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NBA Sunday: Derrick Rose’s Charging Bulls

With a deep roster and good fortune, Derrick Rose may just lead his Bulls to the NBA Finals.

Moke Hamilton



The fourth quarter began and the building was silent. As usual, amongst the cackles between teammates and instructions being barked out, Derrick Rose sat on the Chicago Bulls’ bench.

He peered out at the floor. Envious.

His eyes wide, he gazed intently out at the floor. He wished he was playing.

It’s amazing how we take things for granted and learn to truly appreciate them when they are taken away from us. Rose has learned that well.

With his hands clasped on his lap, he thought silently to himself.

This is scary.

Indeed, it was.

His Bulls had shellacked the New York Knicks in Madison Square Garden, and they managed to humble Derek Fisher’s triangle playing team without their stud.

And as Rose sat there on the bench, he wore not street clothes, but warm ups. He sat on the bench not out of necessity, but due to abundance.

It was the opening night of the 2014-15 NBA Season, and the Bulls had done their best to show the Knicks that they were not two teams of the same creed.

Yes, it was scary—the most talented Bulls team that Rose has played with. So long as health is on their side, the road to the NBA Finals, for any team, will inevitably run through Chicago.

With the newly acquired Pau Gasol and Derrick Rose leading the charge, the entire conference has been put on notice.


On May 11, 2010, as the world watched in awe, LeBron James—then of the Cleveland Cavaliers—turned in one of the worst performances of his career. Speculation had run rampant that James had one eye toward greener pastures in one of the league’s bigger markets—Los Angeles, New York and, yes, Chicago.

Over the course of the season, leading into the playoffs and heading into the summer, players and executives alike spent considerable time and effort into wondering how they could successfully woo James—clearly the best player of his generation.

But deep down inside, Rose had another idea.

Deep down inside, he wanted to beat James.

So as movie stars and politicians lined up and fawned over James, Rose was in the gym.

And while James was entertaining Jay Z and Mikhail Prokhorov and considering taking his talents to Brooklyn, Rose was in the gym.

And while James was seemingly counting the amount of championships he could presumably win in Miami if he were able to team up with Dwyane Wade, Rose, deep down inside, was percolating, recalling that it was his team that James ousted in the first round of the 2010 NBA Playoffs.

Historically, in the NBA, at least before 2010, most front offices looked at building contenders as a meticulous chore that required utilizing draft picks wisely. Aside from that, natural progression and inner-growth amongst the other cogs on a title chaster were seen as the keys to building a champion.

Natural progression—yes.

Natural progression—so Rose was in the gym.

Entering the league, there were legitimate concerns about his game. He was a streaky shooter who had questionable shot mechanics. He was a player who was overly reliant on his ability to overpower similarly sized guards. He was ineffective in pick-and-roll situations and operating out of halfcourt sets. Sometimes, it was said, he lacked the court vision and even the motor to become a point guard that could rally and galvanize his teammates.

So after Rose worked hard to make every one of those who doubted whether or not he had the chops to become the best point guard in the game look like idiots, and after he routinely put in 1,000 shots per day over his long summers, he looked at James, his success and wanted to reach similar heights with his hometown Bulls.

As James counted championship rings with Pat Riley and agreed to take his talents to South Beach—while the championship parade that was two years premature took place in Miami in July 2010—Rose was in the gym.

Like a true champion, with the heart of a lion, Rose went out in 2011 and did more than make his teammates better—he defiantly elevated an entire franchise. While James had Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, it was Rose who led Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer to a 62-20 regular season record.

It was Rose, not James, who would win the 2011 Most Valuable Player award.

It was Rose, not James, who would become the youngest MVP in NBA history.

And now, after some tumultuous times, heartache and heartbreak, it is Rose, not James, who is leading the team that should be most favored to win the Eastern Conference Championship this season.


In LeBron James, it is difficult to bet against the best player in the world—especially once he has guided a team to the top of the mountain two times over. With Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving by his side, James is a part of a new dynamic trio and with them, he hopes to experience championship glory once again.

In Miami, James learned what it took to become a champion but also learned that it wouldn’t happen overnight. Back in 2011, the HEAT were victims of infighting and crushing expectations. Privately, James and Wade wondered if they had made the right decision in teaming up. After beginning the season at just 9-8, they would eventually recover and go on to win the Eastern Conference. Over the next three years, they would dominate the conference, winning the Eastern Conference four consecutive years and winning two NBA Championships in the process.

Overall, the experience has made James better and wiser. Now, he hopes to replicate that history with his Cavaliers.

Yes, it will take time, but the old adage will prove to hold true for these Cavs: you simply cannot teach size. And if there is one weakness that can be exploited with James’ team, it is that.

Irving and Dion Waiters will both be leaned on to do some heavy lifting for the Cavs, but each will yield size to some of the league’s bigger guards and backcourts. Through their first two games, coach David Blatt’s eight men rotation consisted of his starters—James, Love, Irving, Waiters and Anderson Varejao—and Tristan Thompson, Matthew Dellavedova and Shawn Marion off the bench.

Not one of those players is a seven-footer. Varejao has appreciable size and is certainly capable of playing center for this team, but he has only played in 45 percent of the Cavaliers’ games over the past four years. Out of necessity, coach Blatt may limit his minutes in an attempt to preserve his health.

The team’s other true impact big man is Brendan Haywood, but Haywood is closing in on his 35th birthday and has not lived up to the six-year, $55 million contract the Dallas Mavericks signed him to in July 2010. He was amnestied by the team just two years later and missed all of the 2013-14 season due to a stress fracture in his left foot. That doesn’t exactly foster confidence.

With the HEAT, James proved that with the right talent and pieces surrounding him, he can lead a team to the promise land, despite yielding size to bigger opponents. But at this point, James’ Cavaliers are not the HEAT. A team that is equipped with perimeter defenders who can make the game difficult for James, one that has quick point guards to challenge Irving and one that has effective and athletic rim protectors to disturb Love will have a great opportunity to defeat them—at least a currently constructed—in a long series.

The Bulls just may be that team.


Now, in his seventh year, Rose has already experienced some very high highs and some very low lows. From the inspiring playoff performance he turned in against Rajon Rondo and the Boston Celtics as a rookie to his Most Valuable Player Award in 2011, his ACL tear in 2012 to his meniscus tear in 2013, the wonder kid from the Englewood section of Chicago hopes that he can once again lead the Bulls to the promise land.

Better, wiser, stronger, tougher—Rose now enters his seventh season with the most talented team the Bulls have been able to field in quite some time. They have defenders, shooters, length and depth. The only thing they need at this point: health.

With a few games under his belt and a gold medal in tow from the 2014 FIBA World Cup of Basketball, Rose’s quick first step and explosive athleticism seem to be returning. As the Bulls march on toward their goal of becoming NBA Champions once again, it is one that is as attainable as it is probable, and yes, Rose is leading the charge.

As he began his 2014-15 season with renewed hope and confidence, Rose seemed his normal, quiet and honest self. Like his knees, his candor was fully intact.

“All I think about is winning a championship,” he told the assembled media.

“My emotions were in check,” he answered when asked how it felt to get back in action during a regular season contest.

Each answer came without hesitation—each blunt and to the point.

But there was one question that Rose seemed to ponder carefully when asked. It was regarding his supporting cast.

Do you feel like you have more places to go with the ball now than in the past?

He stopped, and for a moment, Rose’s eyes looked up at the bill of the grey baseball cap he wore inside of the visitor’s locker room at Madison Square Garden.

“Yes,” he said, raising his eyebrows and nodding emphatically.

And as he went down the list, calling out many of his teammates— Gasol, Taj Gibson, Joakim Noah, Aaron Brooks, Kirk Hinrich and Doug McDermott—he cited the strengths of his teammates and, in that moment, seemed reassured about what the Bulls had assembled.

“It eases the game,” Rose would eventually say.

With a coach in Tom Thibodeau who has proven his chops, a bonafide championship-caliber Robin in Pau Gasol, All-Star center Joakim Noah and a neophyte in Jimmy Butler, the Bulls have everything they need to finally rise up out of the Eastern Conference.

For Thibodeau, that’s excellent news.

For Gasol, Noah and the rest of the supporting cast, it’s well deserved.

For Rose, it’s a dream come true.

But for the rest of the Eastern Conference, it is something else, all together.

These Chicago Bulls are charging, and for the Eastern Conference, including James’ Cavaliers—that, in a word, is scary.

Moke Hamilton is a Deputy Editor and Columnist for Basketball Insiders.


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NBA Sunday: Kristaps Porzingis Sure Looks Ready To Be The Franchise

The Knicks hope Kristaps Porzingis can become their franchise. Thus far, he seems up to the challenge.

Moke Hamilton



He stood in front of his mentor, isolated, just like they used to do in practice.

He’d seen the jab steps before and the head fakes—they were nothing new. And when Carmelo Anthony mustered the acceleration he still has in his 33-year-old legs to drive around Kristaps Porzingis, Anthony knew he had the 7-foot-3 Latvian big man beat.

Anthony triumphantly rose to the basket and delicately attempted his right-handed layup. Before he knew what hit him, though, Anthony’s shot had been sent to the free throw line.

The message was clear—Kristaps had taken the torch.

“It was fun,” Porzingis said about his confrontation with Anthony. “We went at it in practices a lot and one-on-one after practices.

“It was a lot of fun knowing what he was going to do and try to stop him.”

The Oklahoma City Thunder were much closer to the NBA Finals than the Knicks were last season, and removing Anthony from the Knicks and pairing him with Russell Westbrook and Paul George gives the Thunder a triumvirate that can at least conceivably challenge the Golden State Warriors. They are perhaps the only team in the entire league with enough firepower and defensive pieces.

So no, the Knicks may not be hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy anytime soon, but at the very least, the franchise seems to be in good hands—the big, soft hands of Porzingis.

As young NBA players come into their own and attempt to fulfill the lofty expectations that everyone has of them, the third year is the charm, almost invariably. And in that that year, a young player can’t control the other pieces that are around him—that’s why they shouldn’t be judged by their team’s wins and losses.

In that third year, a young player also can’t really control the frequency of his injuries. The simple truth is that many 21 or 22-year-old players simply lack the hardened bones of a fully grown adult that most men become after the age of 25.

But what the young player can prove is that he is prepared to shoulder the burden and take the fight to anyone who stands before him. Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks epitomizes this ideal better than any other young player in the league. He is absolutely fearless and it’s a pleasure to watch.

So is Porzingis.

Since the influx of European-born players began about 20 years ago, we have seen our fair share of “soft” European players. His talent aside (which is considerable), Porzingis has proven to be anything but, and that by itself can help players go a very long way.

In what must have felt like the longest summer ever, Porzingis saw the franchise that drafted him undergo an overhaul that resulted in a light beaming so brightly on him, you would have thought the third-year forward was starring in a Broadway musical.

Say what you want about Porzingis, but he has already done all that he can to notify everyone that have anything to do with the Knicks that his bony shoulders aren’t indicative of the weight he’s capable of carrying.

And in Oklahoma City, against his mentor, Porzingis did the heavy lifting.

“I saw energy,” head coach Jeff Hornacek said after his team’s opening night loss.

“He was great moving. He played 38 minutes, and maybe last year that would be a struggle. He would maybe get tired, and get some silly fouls, but even toward the end on that 37th or 38th minute, he was still up hollering, moving, blocking shots and getting rebounds, so he had a great game and we expect a lot more of that from him.”

Being a Knicks fan is something that nobody should wish on their worst enemy. The franchise has made scores of maneuvers that lacked wisdom and seemingly gone out of its way to alienate people beloved by the franchise. On top of it all, Knicks tickets are among the highest in the entire league.

Fans as passionate and dedicated as Knicks fans deserve a team they can be proud of and a front office that dedicates itself to putting winning ahead of petty feuds and politics.

The hiring of Scott Perry may signify just that.

So when the Knicks traded Carmelo Anthony and ended up getting back 10 cents on the dollar for his value, everyone should have prepared for a long season in New York City.

Coming in, Knicks fans once again found themselves in the unenviable predicament of having to talk themselves into believing that Ramon Session, Michael Beasley and Tim Hardaway were capable of giving this team feel good moments. And while they certainly are, they will surely pale in comparison to the amount of losses that the club accrues along the way.

If there’s one thing the Philadelphia 76ers have taught everyone, however, it’s that the losses don’t necessarily need to be in vain.

So heading into this season, what Knicks fans should have been looking forward to and hoping for is nothing more than the installation of a culture that’s marked by effort, communication and selfless basketball—the hallmarks of the Golden State Warriors.

Aside from that, yes, they should have also come in with the hope that Kristaps Porzingis would take an appreciable step forward and prove himself to truly be a capable franchise cornerstone.

To this point, from the way he holds his head highly, despite a win or a loss, and the way he competes to the best of his abilities, despite his limitations. For now, it’s really all that could reasonably be asked of him.

When it was all said and done—when Porzingis looked the Knicks’ past in the eyes after the Thunder had soundly defeated his New York Knicks—Carmelo Anthony probably told him that he was proud of him and that he wished him all the luck in the world.

He probably told him to continue to work on his game and hone his craft and to block out the background noise.

And above all else, Carmelo probably told Kristaps that he believes he is capable of being his successor.

With his nodding head and serious demeanor, Porzingis, in all his glory, listened intently. Even more so, he believed every word. 

It doesn’t take all day to figure out whether the sun is shining—it’s an adage that remains as true in basketball as it does on a May Day in New York.

For Porzinigis, the bright sky and the beaming sunlight—he’s basking in it all. Not only has he becomes the Knicks’ franchise by default, he believes he’s capable of shouldering the burden.

In this town, that’s more than half the battle.

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Dejounte Murray: The Spurs’ Latest Steal

The Spurs have a history of drafting talented players late in the draft. Dejounte Murray is emerging as their most recent steal, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz



It seems like almost every NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs end up selecting a player late in the draft who unexpectedly goes on to become a valuable contributor, sometimes even a star. The entire draft in itself can often be a crapshoot, but the lower the pick, the lower the chances of a team finding a solid rotation player. But with the Spurs, it’s as if they hit far more often than they miss.

Their pick from a year ago is shaping up to be no exception as the injury to starting point guard Tony Parker has opened up a huge opportunity for Dejounte Murray; one that he is taking advantage of.

There is a lot of preparation by analysts leading up to the NBA draft. Several mock drafts are created up until draft night itself. Murray was often projected to be a high first-round pick, possibly even a lottery pick. He had a solid freshman season at the University of Washington where he averaged 16.1 points per game, six rebounds, and 4.4 assists.

Draft night arrived and he ended up slipping to the bottom of the first round (29th overall), far later than he had anticipated. Following his selection, LeBron James himself, who is represented by the same sports agency as Murray, tweeted out some words of encouragement for the young rookie. He let Murray know that he may not have been drafted where he wanted to, but that he was with the best organization in the league.

Murray pretty much rode the bench last season as a rookie, which is not at all uncommon for a first-year player on a veteran team with championship aspirations. He was inactive for most of the final two months of the season. In the first round of the playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies, and most of the second round against the Houston Rockets, he was relegated to garbage time duty. Perhaps if he’d been drafted as high as initially projected, he might have had a bigger opportunity at getting minutes right away.

That all changed, however, against Houston in Game 2 when Parker went down with the injury that he is still recuperating from. Murray was thrust into the starting lineup and he responded as well as an inexperienced rookie under the bright lights of the playoffs could. In Game 4, although the Spurs lost, he had eight points on 50 percent shooting along with three assists. He actually didn’t play in Game 5, but in the Spurs closeout Game 6 win, he poured in 11 points, ten rebounds, five assists and two steals while shooting 50 percent from the field.

Even though the Spurs were ultimately swept in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors, Murray continued his steady play with 8.3 points, 3.8 assists, and three steals.

At the start of this season, Murray has taken his momentum from the end of last season and carried it over. He was given the starting point guard spot in place of Parker on opening night against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He responded on national television with 16 points on 7-8 shooting from the field, five rebounds, two assists and two steals.

It’s still too early to tell, but it’s highly possible that the Spurs have found their starting point guard of the future once Parker eventually decides to hang it up. At 6-foot-5, Murray is a tall point guard and his length gives him the potential to develop into an elite defensive player. He can score the basketball and he is improving his court vision and playmaking.

One area he could improve in is his outside shooting. Although he did shoot 39.1 percent from the three-point line last season, he only took 0.6 attempts. In his lone college season, he shot 28.8 percent from downtown. If he can improve his range and really begin to put together his entire package of skills, we’ll be talking yet again about how the Spurs bamboozled the rest of the league and found a draft-day gem.

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NBA Saturday: Jabari Bird Experiences The NBA Whirlwind

Jabari Bird entered a hostile environment Friday night after being on his couch just three days before.

Dennis Chambers



When Gordon Hayward suffered a season-ending injury six minutes into the Boston Celtics’ season on Wednesday, he wasn’t the only player who saw his season changed in the blink of an eye.

“I was at home in California watching the game as a fan,” Jabari Bird said.

Bird was the 56th overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft. After playing his college ball at the University of California, the Celtics gave the 6-foot-6 swingman a shot to continue his career. After impressing throughout the preseason, Bird was signed to a two-way contract with Boston and returned home to the west coast.

That didn’t last long.

“After the game was over my phone was going off that I had to get on the quickest flight to Boston,” Bird said about opening night. “Got in 7:30 the next morning, suited up against Milwaukee, now I’m here in Philly.”

With the massive hole Hayward left in Boston’s roster due to his injury, the Celtics are going to have to turn to some unlikely performers throughout the season to pick up the slack. Bird didn’t light up the scoreboard or stuff his stat sheet, posting just three points and one rebound in 13 minutes of play. But down the stretch in a close game against the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night, Bird came up big on defense.

As the Celtics trailed the Sixers 61-53 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter, Bird subbed in for Jaylen Brown and was tasked with guarding J.J. Redick, who was in the midst of carrying Philadelphia with his lights out shooting.

After wiping away the Sixers lead and gaining an 86-84 advantage in the fourth quarter, the Celtics still had Bird sticking Redick. The Sixers’ shooting guard — and highest paid player — rose up for another three-point attempt which would’ve given Philadelphia a late lead and a momentum shift at home with a raucous crowd behind them. Only this time, Bird’s hand was in his face and the shot attempt didn’t find the back of the net.

In a big-time moment on the road, for a team facing a potential three-game losing streak to start the season, the unlikely rookie answered the call.

“Like I said before, he’s one of the best shooters in the NBA, really good perimeter scorer,” Bird said of Redick. “For the team to trust me with that responsibility, with us being down on the road needing to get a win, I was hyped up and ready to go. I was ready for the challenge.”

Placing such a responsibility like guarding Redick on a night where it seemed like the Sixers marksman couldn’t miss on a player who was sitting on his couch three nights ago seems like a bold strategy. Head coach Brad Stevens, however, knew what he was doing.

“All the way through preseason and training camp I felt like he was one of our better perimeter defenders,” Stevens said. “I think he has huge upside. His rebounding spoke for itself in preseason practices. His ability to guard off the ball, especially shooters coming off screens is just really good. He’s not afraid, and you knew he’d step up.”

Going from the couch to a red-eye flight from California to Boston, to the bench in Milwaukee, to the court in Philadelphia is nothing short of a whirlwind experience. With such a series of events, it’s hard to be coached into that moment. As a player, sometimes you have to just go out and play.

“I wasn’t prepared at all for tonight. Mentally I just had to lock into the game,” Bird said. “Coach just looked at me and said ‘Bird get Jaylen.’ ‘Alright.’ So that’s what I did.”

After signing Hayward to $127 million contract this summer, the Celtics were expecting the small forward to provide an elite scoring 1-2 scoring punch with Kyrie Irving. Obviously, at least for this season, Boston will need to move forward without that possibility. An opening night loss, followed by another defeat to Milwaukee the following night, had the Celtics 0-2 heading into Philadelphia and searching for answers a lot sooner than they may have anticipated just a week ago.

Bird’s journey during his first week in professional basketball represents how quickly things can change, and how the ripple effects of injuries and other moves have far outreaching waves.

“I was already packed, I was ready to go to the G-League,” Bird said. “We had training camp coming up. My bags were already packed, I was ready to get out the house. Then I got the call to go to Boston and I was like alright I’m ready to go, just gimmie a flight. And that’s what happened.”

All-star point guard, and Bird’s new teammate, Kyrie Irving doesn’t foresee the rookie leaving the clubhouse anytime soon. With the adversity the Boston Celtics have felt in the first week of the 2017-18 season, Bird’s addition and impact are a prime example of being ready when your number is called, and the culture this team is looking to create.

“Jabari is now probably gonna be on every trip with us,” Irving said. “Guys are gonna be called up and called upon to be ready to play. We just have to have that expectation that when we come into the game we’re gonna be able to play, and we trust one another and have each other’s backs.”

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