The Extra Pass: Chicago’s never-ending story, plus Thursday’s recaps

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In the early days of mixed martial arts, there were quite a few athletes who would refuse to submit in the ring. Their arm could be on the verge of snapping, but it didn’t matter – they wouldn’t give up. They would rather break their arm.

I remember holding these athletes in such high regard, as if it were some sort of courageous decision to choose to have your arm broken and lose instead of not having your arm broken and lose.

What I didn’t understand at the time was that pride (the emotion, not the MMA organization) can be a very fickle thing. It’s not always an admirable quality to have.

That’s what makes watching the Chicago Bulls hard. You know they won’t quit. This is a prideful basketball team, and it would be almost easier to accept their failures if they were the result of poor effort. But they aren’t, and they won’t be.

The circumstances have not changed this at all. The crushing Derrick Rose injury, Luol Deng and Jimmy Butler being banged up, management providing a warm blanket instead of actually putting out fires – it’s just another day in Chicago.

But how bad is it this time? Poor Taj Gibson sounded legitimately excited about the prospect of having “another body” when the Bulls signed D.J. Augustin this week. No one should have to be excited for D.J. Augustin.

And really, no one should be excited to watch the Bulls right now, either. I don’t watch Chicago in hopes of seeing good basketball anymore, even if there’s a good chance of it. I watch Chicago in hopes that the basketball gods will grant them mercy.

It’s just not fun anymore. Great performances by Joakim Noah, which come quite regularly, can’t be appreciated without the nagging feeling that they’re being wasted. Watching  Tony Snell, a guy who probably wouldn’t even sniff the court if Thibodeau had his way, play a game-high 41 minutes is cruel and unusual.

There isn’t even any schadenfreude to be had here like there is in, say, New York. Chicago’s wounds aren’t really self-inflicted, especially if you’re willing to separate management from the coach and the team, which seems to have already been done internally.

And really, the Bulls still represent a lot of the ideals we want our basketball teams to: they defend, they play smart, and they’re tough.

But in spite of those things, it’s hard to classify the Bulls as anything but a beaten team right now.

It’s easy to focus on when Rose will come back and pin hopes on that, but not many are considering what he’ll actually come back to. How drained will this roster and Thibodeau be from just trying to stay afloat? How much more deterioration, both in terms of relationships and personnel, can the Bulls suffer through in the mean time?

Will management tap out, trade Deng and possibly others for future assets and live to fight another day? Will it be Thibodeau who sees the writing on the wall and moves on, spurring a restructuring of the roster under someone else’s vision?

What ends this?

Is it another bad break, or is it acceptance?

-D.J. Foster

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Thunder 107, Bulls 95: The struggling Bulls were without Luol Deng or Kirk Hinrich for this one, meaning we had a pretty good idea how it was going to end before it started. Kevin Durant did what Kevin Durant does — score at will. He had 32 points on 13-of-20 shooting (4-of-5 from three). Oh, ad he chipped in nine rebounds, six assists and three steals. Russell Westbrook had 20 points and 10 assists. Credit the shorthanded Bulls for putting up a fight (Joakim Noah had 23 points and 12 rebounds) but this game never felt in doubt.

Spurs 104, Warriors 102: No Tim Duncan, no Tony Parker, no Manu Ginobili yet the Spurs still find a way to win because their subs execute. Well, that and the Warriors helped them out turning the ball over 24 times (22.7 percent of their possessions) plus they shot 8-of-31 from three, which didn’t bail them out of their mistakes. Stephen Curry had 30 points and 15 assists, David Lee had 32 points and 13 rebounds to lead the Wizards. For the Spurs it was 28 points from Marco Belinelli, 21 from Kawhi Leonard, good defense and a tip-in by Tiago Splitter with 2.1 seconds left that was the difference.

Check out Kawhi Leonard’s highlights from this past season (VIDEO)

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Russell Westbrook and James Harden were putting up the bigger numbers, they were drawing more attention. And while MVP is a regular season award, nobody has boosted their MVP credentials more in the postseason than Kawhi Leonard.

He had a really impressive regular season, too. Since we’re on a long break between games, enjoy the highlights of Leonard’s season. He may enter next season as the MVP favorite.

Kevin Love on Cavaliers: “I don’t feel like we’re underdogs”

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Kevin Love and Las Vegas bookmakers do not see things the same way.

In Vegas, the Golden State Warriors are heavy favorites to win the title — bet $100 on them to win and you get back $41.7 (or less). Cleveland is a heavy underdog.

Love sees a confident team that is the defending NBA champions, as he told Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

“The whole underdog thing is funny to me, because, yeah, at the end of the day we are defending our title,” Love said Saturday after the Cavs’ first practice in preparation for the Warriors since clinching a spot in the Finals. “We’re trying to repeat, which is so hard to do. I think we will use it as fuel, we will use it as motivation, but the idea of playing into it? It’s tough for me to say that is the case. I don’t feel like we’re underdogs. We match up well with them, and I think they’d say the same about us.”

What else was he going to say?

More than any other team in the league, the Cavaliers are built to give Golden State trouble. The Cavaliers can exploit mismatches, be physical on defense, and they have LeBron James, Love and Kyrie Irving. Three NBA stars.

Is that enough against four NBA stars is the question.

Mike Brown still waiting on Tyronn Lue to pay up overdue bet

AP Photo/Ronald Cortes
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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Mike Brown is ready for Tyronn Lue to pay up on a nearly two-decade-old bet. Yep, Lue owes him $100 and Brown plans to accept it at long last – perhaps even during the NBA Finals when they see each other.

All this time Brown never wanted the money he earned by beating Lue in a shooting contest when the Cavaliers coach was an NBA newcomer, yet Golden State’s acting coach – who spent two stints leading Cleveland – joked how Lue can surely afford it these days.

“I’m glad he finally admitted that he owes me money because for many years he wouldn’t admit that he owed me money. He does owe me $100 and since he got his new deal hopefully he can afford to pay me now,” Brown said Saturday post-practice. “I asked him many time for it but he’s denied it. He’s denied that the game ever took place.”

Lue insists he has tried to pay up – time and time again, to no avail.

“Mike, I owe him $100 from when I was a rookie. That’s all I ever know about Mike,” Lue said Saturday. “I tried to pay him and he wouldn’t take the money so he says I always owe him. He’s always been a great guy.”

The 40-year-old Lue was rewarded with a contract extension after the Cavs’ championship run last June for the city’s first major sports title in 52 years. Cleveland overcame a 3-1 Finals deficit to the Warriors, and now the teams are preparing to face off for a third straight year.

“I think what it has to do with, it has to do with the fact he’s got a nice, long, fat contract with the Cavs and he realizes that he can finally afford to pay me the money that he owes me for the shooting game back in 2000 or whenever it was,” Brown said with a grin.

Brown acknowledged he cannot recall any other details such as how many shots each man made, saying: “I don’t even remember, that was back when I was in shape and a good shooter. He’d kill me now”

“Yeah, he was with the Spurs and I was with the Lakers and we had a little shooting contest and I lost,” Lue said. “He wouldn’t take the money so from now on 19 years in a row always says, `You owe me $100.’ He won’t take the money. Always been close to Mike and I like Mike a lot, respect him a lot.”

 

Bob Myers’ care for people goes long way as Warriors GM

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — When Bob Myers hosts a dinner party, he is the guy who once it’s all over has a pretty good read on the entire evening: who had a great time, who held something back, which couples are getting along, who might be dealing with a life challenge but chose to keep it private.

“All those things go through my mind, without me trying to. Some people, none of that goes through their mind,” Myers said. “They ate, and did what they did. I don’t know why those things are. I don’t know how you are. … We all have different intuitions and skills.”

Usually, he is spot on. And his instincts also carry over to the workplace.

The Golden State Warriors’ general manager has that same kind of feel for his entire operation – from those staffers behind the scenes, to the coaches, the MVPs and the role players, helping to forge a tight-knit team in its third straight NBA Finals.

“There’s a lot of things I have no clue on and then you bring people in to your blind spots and say, `Look, I’m not good at this, can you help me in this area?”‘ he said. “That’s also being self-aware. What does it mean? It just means we’re attentive to people. Everybody wants to feel appreciated. Everybody wants to know that they matter. We all matter in our own unique ways. So, does that help our team? I don’t know. It helps that we have really good players.”

Myers has found a balance being involved just enough in the day-to-day. Hands-on when needed while knowing when to back off.

One day, Myers stands in the middle of the center practice court meeting with Steve Kerr. He might be speaking to Andre Iguodala or Draymond Green. Another time, he leans against a back wall checking in with Mike Brown, who has been coaching the team during Kerr’s absence following a procedure to repair a spinal fluid leak stemming from complications after two back surgeries in 2015.

Myers does sit-ups on a stability ball while chatting up Stephen Curry, antsy for practice to wrap up so the GM can get to hooping himself.

That genuine care for the person and not just the basketball player that Myers shows in all he does went a long way in Kevin Durant leaving Oklahoma City last July to join the Warriors. Sure, a star-studded roster didn’t hurt either.

“He doesn’t walk around like he’s the leader. We know he makes the big decisions but we work together, all of us, him and Steve especially. If you see Bob walking with a group of Warriors employees, you wouldn’t know he’s Bob Myers, the president of the team. He just fits in with everybody,” Durant said. “We talk so much about great leaders being just ahead of the pack most of the time but sometimes that doesn’t have to be your personality. It could be encouraging, working with others, learning and listening. All those traits he has, and I think that’s why he’s ahead of the pack.

“That’s what drew me here.”

In a pre-playoff practice, the 42-year-old ex-sports agent and former player at UCLA stood holding a basketball while wearing sweats and no shoes – his typical, understated NBA executive style. He pulled on some bright blue high-tops and started stretching out his quadriceps for one of those regular staff pickup games he so enjoys because it allows him a break from being “leashed” to his smartphone.

Myers picks his moments, or, in some cases, Kerr assists. After Golden State fell behind 2-1 at Memphis in the second round of the 2015 playoffs, the coach called Myers over afterward and sought his input, a gesture the GM appreciates to this day.

He respects his role and the specific jobs of everyone who works with him. He doesn’t look at it as if he is above the rest.

“The best thing we can do is be who we are, whatever that is,” Myers said. “We’re all drawn to authenticity. We like people who are real. Sometimes real people are flawed, we’re all flawed. I think we connect with people who are open, exposed, willing to admit things they’re good at, things they’re not good at, try to be humble, try to be collaborative.”

Golden State wound up coming back to beat the Grizzlies on the way to winning it all in `15 for the franchise’s first championship in 40 years. The Warriors squandered a 3-1 Finals lead last year to Cleveland to miss a repeat title. Then, Myers – with help from Curry, Green, Iguodala, Klay Thompson and Kerr – lured Durant away from the Thunder to make another deep run. An acquisition accomplished as a team, in Myers’ mind.

“He’s a listener and an observer and that’s what I love about him,” Kerr said. “He’s really, really bright and he understands people. The reason he understands people is because he watches and observes and doesn’t have to dominate the conversation.”

Myers might spend extra time watching the backups, who often stay late for extra scrimmaging to keep sharp.

He doesn’t interfere, yet they know he’s there.

“He’s got a really special quality of being here and then staying in the background at the same time,” Kerr said. “He gets it. I think that’s the way he approaches his life. He’s very modest and yet he’s very confident. He’s very knowledgeable and yet he listens. He’s never the know-it-all guy who has to show he’s the smartest in the room but he actually is the smartest in the room.”

When Myers moves about team headquarters in downtown Oakland he also blends right in with any group. That’s how easy he is to have around – and much like the scene at one of his dinner parties, he has a gauge on the vibe.

“He understands how important it is for him to be aware of everything that’s going on, how everybody’s feeling,” Curry said. “It’s a tough job, for sure, to have to balance, manage, all these different personalities and the ups and downs of the season. He’s bridged the gap between upstairs and downstairs. All that responsibility, it all pays out when we all succeed, and a lot of that goes to what Bob does on a day-to-day basis. … He finds a way to be personable, to be connected to every single person in our organization. And it’s very genuine. That goes a long way.”