Trading Jimmy Butler?
The Chicago Bulls have five games remaining in the 2015-16 NBA season, and while no one expected the Bulls to be world beaters or challenging for the top seed in the East, they were expected to be better than their current 39-38 record. More importantly, even with a change at head coach, the Bulls believed they would be in the postseason hunt, not a game out of the dance with a handful left to play.
There is a lot of blame to go around. Injuries played a huge part of the Bulls’ struggles. The Bulls have lost more than 195 man-games to injury – that’s seventh-most in the NBA and the most among teams still in the playoff hunt. It’s hard to win games without key players. Bulls guards Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler have missed 16 and 15 games, respectively. Joakim Noah has missed 48 games. In fact, no Bulls player has been available for all 77 games the team has played this year.
The next part has been a little more glaring; head coach Fred Hoiberg has not been nearly the seamless fit the front office hoped for when they hired him 308 days ago. His more laid-back coaching style seems to have robbed the team of its defensive identity. The Bulls were 11th in the NBA in defensive efficiency last year and have slid to 15th this year with basically the same personnel. But more importantly, the Bulls’ offensive efficiency was 10th last season but is down to 26th this season.
The fit at head coach has been suspect to say the least.
There is a belief that Hoiberg’s remaining $20 plus million makes him fairly safe this offseason, even if the Bulls fail to make the postseason. It’s equally unlikely that there will be changes made in the front office. However, there is a growing sense among rival executives that the Bulls for the first time in a while may turn to the trade market to try to correct some of the imbalances and get Hoiberg better fitting pieces.
Rival executives saw the struggles that Butler had with Hoiberg’s coaching style and how his demands for more aggressive coaching and a bigger role in the leadership of the team went over. Those same executives came at the Bulls hard in the run up to the trade deadline, only to find the Bulls lukewarm to the idea of trading the two-time All-Star – whom they had just inked to a massive new contract in July.
In fact, the Bulls turned away virtually trade of real substance.
There is no doubting that Butler may be the best trade chip the Bulls have and that if they want to seriously change the future of the team, moving Butler could and likely would return the biggest value. That said, the prevailing thought from inside the Bulls is that Butler is the last guy they want to trade, if they consummate a trade at all.
The Bulls do have two looming free agency issues. Joakim Noah will be an unrestricted free agent eligible for a maximum contract starting at what could be $29.5 million. He’ll carry a cap hold worth $20.1 million until he signs a new deal, is renounced by the Bulls or signs with another team. Big man Pau Gasol is also headed to unrestricted free agency, having made it clear he will decline his $7.76 million player option for next season.
Both Gasol and the Bulls have talked openly about him signing a new deal in Chicago, although it’s unclear if the Bulls will follow through on what’s expected to be a starting salary north of $10 million for a player who will turn 36 in July.
If the Bulls pass on retaining both players, they could find themselves looking at $65.7 million in guaranteed contract money going into a summer where the salary cap is expected to be at or around $90 million, giving Chicago what could be $24.3 million to spend on new players.
Butler is clearly the most attractive trade chip for Chicago, but they also have a small army of rookie-scale players, as well as what could be the ending contract of Derrick Rose.
After missing more than 226 games in the five seasons since being named the youngest NBA MVP in 2011, Rose’s contract has just one more guaranteed year remaining. To say the luster on Rose’s star has worn thin is likely an understatement. Which also begs the question: would Chicago really trade away its only viable star player in Butler and leave the franchise to the oft-injured Rose?
The Bulls have a tough offseason ahead of them. Re-tooling the Bulls to better suit Hoiberg’s style of play will not be easy. Equally, there are some tough free agent decisions to be made.
If the Bulls want real change, making a bold trade might be the answer. However, it’s been a long time since they were even open to a major trade, let alone consummating one.
Rival teams would love to pry Butler away in trade, there is almost no doubting that. The problem for the Bulls is that Butler might be the only person the franchise can really count on, especially if Noah and Gasol are allowed to walk in free agency.
The Bulls currently stand two full games behind the Detroit Pistons for the eighth and final playoff spot in the East. The Bulls have two home games and three road games remaining on their schedule. If the season ends as it stands today and the Bulls miss the postseason, there is no telling how aggressive the Bulls will be in resetting the situation.
Historically, the Bulls have looked at injuries as a missed opportunity. If the front office does that again, they could simply reset this roster and make another go at it.
If they want to be bold, making a major trade could be the ticket, but how frequently have the Bulls done that?
Yao’s Place In History
Yesterday the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame announced the 10 inductees for the 2016 Induction Ceremony set for September in Springfield, Massachusetts. Some of the 10 were easy to understand: NBA greats Shaquille O’Neal, Allen Iverson, Michigan State’s Tom Izzo. Even Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf got the votes.
The oddity – and maybe that’s not the right word – was Yao Ming.
Yao was the top overall draft selection in 2002, and was a trail blazing figure for the NBA in its global expansion, but his career was decimated by injuries and he never achieved nearly the same accolades in the NBA as his Hall of Fame peers.
Yao was not the first Chinese player to play or be drafted into the NBA, that distinction belongs to Wang Zhizhi, who was drafted by the Dallas Mavericks in 1999 with the 36th pick.
Yao had a relatively short career by Hall of Fame standards, logging just nine NBA seasons, having played in just eight of them and posted only five games in his final year with the Rockets.
Yao made the NBA postseason four times, and logged just 28 playoff games.
Yao was an eight-time NBA All-Star and made the All-NBA second team twice, and the All-NBA third time three times, but that’s the extent of his career in the NBA.
Yao’s 9,247 career points does not rank him among the top 200 all-time scorers, his 4,494 career rebounds is 18 percent of Wilt Chamberlain’s record 23,924 boards.
What Yao never achieved as a player on the court, he more than achieved in his stature off it. Yao opened the door to China for the NBA in ways it could have only dreamed of. It launched a massive industry that churns along at a break-neck pace today.
China is far and away the biggest single consumer of basketball in the world and Yao played a huge role in bringing the NBA into China in a prime-time kind of way.
Yao’s games drew record audiences, many larger than the NFL’s Super Bowl. More than 200 million tuned in to see Yao face Shaquille O’Neal for the first time in the NBA.
Yao not only helped open China to basketball, He also brought exposure to other NBA players. His Rockets teammate Tracy McGrady remains one of the most popular NBA players in China. The Rockets themselves continue to be one of the more watched and marketed teams in China and it’s all tied to the emergence of Yao.
Yao was a transcendent player for basketball. He was literally larger than life at 7’6 and 310 pounds.
It’s debatable if Yao deserves to be a Hall of Famer on his NBA credentials alone, but what’s almost without debate is Yao’s impact on the game of basketball – especially in China.
The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame is often boiled down to a player’s NBA career, but in sticking to its goal of being the repository for all things basketball, it’s hard to imagine that Yao isn’t deserving of a place, despite his NBA career.
There are dozens of non-NBA enshrinements in the Hall Of Fame with contributions to basketball by owners, coaches, officials, women and international players.
While some may question his NBA accolades, it’s hard to imagine that Yao isn’t as deserving as any of them for what he’s meant to basketball globally.
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NBA Daily: Rookie Contributors Lifting Playoff Teams
This year’s impressive rookie class has translated their regular season performances to the playoff stage.
This past NBA season had the luxury of an incredibly entertaining and high-powered rookie class. Every other day it seemed like the feats of either Donovan Mitchell, Jayson Tatum, Lauri Markkanen, Dennis Smith Jr., Kyle Kuzma, or Ben Simmons were dominating the discussion about how advanced the league’s crop of newbies appeared to be.
As a result, the 2017-18 Rookie of the Year race was a much more heated discussion than the year before.
With the impressive campaign these NBA freshmen put together, it should come as no surprise that on the on bright stage of playoff basketball, three of the aforementioned crop are helping lead their team’s in tight first-round battles.
Donovan Mitchell has been the leading scorer for the Utah Jazz through two games in their series against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Jayson Tatum is stepping up for the Boston Celtics to help fill in the void of Kyrie Irving as they take on the Milwaukee Bucks. Ben Simmons is nearly averaging a triple-double through three games for the Philadelphia 76ers in their matchup with the Miami HEAT.
Lottery pick talents are expected in today’s NBA to come in and have some level of impact for their clubs. Usually, they play the role as a foundational building block that shows flashes of promise with an expected up-and-down first season. While these three playoff contributors haven’t been perfect all year long, under the pressure of the postseason, they’ve stepped up their play and appear to be avoiding the learning curve.
With that, let’s highlight further what Mitchell, Tatum, and Simmons have been able to do thus far in the postseason.
Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz
All season long Mitchell threw the entire scoring load of Salt Lake City on his back for the Jazz and helped carry them to a 5-seed in the Western Conference when early season projections suggested they should head towards in the wake of Rudy Gobert’s injury.
However, the 13th pick out of Louisville had no intentions of missing out on the postseason. And from the looks of his production so far, who can blame him?
Through the first two games of the Jazz-Thunder series, Mitchell yet again placed his name in the same breath as Michael Jordan. Mitchell’s 55 points in his first two playoff games broke Jordan’s record of 53 for most points scored by a rookie guard in that scenario.
Mitchell’s 27 points in Game 1 and 28 points in Game 2 led the Jazz to even the series and steal home court advantage from the Thunder. While he hasn’t been responsible for setting up the team’s offense, tallying just five assists through those two games, Mitchell is fulfilling the role of Gordon Hayward as the team’s primary scorer.
In a series against a team that features the likes of Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony, Utah needs Mitchell to go out there and get as many buckets as he possibly can.
So far, he appears to be welcoming the challenge.
Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics
When it was announced that Kyrie Irving would be lost for the entire postseason due to injury, the Boston Celtics’ hold on the 2-seed seemed a lot less intimidating than it once was in the Eastern Conference.
However, three games into the first round series against the Bucks, the Celtics hold a 2-1 lead. A lot part of that has to do with the role Tatum has been able to step in and play right away with the Celtics down their main scorer and playmaker.
Throughout the first three games of the series, Tatum 12.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and 2.3 steals. The third overall pick in the 2017 draft started the series off with 19 points, 10 rebounds, and three steals to help Boston start off the matchup with a 1-0 lead.
At just 20 years old, Tatum is matching his age number with his usage percentage thus far against Milwaukee. For some perspective, Jaylen Brown managed just 12 minutes a night for the Celtics last season as a rookie when the playoffs rolled around.
Granted, injuries and missing players are helping in Tatum being on the court as much as he has, but the rookie is earning his time out there on the court.
Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers
The perceived frontrunner for Rookie of the Year, Ben Simmons has taken control in his first ever playoff series.
For starters, Simmons is averaging nearly a triple double over his first three games against the HEAT; 20 points, 10 rebounds, and 9.7 assists.
On top of his triple double ways, Simmons has upped arguably his biggest weakness so far in the playoffs, shooting 75 percent from the charity stripe. During the regular season, Simmons struggled from the line, hitting only 56 percent of his attempts.
With the offensive prowess of Simmons obvious, it’s the job he’s doing on the defensive end of the court against an aggressive and tough Miami squad that’s elevating his play to the next level.
Simmons’ ability to switch all over the defensive end of the court has placed his responsibilities from Goran Dragic to Justise Winslow to James Johnson, and seemingly everywhere in between.
Now with Joel Embiid back in the fold for the Sixers and Simmons, the rookie point guard has his defensive partner on the floor to help ease the workload on that end. A two-way performance each night will be imperative for Simmons in helping lead the young Sixers past the experienced HEAT team.
Pelicans Role Players are Key to Success
The supporting cast in New Orleans is a big part of their playoff surge, writes David Yapkowitz.
The New Orleans Pelicans have taken a commanding 3-0 lead in their first-round playoff series again the Portland Trail Blazers. While surprising to some, the Pelicans only finished one game behind the Blazers in the standings. The Pelicans have the best player in the series in Anthony Davis and the defensive duo of Rajon Rondo and Jrue Holiday have stifled Portland’s backcourt.
The truth is, the Pelicans have been a good team all season long. A lot of attention and recognition has been given to Davis, Rondo and Holiday this season and playoffs, and rightfully so. But New Orleans wouldn’t be where they are without the important contributions of some of their role players.
Take E’Twaun Moore, for example. Moore bounced around the NBA early in his career, with stops in Boston, Orlando and Chicago before finding long-term stability contract wise with the Pelicans. He’s primarily been a bench player with them before this season, his second in New Orleans, his first as a full-time starter.
He’s given the Pelicans a huge boost, especially from the three-point line. He’s put up 12.5 points per game on 50.8 percent shooting from the field, both career-highs. He’s shooting 42.5 percent from three-point range.
“I think it’s just our style of play,” Moore told Basketball Insiders. “We play fast and open. Coach [Gentry] gives us a lot of freedom, a lot of confidence. That’s why my game is up, my shooting is up.”
It’s not just offensively though. Moore has always been one of the more underrated defensive guards in the league. Paired up alongside Rondo and Holiday, the trio form a solid wing defensive unit. They’re a big reason for Portland’s offensive struggles.
Moore is the type of role player that every playoff contender needs to succeed. He knows that his role may change from game to game. Some nights he may be asked to score a little more. Other nights his defense is going to be called upon. Whatever it may be, he’s always ready to do what’s asked of him.
“I bring the energy. I bring a spark,” Moore told Basketball Insiders. “It’s knocking down shots, playing defense, getting out in transition. Just trying to be a spark.”
The Pelicans bench has also been a huge factor all season long. Their depth took a major hit early in the season with the injury to Solomon Hill. Hill has since returned to the lineup, but his absence paved the way for other players such as Darius Miller to step up.
This is Miller’s second stint with the Pelicans after spending two years overseas. Drafted 46th overall in 2012, he didn’t play much his first three years in the NBA. In 2014, he was cut by the Pelicans only about a month into the season. This year was different, he was thrown into the rotation from the get-go.
“This is a huge opportunity,” Miller told Basketball Insiders. “I just come in and try to work every day, try to get better every day. My teammates have done a great job of putting me in situations where I can be successful.”
Miller has given the Pelicans a capable stretch four in the second unit who can slide over to small forward if need be. He’s averaging a career-best 7.8 points per game, the most out of any of New Orleans’ reserves. He’s their best three-point shooter off the bench, connecting on 41.1 percent of his long-range attempts.
While he acknowledges that he’s enjoying his best season yet as an NBA player, he’s quick to praise his teammates for allowing him to flourish.
“I just try to bring a spark off the bench. I come in and try to knock some shots down,” Miller told Basketball Insiders. “My teammates do a great job of finding me when I’m open, I just try and knock down shots and compete.”
Sometimes time away from the NBA helps players grow and mature. The NBA game is fast paced and it can take awhile to get used to it. While some players have begun to use the G-League as a means of preparing for the league, Miller took an alternate route of heading to Germany.
For him, it’s a big reason why he’s been able to make an easier transition back to the NBA. His contract for next season is non-guaranteed, but he’s probably done enough to warrant the Pelicans keeping him around. He’s a much different and much-improved player. If not, he’s sure to draw interest from other teams.
“It was a lot to learn for me personally,” Miller told Basketball Insiders. “I had to learn a lot of different things like how to take care of my body, how to manage my time, a whole bunch of stuff like that. The time overseas really helped me to mature and grow up and learn a few things.”
These Pelicans have most certainly turned quite a few heads since the playoffs began. We shouldn’t deal too much with hypotheticals, but it’s interesting to wonder what this team’s ceiling would’ve been had DeMarcus Cousins not been lost for the season due to injury.
This is a confident bunch, however. They’ve beaten both the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets during the regular season. They’ve already shattered a lot of expert predictions with their performance in the first-round. The Pelicans feel like they can hang with anyone out West.
“As far as we want to go,” Miller told Basketball Insiders. “I feel like we’ve competed with all the best teams in the league this whole season. We just got to come out, stay focused and do what we do.”
Is LeBron Enough For Cavs To Get Through The East?
Cleveland’s offense has struggled through the first two games of the playoffs. Can the four-time MVP consistently bail them out? Spencer Davies writes.
After a less-than-encouraging series opener versus the Indiana Pacers, LeBron James responded emphatically and led the Cleveland Cavaliers to a bounce back 100-97 victory to even things up at one game apiece.
Scoring the first 13 points of the game itself, The King was a one-man wrecking crew out of the gate and carried that momentum throughout all four quarters of Game 2. His 46 points were James’ second-highest scoring mark between the regular season and the playoffs. In addition, he shot above 70 percent from the field for the sixth time this year.
The four-time MVP pulled down 12 rebounds total, and but all but one of those boards were defensive—the most he’s had since Saint Patrick’s Day in Chicago a month ago.
What James did was another classic instance where LeBron reminds us that through all the injuries, drama, and on-court issues, whatever team he’s on always has a chance to go all the way. But having said all of that—can the Cavaliers realistically depend on that kind of spectacular effort for the rest of the postseason? It’s a fair question.
Kevin Love is a solid secondary go-to guy, but he’s struggled to find his rhythm in the first two games. He’s done a solid job defensively between both, but he’s getting banged up and is dealing with knocked knees and a reported torn thumb ligament in the same hand he broke earlier in the season.
Love has admitted that he’d like more post touches instead of strictly hanging out on the perimeter, but it’s on him to demand the ball more and he knows it. But finding that flow can be challenging when James has it going and is in all-out attack mode.
Kyle Korver came to the rescue for Cleveland as the only shooter that consistently converted on open looks. Outside of those three, and maybe J.R. Smith, really, there hasn’t been a tangible threat that’s a part of the offense during this series.
We all pondered whether or not the “new guys” would be able to step up when their respective numbers were called. So far, that hasn’t been the case for the most part.
Jordan Clarkson looks rushed with tunnel vision. Rodney Hood has had good body language out there, but seems reluctant to shoot off dribble hand-offs and is second-guessing what he wants to do. The hustle and effort from Larry Nance Jr. is obvious, but he’s also a good bet to get into foul trouble. Plus, he’s had some struggles on an island against Pacer guards.
As for George Hill, the good news is the impact on the floor just based on his mere presence on both ends (game-high +16 on Wednesday), but he hasn’t really done any scoring and fouled out of Game 2.
Maybe these things change on the road, who knows. But those four, the rest of the rotation, absolutely have to step up in order for the Cavaliers to win this series and fend off this hungry Indiana group, which brings us to another point.
Let’s not forget, the offensive issues aren’t simply because of themselves. After all, the Cavs were a team that had little trouble scoring the basketball in the regular season, so give a ton of credit to the Pacers’ scheme and McMillan’s teachings to play hard-nosed.
Unlike many teams in the league, the strategy for them is to pressure the ball and avoid switches as much as possible on screens. The more they go over the pick and stick on their assignments, the better chance they have of forcing a bad shot or a turnover. That’s what happened in Game 1 and in the majority of the second half of Game 2.
Cleveland has also somewhat surprisingly brought the fight on defense as well. In the first two contests of the series, they’ve allowed under 100 points. Lue’s said multiple times that they’re willing to give up the interior buckets in order to secure the outside, and it’s worked. It doesn’t seem smart when there’s a yellow-colored layup line going on at times, but it certainly paid off by only allowing 34 percent of Indiana’s threes to go down.
Still, looking ahead to what the Cavaliers can do in the playoffs as a whole, it doesn’t bode well. They’re not only locked in a tug-of-war with Indiana, but if they get past them, they could have a Toronto Raptors group chomping at the bit for revenge.
If they’re having this much trouble in the first round, what should make us believe they can barrel through the Eastern Conference as they’ve done in the past?
It’s not quite as obvious or as bad as Cleveland’s 2007 version of James and the rest, but it feels eerily similar for as much as he’s put the team on his back so far. The organization better hope improvement comes fast from his supporting cast, or else it could be a longer summer than they’d hoped for.