Nets Bulls Basketball

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



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




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.

Report: David Lee, Tyler Zeller in line to start for Celtics; Jared Sullinger, Jonas Jerebko out of rotation

MADRID, SPAIN - OCTOBER 08: David Lee of Boston Celtics attacks during the friendlies of the NBA Global Games 2015 basketball match between Real Madrid and Boston Celtics at Barclaycard Center on October 8, 2015 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
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Brad Stevens has a big challenge this year – sorting the Celtics’ deep roster of similarly able players.

It seems that process is shaking out at power forward and center.

A. Sherrod Blakely of CSN Northeast:

it appears Boston’s first four bigs will be starters David Lee and Tyler Zeller, with Amir Johnson and Kelly Olynyk off the bench.

That leaves Jonas Jerebko and Jared Sullinger, potentially on the outside looking in as far as the regular rotation is concerned.

Lee is the best passer of the bunch, which could partially explain why he’s starting. Boston’s most likely starting point guard, Marcus Smart, is still growing into the role of the lead ball-handler at the NBA level. Lee and presumptive starting shooting guard Avery Bradley can take some pressure off him.

Olynyk can space the floor for Isaiah Thomas-Johnson pick-and-rolls with the reserves and run pick-and-pops with Thomas himself.

I’m a little surprised Zeller is starting over Johnson, though. The Celtics just signed Johnson to a $12 million salary, and I thought they’d rely on his defense to set a tone early. Like Johnson, Zeller is a quality pick-and-roll finisher who can thrive with Thomas.

This is particularly bad news for Sullinger, who – barring a surprising contract extension – is entering a contract year. It seems those reports of offseason conditioning haven’t yet paid off. Jerebko’s deal also isn’t guaranteed beyond this season, but at least he has already gotten his mid-sized payday. Sullinger is still on his rookie-scale contract.

51Q: Does Ty Lawson vault the Rockets into the top tier of championship contenders?

DENVER, CO - MARCH 07:  James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets controls the ball against Ty Lawson #3 of the Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center on March 7, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. The Rockets defeated the Nuggets 114-100. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

I see five clear upper-echelon championship contenders –  Warriors, Spurs, Clippers, Thunder and Cavaliers.

Do the Rockets belong in that group, or do they fill the next tier by themselves?

Ty Lawson – acquired for pennies on the dollar – could put Houston over the top.

But, really, this premise might not be fair to the Rockets. They earned the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference last season and reached the conference finals last season. James Harden finished second in MVP voting. Dwight Howard looked like a star during the playoffs. The supporting cast – Trevor Ariza, Terrence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas, Patrick Beverley, Corey Brewer and even Jason Terry – played better than anyone expected. Young players like Clint Capela, K.J. McDaniels, Sam Dekker and Montrezl Harrell could make a leap at any moment.

There’s a case to be made we should have taken Houston more seriously even before trading for Lawson.

I didn’t, though, and I don’t think many others did either.

I suspect one of the biggest reasons is the Rockets’ balance. Houston – 12th in points scored per possession, sixth in points allowed per possession – was one of only two teams to win more than 51 games last season without ranking top five in either category. Of the seven teams with so many victories, the Hawks – sixth, seventh – were the only other. Atlanta was a darling team, winning 60 games after going 38-44 the season prior. The Rockets’ modest win increase, from 54 to 56, drew less attention.

But balance shouldn’t be punished. Houston’s surprisingly strong defense should be celebrated. Lawson might push its middling offense over the top.

There are reasons to question that, though.

The biggest is Lawson’s sobriety. If he’s not focused and engaged, this all goes out the window. His comments about going to rehab only because it was court-ordered raise doubts, though they hardly foretell anything.

Let’s say Lawson’s off-court problems are behind him. How big of an upgrade is he? The Rockets already had a pretty good point guard who fit well with Harden in Beverley. Lawson is a clear offensive upgrade, but in the biggest moments, the ball will still run through Harden. At that point, would you rather have Beverley or Lawson on the floor? Beverley is a far superior defender, and his off-ball offensive game isn’t far from Lawson’s. Beverley is is a fine spot-up shooter, and Lawson’s strengths involve having the ball and creating. Lawson’s biggest boost could come when Harden sits, but that was fewer than 12 minutes per game last season.

Sure, a secondary ball-handler could ease pressure on Harden throughout a long regular season. Lawson and Harden can take turns running the attack.

But we’re talking about title contention, and in those high-leverage situations, it’s Harden’s show. How much does Lawson matter then?

The Rockets have a chance to win a championship. As good a chance as the NBA’s five best teams? I’m not so sure.