Bulls temporarily fall out of playoff picture

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The bottom half of the Eastern Conference playoff teams may not be the best teams in the world (especially compared to their cross-conference counterparts), but each is surprisingly competitive and quite entertaining on some level or another. Plus, if you’re privileged to have NBA League Pass, you’ll be able to watch five capable, hungry teams fighting and clawing for every chance to climb up the standings.

Actually, with the Bulls picking up their fifth straight loss last night, let’s make that four capable teams.

It’s not that Chicago isn’t talented or doesn’t have it in them to make a playoff run. Far from it. It’s just that their potential to be a solid team has been sitting on the bench in a protective boot in the form of Joakim Noah. He’s played in only four games since February 5th, and not surprisingly, he’s been absent during each game of the Bulls’ current losing streak.

And now, if they’re not careful, Chicago could end up losing even more valuable ground in the playoff hunt. They’re only half a game back from the 7th seed, but that’s all it would take at the end of the season to keep Derrick Rose and co. watching from their couches at home. There’s plenty of time left for Noah to recover, return, and make an impact, but the important thing is that the Bulls find a way to tread water between now and then.

The key to doing that is to play anything resembling defense, which is understandably difficult given that Brad Miller is now starting at center for the Bulls, with his primary back-ups being Chris Richard (cue the “Who?”s) and Taj Gibson. Not exactly the ideal situation for interior defense of any kind. From K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune:

“Joakim helps us a lot, but our team defense hasn’t been very good,” Kirk Hinrich said. “We’re getting away from what has made us successful.”

Indeed, that’s eight straight opponents who have surpassed the century
mark against the Bulls. That hasn’t happened in franchise history since
Feb. 8, 1990. It’s also the fifth time in eight games the opponent has
shot 50 percent or better as the Jazz, the league’s most accurate
shooting team, checked in at 54.2 percent.

The Bulls also lost Luol Deng to a right calf strain early in the fourth quarter. Deng, who will
undergo an MRI on Wednesday, had returned from missing Monday’s
practice with the flu to score 14 points in 32 minutes.

“We’re not going to win games unless we play better ‘D,'” Deng said. “Our offense is fine.”

Stephen Curry drains shots from near half court during warmups like they’re layups

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Stephen Curry‘s pregame warmups draw people into the arena early, it’s a show in and of itself.

Before Game 4 Monday night, Curry was taking a couple shots from the center-court logo. And draining them. Like layups. Because he can.

We’ll see if he can put on that kind of show when the game tips off.

Gregg Popovich makes it official: No Kawhi Leonard for Game 4

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This was expected. It still sucks to hear.

Kawhi Leonard is out for Game 4 vs. the Warriors Monday night.

Leonard has sprained his left ankle in Game 5 against the Rockets and sat out Game 6 of that series (a San Antonio win), then returned for Game 1 against the Warriors. He re-injured his ankle twice in that game — once stepping on David Lee‘s foot, once when Zaza Pachulia slid under him on a jumper and took away his landing space. Leonard left that game with his team up 23 points, but the Warriors rallied back to win Game 1 and have controlled the series ever since. Leonard has not returned to the series.

San Antonio will play with pride on Monday night, but it may not be enough. You can bet the Warriors were reminded all day about taking their foot off the gas after what happened with Cleveland Sunday.

Report: Orlando hires Toronto GM Jeff Weltman to be president of basketball operations

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In Toronto, Masai Ujiri is the head of basketball operations and the guy with the hammer on deals. Jeff Weltman was his right-hand man and team GM.

Make that was his right-hand man, Weltman has been hired by the Orlando Magic to run its basketball operations, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

The Orlando Magic have hired Toronto Raptors general manager Jeff Weltman as the franchise’s president of basketball operations, league sources told The Vertical.

Weltman met with Orlando CEO Alex Martins and ownership on Monday, finalizing a five-year deal, league sources said.

Orlando officials had been intrigued with Cleveland GM David Griffin, but moved steadily toward Weltman as they became further engaged with his candidacy in recent weeks, league sources said. Weltman has been deeply involved in every aspect of the Raptors’ front office under president Masai Ujiri as Toronto became a perennial Eastern Conference contender.

Making a move now is smart in this sense: The Magic have the No. 5 pick in this draft and would want the guy making the big picture decisions about this roster on board to make this selection.

That roster already has some quality pieces — Aaron Gordon, Evan Fournier, Nikola Vucevic, maybe Elfrid Payton — but has underachieved. There were questions about the culture and a lack of accountability, and that blame ultimately fell on GM Rob Hennigan and he was let go. Frank Vogel is locked in as

Frank Vogel is locked in as coach, so how well Weltman and Vogel work together — and share a vision — will be key.

Weltman is well-respected around the league. He spent five seasons as an assistant GM in Milwaukee, and has been with the Raptors since 2013 as that team has risen up the Eastern Conference standings and had its best run in franchise history. He also has worked with the Clippers and in Denver. He’s been one of those guys expected to get a chance in the big chair for a few years now.

He’s got it, and it’s an interesting challenge in Orlando.

Celtics’ Guerschon Yabusele has foot surgery, expected to be ready for training camp

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When the Boston Celtics head to training camp next fall, all eyes will be on Markelle Fultz whoever the Celtics take with the No. 1 pick. He will be the guy expected, in a few years, to lead the Celtics to the top of the mountain in the East (assuming LeBron James ever leaves that space).

But they will have another high first round pick coming in: Guerschon Yabusele, a 6’8” power forward out of France. The Celtics drafted him No. 16 a year ago, then had him go get a year of seasoning in the Chinese Basketball Association.

Yabusele is having foot surgery but is expected to be ready for training camp, reports Chris Forsberg of ESPN.

Guerschon Yabusele, a 2016 first-round pick of the Boston Celtics, underwent surgery recently to remove bone spurs from the top of both feet and will not participate in summer league, according to a league source.

Yabusele, the 16th overall pick in last year’s draft, spent much of his first professional season stashed in China. He came stateside in March and latched on with the Maine Red Claws, Boston’s D-League affiliate.

For a team that lacks rebounding, Yabusele could be a fit in Boston. He has the build of an old-school power forward, but he has a face-up game on offense, a quicker first step than people think, and he can shoot the three.

The Celtics also have Ante Zizic, last year’s No. 23 pick, who played last season in Turkey. The Celtics are a deep team, will they have a roster space for Yabusele or Zizic next season? Or will at least one of them play another year overseas, stashed away and waiting for their chance? There are a lot of questions about the Celtics’ plans this summer, that is just one of them.