, but also the 21st Century version of Buck Williams, a player plugged into an established core at just the right time that helped catapult the Blazers to the next level.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Carmelo Anthony doesn’t know how long back spasms will keep him out of the Knicks’ lineupThe Thunder waived Sebastian TelfairThe Lakers are close to signing Earl ClarkDavid West hopes to make his season debut on FridayMarcus Smart started, but couldn’t finish practice on WednesdayThe Celtics are going to EuropeMark Cuban wants to join the Eastern ConferenceSome trash talk from Philly fans motivated Kevin GarnettKyrie Irving wants to guard the league’s best point guards … and The New York Times profiled TNT’s “Inside the NBA.”

ICYMI of The Night: Tyson Chandler helped the Mavs to an overtime victory over his old team with 25 rebounds, an NBA high for the season:


VIDEO: Nightly Notable: Tyson Chandler grabs 25 boards

Blogtable: Eye-opener out of the gate

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: Stumbling in the East | Revisiting the Sixers’ plan | Early season eye-opener


> Give me a lesser-known player who is opening your eyes. What do you like about him?

Jimmy Butler (Gary Dineen/NBAE)

Jimmy Butler (Gary Dineen/NBAE)

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comLooks like I was wrong about Chicago’s Jimmy Butler – again. I didn’t share the Chicago Bulls’ high hopes for Butler when they drafted him No. 30 in 2011; “short arms, flat shot, plays too straight-up-and-down” was my initial impression. And I didn’t agree with Butler’s decision not to nail down a contract extension by the Oct. 31 deadline (too much risk to eke out another 10 percent raise or so on the $40 million or so the Bulls offered). But Butler’s do-everything impact for Chicago, combining Luol Deng‘s and Derrick Rose‘s responsibilities on many nights, has him in line for a much bigger payday. And his offensive game has grown (21.3 ppg, 13th in true shooting percentage, 17th in PER). But I don’t mind being wrong – when Marquette University’s annual pledge drive calls next year, I can point them in yet another direction of fellow alums (Doc Rivers, Dwyane Wade, Wesley Matthews) who have all the money.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: In a season when every inhale, exhale and twinge from Derrick Rose is worthy of re-tweets and headlines, Jimmy Butler has been the driving force behind the Bulls at both ends of the floor.  After the two sides couldn’t come together on a contract extension, he’s driving toward restricted free agency next summer as the No. 1 option in the Bulls’ offense while also guarding the best perimeter players on opposing teams.  That’s making your case.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: There’s probably several good answers, but Courtney Lee jumps to mind for me because the Grizzlies have been terrific and he supplies a lot of what they need by hitting shots, especially 3-pointers, for a team slightly below average in scoring. On a team where everyone else gets the publicity — Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph, Mike Conley, Tony Allen — Lee has been invaluable to the start. Jimmy Butler and Reggie Jackson should be mentioned as well, although I think both have been improving for a while. I don’t know that either qualifies as “lesser known.”

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: I’m sure his early numbers are partly due to being on a team that can’t score and also not having Michael Carter-Williams around much, but Tony Wroten is making the most of his opportunity. He came into this season as a guy who could reach the rim but couldn’t shoot a lick, and yet he’s making 34 percent of his threes (up from a career 26-percent) and leading the Sixers in scoring, assists and steals which, I know I know, is only worth so much. Honorable mention to Garrett Temple keeping the seat warm in DC for Bradley Beal, and Donald Sloan holding it down for George Hill in Indy.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comSolomon Hill is a guy who spent a lot of time on the inactive list as a rookie last year and who looked a little overwhelmed at the start of this season. But he’s shown a lot of improvement as the depleted Pacers have won three of their last four. I don’t know if he’s ever going to be a full-time starter in this league, and he basically “opened my eyes” in one game, looking rather comfortable running the pick-and-roll and finding good shots against the Bulls’ defense on Saturday. But he could be a solid rotation guy as the Pacers get healthy, with this experience as a starter being an important part of his development.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comI’ve got to give it up to Donald Sloan in Indiana. When opportunity knocks, you have to be ready to pounce. And that’s exactly what Sloan has done. The chance for a journeyman to be showcased doesn’t come along very day. The injury to George Hill provided the opening Sloan needed to prove his worth and he’s run with it. He’s cooled off a bit recently. And that’s to be expected. But he started off the season like wildfire and produced one half of the best duels of the season with his career night against John Wall and the Washington Wizarsds. Sloan will likely return to the anonymity of the Pacers’ bench. Until then, however, he;d be wise to stay on the attack

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comEvan Fournier stepped in for Orlando’s Victor Oladipo (who recently returned from injury) and proved to be a versatile scorer and playmaker. Fournier is seven years younger than Arron Afflalo, for whom he was traded; and he’s providing better shooting and production than Denver is getting from Afflalo.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogAtlanta’s Dennis Schröder seems to have turned some kind of corner. He didn’t play much as a rookie, but this season seems to have bumped Shelvin Mack from the rotation and has bettered his career highs several times. He has such a unique combination of athleticism and speed that he could make a real impact off the bench this season for the Hawks. If you don’t believe me, ask Kawhi Leonard and Tim Duncan.

Simon Legg, NBA.com/Australia: There’s been plenty of surprising performances to start the season, with one of the most surprising being the Bucks’ 6-5 start and the performance of Brandon Knight. The fourth-year point guard came over in a trade for Brandon Jennings and now looks to be the better player. There were knocks on his ability to run an offense competently, read passing lanes and just pick up the general nuances of being a point guard. He’s slowly starting to arrest some of those fears as his stocks begin to rise. His 17.9 points, 6.6 assists, 5.8 rebounds and 39 percent shooting from deep has been eye catching. Maybe working with one of the best point guards in NBA history is rubbing off on him.

XiBin Yang, NBA.com/China: Jimmy Butler. Maybe he’s well known now, but he’s a no-brainer to me. We love him because we love to see him play that kind of hustle, grind, bloody games, and we thought he could be a key 3-D guy in a championship team. On the other words, we never thought he could be that good. He just established himself into a go-to guy on a terrific team (21.3 PPG,6.2 RPG,3.9 APG). Look at his number, he’s literally a better version of Luol Deng, even if this just his third year in the league. Statistics cheat, but the ball don’t lie.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA.com/Greece: Nikola Vucevic is becoming a force in the paint. He is averaging 18.8 points, 11.8 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game, great numbers for a 24-years-old center. There are not many other players than have his touch around the basket and, above all, his consistency.

Marcelo Nogueira, NBA.com/Argentina: Chris Copeland, who was a rookie at age 28 for the New York Knicks, has made a place for himself in the NBA after going through Spain’s second division and minor leagues in Germany and Belgium. This season, he’s taking advantage of an opportunity and his game is reflected in the stats.

Marc-Oliver Robbers, NBA.com/Germany: Of course, as a German I have to pick Dennis Schröder. He made a big jump this summer. The debut with the German national team gave him a big boost. He had to take a leading role in the team and he mastered it with bravery. Schröder plays with more confidence, his body language changed completely and that helps on the court. His turnover ratio is way better (still not perfect) than last year, he added the left-handed layup to his game and improved his jump-shot. With his new confidence he gained the trust of his teammates and coach Mike Budenholzer. Or have you expected that the Hawks will play ISO for Schröder? No one could do that after his difficult first year. He’s finally arrived in the league, but it’s still a long way to go.

Karan Madhok, NBA.com/India: I’m really loving the improved play from Jimmy Butler this season. While the top items of concern in Chicago seem to be Derrick Rose’s health, Joakim Noah‘s play or Pau Gasol‘s addition, I feel that Butler has emerged as the breakout star of the season. He has taken advantage of his offensive opportunities in Rose’s absence (and even his presence) and continues to be one of the top perimeter defenders in the league. I like that he’s asserting himself more aggressively on both sides of the floor this season: In a few years, I feel he has the potential of becoming one of the most-feared wing players in the league.

Davide Chinellato, NBA.com/Italy: Jimmy Butler is becoming a lethal 2-way player, probably one of the biggest reasons why Chicago can survive without Derrick Rose. He was a defensive specialist, he’s adding a lot of offensive moves and he’s averaging 21.3 points per game. I really like his versatility, his strength, he’s ability to defend the best opponent on the perimeter and be a factor offensively.

19blogtable575x802Amended
For more debates, go to #AmexNBA or www.nba.com/homecourtadvantage.

Morning Shootaround — Nov. 2


VIDEO: Highlights of games played Nov. 1

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Bulls, Butler can’t reach deal | Thompson shows his worth | Cavs make roster move | Celtics, Rondo work on chemistry

No. 1: Butler wants to do it in Chicago — The midnight Friday deadline to reach extensions with members of the 2011 Draft class came and went without the Chicago Bulls coming to an agreement with Jimmy Butler, one of Chicago’s key rotation players. After what were reportedly “cordial, wide-ranging” discussions, Butler tells K.C. Johnson that he’s prepared to play out this season and enter restricted free agency next summer, though he is hopeful his future remains as a member of the Bulls

Jimmy Butler’s agent told the Tribune before the Bulls game with the Cavaliers that Butler rejected a final offer and that stance didn’t change. Sources said the Bulls offered a multi-year deal averaging $11 million during lengthy, cordial conversations.

Butler will be a restricted free agent next summer, meaning the Bulls can match any offer he receives. Unlike when Omer Asik entered restricted free agency, the Bulls own Butler’s full “Bird” rights so offers can’t be as back-loaded prohibitively as Asik’s poison pill deal with the Rockets.

“This is where I want to be,” Butler said. “I love my teammates, the fan base, the organization, everybody. I think I still will end up in this city.

“I understand this is a business so I just have to be a great basketball player. I love my odds. I think this team is championship-caliber. I’m going to produce. I’m going to guard. I will take that on myself.”

***

No. 2: Thompson shows worth — Just hours after signing a four-year extension worth $70 million, Warriors guard Klay Thompson went out and scored 41 points against the Lakers. The Warriors got a win in their home opener despite Kobe Bryant going for 28 and keeping the Lakers in the game. As Diamond Leung reports, Thompson’s big game left everyone from Kobe to coach Steve Kerr singing his praises

Thompson was 14 for 18 from the field, going 5 for 7 from 3-point range. Going 12 for 28 from the field was the vintage Bryant even at age 36 and without as much talent on his team as he’s been accustomed to having.

“It was fun to watch,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “It was like the rising star at that position going against the guy who’s been the best for 15 years.”

Thompson has shown signs that he has what it takes to seize the shooting guard torch from Bryant. After their first meeting in the preseason, Bryant was left saying of Thompson’s 25-point performance that the 24-year-old “has the whole package.”

On Thompson’s career night, one tit for tat began with him blowing by his childhood hero on a fast break, shot-faking Bryant into flying by and scoring while being fouled. On the other end of the court, Bryant sank a contested fadeaway jumper.

“He was making some crazy shots,” Thompson said. “He’s still got it.”

***

No. 3: Cavs make move — Sure we’re not even a week into the season, and the Cavaliers may (rightfully) be preaching patience and small sample sizes, but new coach David Blatt also apparently isn’t afraid to make a move when its needed. Yesterday, the Cavs waived A.J. Price and signed free agent point guard Will Cherry, who spent last season in the D-League. As Chris Haynes reports, now that he’s in the NBA, Cherry now has to find a role…

Price, 28, had a solid preseason showing with the Cavaliers appearing in six games and averaging 7.2 points, 1.5 assists in 13.3 minutes per game.

Cleveland will replace Price with free agent point guard Will Cherry, a league source informed Northeast Ohio Media Group.

Cherry, 23, has agreed to a two-year deal, we’re told. Not all of the salary is guaranteed.

The 6-1 guard was undrafted in 2013 out of the University of Montana where he is seventh on the school’s all-time scoring list. Last season he played for the Canton Charge of the NBA Development League, the Cavaliers’ D-League affiliate.

***

No. 4: Celts build chemistryRondo molding Celtics — The Celtics are still deep in rebuilding mode, but for Rajon Rondo, that’s a good thing because it means the current roster is stocked with young players willing to be molded. After the Celtics flew from Boston to Houston for their first road trip of the season, Rondo helped organize a team dinner to build chemistry, as Marc D’Amico reports

Rondo, who said that every team’s personality is different, is starting to get a grasp on this group of Celtics. He’s learning that this team loves to have a good time, and he claims that’s a good thing.

“We have a lot of young guys, a lot of playful guys with good personalities,” Rondo said. “So it kind of helps ease everything.”

Rondo himself showed off his playful personality by poking fun at one of his teammates, 14-year veteran Gerald Wallace, as he discussed the team dinner.

“We don’t have too many stiff guys like Gerald, older guys that are set in their ways,” he joked. “Everybody’s young and can be molded, and what better way than to have dinner with food?”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: After Paul Pierce was ejected last night, Otto Porter had a big game for Washington … Memphis guard Courtney Lee is “out a while” with a concussion … After Joe Johnson lit up the Pistons for 34 points, Detroit coach Stan Van Gundy said it was his fault … Several teams have reportedly shown interest in Quincy Miller, with the Lakers leading the way

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.

New Wizards-Bulls feud couldn’t wait


VIDEO: Scuffle leads to suspensions, fines for Wizards, Bulls

CHICAGO – Randy Wittman didn’t think much of the question. Not nearly as much of it as I did, for instance, seeing as how I was the one who asked it Monday night: Would the bad blood and feistiness of the Washington Wizards’ first-round playoff series with the Chicago Bulls carry over to the preseason opener for both teams?

“In an exhibition?” Wittman, the Wizards coach, said with a chuckle. “You need a storyline, huh?”

We got a storyline that night. And we got another one Wednesday afternoon, when the NBA announced that four of Wittman’s players were suspended for one game for leaving the bench area during an altercation between Washington’s Paul Pierce and Chicago’s Joakim Noah in the first quarter Monday at United Center.

In the first quarter. Of, yes, an exhibition.

Additionally, Pierce and Noah were fined $15,000 each for their roles in the scuffle. A scuffle that didn’t realize, apparently, that it was supposed to wait another month or so.

“Obviously once we get going and the season winds in here, those things play out,” Wittman had said about 90 minutes before Monday’s tipoff. “Not so much a game like this where a lot of people will be playing, the lineups will be different… I’m sure when it rolls around to November, that will be a little bit different.”

The next round, er, game between the Wizards and the Bulls will be in Washington on Dec. 23, the first of four regular-season meetings in a simmering new rivalry.

Wittman’s instincts must not have been in championship-season shape yet, because things boiled over Monday with 8:57 left in the opening quarter.

Pierce fouled Chicago’s Jimmy Butler hard across the jaw. While the referees gathered to review the play as a flagrant or common foul, Pierce and Noah exchanged words and Noah pushed at the veteran forward. Pierce reacted by poking a finger into Noah’s forehead, which sparked an NBA version of a baseball fight.

Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, who was on Boston’s staff when Pierce and the Celtics won a championship in 2008 and has been Noah’s coach since 2010, found himself smack in the middle like a pro wrestling ref dwarfed by the combatants. Chicago fans reacted like it was a Bears or Blackhawks game.

“It was great,” Noah said after the game. “It got all the summer out of me. It feels good to be back on the court.”

That was the problem for Washington: Nene, DeJuan Blair, Daniel Orton and Xavier Silas all left their team’s bench area and moved in the direction of the skirmish at the scorer’s table. That brought the automatic suspensions from NBA president of basketball operations Rod Thorn. They will be served in the Wizards’ season opener or the first regular season game in which each player is physically able to play.

Pierce wasn’t around for the playoff clash last spring, but he and the Bulls didn’t much like each other in his Boston or Brooklyn days, either.

“That’s just the tension between these two teams that’s kind of now carrying over to this year, I feel like,” Pierce said. “I’m a part of it now. Even when I was with the Celtics, that’s how I was with them.”

At the end of the third quarter, Washington’s Kevin Seraphin set a hard screen on Butler and was called for an offensive foul. He stood over the fallen Bulls player for a beat too long, in Butler’s opinion, prompting more shoves.

It was hard not to connect the dots back to last spring and the teams’ heated first-round series. Noah and a member of the Wizards’ security team had a testy exchange at the morning shootaround before Game 3 in Washington. That night, Nene and Butler literally butted heads in an on-court confrontation, with the Wizards’ big man getting ejected and suspended from Game 4.

Then there was the fact the Wizards eliminated the Bulls in five games. It was a sign of Washington’s ascendancy with its precocious backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal, while at the same time abruptly ending another season Chicago had begun, at least, with hopes of title contention.

That’s why some folks anticipated chippiness Monday, preseason or not.

“Whatever it was, I guess that’s what it’s going to come down to every time we play them guys,” Butler said. “I guess guys just don’t like us. I’m cool if they don’t like me.”

Said Wall: “That lets you know how it’s going to be for the four times we play them in the regular season. It might get a lot worse than that.”

Grab your calendar now: Dec. 23, Jan. 9, Jan. 14 and March 3. Might as well circle the dates in red, since both teams will be seeing red.

Morning shootaround — July 23

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Reports: Cavs working to land Love; Bulls join fray? | Report: Mavs to meet with Nelson | Austin says he was offered job with NBA

No. 1: Reports: Bulls making push for Love as Cavs try to seal deal — Yesterday the Cleveland Cavaliers and Utah Jazz pulled off what on the surface seemed to be a minor deal: Cavs guard Carrick Felix heads to Utah in exchange for John Lucas III, Erik Murphy and Malcolm Thomas. But unless you’ve been living on another planet the last few weeks, that deal was done to give Cleveland more salary-cap flexibility so it can work out a trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves for All-Star big man Kevin Love. According to ESPN.com’s Marc Stein and Brian Windhorst, the Cavs are confident they can pick up Love, but the Chicago Bulls are also trying to make a late push to get in on the Love sweepstakes:

The Cleveland Cavaliers are increasingly confident that they will eventually complete the acquisition of Kevin Love, but the Chicago Bulls are making a late push to try to get into the trade mix for the All-Star power forward, according to sources close to the process.

Sources told ESPN.com that the Cavs firmly believe they are progressing toward a trade framework that the Minnesota Timberwolves will accept in exchange for Love and enable Cleveland to pair the versatile big man with Team USA teammate LeBron James.

Cleveland’s offer, sources said, would be headlined by No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins, 2013’s No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett and a future first-round pick, with one source close to the process insisting Tuesday that the Cavs are destined to acquire Love. At least one more player might have to added to the package to satisfy NBA trade rules.

Sources say that the Bulls, though, have re-entered the race and would appear to be the biggest threat to the Cavs thanks largely to the Golden State Warriors’ resolute unwillingness to add longtime Wolves target Klay Thompson in any deal.

Although the full extent of the Bulls’ offer wasn’t immediately known, it is believed Minnesota would seek a package from Chicago featuring forward Taj Gibson and defensive ace Jimmy Butler in addition to other assets. The Bulls shelved their Love interest while trying to sign Carmelo Anthony away from the New York Knicks but, according to sources, have re-emerged as contenders.

The Cavs, though, rocketed to the upper echelon of Love’s wish list of potential trade destinations from the moment James agreed to return to Cleveland. ESPN.com reported this month that even James’ short-term contract with the Cavs — which spans only two seasons and includes a player option to return to free agency next summer — would not dissuade Love from committing to Cleveland.

Wolves owner Glen Taylor insisted again last week that he wanted to keep Love and that Minnesota is prepared to open the season with Love on the roster. But sources say numerous rival teams think  that Minnesota will ultimately part with Love before the start of the new season, given the extremely public nature of Love’s unwillingness to commit to the Wolves beyond this season.

Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski reports that the Cavs are solely focused on getting Love and are working hard to make that trade happen:

Cleveland has been determined to acquire Love since it signed LeBron James to a free-agent deal.

Those three players can be included in packages as preludes to a Love deal, or in a Love deal itself to give Minnesota salary-cap relief. The Cavaliers hold an interest in keeping Thomas, who could be an inexpensive role player to strengthen their frontcourt depth, sources said.

Cleveland has to be creative in solidifying a deal for Love, who the Timberwolves want to package with Kevin Martin and J.J. Barea, several front-office officials told Yahoo Sports.

Cleveland’s discussions with Minnesota have escalated with the Cavaliers’ willingness to include No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins in the deal, sources said. Without Wiggins, there’s no other combination of Cleveland players and picks that would interest Minnesota. Once Wiggins signs his rookie contract, a trade involving him can’t be formally completed for 30 days.

The Denver Nuggets have remained a strong contender for Love, offering a package that sources said has been the most appealing to Minnesota outside of the Cavaliers and a possible Golden State deal including Klay Thompson. So far, the Warriors have kept Thompson out of their offer to Minnesota.

Minnesota wants a package for Love to include Barea, who has $4.5 million left on his expiring deal – and possibly Martin, who has three years and $21 million left. As part of a larger deal, the Cavaliers want to include 2013 No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett and a future No. 1 pick for Love.

The Cavaliers have been offering future first-round picks for an experienced center, league sources said.


VIDEO: GameTime’s crew discusses the latest trade rumors involving Kevin Love