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.

Steve Kerr to see Stanford specialists about back issues, is optimistic about return to bench

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If he were not coaching a perennial contender and a team where he genuinely has a deep bond with the players, the GM, and his fellow coaches, Steve Kerr might have walked away from basketball for a while. The pain from spinal fluid leakage from a couple of back surgeries he had two summers ago (the ones that led to Luke Walton coaching the first half of the season in Golden State) would have been too much.

But he tolerated and managed the pain as best he could, until a few days ago when it became too much. Kerr did not coach the final two games of the Warriors sweep of the Trail Blazers and said he would not return to the bench until healthy enough to do so.

Kerr’s next step is to talk to specialists at Stanford University’s medical program, and Kerr is optimistic about the long-term prognosis, he told Monty Poole of NBC Sports Bay Area.

He revealed to NBCSportsBayArea.com that in recent days he has spoken to several people who have experienced the debilitating effects of a cerebrospinal fluid leak and been able to overcome it. He says that because his symptoms have intensified over the past week, in an odd twist, that may make it easier for specialists to trace the precise source.

“That’s what the next few days are all about,” Kerr said, standing down the hallway from the visitor’s locker room. “They’re trying to find it. If they can find it, they can fix it.”

He’ll begin in the coming days by consulting with specialists at Stanford Medical Center, which has some of the more respected surgeons in the world.

Kerr said his spirits have been lifted by other people who went through this, people who told him doctors found the leak and it changed their lives, that they bounced back to 100 percent. He said that the first back surgeries did their job in relieving his lower back pain, but it has led to spinal fluid leakage that is worse than the symptoms the first surgery solved.

Whether a fix can happen to get him back on the bench these playoffs is immaterial, we all hope it happens just so Kerr the person can go back to enjoying his life without chronic pain. He’ll be around the team as much as he can through the playoffs, but there are far more important things going on with him than basketball right now.

 

Thunder’s offseason moves start here: Offer Russell Westbrook $220 million contract

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The narrative of Oklahoma City’s first-round playoff loss to Houston — and frankly its entire season — was about how little help Russell Westbrook was given. Game 5 was the perfect example: The Thunder were +12 when Westbrook was on the court, but he rested for 6:07 and OKC was -18 in those minutes. The Thunder’s role players are young and many — for example, Enes Kanter — are very one dimensional, but that’s because their role was supposed to be much more narrow and defined. Then Kevin Durant left and players were asked to do things outside their comfort zones, or grow up fast, and it didn’t go that well.

Thunder GM Sam Presti has some work to do this summer to tweak that roster, make it more versatile, and design it to fit better around Westbrook (not to mention take some of the load off him).

But the first thing Presti has to do is keep Westbrook — and that means offering him a five-year, roughly $220 million extension. Royce Young if ESPN has the details on how that works.

After signing an extension last summer in the wake of Durant’s departure, Westbrook can sign another in the ballpark of $220 million over five years this summer. Westbrook is signed through the 2017-18 season, with a player option on the following year, but the Thunder would obviously like to have a longer commitment from their franchise player.

The expectation is that they will make the offer, but should Westbrook decline, all that talk of stabilizing the franchise would get a little more wobbly, and with only a year guaranteed, talk of trading him could spark again. It will certainly be alarming for the front office, especially after what it went through with Durant.

It’s hard to imagine Westbrook walking away from that money — it’s about $75 million more guaranteed and one more year than any other team can offer. That’s a lot of cash to leave on the table, I don’t care how much you make in endorsements. (If Westbrook left, signed a max deal elsewhere for four years, then signed a max deal for that fifth year later, he still would get roughly $35 million less than signing with the Thunder now.) Once Westbrook is locked into place, Presti can start looking to reshape the Thunder roster.

But if Westbrook pauses and doesn’t sign, the NBA rumor mill will be moving at the speed of Westbrook in transition. The Thunder wouldn’t want to lose Durant and Westbrook for nothing, it would set their rebuilding process way back, so Presti would have to consider trades. However, because Westbrook is a free agent in 2018, he would almost have a no-trade clause — no team is going to give up much to get him without an under-the-table understanding he would re-sign in that city.

Expect Westbrook to agree to the extension in OKC. Because he likes the team — remember, he signed that extension last summer (which got him a healthy pay raise) — and because it would make him the highest-paid player in the NBA, and that would feed his ego (and pocketbook).

Once he does, Presti’s real work begins.

After tough loss, Chris Paul wasn’t having any of reporter’s inane question

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LOS ANGELES — The Clippers are feeling a lot of pressure these playoffs, and they have suffered a couple tough losses at home now. That can lead to some interesting postgame press conferences, something we’ve already seen this series from Doc Rivers.

Tuesday it was Chris Paul‘s turn.

The Clippers had just dropped Game 5 at home and are staring a 3-2 deficit series deficit in the face, and they have to win those two games without the injured Blake Griffin. That’s when this exchange happened.

I was in the room with this happened. Yes, there were a lot of eye rolls when the question was asked.

This was not a rookie reporter, it was a guy who gets sound for local radio stations and has been a regular at Staples Center games for years. He knew what he wanted, a fairly standard quote about how the Clippers just need to take it one game at a time but they are confident they will be back, that they can still win the series. We have all heard it before, the kind of generic crap that is all over columns about the game and talk radio. The reporter served up the softball and, frankly, most nights savvy players just give the reporter the quote they want and move on.

Tuesday Paul was having none of it. Which led to a pretty amusing exchange, especially with the follow up that was not going anywhere.

That said, I do not know one reporter worth his or her salt who has not asked a question they regret, and been called out for it. Sometimes we get called out for good questions we do not regret. It is part of the gig.

Rajon Rondo says he will not play in Game 5, doesn’t sound optimistic about quick return

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He tried. Rajon Rondo has seen the Chicago Bulls struggle the last two games without him as a strong defender and stabilizing influence at point guard — something nobody thought Rondo would be mid-season — and he wanted to get back on the court for Game 5 against the Celtics. He took some steps toward getting ready to play.

But it’s not happening, Rondo said at shootaround Wednesday. From Vincent Goodwill of CSNChicago.com and K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune.

And it’s not just the fractured thumb.

If the Bulls are going to win this series, they are going to have to do it without Rondo.

Isaiah Canaan will get the start in Game 5, and he will set a lot of screens in a 1/3 pick-and-roll to try and get Isaiah Thomas switched on to Jimmy Butler. Canaan can do that. He had fallen way out of the rotation and is really a two-guard not a point, but with the terrible play of Jerian Grant and Michael Carter-Williams, coach Fred Hoiberg took a gamble. It worked, at least for one game. Canaan with the other four Bulls starters — Butler, Dwyane Wade, Nikola Mirotic, and Robin Lopez — were +12 in 11 minutes together in Game 4, and played well on both ends of the court. But Canaan was buried on the bench for a reason, he shot 36.4 percent on the season, 26.6 percent from three, and he’s not a great defender. The Celtics will be prepared for him in Game 5.

Hoiberg’s best option is to lean on a no point guard lineup when it matters most, with three wings who can handle the ball in Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade, and probably Denzel Valentine. That could be a challenging defensive lineup and Boston will try to get the lightning quick Isaiah Thomas switched onto Wade or Valentine (neither of which can guard him). Also, this lineup would be draining and put a big load on Butler, but he could handle it for critical stretches of the game.