Posts Tagged ‘Luol Deng’

Free-Agent Barometer: Boom or Bust

Back in the hot fun of summertime, when there seem to be more dollars available than grains of sand, every free-agent signing is made to feel like a day at the beach.

Now, as we approach halfway mark of the season, it’s time to take the temperature:

GLOWING


VIDEO: Relive Dwight Howard’s signing with the Houston Rockets

Dwight Howard, Rockets — There are times when he is too passive and does not demand the ball enough from all of the inexperienced hands in the Houston lineup. But a healthy, happy Howard has been everything the Rockets hoped for when they forked over $88.5 million to lure him away from the Lakers. There is a bounce to his step and joy to his game that had been missing since the 2008-09 season in Orlando. With him in the middle and playing off James Harden, the Rockets are on track to eventually becoming a championship contender.

Andre Iguodala, Warriors — Don’t try to pigeonhole him or stick on a label as an elite defender or a greyhound that thrives in the transition game. He is simply a wonderful all around player that can do whatever is necessary in any situation. He was the spark that lifted the Nuggets a year ago to a franchise-best 57 wins and he’s moved to Golden State to become a difference-maker for the Warriors. For all of the (deserving) All-Star accolades to Stephen Curry and attention paid to Klay Thompson, Iguodala is the one that makes this fun and entertaining team truly dangerous.

Paul Millsap, Hawks — When it finally came time for the Hawks to cut the cord with Josh Smith, they went for his polar opposite. Not at all flamboyant, never trying to things outside his job description, Millsap comes to work every night and never leaves his team feeling shortchanged. His two-year, $19 million contract might have been the best free-agent bargain of the summer and he’s fit right in perfectly on the frontline in Atlanta. He’s blue-collar ways in the low post and on the boards has been needed even more since Atlanta lost Al Horford for the season.

Al Jefferson, Bobcats — One thing rookie coach Steve Clifford knew was that for the Bobcats to pick themselves up from their semi-permanent residence on the Eastern Conference floor, they needed a low-post presence to get some hard-fought points in the paint. He suffered an ankle injury in training camp and started slow, but once Jefferson got his legs under him, he’s averaged 16.8 points and 10 rebounds. It’s no coincidence that Charlotte (16 wins) is a sure bet to surpass last season’s 21-win campaign.


VIDEO: NBA Action catches up with Mavericks guard Monta Ellis

Monta Ellis, Mavericks — We won’t go as far as Dallas owner Mark Cuban to say that the jury is still out on whether Ellis or Howard is the free-agent catch of the season. After all, we’re pretty sure Cuban would make a 1-for-1 swap right now. As coach of the Warriors years ago, ex-Mavs coach Don Nelson called Ellis selfish. But the once shot-happy Ellis has reined some of his tendencies and found a comfortable home in Dallas. He’s averaging 5.8 apg and his upbeat production is keeping the Mavs alive in the West playoff race.

Kevin Martin, Timberwolves — Every team he’s played on throughout a 10-year NBA career has gotten efficiency and production. He’s one of those players who can give you 20 points a game on a minimum number of shots due to a knack for drawing free throws. There have been many things lacking for Minnesota during another underachieving run, but Martin has come through with the kind of numbers — 19.3 points per game — that were expected.

SUNBURNED


VIDEO: The Beat crew discusses where Andrew Bynum may end up next

Andrew Bynum, CavaliersSigning him to a two-year, $24 million contract (that was only half-guaranteed in Season 1) was supposed to make it a no-brainer for the Cavs. Of course, the no brain place continues to be between Bynum’s ears as he quickly alienated teammates, the coaching staff and the entire organization. He had a pair of 20-point games with 13 and 10 rebounds. But his biggest positive effect was as a payroll-slashing trade chip that eventually brought in Luol Deng.

Josh Smith, Pistons — Don’t let Joe Dumars near your piggy bank. Four years ago, the general manager wasted a Brinks truck full of money to bring in Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva and put the Pistons into a deep hole. This time Dumars dug deeper with his idea that he could give $54 million for four years to Smith and put him into a super-sized front line with Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe. Smith has clashed with coach Maurice Cheeks, found himself sitting on the bench at the end of games and still takes bad shots at a high rate. Is anybody surprised?

Chris Kaman, Lakers — The money spent by the Lakers — $3.2 million, one year — could probably have been scraped up out of the sofa cushions in the luxury suites at Staples Center. But no matter how you slice it, the thought that Kaman was going to return to L.A. and help the Lakers in their most trying season was laughable in hindsight. Kaman has never found a way into the rotation, has frequently expressed his displeasure with coach Mike D’Antoni and now spends more time lobbing verbal bombs in frustration than tracking down rebounds or shooting.

IN THE SHADE

Tyreke Evans, Pelicans — With Jrue Holiday out of the lineup indefinitely with a stress fracture in his leg and the team still reportedly trying to trade Eric Gordon, this would be the time when Evans can step up and really shine. He’s been far from a bust and doggedly fought to keep himself in the Pelicans’ lineup despite the fact that he keeps reinsuring a sprained left ankle. But that $44 million, four-year contract raises expectations for more than 12.6 points, 4.6 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game. At this point, the jury is still out.

Finally Noah Talks Of His ‘Brother,’ ‘No Tanking’ And Making A City Proud

VIDEO: Bulls keep rolling, drop ‘Cats

CHICAGO – Joakim Noah, rocked by the Chicago Bulls’ trade of teammate Luol Deng more than the rest, needed a minute, as they say, to collect his thoughts. He needed more than 7,000 minutes as it turned out, putting off the inquiring minds and prying eyes for five days and eight possible media sessions in the aftermath of Monday’s late-night, team-jolting transaction.

Finally, near the end Saturday night, Noah shared his feelings. One of the league’s most emotional players spoke softly, sometimes haltingly. This wasn’t just about basketball.

“The trade definitely hurt. But we’ve got to move on,” Noah said, sitting at his dressing stall after the Bulls’ 103-97 victory over Charlotte at United Center. “I feel confident in this team. We’re working really hard. A lot of people say this is a business and all that. This game is more than a business to me. I put everything I got into this. So … I feel like Lu is the same way, so it was hard for me to digest. That’s just my perspective.

“Everybody has a job. I’m not mad at anybody. I’m not mad at the organization or anything like that. It’s just, my brother’s not here no more.

“I just needed a little bit of time to digest that.”

The passion Noah brings to his “job” separates him from some of the league’s clock-punchers. The meaning he finds in its essence, the bonds and the friendships, are dialed up for the Bulls center a little more than most. Lots of players accept, grudgingly or not, the “it’s a business” outlook because it offers a shred of Kevlar when dealings, like this one, turn rough.

Noah works without a vest.

“We’re just going to go out there and give it everything we’ve got. There’s no tanking. There’s no … None of that,” he said, with a little defiance. “We’re going to go out there and give 150 percent and when people say ‘Chicago Bulls,’ I want people in Chicago to be proud of that. Even if there’s four guys hurt, guys are hurting, no matter who’s out…”

The Bulls (17-18) won for the fifth consecutive time and have taken eight of 10, creeping up on the No. 4 seed in the East. They’re winning with the likes of D.J. Augustin and Tony Snell where Derrick Rose and Deng used to be, with Mike Dunleavy taking on Deng’s starting role and a 10-day pickup like Cartier Martin chipping in 11 points and 26 minutes barely 24 hours after his arrival.

Noah scored 19 points with 14 rebounds, a human Taser again with the energy zap, orchestrating the Bulls’ attack out top like he had tuxedo tails and a baton. In his last six games, Noah has averaged 12.5 points, 13.2 rebounds and 5.7 assists. The three since Deng was sent packing to Cleveland? No dip whatsoever.

“All this adversity just makes me stronger,” Noah said. “It just makes me stronger as a person and as a player. I’ve never been so hungry. We’ve been through a lot. Derrick’s injury was really hard. Lu not being here is really hard. But we’re going to go out there. Like I said, there’s no tank in this team, and we’re going to go out there and really make this city proud.”

Some of the bigger-picture stuff, like coach Tom Thibodeau‘s strategic adjustments, management’s grand plan and how the changes in the team might impact Noah’s vision, he wasn’t ready to tackle. Asked, for instance, if he felt the Bulls’ front office still was trying to win, he said: “Yep. Yep. I think so. I don’t have to be happy with the decision that they made. Everybody has a job to do. … I wanted him to stay but I’ve got to live with it.”

Does he understand why Deng, who will be a free agent this summer, was dealt once he turned down a reported three-year, $30 million extension offer, the triggered pulled now rather than losing him for nothing in the summer?

“Uh, it’s hard to say. Because at the end of the day, that’s my brother,” Noah said. “He’s not here anymore. That’s how I see it. They see the game differently. They’re not out there on the court. They’re not out there on the plane. They don’t know how much Lu meant to me personally.”

Looking beyond this season, with the uncertainty over Rose’s health and level of play, Deng’s absence, amnesty speculation about forward Carlos Boozer and the slamming of this group’s window as a contender, was Noah getting a sense of their sudden new world?

“I’m not there. I’m not there,” he said. “That’s not my job. All I can do is help this team stay focused on the next day, the task at hand. Be out there on the court. Be a good leader. Keep everybody’s energy levels high.”

But then, just in case management had some lottery dreams, more crafty maneuvers and added overhauls in mind, Noah threw up a deft block. He essentially offered up his mission statement on Chicago basketball. No advanced analytics or clinical assessment of “expiring assets” welcome, thank you.

“This is a city that, when I come to the game, I see the guy selling newspapers on the street, it’s cold outside,” Noah said. “When he sees me driving by, he’s excited. You know what I mean? He’s excited, he’s like, ‘Let’s go Bulls, get it done tonight!’ I feel like I play for that guy.

“When I look at the top of the arena and Thibs is about to call timeout, I look up top and see a guy who looks this big [tiny], and he’s up cheering, jumping up and down, that’s the guy I play for.

“That’s what the city represents. There’s a lot of hardship here, a lot of adversity in this city. And I feel like whenever I play basketball, I want people to be proud of their team.”

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 9


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Jan. 8

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Eight teams interested in Bynum | Report: Knicks gauging trade market for Smith | Deng denies he sought $15M-a-season deal | Report: Blazers’ Williams will opt out of deal | Rivers: I’m ‘always a Celtic’

No. 1: Report: Suitors lining up for Bynum — Despite his fallout with the Cleveland Cavaliers that resulted in his being traded to Chicago for Luol Deng (and the Bulls’ waiving of him a day later), no less than eight teams are pursuing Andrew Bynum. According to ESPN.com’s Marc Stein, Bynum is expected to sign with a team by the end of this week. Which team it will be, however, remains very much up in the air:

Eight teams have contacted Andrew Bynum’s representatives about adding the 7-foot center to their rosters, according to a source close to the situation.

The Miami Heat and Los Angeles Clippers are widely believed to be among the teams interested in acquiring the two-time championship center.

One league executive who recently spoke with Heat president Pat Riley told ESPN.com, “I’m certain that Riley is going to go hard after Bynum.”

Sources told ESPN.com’s Marc Stein on Wednesday that the Dallas Mavericks are among the eight teams that have registered interest in Bynum this week. But Dallas — one of the prime bidders for Bynum’s services this past summer before he signed with the Cleveland Cavaliers — is limited to offering him a minimum salary.

Sources say, furthermore, that the Brooklyn Nets are not planning to pursue Bynum despite being granted a disabled player exception worth up to $5.25 million in the wake of Brook Lopez‘s season-ending foot injury. The Atlanta Hawks, meanwhile, are “unlikely” to lodge a bid for Bynum to replace the injured Al Horford, according to one source close to the process.

Bynum’s decision will come down to several factors, according to the source. He will consider playing time, the club’s chances for playoff success and money.

“It doesn’t necessarily have to be a contender,” the source said of Bynum’s choice. “He’s looking to play and be utilized.”

Miami has its midlevel exception available as well as a need for a viable big man to combat Indiana’s Roy Hibbert.

The Clippers, on the other hand, are limited to offering Bynum the veteran’s minimum.

Bynum is expected to clear waivers Thursday at 5 p.m. ET.

***

No. 2: Report: Knicks gauging trade interest in Smith — A season ago, J.R. Smith was the Sixth Man of the Year Award winner and a key component to a division-winning New  York Knicks team that reached the Eastern Conference semifinals. Little of that is the same this season for both Smith and the Knicks as player and team have struggled to find a rhythm on the court. As well, Smith has gained some of his most notoriety this season not for his 3-point shooting or his contributions on the court, but for his efforts at untying opponents’ shoes that netted him a $50,000 fine from the league office. While Smith’s shoe incidents hasn’t led to him being on the trading block for New York, writes Ian Bagley and Marc Stein of ESPN.com, it hasn’t necessarily helped, either:

While they acknowledge that a trade may be difficult to pull off, the New York Knicks in recent days began exploring the potential market for guard J.R. Smith, ESPN.com has learned.

Sources close to the situation said Wednesday that the organization has become increasingly frustrated with Smith’s on- and off-the-court transgressions and may feel that a fresh start would be best for all parties.

Wednesday’s fine didn’t necessarily push the Knicks over the top, but one source with knowledge of the team’s thinking said the organization has become “fed up” with Smith’s erratic behavior.

Coach Mike Woodson hinted at that frustration Wednesday when he called Smith’s conduct “unacceptable” in an interview with ESPN New York 98.7 FM’s “The Stephen A. Smith and Ryan Ruocco Show.””I’m not happy about this, because he was warned, he comes back and he makes the same mistake, and it’s not right,” Woodson said.

“It’s just got to stop. I keep saying this every time something pops up, but it’s got to stop.”The coach later added that Smith has been “unprofessional about how he’s approached this whole thing. Something’s gotta be done. It has to stop. I’ll address it tomorrow when I see him, and then we’ll go from there.”

Smith can’t be traded until Jan. 15 because the Knicks are over the salary cap and Smith signed for more than 120 percent of his previous salary.

The Knicks, furthermore, privately acknowledge that it will be difficult in the current climate to trade Smith, who has two seasons left after this one on a three-year, $18 million contract.

***

No. 3: Deng denies asking Bulls for $15M-a-season deal — As we told you in this space on Tuesday morning (the day after the Andrew Bynum-for-Luol Deng swap between the Cavs and Bulls), Chicago apparently made one last-ditch effort to keep Deng in the fold before trading him. According to Yahoo!Sports.com’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Bulls offered Deng a three-year, $30 million extension that he balked at days before the swap with Cleveland. But Deng, in his first news conference with the Cavs, told the Chicago Tribune’s K.C. Johnson that he never asked the Bulls for a $15 million-a-season extension — as was reported during the summer — as he detailed his departure from Chicago:

He’s not bitter. And despite reports, he never asked for $15 million a year from the Bulls, who traded Deng to Cleveland on Monday in a financial move to create flexibility for the future.

“My thing is in the summer, I never came with a number,” Deng told the Tribune. “I heard on the radio that I asked for 15 (million). I would never ask for a number. We came to (general manager) Gar (Forman) last summer and we wanted to sit down and talk. And Gar didn’t want to talk. They felt like they wanted to wait and see how everything goes with Derrick (Rose).

“Three days before the trade, Gar called me upstairs and put three years, $30 million on the table. Take it or leave it. No negotiation. I said no and that was it. But 15? That’s the only thing that upset me. I’m not upset with the organization. I want everyone to understand that. If I was a GM, would I make that move? Maybe.

“I wanted to be in Chicago. I thought I was going to end my career there. Not talking during the summer, did that hurt me? Yeah. And then you come back with 10 (million). Who knows what I would’ve taken in the summer? That’s the part that is really bothering me. Other than that, I have no issues at all.”

“They paid me,” Deng said, referencing the $71 million extension he signed in 2008. “I can’t be mad at that. You don’t have to tap me on the shoulder every day. That’s not me. That’s not my personality.

“I had an opportunity to play for a great organization. I’ve been very lucky to play 10 years for the only team that I ever knew as a kid. I only knew Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and the Bulls when I was 7 years old and in Egypt. For me to be the fourth-leading scorer on that team, did I ever think a refugee kid in Egypt would even play for the Bulls? There’s a lot of amazing things that have happened.”

Deng saw the comments his teammates made in the wake of his trade, the ones that made it clear he’ll be remembered for more than being a two-time All-Star. He appreciated those.

“I wish (the trade) was face-to-face so I could say good-bye to my teammates,” Deng said. “I had to call them and talk to each one. There are workers at the stadium, people at the Berto, I wanted to say good-bye face-to-face. After nine or 10 years, those are not just people you work with. Some of them, I’m closer to them than teammates. The way I went down, I wish it wasn’t a phone call.”


VIDEO: GameTime’s crew breaks down how Luol Deng will help the Cavs on the court

***

No. 4: Report: Blazers’ Williams will opt out this summer — Point guard Mo Williams has been a vital part of the Portland Trail Blazers’ revival season and often teams with star guard Damian Lillard in the backcourt for key stretches each night. But Williams, who signed a two-year contract with Portland last summer, says he’s opting out of his deal this summer. The good news for Blazers fans, though, is that Williams wants to stay in Oregon and is simply looking for a longer term deal, writes Chris Haynes of CSNNorthwest.com:

Portland Trail Blazers guard Mo Williams tells CSNNW.com he will opt out of his deal with the team at the conclusion of the season and become an unrestricted free agent this summer.

The veteran guard, who head coach Terry Stotts considers the best backup point guard in the league, says this decision was always the plan and adds that his main objective is to secure a lengthened contract with the Trail Blazers.

“I would like to be here long term,” Williams revealed to CSNNW.com. “My goal is to work something out with Portland this summer. I like it here and I want to make this place home.”

Williams said team chemistry, camaraderie and fan support are why he and his family are drawn to the city.

“With our team, we have a makeup of individuals that do something really, really good and when we mesh together, it’s like gumbo,” he explained. “That’s the best example I can give you of our team. Some teams have a dish where you got your steak, potatoes and asparagus. We’re gumbo. Without one of the ingredients, the gumbo just doesn’t taste well. But when everything is in that pot, it’s just like grandma did it.”

***

No. 5: Rivers ‘always a Celtic’ in his heart — One of the key storylines of the offseason was Celtics coach Doc Rivers leaving Boston to head to L.A. to try and work his magic and turn the Clippers into a Finals-qualifying team. But in leaving Beantown, Rivers angered a fan base that remembered him saying he was a “Celtic for life” after signing his last contract extension in Boston. Rivers addresses that departure and many other topics in a wide-ranging interview with The Boston Herald‘s Steve Bulpett and Rivers says that no matter what team he coaches, Boston will always be a part of his heart:

It was less than three years ago that this newly baptized Angeleno, having signed a five-year contract extension with the Celtics, proclaimed his undying loyalty to Boston. Most people believed him, but Kris Rivers wasn’t buying it.

“My wife would tell me all the time,” said Rivers. “She’d say, ‘You love it there and I get that, but you know who you are. You need something.’”

That it would be the Clippers isn’t something he could have foreseen. But as he sipped on a glass of pinot noir Sunday, Rivers admitted last summer wasn’t the first time he’d made a move for the door in Boston.

“I left three times,” he said. “I really did. The year we won it, I was done after the year. I was going through my dad thing (his father’s passing), and I was just going to go home and do nothing. In 2010, I was definitely gone. After that last game, I almost said it. I was very close to saying it in the press conference after we lost to the Lakers. I was emotional and I was just going to leave.

“After the Miami loss (in 2011) when I said, ‘I am a Celtic,’ that’s when I got defiant about not leaving. It’s amazing how you go up and down. But I felt like I couldn’t leave then. It wasn’t the right time. We had Paul (Pierce), Kevin (Garnett) and, at the time, Ray (Allen), and I just thought it would be bad form. I couldn’t do it to them.”

Looking back on a trail of mixed messages and emotions, Rivers shrugged.

“It’s what you believe at that moment,” he said.

Back on the deck at Shutters, he insisted that he’s moved on from last summer’s Celtics divorce, but he hasn’t completely reconciled the departure.

“I don’t know if I’ll ever be comfortable with it, honestly,” he said. “I don’t think you can get comfortable with it. Danny and I did get together on it at the end, but I just thought after a while it got to the point of no return.

“It was just hard for me. I’m not sure anyone can understand. I fell in love with where I was at, but after the season I realized I just didn’t want to get into the whole rebuilding thing. I didn’t have it in me. Once I came to that conclusion, now I’m a mess. Do I stay and do it anyway? I thought about it and decided I just couldn’t.

“I’ve never had that type of feeling for a place. I was in Atlanta eight years and it was great. Orlando is nice and playing for the Knicks was nice, but nothing like Boston. And I don’t think I can ever get that again, no matter what I do. That’s just hard.”

“I don’t give a (expletive) what I do the rest of my life, I’m always going to be a Celtic,” he said. “It’ll never go away. I don’t give a (expletive) what I do. I think even if I win 10 championships here, it’s different when you win with the Celtics. There are only a few organizations in sports that have that history and have that following, and I was with one for nine years.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Raptors are fairly convinced that Kyle Lowry will sign a long-term deal with them this summer … Bucks rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo has a must-read blog entry on the Greek sports site Sport 24 (h/t BrewHoop for the translation) … For some reason, Blazers center Robin Lopez has a beef with the Toronto Raptors’ mascotLeandro Barbosa is happy to be, as he puts it, “back with the purple” in Phoenix

ICYMI(s) Of The Night: In the first quarter of last night’s game against Boston, Blake Griffin gave his dunking partner in crime, DeAndre Jordan, a fast-break slam thanks to his nice outlet pass. Then, in the third quarter, Griffin targeted Kris Humphries and made him his latest dunk target …


VIDEO: Blake Griffin gets up to dunk over the Celtics’ Kris Humphries

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 143) Featuring Zach Gilford And ‘Are You Kidding Me?’

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — There are reportedly eight different teams expressing interest in the services of Cleveland Cavaliers’ cast off big man Andrew Bynum, eight teams that believe Bynum is a valuable enough piece that they are willing to ignore his track record of not playing up to his immense potential when healthy.

Like everything else where Bynum is concerned, there are passionate opinions on both sides of the argument and we made sure to touch on those on Episode 143 of the Hang Time Podcast now that the Luol Deng-Bynum trade has been finalized. Bynum’s gone, much to the delight of our guest, Friday Night Lights and Devil’s Due star Zach Gilford, whose Bulls roots run deep (from growing up watching Michael Jordan dazzle the world and win titles all the way down to the Scottie Pippen his buddy tattooed on him at 13).

Hall of Famer Reggie Miller and the NBA’s former Dean of Discipline, Stu Jackson, also make their 2014 debut on “Are You Kidding Me?” Miller and Jackson

You get all that and more on Episode 143 of the Hang Time Podcast featuring Zach Gilford.

LISTEN HERE:


As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com,  Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand and the best engineer in the business,  Jarell “I Heart Peyton Manning” Wall.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.

Blogtable: Better Future, Bulls Or Cavs?

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


Future pick: CHI or CLE | High-energy stud | DMC an All-Star?


Kyrie Irving (David Liam Kyle/NBAE)

Kyrie Irving (David Liam Kyle/NBAE)

If you had to bet on which team will be better in three years, who would you pick: Chicago or Cleveland?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comCleveland. They’re younger and they’ve already turned the allure of “future Draft picks” into high draft selections such as Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters and, er, Anthony Bennett. The Bulls have to hope they get lucky with the pick they have coming from Charlotte or steal someone with the Kings pick from the Deng deal. Then there is the dueling luck of landing the No. 1 pick for an elite point guard. Well, Irving hasn’t had any injury as debilitating, and ominous, as Derrick Rose’s two knee blowouts. Since Chicago never has proven an ability to lure the top free agents, they’re pretty evenly matched in how they can improve. The Cavs’ assets just have a greater upside.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: You always start by deciding which team has the best individual player and I’m taking Derrick Rose over Kyrie Irving while assuming that LeBron James won’t return to the Cavs. At this point there is no reason to think back-to-back Rose injuries are anything but bad luck and in three years the former MVP will be healthy, still only 28 and the key piece to build around. In three years Joakim Noah is only 31, Jimmy Butler 26. Then there are all the Draft picks and roster flexibility that was just gained by trading Luol Deng.  To start with, Chicago potentially has three lottery picks in the loaded 2014 Draft. When they amnesty Carlos Boozer, there will also be cap space that could attract a big-name free agent.

Chicago's Tom Thibodeau (Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE)

Chicago’s Tom Thibodeau
(Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE)

Jeff Caplan, NBA.comChicago. The Bulls still have solid players on the roster. Derrick Rose will be back. Lots of Draft picks being accumulated and cap space coming if/when amnesty Carlos Boozer this summer. Great coach who gets most out of his players. Potential is there for a fast rebuild. Cleveland? Not so much.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comChicago, because of the track record of the front office compared to Cleveland’s recent history. Because if Tom Thibodeau is still the coach, the Bulls will have an advantage over most teams in that department. Because Cleveland has mostly only produced on lottery night. Derrick Rose is obviously the great unknown for the Bulls, while the Cavaliers have Kyrie Irving. The certainty, though, is that Chicago is the organization that has shown it can build something.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: It’s impossible to know who each team will add or subtract in the next few years, if Derrick Rose will ever be back to his former self, or if Tom Thibodeau will last another three years in Chicago. But a core of Rose (28 in three years), Jimmy Butler (27), Nikola Mirotic (25), Taj Gibson (31) and Joakim Noah (31) should be stronger than the Cavs’ current core three years from now, because most of those Chicago guys are two-way players. Of course, I don’t necessarily believe in the Bulls organization’s willingness to keep a veteran (and somewhat expensive) core together.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comI’m not a betting man. But if I had to choose, I’m going with Chicago, based mostly on their track record compared to that of the Cavaliers in recent seasons. The Cavaliers haven’t shown any propensity for getting it right since losing LeBron James to free agency, so I’m not ready to wager anything on them at this point. From Drafts and trades to free agency armed with ample cap space, they’ve just missed the mark at almost every turn. And thanks to the Luol Deng-Andrew Bynum deal, the Bulls have assets and the promise (however fragile it might be right now) of Derrick Rose returning to some shape and or form of the MVP and All-Star he was before his knee injuries changed the game. The Bulls have tons of flexibility to work with as they rebuild the core group of a team had exhausted its possibilities. I know Tom Thibodeau isn’t pleased and might not stick around to see the new core come to fruition. But again, the possibilities are endless!

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball blog: There are a lot of ways to parse this but to me, Chicago has Derrick Rose, Cleveland has Kyrie Irving, and that’s a pretty simple and fair way to decide this thing. I know Cleveland was supposed to be the young and up-and-coming team this season, but they’ve been that team for a while now and haven’t been able to make that jump into being a genuine Playoff contender, either because of injuries or because of personnel missteps. This latest trade for Luol Deng might get them into the postseason this season, but trading a handful of picks for a guy who will be a free agent this summer doesn’t really speak to long-term planning. And yeah, I know Derrick Rose has had injury issues, but for me, having a recent MVP on the roster means I go with Chicago.

Philipp Dornhegge, NBA Deutschland: It’s all about Derrick Rose’s health for Chicago, but assuming that he’ll return to form sooner or later, I go with the Bulls. They have already established a winning culture and can rely on a great core that is still young: Rose, Butler, Noah, Gibson, Snell. They will add Nicola Mirotic next summer and probably have two first-round picks in a deep Draft. If they amnesty Boozer, they will also have some financial flexibility.

Akshay Manwani, NBA India: For now, I would pick Cleveland. The Cavaliers have fewer variables to deal with and have more all-around young talent on their squad set to pop over the next three years. With Chicago, we don’t know how Derrick Rose will recover, whether they will amnesty Carlos Boozer and land a big free agent and even whether or not they will continue with the coaching staff down the road, given how injuries have piled up over the past few years.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA Greece: Chicago. First of all, they start at a better place right now than the Cavs. Secondly, they have a great coach that can built a solid team despite injuries or any kind of problems. Thirdly, everybody hopes that Derrick Rose will be back at his top form in three years. Fourthly, by shipping Deng they made a lot of cap space and the potential to make the moves they want over the summer.

Gasol Calmly Waited As Rumors Swirled


VIDEO: Lakers fall to Mavericks on Tuesday night

DALLAS – Enjoying a production of The Lion King at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood with his parents and younger brother, Marc, on Saturday night, Pau Gasol used intermission to stretch his legs and check Twitter on his phone.

He wasn’t expecting any news affecting him, not yet, not with still a few days before the deadline for the Cleveland Cavaliers to trade Andrew Bynum in time to avoid having to pay him the second half of his contract. Yet there it was on his timeline, his long-elusive finality with the Lakers staring back at him.

“It was done,” Gasol said of seeing what proved to be an erroneous tweet from a Los Angeles radio station account that read the Lakers had completed a deal to send Gasol to the Cavaliers for his former teammate. “I see it’s almost official, [Monday] it’s going to be official, but it’s done. I was seeing all these messages of farewell Pau, thanks for all your services and all that stuff. I was like, ‘All right,’ well I guess it’s good to get a heads-up the day before. Most guys don’t get that.”

He hadn’t. The Lakers quickly and vehemently denied the report and so Gasol, again, reset his mind, one that is now practically trained to expect to be traded at a moment’s notice. On Sunday night he played spectacularly, posting 25 points, 10 rebounds and five assists even as the Lakers were blown out at home by the Denver Nuggets.

Monday for Gasol was D-day. The deadline for Cleveland to trade Bynum was ticking down with one false alarm already doused. For the Lakers, Monday meant a practice at the team’s training facility in El Segundo followed by a flight to Dallas where they would play the Mavericks on Tuesday night.

Tick. Tock.

Gasol tried to make it feel like any other day, but it was impossible to totally shake the odd feeling of not knowing if he would join his teammates on the flight to Dallas, or make arrangements to catch one to Cleveland.

“I packed my bags like I was going on the plane and doing my job, doing what I’m supposed to do,” Gasol said. “But you know, the thought crossed my mind, obviously. I came into practice like any other day. If something would have happened, somebody would have come to me or called me and told me, ‘Look it’s done.’ “

Nothing.

The Lakers’ charter departed LAX at 2 p.m. Pacific Time and arrived at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport around 7 p.m. local time. The team then bused to the hotel. Still nothing.

“Pretty quiet, pretty calm,” Gasol said, describing how the day was unfolding.

Tick. Tock.

Then, about 15 minutes before midnight Central Time, Twitter erupted with news of a major trade. An All-Star forward was headed to Cleveland in exchange for Bynum and Draft picks. Only it was the Chicago Bull’s Luol Deng, a regular in the rumor mill, but a something of a stunner to be the one going to the Cavaliers at the midnight hour.

“I was up,” Gasol said. “I guess that was kind of the confirmation that it didn’t involve me. At that point I thought that nothing was going to happen either way for anyone, but I guess it did, and now obviously, I’m glad I continue to be a Laker.

“It felt like it was pretty much done at times and that’s the way the media put it out or leaked it,” Gasol said. “It feels good to survive, I guess, and live to fight another day. That’s what they say, right? I’d like to continue to be here, but that’s not up to me.”

Still a Laker on Tuesday night, Gasol put on his purple No. 16 jersey and went to work against Dallas. He scored 15 points with 13 rebounds and five assists, but it wasn’t enough. The struggling, injury-depleted Lakers kept it close into the fourth quarter, but lost 110-97, falling to 14-21.

They head to Houston for a game Wednesday night and embark on a daunting road trip next week. Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash, both traveling with the team, are a ways away from returning. Steve Blake and Jordan Farmar remain out as well.

Gasol is in. For now.

“I don’t really know how it really played out. I don’t know what was the reason that it didn’t happen, I don’t know that,” Gasol said. “So I know there are probably going to be other rumors and potential trades coming up, but I can’t really worry about it. I just need to continue what I’ve been doing, which is come in, be ready to play and focus on what I need to do as a player for myself and my teammates.”

Heavy Mettle: Losing Deng Steels Bulls


VIDEO: Joakim Noah leads Chicago to a victory against Phoenix

CHICAGO – Joakim Noah took a pass Tuesday night. He took a pass Tuesday morning, too, and then again on Tuesday evening an hour or so before tipoff. The news that his teammate, his friend, his brother Luol Deng had been traded hit Noah hard and he wasn’t ready in the first 24 hours after the deal to invite in the outside world. So no media ops for him.

And yet, for 2 hours 15 minutes against the Phoenix Suns at United Center, Noah spoke loud and clear. Chicago’s emotional center scored 14 points, grabbed 16 rebounds and passed for six assists, a performance good enough to pay tribute to Deng, serve notice to the league about these dismantling Bulls and say pretty much whatever else he wanted it to say.

Considering the funk into which Noah might have gone, the Bulls were grateful he went the direction he did in the 92-87 victory.

“Jo is an emotional guy,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “It’s good. I think it’s also what drives him, so you don’t want to take that away from him. He was fine. He is close to Lu. Any time you’ve played with someone for an extended amount of time, and all the trials and tribulations that you go through, there’s a closeness there.

“He responded. I felt by tonight, he got himself together. He was ready to go. His defense was off-the-charts. Playmaking. He got into the flow of the game. He got us going. He’s one of the leaders fo the team, so I think that’s important.”

There was a gloom at the start Tuesday, the reality and the finality of Deng’s departure hitting home. The Bulls had played plenty of games without the two-time All-Star, but those had owed to injuries, temporary absences vs. the permanence of this one.

Piece by piece, what began as nothing less than a championship-focused season has come undone. Derrick Rose was lost for the season, again. Carlos Boozer was out again Tuesday with a sore knee. Now Deng belongs to Cleveland. This team has weathered all sorts of ailments in recent years but this roster-eating bacteria, in the name of cap space and “financial flexibility,” trumps them all.

“It’s tough. Y’know, we lost our best player, and our leading scorer got traded,” guard Kirk Hinrich said.

Seeing Deng’s empty locker, and no one over there stretching in front of it during pregame, drove home the loss, Hinrich said.

“The guys who’ve been around, they’ve probably experienced something like this,” he said. “Obviously it was a big deal because Lu had been here for so long and had such great relationships with everybody on this team, the organization, the community. He’ll be sorely missed, but I mean, what can you do? We had to move forward.”

Some of the Bulls spoke with Deng after the trade overnight, Monday to Tuesday. Jimmy Butler sounded a little embarrassed when sharing Deng’s comment that he would miss Butler. They mostly joked and rarely had talked so seriously. And then came Tuesday’s game.

“It was weird,” Butler said. “We’re so used to hearing Lu say, ‘Bulls on 3!’ and then counting us out. When he’s not there… “

So who did it instead?

“Me. It was weird,” the third-year swingman said. “But new roles, new leaders. Got to step up.”

The Bulls will hear, and probably already have heard, plenty about building-by-teardown, losing their way into the lottery and hoping – with some of the assets they got in the Cavaliers deal – to start fresh next spring with a couple of guys currently in college and others who’ve yet to attend senior prom.

It’s nothing that plays well in their locker room. There have 49 games left and aren’t inclined to toss away any of them yet.

That might have been part of what was balled up in Noah’s emotions Tuesday, the stuff he didn’t want to let out while letting people in.

“I feel like Jo feels we have a lot to prove still,” Butler said. “People count us out, and Jo’s not someone to go for that – at all. So if people overlook us, Jo’s going to put that game face on and go out there and compete. And produce and play well.”

The acid-reflux Thibodeau must feel each time he thinks of Deng now can be eased by the likes of Noah’s play against the Suns, and the Bulls coming together for a night at the end of a very long day.

By the end, the Bulls’ coach could have been standing in front of a huge U.S. flag as he talked of the challenge and the mettle he’s seen before and needs to see again.

“It’s ‘whatever your circumstances are, make the best of those circumstances,’ ” Thibodeau said. “There’s constant change in this league, whether it’s injuries, trades, free agency, whatever it might be. Then the challenge for the team is to not get distracted with all that other stuff and get locked into what you have to do for your team to be successful.

“That’s what I like about our team. This team has been good a lot of different ways. But they always get up. They always get up.”


VIDEO: Taj Gibson talks about the departure of Luol Deng and the Bulls’ victory

Trading Deng Reinforces Bulls’ Top-Down Reputation

Chicago Bulls v Dallas Mavericks

The handling of Luol Deng could affect Chicago’s free agency appeal. (Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images)

CHICAGO – Luol Deng was gone from Chicago sooner or later, so the Bulls were simply taking care of business in a responsible and pre-emptive manner when they made sure it was the former Tuesday, trading Deng to the Cleveland Cavaliers for the fungible contract of center Andrew Bynum and several future draft picks.

But… There’s often a but and it’s coming.

Deng and the Bulls already had parted ways, with only the calendar left to make it official. Chicago tried once more over the weekend to sign the two-time All-Star forward to a contract extension – an offer reported to be worth about $30 million over three seasons – and was rebuffed. Deng is determined to test free agency for the first time, convinced his value is closer to the $14.25 million annually he’s making this season. No “hometown discounts” for the Windy City (by way of South Sudan, London and Durham, N.C.) were in the offing.

So the something for which Bulls’ VP John Paxson and GM Gar Forman pulled the trade trigger – salary-cap and luxury-tax relief in shedding Deng’s salary (and in cutting Bynum loose immediately) and a parcel of amorphous picks – clearly is better than the nothing they would get back this summer. Better probably, too, than any other offers between now and the February trade deadline.

So no quibble with the move here on that count.

No quibbles, either, about how Bulls’ recuperating MVP Derrick Rose and his camp might react to this veer into “rebuilding,” or how grinding head coach Tom Thibodeau might feel about losing the favorite, all-purpose tool on his belt in Deng.

If not for Rose’s second consecutive season-ending knee injury, the Bulls wouldn’t even have reached this crossroads of now vs. later. By next October, when he’ll try to return again as an elite player, Rose will have been paid about $35 million over two seasons to endure, yes, the physical and mental drudgery of rehab but to play only 10 games before his second knee blowout. That contract – a five-year, 30-percent-of-payroll deal in which the Bulls gave every available dollar – is part of the reason for the cap and tax considerations now.

As for Thibodeau, he and Deng had a solid partnership in which the coach maximized the player’s talents and value at both ends, while Deng did whatever was asked of him – sometimes too much. Injuries followed, along with Deng’s breakdown last spring in which he was hospitalized for spinal-tap complications and took issue with the Bulls’ handling of his room, his doctors and too little TLC from his bosses.

Paxson addressed that head-on Tuesday in a news conference, stating that he and others apologized to Deng over the summer. Yet those close to the 10-year veteran felt it caused a wee more separation from management and made him a little more wary of injuries and overuse this season (Deng missed nine games due to left Achilles soreness, trying to avoid a blowout rather than recover from one later).

Thibodeau? He coaches hard the bodies in uniforms in front of him, which is fine. Anything – like this trade – that makes winning more difficult or, to go to extremes, undesirable isn’t something for which the coach has much time. Even Paxson, in his honest and extended back-and-forth with reporters, acknowledged it, saying “We know what he’s facing. We’re not sitting up here saying, ‘Be happy about it.’ “

But Thibs isn’t Doc Rivers, either, with a championship ring as a head coach or the lengthy resume of his former Boston boss. Navigating through a rebuild or overhaul or whatever the Bulls eventually label this comes in his job description. It’s his fourth season in charge of a team, he got and still has a better situation than many, and he has room for improvement, too.

OK, here comes the quibble: This won’t help the Bulls when it comes to attracting and signing top free agents.

It will, frankly, have the opposite effect in an area where they already have been underachievers.

And once the dust settles, this Deng trade will become another brick in the wall of Chicago’s player-unfriendly reputation.

Paxson took issue with that characterization Tuesday, but let’s face it, that old Jerry Krause-ism from deep into the Michael Jordan-Scottie Pippen era – “Players don’t win championships. Organizations win championships,” Krause said – still has legs. The perception around the NBA, for a lot of players and their agents, is that Chicago, yes, is a behemoth and a profit monster that packs United Center, boasts plenty of banners and offers an enticing big-market platform for outside interests. But it also is run as top-down as any team in the league, sending messages to the locker room that no one – no player, no coach, not even Jordan in his day – is bigger than the organization.

That message was delivered 10 and 15 years ago by Jordan, Pippen and others to a generation of budding stars such as Kevin Garnett, Tracy McGrady and Grant Hill and lingers to this day. When McGrady and Hill were free agents, Chicago was fine as a place to increase leverage, but did they actually sign there?

LeBron James and Dwyane Wade essentially enacted a similar charade in the summer of 2010, after the Bulls had opened up salary for one or two megastars. Carlos Boozer and a deep bench was a decent fallback position, but as things turned out, it was like finding an Acme tablet under the Christmas tree when you were hoping for an iPad. Then it might as well be underwear.

“I think we treat people fairly, players fairly,” Paxson said, challenging the reputation when it was raised. “I think we have a good way of going about our business.”

The only way to prove that, in the wake of waving goodbye to Deng (who did get a six-year, $71 million deal from the Bulls in 2008), his character and his “glueness” will be to turn all this talk about The Future into something tangible and game-changing for the present. If not James next summer in, sure, a way-way-way-long shot, then stashed Euro Nikola Mirotic and a notable second addition. Then something creative, say, for Kevin Love in 2015.

Paxson talked up the merits of depth and building with Rose rather than leaning on him so much, especially given the unknowns of his game going forward. But he also said: “Let’s face it, the league is a superstar league.”

Beyond Rose and the improbable fall of Ping-Pong balls in 2008, Chicago has been in search of one since 1998, when its titles ended and its management reputation lived on. Finishing multiple times as a bridesmaid in free agency, assiduously avoiding the luxury tax until last year, flushing out the Bench Mob from 2010-11 and 2011-12 for more affordable options, turning what was promised to be a basketball decision on Omer Asik into a financial one, even enabling Rose’s decision not to try a comeback last March or April – all recent examples of business first, winning second.

And now this trade. Some day, it might be the beloved Rose. After all, the respect and genuine affection with which Paxson, Thibodeau and regular ol’ staffers spoke of Deng as a player and, more so, as a person was hard to reconcile with the fact that nonetheless he is gone. He didn’t get an extension prior to the season. And other than by Thibs, he always seemed a little more valued from the outside – the East coaches picking All-Star subs, Kobe Bryant nixing any deal that sent Deng back to L.A. – than from the inside or even the UC stands.

Look, it’s a business for all 30 teams and for 400 players. It’s a business for the agents and the coaches and the media, too, and for everyone else who isn’t shelling out for tickets. Some franchises cloak it better than others. Some that try to buffer that for players wind up getting burned by their conglomerate/athletes. Some segment of the NBA fan base is even good with it all, focused always on what’s next and myriad options rather than the human beings on the court, in the jerseys, on the sideline.

But trades like Deng’s and days like Tuesday shine a harsh light on that, when the sport and passion and emotions benefit more from softer glows. And the Bulls are out there in the glare more than most. Anyone who doesn’t think their bottom-line approach strips the grout away from the tiles, loosening the already tenuous bonds of team and common goals, doesn’t much value intangibles in the first place.

Deng’s and Bynum’s contracts, as they say, were expiring assets. Well, we’re all expiring assets, but it’s no fun being reminded of it.

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 7


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Jan. 6

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Kings interested in Nuggets’ Miller | Report: Deng balked on extension with Bulls | Report: Clips looking at Turkoglu, Vujacic | Z-Bo, Grizz excited about pending addition of Lee

No. 1: Report: Nuggets discussing trades for Miller — As we reported in this space yesterday, the Nuggets and Andre Miller seem destined for a parting of ways. The Denver Post reported yesterday that the team is actively looking for deal the point guard and Yahoo!Sports.com’s Adrian Wojnarowski has some news on prospective teams, which could include the Sacramento Kings:

Guard Andre Miller has possibly played his final game for the franchise, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

After a two-game suspension turned into an indefinite exile on Monday, the Nuggets are motivated to move Miller within the next 24 to 48 hours, league sources said. It has become clear to rival executives that Denver is moving quickly on engineering trade scenarios and completing a deal.

Sacramento Kings general manager Pete D’Alessandro – a longtime Nuggets executive – has been at the forefront of trying to acquire Miller, league sources said. The Kings plan would be to use Miller as a mentor for the franchise’s talented young point guard, Isaiah Thomas.

Denver general manager Tim Connelly has had conversations with multiple teams, including Sacramento. Miller is owed the balance of his $5 million this season and a partial guarantee of $2 million in 2014-15 on his contract.

Connelly and Miller’s agent, Andy Miller, have been in regular communication about the next steps for the franchise and point guard.


Miller, 37, had a 239-consecutive-game streak end in the loss to the Sixers, and endured the first “Did Not Play-Coach’s Decision” of his 15-year career.

The frustration that started on the floor on Wednesday night extended into the postgame locker room, sources told Yahoo Sports. Before the bubbling over on Wednesday, Miller had recently addressed some issues to Shaw in a locker-room meeting forum, league sources said.

Connelly spoke with Miller for approximately an hour late Wednesday at the Pepsi Center, and the team suspended Miller on Thursday for its next two games.

***

No. 2: Report: Deng turned down extension with Bulls days ago — As you probably heard, the Cleveland Cavaliers and Chicago Bulls pulled off a trade last night that sent disgruntled Cavs center Andrew Bynum and three future Draft picks to Chicago for All-Star forward Luol Deng. The Bulls moved Deng in part because he was an unrestricted free agent this summer and also, as our David Aldridge points out in his excellent breakdown of the deal, to lessen their immediate salary-cap burden. Over the summer, Deng and his representatives couldn’t reach an agreement on a contract extension and, according to Yahoo!Sports.com.’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Bulls and Deng tried to hammer out an extension again before the Cleveland trade took place, but Deng didn’t want to sign:

Within days of the Chicago Bulls unloading Luol Deng for salary-cap relief and a first-round draft pick, the All-Star forward rejected a three-year, $30 million contact extension, a league source told Yahoo Sports.

Deng, who will be an unrestricted free agent this summer, turned down the deal on Friday, clearing the way for Bulls management to complete a deal with Cleveland for broken-down center Andrew Bynum and a package of draft picks on Monday night.

The Bulls and Deng’s representatives had informal talks about an extension over the summer, but Chicago never made a formal offer.

The Bulls were unwilling to pay Deng, 28, market value in the $12 million-to-$13 million-a-year range over four or five seasons. Deng spent nine-plus seasons in Chicago, where he often played hurt. Chicago is committed to re-signing shooting guard Jimmy Butler to a lucrative contract extension this summer, and after the loss of Derrick Rose for the season, the Bulls made a move for the long-term.


VIDEO: GameTime’s crew discusses the Bynum-for-Deng swap

***

No. 3: Report: Clippers mulling veterans Vujacic, Turkoglu — The shoulder injury that star point guard Chris Paul suffered last weekend could potentially keep him out of the L.A. Clippers’ lineup for as long as six weeks. That means the Clips’ depth is going to be tested and as L.A. prepares to weather a bit of a storm without him, the team is thinking about adding free agents to the roster. The Clips, according to Marc Stein and Ramona Shelbourne of ESPNLosAngeles.com, have an eye on Hedo Tukoglu (who was recently waived by the Orlando Magic) and ex-Lakers and Nets guard Sasha Vujacic. Adding either of those players, though, would possibly force the team to part ways with Stephen Jackson:

The Los Angeles Clippers are looking hard at well-known veteran free agents Sasha Vujacic and Hedo Turkoglu as they try to fill the playmaking void created by Chris Paul’s shoulder injury, according to sources close to the process.

Sources told ESPN.com that the Clippers could make a new 10-day signing as early as Tuesday, with Vujacic and Turkoglu currently at the forefront of L.A.’s thinking.

Paul is expected to miss up to six weeks after suffering a separated shoulder Friday night in Dallas. The Clippers are still without starting shooting guard J.J. Redick, who is making progress in his recovery from hand and wrist injuries but is believed to be out for at least another week.

The Clippers, though, would have to open up a roster spot before making any further signings and face an immediate decision on Stephen Jackson, whose minimum-salary contract will be guaranteed for the rest of the season if he’s still on the Clippers roster beyond Tuesday at 5 p.m.

Vujacic, 29, has been working out in Los Angeles for months in hopes of getting back into the NBA after the former Lakers guard from Slovenia spent the previous two seasons playing in Turkey.

Clippers coach Doc Rivers, confirming his interest in Turkoglu, said before Monday night’s game against the Magic, “I just like him. He’s out there and we should look at him. I’ve always liked him. He can shoot and play [small forward and power forward].”


VIDEO: Clippers coach Doc Rivers talks about the state of the team before Monday’s game vs. Orlando

***

No. 4: Grizz, Z-Bo happy about addition of Lee — While the trade between the Boston Celtics, Memphis Grizzlies and Oklahoma City Thunder has yet to be finalized, the folks in Tennessee are getting excited about the pending move. The deal — which will send Courtney Lee to the Grizz, Jerryd Bayless to the Celtics and Ryan Gomes to the Celtics (where he’s expected to be waived) — is thought to give some new life to the Grizzlies’ renewed playoff hopes. Michael Cohen of The Commercial-Appeal has more on the trade and how Zach Randolph and others are reacting to it:

It was late Sunday afternoon when the Grizzlies found out Jerryd Bayless was leaving, the players beginning to bubble with confidence after a convincing and reassuring win over Detroit. The 112-84 victory marked the end of a successful three-game road trip, protecting the flickering flame that is Memphis’ playoff hopes for at least a while longer.

Strengthening that postseason belief was the impending trade involving Bayless, one that sends the reserve guard to Boston in exchange for sharpshooter Courtney Lee. The players learned of the deal on their flight home after beating the Pistons, the atmosphere onboard equal parts sad and salutary.

“It’s very encouraging when you see the front office try to get better and see what we need to improve at,” Zach Randolph said Monday, before the team’s practice at FedExForum. “That’s what you’ve got to do, that’s what we’ve got to do. We want to be a top-echelon team.

“This season is far from over. For us to say that we’re out of the playoff hunt and we won’t make the playoffs is ludicrous because we still have a chance.”

The trade between the Grizzlies and Celtics is still not official, and coach David Joerger was unable to speak about the imminent deal Monday morning. But point guard Mike Conley said the players “knew something was going on” during the flight back from Detroit, prompting them to enjoy Bayless’ company for what they understood was likely the final time. The trade was a business transaction to make the team better, even if its members lost a friend in the process.

“We talked to him then and took that plane ride back and hung out as much as we could,” Conley said.

For the better part of a month the Grizzlies have toiled in inferiority, dropping five consecutive games in mid December before finally putting together a pair of wins against the Knicks and Jazz — two of the NBA’s worst teams. Since then, victories and defeats have alternated in agonizing fashion, with each step forward giving way to a disillusioning step back.

But the 28-point throttling of Detroit and a disposing of the Suns three days before has breathed life into a franchise one season removed from an appearance in the Western Conference Finals. The offense is more fluid, the bench more productive and now, thanks to the likely addition of Lee, a major hole filled: shooting.

Lee, who is shooting 44.2 percent from beyond the arc this season, joins a team ranked last in the league in 3-pointers made per game (4.9) and 18th in 3-point percentage (34.9). When asked if he would welcome more potency from beyond the arc, Randolph could barely contain himself. He grinned, then laughed, then stammered away with excitement. “Oh man, gosh, come on,” he said complete with a beckoning gesture.

Adding to Monday’s festive mood was a positive update from Joerger on Marc Gasol. The all-star center has been cleared for “light, light on-court action,” following an MRI to evaluate the sprained MCL in his knee that has sidelined him since Nov. 22.

Gasol was at practice Monday sporting a black brace on his left knee and he appeared to be in good spirits in the training room. There is no timetable for his return, but that he is on the court at all is a welcomed sign of progress for a team in need of a lasting spark.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: After the Bulls release Andrew Bynum, they will have 12 players and be below the tax line. They’ll have to add at least one more player for about $520K … The Salinas Bros. may soon see their long-standing annual TV rights payout from the NBA end soon … The Magic have suffered 86 losses since the start of the 2012-13 season, but last night’s to the Clippers might have been an all-time lowRonny Turiaf was more than happy to be back on the court at last for the Timberwolves

ICYMI(s) Of The Night: Blake Griffin with an in-game, alley-oop windmill dunk. There’s nothing more to be said here …


VIDEO: Blake Griffin’s in-game, alley-oop windmill jam vs. the Magic

Cavaliers Really Needed This Win


VIDEO: GameTime crew breaks down Deng-to-Cleveland trade

They were staring at the possibility of Pau Gasol or Richard Jefferson and came away with Luol Deng, looking at a season screaming off a cliff  and ended up with a new chance, trying to salvage something – anything – for a mistake in the past and turning it into a future.

The Cavaliers saved the day, and a lot more. They got 2012 and ’13 All-Star Deng for Andrew Bynum, a much better outcome than Gasol from the Lakers or Jefferson from the Jazz as either short-term rentals just to avoid having to leave Bynum by the side of the road or opportunities to flip into another deal. They got a two-way player and a good professional attitude for a roster sorely lacking both.

Best of all, though, the Cavs got a new start, because the previous new start was not going well.

This blows up in their face only if Deng leaves as an unrestricted free agent in the offseason, but it’s a reasonable assumption that Cleveland pulled the trigger Monday night knowing it would have to do whatever it took to re-sign him, even if that meant over-paying. Deng and his camp surely know this as well and in July will gladly capitalize on the situation, but he may have signaled a willingness to stay if the numbers are right. Multiple reports after the Bulls and Cavaliers completed the trade stated Deng turned down $30 million over three years as Chicago’s final attempt to keep him, so Cleveland knows it’s looking at demands that will reach the teens of millions of dollars.

At the very least, the Cavaliers presumably did not get a thumbs down from Deng indicating he is against re-signing. That alone is a win considering how their season has gone.

Bynum was a bad signing, even with the safety net that only $6 million of the $24 million over two seasons was guaranteed, once it became obvious through a December suspension for conduct detrimental to the team that he was not entirely focused on trying to re-start a career that once had superstar potential. (And that’s not even getting into 41.9 percent from the field in 24 games.)

Anthony Bennett, the No. 1 overall pick last June, isn’t in the rotation and is shooting 27.8 percent. Dion Waiters, the 2012 lottery pick, can’t stick in the starting lineup. The Cavaliers don’t defend or shoot well and are 11-23, although in the East, that’s also known as “three games out of eighth place.”

That’s where Deng comes in. He is a big part of the solution in those aspects, addresses a position need at small forward, can become a positive locker-room presence, and provides new momentum. Kyrie Irving, Deng, Tristan Thompson doing grunt work inside, Anderson Varejao in the middle of a successful comeback, Cleveland’s own first-round pick in 2014 – that’s something to build on. There is the chance for recovery this season plus get somewhere much bigger in the future, again with the speculation that Deng stays.

The only risk Monday was trading the first-rounder that belongs to the Kings, and that almost certainly won’t be conveyed this year because of protections. So Cleveland gave up a player it was going to cut anyway, a Draft choice it wouldn’t have gotten until 2015 at the soonest and probably not even then because of additional protections for Sacramento, the option for the Bulls to swap 2015 first-rounders to take the Cavaliers selection instead but only if the Cavs are between 15 and 30, and the Trail Blazers’ second-round picks in 2015 and ’16.

It’s a win for the Cavaliers. It’s hope for the Cavaliers.