Rumor: Jimmy Butler, other Bulls concerned by coaches ‘spying’ for front office

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Bulls general manager Gar Forman admonished Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo for speaking publicly about the team’s problems. Butler said he regretted nothing.

Was that a simple disagreement or the latest in a fractured relationship between Butler and the Bulls, particularly Forman?

The latter has become the popular theory, with rumor following rumor.

Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times:

Butler and other Bulls have had issues with the “spying’’ that goes on in the locker room. He warned new players that if they didn’t want Forman to hear criticism, they shouldn’t talk in front of certain assistant coaches such as Randy Brown.

The belief is that the Bulls love to gather as much ammunition as they can on players, so they can win the news conference when the breakup comes, whether it’s a trade or free agency.

“They did it with [Luol Deng], and they did it with [Joakim Noah] and Derrick [Rose],’’ a source said. “That’s how they operate.’’

Another spin: The coaches collaborate with the front office to build the best team possible by sharing what they’ve observed. More information should only help Forman. Unless he specifically asks to speak to a coach in confidence — and Cowley provides no evidence that’s the case here — why would a player expect coaches to hide his words from management?

Many of the NBA’s best-run organizations feature strong connections between the front office and the bench. A communication breakdown between departments was cited as a key reason for firing Tom Thibodeau.

I’m also not sure whether they won the press conference after seeing Deng, Rose and Noah depart, but the Bulls won each transaction:

  • Chicago traded Deng, whose best years were behind him and was heading into free agency, to the Cavaliers for a potentially valuable first-round pick. The protected Kings pick has yet to convey, and if not sent this year — it’s top-10 protected — it converts to a second-rounder. But betting on Sacramento having one decent year in three was a savvy gamble considering the upside.
  • Rose hasn’t been worth the trouble this season. Jettisoning him has given Butler room to spread his wings. And Robin Lopez, acquired in the trade with the Knicks, has provided steady production at center.
  • The Bulls watched Noah sign a four-year, $72.59 million deal with New York — arguably the worst contract in the NBA. Noah turns 32 in a few weeks, and the next three years won’t be pretty.

But if Butler and current Bulls believe the front office is “spying” through coaches, that’s a problem in itself. Hiring Hoiberg, with deep ties to Forman, probably fueled that perception. And Butler and Hoiberg have had differences.

This distrust is not healthy, whether or not it’s grounded in reality. It’s on Forman to set a culture that quashes it.

Still, most importantly: Butler is playing great. He’s locked up for two more years, and the new veteran-designated-player rule will give Chicago a huge advantage in re-signing Butler.

Whatever problems exist, Butler and the Bulls are working through them. But if those underlying issues fester, there’s always a risk things go south.

Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala cleared to play vs. Pelican Friday

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Without Draymond Green in the fourth quarter Tuesday night in the opener, and with Andre Iguodala out for the game, the Warriors defense fell apart against Houston. The Rockets scored 34 points in the quarter and came from behind to beat a Warriors team that had been in control of the game up to that point. There was more to it than just Green’s balky knee, but without the Defensive Player of the Year they are not the same.

Bad news for the Pelicans: Green and Iguodala have been cleared to play in New Orleans Friday. Green had an MRI and it came back negative.

Green admitted he was concerned that the injury, via Anthony Slater of The Athletic.

Now it is the Pelicans who should be concerned. The Warriors will want to wash the feeling of that opening night loss off them.

Report: Kevin Love was frustrated with move to center

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With Derrick Rose having to start at point guard (until Isiah Thomas returns sometime in early 2018) and Dwyane Wade starting at the two, Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue had no choice but to move Kevin Love to starting at center. The Cavaliers desperately need the floor spacing to open up driving lanes and options for LeBron James. Start Tristan Thompson at the five (with Love at the four and Jae Crowder coming off the bench) and it adds another non-shooter to the mix that allows opposing defenses to just pack the paint and force LeBron to be a jump shooter.

That doesn’t mean everyone liked the change.

Love admitted to Chris Fedor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer he was frustrated with the move at first.

“It’s been a little bit of a change for me,” Love admitted. “I still find myself spacing a little bit wanting to roll a little bit more and on the defensive end just playing the primary big on their team the whole time on the defensive end. It’s been a little bit different figuring things out on that end, but it comes with the growth I’m talking about. We need to do that and hopefully be a machine when things start clicking.”

Lue put it this way.

“We’re going to try it out and see how it works. He was frustrated at first, but now he’s enjoying it.”

While in certain matchups, when the opposition has a more traditional center, the Cavs may go back to the Love/Thompson front line for a stretch. But the small ball lineup is the way Cleveland should be leaning, even with its clear defensive deficiencies. We saw that in the opener with Love’s dagger three in the fourth quarter.

Love is adjusting, he’s already sacrificed a lot to play with LeBron. This is just another step in that evolution.

Another wing down? Celtics’ Marcus Smart likely out vs. Sixers

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The horrific, probably season-ending injury to Gordon Hayward has left the Celtics with a shortage of players on the wing.

Going up against Philadelphia Friday night, that might be getting worse, reports A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston.

Looking at the pictures, I doubt Smart plays.

As noted, Smart said he hurt both ankles in the second night of a back-to-back against Milwaukee, the left one in a collision with teammate Jaylen Brown. Smart started that game and played 32 minutes. That’s a lot of time to go to lesser players.

If he’s out Friday, that likely means either Terry Rozier or Abdel Nader get the start, and both are going to see a healthy bump in minutes. Whatever happens, the Celtics would miss Smart in a game where they need to defend Ben Simmons on the wing.

What happened to Willy Hernangomez’s minutes with Knicks?

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When talking about the Knicks’ young core going forward, Willy Hernangomez was one of the names that got mentioned by the front office (alongside players such asFrank Ntilikina and Tim Hardaway Jr.). The Knicks are crowded at the center spot — Enes Kanter got the start in the opener Thursday night, and Kristaps Porzingis should get minutes there (it’s ultimately going to be his NBA position), and this isn’t even mentioning Joakim Noah — but Hernangomez looked like a developing young player who needed some run.

He got just 3:46 minutes in the opener, and that was during fourth quarter garbage time. Kyle O'Quinn got nearly 22 off the bench at the five. That follows a preseason where Hernangomez saw his minutes drop seemingly game-to-game.

What gives? Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News asked the same question.

“We have a lot of bigs,” Hornacek said. “(O’Quinn) and Enes earned the minutes in training camp. Willy’s not far behind. He’s got to keep working. When you got that many bigs, you can’t play them all. The other guys earned the minutes. I told all three of them it doesn’t matter if you’re in the rotation or out of rotation. If you’re in it, you’ve got to earn it to keep it.”

“I can score. It’s not difficult for me. I think the coach wants to see my effort on defense. That’s why I have to keep working hard everyday,” said Hernangomez, who is also Kristaps Porzingis’ best friend on the Knicks.

Without question, Hernangomez needs to work on his defense, but then again this is a Knicks team starting Kanter so it’s obviously not a requirement.

Hornacek needs to find a balance here — it’s early in the season, he wants to win games, he wants to put his best foot forward. But the Knicks are not a playoff team this season, and they are in the player development business. That means Hernangomez — as well as rookie point guard Ntilikina — need to get minutes, need to be thrown to the wolves a little, and need to learn from their mistakes. Hornacek needs to be coaching for a few years down the line… the problem is he knows he may not have this job that far down the line, so he’s coaching to get wins now.