Paul Zipser

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In a watered down East, Celtics-Cavs is the best thing going

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ASSOCIATED PRESS — As star after star migrated from the Eastern Conference to the West this summer, the lesser of the NBA’s divisions got so watered down that some spice was badly needed.

Kyrie Irving delivered.

The mercurial guard stunned the rest of the league by requesting a trade away from LeBron James and the Cavaliers and the annual trip to the NBA Finals that comes with James. In subsequent interviews since he was traded to the Celtics, Irving has done little to smooth things over with the game’s best player or the franchise that drafted him No. 1 overall in 2011.

“It’s just really between two men,” Irving said last month when asked if he planned to reach out to James to clear the air. “If it happens or not, I’m pretty sure you guys won’t know about it.”

James didn’t hide his disappointment in Irving’s decision after teaming with him to go to the last three finals and win a championship two years ago.

“I tried to give him everything and give him as much of the DNA as I could,” he said. “At some point, when he was ready to take over the keys, I was ready to give them to him. So, the only thing I’m upset about is he took a lot of the DNA and a lot of the blueprint to Boston.”

James wasn’t the only one upset by the deal.

Isaiah Thomas was deeply wounded by Boston’s decision to trade him after an emotional and dominant season, setting the stage for a tense fight for conference supremacy.

“It definitely caught me off guard, but it also woke me up,” Thomas said. “It made me realize that this is a business and anybody other than probably LeBron James or Kevin Durant or those type of guys can be traded.”

This level of drama and intrigue is needed in a conference that lost Jimmy Butler, Carmelo Anthony, Paul George, Paul Millsap and Jeff Teague over the summer.

A look at the East, in predicted order of finish:

PLAYOFF BOUND

1. Cleveland – Death, taxes and LeBron in the finals.

2. Boston – The biggest question may be how will they account for the loss of Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder on defense.

3. Washington – John Wall and Bradley Beal are ready for prime time. Now they have to get the rest of the team to follow them.

4. Toronto – Perpetually overlooked around this time of year, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan refuse to give in. Adding C.J. Miles was an underrated score. If they can breathe a little more movement into their offense, they’ll be in the mix again.

5. Miami – Here’s betting the second half of last season (30-11) was a lot closer to what the Heat actually are than the first half (11-30) was. A team that plays as hard as they do could climb even higher in the wide-open East.

6. Milwaukee – Giannis Antetokounmpo – aka the Greek Freak – seems destined for MVP consideration in the very near future. Jabari Parker‘s recovery may keep him out until February, which could hinder the Bucks’ climb up the ladder this season.

7. Charlotte – Here is where it starts to get really tricky. This is a vote of confidence in coach Steve Clifford’s ability to get more out of Dwight Howard than anyone since Stan Van Gundy.

8. Philadelphia – If Joel Embiid is somehow able to stay healthy for 60 games or more, veterans like J.J. Redick and Amir Johnson should be able to usher these kids into the postseason.

IN THE MIX

1. Detroit – Getting Bradley from the Celtics is a nice fit for Van Gundy. The bigger issue will be getting a team that at times seemed fractured and miserable last season on to the same page. That starts with Reggie Jackson and Andre Drummond.

2. Orlando – Someone has to be 10th. Adding Jonathan Isaac‘s defensive instincts to the roster is a plus, but it remains an imbalanced team light on shooters and long on big men in a league that is getting smaller by the day.

FACING LONG ODDS

1. New York – New GM Scott Perry is boldly trying to go where few Knicks executives have gone – to Rebuilding Road. Now that Carmelo Anthony and Phil Jackson are gone, it’s Kristaps Porzingis and a bunch of unknowns trying to turn the corner.

2. Brooklyn – A year after posting the worst record in the NBA, the Nets should be … a little bit better. Coach Kenny Atkinson has more to work with in DeMarre Carroll, DeAngelo Russell and Allen Crabbe.

3. Indiana – Everyone knew Paul George was on his way out. That made deal-making difficult for GM Kevin Pritchard, and it showed in the return he got for one of the best players in the league. Now Myles Turner will have to step into the void, which is a big one.

4. Atlanta – That 60-win season seems longer than two years ago. New GM Travis Schlenk arrives from the Warriors, and it is going to take him some time to tear things down and build them back up.

5. Chicago – Likely opening night starting five: Jerian Grant, Justin Holiday, Paul Zipser, Nikola Mirotic and Robin Lopez. Enough said.

WHAT TO KNOW

LEBRON’S FUTURE: There are more than just whispers that James will leave the Cavaliers after this season, with the Lakers and Clippers as two potential suitors. James has said he intends to finish his career in Cleveland, but that doesn’t figure to quiet the questions until he signs a new contract next summer.

SIMMONS DEBUTS: 76ers G/F Ben Simmons, last year’s No. 1 overall pick, missed the entire season with a foot injury. He is ready to go this year, giving the Sixers even more hope that all the pain of the last few years is finally behind them.

HAYWARD’S IMPACT: Gordon Hayward was one of the few stars to leave the Western Conference for the East this summer. How quickly he assimilates with Irving and Al Horford will directly impact Boston’s ability to unseat the Cavs.

HOT SEAT: In a volatile industry, the NBA went an entire season without a coaching change for the first time since 1963-64. The odds of that remarkable stretch of stability holding until the start of next season are remarkably small. Van Gundy, Clifford, New York’s Jeff Hornacek and Indiana’s Nate McMillan enter the season under scrutiny.

 

Rumor: Young Bulls ‘can’t stand’ Dwyane Wade

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After a loss last January, Dwyane Wade (in conjunction with since-traded Jimmy Butler) lashed out at his Bulls teammates for not caring enough. Those younger players didn’t receive the message gratefully, questioning why Wade didn’t practice more.

The simple answer: Wade is 35, and he and his team are better served if he saves himself for games. But Wade also should have known his schedule left him ill-suited to criticize harder-working teammates.

The whole saga exposed the inherent tension that occurs when an accomplished veteran with declining skills is thrust into a leadership position on a mediocre team.

Consider that backdrop as Wade and Chicago dance around a buyout.

Nick Friedell on ESPN discussing Wade getting bought out:

This is inevitable. It’s coming. It’s a matter of when, not if.

But right now, guys, it’s just kind of a staring contest. Everybody’s looking at each other saying, “OK, how much money are you willing to give up?”

And Gar Forman, the Bulls’ GM, at summer league, said, “Oh, we’re not having conversations.” I don’t think that’s the case. I think Dwyane’s agents and the Bulls are wanting to get this thing done.

But I’d really be surprised if it happened before the season. I still think it’s more likely that it’ll happen probably somewhere in December or January.

But this is a divorce that’s going to happen. It’s just going to take some time.

The young players on the Bulls really can’t stand Dwyane, and it’s the little secret in Chicago. They have had enough.

Wade’s January criticism was reportedly particularly directed at Nikola Mirotic and Michael Carter-Williams, neither of whom are on the roster. (Mirotic, a restricted free agent, will likely return.) Even if Wade’s comments cast a wider net, Jerian Grant, Paul Zipser, Denzel Valentine, Bobby Portis and Cristiano Felicio are the only young players still on the team from that time. None of those players deserve much influence in how the franchise operates.

Still, no matter what the young players want, it’s clear Wade no longer fits on a rebuilding Chicago. They might get their wish.

Wade is set to earn $23.8 million in the final season of an expiring contract. That salary could prove useful in a bigger trade.

If bought out, Wade would count as dead money against Chicago’s cap at his buyout amount. They Bulls should obviously be amenable if he sacrifices enough, but a small discount doesn’t justify locking into that money rather than having a trade chip available.

If Chicago is deep into the cellar as expected after the trade deadline, a buyout would be completely logical then. Maybe the Bulls even assess the trade market sooner and conclude Wade’s huge expiring contract won’t facilitate a trade.

It’s easy to see a buyout happening eventually. In the meantime, Wade and his younger teammates will just have to get along. I trust Wade’s professionalism to make this situation at least tenable, but Fred Hoiberg might have his hands full building cooperation with all the people involved.

Bulls beat top-seeded Celtics 111-97 to take 2-0 series lead

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BOSTON (AP) Jimmy Butler scored 22 points, Rajon Rondo finished one rebound shy of a triple-double and the Chicago Bulls beat the Boston Celtics 111-97 on Tuesday night to take a 2-0 lead in their series against the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference.

Butler added eight rebounds and eight assists. Rondo’s night ended with 11 points and 14 assists on a night when all five Bulls starters reached double figures.

Dwyane Wade had 22 points, including 16 in the second half, and Robin Lopez added 18 points and eight points.

The Bulls host Game 3 on Friday.

After a better start by the Celtics, a familiar theme started to take hold as the Bulls took control by again dominating on the offensive glass. Chicago held a 43-38 rebounding edge for the game.

Isaiah Thomas scored 20 points for Boston.

Boston got within 91-82 early in the fourth before Chicago went on a 14-4 run to push its lead up to 19.

The Celtics did a much better job containing Bobby Portis in Game 2 after he hurt them with 19 points off the bench in Game 1. But Paul Zipser picked up the slack in Game 2, scoring 16 points in 29 minutes.

After getting thoroughly pushed around underneath in Game 1, the Celtics grabbed the first four rebounds of the night while scoring the game’s first seven points.

That changed quickly, though, as the Bulls responded with a 20-4 run. Boston’s early rebounding edge evaporated just as fast, with all five Bulls starters grabbing an offensive rebound in the first six minutes of action.

Chicago again used its big men to push the Celtics out of the paint and was quicker to the ball in a lot of 50-50 situations. The Bulls outscored the Celtics in the paint 32-20 for the half.

TIP-INS

Bulls: Nikola Mirotic finished with 13 points and seven rebounds. … Boston held a 14-9 edge in fast-break points and 14-12 advantage on second-chance points.

Celtics: Finished with 16 turnovers, leading to 23 Chicago points. …Thomas shot 7 of 13 from the free throw line. …. Scored 46 points in the first half of both Games 1 and 2.

UP NEXT

The series shifts to Chicago Friday night for Game 3.

More NBA basketball: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

Dwyane Wade out for season with broken elbow

AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh
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Has Dwyane Wade played his last game for the Bulls?

The star guard, who can opt out this summer, is done for at least this year.

Vincent Goodwill of CSN Chicago:

This isn’t the type of injury that should hold back the 35-year-old Wade, who’d make $23.8 million next season if he opts in, once he heals. As long he’ll be ready for the start of next season, potential suitors shouldn’t be dissuaded in free agency – because of this. Wade’s creaky knees and declining production cause enough apprehension.

The Bulls have more immediate concerns. One game and two teams out of playoff position, they want to reach the postseason.

Chicago has little choice but to lean even more on Jimmy Butler, a concerning prospect considering Butler’s struggles since a heel injury last month. Denzel Valentine and Paul Zipser could also receive larger roles.

Wade is no longer an elite player, but he carried a huge offensive load for the Bulls while maintaining reasonable efficiency and without being a defensive liability. He won’t be easily replaced.

Chicago Bulls beat Toronto Raptors for 11th straight time, 105-94 (VIDEO)

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CHICAGO (AP) Doug McDermott and Jimmy Butler can’t explain the Chicago Bulls’ recent mastery over the Toronto Raptors. They only hope it continues.

McDermott scored 20 points, Butler had 19 points and 12 assists in his return to the lineup, and the Bulls beat the Raptors for the 1th straight time, 105-94 on Tuesday night.

In his last four games against Toronto, McDermott averaged 24.0 points on 62 percent in the field.

“We just have their number,” said McDermott, who has averaged 24.0 points on 62-percent shooting in his last four games against Toronto. “It’s a good matchup for us. I don’t know. It’s hard to say. Hopefully, we can keep it rolling against them.”

Taj Gibson had 14 points and Rajon Rondo added 12 for Chicago, which led by as many as 23 points and never trailed in the final three quarters to snap a three-game skid.

Toronto’s last victory in the series was Dec. 31, 2013, in Chicago.

“Um, I think the only way to win is have more points than them at the end of the game,” said Butler, who scored 15 points on free throws.

Kyle Lowry scored 22 points to lead the Raptors, who lost their third straight and 11th in the last 15 to fall one-half game behind idle Atlanta for the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference.

“Right now, we’re a way below .500 team,” Lowry said. “We’re playing really bad basketball. It’s crazy right now. We went from this to that.”

The Raptors’ DeMar DeRozan was limited to 18 points – 10 below his season average. He was whistled for his second technical foul with 25 seconds left and ejected from the game.

The loss came hours after the Raptors acquired forward Serge Ibaka from the Orlando Magic. The need for his physical toughness was apparent from the start.

Chicago attacked the rim with success and threw down five dunks in the second quarter alone.

“One guy’s not (going to change everything),” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “We’re excited about Ibaka coming in, but we’ve got other things we’ve got to get fixed up before he comes in – our defense, (for) one.”

At the 1:44 mark of the second period, Butler converted two free throws to give Chicago a 56-35 lead, its largest of the first half.

Gibson had all of his scoring in the first half as the Bulls shot 51 percent from the field while taking a 58-39 lead.

Chicago scored the final six points of the first quarter to take a 24-18 lead.

“The biggest thing I was happy about was our energy out of the gate,” Bulls coach Fred Holberg said. “We got off to a really good start, especially defensively.”

TIP-INS

Bulls: Chicago was without F Nikola Mirotic (back spasms), G Dwyane Wade (bruised right wrist) and F Paul Zipser (left ankle tendonitis). … Butler (bruised right heel) was back after missing four of the last five games. “It feels good,” he said. That’s all there is to say. There wasn’t that much pain at all. Now it’s all about getting in rhythm.”

Raptors: Toronto’s reserves outscored 54-34 by their Chicago counterparts. G Norman Powell led the way with 13 points. … C Jonas Valanciunias scored 12 points and nine rebounds in 21:30. He also picked up a technical foul in the first quarter.

URGE FOR SERGE

Toronto coach Dwane Casey wasted no time to review film of Ibaka, who was acquired from Orlando in exchange for F-G Terrence Ross and a 2017 first-round pick.

“Any time you can add a talent who has got playoff experience, (NBA) Finals experience, and a defender and two-way player like Ibaka has got to give us a boost,” said Casey, who wasn’t certain whether the veteran would join the team before the All-Star break.

In particular, Ibaka represents an upgrade at the defensive end. The Raptors ranked 15th in blocked shots and 16th in opponents’ field goal percentage at the start of the day.

In Ross’ absence, G Norm Powell is in line to play an expanded role.

ONE STEP FOWARD, ONE STEP BACK

Bulls F Bobby Portis scored six points on the heels of a 16-point, six-rebound effort versus the Timberwolves on in Minneapolis on Sunday.

“Bobby has got an opportunity with Niko out of the lineup right now, and we’re confident he will take advantage of that,” Holberg said.

UP NEXT

Raptors: Host Charlotte on Wednesday night in the final game before the All-Star break.

Bulls: Host Boston on Thursday night.