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Rumor: Bulls told Jimmy Butler during contract-extension negotiations they’d stick him behind Tony Snell if he didn’t sign

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In the summer of 2014, Jimmy Butler was eligible for a contract extension. The Bulls reportedly offered him four years, $40 million.

That seemed low even at the time, but this is how rookie-scale contract extensions should work. If Chicago didn’t extend him, Butler would be a restricted free agent the following year. The Bulls would still control his future, incentivizing them to lowball him in hopes he valued security. If Butler passed, Chicago could always re-sign him or match any offer sheet.

But, according to one report, the Bulls — in the backdrop of a disconnect between general manager Gar Forman and then-coach Tom Thibodeau — went even further in playing hardball.

Ryen Russillo of ESPN:

 

What I was told is — and I don’t know who it was in the front office; I don’t have a name — but that he was told, “Well, if you don’t take this, we’re going to play Tony Snell your minutes. We’re going to play Tony Snell over you, and then good luck trying to get this kind of money when your number sare down. And that, if it’s true — and it’s what I was told, and I believe it, but it’s the same thing of any gossipy industry that you’re in — then it doesn’t make sense that Jimmy Butler can’t stand the front office and loves Thibs, because Thibs apparently went, “No, I’m not playing Tony Snell over Jimmy Butler. Are you freaking kidding me?”

Vincent Goodwill of CSN Chicago:

That’s certainly not the denial I expected, but a few things to keep in mind:

  • Butler excelled between the contract-extension window and free agency, winning Most Improved Player earning much larger deal. The Bulls eagerly signed him in 2015 to a de facto max contract worth $95 million over five years. In fact, they were so convinced of Butler’s value, they extended him a max qualifying offer.
  • It’s not clear, even if we completely trust Russillo’s telling, that Bulls management ever instructed Thibodeau to play Snell over Butler. Thibodeau could have heard it from Butler himself and reacted to the idea.
  • Butler was reportedly ready for Chicago to fire Thibodeau. That obviously doesn’t disprove this report, but it shows a limit on the Butler-Thibodeau bond that runs counter to what Russillo presents.
  • The Bulls planning to reduce Butler’s playing time purely as retribution for passing on a contract extension would be bad. But it seems entirely plausible a more innocent message could’ve been misconstrued in retellings. What if a Chicago executive told Butler something like: “Hey, just warning you, your starting spot is not assured. Tony Snell has been working hard, and he could overtake you. If he does, it’ll be more difficult to get paid next summer.” That’d be a non-story.
  • Even if the story isn’t true, Butler was reportedly bothered by Forman not shutting down Butler trade rumors. Butler might not rush to stop a narrative that embarrasses Forman.

 

Phil Jackson to miss Kobe Bryant’s jersey retirement Monday

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For one last night, Staples Center will belong to Kobe Bryant on Monday.

Sure, the Warriors are in town to take on the Lakers, but Monday night the Lakers are retiring Kobe Bryant’s numbers — both 8 and 24 — in a halftime ceremony. It’s been the hottest ticket in Los Angeles, with celebrities, luminaries, and regular Lakers fans shelling out a lot of cash to see the Laker legend be honored.

Except, Phil Jackson will not be there, reports Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.

Jackson has been in touch with Bryant in advance of the ceremony to congratulate him, sources said. But he was unable to travel from his Montana home for the ceremony in Los Angeles.

No reason was given (nor does one need to be made public, that’s between Kobe and Jackson).

Jackson coached Kobe to all five of his NBA titles, and while their relationship had its ups and downs — remember Jackson called out Kobe as almost uncoachable in one of his books — they remain close.

 

Three Things to Know: LeBron James racks up third straight triple-double

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA. Here’s what you missed on Sunday while practicing your ax throwing in Paris

1) LeBron James has third straight triple-double… and sends equality message. Back in the 2008-09 season, LeBron James strung together three consecutive games of triple-doubles, the season he went on to win his first MVP award. Despite 61 career triple-doubles, he hasn’t had a string like that since.

Until now. LeBron put together three again this week, the most recent coming at the expense of the Washington Wizards on Sunday, a team that had no answer for his playmaking skills. James finished the game with 20 points, 12 rebounds and 15 assists. It wasn’t the most efficient LeBron scoring performance of his career (8-of-23 shooting overall, 2-of-7 from three, his legs looked a little tired on the back-to-back) and he was playing too much in isolation (nearly twice as many possessions as in pick-and-roll). However, down the stretch he was a fantastic playmaker, finding teammates — such as finding the cutting Jeff Green and Kyle Korver — and doing what it took to lift his team to the 106-99 win (Cleveland’s has won five straight and 18-of-19).

LeBron was also sending a message while playing in our nation’s capital: He wore one black and one white of the LeBron 15s, with the word “Equality” on the back of both of them. Good on LeBron, I love that he has found a voice and is comfortable using it.

2) Cavaliers sticking to plan even if he seems ready: Isaiah Thomas should join Cavaliers after the first of the year. Patience. It’s a virtue. Cleveland’s end game is to have another elite playmaker and scorer on the floor in late May and (hopefully) June, not for Christmas Day (no matter who is on the schedule).

Meaning that despite the face Isaiah Thomas is working out and says he and his injured hip feel ready to return, it will be 2018 before he officially pulls on a Cavaliers jersey and takes the court.

This is the smart play by the Cavaliers, who have racked up enough wins not to need to push him. That said, LeBron is carrying a heavy load — he’s played more minutes than anyone in the league so far, and this is his 15th NBA season — and the Cavaliers need to get him some help and rest so he is fresh for the postseason.

3) Detroit ties a franchise record with 17 made threes in win over Orlando. The Pistons are not exactly a great three-point shooting team: They average a middle-of-the-pack 29.3 attempts per game (31.6 percent of their attempts), but at least hit them at a healthy 38.3 percent clip. Detroit does a good job at least of getting corner threes up and knocking them down.

Sunday they were knocking everything down, hitting 17-of-34 threes to tie a franchise record for the most made threes in a game. Anthony Tolliver led the way (5-of-7 from deep) with Reggie Bullock pitching in 4-of-5.

The Pistons have snapped out of their seven-game losing streak to win three in a row now, including a quality win over the Pacers on the second night of a back-to-back.

Heat forward James Johnson expected to miss 7 to 10 days

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MIAMI (AP) The Miami Heat will be without starting forward James Johnson for at least two games and probably more after bursitis was found in his right ankle.

Johnson left Miami’s win over the Los Angeles Clippers on Saturday with ankle pain, and an MRI performed Sunday led to the bursitis diagnosis. Johnson is not traveling with the team for its trip for games at Atlanta on Monday and Boston on Wednesday.

The team says Johnson could miss seven to 10 days, which would also mean his status for home games against Dallas on Dec. 22, New Orleans on Dec. 23 and Orlando on Dec. 26 is in some doubt.

Johnson is averaging 10.9 points and 5.2 rebounds for the Heat this season.

LeBron James wears one black, one white LeBron 15 shoes with “Equality” on back (VIDEO)

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LeBron James notched his third-straight triple-double on Sunday, this one coming against the Washington Wizards. But before the game, the story was all about how James was voicing a silent protest — in Washington D.C., no less — by wearing a special version of his shoes.

LeBron took to the floor wearing his LeBron 15s, but this player edition had the word “Equality” on the back of them. James wore one black shoe and one white shoe.

James wore the black versions of this shoe in the Cleveland Cavaliers’ opener to start the season.

Via Twitter:

LeBron finished the game with 20 points, 15 assists, and 12 rebounds. The Cavaliers beat the Wizards, 106-99.