The Indiana Pacers put up a much tougher fight against the Bulls than anybody thought they would in the first two games of their playoff series, even though they lost both games. Like the old Simpsons quote goes: in a way, both teams were winners; but in a more accurate way, the Bulls were the winners. Now the Pacers will have to win on Thursday or face a 3-0 series deficit, which no NBA team has ever come back from.
In order to avoid that scenario, the Pacers will have to shoot the ball the way they did in game one and contain Derrick Rose the way they did in Game 2. In Game 1, the Pacers gave the Bulls a scare by shooting a blistering 23-48 (48%) on their long two-point jumpers and three-point shots, while the Bulls only shot 10-33 from those areas. In Game 2, the Bulls’ outside shooting didn’t turn around, but the Pacers went cold as well, only shooting 16-43 on threes and deep twos. It’s not easy to make outside shots against the league’s best defense, but it’s something the Pacers will need to do if they want to have a chance in Game 3. If Darren Collison, who is currently listed as a “game-time decision” plays, it will make things much easier for the Pacers, as his combination of blinding quickness and a quality three-point stroke makes it easy for him to harass teams from the perimeter.
The Pacers did manage to contain Derrick Rose much better in Game 2 than they did in Game 1 — Rose still got his points, but he had to work much harder for them than he did in the first game, when he couldn’t buy a jump shot but was able to get into the paint whenever he wanted to. The Bulls’ supporting cast has yet to really show up offensively in this series, so if the Pacers can make their shots and keep Rose from getting whatever he wants whenever he wants it, they can take this game. If the Pacers stay cold from the outside, let Rose go off, or allow the Bulls’ supporting cast get into a groove, they will be in major trouble. It won’t be easy for the Pacers to even up this series, but that’s what a 37-win team should expect when facing off against the team with the best record in the NBA.
Tristan Thompson is a man without a contract. By not signing the qualifying offer with the Cleveland Cavaliers he put himself in limbo, the rare NBA holdout. Right now his options are to sign the deal on the table (the Cavs still have the five-year, $80 million offer out there), get the Sixers or Blazers to offer him a max contract (which neither team has shown any interest in doing), or hold out and hope the Cavaliers make a better offer. If he holds out for the entire season he becomes a restricted free agent again next summer — exactly like he is right now.
Without signing the qualifying offer and the threat of leaving, Thompson hurt his leverage.
But he has a little leverage. He and his agent Rich Paul had one other card, and it got played Saturday.
LeBron James and Thompson share an agent in Paul. LeBron has largely remained silent through this process but if he wants something in the Cleveland organization, he usually gets it. And he wants Thompson back at practices.
LeBron’s leverage is going to be put to the test. The Cavaliers have let it leak they are not that concerned about LeBron leaving them next summer over this — and they’re right. The damage to LeBron’s brand if he broke the hearts of Cleveland fans again would be crushing, unless he leaves for a very good reason. Overpaying Thompson is not that reason.
However, LeBron’s comment could push the Cavaliers to try to find a compromise.
For the Cavaliers, a lot of how they view all this comes down to their tax bill. The Cavaliers already have $94.9 million in guaranteed salary on the books, putting them $10.2 million over the luxury tax line, at a cost of more than $16.25 million. What this means if (or when) they sign Thompson is his first $10 million in salary would cost them $28.75 million in tax and every dollar above that for the next $5 million costs them $3.75-to-$1. Look at it this way, by my count $14 million this year to Thompson would cost $43.75 million in tax — the total for Thompson at that price is $58 million. While that’s not all on Thompson it’s a lot of cash, and Thompson wants a max deal that starts at more than $16 million a year.
Owner Dan Gilbert is already going to pay the highest tax bill in the NBA this season, but if he balks at those figures it’s hard to blame him.
Mario Hezonja, the No. 5 pick in this year’s draft, has never lacked for confidence. The Croatian guard made his pro debut in the Magic’s preseason game against the Hornets on Saturday and did this:
Between Hezonja, Elfrid Payton, Victor Oladipo and Aaron Gordon, the Magic have a nucleus of young players that has the potential to be a lot of fun. Even if they’re still a few years away from contending, they’re definitely going to be a League Pass favorite this year.