It was a big story earlier this week that Joakim Noah might have been telling certain unnamed teammates that he was no longer interested in playing for Chicago, but the minute Noah shut it down for the season with that shoulder injury back in January, there were stories in the local papers asking whether he had played his last game in a Bulls uniform.
The guy is an unrestricted free agent and he very obviously wasn’t utilized as well under head coach Fred Hoiberg as he was under Tom Thibodeau. Nobody who finished in the top five in MVP votes just two short years ago enjoys being relegated to the bench, whether he were to say it publicly or not, and all that buzz about him not having a ton of confidence in the front office isn’t even all that insane a thing to say. If Noah decides to move on to another team, nobody will blame him and nobody will be surprised.
From Chicago’s perspective, it will be hard to match the money sure to be thrown Noah’s way this summer, anyway. His injury history won’t make it easy to pay Noah what he’s probably worth on the open market, which – regardless of fit or professional satisfaction – is more than enough to consider him a goner.
So that begs the question: where will Noah end up if not Chicago? Here’s a look at five teams that could serve as a logical landing place for the big man:
Minnesota Timberwolves – One of the first teams that always comes up in conjunction with Noah is the Wolves, primarily because that’s where Tom Thibodeau will be coaching next season and it’s no secret that Noah played his best, most inspired professional basketball under Thibs. Of course, Thibodeau isn’t the only reason to look at Minnesota as a desirable landing spot, as they are absolutely rife with young talent right now and need supplementary veteran help a lot more than a me-first All-Star to build around. Noah fits that bill, and he could get away with playing only about 20 minutes a game there to help preserve his body if he so wished. They’re a team on the rise with a reasonable role for Noah, and they’re coached by a guy he adores. Hearing his name in conjunction with the T-Pups is about as logical as it gets.
Dallas Mavericks – The Mavericks haven’t been quite the same since letting Tyson Chandler go following their 2011 championship season, and while Noah isn’t necessarily in his prime anymore, he could play the same sort of role for that team. Alongside Dirk Nowitzki, Noah could help cover defensively, but open things in half-court sets. He’d be a much better fit in a lineup like that, especially considering bigger minutes could be there if he still wants them. Plus, Mark Cuban lets his players be who they are to a certain extent, so he’d happily accept a big personality like Noah. And Texas doesn’t have any state income tax, which doesn’t hurt the sales pitch either. They’re an older team, so Noah wouldn’t be joining some upstart potential title contender, but he’d have a role in a lineup that makes sense for him. Frankly, it is, at the very least, a better situation for him than Chicago is right now.
Charlotte Hornets – If Noah could survive Thibodeau with a smile on his face, then he might actually like Hornets head coach Steve Clifford, another tough head coach who should fit somewhere in between the daily insanity of Thibs and the much more hands-off Hoiberg. He’s also got a good relationship with Nic Batum, should the Hornets re-sign him – though Noah’s rebounding, vision and energy would be a nice fit in Charlotte with or without Batum. A starting spot wouldn’t be guaranteed there, but Noah certainly would be in the mix for it. At the very least, he’d be the kind of sub who plays 28 minutes a game, and you can bet he’d be in the game when it mattered. The Hornets are pointing northward, and Noah’s veteran presence would nudge them even further in the right direction.
New York Knicks – Because Noah’s a New York guy with a big New York personality, Knicks fans can’t help but hope that he finds his way to Madison Square Garden next season. While the fit would be kind of weird for him, Howard Beck of Bleacher Report already has suggested that Phil Jackson will go after Noah in free agency this offseason:
LRT: If Noah's leaving Bulls, expect Knicks to make a strong pitch. Phil Jackson and Noah have a rapport. And Noah has NY roots.
— Howard Beck (@HowardBeck) May 25, 2016
Of course, New York already has Robin Lopez to start at center, but if Noah’s willing to play fewer minutes for a team like Minnesota, why wouldn’t he also be willing to play fewer minutes for his home team? If he’s willing to play more of a reserve role, he’d be a big help in the Big Apple, and his addition definitely would make Carmelo Anthony happy. It would be a nice free agency addition, especially since the team hasn’t had much success drawing All-Star talent in recent years.
Portland Trail Blazers – We’re supposed to believe that Portland only wants to sign free agents that are on the same career arc as Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, but that plan may have gone out the window this season when it just so happened that the team was way further along as a title contender than anyone expected. There’s a great young core in place there, but none of those burgeoning bigs have really stepped forward as a bona fide star in the frontcourt. That means Noah would almost certainly be the everyday starter there, and his experience and toughness would do wonders for them in the postseason, where playoff experience matters so much more than young players realize. Outside of Minnesota, there might not be a more exciting or logical landing place for him, though it certainly will be fascinating to see where he ends up.
That could still be back in Chicago, for what it’s worth. The Bulls and Noah’s agent have said that Chicago is still in the mix, but it’s kind of hard to believe at this point. It seems much more likely that he moves on, and one of these five teams would make the most sense if he does.
Middleton, Bucks Aiming To ‘Lock In’ As Season Comes To Close
Spencer Davies catches up with Milwaukee Bucks swingman Khris Middleton in a Basketball Insiders exclusive.
Basketball Insiders had the chance to chat with Khris Middleton about the direction of the Milwaukee Bucks as the season comes to a close.
You guys won three out of four before you came into Cleveland. What was working during that stretch?
Just being us. Doing it with our defense, playing fast-paced offense. Just trying to keep teams off the three-point line. We haven’t done that. We didn’t do that [Monday] or two games ago, but it’s something we’ve just gotta get back to.
With the offense—it seems like it’s inconsistent. What do you think that’s got to do with mostly?
Just trying to do it by ourselves sometimes. Standing, keeping the ball on one side of the floor. We’re a better team when we play in a fast pace. And then also in the half court, when we move the ball from side-to-side it just opens the paint for everybody and there’s a lot more space.
For you, on both ends you’ve been ultra-aggressive here in the last couple weeks or so, does that have to do with you feeling better or is it just a mindset?
I’ve been healthy all year. Right now, it’s the end of the season. Gotta make a push. Everybody’s gotta lock in. Have to be confident, have to be aggressive. Have to do my job and that’s to shoot the ball well and to defend.
Have you changed anything with your jumper? Looking at the past couple months back-to-back, your perimeter shooting was below 32 percent. In March it’s above 45 percent.
I feel like I got a lot of great looks earlier this year. They just weren’t falling. Right now, they’re falling for me, so I have the same mindset that I had when I was missing and that’s to keep on shooting. At some point, they’re gonna go down for me.
Is knowing that every game at this point means more an extra motivator for you guys?
Definitely. We’re basically in the playoffs right now. We’re in a playoff series right now where we have to win games, we have to close out games, in order to get the seeding and to stay in the playoffs. Each game and each possession means something to us right now.
Is it disappointing to be in the position the team is in right now, or are you looking at it as, ‘If we get there, we’re going to be alright’?
I mean, we wish we were in a better position. But where we’re at right now, we’re fine with it. We want to make that last push to get higher in the seeding.
Lots of changes have gone on here. Eric Bledsoe came in two weeks into the season. You had the coaching change and lineup changes. Jabari Parker’s been getting situated before the postseason. How difficult does that make it for you guys to build consistency?
Yeah, it was tough at first. But I think early on we had to adjust on the fly. We didn’t have too many practices. There was a stretch where we were able to get in the film room, get on the court, and practice with each other more.
Now it’s just at a point where we’re adding a lot of new guys off the bench where we have to do the same things—learn on the fly, watch film. We’re not on the court as much now, but we just have to do a great job of buying in to our system, try to get to know each other.
Does this team feel like it has unfinished business based on what happened last year?
Definitely. Last year, we felt like we let one go. Toronto’s a great team. They’re having a hell of a season this year, but I feel like we let one go. This year’s a new year—a little add of extra motivation. We’ve been in the playoff position before, so hopefully, we learn from it when we go into it this year.
Would you welcome that rematch?
I mean, we welcome anybody man. We showed that we compete with any team out here. We can’t worry about other teams as much. We just have to be focused on us.
What has to happen for you guys to achieve your full potential?
Lock in. Just play as hard as we can, play unselfish, and do our job out there night-in, night-out.
NBA Daily: Raptors Look To Fine-Tune The Defense
The Toronto Raptors’ defense had a letdown against the Cavaliers, but has been outstanding overall.
The Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors engaged in an offensive shootout on Wednesday that could be a playoff preview. The Cavs protected home court with a single-possession, 132-129 victory. Afterward, the Raptors spoke about the types of defensive adjustments the team needs to make as the postseason rapidly approaches.
“That’s how a playoff game would be,” said DeMar DeRozan, who missed a three at the buzzer that could have forced overtime. “This is a team we’ve been playing against the last two years in the postseason. Understanding how we can tighten up things defensively, how to make things tougher for them [is key].
“[It’s] little small things that go a long way, and not just with them … with every team.”
Raptors coach Dwane Casey concurred with DeRozan that fine-tuning of the defense is needed. He also pointed out that, with young contributors such as center Jakob Poeltl and power forward Pascal Siakam on the roster, defensive experience against the league’s best player, LeBron James, is something they will have to gain on the fly.
“I don’t think Jakob Poeltl played against him that much, and Siakam,” said Casey. “This is their first time seeing it. I thought Jak and Pascal did an excellent job, but there are certain situations where they’ve got to read and understand what the other team is trying to do to them.”
Poeltl was outstanding, leading the bench with 17 points and tying for the team lead in rebounds with eight. Casey praised the diversity of his contributions.
“I thought he did an excellent job of rolling, finishing, finding people,” said Casey. “I thought defensively, he did a good job of protecting the paint, going vertical. So I liked what he was giving us, especially his defense against Kevin Love.”
Basketball Insiders previously noted how the Raptors have performed vastly better as a team this season when starting point guard Kyle Lowry is out of the game. Much of that is due to Fred VanVleet’s emergence as one of the NBA’s best reserve point guards. VanVleet scored 16 points with five assists and no turnovers against Cleveland. It’s also a reflection of how good Toronto’s perimeter defense has been up and down the roster.
According to ESPN’s defensive Real Plus-Minus statistic, three of the NBA’s top 15 defensive point guards play for the Raptors. VanVleet ranks seventh while Lowry is 12th and Delon Wright is 14th. Starting small forward OG Anunoby ranks 16th at his position.
The Raptors also rank in the top five in offensive efficiency (third) and defensive efficiency (fifth). Having established an identity as a defensive team, especially on the perimeter, it’s perhaps understandable that Lowry was the one player in the visiting locker room who took the sub-standard defensive showing personally.
“It was a disgraceful display of defense by us and we’ve got to be better than that,” said Lowry. “We’ve got to be more physical. They picked us apart and made a lot of threes. We’ve got to find a way to be a better defensive team.”
Lowry continued the theme of fine-tuning as the regular season winds down.
“I think we’ve just got to make adjustments on the fly as a team,” said Lowry. “We can score with the best of them, but they outscored us tonight. We got what we wanted offensively. We’re one of the top teams in scoring in the league, but we’re also a good defensive team.”
Lowry was clearly bothered by Toronto’s defensive showing, but Casey downplayed the importance of a single regular-season game.
“We’ve got to take these games and learn from them, and again learn from the situations where we have to be disciplined,” said Casey. “It’s not a huge thing. It’s situations where we are that we’ve got to learn from and be disciplined and not maybe take this step and over-help here. Because a team like that and a passer like James will make you pay.”
While the Raptors continue to gain experience and dial in the fine defensive details, Casey was insistent that his players should not hang their heads over falling short against Cleveland.
“Hopefully our guys understand that we’re right there,” said Casey.
The Raptors host the Brooklyn Nets tonight to open a three-game home stand that includes visits from the Clippers Sunday and the Nuggets Tuesday. After that, Toronto visits the Celtics March 31 followed by a return to Cleveland April 3 and a home game against Boston the next night. With three games in a row against the other two top-three teams in the East, the schedule presents plenty of opportunities for the Raptors to add defensive polish before the playoffs begin.
NBA Daily: Jaylen Brown Set To Return For Celtics
The Celtics finally got some good news on Thursday. Jaylen Brown’s return is imminent.
Finally, some good news for the Boston Celtics.
Jaylen Brown is set to return to action.
Brown has been M.I.A. since sustaining a concussion during the team’s 117-109 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves back on March 8, but has traveled with the team to Portland and is expecting to return to the lineup on Sunday when the Celtics do battle with the Sacramento Kings.
As the Celts gear up for a playoff run, which they hope will result in them ending LeBron James’ reign atop the Eastern Conference, they’ve picked the wrong time to run into injury issues. Along with Brown, both Kyrie Irving and Marcus Smart have each been conspicuous by their absences, and the team could certainly use all of their pieces as they attempt to enter the postseason on a high note.
Fortunately for Boston, with the Toronto Raptors leading them by 4.5 games in the standings and the Celts ahead of the Cleveland Cavaliers by a comfortable six games, Brad Stevens’ team is enjoying the rare situation of having a playoff seed that appears to be somewhat locked in.
Still, with the team only able to go as far as its young rotation will carry it, Brown addressed the media on Thursday.
“I’m feeling a lot better. I’m just trying to hurry up and get back,” Brown said, as quoted by Celtics.com.
“I’m tired of not playing.”
Stevens is probably tired of him not playing, too.
As we head into the month of April, playoff-bound teams and conference contenders begin to think about playing into June, while the cellar-dwellers and pretenders begin to look toward the draft lottery and free agency.
What’s funny is that in the midst of the Raptors and their rise out East, the Celtics and their dominance has become a bit of a forgotten storyline. When Gordon Hayward went down on opening night, the neophytes from the Northeast were thought to be a decent team in the making whose ceiling probably wasn’t anywhere near that of the Cavs, the Raptors and perhaps even the Washington Wizards.
Yet through it all, with the impressive growth of Jaylen Brown, impressive rookie Jayson Tatum and the rise of Irving as a franchise’s lynchpin, the Celtics stormed out the games to the tune of a a 17-3 record. What made the strong start even more impressive was the fact that the team won 16 straight games after beginning the season 0-2.
Although they weren’t able to keep up that pace, they began the month of February having gone 37-15 and turned a great many into believers. With their spry legs, team-first playing style and capable leader in Irving, the Celtics, it was thought, were a true contender in the Eastern Conference — if not the favorite.
Since then, and after experiencing injuries to some of its key cogs, the team has gone just 11-8.
In the interim, it seems that many have forgotten about the team that tantalized the Eastern Conference in the early goings of the season.
Brown’s return, in one important respect, will signify a return to Boston’s prior self.
With Marcus Smart having recently undergone surgery to repair a torn tendon in his right thumb, he is expected to be out another five weeks or so, meaning that he’ll likely miss the beginning of the postseason.
As for Irving, although reports say that his ailing knee has no structural damage, everything the Celtics hope to accomplish begins and ends with him. FOX Sports 1’s Chris Broussard believes that it’s no slam dunk that Irving returns to action this season, but he’s in the minority. This team has simply come too far to not give themselves every opportunity to compete at the highest level, so long as doing so doesn’t jeopardize the long term health of any of the franchise’s cornerstones.
Make no mistake about it, the Celtics are far from a finished product. With their nucleus intact and flexibility preserved, they will have another offseason with which to tinker with their rotation pieces and plug away at building a champion.
But here and now, with what they’ve got, the Celtics are much closer than any of us thought they would be at this point.
And on Sunday, when Jaylen Brown rejoins his team in the lineup, to the delight of the Boston faithful, the Celtics will be that much closer.