New Jersey Nets v Chicago Bulls

With the Bulls, it’s about this year. And the five after that.

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This season wasn’t supposed to be about the Bulls. It was about the flash of the Heat and the intensity of the Celtics making one more run. It was about the Lakers out West. The Bulls were going to be good, no doubt, but not good enough.

Then they started defending like mad men, executing their defensive game plan better than any team in the league. Then Derrick Rose started playing like an MVP and slashing to the rim with quickness and body control that is unmatched. Then the Bulls evolved and took on the persona of their workaholic coach — they came to play every night harder than the other team.

In the end it was about them. They worked and slashed their way to the best record in the league (62-20).

And they haven’t begun to fulfill their potential. This wasn’t about just this being their season in Chicago. It was about how next year might be their year, too. And the year after that, and the one after that and….

The Bulls are now the team of the future in the NBA.

Chicago is young — Carlos Boozer is the “old man” at 29, entering his prime. Rose is 22, Luol Deng is 25, as is Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson. The only older guy making any significant contributions is 38-year-old Kurt Thomas.

People look at the Heat and see a team that will be good for the next several years because their core is in its prime. The Bulls are younger, with more room to improve as individuals, and they have a more well-rounded roster right now. The Heat will be contenders going forward. The Bulls are going to be right their with them.

Still, there are doubters. Certainly about this season and these upcoming playoffs. Put Chris Bosh in that group.

The argument against the Bulls goes like this — you’ve already seen their best. Chicago outworked teams during the regular season, simply played harder than everyone else. Good for the Bulls, but in the playoffs everyone is focused, everyone plays hard every game. (Well, maybe not the Lakers, but you get the idea.) Their advantages will disappear.

But if you believe defense wins championships, you have to believe the Bulls have a legitimate chance.

David Thorpe, the Executive Director of the Pro Training Center and ESPN analyst, said in an e-mail hard work alone by the Bulls was not enough. He used a football analogy to make his point.

“I think they out-execute everyone,” Thorpe said. “They remind me of the 2002 Buccaneers, Super Bowl winners (and owners of arguably as great a defense as the NFL has ever seen). … Both defenses were built around the idea that every man has a job to do on every possession, and each job changes based on what and who they are defending. That is why executing is so crucial.

“Put it this way — like football, if each player was graded on the total number of breakdowns they had for the game (beaten off dribble, not getting to their help spots fast enough, not following the schematic plan on certain actions, etc.), my guess is the Bulls players would score better than every other team. That is coaching.”

Defense and coaching are big steps toward a title. But the Bulls do have challenges ahead in these playoffs, and it’s not about the defense.

Rose is the center of everything they do on offense, and both Thorpe and the doubters (including scouts we spoke with) note that the better teams are going to start trapping him and denying him and doing everything they can to take the ball out of his hands. Indiana has a good defense (12th in the league in efficiency) and will start to execute it, but teams in the second round and beyond (Boston, Miami and Orlando) have the players to really execute it. Rose will not be able to dominate in the same way. He will be forced to pass or expend wild amounts of energy to get contested, difficult shots. He’s going to have to pass.

Other Bulls players will have to step up and make plays. We will see if they can — Boozer can score inside, but will he do it enough? Deng can by streaky, Ronnie Brewer can slash but will he get the ball, guys like Kyle Korver can shoot. But will it be enough?

What if it’s not? What if the Bulls learn they really need a better shooting guard and some more maturity as a team?

Then you can bet they will be back next year. And the year after. And the year after that.

Whether or not this season ends being about the Bulls, you can bet seasons in the near future will be.

Jazz guarantee more than $1 million to No. 52 pick Joel Bolomboy, a rare commitment to someone drafted so low

ST LOUIS, MO - MARCH 18:  Joel Bolomboy #21 of the Weber State Wildcats handles the ball in the first half against the Xavier Musketeers during the first round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Scottrade Center on March 18, 2016 in St Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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In the first five years of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, two players drafted in the 50s received a $1 million guarantee the same offseason they were selected.

This year, the list has doubled.

The Cavaliers guaranteed $1 million to No. 54 pick Kay Felder, and No. 52 pick Joel Bolomboyjust signed by the Jazz – will get even more.

Bolomboy’s $600,000 salary this season is fully guaranteed, and $452,625 of his salary next season is guaranteed, according to Basketball Insiders. That’s a grand total of $1,052,625 guaranteed on a three-year contract.

Only Tornike Shengelia (No. 54 pick in 2012 from Nets) and Kris Joseph (No. 51 pick in 2012 from Celtics) got more as players picked in the 50s who signed the same offseason under the current CBA. Both received two fully guaranteed seasons.

Bolomboy successfully leveraged a salary-cap environment relatively more favorable to second-rounders than first-rounders. If Utah didn’t make him such a favorable offer, he could’ve accepted the required tender and become a free agent within a year – with numerous potentially offering him a contract. The Jazz, with more cap space than they know what do with, probably didn’t mind paying Bolomboy a little more to secure him at what’s still a low rate for the next three years.

This likely wraps up any preseason competition in Utah for a regular-season roster spot. Bolomboy becomes the 15th Jazz player with a guaranteed 2016-17 salary, so he’ll almost certainly stick beyond the preseason – another plus of this contract.

This gives him security as he tries to develop into a player worthy of a second – presumably higher-paying – NBA contract.

Report: Hawks told Paul Millsap they won’t trade him

ATLANTA, GA - MAY 06:  Paul Millsap #4 of the Atlanta Hawks is introduced prior to Game Three of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Cleveland Cavaliers during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Philips Arena on May 6, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia.  NOTE TO USER User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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The Hawks tried to trade Paul Millsap this summer, according to Zach Lowe of ESPN.

After agreeing to terms with center Dwight Howard, Atlanta wanted to put Al Horford – not Millsap – at power forward. But Horford was also a free agent, and he left for the Celtics. So, the Hawks settled for keeping Millsap.

Apparently, they’ll stick with him.

Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders:

according to sources near the situation, Millsap has been assured he’s not going anywhere.

Teams often tell a player he won’t be traded. They don’t always mean it.

Most players perform better when they’re not worried about being dealt, ironically, increasing their trade value. Of course, trading a player you told wouldn’t be traded could infuriate him – but that’s no longer your direct problem. He’s gone at that point.

Millsap can opt out next summer, when he’ll be 32. Does Atlanta want to pay him $149 million over the following four seasons? It might take his max to retain him. Millsap is a two-way star, and plenty of teams will covet him. But there’s major risk in paying someone that old.

It could be better to trade him preemptively, especially if the Hawks take a step back and want to continue their youth movement. They already traded starting point guard Jeff Teague for a first-round pick to elevate 22-year-old Dennis Schroder. Howard would be a curious fit, but exchanging Horford for him was already puzzling.

If Howard is providing the best-case scenario of help and Schroder is ready for his bigger role, sure, ride it out with Millsap. But if Atlanta’s season goes south before the trade deadline, I’m not so sure the Hawks will honor their reported commitment to Millsap.

Report: Thunder almost definitely won’t trade Russell Westbrook this season

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 28:  Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder handles the ball during the first half against the Golden State Warriors in game six of the Western Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena on May 28, 2016 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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Russell Westbrook negotiated himself a raise of more than $8 million and chalked it up to loyalty.

Is the feeling mutual?

The Thunder can trade Westbrook six months after he signed his contract extension, which make him eligible to be dealt Feb. 4. The trade deadline will be a few weeks later.

Would Oklahoma City trade its franchise player during that narrow window?

Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders:

Sources close to the situation say the Thunder’s view on Westbrook is to see what he can do as the single focal point of the team and plan to keep the noise out of the equation until next summer.

sources close to the situation have said, there is almost no scenario in which the Thunder look at trades with Westbrook this year.

Building around Westbrook is certainly the Thunders City’s first choice. According to this report, they’ll give that route at least a full season to work.

But is there truly no worst-case scenario for the season’s first few months that would convince Oklahoma City to abort the plan early?

The Thunder became accustomed to winning big with Kevin Durant. It’s one thing to know they’ll take a step back after his departure to the Warriors. It’s another to live it every day.

Oklahoma City doesn’t want to lose Westbrook in 2018, when he’ll become an unrestricted free agent. One reported plan is trying to sign Blake Griffin next summer, and that would certainly require Westbrook’s continued presence.

It’d also likely require the Thunder winning at a reasonable clip next season. Griffin probably isn’t leaving the Clippers for a crummy team, even if it’s to his native Oklahoma.

Winning will also be a key ingredient in persuading Westbrook to stay. Absent that, the other way to get value from him is trading him, and he’ll be more valuable if traded in February. Teams will covet the extra half season and playoffs with him on the roster.

Of course, that also applies to the Thunder. If Westbrook can help them reach the postseason and maybe even make some noise in it, they’ll gladly ride him.

But if the playoffs become a far-fetched dream by the trade deadline… I’m curious just how devoted Oklahoma City remains to Westbrook in that scenario.

Did the Clippers change their name?

OAKLAND, CA - NOVEMBER 04:  Blake Griffin #32 of the Los Angeles Clippers helps Chris Paul #3 get up from the court during their game against the Golden State Warriors at ORACLE Arena on November 4, 2015 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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The Clippers rebranded themselves with a new logo and uniforms last year.

Did they also give themselves a new name?

Mike Chamernik of Uni Watch:

The Los Angeles Clippers not only changed their name, but they did it a year ago. No one has seemed to notice. Yes, they are still known as the Clippers. The L.A. Clippers.

L.A.

As in, that’s their location name. Not just an abbreviation.

The proof is everywhere. The Clippers refer to themselves as the L.A. (or, sometimes LA) Clippers on their own website, and on their various social media accounts, including Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. NBA.com refers to them as the L.A. Clippers in stories, transactions listings and site menus, even when mentioning the Los Angeles Lakers (who still go by the full city name). And now, ESPN.com has all references to the city name as LA, both on the team’s page and in standings and schedules.

One of my key pieces of evidence is the team’s media guide (PDF), which says copyright L.A. Clippers.

Chamernik presents a compelling list of evidence, but the Clippers’ silence on the issue – they didn’t return his requests for comment – is odd. Teams usually trumpet any rebranding with grandiose announcements and contrived rational.

Look at this line from the Clippers’ new-uniform announcement: “In addition, the silver lining seen in the Clippers wordmark signifies the renewed collective optimism of Clipper Nation.”

If they want to be L.A. rather than Los Angeles, why didn’t the Clippers tout their edgy and modern new name style? That’s more believable than silver lining representing the collective optimism of the fan base of one of the worst franchises in the history of professional sports.

Whatever peculiarities have accompanied the rollout of this apparent renaming, the proof is in the pudding – and that seems to say they’re the L.A., not Los Angeles, Clippers.