ProBasketballTalk 2013-14 Preview: Chicago Bulls

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Last season: The Bulls went 45-37, putting together an impressive regular season that included the victory that snapped the Heat’s 27-win streak. Joakim Noah, Luol Deng and Jimmy Butler each got Defensive Player of the Year votes as Tom Thibodeau continuously reinforces a culture in Chicago.

In the playoffs, the hard-nosed Bulls beat the more-talented Nets in a seven-game first-round series. As Chicago injuries took a toll, Nate Robinson emerged as quite the spark. Chicago ended the talk of Miami going undefeated throughout the playoffs, but otherwise, the Bulls ran out of gas in a 4-1 loss in the second round.

Anything else from the Bulls’ season worth mentioning? Any other key storylines? It seems like I’m missing something or someone, but I just checked all the Bulls’ 2012-13 box scores and every name is accounted for in the preview. I don’t know. It’s a mystery.

Signature highlight from last season:

No. 2: Evidence that the Bulls had a mental edge over the Nets in their playoff matchup:

Key player changes: The Bulls signed Mike Dunleavy and drafted Tony Snell and Erik Murphy. Those players likely won’t make major impacts, but they could turn into glue guys, especially considering how much the Bulls need shooting.

Nate Robison left as a free agent, and though he could be a headache, he really brought an element the Bulls didn’t have. They might be better without him, but they’ll definitely be less fun. Marco Belininelli also left, and Richard Hamilton was waived.

Keys to the Bulls’ season:

1) How good is Derrick Rose? Rose took his time returning, but ACL tears are no joke. Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson has completely ruined expectations for how long it should take a professional athlete to return to full health. Despite incredible medical advancements, it’s still possible Rose has lost some explosiveness.

Rose is almost certainly good. The question is just how good.

2) Will Gar Forman keep the team together? Luol Deng has an expiring contract and could be major trade bait. Carlos Boozer, now so overrated he’s underrated, is overpaid for the next two seasons, so Chicago might want to dump him. Those moves could arguably make the Bulls better in the long-term. But both players are key this season.

3) Can Tom Thibodeau hold back just a little? Need to win one game, and there might not be a better coach than Tom Thibodeau. But need to have the most successful season, and Thibodeau slips in the rankings. He’s relentless, which makes his teams fun to watch (see below), but it also wears on his his players. The Bulls are capable of making a deep playoff run, but not if all their players are fatigued and injured.

There’s no guarantee Thibodeau can instill toughness while still limiting minutes and allowing slightly reduced intensity on certain nights. But if he can, the Bulls would be better for it.

Why you should watch the Bulls: They play hard every game, and that often leads to a couple fun plays. Plus, if you enjoy defense, the Bulls play it as well as any team in the league. Joakim Noah is relentless on that end, a real throwback.

Offensively, the Bulls could be rough last season, but Derrick Rose should solve that. He’s the type of singular talent who really transforms the entire scheme. Chicago’s offense might not become elite overnight, but it will at least be passable while the defense excels.

Prediction: 55-27. If healthy, the Bulls should win a playoff series or two. With the right breaks, that could be three or maybe even four. Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler, Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah form a complete, talented and balanced lineup. But the Bulls’ bench has fallen off in recent years, which could prove costly (though I really like Taj Gibson). Unless Tom Thibodeau changes his hard-charging ways, it’s unlikely Chicago’s starting lineup holds all season.

Of course, none of this matters unless Derrick Rose looks like the player who won MVP. With that Rose, the Bulls’ ceiling is a championship. With a lesser version, every playoff series will be a scrap, and it’s tough to win many while going through that each round.

Magic Johnson: “The only player that we… would probably not move is Brandon Ingram”

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The Lakers’ Brandon Ingram had flashes, but he largely struggled through his rookie season. He averaged 9.4 points per game, shot 40 percent from the floor, he had a true shooting percentage of 47.4 and a PER of 8.5, and he finished with the fifth worst “value over replacement player” number in the NBA. Watch him play, and he looked better than those numbers — he did better with the “eye test” — showing some tenacity, and his offense improved toward the end of the season. Still, his rookie season tempered expectations somewhat.

Except amongst the Lakers’ front office.

They have been high on him all the way through, higher than D'Angelo Russell, and that’s what Lakers president Magic Johnson said on ESPN Radio in Los Angeles.

“I would say probably the only player that we would say, hey, we would probably not move is Brandon Ingram,” Johnson, the Lakers president of basketball operations said Thursday in a radio interview with ESPN Los Angeles. “I think that we’re excited about Brandon, his length, his size, his agility, his athleticism. And then when you think about, you know, he was a baby coming in, in his first year last season and we see that he really has a high ceiling and we’re excited about what he can possibly turn into.”

First off, no this doesn’t mean if the Lakers draft Lonzo Ball No. 2 (as expected) they will look to trade Russell. Expect them to see if those two can play together. It means the Lakers think just one of the guys on the roster is a potential key piece of a contender. Russell, Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle and on down the line may fit into the rotation, but they are not seen as cornerstone pieces that can’t be moved.

Is Ingram really a cornerstone? The jury is still out, but does anyone feel as confident he will be a star as they did a season ago when he was drafted?

Ingram certainly needs to get stronger, something the team and he have worked on (and will focus on this summer). He also was young coming into the league, and with his style of game it was going to take him a little time to find how he fit in the NBA. He wasn’t going to come in and just overwhelm opponents with athleticism, it was going to be a process for him. Like nearly every rookie, his shooting needs to be more consistent.

The questions are how high is his ceiling, and can the Lakers develop him?

This summer and into next season those will come into focus more, but the early returns don’t have some of us as optimistic as Magic.

Josh McRoberts opting into final year of Heat contract

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Heat power forward Josh McRoberts has missed 165 games over the last three years due to injury.

So, the 30-year-old sure isn’t turning down a guaranteed $6,021,175 salary.

Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald:

Any long shot chance of Josh McRoberts voiding his Heat contract was eliminated Tuesday when agent Mike Conley told The Miami Herald that McRoberts will exercise his opt-in and return to the Heat for $6.021 million next season.

Miami will have major cap space this summer with Chris Bosh coming off the books. At this point, McRoberts’ salary is just an impediment to even more room to add an impact player.

The Heat could again try trading McRoberts, but they’ll likely have to attach a positive asset just to dump him. They could also waive and stretch him.

But if his salary doesn’t come between Miami and a big-time free agent this summer, perhaps McRoberts returns for one last chance at helping the Heat on the floor with his passing and outside shooting.

Mike Brown thinks it’s “cute” Tyronn Lue thinks Celtics’ sets harder to defend than Warriors

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Celtics’ coach Brad Steven is already one of the best in the NBA. His out of time out plays are brilliant, and his Boston team’s flow of ball and player movement is among the best in the league.

It’s those things that were giving the Cavaliers trouble in the first half of Game 4 Tuesday, and ultimately prompted this comment from Tyronn Lue.

“We’re just focused on Boston. The stuff they’re running, it’s harder to defend than Golden State’s [offense] for me.”

Connor Letourneau of the San Francisco Chronicle asked Mike Brown about that.

You can certainly make the case that the Celtics have a wider variety in their offense, and that with Isaiah Thomas out the rather balanced, anyone can score nature of the Celtics is challenging to defend for a team with inconsistent help defense like the Cavaliers.

But Boston is running these sets with Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown and Kelly Olynyk. Golden State will use ball and player movement to create space for Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson. Which is to say, Golden State is tougher to defend because the space they need to make you pay is much smaller. And even if you do everything right the Warriors may just score anyway.

I get what Lue was trying to say, but don’t give the Warriors more motivation.

Magic sending Raptors draft pick as compensation for hiring Jeff Weltman

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The Raptors promoted Jeff Weltman, still working under Masai Ujiri, to general manager last year.

That paid off for Toronto when the Magic hired Weltman as their new president.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

The Magic have their own and the Lakers’ second-round picks next year. Even the lower of those two selections could be somewhat valuable.

In other words, Weltman’s already-difficult job is getting even harder simply by Orlando hiring him.