Posts Tagged ‘Nate Robinson’

New Coaches: Heat Is On Already

 

HANG TIME, Texas – It’s not very often that 13 different teams decide to change coaches during one offseason. It’s a sign of these impatient times in which we live, especially when six of those teams finished last season with winning records.

It used to be “what have you done for me lately?” Now it’s “what have you done in the last 10 minutes?”

Of course, not every new coaching situation is the same. No one expects a pair of newcomers like Brad Stevens in Boston and Brett Brown in Philly to perform water-into-wine miracles with stripped-down rosters.

Doc Rivers goes coast-to-coast to show a 56-win Clippers team how to take the next step while Mike Brown returns to Cleveland with a roster full of young talent ready to bloom.

However, not everybody gets to settle in comfortably. Here are the five new coaches who’ll find that seat warm from Day One:

Dave Joerger, Grizzlies – Sure, he’s paid his dues and learned his craft in the minor leagues and as an up-and-coming assistant coach in the NBA. All he’s got to do now is take over a club that is coming off the best season in franchise history, including a run to the Western Conference finals. While that means the Grizzlies have a contending core in Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and Mike Conley and a supporting cast to repeat their feat, it also means that every decision, every move that Joerger makes from the first day of training camp through the end of the playoffs will be judged against his predecessor Lionel Hollins, who evidently could do everything except make his stat-driven bosses appreciate him. In a Western Conference that just keeps getting stronger, it will be tough enough survive, let alone thrive with a ghost on his shoulder.

Larry Drew, Bucks — After spending three seasons in Atlanta, where he always had a winning record but could never get the Hawks past the second round of the playoffs, Drew moves to a Bucks franchise that overachieves if it climbs into the No. 8 seed to play the role of punching bag for the big boys in the Eastern Conference. Milwaukee has turned over its backcourt from an inconsistent pair of Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis to a spotty trio of Brandon Knight, O.J. Mayo and Gary Neal. Rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo has size, athleticism and a bundle of talent. But he’s only 18 years old and the question is whether Drew will be given the opportunity to stick around long enough to watch him grow. The Bucks are one of two teams with plenty of space under the salary cap, but have no real intention of spending it except to get to the mandated league minimum. This is a Bucks franchise that doesn’t have a sense of direction and that hardly bodes well for a coach. It’s not even a lateral move for Drew and could make getting the next job that much harder.

Brian Shaw, Nuggets – After waiting so long to finally get his opportunity to become a head coach, Shaw steps into a situation that is almost the opposite of Joerger. The Nuggets let 2013 Coach of the Year George Karl walk along with Masai Ujiri, the general manager who built the team, and then blew a gaping hole in the side of the 57-win, No. 3 seed in the West roster by letting Andre Iguodala get away, too. Shaw still has Ty Lawson as the fire-starter in the backcourt, but one of these seasons 37-year-old Andre Miller has got to run out of gas. As if the rookie coach didn’t have enough to juggle with the mercurial JaVale McGee, now he’s got Nate Robinson coming off his playoff heroics in Chicago with that ego taller than the Rockies. It’s never a good time to be stepping into a new job when management seems to be pulling back.

Steve Clifford, Bobcats – He’s another one of the longtime assistant coaches that has paid his dues and was ready to slide down the bench into the boss’s spot. But Charlotte? That’s more like the ejector seat in James Bond’s old Aston Martin. The Bobcats have had six coaches in the seven years that the iconic Michael Jordan has been head of basketball operations and then majority owner. From bad drafting (Adam Morrison) to bad trades (Ben Gordon, Corey Maggette), through constant changes of philosophy and direction, the Bobcats simply go through coaches faster than sneakers. Now it’s general manager Rich Cho calling the shots, but that didn’t stop the firing of Mike Dunlap after just one season. Clifford gets veteran big man Al Jefferson to anchor the middle of the lineup, but he’d better have his seat belt fastened tight and watch out for those fingers on the ejector button.

Mike Malone, Kings — Not that anyone expects Malone to be under immediate pressure in terms of wins and losses. What the Kings need now that they have a future in Sacramento is to re-establish a foundation on the court. Of course, the multi-million-dollar question is whether that base will include the talented and petulant DeMarcus Cousins. Everybody knows that he’s physically got what it takes to be a dominant force in the league. But the jury is still out when you’ve played three years in the league and you’re still getting suspended for “unprofessional behavior and conduct detrimental to the team.” Paul Westphal and Keith Smart couldn’t get through to Cousins to make him somebody the Kings can rely on and were spat out. Now as the big man heads toward a summer where he could become a restricted free agent, the franchise needs to know if sinking big bucks in his future is an investment or a waste of time. That’s the intense heat on Malone and the clock will be ticking immediately.

Nate Fits Nuggets Better Than Bulls

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CHICAGO – Two million dollars, if counted out in a stack of $100 bills, would stand 86 inches tall. So if the Denver Nuggets want Nate Robinson to make a really splashy entrance at the news conference announcing his signing, they could have the explosive, 5-foot-9, three-time NBA Slam Dunk champ vault over his estimated salary for 2013-14 (while hoping it doesn’t take him 14 tries to get it right).

Robinson does splashy pretty well, and for a Denver team in need of bodies, pace, points production and excitement, the expected signing of the pocket-rocket combo guard on a two-year deal worth $4.03 million looks to be a solid fit.

Andre Iguodala and Corey Brewer are gone, Danilo Gallinari might be out for a good chunk of the season and a backcourt built around Ty Lawson’s blistering speed should be able to run through its gears with only minor adjustments when the Nate Show subs in.

But as always with Robinson, there are reasons why he keeps a suitcase packed, why he’ll be donning his sixth team’s uniform in less than five years this October.

They’re essentially the same reasons the Chicago Bulls passed on bringing him back, despite a one-year stay in which he proved himself to be indispensible to the Bulls’ trudge to the postseason’s second round. With Derrick Rose sidelined from start to finish in 2012-13 in his big rehab/tease following ACL surgery, Robinson played in all 82 games, starting 23. His 2,086 minutes logged, 921 field-goal attempts and 1,074 points all were his second-biggest numbers in those categories in his eight-year career.

In the playoffs, with Kirk Hinrich (calf) going down, Robinson started eight of Chicago’s 12 games. He put up real starter’s numbers then – 16.3 ppg, 4.4 apg, 33.7 mpg – and turned in one of the postseason’s most memorable performances with 34 points (23 in the fourth quarter) of a triple-overtime victory over Brooklyn. He had 27 in the Game 1 upset at Miami in the East semifinals, but withered under the Heat’s defensive attention, making just 14 of his final 50 shots in the last four games.

The Bulls’ players and coaches appreciated Robinson’s heroics, whether driven by his ball-dominating habits or now, because with Rose, Hinrich and Luol Deng eventually unavailable, Chicago’s options were limited. Coach Tom Thibodeau for much of an injury-riddled season was able to virtually plug Robinson into Rose’s role – heavy minutes, shot-seeking ways, bail-out freedom deep in shot clocks, defensive leniency, all the D-Rose amenities – and, as an emergency starter, he thrived.

It seemed evident after his playoff performances that Robinson’s price had risen beyond the Bulls’ budget. Particularly when they committed their mini-mid-level salary cap exception to Milwaukee’s Mike Dunleavy at the start of free agency. Even at a veteran’s minimum salary, though, the chances of Robinson being back in Chicago were almost nil.

Here’s the problem: With Rose returning this fall and, if healthy, ramping up to average his usual 35-37 minutes, Robinson would go back to scrounging for playing time. The Bulls are committed to Hinrich to back up both guard spots (Jimmy Butler is the likely starter at shooting guard) and, as the third point, second-year man Marquis Teague, whose demeanor is better suited to long stretches of pine.

As a Rose understudy pressed into duty, Robinson was perfect. As a supporting cast member required to know his role and remain patient, that would be chafing waiting to happen. He was a big part of the Bulls’ 2012-13 season but if he were a big part of 2013-14, something again would have gone seriously wrong.

Who’s Left? A Look At The Numbers

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – It’s been 15 days since teams could start talking to free agents and six days since contracts could be signed. And at this point, pickings are slim. If you want an impact player, you’re probably going to have to settle for a guy that makes an impact only some of the time.

Here’s what’s left on the free-agent market as of Tuesday morning, according to the numbers guys put up last season.

There were 30 free agents available on July 1 (or who became available afterward) who had played at least 2,000 minutes last season. Only three remain …

Most minutes played, remaining free agents

Player Old team GP GS MIN MIN/G
Brandon Jennings MIL (R) 80 80 2,896 36.2
Gerald Henderson CHA (R) 68 58 2,133 31.4
Nate Robinson CHI 82 23 2,086 25.4
Nikola Pekovic MIN (R) 62 62 1,959 31.6
Jason Maxiell DET 72 71 1,789 24.8
Antawn Jamison LAL 76 6 1,636 21.5
Lamar Odom LAC 82 2 1,616 19.7
Alan Anderson TOR 65 2 1,495 23.0
Gary Neal SAS 68 17 1,484 21.8
Beno Udrih ORL 66 9 1,457 22.1

(R) = Restricted free agent

There were 21 free agents who played at least 200 minutes in the playoffs, and six of those guys are still left …

Most playoff minutes played, remaining free agents

Player Old team GP GS MIN MIN/G
Nate Robinson CHI 12 8 404 33.7
Gary Neal SAS 21 0 390 18.6
D.J. Augustin IND 19 1 316 16.6
Derek Fisher OKC 11 0 261 23.7
Kenyon Martin NYK 12 1 253 21.1
Devin Harris ATL 6 6 225 37.5
Brandon Jennings MIL (R) 4 4 133 33.3
Sam Young IND 15 0 130 8.7
Keyon Dooling MEM 14 0 114 8.1
Ivan Johnson ATL 6 0 108 18.0

There were 31 free agents who scored at least 800 points last season, some more efficiently than others. Only four of those guys are left …

Most points scored, remaining free agents

Player Old team GP PTS PPG eFG% TS%
Brandon Jennings MIL (R) 80 1,397 17.5 46.8% 51.0%
Nate Robinson CHI 82 1,074 13.1 51.0% 54.0%
Gerald Henderson CHA (R) 68 1,055 15.5 46.6% 53.1%
Nikola Pekovic MIN (R) 62 1,011 16.3 52.0% 57.2%
Antawn Jamison LAL 76 712 9.4 53.7% 56.1%
Alan Anderson TOR 65 693 10.7 46.0% 50.9%
Gary Neal SAS 68 645 9.5 48.7% 51.2%
Mo Williams UTA 46 592 12.9 48.5% 51.9%
Devin Harris ATL 58 577 9.9 52.5% 56.5%
Byron Mullens CHA 53 564 10.6 44.4% 46.5%

EFG% = (FGM + (0.5*3PM)) / FGA
TS% = PTS / (2 * (FGA + (0.44*FTA)))

Of the 30 free agents who grabbed at least 300 rebounds, five remain …

Most total rebounds, remaining free agents

Player Old Team GP OREB DREB REB RPG OREB% DREB% REB%
Nikola Pekovic MIN (R) 62 230 315 545 8.8 13.1% 18.8% 15.9%
Lamar Odom LAC 82 117 363 480 5.9 8.6% 25.2% 17.2%
Jason Maxiell DET 72 135 274 409 5.7 8.6% 17.7% 13.2%
Antawn Jamison LAL 76 109 253 362 4.8 7.5% 16.7% 12.2%
Byron Mullens CHA 53 71 266 337 6.4 5.3% 21.9% 13.2%
Samuel Dalembert MIL 47 105 171 276 5.9 13.9% 26.6% 19.8%
Ivan Johnson ATL 69 76 190 266 3.9 8.4% 20.9% 14.7%
Brandan Wright DAL 64 85 175 260 4.1 8.5% 16.0% 12.4%
Gerald Henderson CHA (R) 68 55 195 250 3.7 2.9% 10.9% 6.8%
Brandon Jennings MIL (R) 80 59 187 246 3.1 2.1% 7.3% 4.6%

OREB% = Percentage of available offensive rebounds grabbed while on the floor
DREB% = Percentage of available defensive rebounds grabbed while on the floor
REB% = Percentage of available total rebounds grabbed while on the floor

Of the 24 free agents who dished out at least 200 assists last season, six remain …

Most assists, remaining free agents

Player Old Team GP AST APG TO AST/TO ASTRatio
Brandon Jennings MIL (R) 80 521 6.5 203 2.57 24.9
Nate Robinson CHI 82 358 4.4 144 2.49 23.9
Beno Udrih ORL 66 302 4.6 108 2.80 32.4
Jamaal Tinsley UTA 66 290 4.4 106 2.74 45.2
Mo Williams UTA 46 285 6.2 125 2.28 29.1
A.J. Price WAS 57 205 3.6 64 3.20 28.9
Devin Harris ATL 58 197 3.4 88 2.24 24.8
Gerald Henderson CHA (R) 68 177 2.6 108 1.64 13.9
D.J. Augustin IND 76 170 2.2 68 2.50 29.5
Luke Walton CLE 50 166 3.3 60 2.77 39.9

ASTRatio = Percentage of possessions resulting in an assist

There were 49 free agents who recorded a positive plus-minus last season, and 18 of them – including a pair who made a strong impact – remain.

Highest plus-minus, remaining free agents

Player Old Team GP +/- OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg
Lamar Odom LAC 82 +296 104.9 95.4 +9.5
Devin Harris ATL 58 +155 105.2 97.9 +7.3
Gary Neal SAS 68 +101 105.4 101.4 +4.0
Brandan Wright DAL 64 +100 107.9 102.8 +5.1
Derek Fisher OKC 33 +64 107.2 100.7 +6.5
Kenyon Martin NYK 18 +58 109.8 101.4 +8.4
Rodrigue Beaubois DAL 45 +36 102.8 99.3 +3.5
Nate Robinson CHI 82 +32 101.9 101.9 +0.0
Mike James DAL 45 +30 106.8 103.8 +3.0
Jerry Stackhouse BKN 37 +27 103.0 104.6 -1.7

OffRtg = Team points scored per 100 possessions with player on floor
DefRtg = Team points allowed per 100 possessions with player on floor
NetRtg = Team point differential per 100 possessions with player on floor

Got Shooting? It’s Going Fast

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HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The 2012-13 season shall forever be known as the year of the three. There were 3-point records set on the individual, team and league levels. And Ray Allen‘s 3-pointer to tie Game 6 of The Finals will go down as one of the biggest shots in NBA history.

Furthermore, there was a much stronger correlation between offensive efficiency and the percentage of a team’s shots from 3-point range than we’d seen previously. With one notable exception — the Denver Nuggets — the best offenses in the league shot a lot of threes, or at least shot them very well.

Top 10 offenses, 2012-13

Team OffRtg 3PM 3PA 3PT% Rank 3PA% Rank
Miami 110.3 717 1,809 39.6% 2 28.5% 5
Oklahoma City 110.2 598 1,588 37.7% 3 24.4% 12
New York 108.6 891 2,371 37.6% 5 35.4% 1
L.A. Clippers 107.7 627 1,752 35.8% 16 26.5% 8
Denver 107.6 521 1,518 34.3% 25 21.7% 22
Houston 106.7 867 2,369 36.6% 9 34.9% 2
San Antonio 105.9 663 1,764 37.6% 4 26.4% 9
L.A. Lakers 105.6 715 2,015 35.5% 19 30.3% 3
Brooklyn 105.0 628 1,760 35.7% 17 26.9% 7
Golden State 104.2 658 1,632 40.3% 1 23.9% 14

OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
3PA% = Percentage of total shots from 3-point range

The Nuggets were upset in the first round when they couldn’t make 3-pointers and, more importantly, couldn’t stop the Warriors from making them. And now, Denver is without the three guys who made the most 3-pointers for them last season. Danilo Gallinari (135) is recovering from ACL surgery, Corey Brewer (91) is a free agent (who could come back), and Andre Iguodala (91) is heading to Golden State.

There’s a lot more to success in this league, but if you want to compete for a championship, you need guys who can knock down long-distance shots. There were several available on the market and a handful of good teams that needed them to take the next step. A couple of those teams will be signing a couple of those shooters. Here’s a look at the contending teams that needed shooting the most and what they’ve done to address the problem…

Chicago Bulls

OffRtg: 100.4 (24), 3PT%: 35.3% (21), 3PA%: 18.9% (29)
The Bulls’ offense will obviously be better with the return of Derrick Rose, but they still need better perimeter shooting to complement their penetrating point guard. They ranked fourth in 3-point percentage in 2011-12, but then said goodbye to Kyle Korver and C.J. Watson.

They’re heading back in the right direction this summer, upgrading from Marco Belinelli (35.7 percent) to Mike Dunleavy (42.8 percent), who ranked third in 3-point percentage among the 57 free agents who attempted at least 100 threes last season. There are few players in the league better than Dunleavy at coming off pin-down screens and draining threes on the wings.

Jimmy Butler should also be a more dangerous shooter, especially with Rose coming back. After shooting just 1.3 threes per game at 38 percent in the regular season, Butler shot 3.1 per game at 41 percent in the playoffs. No. 20 pick Tony Snell is known as a shooter, but hit just 64 threes in 35 games at New Mexico last season.

The Bulls haven’t exactly turned into last year’s Knicks when it comes to shooting threes, but they have taken a step forward.

Denver Nuggets

OffRtg: 107.6 (5), 3PT%: 34.3% (25), 3PA%: 21.7% (22)
The Nuggets took a big step backward by losing Iguodala and trading Kosta Koufos to Memphis. And we don’t know if they’ll play the same fast-paced, attacking style under coach Brian Shaw that they did under coach George Karl.

But Denver will get one of the better shooters on the market by sending Iguodala out via a three-team, sign-and-trade deal with the Warriors and Jazz that brings them Randy Foye, who ranked second among free agents with 178 threes last season and shot them at a 41.0 percent clip. Foye will likely split time at shooting guard with Evan Fournier, who shot a solid 22-for-54 (41 percent) in limited regular season action last season (and went 0-for-8 in the playoffs).

The Nuggets will also have a full season of Wilson Chandler, who shot well after returning from injury last season. Denver’s defense will most certainly fall off without Iguodala, but the Nuggets might actually have a little more inside-out balance to their offense.

Indiana Pacers

OffRtg: 101.6 (19), 3PT%: 34.7% (22), 3PA%: 24.5% (11)
Like the Nuggets, the Pacers thrive in the paint (just not as well). And the No. 1 defense in the league helped them make up for their lack of shooting. But they could have used a few more weak-side threes against the Heat’s aggressive defense in the conference finals, when Lance Stephenson shot 7-for-23 (30 percent) from beyond the arc.

Over his last six full seasons, Danny Granger hit 901 threes at 39 percent. And with Granger set to return from the knee injury that kept him out of all but five games last season, returning team president Larry Bird didn’t have to do a thing to improve his team’s 3-point shooting.

But Bird went out and got Watson (41 percent last season) and Chris Copeland (42 percent) to give his team some more punch off the bench. No. 22 pick Solomon Hill was also decent shooter (39 percent on threes) at Arizona. He might not play much as a rookie, but he can’t be a worse from the perimeter than defensive specialist Sam Young was.

Last season, Frank Vogel only had D.J. Augustin — a defensive liability — to turn to when he needed more shooting on the floor. Now, he’s got plenty of options.

Memphis Grizzlies

OffRtg: 101.7 (18), 3PT%: 34.5% (24), 3PA%: 16.6% (30)
The Rudy Gay trade didn’t change much for the Grizz, who made a league-low 4.6 threes per game after the deal. And they have yet to do anything in free agency to improve their perimeter offense. Tony Allen, returning on a new contract, is the definitive shooting guard who can’t shoot. Even their top draft pick — Jamaal Franklin — is a wing who doesn’t shoot very well.

The Grizzlies still have their mid-level exception to spend. And there are a couple of shooters still left on the market (see below). They also have a trade exception worth almost $7.5 million to absorb a contract from a team willing to deal them a shooter. But right now, they look like they could rank last in the league in 3-pointers for a second straight season.

Still on the market

For the Grizzlies and other teams still looking for shooters, the pickings are rather slim. Here are their six best options (in order of how many threes they hit last season), all of which come with issues …

Nate Robinson — 141-for-348 (40.5 percent)
Robinson had his best shooting season with the Bulls. And though he was mostly the Bulls’ back-up point guard, 101 of his 141 threes were assisted, so he can certainly play off the ball. He has improved defensively and is certainly making better decisions than he was earlier in his career, but it still isn’t easy for a coach to trust him with the ball in his hands for big minutes.

Wayne Ellington — 94-for-240 (39.2 percent)
Of the free agents that are still available, only three — Brandon Jennings (173), Robinson and Alan Anderson (95) — hit more threes than Ellington did last season. He was a decent role player in Memphis before it sent him to Cleveland for financial flexibility.

Gary Neal — 89-for-251 (35.5 percent)
Neal hit six threes in Game 3 of The Finals, but shot just 35 percent from beyond the arc last season (31st among the 57 free agents who attempted at least 100 threes) after shooting 42 percent in his first two years with the Spurs, who have seemingly swapped him for Belinelli. (They didn’t have an Italian on their roster, after all.)

Roger Mason Jr. — 66-for-159 (41.5 percent)
Of the 57 free agents who attempted at least 100 threes last season, only 11 shot them better than 40 percent. And only two — Robinson and the Pelicans’ Mason Jr. — are still on the market. Mason doesn’t do much more than make threes, but you can do worse if you need a fifth guard on your roster.

Mo Williams — 59-for-154 (38.3 percent)
Jazz starting guard Williams can handle the ball or play off it. In his two seasons playing next to LeBron James, he shot 43 percent from 3-point range, and only two players — Rashard Lewis and Ray Allen — hit more threes than Williams did over those two years. But he played a career-low 46 games last season and defense is an issue.

Anthony Morrow — 16-for-43 (37.2 percent)
There was a point a few years ago when Morrow qualified as the best 3-point shooter in NBA history. He’s still a great shooter, but doesn’t have as quick a release as some others, struggles when he needs to put the ball on the floor, and is a defensive liability. He couldn’t get off the bench for the Mavs as they were making their playoff push last season.

Three more points

  • The Timberwolves were by far the worst 3-point shooting team in the league last season, but should move up the rankings with a healthy Kevin Love (who shot 22 percent), a healthy Chase Budinger (who shot 32 percent) and with the addition of Kevin Martin (who shot 43 percent for OKC). Martin’s presence will also mean that they’ll need less minutes from Alexey Shved and Luke Ridnour (who may be traded) at the two. The pair combined to attempt 500 threes last season, connecting on only 30 percent of them.
  • Brooklyn shot a lot of threes last season, but didn’t shoot them particularly well. Things will get better with Paul Pierce (38 percent) replacing Gerald Wallace (28 percent) at small forward. But Watson (41 percent) was their best 3-point shooter last season and he’s been replaced by Shaun Livingston, who has made a grand total of nine threes in 390 career games. Assuming that coach Jason Kidd will have one of his starters — Deron Williams, Joe Johnson or Pierce — playing with the second unit, a back-up point guard who can shoot (Toney Douglas, perhaps?) would have been a better option. Either way, the Nets’ success could be determined by the ability of Bojan Bogdanovic and Mirza Teletovic to knock down shots and keep Pierce and Kevin Garnett fresh.
  • The Clippers were another team that shot a lot of threes at a mediocre percentage. And while they’re getting two great shooters in Jared Dudley and J.J. Redick, they’re replacing two guys — Caron Butler (39 percent) and Willie Green (43 percent) — who shot rather well from 3-point range last season. (Green is still on the roster, but likely out of the rotation.)

Nate’s Market Rises Beyond Bulls’ Budget

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CHICAGO
– The mathematics of NBA free agency generally starts with six zeroes, which makes it very good math for those players who timed their availability right, created a market for themselves or both.

Yet even then, decisions frequently come down to competing numbers, an either/or choice in which something – money, opportunity, satisfaction – has to give.

Consider Nate Robinson, the feisty journeyman point guard who demonstrated serious value for the Chicago Bulls last season through Derrick Rose‘s and often Kirk Hinrich‘s absences. Robinson was nothing less than a godsend for coach Tom Thibodeau, a fireplug of confidence who played without conscience, strayed only occasionally from Thibodeau’s parameters and often created something of the Bulls’ offensive nothingness.

The 5-foot-9 scorer from Washington had the best of his eight NBA seasons, averaging 13.1 points and 4.4 assists on 43.3 percent shooting, including 40.5 percent from 3-point range. He set career highs in games (82), total assists (358), 3-point makes and his percentage from the arc.

And it came with team success on a team missing its star player: Robinson stepped in as a Rose surrogate well enough that Chicago went 45-37 and qualified as the East’s fifth seed. That 2008-09 season when Robinson played a little more, shot a little more and averaged 17.2 ppg? His Knicks team went 28-46 in the games he played and finished last in the Atlantic Division.

Let’s not forget the Bulls’ playoff run through two rounds this spring. Robinson, off the bench, scored 34 points in the memorable Game 4 triple-overtime victory over the Nets in one of 2013’s top postseason performances. He scored 20 or more three more times in Chicago’s final eight games, including twice against Miami, and even earned some of LeBron James‘ defensive attention.

By the end, Robinson also had earned some folk-hero status among Bulls fans – but apparently no new contract due to a) his market value and b) the team’s salary-cap limitations.

Chicago is knocking on the luxury-tax door, a threshold that team chairman Jerry Reinsdorf always has been loathe to cross. Thus, Robinson and others – notably wingman Marco Belinelli and backup big Nazr Mohammed – have to fit into what the Bulls have available or they have to go.

In Robinson’s case – and this has been assumed since Chicago got eliminated in the middle of May – the next sound will be the door shutting behind him, as Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times wrote Friday:

According to a source familiar with the situation, Robinson and his camp have already made it clear with the Bulls that the two sides will part ways, as Robinson seeks a multi-year contract. Even if that contract isn’t made available to the point guard, a one-year deal with a team that will give him extended playing time is next on his wish list.

This is, after all, business for these guys. Robinson has been paid more than $20 million so far, with multi-year deals for his first two contracts. But he played last season for the veteran’s minimum, his $1.146 million salary the lowest since his rookie year. So at age 29, no one begrudges Robinson the chance to cash in, perhaps with the last big payday of his career.

Returning to Chicago – with Rose expected to be back and healthy – would be different for Robinson; in Rose’s 2010-11 MVP season, his backup (C.J. Watson) averaged only 13.3 minutes and 4.9 points. The Bulls also have Hinrich and last year’s rookie, Marquis Teague, at point guard and might be tempted to flesh out the roster with half-coach John Lucas III if he’s available.

Ideally, Robinson showed enough to be the Bulls’ or someone else’s Vinnie Johnson-like offense generator off the bench. There always are minutes available for guys like that.

But in going elsewhere for the best financial deal – which he absolutely should – he might miss some of the satisfaction and excitement from last spring, when he averaged started eight of 12 playoff games, averaged 33.7 minutes (compared to 7.0 mpg in 20 previous playoff appearances).

Belinelli might have to choose, too. He reached the postseason just once in his first five seasons, then started seven times against the Nets and the Heat in the final two weeks.

It’s the way of the NBA. Some players hit free agency in search of cash, others seeking opportunity. Some teams plug basketball holes, others heed financial constraints. Stars get it all. Everyone else has to choose. Guys like Robinson are grateful for those occasions when it is their choice.

Thibs On Rose: ‘I think He’s There Now’



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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – It’s a couple of months late, of course, but Chicago Bulls star Derrick Rose is apparently back to being, well … Derrick Rose.

So says Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, who recently worked Rose out and had rave reviews for the former MVP and All-Star point guard who missed the entire season recovering from ACL surgery.

Granted, this is the news that Bulls fans were hoping for in February, March and even early April, as they sweated out whether or not Rose would return in time to help the Bulls in their playoff push that ended at the hands of the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Mid-June is obviously a little late for the Bulls to do anything but crank up the expectations for next season, what with the news that Rose is back to his old explosive self again. More from Jon Greenberg of ESPNChicago.com:

Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said Rose’s speed and explosiveness are back to where the former MVP feels like himself again.

“I worked him out about a week ago,” Thibodeau said in a phone conversation Thursday. “It was great.”

Rose missed the entire season rehabbing from a torn ACL in his left knee suffered during last year’s playoffs. His longer-than-expected absence, and the ensuing debate about it, was the overwhelming storyline during a challenging Bulls season that ended in a second-round loss to the Miami Heat.

Last season is over, and Thibodeau is looking to the future.

“Watching the way he’s moving now, there’s a confidence,” Thibodeau said. “[Reporters] may not have been able to see the total work he was putting in. But he was putting in an enormous amount of work each and every day. He just never got to the explosiveness he was comfortable with. I think he’s there now. He feels great, and that’s the most important thing.”

He said Rose is “running, lifting, playing and shooting. His day is full.”

Thibodeau also cleared up one bit of information that bothered me throughout the Rose playoffs/comeback drama. We kept hearing about how Rose was dominating in practice after being cleared by the Bulls’ medical staff to resume normal activity. I couldn’t imagine him being that impressive and not returning to action. Thibodeau confirmed my suspicion:

“The kid was being totally honest,” Thibodeau said. “At the end of the day, you have to respect that. He wanted to be out there very badly. But no one knew when he would be ready, including him. It was a smart decision to wait. If you’re not quite sure, and you’re going to err, err on the side of caution. That’s what he did. And now he feels great.”

While reports speculated that Rose was dominating his teammates in the gym, Thibodeau says now that wasn’t the case.

“He was practicing and he was good sometimes, but he also wasn’t able to make the kinds of plays he likes to make,” Thibodeau said. “No one is more explosive and can change direction like him. He had to be capable of doing that.

“That’s what makes him so unique, how quick and explosive he is,” Thibodeau continued. “He can jump sideways to avoid contact. He’s always hopping around. That’s a lot on your knee. You have to be comfortable doing that. He takes off and he doesn’t take long to go from securing the ball to exploding and blowing by somebody.”

The criticism of Rose seemed overblown at the time, a point that Joakim Noah, Nate Robinson and the rest of his teammates made clear during the firestorm. And all of this latest news only reinforces the point that we should have taken Rose at his word when he said he was not ready to return in a fashion he saw fit.


Bulls’ Backs Against Wall They Built

 

MIAMI – Based on who they have, who they don’t and what their depleted roster might have left in a postseason that has lasted longer than they probably had a right to expect, the Chicago Bulls appear to have hit a wall.

Naturally, they’ll do what they have done before in such circumstances. They will peel themselves off it like Wile E. Coyote after the painted-tunnel trick, do an about-face and face the Miami Heat in Game 5 of their conference semifinals series (7 p.m ET, TNT). With their backs against that proverbial wall.

“All we’re thinking about is Game 5, first quarter. That’s it,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said at his team’s morning shootaround. “You’ve got to go step by step. To me, it’s be ready for the first quarter. We understand what needs to be done. That’s all we’re focused in on. Not any of the what-if’s or any of that.”

Few teams, frankly, have more what-if’s about them than the Bulls, who again will face the NBA defending champions without forward Luol Deng, without guard Kirk Hinrich and, of course, without 2011 MVP Derrick Rose. Deng – two weeks after suffering some severe flu symptoms as well as complications from a diagnostic spinal tap – did not even travel with the club for this one. Hinrich’s calf bruise, suffered in Game 4 of the first round, still prevents him from running or playing.

As for Rose, well, if he invests the way he rehabs from knee surgery, his risk aversion would have his millions all sitting in a checking account. That’s how conservative he’s been since having his torn left ACL repaired a year ago this week.

The Bulls still standing shoulder on. They are 2-5 in franchise playoff history in Game 5 when facing elimination, temporarily fending off Detroit in 2007 and Philadelphia in 2012. This Miami team, meanwhile, is 7-1 in the Big 3 era when it has a chance to close out the opposition.

“Whatever your circumstances are, you have to make the best of those circumstances,” Thibodeau said. “This team has dealt with adversity all year. We’ve had the unique ability to bounce back. That’s what I’m expecting us to do tonight.

“Emotion’s not going to win the game. Playing well, doing your job, getting it done, that’s what’s going to win the game.”

Said guard Nate Robinson: “Last game, we didn’t make shots. First game we played here, we played hard, we made shots. That’s what it’s about, getting stops and getting buckets.”

Robinson, the instant-offense backup thrust in Hinrich’s absence into Rose’s role, scored 27 points in Game 1, the Bulls’ surprise road victory of the series. Since then, with the full weight of Miami’s defense bearing down on him, he has shot 8-for-35, including 0-for-12 Monday.

Naturally, Robinson would like to see the Bulls get Carlos Boozer and Marco Belinelli going early to shift some of the Heat’s defensive focus to them. Maybe that could open some seams for him, for Jimmy Butler and for Joakim Noah.

Because as it is, that wall the Bulls have their backs against has been built in part by them, brick by brick. They’re shooting 37.6 percent in the series. Chicago has taken 12 more shots than the Heat (298-286) yet has 29 fewer field goals (112-141).

The free-throw situation is equally illuminating. For all the grumbling and physical play, the Bulls are 81-for-107 from the line and the Heat are 81-for-105.

The biggest question for Miami as Game 5 approached was guard Dwyane Wade‘s availability. Coach Erik Spoelstra said Wade, hobbled by a bruised right knee, did fine in shootaround but that his participation would be a game-time decision.

Miami did sit Wade from the series finale against Milwaukee in the first round, giving him what wound up as eight days of rest before this series began. If he sits out Game 5 Wednesday and Miami were to win, Wade would have at least until Monday – a full week after Game 4 – and possibly until Wednesday before the East finals begin.

Playing Hard Simply Not Enough For Robinson, Bulls Against Heat

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CHICAGO – Nate Robinson unwrapped yards of elastic bandages from around his left shoulder, the bandages finally revealing and releasing a large ice bag on his left shoulder. Robinson had taken a hit from Mario Chalmers or Norris Cole or one of the other Miami Heat players who landed on top of him as if — like Robinson’s Chicago Bulls teammates — he might ride the tough little point guard through what was left of this series.

Robinson winced then and he winced now, nearly an hour after Chicago’s 88-65 loss in Game 4 Monday night at United Center. There were all sorts of miserable franchise playoff records set by the Bulls’ discombobulated offense — fewest points in a game, fewest in a quarter (nine in the third), lowest shooting percentage (25.7 percent) … sputter, gasp, fizzle. Robinson himself was a hot mess: an 0-for-12 night, including 0-for-5 from 3-point range. He had four turnovers to go with four assists, never got to the foul line and played 32:04 without scoring.

The instant-offense backup Chicago had turned to so many times this season and particularly this postseason was, this time, the battery in need of a jump start. No one else had the spark, either, so as their Energizer bunny ran down, so did everything the Bulls hoped to accomplish offensively.

You hold a team to 88 points — 34 in the second half — you ought to be able to win a playoff game. The Bulls never got close. They trail 3-1 in the best-of-seven series, with Game 5 Wednesday night in Miami.

Robinson, the crush of cameras and reporters finally gone, his sore shoulder finally freed, wadded up the elastic bandages and from the chair in front of his dressing stall, fired them hard to the floor. Well, at least he hit that. He dropped his head into one hand and kept it down for a while.

“Couldn’t make shots,” Robinson said. “You go out there and try to execute, you try to shoot shots that you make every day — every day — and it doesn’t fall, it takes a toll on you. Then you don’t want to feel like you’re hurting the team by shooting the ball, and that goes not just for me, I could see it on other guys’ faces.”

The Bulls trailed 11-2 in the first five minutes. They fell behind by 10 early in the second quarter and then, in the third, the bottom dropped out. They took 13 shots and missed 11. Robinson went 0-for-6. The nine points they did score stirred ugly echoes of their 10-point quarter against Miami in a 2011 East finals game that didn’t go well either.

By the end, their half of the stats sheet was whack-a-doodle: Twelve assists, 17 turnovers, 19 field goals. Miami had nine steals, blocked nine shots and contested or cut down angles on just about everything else. And the focal point of it all was Robinson, who got the sort of treatment normally reserved for Derrick Rose. (more…)

Cole Fills ‘Nate’ Role Off Miami’s Bench


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CHICAGONate Robinson has been doing a Derrick Rose impersonation for the Chicago Bulls lately, which is tough enough against a Miami Heat defense that often makes life miserable for the real McCoy. But where that really hurts Chicago is off the bench, where no one is available to mimic Robinson’s instant offense and energy in reserve.

The closest thing this Eastern Conference semifinal series has to a Robinson impersonator, in fact, comes from the Miami side. His name: Norris Cole. The Heat’s backup point guard scored 18 points in the home rout of Game 2, but backed that up with 18 more – in far more clutch circumstances – in Miami’s 104-94 Game 3 victory Friday at United Center.

The flat-topped point guard in his second season from Cleveland State played all 12 minutes in the fourth quarter and, with seven points, outscored everybody in Chicago’s lineup in the period. Cole’s driving finger-roll with four minutes left got the Heat’s cushion to four points and his 3-pointer two minutes later bumped the lead to 96-88, essentially the game-winner.

“Norris is a tough competitor,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said, “He was most noticed for his 3s and driving down the lane tonight, but he made big plays for us all night.”

Cole, with starter Mario Chalmers, has made life difficult for Robinson the past two games, throwing traps at him and working to get or keep the ball out of his hands. The 5-foot-9 irrepressible force hustled his way to 17 points, seven assists and six rebounds but needed 42 minutes to get them; Cole worked more in Robinson’s normal range and ratio, his 18 points coming in 24:27.

“He kind of got hot late,” Chicago’s Taj Gibson said. “When you’re playing with three future Hall of Famers, guys are going to get open looks. … That team has a lot of guys playing with a lot of confidence.”

Shooting that way, too. Cole has taken eight 3-point shots in the series so far and made them all. He has hit 10-of-13 this postseason, including the four-game sweep of Milwaukee in the first round, and he is shooting 64.1 percent overall (57.7 on 2-point attempts).

“I think it’s just the reps,” Cole said of his accuracy after Game 3. “I work a lot with coach Dan Craig before practice and every night back in Miami. I have my shooting session late at night. I just am putting up a lot of reps and understand the spacing of our team. And have the confidence to knock it down.”

Last year, Cole averaged just 8.9 minutes in the Heat’s 19 playoff games, his role diminished by Spoelstra’s use of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade as de facto point guards. This postseason, Chalmers and Cole (22.3 mpg) have handled their position and duties more fully, with the backup earning his increased responsibility.

“With experience comes comfort,” Cole said. “I’m seeing things more than one time and I’m able to adjust.”

The Bulls have seen Cole as a problem for two consecutive games now. They’d better be able to adjust.

Intensity, Physicality Shift To Chicago’s Court

CHICAGO – Symbolically at least, the changeover crew at the United Center should have left the hockey boards up for Game 3 of the Chicago Bulls’ Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Miami Heat Friday night (8 p.m. ET, ESPN).

Given how significantly the intensity and physical play were dialed up for Game 2 in Miami – a 115-78 Heat victory that not only stuck the Bulls with the most lopsided loss in their NBA playoff history but punked them, too – the shift to Chicago’s home ice, er, court figures to ratchet up again.

“Because of the technicals and ejections, there might be a perception it’s going above and beyond basketball – it’s not,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “You have two physical teams. Type A personalities.”

Two alpha dogs that don’t particularly like each other. “They don’t like us. We don’t like them,” LeBron James said. “We have to carry that same aggression, that same attitude into Game 3.”

The Bulls got worse than they gave in Game 2, from the scoreboard, from the stats sheet (pounded 56-18 in the paint, coughing up 28 points on 19 turnovers), from the referees (six technical fouls and ejections of Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson) and from Miami in general in first strikes and aggressiveness. The Heat presumably won’t show up Friday night with Birdwoman – the snarling blonde matron who displayed her singular talent in Noah’s face – but they will have Birdman Andersen, as well as a roster full of defending champs and first-time ring seekers eager to meet their first serious road challenge of the postseason (Milwaukee, for two quick games in Round 1, was embarrassingly hospitable in every way).

Meanwhile, the Bulls — already undermanned without Luol Deng (illness), Kirk Hinrich (bruised calf) and Derrick Rose (knee rehab) – will have to calibrate their physical play; they don’t have the manpower to absorb needless ejections, technicals or personal fouls. They will, however, have crowd muscle in their packed, raucous arena.

For fans at the United Center, upraised middle fingers are part of the daily commute, so they’ll be antsy to up the ante or, at least, the decibels. And as far as that league-wide trend this season of Heat “hate” dissipating – in apparent appreciation of James’, Dwyane Wade‘s and other Heat players’ excellence, along with more folks in Miami garb infiltrating more buildings – let’s just say Chicagoans never got that memo.

It’s a potentially combustible mix: a road team determined to not get pushed around the way it did last time in the UC (the end of Miami’s 27-game winning streak), some cranky hosts ready to assert home court, a boisterous, Friday-night crowd primed to play some role in the series and three referees bringing fresh eyes to a pivotal contest toting two games’ worth of baggage.

Somewhere within that Chicago will have to find ways to protect the rim better – a 41-28 rebounding disparity and no blocks/few altered shots against the Heat’s heavy interior attack proved fatal, even before all the jawing and theatrics at ref Scott Foster and his crew.

“I don’t want to put it on the officials,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “If it doesn’t go your way, you can’t allow it to impact your next play. You can’t allow it to get you sidetracked so you don’t do your job. You have to have the ability to do your job all the time. You have to have great concentration.”

One area of concentration for Miami after Game 1 was Nate Robinson, the fireplug Chicago guard who was a reasonable Rose facsimile that night (27 points, nine assists, 10 free throws). Heavy defensive attention from James never was needed, but the Heat’s own point guards and other defenders made life more miserable for Robinson. He finished with 11 points on 3-of-10 shooting and four turnovers to two assists.

“They’re the world champions for a reason and they played like it,” Robinson said. “We just flat-out sucked.”

At the other end, Miami had to be please that it played fast, hit 3-point looks that clanged off in Game 1 and shook some extra rust off Wade, who scored eight of his 17 points in the decisive 30-15 third quarter. He shot 7-11, hitting his final six after a 1-for-5 start.

In personnel, the series grinds on as a mismatch – Miami boasting three of the top league’s top 20 players (and No. 1 overall), Chicago missing three guys from its preferred eight-man rotation. In intangibles, the Bulls do have the homecourt edge now, though United Center was where the Heat snuffed Chicago’s postseason in Game 5 of the 2012 East finals.

“It’s more than just not liking them,” Noah said. “It’s just two teams that want to win.”

So expect contact. Expect booing. Expect basketball. Expect whistles. Expect whining. Expect double-digit leads and comebacks. Expect single-finger salutes, too – right now the series stands 1-1-1.