NBA

The Bulls have been out of the NBA action since April, but off-season chatter is booming. If you’ve blocked out the Bulls since they missed the playoffs, you may be a bit out of the loop, but let me catch you up on the details consuming Chicago fans.

First, the Minnesota Timberwolves named ex-Bulls Head Coach Tom Thibodeau the president of operations as well as the head coach of their organization in April. Basically, the T-wolves gave Thibs the reigns and said “make us a contender pretty please.” Thibodeau got pushed out of the Bulls organization after the 2015 season mostly because he didn’t see eye-to-eye with the front office – specifically Gar Forman and John Paxson. Despite his winning  the Coach of the Year award in 2011 and tying the record for most wins (62) for a rookie coach, Gar and Paxson figured Thibs was the problem with the Bulls. Then the Bulls hired pretty-boy Fred Hoiberg, had the rockiest season I can remember and missed the playoffs entirely. Just loads and loads of disappointment.

Fast forward to May, as news broke that Joakim Noah was over the Chicago Bulls organization and will be exploring his options as an unrestricted free agent this off-season. WHAT! Literally my heart shattered into a million pieces. Jo-No has been a staple in Chicago since being drafted by the Bulls in 2007. He’s given his heart and soul to the team, been viewed as a leader and then Hoiberg struts in and takes away his starting lineup spot. Now, it’s understandable that Hoiberg was trying to jazz things up and find a rhythm for his new team, but pushing his veteran out of the picture probably wasn’t his best move. However, Noah didn’t specifically bring up losing his starting spot as a reason for his desire to move on from the Bulls. Instead, it was all focused on the front office. A fellow player said Noah has no trust in the front office moving the team in the right direction and that players don’t trust Gar Forman. Rumor has it there’s an assistant coach who is also a little tattle tale and tells Gar everything that happens with the team. That same player also indicated that former head coach Thibs acted as a buffer between the front office and the team, which is probably why he got pushed out.

Jo-No is coming off his worst statistical season of his career, only appearing in 29 games, averaging only 4.3 points and shooting under 40 percent from the floor. Let’s not forget about the season ending shoulder injury he suffered and has been rehabilitating. Although the demand for Noah may not be what it once had been, he’s still a presence to be reckoned with. Also any team looking for a veteran leader with sick rebounding abilities would be interested in Noah. He’s 31 and could easily revive his career if he can stay healthy.

This week, rumor has it that Thibodeau is interested in shopping for Joakim Noah during free agency. Honestly, I’m not surprised. Noah had his absolute best seasons under coach Thibodeau and won the Defensive Player of the Year award in 2014 with Thibs by his side. Why wouldn’t Joakim want to reunite with his favorite head coach?

So where does that leave the Bulls? A hot damn mess. Pau Gasol is also a free agent come the off-season so technically the Bulls could be without both veteran centers. Rumors are surfacing that the Bulls should trade Jimmy Butler and completely rebuild. Looks like we may be stuck with Derrick Rose and his two surgically repaired knees. Ummm, go T-Wolves? Thank goodness it’s baseball season.

 

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At best, the first round of the NBA playoffs were something to switch to during Cubs game commercials, and at worst they were straight trash. Blake Griffin and Chris Paul got a couples MRI, Stanley Johnson lost him mind, and Steph Curry channeled his inner Derrick Rose when he returned from an ankle injury only to SLIP ON A WET SPOT and sprain his MCL one half of basketball later. While we did see two oddly competitive game 7s, I don’t think anyone will look back on basketball in April fondly, except maybe Thibs.  So with that, round 1 is behind us and lets never speak of it again. We’re now into round 2 where two series may actually turn out to be competitive, and at least all of the teams that are still competing have a compelling reason to win, regardless of how you (or I) may dislike some of them (Cleveland).

Starting in the Eastern Conference, Toronto is fresh off their 2nd playoff series win in the franchise’s 21 year history, and ready to take on the Miami Heat on 48 hours rest. Both teams will go into Tuesday night’s game with nothing more than a shootaround to prepare so I would imagine the play will be as sloppy and bizarre as any in the teams’ round 1 match ups. Miami’s playoff experience, star power and hot shooting will likely move them on to the Conference Finals, but if Toronto’s DeRozan and Lowry can get back up to their regular season scoring numbers, they’ll have a shot.

On the West Coast, the Spurs/Thunder match up tips off the part of the NBA playoffs where you wonder why they even televise games in Atlanta or Toronto, when Russell Westbrook, Kawhi Leonard and Draymond Green are playing basketball a few thousand miles away. But Game 1 did not turn out to be the elite competition we had hoped. Instead, the Spurs played ‘as good as it gets’, executing flawlessly on the offensive side, and throwing defender after defender at Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, rushing and contesting not just shots, but steps. Before Monday night, I figured the Spurs (probably) wouldn’t score 73 in the first half of every game this series but that we might have to endure an under-achieving Oklahoma City team fall in less than 7 games, with their inexperienced rotation pushing Durant over the edge and out of town.  While I was preparing myself to adjust perspective and appreciate the impeccable and dominant Spurs for as long as they’re around, OKC made it interesting with a last second win over San Antonio on Monday, evening the series and reminding us just how fun the NBA Playoffs can be.

And then there’s Lebron. And the inevitable question – can he be stopped? Answer: No. Not in the Eastern conference. The Cavs have a 9 game post-season winning streak against the Atlanta Hawks which is the 2nd longest active streak in the league, coming up short only to the Cavs 12 game run over Detroit who they just swept. They may have to weather a few storms here and there from Al Horford, Jeff Teague and a Hawks team who won’t roll over as easily as last year, but in the end, we’ll still be talking about Lebron, the health of his teammates and their chemistry with the coach 2 weeks from now when they’re headed to South Beach or the great white North for LBJ’s 6th straight Eastern Conference Finals.

Last but certainly not least, prayers up for Steph. He’s poised to return in Game 3 of Warriors/Blazers, but his team is doing just fine without him. They obliterated the Blazers in Game 1 behind the smothering defense of fellow splash brother Klay Thompson, and a triple double from the pride of Saginaw, Draymond Green. They don’t need Steph this series, but they’ll want to be firing on all cylinders when they head to the Conference Finals, so rest between games 2 and 3 can’t come soon enough for the winners of 73 regular season games.

So that’s round 2 in a nutshell.    The playoffs are on the up and up, and the TNT crew is in post-season form. It’s way overdue but it’s here and it’s fleeting, so just like Chicago Summer, enjoy it while it lasts.

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With a heavy heart (and a secret sigh of relief) the Bulls 2015-2016 season is officially over after Chicago beat the 76ers at home on Wednesday. I guess it’s better to end on a win, but the Bulls failure to find a lack of urgency was painful to watch this season and it was all too little too late.

Yes you read that right. The Chicago Bulls failed to make the NBA Playoffs for the first time since drafting Derrick Rose. Also, I’d like to note that the Bulls are in the Eastern Conference, which is by far the weaker of the two and they STILL couldn’t seem to drum up enough wins to snag that 8th seed in the playoffs. If I seem bitter, I am. The Bulls 42-40 record on the season hurt my feelings as a fan. I can’t pin-point just one problem that lead to the Bulls’ demise, it was more like a slew of issues that ended up just blowing the season out of proportion.

We’ll start with the injuries that always seem to hamper the Bulls and ruin my dreams of strutting around town in Chicago Bulls NBA championship swag from this decade. First, Joakim Noah went down in January with a season ending shoulder injury. Then Nikola Mirotic had to have an emergency surgery to remove his appendix which kept him off the floor for some weeks. In early February, star Jimmy Butler sustained a knee injury that kept him out of the game for about a month and some seriously crucial games. Not to mention Mike Dunleavy did not return from off-season back surgery until February. For the majority of the season, the Bulls were kind of a band of misfits and rarely had their starting lineup in tact.

Problem number two, coaching. Fred Hoiberg assumed the role of Head Coach in the wake of Tom Thibodeau’s dismissal in 2015. Here’s the thing, I definitely loved me some Thibs basketball. He wasn’t perfect, but he empowered his players to play passionately and effectively. He was a defensive stone-wall and this year was proof that defense matters a whole hell of a lot more than people like to admit. I hate to say it, but Hoiberg came off as a soft pretty-boy this first season behind the reins. Coming into the season Hoiberg was praised for his work at Iowa State and his offensive focus. Well my handsome friend, that sissy stuff may have worked in the farm fields, but it sure didn’t work in the big leagues. Hoiberg’s lack of command seemed most obvious from veteran players who had played under more, we’ll say ‘aggressive’ coaches. Jimmy Butler first stirred the waters when he spoke out after a tough loss that Hoiberg needed to be tougher on the guys. Umm, I agree. Most recently, Pau Gasol spoke out about how difficult this season has been for him. Players took games for granted, lacked a sense of urgency and maturity. Oh, you mean like your head coach playing a dumb and dumber clip when your season is on the line?

Despite the criticism, from haters like myself, Hoiberg has argued that he has a stronger relationship with his players than it seems through the medias eyes. Prove it buddy.

Problem number three, we have Jimmy Butler in his prime and Derrick Rose still tough, but a little washed up, trying to play on the same team. The two “super-stars” never gelled. Which SUCKS because we’ve seen what happens when you get two super-stars to gel, just google some old highlights of MJ and Scottie Pippen.

So what happens when you don’t make the playoffs? The rumor mill begins a churnin’. Some people think the Bulls should blow up the roster and start with fresh young talent. Others question if the team should keep both Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler. Some people are lobbying to axe Hoiberg and the whole front office. We’ve got a lot of emotional fans on our hands here.

Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol have been the free agent talks of the town this year. After Pau Gasol openly expressed his frustrations with the season, we’re all guessing the dude will opt out of his contract, but now focuses have been shifting to Noah. This season proves more than ever that Noah was the leader of this Bulls team and the player who could look at Butler and Rose and tell them to step it up. Now stories have surfaced that the front office may be looking to sign Noah to a short term deal. The question is, would Noah even want to take it after Hoiberg falsely said Jo-No volunteered to come off the bench earlier this season? The front office also believes Gasol is part of the “core” of the team So who stays and who goes?

My most favorite rumor of late is the Jimmy Butler trade. Butler’s quick rise to stardom and hefty pay raise has led to a bit of an ego issue and preferential treatment. Lets just say Jimmy’s rubbed some teammates the wrong way and some have gone to infer that his attitude is toxic to the locker room.  With his level of play this season, it was clear that Butler was the star of the roster, but leadership is earned and not determined by who gets paid the most (Rose has proven that to us). Jimmy has shown his work ethic is top notch, but he may not yet be mature enough to lead or motivate veteran players. Now, he’s put himself in a predicament as the best player on an extremely dysfunctional team with a very high trade value as one of the most sought after two-way players in the league. If these issues are true, we can’t be surprised if Butler is wheeled and dealed this off season.

When your team doesn’t make the playoffs there are always serious repercussions, especially if you’re the so-called leader of that train wreck of the a team. Put your seat belts on Bulls fans, I’m predicting a wild ride for this off season.

Until next time my friends 🙂

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At 9:30pm CT Kobe Bryant will be 48 minutes away from retirement.  His storied career will come to an end after 20 seasons, 1,565 total games, one MVP, 2 Olympic Gold Medals, 5 NBA Championships, and a solid claim to a spot between the 5th and 10th best player of all time.  Tonight will be his 65th game of the season, an impressive number for a 37 year old, especially one whose retirement tour lasted longer than any of his previous 3 seasons.  As long as it seems to have been since he announced his retirement in poetic fashion in the Player’s Tribune as only Kobe can, it’s decades longer when you think about what’s happened and all he’s been through and accomplished with one team since coming into the NBA as a skinny 17 year old in 1996.

Although I pride myself on being a 90s Bulls girl, I’d be lying if I said I remember much from the first 3-peat, so it’s fair to say that I can’t remember an NBA without Kobe.  As the first guard to be taken in the draft out of high school, Kobe was immediately traded from Charlotte to LA, and never looked back.  It only took him two years to become the youngest NBA All Star starter ever, and four to create long lasting memories when he threw an alley-oop to Shaq to clinch the 2000 Western Conference Finals.  After that there were a lot of awe inspiring highlights, a handful of alarming controversies, lots and lots of winning, and the almost inevitable injuries. And no one did any of those things better than Kobe. From the 15-1 2001 playoff record – the best in postseason history, to the Shaq feud, the 81 point game, to his clutch performance in the 2008 Olympics, it was Kobe’s world and everyone else was living in it.  No one will ever forget his 5th NBA title in 2010 notching him 1 more than Shaq, or the free throws he shot when he went down with a torn achilles.

Calling tonight the end of a decorated career feels like an egregious understatement for someone who started 18 consecutive All Star games.  In true LA fashion, the Lakers are pulling out all the stops tonight to honor their all time leading scorer, and rightfully so, including a Red Hot Chilli Peppers National Anthem, the customary tribute video, and appearances from 30 of his former teammates.   With tickets costing hundreds of dollars more than any of even the Warriors home games this year, it will surely be a night to remember for Kobe, the fans, and probably his opponents – the Utah Jazz – who could very well be playing for their playoff lives amid the circus.

And what does Kobe think about it all?  He told ESPN.com, “So far, I’ve been pretty cool about everything. I’ve been very thankful about everything. I’ve been very happy about everything. It hasn’t really hit me yet. We’ll see if it does.”

Mamba out.

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Category: NBA

The start of Spring means the NBA playoffs are around the corner.  This should be good news all around for basketball fans, if you’re like me and completely bored of an even more uneventful NBA regular season than what is to be expected.  Yes, Chef Curry is still cookin, Kobe is still retiring, Lebron is still mad, George Karl is still in Sacramento, and the Spurs are still good.  The story lines have remained the same across the league since Halloween, and aside from a few Boogie tirades, Lebron social media standoffs and Blake Griffin blackouts, this season has lacked the high stakes and high drama we need to come from 7 games between Golden State and San Antonio, and the possibility of Boston, Miami or Toronto knocking off a tumultuous team in Cleveland.

With the postseason in view, the next few weeks aren’t only important to those 16 teams who will see the court in mid-April, but also to the organizations who are already looking toward next year, or have been for months.  NBA tank-a-thon 2016 is in full effect in Philly, LA and Phoenix, but come June 23rd, will it even matter? There’s a significant yet rarely discussed major detail in the tanking discussion – losing the most games rarely gets teams the coveted number one draft slot they so desperately want out of the draft “lottery.”

To be transparent, I support about 90% of conspiracies I hear about in general, and fully believe that there is no NBA Draft Lottery for the top 3 picks.  Those picks are bestowed upon the teams selected by Adam Silver, and David Stern before him, in order to keep parity in the NBA to the best of their ability while maximizing revenue and dominance in the major markets.  While I know this is constantly debated and there is much evidence to the contrary, I don’t really care to hear it, and basically operate under the assumption that this is fact.

That aside, it’s also important to note that the 2016 draft class is very shallow with a significant talent drop off after the first two picks – likely Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram – and there is abundant skepticism as to whether either of them will become a franchise, super star, foundational leader wherever they end up.  In some ways that makes getting a top 2 pick even more significant than in other years, but on the other hand, maybe it’s best for teams not to cash in their good karma in what might be a wasted year.

With that in mind, who has the best chance of locking up the draft’s top pick?  Let’s see…

If they were to show the draft balls on TV, as it stands now, Philadelphia and their impressive 9-64 record have the largest claim to the #1 pick with a 25% chance of opening their envelope (do they still do envelopes?) last.  They are in such desperate need of that franchise player to round out their squad of top picks in Joel Embid and Jahlil Okafor if they can ever stay healthy, and probably should be rewarded for what has been just an epic tank job, and potentially their best work to date.  But I just don’t see it.  They’re going to get a top 3 pick given that they have a 64.3% chance of landing on the medal stand, but the #2 spot seems like a better place for the Sixers so they don’t have to make the Simmons or Ingram decision, and can just play the hand they’re dealt.

That 9-64 record in Philly is particularly remarkable this year given that they have 7 more losses than even the Los Angeles Lakers.  The Lakers have been nothing short of terrible, and it comes at an optimal time when LA would have to give up their first round pick to Philly if it fell outside of the top 3.  Instead, the Lakers have a 55.8% chance of keeping their pick, and a 19.9% chance of it landing at #1, making it less discernible when Silver selects them to be the next and forever home of Ben Simmons, the kind of star that LA requires, forming an up-and-coming big 3 with D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle.

And there’s no one that would hate that more than Boston.  But Boston is in a weird spot with this year’s draft.  They’re seemingly in an incredible spot given that they have Brooklyn’s pick, and the 4th best odds of landing in the #1 spot, at a time when they’re urgently in need of a star to put them over the top.  On the flip side, their team is young but not that young and they’re actually a contender in the East given the right match up.  The star they need has to contribute now, not in a few years when their current core is on the decline.   If Silver bestowed #1 on the Celtics, it might make the most sense to complete some type of blockbuster trade that gets Boston star power this year.  But having the #1 spot go to the highest bidder doesn’t sound like the best thing for the NBA.  Boston and everyone else would be better off if they were to land #3, grab a role player who can help win some games, and continue their efforts to bring KD, Kevin Love or Boogie to the City on a Hill.

So that’s my prediction for this year’s “lottery” – Lakers, Sixers, Celtics (via Brooklyn) 1,2,3.  Minnesota’s too small for Silver to let them rise to dominance with Wiggins, Towns, LaVine AND Simmons, and the Bulls’ chances are too small at 0.5% to pull another Derrick Rose scenario so blatantly.  But there are still 3 weeks left in the season and anything can happen.  In the meantime, you can follow tank-a-thon 2016 here to stay updated on the odds across the bottom of the league.

And for the record, I know videos like this exist; I just choose to ignore them.

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Damian Lillard is not a lot of things.  He was not highly recruited out of high school and he was not a major college player.  He’s not a 2014 FIBA World Cup winner, cialis or a 2016 NBA All Star.  He’s not a member of Nike’s elite, order and he’s not Steph Curry or Kobe Bryant.  So how is it possible that Damian Lillard is the talk of the NBA in early March, post trade deadline and headed into crunch time before the playoffs?

Because Portland.  You might see a woman walking her turtle on a leash down Pearl St. and you might catch an angry Damian Lillard dropping 51 on Golden State. Where zip off cargo pants and gluten free bread reign supreme, and a carpet can be the grand marshal of a parade, the Blazers are overcoming meager expectations and audacious snubs to do their part to keep things weird in the NBA.  I guess we shouldn’t even be that surprised.

So how did we get here?  The Blazers weren’t supposed to be good.  Lillard struggled down the stretch last season only to watch LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicholas Batum, Wesley Matthews and Robin Lopez leave in free agency and trades.  On draft night, the Blazers were poised to be absent of any big men this season and due to pay Lillard max money over the summer without the feeling that he had certain future All-Star potential.

But 2016 hasn’t gone as planned, in a good way.  A rebuild turned resurgence when Gerald Henderson and Noah Vonleh headed West in the Nicholas Batum trade bolstering the Blazer bench.  CJ McCollum has emerged as the NBA’s most improved player, Meyers Leonard plays with confidence behind the arc, and angry Damian Lillard has come to define clutch in a very raw Steph Curry kind of way, averaging 30 and 8 in the month of February.   Instead of 30 wins and a front row seat at the Draft Lottery in June, the youthful, “long term potential” Blazers have 33 wins with 6 weeks left in the season, a firm grip on a playoff spot and a very heavy bandwagon.

And I totally get it.  I might even join it.  Next season when the Bulls streak of giving up 100 points has hit 50, you might see me in PDX Carpet Adidas, covering my compost pile, and pretending to know why they call it #RipCity.  Regardless, it’s fair to say that things are staying weird in Portland for a while, and I’m not mad about it.

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