NBA Season Preview: Chicago Bulls

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obama_noah_rose.jpgLast season: 41-41, same as it ever was with Vinny Del Negro

Head Coach: Tom Thibodeau, the defensive guru from the Boston Celtics gets his first head coaching gig. He’s earned it, but this is not a soft landing sprt — there are expectations.

Key Departures: Kirk Hinrich, Brad Miller, Hakim Warrick

Key Additions: Carlos Boozer, Kyle Korver, Ronnie Brewer, CJ Watson, and the aforementioned Thibodeau. In any other summer they Bulls would have had the best haul in free agency. But this wasn’t like any other summer.

Best case scenario: Title contender out of the East. Most people — myself included — have them on a second tier behind Miami and Boston, kind of there on the “good but not quite good enough” level. But we don’t really know. If they can defend, if the chemistry really is there, this is a roster with a lot of potential.

For that to happen: Tom Thibodeu is going to have to work his defensive magic, and prove he can devise an offense that uses some interesting talents.

In Boston, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce did not come in with stellar defensive reputations, but they bought into the system, worked in concert with guys behind them and became part of a very good defensive unit. Chicago is going to need to do that with Boozer and Rose, having Deng and Noah with them and being the intimidating force at the rim. It can work, and if it does the Bulls instantly become dangerous.

That defense should be able to get them out and running a little with transition baskets. A good defensive team that gets a few easy transition buckets becomes hard to beat (see Thunder, Oklahoma City).

On offense, Thibodeau has said he wants to go inside out. Which means you can have Rose driving the lane or post up Boozer, depending on matchups. Boozer was not as dominating in post up scoring as one would think last season — he shot 47.5 percent and scored 0.87 points per possessions, not stellar numbers – but because he can step out and knock down a midrange some teams will go smaller on him. The NBA remains a game of creating and exploiting mismatches.

Where Boozer is effective — the roll man on the pick-and-roll. Boozer and Rose could become a deadly combination at that game.

With Boozer, Deng and Noah the Bulls should clean up the boards and get a number of points off offensive rebounds.

More likely the Bulls will: Take a little time to gel, then probably finish somewhere between third and sixth in the East. Yes, that’s a wide range but things will be tight at the top of the East. Miami and Orlando are going to win a lot of regular season games (yes, Orlando in the regular season will be a beast and get a top-two seed). After that you have the Bulls, Hawks, Celtics and maybe the Bucks all hovering around 50 wins. How healthy they all stay will determine the matchup — the first round in the East this playoffs will have some tough ones.

Frankly, we don’t know exactly how well this team will mesh, and how fast. On paper there is potential, but seeing how it all fits together under a first-time head coach means there are a lot of questions. The Bulls could be very good, or they could be one of those nice teams that should be better. One that isn’t bad but isn’t inspiring.

At the end of the day, they likely land on that second tier in the East. Barack Obama will talk about how much he likes this team, they will be fun to watch, they will be good but not quite good enough. And they will need to go looking for more moves.

Prediction: 52 wins, and they make it to the second round of the playoffs, where they will push somebody seven games. That may be enough for a first year… except that the Heat likely will only get better in the next couple years, too.

Kevin Durant apologizes for telling fans ‘If you don’t like it, don’t watch it,’ reiterates stance

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Kevin Durant told fans, dismayed by the lack of competitive games and series this postseason, “If you don’t like it, don’t watch it.”

Daring customers to choose another form of entertainment might not be good business for the NBA, but it’s not as if many fans needed an invitation. I doubt anyone was on the fence about watching then made up their minds after hearing Durant’s comments.

Yet, the Warriors star offered an apology.

Durant, via Chris Haynes of ESPN:

“I mean, life can be simple, man, Durant told ESPN. “If you don’t like the way the game is going, just turn it off. If you’re enjoying it, just keep it on. Life is simple. I didn’t mean it to disrespect anybody, but if you felt disrespected, I’m sorry. But if you don’t enjoy the game, turn it off [and] turn something else on. If you do, enjoy the rest of it, man.”

This is just a softer touch on the same sentiment – and just as reasonable.

People who love the NBA will watch. People who hate the NBA won’t. And people in the middle will fluctuate depending on the quality of the product.

Anyone mad at Durant the first time was just looking for a reason to get upset. That group will probably find a source of irritation in the follow-up quote, too.

The rest of us didn’t need this (half-hearted) apology, anyway.

Marreese Speights opts out of Clippers contract

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The Clippers are unraveling.

Of course, whether they can re-sign Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are the big questions. But they also must deal with smaller matters in free agency – like Marreese Speights.

Speights will opt out, his agent tweeted:

The Clippers will hold Speights’ Non-Bird Rights (technically a form of Bird Rights), allowing them to give him a starting salary up to $2,540,346 without using cap space or the mid-level exception.

The 29-year-old Speights, a stretch five who takes charges, fits the modern NBA. He could probably get more if he seeks it.

The Clippers won’t have cap space unless they lose Paul and Griffin, and at that point, re-signing a veteran like Speights is of little use. So, it would likely require the taxpayer mid-level exception or Speights taking a discount to keep him.

Luc Mbah a Moute can and likely will also opt out, and he’ll fall in the same Non-Bird situation. The Clippers would likely prioritize their mid-level exception for him – if it’s enough for either player.

Keeping Paul and Griffin is of the utmost importance, but that’s not the Clippers’ only challenge. Even if they keep those two stars, assembling even a decent supporting cast will difficult. Possibly losing J.J. Redick is the main issue there, but handling Speights’ and Mbah a Moute’s roster spots will also be pivotal.

Warriors struggle to get Zaza Pachulia’s 2017 NBA Finals hat on his big head (video)

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Zaza Pachulia became the villain of the Western Conference finals when he injured Kawhi Leonard and torpedoed the Spurs chances of upsetting the Warriors.

But his teammates stood by him – then shared this fun moment with him after Golden State won the West.

Reporter asks Spanish-speaking Manu Ginobili whether he just announced retirement (video)

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Manu Ginobili received an emotional sendoff in the Spurs’ season-ending – and maybe Ginobili’s career-ending – loss to the Warriors last night.

The postgame press conference featured a lighthearted moment when, after the Argentinian guard answered a couple questions in Spanish, an American reporter – not wanting to miss big news – asked whether Ginobili had just announced his retirement.

No, Ginobili assured the reporter. He says he plans to take a few weeks to consider his options.