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.

NBA: Kenneth Faried got away with foul on decisive basket in Nuggets’ win over Bulls

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The Bulls’ biggest loss Friday was Jimmy Butler to injury. His absence certainly contributed to a loss to the Timberwolves the following night.

But Chicago also lost to the Nuggets on Friday, and perhaps that wouldn’t have happened if the game were called correctly down the stretch.

With Denver up two points and 21.1 seconds remaining, Kenneth Faried offensively rebounded a free throw and scored. The Bulls then intentionally fouled down the stretch, and Faried and Danilo Gallinari added a few free throws in the Nuggets’ 115-110 win.

One problem: Faried should’ve been called for offensively fouling Taj Gibson on the key putback, according to the NBA’s Last Two Minute Report:

Faried (DEN) extends his arm into Gibson (CHI) and dislodges him, affecting his ability to retrieve the rebound.

This was a huge swing. Instead of Taj Gibson – a 69% career free-throw shooter – going to the line for two attempts with Chicago down two points, Faried put the Nuggets up four. Even if Gibson split at the line, the Bulls would have been in significantly better shape.

As usual, we can’t know what would’ve happened if this call were made correctly. But it significantly set back Chicago.

NBA considering if jump-on-back foul should be flagrant foul

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The video above is an intentional foul — Chris Paul jumped on the back of Dwight Howard. The same thing has happened to Andre Drummond.

Is it a flagrant foul?

The Boston Celtics tweeted this out on Sunday.

The NBA was quick to let people know that this is just something under consideration — there has been no change in the rules. This may well be where the league is headed, but it’s not there yet.

The NBA defines a flagrant foul as “unnecessary contact committed by a player against an opponent.” To me, leaping on a player’s back like that qualifies. (A flagrant two foul is “unnecessary and excessive contact” and leads to an ejection; this is not that.)

Jared Dudley — one of the more vocal players on union issues — added a good point.

Consider this part of the coming changes on the intentional fouling rules period. But this one tweak could come much faster.

NBA: Foul on Cavaliers that sparked Celtics’ comeback called in error

Cleveland Cavaliers' J.R. Smith makes a move on Boston Celtics' Evan Turner (11) during the third quarter of a NBA basketball game in Boston Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)
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The Cavaliers were in great shape against the Celtics on Friday, leading by four points with seven seconds left.

Then, it all went so wrong for Cleveland.

J.R. Smith was called for fouling Evan Turner on a made layup, cutting the margin to two points. Turner missed the free throw, but the ball went out of bounds off the Cavs. Then, Avery Bradley made a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to give Boston the win.

Rewind, though, and an incorrect call drove the sequence, according to the NBA.

Smith shouldn’t have been called for fouling Turner, per the Last Two Minute Report:

Smith (CLE) makes incidental contact with Turner’s (BOS) body as he attempts the layup.

If this were officiated correctly, the Cavs would’ve had the ball and a two-point lead with 5.9 seconds left. That’s not a lock to win – they’d still have to inbound the ball and make their free throws – but it’s close.

Cleveland is definitely entitled to feel the refs wronged them out of a victory.

Report: Kevin Durant has “done his due diligence on the Bay Area”

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Kevin Durant has not made up his mind about what he will do as a free agent this summer. Until his playoff run ends, whenever that may be for the Thunder, his focus will be on bringing a title to Oklahoma City.

But even he admits he can’t help but think about free agency a little.

The buzz around the league is Golden State is at the front of the line if Durant decides to leave OKC, and he has done some research, reports Marc Spears of Yahoo Sports.

The Warriors play in front of an intimidating Oracle Arena crowd and are expected to debut a new San Francisco arena in 2019. Durant has quietly done his due diligence on the Bay Area, too, sources told Yahoo Sports.

His people — specifically agent Rich Kleiman and personal manager Charlie Bell — would be stupid not to have done some research on not only Golden State but on every other team he might consider: Houston, Miami, Washington, both teams in Los Angeles, the Knicks, and on down the line. Golden State, playing with Stephen Curry, certainly would have its attractions.

I’m still in the camp that Durant signs a 1+1 deal to stay in Oklahoma City (meaning he can opt out after one more season, in 2017), and it’s all about the cash. While he could get 30 percent of a $90 million cap this summer (about $27 million a season to start), with one more year of service in 2017 Durant could get 35 percent of $108 million ($37.8 million to start). That’s a lot of cash. Plus he gets one more chance at a ring with Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka, who both are 2017 free agents.

But you can be sure whatever Durant decides, it will be well researched and thought out. And he’s not going to announce it in a live special on ESPN.