Report: Bulls discussed Taj Gibson trade with Lakers, Wizards and Bobcats

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The Chicago Bulls, at least on some level, aren’t totally concerned with how they fare this season.

Derrick Rose is already out for the year, and no matter how well everything else comes together, the superstar’s injury limits the Bulls’ upside in 2014.

They already traded Luol Deng for zero assets that will help them this year. That they’ve gone 9-4 since the deal is a product of a soft schedule and a small sample – not a reason to reverse course from their greater vision.

If that plan includes pairing Rose with Carmelo Anthony (or another high-priced free agent) next season, Chicago will likely need to clear cap room.

Trading Marquise Teague for the expiring contract of Tornike Shengelia was a small start, but the the Bulls still have $64,124,513 committed to seven players (Rose, Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, Mike Dunleavy Jimmy, Butler and Tony Snell plus the buyout of Richard Hamilton).

Amnestying Boozer, who has a $16.8 million price tag in 2014-15, brings that commitment down to $46,203,593. But that still doesn’t leave enough room for Melo.

With a projected salary cap of $62.1 million, the Bulls would still be $6,561,995 short of being able to offer Melo his maximum starting salary ($22,458,402) – and that’s before factoring Chicago’s first-round pick(s)* and roster charges for having fewer than 12 players remove cap room.

*The Bobcats owe Chicago a first-round pick that is top-10 protected this year.

But if the Bulls removed Gibson’s $8 million salary from the equation, suddenly, they’re right in that Melo range.

That would mean the loss of a solid player, but if the Bulls are willing to take a step back this season to take a step forward in the future – a tradeoff the Deng trade says they find appealing – Gibson’s absence wouldn’t be detrimental.

Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times:

According to a source, the Lakers, Wizards and Bobcats have each inquired about Gibson, but they were preliminary talks in which the Bulls did not like the return.

First of all, opposing teams calling Chicago about Gibson, who has three years remaining on his contract after this one, hardly means he’s on the block. If I can see why it makes sense for the Bulls to entertain Gibson trades, so can they. NBA front offices discuss trading players all the time. A majority of those discussions are one-sided and lead nowhere.

But let’s look at these three teams.

I doubt the Lakers like Gibson enough to surrender expiring contracts to get him, essentially destroying their own tightly manicured cap room to sign a star free agent. A Lakers deal would almost have to include Steve Nash, who’s under contract for next season and would cut into Chicago’s flexibility. But at a certain point, Nash plus pick(s) for Gibson would appeal to Chicago. It just matters which pick(s).

The Wizards could offer Trevor Ariza’s expiring contract and a sweetener, but they can’t include a first-round because they still owe the Suns theirs from the Marcin Gortat trade – making it much more difficult to find that sweetener. Perhaps, the Bulls really like Martell Webster, and his salary in future seasons is slightly lower than Gibson’s, but it’s unlikely Chicago would accept that drop in production for only a moderate annual savings.

The Bobcats are much more intriguing. With the expiring of Ramon Sessions, who would boost Chicago’s point guard play this season – even if the Bulls aren’t totally focused on winning this season, I doubt they’d mind it – plus several moderately priced young players (Gerald Henderson, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Cody Zeller and Bismack Biyombo), Charlotte could put together an appealing and fair offer. Gibson would go a long way in shoring up the Bobcats’ weakest position, power forward.

But, in all likelihood, these teams are trying to buy low on Gibson. The Bulls can always try to use him in a sign-and-trade down the road – I bet, say, the Knicks could use him – so Chicago is not forced to deal him now.

Unless other teams approach negotiations with that in mind, I suspect all Gibson trade talk will remain “preliminary.”

PBT Podcast: NBA first round playoff series breakdowns

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LeBron James‘ Cavaliers looks to be in a battle royal in the first round — and they could lose to Victor Oladipo‘s Pacers.

Miami’s defense and versatility is challenging the Sixers and shaking the faith of all those that just jumped on the bandwagon.

Utah stole a game in Oklahoma City showing great grit and resolve, not to mention a lot of Donovan Mitchell.

Anthony Davis has done everything but walk on water for the Pelicans.

The first round of the NBA playoffs has been filled with fascinating storylines — and we are just two games into each series. Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman of NBC Sports break down all eight first-round series in this podcast, starting in the East and the tight races there, then move into the West. There’s even some “who wants to pay Jabari Parker this summer?” talk thrown in.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

James Dolan says Knicks must build around ‘great’ Kristaps Porzingis, offers fair rebuke of meddling charges

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Phil Jackson received a standing ovation in his first game at Madison Square Garden as Knicks president. Don’t forget how excited New York was for Jackson, who coached the Bulls and Lakers to 11 championships and played for the Knicks’ last title team. He was welcomed as a potential savior.

The common refrain: Jackson would have a chance to succeed if Knicks owner James Dolan didn’t meddle.

Immediately, Dolan said he would cede control to Jackson “willingly and gratefully.” Dolan later pledged to honor Jackson’s full five-year contract.

But fans turned on Jackson as he did an awful job and the Knicks struggled. Dolan opted into the final two years of Jackson’s contract, anyway, as he said he would all along. Fans got angrier. When Jackson publicly flaunted Kristaps Porzingis trade talks, outrage reached a fever pitch. Finally, Dolan stepped in to fire Jackson.

Dolan, via Larry Brooks of the New York Post:

“A great player in hockey is the difference, but a great player in basketball is the team.

“And I think we have a great player in Porzingis. We just have to build around him.”

“Everybody who wants to talk about the Knicks wants to ask me about Phil Jackson,” Dolan said, smiling and shaking his head. “The entire market wanted to me to hire him and when I did, the entire market said it was a great move. The only thing was, everyone said that I shouldn’t interfere with him.

“Three years later, everyone wanted to know when I was going to do something about Phil. The same people who told me not to interfere wanted me to interfere. But that’s OK. I just think that Phil underestimated the job.”

Dolan makes a salient point about how people perceive his involvement. The problem isn’t that Dolan meddles. It’s that he makes poor decisions.

Hiring Jackson – an out-of-touch former coach with no front-office experience – was a poor decision. I’m not enthused about Steve Mills as Jackson’s replacement, either, though we’ll see how that plays out.

Building around Porzingis is a better decision. He’s an extremely talented 22-year-old.

But it’s hardly a foolproof plan. Porzingis is recovering from a torn ACL. Dolan said Porzingis could return in December – or miss next season entirely.

Either way, the Knicks must surround Porzingis with better teammates. Dolan will and should be a part of that process. Whether he’ll positively affect it is another matter.

76ers: Joel Embiid doubtful for Game 3 against Heat

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MIAMI (AP) — Joel Embiid remains listed as doubtful by Philadelphia for Game 3 of the 76ers’ Eastern Conference playoff series at Miami on Thursday night.

Embiid was on the floor with the 76ers for their morning shootaround practice, but coach Brett Brown says there’s no change in the All-Star center’s status.

Embiid has missed Philadelphia’s last 10 games while recovering from a concussion and surgery that repaired a fractural orbital bone around his left eye. He’s no longer in the NBA’s concussion protocol.

He took to social media after the 76ers lost Game 2 of this series to the Heat, saying he’s tired of being “babied.”

Embiid has averaged 22.9 points and 11 rebounds in 63 games for the 76ers during the regular season.

Rumor: Lakers, Kawhi Leonard share mutual interest

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The Spurs seem like they won’t trade Kawhi Leonard.

That won’t stop teams from trying.

There’s a clear disconnect between Leonard and San Antonio. Even the potential of a player as good as Leonard becoming available has teams salivating.

The Clippers are reportedly assembling a trade offer for the L.A. native. Los Angeles’ other team – the Lakers – are also apparently expected to factor prominently.

Sean Deveney of Sporting News:

“I think they go in hard for Leonard once the season is over and once the dust settles in San Antonio,” one executive told Sporting News. “(Leonard) wants to go to LA. There probably won’t be public demands on that, but he has leverage. He is going to be a free agent (in 2019). He’s an LA guy and he can just let teams know he won’t re-sign next year with anyone but the Lakers.”

But make no mistake, the Lakers are the favorite here.

“I would say that’s the most likely thing,” another general manager told Sporting News. “He’s going to be their target any way you look at it, this summer or next summer. There’s not many other ways to explain what’s been going on with that situation other than him trying to get out of San Antonio.”

Of course, every team wants Leonard. He’s an elite two-way player when healthy. But teams will go to differing lengths to pursue him. If the Lakers will “go hard for Leonard,” that means something beyond just desiring him.

Under Magic Johnson, the Lakers have made no secret of their plan to acquire stars. That has largely been centered on 2018 free agents, but with that well drying up, talk has turned to 2019 free agents. If the Lakers can get a top 2019 free agent – Leonard – sooner, why wouldn’t they?

One reason is the cost. Trading with San Antonio would require dealing at least some combination of Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma. Signing Leonard outright in 2019 would be simpler.

But a trade is the only surefire way of getting Leonard. If the Lakers don’t trade for him, another team could. With promising young players and cap space, the Lakers have the tools to make an intriguing offer for Leonard.

Or, more likely, the Spurs could keep him. Their relationship isn’t necessarily beyond repair, and they can offer him a super-max contract extension this summer.

They might not offer it. Even if they do, he might not take it. If he doesn’t, he could pledge to re-sign with only certain teams – like the Lakers – and steer trade talks that way. You can see how the thinking develops:

Leonard might be unhappy in San Antonio. He grew up in Southern California. Therefore, he’ll engineer his way to the Lakers?

Maybe, and maybe these anonymous executives know something to that effect. But this mostly sounds lazily speculative.