Posts Tagged ‘Joakim Noah’

If money isn’t the ultimate factor, ‘Melo and Bulls are a perfect match

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Where will Carmelo land?

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The Carmelo Anthony Freedom Tour ’14 is off and running.

If the high-scoring superstar can stomach leaving tens of millions of dollars in New York, this whirlwind wine-and-dine is bound to end where it starts: Chicago.

Anthony, an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career, is in the Windy City today meeting with the Bulls, including emphatic center and franchise backbone Joakim Noah, whose seemingly been in ‘Melo’s ear since around the All-Star break. On Wednesday, he’ll do a two-step through income-tax-free Texas. First to Houston to meet with the always scheming Rockets where general manager Daryl Morey has plotted a super team since he assumed office. Later in the day, he’ll trek north to Dallas where the Bank of Cuban is open for business. Owner Mark Cuban is swinging for the fences for a third summer, but this time he believes he’s got the roster to go with the cap space (albeit not max cap space).

On Thursday, the coach-less Los Angeles Lakers will make their pitch. And finally, Phil Jackson and his 11 championship rings as coach of the Bulls and Lakers will get in the final word for the incumbent Knicks.

Even then there’s theories floating about that maybe Jackson really isn’t all that keen on bringing ‘Melo back, evidence being the way he keeps needling Anthony to re-sign at a discounted rate, a notion Anthony first broached during All-Star weekend; that perhaps Jackson and rookie coach Derek Fisher would be better off without the pressure of expectation in Year 1; better off without a max (or near-max) deal gobbling up valuable cap space when New York will finally have it in abundance to go star chasing in the summer of ’15.

But then there’s the curious trade last week between the Knicks and Mavs, in which both teams trumpeted the deal as a move to motivate ‘Melo to sign with them. Dallas reacquired beloved center Tyson Chandler, their fiery leader and defensive task master on the 2011 championship team. To get Chandler, they also had to take on sinking point guard Raymond Felton.

The Knicks received four players and two starters off the Mavs’ 49-win team, including steady veteran point guard Jose Calderon and erratic center Samuel Dalembert. Jackson said he thinks ‘Melo would relish playing with the sharp-shooting and fundamental wiz Calderon.

But Jackson also spoke of “chemistry” reasons for shipping out Chandler. Mavs president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson cheered it as a move that makes Dallas more desirable for a big-fish free agent. In the days following the trade, Chandler, speaking on a Dallas-area sports radio talk show, described his relationship with Anthony as “professional.” He said off the court they stay out of each other’s way, and on it they respect each other.

Sound cozy?

Whether Jackson wants to offer Anthony a max contract — five-years for about $129 million — he holds the power to offer the 2012-13 scoring champ many more millions than any other team. The Bulls, Rockets and Mavs all have work to do to clear the cap space necessary to offer Anthony the maximum they can — four years for about $96 million.

Dallas, for one, won’t get to that number, and will seek to sell Anthony on taking less to partner with a still very capable Dirk Nowitzki at 36, a reformed volume shooter in Monta Ellis and his former teammate Chandler as a premiere rim protector. Cuban will sell the genius of coach Rick Carlisle, who challenged Gregg Popovich and the Spurs to seven games in the first round, and above all else a front office that has operated aggressively and creatively enough to remain contenders to various degrees for more than a decade.

Houston will tout James Harden and Dwight Howard, but signing Anthony will shuffle Chandler Parsons out the door. And there’s concern, at least on the outside, how Harden, Howard and Anthony will share one basketball. In Los Angeles, where Anthony spends much of his offseason anyway, a tag-team with Kobe Bryant (and cap space in 2016 when Bryant comes off the books) will be the hard sell.

So back to Chicago where the Bulls haven’t played for a championship since Michael Jordan hung ‘em up for a second time after the 1998 season. The formula seems ready-made for Anthony to drop in, take off and potentially take over a droopy Eastern Conference that has far fewer contenders than out West.

Coach Tom Thibodeau‘s defensive philosophy is entrenched in the Bulls’ DNA. Anthony’s scoring would instantly boost the Bulls’ offense that reached dreadful depths without Derrick Rose. Rose’s knees are a major question mark, and his salary — $18.9 million this season and up to $21.3 million in 2016-17 — can be fatal for long-term success if he can’t stay healthy. Then again, Rose could play the next 10 years injury-free.

With a roster that includes Noah patrolling the back line, two-way, youthful talent Jimmy Butler at shooting guard and Taj Gibson at power forward (assuming he’s not shipped out in an eventual sign-and-trade with New York) and Thibodeau at the controls, the Bulls and Anthony seem the preferable match.

Anthony turned 30 in May and is heading into his 12th season. A New York native, he loves playing on the Madison Square Garden stage. But transforming that stage into a championship parade will take patience beyond this year, a quality Anthony has acknowledged is in short supply at this crossroads of his career.

He’s earned more than $135 million in salary and made a small fortune from endorsement deals.

If Anthony can make peace with leaving tens of millions more in the city in which he grew up, then his Freedom Tour will likely end where it started today, in Chicago.


VIDEO: How will Bulls try to land Anthony?

Another big bang of free agents on tap

LeBron James has chosen to test the free-agent market this summer. (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE)

LeBron James has chosen to test the free-agent market this summer. (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE)

Most scientists believe it was roughly 14 billion years ago when a single point exploded to create the universe. Of course, it was a more thoroughly documented Big Bang four years ago that blew a hole in the NBA space/time continuum, sending the celestial bodies of LeBron James and Chris Bosh south to join Dwyane Wade in Miami.

Two championships and four Finals trips for the Heat later, the potential for another explosion is on us.

Carmelo Anthony’s declaration that he will opt out of the final year of his contract with the New York Knicks was the first stick of dynamite ahead of the July 1 start of the annual free-agent scramble. Then, Tuesday, LeBron told the Miami Heat that he was going to test the waters, too.

You can feel the ground quiver as the movers and the shakers in the league start to do their thing …

Who has the space?

There are a lot of big-name free agents on the market — or there will be July 1. But the number of teams who have enough space under the salary cap that would enable them to sign some of those big-money players … well, that’s a lot smaller. Here’s a list:

Miami Heat: Up to $55 million, assuming virtually everyone opts out of contracts.
Dallas Mavericks: Up to $32.4 million
Utah Jazz: Up to $29.6 million
Philadelphia 76ers: Up to $29.0 million.
Phoenix Suns: Up to $28.4 million.
L.A. Lakers: Up to $28.2 million.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Up to $23.4 million.
Orlando Magic: Up to $22.2 million.
Detroit Pistons: Up to $22.0 million.
Charlotte Hornets: Up to $19.5 million.
Atlanta Hawks: Up to $13.9 million.
Milwaukee Bucks: Up to $13.0 million.
Memphis Grizzlies: Up to $12.0 million, if Zach Randolph opts out of his final year.
Chicago Bulls: Up to $11.3 million if they use their one-time amnesty on Carlos Boozer.
Boston Celtics: Up to $9.3 million. (more…)

Morning Shootaround — June 23


VIDEO: Knicks.com takes a look back at Carmelo Anthony’s 2013-14 season

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Thibodeau spearheading Bulls’ Anthony push | Report: Gay opts in with Kings | Report: Mavs to pursue Lakers’ Gasol, Wizards’ Gortat | Impossible choice now for ‘Melo | Report: Celts to view Embiid’s medical records

No. 1: Report: Thibodeau spearheading Bulls’ push for Anthony — Chicago Bulls star Derrick Rose once famously said he doesn’t recruit players to join him in the Windy City. That policy may not apply to Rose’s coach, Tom Thibodeau. According to the Chicago Sun-TimesJoe Cowley, Thibodeau is doing a lot of research on Knicks star forward Carmelo Anthony, who recently announced he’ll be in this summer’s free-agency pool:

The Bulls’ push to acquire New York Knicks star Carmelo Anthony is heating up heading into NBA draft week, and perhaps no one wants his services more than coach Tom Thibodeau.

According to one of Anthony’s former coaches, Thibodeau has reached out to him and to several other coaches who have worked with Anthony with numerous calls.

‘‘I even told Tom that there may be days he will want to blow his own head off when it comes to Melo’s defense, but he keeps saying he knows he can make it work,’’ the coach said. ‘‘It’s not that Carmelo can’t play defense, it’s just how often. And he knows every trick in the book on getting around that.’’

That the Bulls are in full-court-press mode on Anthony comes as no surprise, considering center Joakim Noah courted him during All-Star weekend in February and continued the recruitment throughout the second half of the season.

And it would seem Noah isn’t alone. Point guard Derrick Rose reportedly has gotten involved, too, and Thibodeau has used back channels to let Anthony know his addition could mean big things for everyone involved.

‘‘There’s no question [the Bulls] would be better with [Anthony], with or without his defensive inconsistencies,’’ the coach said. ‘‘As I told Tom: ‘You’re in the East, Tom. Remember, you’re in the East.’ “

The question, though, is how does a deal for Anthony get done? Multiple media outlets have reported a sign-and-trade that includes the expiring contract of forward Carlos Boozer is the favored route, especially with the Knicks preparing for Anthony to announce Monday that he will opt out of his current deal.

Such a scenario likely would involve the Bulls sending at least one of their first-round picks — No. 16 or No. 19 — to the Knicks, who are in rebuilding mode and need to start with a point guard.

There are also reports the Bulls might be willing to deal another draft pick in pursuit of Orlando Magic shooting guard Arron Afflalo, which means they’re serious about pursuing a championship now.

The Bulls’ offseason aggressiveness isn’t shocking to anyone around the league. At the NBA Finals last week, several sources indicated general manager Gar Forman and vice president of basketball operations John Paxson were ‘‘looking to exhaust as many assets as it will take’’ to make the Bulls a contender.

(more…)

Welcome to impossible, Carmelo Anthony


VIDEO: Relive Carmelo Anthony’s top 10 plays from 2013-14

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Any way you slice it, $23.3 million is a lot of money … even for a guy who has already made millions.

But for Carmelo Anthony, the decision to forgo that money he would have earned by opting-in for the final year of his deal with the New York Knicks, no giant sum of cash can replace the uninhibited freedom he will experience this summer as an unrestricted free agent for the first and only time in the prime of his career.

Anthony had to make the best decision for his future. And any future that doesn’t include the all-out pursuit of a championship situation would have been the wrong choice.

By courting free agency, though, a player of his stature also courts some inevitable backlash, too.

So welcome to impossible, ‘Melo. You lose no matter what you do.

Opt-in with the Knicks for one more season of who-knows-what-will-happen-hoops at the Garden, you get knocked for not chasing titles in what is clearly the physical prime of your career.

If you opt-out and test free agency without re-signing with the Knicks, you get blasted for leaving the Phil Jackson-and Derek Fisher-led lab-test team and chasing titles elsewhere.

Melo’s bottom line is simple. He can sign a contract worth $130 million over five years with the Knicks and only the Knicks, a fortune no one knows for sure the Knicks are offering. He can sign a maximum deal with another suitor for $96 million over four years.

Chatter of him possibly taking less than a max deal to help whichever team he signs with bring in additional free agent help sounds great, but that’s nothing more than chatter at this point.

This is the world your good friend LeBron James has lived in the past four years. The moment he turned his back on Cleveland to take his talents to South Beach a huge segment of the basketball public made up their minds about him. No amount of winning would change those opinions. LeBron’s gamble turned out to be a 50-50 championship proposition, with losses in the Heat Big 3’s first and last seasons together sandwiching back-to-back title seasons.

Win in New York and your star would never fade.

Bolt New York for Chicago or Houston or Los Angeles or Miami and ‘Melo takes James’ title as “the easiest target in sports” — at least temporarily. There’s also no guarantee Anthony will win it all in his new city. None!

Anthony knows this all too well, as he detailed in a recent interview with Vice.com (see below) that was released today:

“I came from a smaller market in Denver. Not so much scrutiny, but media its everywhere … but not like the level it’s here in New York. Playing in a small market, you can only go so high — as far as individual players goes,” Anthony said in the interview with ViceSports.com. “There’s only so much you can do and at a point in your life you got to look for something else … a bigger stand, a bigger stage, a bigger market.

“When you go to a place like New York … you feel the excitement, you feel the difference. The energy is different, the fans are different, the game is different.”

Anthony also opened up a little bit on what might influence his decision to come, be it say on the roster to the life he leads away from the court.

“As far as player personnel goes, I would love to be involved in that. At the end of the day, you’re creating a family. You can’t create a bond with somebody that’s not going to fit in with you, or someboday that’s not going to be there when you need them the most and don’t understand the game and how to win and situations in the game and things like that.

“As much as it has to do with having the top guys on the team — superstars per se — you need the rest of your soldiers.

“The average person just sees opportunity to say that ‘oh ‘Melo should go here, ‘Melo should go there, I think he should do this, I think he should do that’. But they don’t take into consideration the family aspect of it, your livelihood, where you’re going to be living at. Do you want your kids to grow up in that place? Do  I want to spend the rest of my career in that situation? In that city? All that stuff comes into play.

“The average person is looking at it as next year. ‘Next year he’d win a championship if we go here.’ We’re looking at the big picture here, now. You’re looking at the next six to eight years of your career – the end of your career at that. Do you want to spend that much time in that place?” (more…)

Report: Knicks’ Anthony will opt-out, become free agent July 1


VIDEO: Anthony to Opt Out

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — So much for Carmelo Anthony‘s decision.

The New York Knicks’ superstar will indeed opt-out of the final year of his deal and become a free agent July 1, according to a Wall Street Journal report. Anthony’s decision to test the free agent waters could be the trigger to a wild summer that sees several other stars dive into the free agent mix, including Miami Heat stars LeBron James, Chris Bosh and even Dwyane Wade.

Anthony has apparently bypassed the splashy news conference for a much more subtle approach to his announcement, according to Chris Herring‘s report in the Journal:

Anthony submitted a formal letter this weekend, stating he intends to exercise the early-termination clause in his deal, forgoing the one year and $23.5 million left on his contract, according to the person. In doing so, the 30-year-old star forward becomes the biggest name to join this summer’s free-agent market — for now, at least.

This doesn’t mean Anthony won’t return to the Knicks. He could still re-sign with them, and is eligible for a deal of up to five years and $129 million if the team offers that much. But the likelihood of him remaining with the Knicks seems less likely by the day.

Anthony instantly becomes the object of desire for several teams looking for that one superstar piece to take them to the next level, including the Heat, Chicago Bulls and Dallas Mavericks, for starters.

Rumors of Anthony joining James, Bosh and Wade in in Miami — a “pipe dream,” as Heat boss Pat Riley phrased it last week, that would require the Heat stars to opt-out of their deals and all of them to sacrifice salary to play together as a “Big 4″ — cranked up during the Heat’s Finals run.

The Chicago Bulls, however, are actually considered the favorite to land Anthony on the open market, pairing him with former MVP Derrick Rose and reigning Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah under Tom Thibodeau on a team poised to challenge the Heat and Pacers for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.

The Knicks, with Phil Jackson leading the organization’s rebuilding effort and Derek Fisher taking over as head coach, can still offer more money than any other team. But it’s unclear whether they are either interested or prepared to offer Anthony that max deal only they can.

Anthony’s decision comes ahead of the June 29 deadline James has for his decision to either opt-in with the Heat or opt-out and join his good friend and teammate on the U.S. Men’s Senior National Team in this summer’s free agent extravaganza.

With Anthony already in the mix, the addition of James in the free agent pool would turn this summer upside down ahead of the summer of 2015, when a bevy of superstars (James and Anthony included) were expected to flood the market. The free agent class of 2015 could evaporate if the aforementioned stars opt-out this summer and Minnesota Timberwolves’ All-Star Kevin Love is traded before next summer arrives.

Anthony’s reported decision isn’t a stunner. He talked during the preseason about wanting to test free agency this summer and held true to his word. The Knicks’ dismal season and the hiring of Jackson and later Fisher had no effect on his choice. The desire to be an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career clearly presented itself as a more enticing option than dealing with whatever patchwork plan Jackson had in mind.

Now the real fun begins, as the clock ticks not only on the decision of James but also all of the potential trades that could go down between now and Draft night Thursday in New York.

We don’t have to wait until the start of free agency July 1 for the drama to get stirred up. It’ll happen well in advance of the start of free agency now that Anthony’s decision has been made.

Love wisely takes control of own destiny

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: The Starters weigh in on the Kevin Love rumors

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Be mad at Kevin Love all you want. Slap the head off of that bobble-head if it makes you feel better.

But understand this: He’s doing the right thing, forcing his way out of a tough situation in Minnesota. Love has already let the Timberwolves know that he will test the market, meaning that he intends to become an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2015.

And that means the Timberwolves need to ask themselves if it makes more sense to waste the next few months trying to change Love’s mind or to spend the next few weeks sorting out the best trade option and getting something rather than nothing for the face of their franchise.

Survey the list of superstar and even All-Star talents in recent seasons who have decided they wanted to work elsewhere, and almost to a man each and every one of them found a way out, no matter how ugly the fallout. Carmelo Anthony in Denver. Chris Paul in New Orleans. Dwight Howard in Orlando. Deron Williams in Utah (the Jazz jettisoned him before things got ugly). When a star wants a new destination in this day and age, dating back to LeBron James and his departure from Cleveland, it’s difficult to keep him in the fold.

The Los Angeles Lakers remain one of the only teams to stare down its franchise player, Kobe Bryant, and not buckle to a trade demand (real, admitted to and or imagined)/request for an exit in some shape, form or fashion. Keep in mind they were working with an armored truck worth of cash, a rich championship history and freedom to manipulate the situation in whatever way Bryant wanted as part of their fool-proof recruiting pitch.

Love is in a completely different place in his career. He’s yet to sniff the aroma of the playoffs after six seasons in the NBA. The fact that he’s had enough in Minnesota, where the Timberwolves have been unable to surround him with the supporting pieces necessary to reach the playoffs in the rugged Western Conference, should surprise no one.

But this isn’t about Love’s exit strategy or even what a downtrodden Timberwolves franchise is going to do in the event that they have to part ways with a bonafide superstar (owner Glen Taylor and front office boss Flip Saunders, it’s your move). This is about the fact that Love recognizes that it’s now or never if he wants to graduate from that short list of first-line stars who haven’t dipped their toes in the postseason waters.

Love is wise to take control of his own destiny and write the next chapter or two of his legacy on his own terms. Whichever route the Timberwolves decide to take, he’ll have plenty of suitors willing to wait out the process in an attempt to add him to their mix.

Even more intriguing for some of those interested parties — the Golden State Warriors, Chicago Bulls, New York Knicks, Boston Celtics and Lakers headline the long list — is whether Love is slated as the No. 1 or No. 2 option in the future. Whatever their designations, a Love-Steph Curry-Klay Thompson trio with the Warriors and new coach Steve Kerr would be pure fireworks. He could be an absolute game changer alongside Anthony in New York and certainly with former MVP Derrick Rose and reigning Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah in Chicago under Tom Thibodeau. The possibilities are endless.

Still, for all of his well-deserved individual hype, there are some, a scant few NBA front office types, who repeatedly point out that Love’s spectacular numbers never did lift the Timberwolves to that next level.

Timberwolves point guard Ricky Rubio even questioned his leadership abilities in the wake of the news that Love wanted to explore his options elsewhere.

“Each situation is different, but this is a results league,” an Eastern Conference executive said. “And he’s never led a team to the postseason. Chris Bosh takes a beating from people, always has. But the one thing you couldn’t argue when he was in Toronto was that he could lead his team to the playoffs. I think Love is in a similar situation in that he could be the ideal No. 2 in the right place, the guy who serves as the linchpin in a championship situation. He’s that skilled and that talented. And he works his tail off. But he has to get to the playoffs for any of us to know for sure. And in this day and age of analytics, that one metric that still matters is whether or not you get there.”

It’s clear that making the playoffs, being a “winner,” is the one thing that matters to Love.

He wouldn’t have allowed himself to be placed in this current predicament, where his name will be run through the rumor mill relentlessly, if that wasn’t his No. 1 priority.


VIDEO: An all-too familiar sight: Kevin Love goes off but the Timberwolves lose

Morning Shootaround — May 3


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played May 2

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Kerr could make decision soon | Rivers encourages Clippers employees | Ollie a coaching candidate?

No. 1: Kerr could make decision soon — TNT’s Steve Kerr met with Phil Jackson about the Knicks’ coaching job last weekend, and said afterward that “we’ve got a lot of things to discuss.” A week later, Kerr could be close to taking the job, as Marc Berman of the New York Post writes:

Steve Kerr likely is making his swan song for TNT on Saturday night when he announces Game 7 of the Grizzlies-Thunder series in Oklahoma City. According to an NBA source, Kerr likely will make his final decision on accepting the Knicks head-coaching job soon after the weekend.

As The Post reported, the Lakers’ coaching vacancy is a non-factor for Kerr, who is not a candidate. The Lakers are in store for a prolonged search after Mike D’Antoni resigned, and neither side has interest.

However, one thing that can derail Kerr’s getting hired by the Knicks is if the Warriors lose their first-round series to the Clippers on Saturday and coach Mark Jackson is let go. Kerr, whose family lives in San Diego, may listen if approached by the Warriors. Kerr is represented by former Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum.

***

No. 2: Rivers encourages Clippers employees — The Los Angeles Clippers’ players and coaches aren’t the only ones who have had to deal with the distaste of working for Donald Sterling. Behind the scenes is the rest of the Clippers’ staff, those working in the office to support the team. Those folks have never had the benefit of a Doc Rivers pep talk … until Friday, when Rivers took some time out of his Game 7 preparation to help the staff deal with the fallout of Sterling’s comments and ban. Broderick Turner of the L.A. Times has the story:

Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said he had an emotional meeting Friday with Clippers employees who work in downtown Los Angeles to try to help them deal with the Donald Sterling scandal.

Rivers said that during his conversation with the employees, who work in ticketing, marketing, group sales, sponsorship, finance, human resources and fan relations, they were “sitting there crying.”

Rivers said he got a call for some of the Clippers’ department heads who asked him to speak with the employees.

Rivers said he quickly agreed to do so despite trying to prepare the team for Game 7 of its first-round Western Conference playoff series against the Golden State Warriors on Saturday at Staples Center.

***

No. 3: Ollie a coaching candidate? — Including the Knicks job, there are currently five coaching openings around the league. And there may be more after the first round of the playoffs are done. There are some guys who have already won in this league (Lionel Hollins, George Karl, Stan Van Gundy) that are available, but the success of guys like Jeff Hornacek, Steve Clifford and Jason Kidd will encourage executives to keep an open mind. And maybe they might be willing to reach into the college ranks, where 13-year NBA vet Kevin Ollie just won a championship in his second season at UConn. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo has an update on where things stand with Ollie, his alma mater and the NBA:

University of Connecticut coach Kevin Ollie has started discussions on a new contract with school officials, but hasn’t ruled out listening to NBA overtures, sources told Yahoo Sports.

Fresh off his masterful national championship coaching run this spring, Ollie is a consideration for the Los Angeles Lakers and is expected to move onto short lists as more NBA teams make coaching changes, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

So far, no NBA teams have reached out to make formal contact with Ollie, sources said.

Across the NBA, executives are enamored with Ollie as a tactician and leadership force. UConn officials are moving quickly to rework his contract and reward him for so quickly developing into an elite head coach.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Joakim Noah had arthroscopic surgery to clean out his left knee … The Magic extended the contracts of GM Rob Hennigan and coach Jacque Vaughn through the 2015-16 season … The Heat are trying to stay sharp as they await the winner of the Toronto-Brooklyn series … and the Wizards are doing the same as they wait for either the Pacers or Hawks.

ICYMI of The Night: Damian Lillard hit the first series-ending buzzer-beater since 1997:


VIDEO: Lillard Wins The Series

Morning Shootaround — April 30



VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played April 29

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Parker iffy for Game 5 | Removing Sterling may not be easy | Strange times with Warriors’ coaching staff | Noah reveals he has knee injury

No. 1: Banged-up Parker iffy for Game 5 — Around February during the season, San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich gave All-Star point guard Tony Parker significant time off to rest his myriad of injuries. That was done so that Parker would be healthy and ready to hold up for what San Antonio hoped would be a repeat run to The Finals. Parker, though, is suffering through a troublesome ankle injury and his status for tonight’s Game 5 against the Mavericks in San Antonio is unknown, writes Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News

Tony Parker is listed as day-to-day in advance of Game 5 after being diagnosed with a Grade 1 sprain of his left ankle, suffered in the first half of the Spurs’ 93-89 victory at Dallas on Monday.

“We’ll see how he is (Wednesday),” Popovich said.

The injury is not believed to have required an MRI or x-ray. Grade I sprains are the least severe among three classifications.

Parker finished with 10 points on 5-for-14 shooting in Game 4. He still played 14 minutes in the second half, returning late to hit an important jumper that gave the Spurs an 87-84 lead with 1:37 remaining. The Spurs’ victory knotted the series at 2-2 entering Wednesday’s game at the AT&T Center.

Parker had been uneven even before the injury, averaging just 3.3 in the second half of the first three games. He is averaging 15.5 points and 4.5 assists in the series.

(more…)

Butler keeps his head to keep Bulls alive

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com


VIDEO: Dunleavy leads Bulls to Game 3 win over Wizards

WASHINGTON — Give Jimmy Butler credit for keeping his head.

No small feat when a guy the size of Nene is trying to rip it off.

Another day in the playoffs, another night of pushing, shoving, elbowing and jersey pulling.

All that had changed from the first two games was the location to the nation’s capital, where the Wizards and Bulls resumed the impersonation of Republicans and Democrats playing down and dirty.

Then the lid blew off the pot.

Nene had just scored on a breakaway layup when he turned to run back up the floor on defense and happened to reach out with his left arm and clip Butler with a chicken wing.

Butler responded with a one-handed shove in the side and then things got interesting.

The 6-foot-11 Nene leaned in first to put his forehead squarely against Butler. Then he reached up and clamped his right hand around the back of Butler’s neck. Then with his left hand, he tried to take Butler down.

Nene was ejected with 8:28 left in in a two-point game, which left the Wizards vulnerable, Butler inspired and the Bulls quite suddenly empowered.

“Just two people wanting to win the game competing and I guess he gave me one of those and I didn’t like it,” Butler said. “So it is what it is.”

What it was in the immediate aftermath was a chance for Butler to take a handoff from Joakim Noah, run around a screen and bury a critical 3-pointer.

“Whoooo!” said Noah. “Jimmy, that was a big 3.”

Maybe if this wrestling match goes the distance, it will just get lost in the all the muck. But for now, how Butler handled the whole affair and the way he scored 11 of his 15 points in the fourth quarter was exactly what the Bulls needed to get themselves going to close out a game.

“I knew I had to [stay composed]. I didn’t want to get ejected like he did or nothing like that. But I can’t back down from anybody. That’s not in me. “I didn’t think it was that serious, but obviously he thought it was. I was just saying, ‘Watch all that.’ It was uncalled for. I’m not mad at him for him. He’s competitive. I respect the guy.”

Nene wanted to put it all behind him.

“You can’t control when you play physical, things get hot,” he said. “It’s over. The whole team is thinking about Game 4 and stepping up for real in a big series.

“It’s over. You need to move [on]. That’s what I’m doing. Now we need to come here [and] play the right way in Game 4 and forget about what happened.”

But what happened could have been the spark to restore the confidence back in the Bulls, who had let fourth quarter leads slip away in both of the home losses to open the series and none of them were really surprised that emotions boiled over.

“I think it was gonna happen eventually,” said Bulls forward Taj Gibson. “How the battle is being played, every time down in the paint. I’m surprised it didn’t happen in the first two games. It’s playoff basketball. You got to be smart. You can’t put your hands on people.

“It gets chippy, but you gotta be smart. You can get ejected. You can get suspended for a game. You gotta keep your hands to yourself.”

There might be some cause for concern by the Wizards if the NBA office decides to take a further look at what happened. In these kinder and gentler times of the 21st century, a suspension of Nene is not something that can be entirely dismissed.

For the Bulls, what mattered is the first step back. They knew falling into a 3-0 hole would have sealed their fate.

“We got heart,” Gibson said. “We care. It doesn’t matter who believes in us. We believe in each other. We believe in what the locker room says. And the locker room says we have a chance. We’re going to fight to the last blow.”

But keep their heads like Jimmy Butler when it matters.

Bulls out of scoring options, out of gas?

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: Taj Gibson talks to the media after the Bulls’ practice on Wednesday

A couple weeks ago, the Chicago Bulls were the team that no one in the Eastern Conference playoff bracket allegedly wanted to play.

In a matter of days, no one might have to.

Unless the Bulls find a way to generate offense late in games, unless they stop trying to beat Washington in three-and-a-half quarters while spotting the Wizards four, the grimiest, hardest-working team in basketball soon will be on extended vacation. For all its pluck, for all its spunk, Chicago is facing a hole as the series shifts to D.C. for Game 3 Friday every bit as big, historically, as losing an MVP (Derrick Rose) or trading away an All-Star (Luol Deng).

The Bulls overcame – maybe compensated for is more apt – the absences of Rose and Deng by shifting those guys’ responsibilities onto others and resolutely playing harder. But down 0-2 in this first-round series, they don’t really have any others left and they might be out of gears.

NBA past doesn’t bode well for the Bulls’ future, either. Only three teams in playoff history – the 1969 Lakers, ’94 Rockets and ’05 Mavericks – won a best-of-seven series after dropping the first two games at home. Houston finds itself in the same predicament against Portland at the moment, but never mind the company; the Bulls are coping with their own misery.

Their vaunted defense, with coach Tom Thibodeau barking orders and Joakim Noah as the newly minted Defensive Player of the Year, has been shredded for 101.5 points and the Wizards’ 48.1 field-goal percentage in two games. Despite opening double-digit leads in both, the Bulls have been outscored in the fourth quarter 51-34 while shooting 35.3 percent (12 of 34), and they missed seven of nine shots in Game 2’s overtime.

As far as seeking help from different sources, there have been no different sources. The bench is thin after Taj Gibson and D.J. Augustin, and Thibodeau has coached accordingly: Of the series’ 505 available minutes so far, more than 95 percent (481:33) have been heaped on just seven guys.

Even that is misleading: Jimmy Butler (96:46, including all 53 Tuesday) and Noah (85:36) each has played nearly as much as forwards Carlos Boozer (45:22) and Mike Dunleavy (54:42) combined. Thibodeau has stuck with the rotation that earned Chicago a 36-14 record in the 2014 portion of the regular season. That means Dunleavy has logged less than 10 minutes in the fourth quarters and OT in this series and Boozer has amassed zero.

Because Boozer and Dunleavy are primarily offensive players, not playing them when the points get scarce late in games has focused heat on Thibodeau. To a lot of Bulls fans, it’s like trying to ride out a headache without uncapping the aspirin bottle. But Thibodeau is committed to the late-game lineup that worked so well for so long. And, hey, he knows Boozer and Dunleavy primarily are offensive players too.

“You have to work your way out of things,” Thibodeau said, almost by rote. “We have a lot of guys who have played well in the fourth quarter all year. … We have to do it collectively. And that’s really what we’ve done. When we lost Derrick and we lost Luol, that’s the makeup of our team.

“You can’t get wrapped up in the first two games other than you want to learn from what happened. Get ready for the next one. Don’t look ahead. That’s the way we’ve approached it all season. We’re not changing now.”

Trouble is, Washington has risen to its rare postseason occasion. The Wizards have been feistier at both ends. Defensively, they’re pressuring the ball and almost daring the Bulls’ non-shooters to shoot.

Noah, Chicago’s “point center,” has been attacked when he attempts to handle the ball, ignored if he’s shooting outside the restricted zone and squeezed when he sets up 18 feet from the basket, Wasington’s Nene crowding Noah to limit his passing angles and vision. Nene’s offense has the DPOY sweating and maybe a little rattled, with Games 1 and 2 sandwiching the award ceremony in Chicago with Noah’s entire family in town.

Augustin, this year’s Rose surrogate, has been a scoring godsend, but when 6-foot-8 Trevor Ariza volunteered to guard the smallish point guard down the stretch in Game 2, Augustin was done. He stayed stuck on 25 points over the final 13 minutes.

Wizards coach Randy Wittman even has made the more apparent and successful adjustments so far – in transferring scoring load from frontcourt (Nene, Marcin Gortat) to backcourt (John Wall, Bradley Beal), in deploying veteran backup Andre Miller in key old-school moments – and been rewarded twice. That hits Thibodeau right where his strength is, in the lab, in resiliency.

Consider this role-reversal quote from Gibson on Wednesday.

“We watched the film, it came down to we were like a fingernail short every time. Guys were diving for the balls, scrambling around, and they just made some great plays, playoff-style basketball I guess,” the Bulls’ sixth man said.

“[They are] a hungry team. … They go up, we go up, but the way they start the games off, the way they finish them, especially on defense, getting loose balls, scramble plays, rugged-basketball kind of style, that’s kind of our style if you think about it.”

Actually, it was the Bulls’ style until Saturday. Unless they get back to that in Game 3 and whatever beyond they can eke out, their postseason will become past season in a hurry.