NBA AM: The Wrong Time To Stumble

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The Wrong Time To Stumble:  The Chicago Bulls are four games away from the postseason and are finally getting guys back from injury, but finding that groove other playoff-bound teams are finding seems to be a problem.

The Bulls, in their opinion, have dropped a couple of games they felt they could have and should have won – the biggest being the Cleveland Cavaliers game on Sunday and again last night against the Orlando Magic.

“It’s troubling, there’s no question. It’s upsetting,” Bulls forward Pau Gasol told reporters last night. “This is the time where you have to be sharp and you can’t have these types of games. We are trying to figure out a lot of things right now with guys coming back, with different rotations and guys sharing minutes. So that is what happens when you have a deep team, but we have to figure it out quickly.”

The Bulls did get guard Derrick Rose back in the lineup after almost six weeks of rehab for a second repair of his meniscus. Rose logged 19 minutes and was a spectator for most of the fourth quarter.

“I felt good, it felt good to be moving around and playing,” Rose said. “I’m mad that we lost, but I felt all right.

“I’m just happy to be… The shots I put up I felt like they’re good, hard shots. I’m more concerned with us losing more than anything.”

Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau didn’t have a lot of answers for his team either, except to say that none of the teams in the NBA are pushovers and the lapses in games his team is having is costing them in the end. He also admitted not having his core together for much of the season is creating issues.

“That’s the challenge right now, how quickly can we adapt,” Thibodeau said. “We had a lot of guys out all season long; we got some guys coming back now trying to build some continuity and rhythm. Guys also have to play well, you can’t just go out there and not play well, so that’s a challenge that we have.

“You have to play tough with a lead in this league. [If] you have a couple breakdowns in transition, you give up an open three and the next thing you know you don’t have a lead and that’s what happens. So you have to play for 48 minutes, it’s not a show it’s a competition; you have to go after people.”

Injuries have been the cloud over the Bulls’ head all season, but no one in the Bulls locker room is accepting that as an excuse.

“That’s the league,” Rose said. “Ever since I came into the league, it’s been that way. Especially with me getting injured, other players I play with that are on the team now have been out for a long time, you kind of get used to it. But there are no excuses, you still have to go out and play the way you normally play.”

The Bulls’ loss last night combined with wins from both the Toronto Raptors and Washington Wizards pushed Chicago into the fourth seed and just a game in front of the fifth-seeded Wizards. The Bulls have four more games to find a stride and right their struggles. A couple more losses and the Bulls not only move out of reach of home court in the first round, they could slide into the fifth seed and face a tough opponent in Washington rather than what looked to be an easier matchup as the third seed facing the sixth seeded Milwaukee Bucks.

Before the game last night, a couple of Bulls players were hoping to clinch their playoff spot on this current road trip so they could get a little rest before the postseason. Now, it seems the Bulls need these next four game to find their way.

Are The Numbers Guys In Trouble?:  They say the NBA is a copycat league. With the notion that when one team stumbles upon success either on the court, in business or with a coaching or front office strategy, it won’t take long before that becomes the norm around the league.

The Advanced Analytics movement among front office hires is a perfect example of that. For years long-time NBA personnel types were the norm. Guys that had held jobs at various levels within a NBA team worked their way up, and then ultimately landed in the front office. Advanced Scouts, Video Coordinators, even former NBA players got most of the consideration.

As teams started looking for an edge, they started to consider out-of-the-box ideas. Moneyball and the idea of finding roster value within the stats and data became the rage and old-school basketball guys began to get marginalized by younger, more progressive executives that spoke the language some owners related to. In Big Business data is king, and owners – especially the newer ones that spent hundreds of millions – wanted executives they could relate to and those that were more data focused got more and more consideration.

A funny thing is happening around the NBA. The “numbers guys” – as they are affectionately called by their detractors – are not moving the basketball world quite like they were expected to and more and more of the lesser experienced guys may find themselves on the hot seat as the season comes to a close.

There has been talk in NBA circles that Denver Nuggets executive Tim Connelly may find his situation “adjusted” this summer either with a more experienced person put over top of him or that he is outright replaced.

There is a sense that as much as current Orlando Magic GM Rob Hennigan has done to add talent to the roster, the growth ownership was expecting on the floor isn’t happening fast enough and that Hennigan’s role may have to change to land a top flight head coach. Some of the bigger name coaches that have been linked to Orlando are believed to be seeking roster control as part of their potential package, which could radically change the dynamic in Orlando.

The Sacramento Kings recently hired former NBA player Vlade Divac to oversee a lot of the operation of the Kings and there is talk that Divac may be running the day to day and looking for a more traditional basketball guy to either augment the current situation or replace current GM Pete D’Alessandro all together this summer.

New Orleans executive Dell Demps, while not truly a number guy in the sense of some of the others, could be on the way out if the Pelicans do not make the post-season, which could open the door for a more experienced veteran executive to come in and take over. The name that gets mentioned the most is former Detroit Pistons executive Joe Dumars, who isn’t considered a “number guy.”

None of these executives are bad at their jobs, they were just hired potentially too early in their executive cycle to skipper situations that may not have been winnable from the start.

Enter the detractors, who point to lack of “basketball experience” and you get a situation where some teams may be weighing a change in the front office under the notion that maybe having the “numbers guy” way out front might not be the best way to win in the NBA, especially for some of the teams that are struggling to find a groove to progress.

Advanced Analytics and data driven thinking isn’t going away in the NBA any time soon, it’s just that the guys at the very top might start to swing more toward traditional basketball guys again.

It will be interesting to see how many executive jobs truly come open, and whether the next hires will swing in the direction of the basketball guys again.

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