Posts Tagged ‘Joakim Noah’

A dozen stories to open training camps

Little has changed with the ageless Spurs since the confetti rained down on the champs, but much is now different with the rest of the NBA. So as the first handful of training camps open this week, here are a dozen storylines that will require immediate attention:

LeBron rocks, Cleveland rolls

LeBron James, 2007 (Gregory Shamus/Getty)

(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty)

Is it really as simple as putting the giant sign of LeBron James back up in downtown Cleveland and turning the clock back to the days of the Cavs as contenders for them to win it all? With Kyrie Irving‘s continued growth, his performance at the FIBA World Cup fresh in our minds, with the arrival of Kevin Love to be the third leg of the stool, it only seems a matter of time before the Cavs are on the main stage in June. Let’s remember that Irving and Love have never even been to the playoffs, let alone made a deep run. But let’s also remember that this is the Eastern Conference and that means the door is open.

Kobe vs. The World

Let’s face it. Nobody — not LeBron, not Carmelo Anthony, not Kevin Durant, not anybody — will have every step he takes on the court scrutinized and analyzed more than Kobe Bryant as he battles the calendar and what would seem to be common sense as he tries to come back from a torn Achilles tendon and a knee fracture at age 36. He’ll be determined, defiant, maybe even destructive to his own well-being. More than anything, you have to hope he can stay healthy all the way through the long grind of the season, if for no other reason than to see how he drives and browbeats a ragtag collection of post-Pau Gasol era Lakers in a quixotic quest.

Big Man in the Big Easy

They’ve changed owners, changed their team name and solidified the face of the franchise for the first time since New Orleans was last in the playoffs. Now it’s time to see if Anthony Davis can build on his big dog experience with Team USA in the World Cup and put some bite into the Pelicans. Davis averaged 20.8 points, 10 rebounds and made his first All-Star Game appearance last season. But based on the way he played in Spain, that might have only been scratching the surface. There are some ready to jump Davis over reigning MVP Durant as the next “best player in the game.” He’ll get up front support this season from Omer Asik, and if Jrue Holiday, Ryan Anderson and Tyreke Evans can stay healthy, this could be the beginning of a whole new era.

Stuck on the launch pad

Until LeBron went back home to Cleveland, it was hard to top the last two offseason jackpots hit by the Rockets — landing James Harden and Dwight Howard. But that streak hit a wall when the Rockets went all-in to bring Carmelo Anthony or Chris Bosh to Houston. It was a bold and grand gamble that required trading away Omer Asik (to the Pelicans) and Jeremy Lin (to the Lakers) to create salary cap space. It also led to allowing Chandler Parsons to become a free agent and sign with the Dallas Mavericks. Now with neither prize free agent, the Rockets are a team that won 54 games a year ago, lost in the first round of the playoffs and have the depth of a one-night pickup at a singles bar. How much can they get from Terrence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas and Isaiah Canaan? What does Jason Terry have left? How much of the weight can Harden and Howard realistically carry?

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Getting out of NBA’s ‘Ringless of Honor’

Steve Nash's teams have been to the playoffs 12 times, but he's never been in The Finals. (Noah Graham/NBAE)

Steve Nash’s teams have been to the playoffs 12 times, but he’s never been in The Finals. (Noah Graham/NBAE)

Rings still are the things, even if it didn’t necessarily seem that way in June.

Because The Finals of 2014 were a rematch of the 2013 Finals, there wasn’t any chatter about stars who needed to win a championship. Both the Miami and San Antonio rosters were full of decorated performers, their “ring” box checked and re-checked through multiple title runs.

That wasn’t the case in many previous postseasons, when LeBron James and Chris Bosh (2011), Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd (2010), Pau Gasol (2009) and Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen (2008) chased the validation that seems to matter most in the NBA. Tim Duncan and Kobe Bryant had won nine rings in 12 years, so unless someone was a teammate of one of them — or broke through like the ’08 Celtics, the ’06 Heat (Dwyane Wade on the rise) or the ensemble ’04 Pistons – he had his nose pressed against the window at title time.

The Duncan-Bryant era was a legacy blocker as surely as the Jordan era, back when Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen were winning six titles in eight years with two different supporting casts in Chicago. By dint of competing during one or both of those consecutive eras – the Bulls last won in 1998, the Spurs first won in 1999 – an entire generation of All-Stars and Hall of Famers exited this league without jewelry, including Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Karl Malone, John Stockton, Allen Iverson, Chris Mullin and Reggie Miller.

With 15 of 20 titles hogged by three franchises – and Hakeem Olajuwon‘s Houston teams grabbing two more – vying for the leftovers was a game of musical chairs. Gary Payton and Clyde Drexler managed to grab rings on their way out the door. The old-warhorse-to-the-Spurs-or-Lakers-seeking-his-ring became an annual tale of spring.

Guys like Pierce, Garnett and Nowitzki would be on the brink of joining that club to which no NBA star wants to belong – the Ringless of Honor – if not for the Celtics’ and Mavericks’ one-and-done peaks in 2008 and 2011.

Meanwhile, the waiting list gets refreshed, not erased. Here are the stars who – by virtue of their status and their career trajectories – are most on the clock as the 2014-15 season approaches (with each’s level of urgency noted):

Carmelo Anthony, Nov. 2013

Carmelo Anthony, Nov. 2013
(Michael Bernstein/NBAE )

Steve Nash, Lakers (****) – Nash is about out of time, and might have been before he got to L.A. two years ago. At this point, his best shot at a ring will require a trade by the February deadline because the Lakers will have trouble even qualifying for the tournament next spring. The once-dazzling playmaker left Dallas too soon and got to Bryant too late.

Carmelo Anthony, Knicks (***) – If Anthony’s Hall of Fame career gets discounted for the lack of an NBA championship to bookend his NCAA title splash with Syrcause, he’ll have the man in the mirror to blame. He pushed out of Denver before the Nuggets’ plan had a chance to come to fruition, and he couldn’t capitalize in New York despite the Knicks’ monstrous payroll. Now, rather than choosing as a free agent to contend with Chicago or Houston, Anthony has re-upped for what clearly is a New York rebuild. He’s a strong candidate to find himself facing the Tracy McGrady fate in a few years, the scoring star latching on in twilight for a final shot or two.

Kevin Durant (**) – He’s young, so the ticking of the clock still is muted. But Durant has accomplished almost everything else he can – scoring titles, an MVP – which makes the open space on his trophy shelf more conspicuous. He doesn’t want to become Garnett, the constant around whom insufficient parts get haphazardly placed. Russell Westbrook fits in here, too, by association, though he still has individual awards to conquer.

Dwight Howard, Rockets (***) – The big fella seems destined to head into the sunset and five years later to Springfield with a big smile and no Larry O’Brien trophy. He plays at the mercy of his coaches and his point guards, yes, but Howard has yet to show the leadership skills or the passion – as in downright, focused orneriness – to carry his team when it matters most. James Harden is younger but he’s facing the same onus, especially with Houston’s relative whiff in free agency this summer.

Chris Paul, Clippers (***) – The Clippers’ playmaker might be in the most urgent now-or-never situation of all on this list. He has the coach, the teammates, the reset ownership and his best opportunity yet to be on a podium shaking Adam Silver‘s hand in mid-June. Injuries are always a concern with Paul, however, and at 29, so is the clock.

Joakim Noah, Bulls (**) – Noah is here because he’s older than his oft-injured and more esteemed teammate Derrick Rose. Rose’s overarching storyline is all about health, with championships way down the list. Noah had a breakthrough individual season in 2013-14, though, and has been the guy enduring all the comings and goings in Chicago (coaches, Rose’s layoffs, Luol Deng‘s ouster). A dervish of emotions on the court, Noah doesn’t hide how important winning is to him. But he hasn’t been able to achieve it yet, largely because of James in Miami and now, again, in Cleveland.

Zach Randolph, Al Jefferson, David West, LaMarcus Aldridge (*) – These are all top-tier NBA power forwards for the Grizzlies, Hornets, Pacers and Trail Blazers, respectively, still seeking their first rings. With the exception of Aldridge, who still has time, they’re not quite at the marquee level of the other names on this list. They’ll need help chasing down hardware.

Deron Williams, Joe Johnson (**) – It’s not so much that fans notice the holes in these Brooklyn stars’ resumes; they haven’t achieved that level of reverence yet. In fact, it’s more what a ring would do for each of them, perhaps elevating opinions and removing criticism.

Top triple-double winners of 2013-14

Kevin Durant averaged 32 points a game last season in winning his first MVP. (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE)

Kevin Durant averaged 32 points a game last season in winning his first MVP. (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE)

In these days of advanced metrics, it seems every day brings another way to measure the effectiveness of a player. But with a nod toward Oscar Robertson, Magic Johnson and Jason Kidd, we’re sticking with the old faithful triple-double. Here is our list of 10 favorites that produced wins in the 2013-14 season:

10. Joakim Noah, Chicago Bulls
February 11, 2014 vs. Atlanta Hawks — 19 points, 16 rebounds, 11 assists

In the aftermath of Derrick Rose’s second consecutive season lost to knee injury, Noah had already stepped into the breach to carry the team. But the United Center crowd knew this was going to be special when the running, spinning, banging bundle of energy had a devil of a first quarter with a 6-6-6 in points, rebounds and assists. He finished the night with his fourth career triple-double in a 100-85 thumping of the Hawks that included a career-high 11 helpers.

9. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
November 4, 2013 at Philadelphia 76ers — 18 points, 12 assists, 10 rebounds

It had been 3 1/2 years since Curry had rung up a triple-double, but he came flying out of the gate in the first week of the season.  Andre Iguodala, playing his first game as a Warrior in the city where he broke into the NBA, poured in 32 points in a 110-90 win. But it was Curry who showed off his all-around game, slashing to the hoop, knocking down a pair of 3-pointers and even coming up with five steals for Golden State.

8. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
April 11, 2014 at Los Angeles Lakers — 30 points, 12 assists, 10 rebounds

This late into the schedule, triple-doubles were starting to become old hat for Curry. It was his fourth of the season, making him the first Warrior to accumulate that many since Wilt Chamberlain in 1963-64. This was definitely some hot Curry, making 12 of 20 shots, including 4-for-5 from behind the 3-point line as he led Golden State in clinching a playoff berth while ending an 11-game losing streak at Staples Center in the 112-95 victory. “What Curry did tonight, and what he does every night, is remarkable,” said Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni.

7. Kevin Love, Minnesota Timberwolves
April 2, 2014 vs. Memphis Grizzlies — 24 points, 16 rebounds, 10 assists

This is why LeBron James wanted him so badly. It might not have felt like it was in the cards when Love started out the night by missing three of his first four shots. But he found his touch and range, especially behind the 3-point arc, going 8-for-11 over the final 3 1/2 quarters to register his third triple-double of the season in a 102-88 win. It was a last stand for the Timberwolves, who put off for one more night being eliminated from playoff contention for the 10th year in a row. That’s why Love wanted so badly to play with LeBron.

6. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
May 3, 2014 vs. Memphis Grizzlies — 27 points, 16 assists, 10 rebounds

This was a reminder that Westbrook didn’t enjoy watching virtually all of the playoffs a year earlier from the bench with a knee injury. With the Grizzlies pushing OKC to the limit in the first round, Westbrook was a one-man wrecking crew with his second triple-double of the series to clinch the 120-109 win and let the Thunder move on. He connected on five of his six 3-point tries and tied his career high with 16 assists. He also joined Rajon Rondo as the only players in the NBA to have a pair of Game 7 triple-doubles. The only other players ever to have as many as 25 points, 15 assists and 10 rebounds in a playoff game are Oscar Robertson and Chris Paul.

5. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
May 7, 2014 vs. Los Angeles Clippers – 31 points, 10 assists, 10 rebounds

No matter what Kevin Durant accomplishes, it seems that Westbrook always finds a way to get into the story. That was definitely the case on the night Durant was awarded his MVP trophy before Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals. K.D. was great with a near-triple-double of 32 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists, but Westbrook sealed the deal with 31, 10 and 10 when he shoveled a pass to Thabo Sefolosha for a layup with 81 seconds to go as OKC won the series opener 112-101. It was his second triple-double in a row and third of the playoffs. “Russ played harder than all of us combined,” said the Clippers’ Chris Paul.

4. Ricky Rubio, Minnesota Timberwolves
March 19 at Dallas Mavericks — 22 points, 15 assists, 10 rebounds

Teammate Kevin Love led the way with 35 points and hit the floating jumper to give the Timberwolves a 123-122 overtime win on the road, but it was Rubio who was the slashing star of the show for most of the night. He weaved through the Mavericks’ defense to get to the basket, hitting eight of his 12 shots without a single 3-point bucket. It was Rubio’s second triple-double of the season and third of his career. He also came up with four steals. That puts him in the company of Chris Paul and Andre Miller as the only active players to get at least 20 points, 15 assists, 10 rebounds and four steals in a game.

3. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
January 25, 2014 at Philadelphia 76ers — 32 points, 14 rebounds, 10 assists

The league’s leading scorer sat out the Thunder’s previous game in Boston three nights earlier with a sprained shoulder, but his shooting hand was obviously well rested when he returned against the Sixers to lead the 103-91 win. K.D. cruised, hitting 12 of 17 shots and became just the sixth player since 1990 to score at least 30 points in 10 consecutive games. Even though they’d been playing without the injured Westbrook since Christmas, Durant pushed the Thunder on to their seventh consecutive win.

2. Kevin Love, Minnesota Timberwolves
February 22, 2014 at Utah Jazz — 37 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists

It was only a matter of time, considering that Love had been on a run of eight straight games with at least 25 points and 10 rebounds. This time he blew the lid off EnergySolutions Arena in Salt Lake City to lead the Timberwolves in a 121-104 romp. The assists were a career high and gave Love the first triple-double of his career. It all came in less than 33 minutes of playing time as he sat out almost the entire fourth quarter. The Timberwolves needed him to come up big on a night when they were missing Nikola Pekovic, Ronny Turiaf and Kevin Martin with injuries. It was Love’s fourth straight game of 30 or more points, tying Kevin Garnett’s franchise record.

1. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
December 1, 2013 vs. Minnesota Timberwolves — 32 points, 12 assists, 10 rebounds

We know he doesn’t like the nickname, but this was one of those games where “Durantula” fits. Those long, lethal arms and his poisonous bite were everywhere as Kevin Durant notched the third triple-double of the season and fourth of his career in the 113-103 whipping. In fact, the triple-double was just a start as K.D. was also ferocious on defense, blocking four shots and making four steals. According to Elias Sports Bureau, that’s the only line of at least 32-12-10-4-4 since the NBA began officially keeping track of blocks and steals in the 1973-74 season. Durant was sizzling all night, hitting 14 of 21 shots, including a trio of 3-pointers. He did his scoring damage without living at the line, taking just two free throws. There are so many candidates to like on our top 10 list, but we’re giving K.D. the top spot for this one.

Rose sheds rust on his own schedule


VIDEO: U.S. rolls to 3-0 with decisive win over New Zealand

BILBAO, SPAIN — Stop measuring Derrick Rose‘s return with any conventional tools or methods that come to mind. They don’t apply. Not to a player whose every move and facial expression is being read for signs that he either is or is not back to the form that made him the MVP of the NBA early in his career.

Just keep it simple. Trust that he knows his own body and is sure that he is right where he is supposed to be, where he expects to be after playing a grand total of 10 games the past two NBA seasons.

Because anything else, any extra scrutiny or incessant worrying, won’t change things. The fact is Rose has rust to shake off. And he’s doing it on his own schedule. Not mine. Not yours. Not anyone else’s.

That might explain why he’s here in Spain with U.S. National Team on its quest to repeat as champs at the 2014 FIBA World Cup. Some people wondered why he’d put himself through this grind, five games in six days in Group C play.

It makes more sense after watching him play through these first three games, the latest being Tuesday’s 98-71 demolition of New Zealand. Rose started the second half, replacing Kyrie Irving in a game that was already over by then.

The trademark burst and explosive moves have come in flashes, in starts and stops. The muscle memory is returning, slowly but surely. But there were no numbers to back up what many of us here saw. Three points on 1-for-6 shooting and just two assists in nearly 17 minutes of action sounds like pedestrian work for a player of Rose’s caliber.

But not to U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski, who chuckled at the idea of someone questioning why he’d start Rose after halftime.

“I started him because he’s one of the best players in the league,” he said. “And also to see how he would … he needs to get minutes with the guys who are playing more minutes. Because he’s a guy that should play more minutes. And it’s something that I thought about before the game and it worked out that way. I thought Kyrie played really well. And I thought Derrick played really well. But I didn’t use them that much together tonight, because I wanted to see it separately. But he did well. I thought he moved well. And I thought he captured some of that chemistry he had in Vegas with James [Harden].”

That would be the chemistry observers saw there that had folks buzzing about Rose’s return, which would begin here with Rose as the starting point guard on this team. But Coach K and his staff backed off on that and have gone with Irving and Stephen Curry as the starting backcourt, with Rose coming off the bench.

The prospect of three games in three days doesn’t worry Rose, who smiled when asked how he was feeling after the first game.

“I couldn’t make a damn shot,” Rose said, “but I feel good.”

Coach K said the same, that he thinks Rose will hold up just fine after playing his best game, to date, against New Zealand.

“He’s moving very fast, he had that one shot go in and out, and then Kenneth [Faried] put it back in,” Coach K said. “I like the way he moved and fought through defensively. He doesn’t show any signs of favoring anything. I think he played well today.”

Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, an assistant on the U.S. National Team staff, agrees.

“He’s working every day,” Thibodeau said. “And the only way you’re going to shake that rust off is by playing and I think that’s very important for him.”

The Bulls have two players in this competition playing at opposite ends of their own personal spectrums. Pau Gasol has been dominant for Spain, looking like easily one of the best big men and players in the entire field.

He, Rose and Joakim Noah will form the nucleus of a team everyone, Thibodeau included, expects to be among the NBA elite for the 2014-15 season and beyond. So much of that depends on not only how quickly they come together as a unit, but also whether or not Rose’s body passes summer school here at the World Cup.

“Great players always figure out how to play with each other,” Thibodeau said. “When you get a great player as talented as Pau and you put Derrick with him and they are going to be terrific together. And then you add in Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson and we’ve got a lot of talented players. The challenge is how quickly we can come together.

If Rose is back to normal, there’s nothing stopping the Bulls from battling it out with Irving, LeBron James, Kevin Love and the Cleveland Cavaliers for supremacy in the Eastern Conference.

“He’s not going to change who he is,” Thibodeau said. “His strengths are his strengths. The big thing is for him, is physically he’s good and mentally he’s good. But he’s got to work on his timing. He hasn’t played in two years, basically, so it doesn’t happen overnight. I think he understands that. He’s showing great patience. He’s taken good care of his body. He’s putting everything he has into each and every day. It’ll come. It’ll come.”

Summer Dreaming: D Player of the Year

Oklahoma City's Serge Ibaka led the NBA in total blocks in 2013-14. (Richard Rowe/NBAE)

Oklahoma City’s Serge Ibaka led the NBA in total blocks in 2013-14. (Richard Rowe/NBAE)

There are so many different ways to fully embrace the dog days of summer. One is to fire up the grill and start cooking. Another is to keep that blender full of ice.

Here, we’re talking basketball. The season openers are still more than two months away, but it’s never too early to look ahead. So here are my Summer Dreaming choices for 2014-15 Defensive Player of the Year.

Send me your picks.

Serge Ibaka, Thunder — If you don’t think he’s a game-changer, then you weren’t paying attention last spring when the Serge Protector missed the first two games of the Western Conference finals and the Spurs were able to run a virtual lay-up line through the heart of the OKC defense. When Ibaka returned from a calf injury, all of a sudden it wasn’t so easy for Tony Parker and his friends to get to the basket and the series was quickly tied up 2-2. Ibaka protects the rim, contests jumpers and puts the bite into the Thunder. He’s continuing to blossom as an offensive force, but it’s his defense that is the glue of the Thunder. He led the league in total blocks for the fourth straight time last season and has been voted to the All-Defensive first team three years in a row. It’s finally his turn to get the big hardware.

Anthony Davis, Pelicans — Was it really fair to bring him into the league carrying comparisons to the legendary Bill Russell? Well, maybe if you watch the highlight video from last season. With coach Monty Williams taking the shackles off his playing time, A.D. showed many of the skills that made him the No. 1 pick in the 2012 draft. For all that he was able to do with the ball around the basket, it was the defensive plays that dropped your jaw to the floor. He guarded the paint. He cut off baseline drives. Davis seemed to swoop in from out of nowhere to reject even 3-point attempts from the corner. No place on the court was safe from the ballhawking shot-blocker. Now with rim-protecting center Omer Asik at his back, Davis might really cut loose challenging shots. That’s just scary.

Dwight Howard, Rockets – He practically owned this award, winning it three straight times from 2009-2011 in Orlando, but that was before everything went south with the Magic and he had to overcome back problems and questions about commitment to the game. Howard arrived for his first season in Houston fit and ready to re-establish himself. By the end of 2013-14 there were no more questions about his health and desire to get back to the old form. Howard’s 2.83 blocks per game led the league as he returned to being a stopper anyplace around the basket. He’s got 10 years of NBA experience but is still just 28. There’s no reason that the Rockets can’t count on him to be the defensive anchor in their push to be true contenders in the Western Conference.

Joakim Noah, Bulls — Defense can’t always be measured by numbers and quantified with stats. As the 2013-14 Defensive Player of the Year, Noah blocked just 1.4 shots per game. But he had a nose to go after every shot at the rim, was firm in guarding the pick-and-roll and with his sheer energy and physical force was as disruptive as a twister to any opposing offense. He’s hungry, he’s relentless, he’s challenging the ball anywhere on the court, he’s the epitome of the attitude that coach Tom Thibodeau wants and is at the heart of the Bulls defense that ranked No. 2 in the league last season. You can’t ever ignore Noah. He simply won’t let you.

DeAndre Jordan, Clippers – The Clippers’ big man got special attention from the boss in coach Doc Rivers’ first season in L.A. and it paid off tremendously. Rivers expected more from Jordan, demanded more … and usually got it. Jordan’s sixth NBA season produced dramatic improvement as he accepted responsibility to be a core performer. He finished second in the NBA in blocked shots per game (2.54) and third in rebounding (12.5). One of the main reasons that point guard Chris Paul can spend so much time jumping passing lanes looking for steals and the Clippers can be so aggressive on the perimeter is because they know they’ve got Jordan watching their backs with those long, lethal arms.

The war of the Rose?


VIDEO: Derrick Rose sits out of Wednesday’s game against the Dominican Republic

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Ten games in two years.

That’s the sum total of work Derrick Rose‘s knees have allowed him to put in with the Chicago Bulls of late. Knee injuries and issues have robbed Rose and Bulls fans of two years of the one-time MVP’s prime, time he’ll never get back.

Never!

So if Rose wanted to bail right now on his commitment to USA Basketball for the 2014 FIBA World Cup, no one could blame him. The breathtaking talent is still there. We’ve seen enough of that during this current exhibition run to the competition in Spain, even with Rose sitting out Wednesday’s game against the Dominican Republic. But we’re watching it, holding our collective breath, hoping the basketball higher powers spare Rose and the Bulls any further injury agony.

There is a philosophical debate going on right now in the Windy City. Should Rose continue his road back now with USA across his chest? Or should he bow out gracefully right now and make sure he’s ready to go when the Bulls kick off their championship hunt in two months?

Rose doesn’t owe it to anyone to push his sore knee(s) beyond their comfort zone right now. He owes it to himself to continue to listen to that voice inside of his head that tells him when to push it and when to step back. He did it with his recovery with the Bulls and has no reason to ignore that voice this time around.

As disappointing as it would be for the folks at USA Basketball to lose yet another superstar, they would understand where Rose is coming from given his recent injury history.

Nothing will make up for the time he missed the past two seasons. Not even a gold medal in Spain, which I think can be attained with or without Rose in the fold — especially with James Harden, “the best all-around player in the NBA” in uniform.

Selfishly, I’d love to see Rose on the court in Bilbao, Barcelona and Madrid, leading this U.S. Men’s Senior National Team in the World Cup. Without Kevin Durant, Kevin Love and Paul George on the roster, the margin for error shrinks considerably. But the strongest team in the field remains whatever combination of players USA Basketball boss Jerry Colangelo and coach Mike Krzyzewski choose to take to Spain.

If Rose wasn’t experiencing any soreness and was completely healthy, there would be no need for debate. Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, one of Krzyzewski’s assistants this summer, insists Rose is “fine.”  And to some, like Sam Smith of Bulls.com, Rose’s rebirth is a product of his affiliation with USA Basketball and their comprehensive program. There’s a sentiment that he owes it to the program to stick it out this summer.

But he’s already being held out of practices and exhibition games as a precautionary measure. Why risk it? There’s a reason for the nervousness, from some, in Chicago.

Rick Telander of the Chicago Sun-Times voices some of those concerns beautifully:

I know this is hard for Rose to take. An elite, driven athlete is never sated just by tons of money. He wants to play. He wants to dominate. That’s what he was put on earth to do.

But for Bulls fans, the wait to see a healthy, resilient Rose has been like dripping water torture.

Patriots though we may be, we have no similar interest in the United States’ dominance in world basketball. We know the globe now plays the game. We’ve seen our Olympic teams beaten by Argentina, Puerto Rico. We’re still the best, overall. So it goes. Every global star either plays in the NBA or is named Nikola Mirotic. Hooray.

But Kevin Durant and other stars are not playing for Team USA. They’re preparing for the NBA season and the preseason practices that begin — for all teams — just five weeks from today.

Rose’s first knee injury — a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee — may be totally healed. And his second major injury — a torn medial meniscus in his right knee — has been stitched back together and supposedly is good to go.

But God — or old David Stern — generally built players’ bodies pretty well before surgery. No normal knees get better with surgery. There isn’t a rocket chip doctors can put in there. Yet.

So Rose is damaged goods. Sorry, it’s the truth. Hurts to say it. Just like it hurts to say former MVP.

Arthritis likely will be his new closest friend. That and inflammation and swelling and good old ‘‘soreness.’’ Oh, and fatigue.

All of which are just indicators that he’s not a yearling in a spring field of flowers anymore.

Who cares if he wins with Team USA or loses with them or becomes the team mascot. Does anybody in America care that our beloved Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews won the gold medal for Canada in the 2014 Olympics? Or that his beloved teammate Patrick Kane lost for the U.S.?

No. The Stanley Cup is all.

The Larry O’Brien trophy is all that matters to Rose and Bulls teammates like Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, Jimmy Butler and newcomer Pau Gasol, all guys whose vested interests should come before whatever limited role Rose might play in Spain.

If Rose cannot go all out now, why would anyone expect him to do so once the Bulls start training camp?

There is no shame in recognizing that more rest is needed. There would be a level universal understanding, within the basketball community and beyond, if Rose took himself out of the mix.

If he thinks his knees will hold up, that he needs this challenge to prove to himself that he’s all the way back, I’m fine with that. If this hurdle is emotional and not physical, play on sir. Do your thing.

But knowing what we’ve missed for all but 10 games the two seasons, knowing what sort of agony Bulls fans have had to endure without their hometown superstar in uniform, if this hurdle is physical and not emotional, I’d have no problem with Rose bowing out gracefully.


VIDEO: All-Access look at USA Basketball’s recent visit to Chicago

Blogtable: Free agent’s fine future

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: Free agent’s fine future | New coach who fits | Tough Team USA call



VIDEO: Pau Gasol talks with Bulls.com about why he signed with Chicago

> Which free agent (not counting LeBron James) are you most interested to see with his new team? Why?

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Easily Pau Gasol. He’s been in such a beatdown state the last two years on bad teams and under a coach, Mike D’Antoni, who had little use for him. Gasol should be happy and energized once again playing on a team that can contend for the East crown. Plus, the Bulls will make great use of his low-post scoring and passing. This should be fun to watch.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Lance Stephenson. I want to see if his act in Indiana was just a situational deal and if there is more to his game and personality than what we’ve seen. I recognize the talent. He’s got plenty and perhaps more in reserve. He’s going to a team where the owner (Michael Jordan), coach (Steve Clifford) and locker room leaders (Al Jefferson, Kemba Walker) won’t hesitate to let him know when they feel like he’s going off the rails. If he comes in and has half the impact on the court for the Hornets that he had for the Pacers last season, the Hornets will have gotten one of the steals of the free-agent summer.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I want to see how much of a boost Paul Pierce can bring to the Wizards’ offense, which ranked 18th last season. The Wiz should be able to build on last year’s improvement and contend for a top-four spot in the East. The additions they’ve made make them one of the deepest teams in the league. But they do need more playmaking, especially when they go to their bench. Pierce shouldn’t necessarily be a sixth man, but if coach Randy Wittman can stagger his and John Wall‘s minutes some, the offense will be better overall.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: He didn’t get the largest contract, but I really think Pau Gasol could be one of the most impactful free agents of the summer. He’s not the same defender he was a few years ago, but Tom Thibodeau is the perfect coach to be able to gameplan around that. And it should be on offense where Gasol makes the biggest contribution — he and Joakim Noah are probably the best-passing big man combo in the NBA, and with Noah setting up at the top of the key, Pau’s beloved low post will be open for him to do work. Most importantly, with Derrick Rose returning, the Bulls should finally be past the offensive malaise that has plagued them for years.

The new beast of the East … the Central


VIDEO: New Beast of the East

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Any reasonable conversation about the balance of power in the NBA starts with the world champion San Antonio Spurs, the rest of the rugged Western Conference and spreads from there.

But no region of the NBA has seen the sort of influx of talent and energy that the Eastern Conference’s Central Division has this summer. From LeBron James coming home to team up with Kyrie Irving in Cleveland to Pau Gasol joining Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah in Chicago to the top two picks in the June Draft — Andrew Wiggins in Cleveland, for now, and Jabari Parker in Milwaukee — things have changed dramatically.

LeBron James' return to Cleveland looms over the entire Central Division. (David Liam Kyle/NBAE)

LeBron James’ return to Cleveland looms over the entire Central Division. (David Liam Kyle/NBAE)

The Indiana Pacers won the Central Division and finished with the best record in the East last season, but they have garnered more attention this summer for a player (Lance Stephenson to Charlotte) that they lost in free agency than they did for anything else they have done. They’ve been usurped, in the eyes of many, by both the Cavaliers and Bulls, before the summer/free agent business has been finalized.

If the Cavaliers can find a way to secure Kevin Love via trade from Minnesota, they will not only enter the season as the favorites to win the Central and the East, they’ll rank right up there with the Spurs as the favorites to win it all. (And had Carmelo Anthony chosen the Bulls over remaining with the New York Knicks, the Bulls would be in that mix as well.)

You have to wonder what Stan Van Gundy, the new team president and coach in Detroit, and Jason Kidd, who takes over as coach in Milwaukee, are thinking now. A rebuilding task in Detroit, whatever gains are made during the 2014-15 season, will likely be overshadowed by what goes on elsewhere in the division. Kidd’s shocking move from Brooklyn to the Bucks, and the ensuing fallout, lasted a couple of days before taking a backseat to all things LeBron and Love.

“It’s hard to rank them right now, before we know exactly what happens with Love and Cleveland. But I don’t think it takes any stretching of the imagination to assume there will be no more competitive division in the league than the [Central], and that’s based on just those top three teams alone,” a Western Conference advance scout made clear to me. “The Cavs, Bulls and Pacers are all going to be legitimate contenders. And I think the Pistons, with Stan running things, could be one of the more improved teams in the entire league. And there’s a chance no one will notice because of what the Cavs, Bulls and Pacers are doing.”

The most intriguing part of the entire transformation of the division is going to be watching if the Pacers, a fragile bunch by the time their season finished in the Eastern Conference finals against LeBron and the Heat, can get back on track with the increased competition. Frank Vogel and his crew took advantage of the opportunity to step into the void when Rose and the Bulls slipped from their top spot the past two seasons. Tom Thibodeau kept the Bulls among the East’s best without Rose available. Now he’ll have an energized Rose, whose confidence is soaring as he attempts to earn his spot on USA Basketball’s roster for next month’s World Cup in Spain, and the Windy City twin towers of Noah and Gasol to build around.

The key for the Bulls, of course, is a healthy Rose.

“I’m there. I’m not worried about that,” Rose told our John Schuhmann when asked how close he was to regaining his superstar form. “My confidence is very high. And that’s the only thing you might see this year, that my confidence level is through the roof.”

I don’t know that Rose’s confidence is enough to convince me that the Bulls are truly ready to reclaim that top spot in the division. And I’m not completely sure LeBron’s arrival in Cleveland means the Cavaliers push past the Pacers for that No. 1 spot. But it’s clear that the Central Division is where we could see the best power struggle in the league next season.

The July 2014 ranking of the Central Division (based on what each team has on the roster as of July 29, 2014):

1) Indiana Paul George, David West, Roy Hibbert and the crew won’t give up the banner without a serious fight. They’ve learned from last season’s mistakes and won’t have to worry about whatever distraction Stephenson might have been. A clean slate for 2014-15 is exactly what this team needs.

2) Cleveland  Sorry Cleveland, but LeBron coming home doesn’t automatically make you the top dogs in the division or the conference. Not around here. The pressure isn’t just on LeBron, either. New coach David Blatt, Kyrie Irving and that supporting cast are all shouldering that load as well.

3) Chicago Derrick Rose is feeling good. And that can’t be anything but a great thing for the Bulls. But we need more than good vibrations to push the Bulls up the food chain. If Rose lights it up in Vegas during USAB training camp and later in Spain, an updated evaluation will be in order.

4) Detroit Greg Monroe‘s future with the Pistons remains a bit uncertain. But the rock for the future is Andre Drummond, who is also on the USAB roster, working to earn a spot on the World Cup team. Van Gundy’s system requires shooters, which the Pistons added in Jodie Meeks, and to an extent Caron Butler and D.J. Augustin. Josh Smith remains the wild card.

5) Milwaukee It’ll be fun watching Parker’s game evolve under a young coach like Kidd. But the Bucks are still at least two years away from being a factor. They simply don’t have the personnel to compete with the top teams. And there is a learning curve the entire organization will have to undergo before the Bucks get back into the mix.


VIDEO: Relive the Bulls’ top 10 plays from 2013-14

Morning shootaround — July 26


VIDEO: GameTime: News And Notes

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Melo: It wasn’t about the money | Noah excited about new-look Bulls | Report: Johnson steps away from NBPA search | A longer All-Star break?

No. 1: Melo: It wasn’t about the moneyCarmelo Anthony re-signed with the New York Knicks for five years and $124 million, a year and $28 million more than he could gotten from any other team. But, in speaking with ESPN on Friday, Anthony said that his decision wasn’t about the money and that he doesn’t think the Knicks are “that far away” from contending for a championship:

Carmelo Anthony said it was not the money, but instead his confidence in team president Phil Jackson and his belief that the New York Knicks “aren’t that far away from contending for an NBA title,” that made him opt to remain in New York instead of signing with the Chicago Bulls.

“I want to win. I don’t care about the money,” Anthony told ESPN.com. “I believe Phil will do what he has to do to take care of that.

“I don’t think we’re that far away,” he added. “People use ‘rebuilding’ too loosely.”

In what were believed to be Anthony’s first public comments since agreeing to a five-year deal worth $124 million earlier this month, he told ESPN.com that the decision was so agonizing in the final days that he could not watch TV or go on the Internet.

“It was overwhelming,” Anthony said. “It was stressful in the final days, one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make.”

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Bulls (finally) amnesty Boozer

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Chicago Bulls fans will have to find someone else to complain about now that Carlos Boozer is no longer an option.

The Bulls used the amnesty provision on the veteran power forward today, ending Boozer’s four-year tenure with the team. Boozer played in 280 games with the Bulls and averaged 15.5 points, 9.0 rebounds and 2.0 assists as a mainstay in Tom Thibodeau’s starting lineup. But he remained an easy target when the Bulls repeatedly came up short in the postseason.

The Bulls thanked Boozer for his work, of course, praising him as they amnestied him.

“Carlos epitomized professionalism in everything he did for the Bulls both on the court, and in the community, during his time here in Chicago,” Bulls GM Gar Forman said in a statement released by the team.  “Over the last four seasons, Carlos’ productivity helped elevate our team to another level.  I have nothing but respect for Carlos, and certainly wish him the best as he moves forward.”

The Bulls did get a quality run out of Boozer, who now becomes a free agent in a bidding process for teams with salary cap space. Interested teams need to have at least $1.5 million, Boozer’s minimum salary, in cap space to sign bid on hid on him.

Boozer was a part of a core group in Chicago under Tom Thibodeau that included Derrick Rose, who won MVP honors in 2011, and reigning Kia Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah. As Sam Smith of Bulls.com, who first reported the Boozer news, points out, the Bulls enjoyed loads of success with Boozer in their mix:

Since Carlos Boozer was signed by the Bulls as a free agent in 2010, statistically one of the most successful free agent acquisitions in franchise history, the Bulls were just one of four NBA teams to win at least 200 games. The others were the Spurs and Heat, who won three of the four championships, and the Thunder, who went to one Finals.

Since Boozer signed with the Bulls in the summer of 2010, he started more games than any other Bulls player, he averaged more points than anyone other than Derrick Rose, who played in just two of those four seasons, and Boozer had rebounds than everyone but Joakim Noah and was tied with Noah for the top shooting percentage at 49 percent. Boozer was second to Noah in most free throws made in that four-year period and averaged almost five minutes fewer per game than Noah. Noah was a star passing center averaging 3.7 assists the last four seasons. But Boozer averaged more than two assists per game.

The Bulls Tuesday announced they had exercised the amnesty provision to release Boozer from his contract with the Bulls. He will be in a waiver period where teams can make bids for him with the highest dollar amount winning. Then that money would reduce the $16.8 million the Bulls owe Boozer for next season. Only teams with salary cap room can make bids. If none do, only then would Boozer become a free agent and be able to sign where he chooses.

But in leaving the Bulls after four seasons, Boozer deserves praise for the job he did and perhaps a bit of an apology from some amongst a critical group who often have decried his play.

All Boozer did was what he was asked. And perhaps even more.

Atlanta and Charlotte, two teams in need of veteran depth in the frontcourt, are considered two of the early frontrunner’s in pursuit of Boozer.