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Young Bulls rave about Rajon Rondo as a teammate

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In their coordinated attack, Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler — the Bulls’ biggest stars — lashed into their teammates (reportedly Nikola Mirotic and Michael Carter-Williams in particular).

Rajon Rondo shot back at Wade and Butler on Instagram because, as Rondo explained, he wanted to stand up for his teammates who lacked the stature to do it themselves.

Why did Rondo side with his younger teammates rather than maintain the “Three Alphas” front? Because, in and out of the rotation, Rondo had bonded with those other teamamtes for months.

K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune:

This process began when Rondo voluntarily joined the Bulls at summer league, even practicing one day with a team that featured undrafted free agents who had no chance of making the regular-season roster. Rondo served as ringleader for informal workouts at the Advocate Center before training camp.

Once camp started, Rondo organized team dinners. And he drove to Milwaukee for an exhibition game in which the Bulls rested him to work out training-camp player Thomas Walkup before the game.

Mirotic, via Johnson:

“Along with Pau (Gasol), he’s the best teammate I’ve ever had,” Mirotic said.

“I feel so comfortable with him and I think all the young guys do,” Mirotic said. “He’s very honest. He’s talking all the time, supporting before the game, after the game, during the practice. He’s always positive. Even if something is not going well, he’s trying to help young players. It’s been great to have him here.”

Jerian Grant on Rondo, via Johnson:

“He’s a great teammate,” Grant said. “He’s been through a lot of different things and been able to show us the wrong and right ways. That’s good for us. He’s been extremely helpful to me. I’ve been in the gym with him a lot, picked his brains a lot.”

Wade and Butler, also resting for that exhibition game, didn’t travel to Milwaukee — and that’s OK. Resting shouldn’t be limited to not playing in a game. Likewise, it’s fine that a 35-year-old Wade doesn’t practice as much as his teammates.

The problem comes when Wade’s teammates believe he’s given unreasonable special treatment. That accusation is nothing new to Butler, either.

Meanwhile, Rondo has ingratiated himself with his teammates. Even when Chicago suspended Rondo for feuding with an assistant coach, word quickly followed about how great of a teammate Rondo had been. We can separate his problems — most of them declined on-court production — with his standing as a teammate.

That and his experience give Rondo a pathway to leadership.

Wade’s and Butler’s resumés also demand respect, but they also face challenges in connecting with teammates. Wade is a newcomer in Chicago. Even as he became Chicago’s best player, Butler had a tough time leading in previous seasons because the Bulls still had Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, two players who long-commanded attention in the locker room. Wade’s and Butler’s clunky attempt last week exposes the limits of their leadership.

If it’s Wade and Butler vs. the rest of the Bulls — the paradigm Wade and Butler established through their comments last week — Rondo stands on the other side.

It doesn’t help that Rondo seems to reach his younger teammates through positivity rather than harsh motivation. Either method could work, but it seems the young Bulls are partial to the former.

That just makes it more difficult for Wade and Butler to establish themselves as leaders. Wade and Butler can still get there, and as mainstays in the starting lineup, they’re more naturally positioned to lead. But they could take a lesson from Rondo, who has multiple teammates gushing about his mentorship style.

 

Spurs’ LaMarcus Aldridge nails three from one knee during warmups (VIDEO)

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Take that Stephen Curry.

Gregg Popovich would pull him so fast he’d look like a fidget spinner if he tried this in a game, but during warmups before Game 4 Monday night LaMarcus Aldridge knocked down a deep three from one knee.

If Aldridge is taking a lot of threes that’s not a good sign for the Spurs, but we’ll see if he can have a big night and keep the Spurs alive in this series.

Stephen Curry drains shots from near half court during warmups like they’re layups

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Stephen Curry‘s pregame warmups draw people into the arena early, it’s a show in and of itself.

Before Game 4 Monday night, Curry was taking a couple shots from the center-court logo. And draining them. Like layups. Because he can.

We’ll see if he can put on that kind of show when the game tips off.

Gregg Popovich makes it official: No Kawhi Leonard for Game 4

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This was expected. It still sucks to hear.

Kawhi Leonard is out for Game 4 vs. the Warriors Monday night.

Leonard has sprained his left ankle in Game 5 against the Rockets and sat out Game 6 of that series (a San Antonio win), then returned for Game 1 against the Warriors. He re-injured his ankle twice in that game — once stepping on David Lee‘s foot, once when Zaza Pachulia slid under him on a jumper and took away his landing space. Leonard left that game with his team up 23 points, but the Warriors rallied back to win Game 1 and have controlled the series ever since. Leonard has not returned to the series.

San Antonio will play with pride on Monday night, but it may not be enough. You can bet the Warriors were reminded all day about taking their foot off the gas after what happened with Cleveland Sunday.

Report: Orlando hires Toronto GM Jeff Weltman to be president of basketball operations

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In Toronto, Masai Ujiri is the head of basketball operations and the guy with the hammer on deals. Jeff Weltman was his right-hand man and team GM.

Make that was his right-hand man, Weltman has been hired by the Orlando Magic to run its basketball operations, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

The Orlando Magic have hired Toronto Raptors general manager Jeff Weltman as the franchise’s president of basketball operations, league sources told The Vertical.

Weltman met with Orlando CEO Alex Martins and ownership on Monday, finalizing a five-year deal, league sources said.

Orlando officials had been intrigued with Cleveland GM David Griffin, but moved steadily toward Weltman as they became further engaged with his candidacy in recent weeks, league sources said. Weltman has been deeply involved in every aspect of the Raptors’ front office under president Masai Ujiri as Toronto became a perennial Eastern Conference contender.

Making a move now is smart in this sense: The Magic have the No. 5 pick in this draft and would want the guy making the big picture decisions about this roster on board to make this selection.

That roster already has some quality pieces — Aaron Gordon, Evan Fournier, Nikola Vucevic, maybe Elfrid Payton — but has underachieved. There were questions about the culture and a lack of accountability, and that blame ultimately fell on GM Rob Hennigan and he was let go. Frank Vogel is locked in as

Frank Vogel is locked in as coach, so how well Weltman and Vogel work together — and share a vision — will be key.

Weltman is well-respected around the league. He spent five seasons as an assistant GM in Milwaukee, and has been with the Raptors since 2013 as that team has risen up the Eastern Conference standings and had its best run in franchise history. He also has worked with the Clippers and in Denver. He’s been one of those guys expected to get a chance in the big chair for a few years now.

He’s got it, and it’s an interesting challenge in Orlando.