The highly anticipated return of Derrick Rose to the court occurred on Saturday, as the Bulls made their preseason debut against the Pacers. All eyes were on Rose, of course, who was seeing his first game action in almost 18 months after sitting out all of last season to rehabilitate his torn ACL injury.
If there’s one thing we learned in this exhibition, it’s that Rose will be all the way back and then some this season. He showed plenty of the speed, explosiveness, and fearlessness that we remember from the former MVP, with no signs of an injury hangover that would limit his ability in any way.
Rose finished with 13 points on 5-of-12 shooting, to go along with three assists and four turnovers. The shots he made were all right at the rim — either layups, a dunk, or a putback in traffic. Where he struggled was to find a rhythm on his outside shot, although only a couple of his misses were jumpers in the true sense. Most came on drives where he pulled up short with a defender in the way, resulting in an awkward attempt.
A couple of his turnovers could simply be chalked up to not quite being used to playing in the flow of a game against an opponent at NBA speed, so no worries there, either. None of the assists came in spectacular fashion — all three were to Luol Deng, and the passes from Rose were pedestrian at best, with his teammate knocking down jumpers (twice) or slashing to the basket to finish.
The outside shooting will come, as will the comfort level of once again playing with his teammates. The most important parts of Rose’s game are already in place, however, and Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau summed up what we all saw quite nicely afterward — in essence, that Rose is back.
“The speed and the power that he plays with,” Thibodeau said, “there’s no one like him.”
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.