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NBA AM: Should The Bulls Trade Jimmy Butler?

The Chicago Bulls have some tough choices to make this summer. Is a major trade one of them? … Where does Yao Ming fit in NBA history?

Steve Kyler

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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.

More Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @AlexKennedyNBA, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @SusanBible @TommyBeer, @MokeHamilton , @jblancartenba, @eric_saar and @CodyTaylorNBA .

Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.

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NBA Daily: Surging HEAT Must Overcome Adversity

The Miami HEAT have been hit with a number of injuries at shooting guard. Can they stay hot?

Buddy Grizzard

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The Miami HEAT have surged to fourth in the Eastern Conference on the back of a 14-5 stretch since Dec. 9, including a seven-game win streak that ended with Monday’s 119-111 loss to the Bulls in Chicago. In the loss, shooting guard Tyler Johnson got his legs tangled with Robin Lopez and appeared to suffer a serious injury.

“I was scared,” said HEAT small forward Josh Richardson, who joined his teammates in racing down the court to check on Johnson. “You never want to see a guy, whether it’s on your team or the other team, down like that. I talked to him when he was in here [the locker room] and he said he didn’t know what was up.”

Coach Erik Spoelstra told pool reporters after the game that X-rays were negative. It was initially feared to be a knee injury, but Spoelstra said the knee is okay and the ankle is the area of concern. Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel tweeted that an MRI was not deemed necessary and Johnson will be listed as doubtful for Wednesday’s game in Milwaukee.

Meanwhile, the HEAT is facing a serious shortage at shooting guard, having lost Dion Waiters to season-ending knee surgery, Rodney McGruder to a left tibia stress fracture that will likely keep him out until February, and now Johnson. Miami has applied for a $5.5 million disabled player exception after losing Waiters, according to the Sun-Sentinel. HEAT power forward James Johnson said the team will be looking for other players to step up.

“I think it’s the next guy’s gonna step up like we always do,” said Johnson. “As we have guys going down we also have guys getting back and getting back in their groove [like] Justise Winslow. Hopefully, it’s going to give another guy a chance to emerge on this team or in this league.”

Johnson added that the loss to Chicago came against a hot team and the HEAT didn’t have the right mental approach or defensive communication to slow them down.

“Our communication was lacking tonight,” said Johnson. “I think our brains rested tonight and that’s not like us. Tilt your hat to Chicago. They’re shooting the hell out the ball. They didn’t let us come back.”

Richardson echoed the theme of communication and the inability to counter a hot-shooting team.

“We weren’t communicating very well and we were not giving them enough static on the three-point line,” said Richardson. “They’ve been the number one three-point shooting team in the league for like 20 games now. They ran some good actions that we were not reacting right to.”

Spoelstra referred to a turnover-riddled close to the first half as “disgusting” basketball and agreed that the defense let his team down.

“I don’t know what our record is in HEAT franchise history when we give up 120-plus,” said Spoelstra. “I would guess that it’s probably not pretty good.”

The good news for Miami is that it can try a combination of Richardson and Winslow at the wings, while Wayne Ellington has been shooting the leather off the ball from three this season (40.5 percent on over seven attempts per game). The HEAT is the latest team to attempt to defy history by making a serious run without a superstar player. To make that a reality and remain in the upper half of the East’s playoff bracket, Miami will have to personify the “next man up” credo.

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NBA Daily: Is It Time To Cash Out On Kemba Walker?

Should the Hornets get serious about trading Kemba Walker or risk losing him in 2019 for next to nothing?

Steve Kyler

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Is It Time To Sell?

Every professional sports team at some point has to decide when its time to cash out, especially if they have a star player heading towards free agency. The Charlotte Hornets are a team teetering on this decision with star guard Kemba Walker.

Now, let’s be honest for a moment. The Hornets are getting nothing of meaningful value in a trade for Walker if they decided to put him on the trade market—that’s something that will drive part of the decision. Check out these UK sports books with free bets!

The other part of the decision is evaluating the marketplace. This is where Charlotte may have an advantage that’s easy to overlook, which is the ability to massively overpay.

Looking ahead to the cap situations for the NBA in the summer of 2019, there doesn’t appear to be a lot worth getting excited over. While it’s possible someone unexpected goes into cap clearing mode to get space, the teams that project to have space in 2019 also project to have space in 2018, meaning some of that 2019 money could get spent in July and change the landscape even more.

But for the sake of discussion, let’s assume most of the 2019 cap space teams swing and miss on anything meaningful this summer and have flexibility the following summer. Not only will Walker be a name to watch, but guys like Boston’s Kyrie Irving, Minnesota’s Jimmy Butler, Golden State’s Klay Thompson, Dallas’ Harrison Barnes, Detroit’s Tobias Harris, San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard and Cleveland’s Kevin Love can all hit unrestricted free agency.

That’s a pretty respectable free agent class.

While most of those names will likely stay where they are, especially if their teams shower them with full max contracts as most would expect, there are a few names that might make the market interesting.

The wrinkle in all of it is the teams projected to have space. Based on what’s guaranteed today, the top of the 2019 cap space board starts with the LA Clippers.

The Clippers currently have just Blake Griffin and Danilo Gallinari under contract going into 2019. They will have qualifying offers on Milos Teodosic and Sam Dekker, but that’s about it. If the Clippers play their cards right, they could be looking at what could be close to $48 million in usable cap space, making them the biggest threat to poach a player because of the LA marketplace. It should be noted, though, that DeAndre Jordan’s situation will have an impact here.

The Chicago Bulls come in second on the 2019 cap space list with just $35.77 million in cap commitments. The problem for the Bulls is they are going to have to start paying their young guys, most notably Zach LaVine. That’s won’t stop the Bulls from getting to cap space, it’s simply a variable the Bulls have to address this summer that could get expensive.

The Philadelphia 76ers could come in third on the 2019 cap space list, although it seems the 76ers may go all in this summer on re-signing guard J.J. Redick and a swing at a big fish or two. If the 76ers miss, they still have an extension for Ben Simmons to consider, but that shouldn’t impact the ability to get to meaningful space.

For the Hornets, those three situations have to be a little scary, as all of themff something Charlotte can’t offer – big markets and rosters (save maybe the Clippers) with potentially higher upside.

The next group of cap space markets might get to real salary cap room, but its more likely they spend this summer like say the Houston Rockets or are equal to less desirable situations like Sacramento (similar), Dallas (has Dennis Smith Jr), Atlanta (similar) or Phoenix (likely drafts a point guard).

That brings us back to the Hornets decision making process.

If the Hornets put Walker on the market, historically, teams get pennies on the dollar for high-level players headed to free agency. If traded, its more likely than not that Walker hits free agency and goes shopping. That’s the scary part of trading for an expiring contract unless you get the player early enough for him to grow attached to the situation, most players explore options. That tends to drive down the potential return.

The Hornets can also start extension discussions with Walker and his camp this summer and it seems more likely than not the Hornets will pay Walker the full max allowed under the collective bargaining agreement, which could be a deal north of $150 million and he could ink that in July.

It’s possible that someone offers the Hornets the moon for Walker. That has happened in the past. The Celtics gave the Cavaliers a pretty solid return for Irving, a player the Cavaliers had to trade. So it’s not out of the question real offers come in, especially with the NBA trade deadline approaching, but what’s far more likely is the Hornets wait out this season and try to extend Walker this summer.

League sources at the G-League Showcase last week, doubted that any traction could be had on Walker while admitting he’s a name to watch, despite however unlikely a trade seemed today.

The challenge for the Hornets isn’t as simple as cashing out of Walker, not just because the return will be low, but also because where would the franchise go from here?

It’s easy to say re-build through the draft, but glance around the NBA today – how many of those rebuild through the draft situations are yielding competitive teams? How many of them have been rebuilding for five years or more?

Rebuilding through the draft is a painfully slow and frustrating process that usually costs you a coach or two and typically a new front office. Rebuilding through the draft is time consuming and usually very expensive.

It’s easier to rebuild around a star already in place and the fact that Walker himself laughs off the notion of him being anywhere but Charlotte is at least a good sign and the Hornets have some time before they have to really make a decision.

At some point, Charlotte has to decide when to cash out. For the Hornets, the time to make that decision on Walker might be the February 8 trade deadline. It might also be July 1, when they’ll know whether Walker would sign a max contract extension.

If he won’t commit then, the Hornets have their answer and can use the summer to try an extract a package similar to what the Cavaliers got for Irving.

More Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @MikeAScotto, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @TommyBeer, @MokeHamilton , @jblancartenba, @Ben_Dowsett, @SpinDavies, @BuddyGrizzard, @JamesB_NBA, @DennisChambers_, and @Ben__Nadeau .

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Cavs Woes Reason For Concern, But Not Dismissal

Spencer Davies takes a look at the Cavs’ issues and why we shouldn’t count them out just yet.

Spencer Davies

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The Cleveland Cavaliers are the classic case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

When they’re on, they look like the defending three-time Eastern Conference Champions. When they’re off, they look like an old team that’s worn down and, at times, disinterested—and it gets ugly.

Take this past three weeks for example. After going on a tear of 18 wins in 19 games, the Cavs have dropped eight of 11 and are falling fast. Two of those three victories in that stretch were decided by four points or less against bottom-of-the-barrel teams in the East.

So what happened? For one, the schedule got significantly tougher. Beyond just the level of competition, Cleveland has been on the road for a long while. Nine of the games in this recent down period have been away games. The only time they’ve been home was for a quick second in mid-December and a short stay for New Years.

You’ve got to think about how that affects a psyche, not only from an on-court standpoint but also in regard to spending time with loved ones and family. LeBron James brought attention to his own homesickness on Christmas Day while he was in the Bay Area instead of in Northeast Ohio to celebrate the holidays. If it gets to him, you know it’s got to get to the other players as well. These guys are human beings with lives, and the rigors of travel can wear differently on people. Luckily for them, seven of their next nine games will be at Quicken Loans Arena.

With that being said, everybody in the NBA goes through it, so it’s no excuse for how flat the Cavs have been. Anybody on the team will tell you that, too. However, when you’re figuring out rotations and re-implementing players who had injuries, it’s not easy. This is exactly why nobody should envy Tyronn Lue.

He’s being asked to make room in his rotations and adjust on the fly as Cleveland gets guys back. When they went on that month-long run, the reason they had success was that the second unit really clicked. Dwyane Wade found his niche as the maestro of the bench bunch along with any mixture of Kyle Korver, Jeff Green, Cedi Osman, Channing Frye, and Jae Crowder. Lue had found the perfect group to spell LeBron James and company.

But then, Tristan Thompson came back and, with all due respect, it messed with their flow. The spacing is no longer there for Wade or Green to penetrate because the paint is clogged. It makes it easier on opposing defenses to just stick to Korver because there aren’t any other threatening shooters on the floor (besides Osman, maybe). Worst of all, the change basically kicked Frye—who has a plus-14 net rating, according to Cleaning The Glass—out of the rotation completely.

Deciding who plays and when is a tough job. Derrick Rose is set to come back soon. Iman Shumpert is coming along as well. Lue likes a 10-man rotation, but there are at least 12 players who deserve to be on that court. We already know Rose is expected to commandeer the second unit in Wade’s absence on back-to-backs. As for if Shumpert remains in Cleveland, who knows? It’ll be interesting to keep an eye on how this situation is managed moving forward.

Isaiah Thomas, on the other hand, is somebody the Cavs have been waiting on to return since the season started. Despite LeBron being LeBron and Kevin Love having as great of an offensive year as he’s ever had on the team, the starting unit lacks an extra punch. Thomas can be that shot in the arm, and he proved that in his debut at home against Portland and on the road in Orlando. There are two snags that both he and the team are going to hit before the 29-year-old returns to his All-Star form: 1) He’s got to get his legs under him to regain the consistency in his game and 2) His teammates are going to have to adjust to playing with him.

These are not easy things to do. Remember, aside from Jae Crowder, there is nobody on Cleveland’s roster that has played with Thomas before. Add in that he’s trying to re-discover his own game and that makes for a pretty bumpy road, at least out of the gate.

Start here—put Thompson in the starting lineup. As poor of a fit he’s been on the bench, he has shown promising signs of a developing chemistry with Thomas. It’s only been four games, but he loves having a partner in the pick-and-roll game. That’s clearly where you’ll get the most production out of him and how he can thrive. He’ll provide hustle, second chance opportunities, and a semi-decent big that can at least bother some of the competition’s drives to the basket. Sliding Love over to the four might change his game a little bit, but you can still get him going in the post before giving him chances as a shooter to work him outside-in.

The resulting effect helps the second unit as well. They’ll get one of either J.R. Smith or Crowder, depending on who would be relegated there. Both of those guys can use a spark to get them going. Because of Crowder’s familiarity with Thomas, let’s say Smith gets kicked out. Maybe that gets him out of the funk he’s in? It also allows for Frye, who hasn’t seen more than 20 minutes in a game since December 4, to get re-acclimated to a group he truly helped on both ends of the floor earlier in the year.

Outside of the need to make a move at the deadline, the Cavs can figure this out. It’s understood that they’re the fourth-worst defensive team in the NBA, but they’ve gone through these kinds of ruts at this time of year, specifically since LeBron came back. There might not be statistical evidence backing up the claim of any improvement, but the track record speaks for itself.

The panic button is being hit, but pump the brakes a bit. This isn’t anything new. The pieces are a little different and things look as bad as they ever have, but in the end, the result will likely be the same.

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