Chicago Bulls creating offseason trade options with latest signings (updated)

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Update: I miscalculated. The Bulls are safe from the luxury tax — at least unless Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson each get $500,00 bonuses.

Because Andrew Bynum signed with the Pacers, Chicago can set off a portion of his salary ($105,564 in this case) — an amount I didn’t account for. That leaves them $791,165 beneath the tax line — more than the $750,000 in leeway discussed below.

Noah ($500,000 for All-NBA first team) and Gibson ($500,00 for All-Defensive first team) could still send the Bulls into the tax. However, even if the Bulls hadn’t signed Ronnie Brewer, Lou Amundson, Mike James and Greg Smith, they still would have had more than $750,00 but less than $1 million in leeway.

So, Chicago can absorb a $500,00 Noah bonus for All-NBA first team and a $250,00 Gibson bonus for All-Defensive second team and avoid the tax. But if Noah and Gibson each get $500,000 bonuses, Chicago will pay the tax.

It’s the same situation regardless of whether the Bulls made their latest run of signings.

In sum, these signings won’t make the Bulls more likely to pay the luxury tax, but they’ll cost Chicago a few extra real dollars. In return, the Bulls get more trade flexibility — a definite win for them.

Original post: The Chicago Bulls, like every team, would like to avoid the luxury tax.

Not only are luxury-tax penalties already costlier than ever, repeater penalties loom. If a team might be willing to pay the tax only while contending, it’s especially prudent not to pay the tax when out of contention.

That’s what makes the Bulls’ situation so fascinating.

With all due respect to the marvelous job Tom Thibodeau, Joakim Noah and crew have done this season, Chicago is an extreme longshot to win the 2014 championship. But once Derrick Rose gets healthy, Nikola Mirotic signs, the Bulls use both their 2014 first-round picks (one from Charlotte) and exhaust their pending cap space… Chicago could get really good – and really expensive – in a hurry.

Yet, the Bulls have flirted with the luxury-tax line this season while still remaining pretty competitive. It’s a tight line to walk – wanting to keep salary low without completely blowing up the team (a dichotomy the Luol Deng trade accomplished).

Chicago caught a big break in that quest when they waived Erik Murphy and the Jazz claimed him, removing his salary from the Bulls’ books. That positioned Chicago to add up to three players and leave $750,000 in leeway under the luxury-tax line for performance incentives potentially due to Joakim Noah ($500,00 for All-NBA first team) and/or Taj Gibson ($500,00 for All-Defensive first team or $250,000 for All-Defensive second team).

The Bulls opted to go another way, though.

Chicago signed Ronnie Brewer, Lou Amundson and Mike James to minimum-salary multi-year contracts, according to Larry Coon. Amundson’s’ agent, Mike Bartelstein, confirmed his client’s contract was for two years. James’ agent, Bernie Lee, did the same for his client.

The multiple years matter, because the NBA pays a portion of the minimum salaries for veterans with at least three years experience and the league’s portion of the payments are not taxed – but only for one-year, 10-day and rest-of-season contracts. By signing those three to multi-year deals, Chicago assumed all payments and the increased tax burden that comes with them.

On the positive side, the Bulls signed Greg Smith – who surprisingly cleared waivers – without having to worry losing their $750,000 leeway, because they’d already lost it.

Smith – like Brewer, Amundson and James – could prove useful in trades after the season. Smith is a talented young big man, and the other three have unguaranteed contracts, according to Coon. That allows their salaries to help a trade match, and then they could be released them without penalty.

All in all, the Bulls are now $685,601 below the luxury-tax line – meaning they can absorb only one of the bonuses potentially due to Noah and/or Gibson without paying the tax.

If the bonuses due to Noah and Gibson fall short of $750,000, the Bulls win. They’ll avoid the luxury tax and will have added potentially useful trade assets.

But if Noah and Gibson both hit their incentives, the Bulls will pay the tax, though they’ll still have tradable assets in Smith, Brewer, Amundson and James.

It’s a calculated risk that I think will work. I project Noah to make the All-NBA first team, but I don’t have Taj Gibson making an All-Defensive team.

However, the downside – paying the tax – is high enough that I don’t believe the multi-year deals were worth it. Had the Bulls waited until Saturday to sign Brewer, Amundson and James, Chicago would have kept its $750,000 luxury-tax leeway and still signed Smith, anyway.

Chicago is choosing to play with tax fire to better position itself for a trade later, perhaps a revealing strategy about the franchise’s long-term plans.

Coach Tyronn Lue says not to expect LeBron James to have “rest” games

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LeBron James has not missed one Cleveland Cavaliers game this season. At age 33 in his 15th NBA season, LeBron is fourth in the league in total minutes played, third in the league in minutes per game at 37, and is top 10 in the NBA in usage rate.

Don’t expect that to change.

LeBron doesn’t want to take games off — he even dominated the All-Star Game — and do you really think Lue is going to force him to sit while the Cavaliers try to adapt to a radical roster shakeup at the trade deadline? From Dave McMenamin at ESPN.

“I just think being the leader of this team, I don’t think he thinks he can take games off, because, you know, guys being hurt and going through a rough patch, and now new guys coming in,” Lue said before the Cavs’ 112-89 win over the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday. “So, I think he’s trying to lead and lead by example … I think we still got to be smart about the situation, but [the training staff] say he feels good.”

LeBron said this last month and things have not changed.

“I told you I want to play every game,” James said. “If my health continues as it is right now, then that’s what it is.”

While “load management” is a buzzword around the NBA — one ignored in Minnesota — LeBron has responded to his increased workload with an MVP level season. LeBron is averaging 26.5 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 8.9 assists per game, is shooting 35.9 percent from three, and has the highest value over replacement player in the league. (His less energized play in January likely cost him any real shot at his fifth MVP.) With the league emphasizing not resting players — particularly in nationally televised games, which the Cavaliers have a lot of — LeBron is not getting much if any rest. He wants to play in a full 82.

The only concern is will he wear down. LeBron is going to have to dominate in the playoffs for the Cavaliers to come out of the East. How much gas will LeBron have in the tank come May? There’s a reason Gregg Popovich, Steve Kerr, and a lot of other elite coaches give players a night off. That’s not going to happen with LeBron, at least not likely in a meaningful way.

Consider it something to file away and remember if the Cavaliers and LeBron look a step slower in the postseason.

Watch Kyrie Irving drop 31 on Knicks in Celtics’ win

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NEW YORK (AP) — Kyrie Irving had 31 points, nine rebounds and eight assists, leading the Boston Celtics over the New York Knicks 121-112 on Saturday for their second victory in two nights since the All-Star break.

Irving scored 15 points in a dazzling third quarter and then helped the Celtics finish it off with his passing in the fourth, highlighted by a behind-the-back dish to Jaylen Brown for a dunk that made it 115-106.

Brown had 24 points for the Celtics, who went into the break with three straight losses but came back with a victory in Detroit on Friday.

Trey Burke scored 26 points off the bench for the second straight game for the Knicks, but they couldn’t win this one after beating Orlando on Thursday to end an eight-game skid.

Irving was just 1 for 6 behind the arc in the first half but showed no lack of confidence in the third. He scored 14 straight Boston points, hitting four 3-pointers and pushing the ball right at the Knicks.

His last 3-pointer in that spurt gave the Celtics a 10-point lead, but the Knicks chipped away while he rested and it was a two-point game by the time he returned with 8:14 remaining.

Irving soon made another 3, and passed to Al Horford for a 3 that pushed the lead back to double digits.

Horford finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds.

 

Damian Lillard scores 40, hits game-winner to beat Suns (VIDEO)

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PHOENIX (AP) — Passing the ball inbounds at a critical time proved too big a challenge for the sputtering Phoenix Suns. So, Damian Lillard got one final chance.

Of course, he came through.

Lillard scored 40 points, the last two on a driving layup with nine-tenths of a second to play, and the Portland Trail Blazers rallied from 15 down in the final 7 1/2 minutes to beat Phoenix 106-104 on Saturday night, the Suns’ ninth straight loss.

Lillard called it one of his “more significant performances” of the season.

“Obviously, Damian was huge, showed his leadership, showed his talent,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said. “We overcame a horrendous shooting night for most of the night and found a way.”

Lillard, who scored 19 points in the fourth quarter, got the final chance because Phoenix’s Troy Daniels couldn’t get the ball inbounds on a five-second call that turned possession over to Portland with 20.6 seconds to play.

“We knew they didn’t have any time outs left,” Stotts said, “so we gave it a shot and made some good reads and didn’t give them any outlets.”‘

Devin Booker scored 30 points for the Suns, losers of 14 of their last 15.

His two free throws gave Phoenix its biggest lead, 93-78, with 7:26 to play. Lillard triggered the subsequent 18-4 outburst that caught the Suns at 97-97 on his 3-point play. Booker’s fifth and final 3-pointer gave the Suns a 100-97 lead with 2:19 to go. Lillard’s 3 tied it at 100 with 1:10 left.

Booker’s powerful driving basket put Phoenix up 104-102 with 33.6 seconds to go. But, after a timeout, Lillard’s step-back 15-footer tied it at 104-104 with 28 seconds left. The Suns called time out to set up the play but, on the sidelines, Daniels couldn’t get the ball inbounds for the five-second call.

“We had no timeouts. I didn’t see anybody open. If I did, I would have thrown it obviously,” Daniels said. “I’ve been in that position a lot of times, but like I said, it’s tough to be in that position when you have no timeouts. You learn from and you get it better.”

On the play, Portland’s CJ McCollum said “I just tried to take away Booker.”

“I saw how they were set up and I just guarded him normal and when I turned and saw him run toward half-court I just shaded toward him,” McCollum said.

Booker never broke open, Daniels decided not to chance it, and the last opportunity was gifted to Portland.

“There was 20 seconds left and I just wanted to make sure I got the last shot,” Lillard said. “I really just wanted to get the clock down, keep it towards half-court where it is further out and I can get downhill. I took a peek, the clock was at six and I got downhill.”

The Blazers, coming off a win at Utah the previous night, have won three straight and five of six.

The game was tied 10 times before Portland finished the first half with a 7-2 spurt take a 55-50 lead at the break.

But the Suns turned it on in the third quarter, outscoring the cold-shooting Blazers 31-16. Portland scored the first five of the second half to take its biggest lead, 60-50. But Phoenix overwhelmed the Trail Blazers 29-5 to go up 79-65 on Booker’s 3.

 

Russell Westbrook, Paul George call out Zaza Pachulia for “dirty” fall on Westbrook

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Zaza Pachulia has a reputation. The league even created a rule — the “Zaza rule”  — after he stepped under Kawhi Leonard last playoffs and twisted the forward’s ankle, ending Leonard’s playoffs and the Spurs chances.

Then Saturday night, as the Warriors pulled away in the second half and routed the Thunder, this play happened, where Pachulia fell on Westbrook’s leg.

While there was some contact, was that really enough to knock Pachulia over? It doesn’t look like it, it looks intentional, but remember Pachulia falls into a lot of guys — including Kevin Durant last season. This, however, was ugly.

After the game Westbrook and Paul George called Pachulia out.

Even the Celtics’ Kyrie Irving chipped in on this.

It will be interesting to see if the league does follow up. There is some history here.