Robin Lopez

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Bulls’ Nikola Mirotic out 4-6 weeks with fractured face; Bobby Portis suspended 8 games for punch

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The price to be paid from the fight at Bulls practice Tuesday came into focus Wednesday.

Nikola Mirotic, who suffered a fractured upper jaw and concussion due to a punch from Bobby Portis, will be out at least a month from his injuries, the Bulls announced.

For his part, Portis has been suspended eight games by the Bulls without pay for his actions. He will be able to practice with the team, and can return to action on Nov. 7 against Toronto.

The incident happened during the Bulls practice Monday. This much everyone agrees on: What started as a physical battle for rebounding position around the basket turned into a shoving match between Mirotic and Portis. Also, so far this isn’t unusual, shoving matches happen every once in a while on every team (in every professional sport).

Then Portis punched Mirotic and dropped him, fracturing his face. While the first reports called it a “sucker punch” — likely spin from Mirotic’s agent/camp — Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said he didn’t see it as one. Apparently, neither did Robin Lopez, via Vincent Goodwill of NBC Sports Chicago.

Whether it was a sucker punch or not is moot — you can’t punch and drop a teammate. It crosses the line.

Mirotic may be the Bulls best player, and certainly will be one of their leading scorers this season. Portis has struggled to live up to his early promise and reportedly is frustrated with his role, and by extension Mirotic. That does not mean you can punch the team’s best player in the face. Rather the opposite.

Can you imagine the reaction of any other organization if their best player got punched by a teammate?

The Bulls have to make a decision on what to do with Portis, who has a $2.5 million team option for next season, then would be a restricted free agent in the summer of 2019.

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.

 

With Allen Crabbe in Brooklyn, what do the Blazers do now?

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Allen Crabbe is now a member of the Brooklyn Nets, this time for good.

The Portland Trail Blazers traded Crabbe to the team that signed him to a massive four-year, $75 million restricted free agent deal in the summer of 2016. In exchange for Crabbe’s services, the Trail Blazers received Andrew Nicholson, a struggling young big man who Portland will reportedly waive using the stretch provision.

The move gets the Blazers closer to the tax line, shaving off an estimated $43 million off of their luxury tax bill. That’s the primary motivation for this trade of a young, talented 3-point shooter and it sort of begs the question: Just what are the Blazers doing?

To understand the Crabbe trade in context, you have to go back to last summer. Portland was in the hunt for several big name players, including Pau Gasol, Hassan Whiteside, and Chandler Parsons.

Portland, never a big free agent destination, missed out on all three, instead having to panic at the last second. The Nets extended a huge offer sheet to Crabbe on July 7, the same day that Portland agreed to a similarly huge contract with Evan Turner.

With their free agent targets gone, Portland had to do the next best thing: retain talent.

After signing Turner, the Blazers matched Crabbe a few days later. They also signed contracts with Meyers Leonard and Maurice Harkless, and extended C.J. McCollum. Between Turner, Leonard, Harkless, and McCollum the Blazers have committed $62 million to just four players in 2017-18. That’s after wiping Crabbe’s $19 million off the books.

There’s little doubt President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey has been trying to find trade suitors for Crabbe once he got past the RFA trade moratorium. Likewise, the team seems to have soured on Leonard, coming off of a shoulder injury and who told NBC Sports last season that he didn’t feel fully healthy until the end of winter.

The team was massively disappointing compared to their magical run in 2015-16. Still, there hasn’t been reason to panic in Oregon given that Olshey’s plan with this team since last summer was to swap their assets for a powerful starting lineup.

That plan began to flounder when Crabbe didn’t play up to expectations and when Leonard and Harkless didn’t show continued growth on expectations from seasons past.

Crabbe is an excellent 3-point shooter, but he is also thought of as a potentially great defender. In 2016-17 he looked lost at times on defense, especially when it came to defending top-level players or when he was in weak side situations off the ball. His value plateaued.

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That’s to state nothing of the rest of the team’s performance, specifically by Al-Farouq Aminu. Aminu was vastly important to Portland’s bottom-feeding defense, but he became a liability as a 3-point shooter, allowing teams to help off of the pick-and-roll involving Lillard and McCollum. Turner, never a good fit on paper, didn’t really figure out how to play with the team until he returned from injury later in the season. Rumors around Portland have been that Turner has been favored over Crabbe to remain with the team because of the ball-handling relief he could bring to Lillard and McCollum, a point that is largely moot considering his outrageous salary. Jusuf Nurkic came at the deadline, and was a savior for the team until he fractured his leg late in the year.

Portland’s first cause for concern came during June’s draft. Olshey, flush with three first round draft picks, a burgeoning guard in Crabbe, and several players with deflated trade value, could not find a suitable deal. Olshey had to settle, trading two of his first round picks to move up and take Gonzaga’s Zach Collins as Leonard’s replacement.

That move signaled that Portland’s assets weren’t as valuable as Olshey was hoping they would be. Part of that is due to the performance of the players involved, and part was due to the lower standing of Portland’s draft picks. There’s also something to be said about the NBA’s cap not expanding to the level teams projected, making the salaries of Turner, Crabbe, Leonard, and Harkless less palatable.

This is how we end up with a talented but flawed young player like Crabbe getting moved for a salary dump and a trade kicker that would put them back into the luxury tax if utilized.

No doubt Olshey’s expectation when he matched — which was the right thing to do, by the way — was to use him and his picks in a future deal to return a third or fourth piece to the starting lineup for Portland. But the tone has swung, and now many are suggesting it was commendable that Olshey did not have to include a first round pick in order to offload Crabbe. That is really a head-scratching way to look at things, and a huge swing in expected value.

Portland is in a tough position given that none of their recommended moves from last year seem to have gone their way. Still, Olshey has been a good GM for the Blazers. He spun wheat into gold by trading for Robin Lopez, and grabbed Nurkic, a potential franchise building block center when he’s healthy for a non-championship caliber big man in Mason Plumlee. He locked down Aminu on a descending salary deal. He has done quite a bit.

Portland still has the ability to be a trade partner in deals including Carmelo Anthony, which could net them usable players or potential future assets. But what is getting harder to understand is how Portland is going to get any better outside of the roster they have now given salary considerations, team fit, and ceiling.

Drastic internal development or relenting on either Turner or the Lillard-McCollum backcourt pairing are likely the only two realistic ways the Blazers will be able to make a dent next year. Or perhaps fans in Portland can hope that Olshey will be able to work his magic yet again and turn one of their role players into a playoff spot.

The 2017-18 season has been weird enough as it is. Portland can head south of their competition or finagle their way to the postseason. At this point, neither would surprise me.

Rumor: Bulls close to signing Milos Teodosic

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Milos Teodosic – one of the best players outside the NBA – seems ready to come stateside.

In fact, his next team might already be chosen.

Tony Jones of The Salt Lake Tribune:

The Bulls have a glut of young point guards: Kris Dunn, Cameron Payne and Jerian Grant. But it’s nowhere near a lock any of them develops into a reliable starter, let alone can handle that role now.

It might be better for the Bulls, sans Jimmy Butler, to jump both feet first into rebuilding. Give Dunn and Payne and maybe even Grant room to grow.

But with Dwyane Wade and Robin Lopez under contract, Chicago might want someone capable of keeping the team modestly competitive in interim. It appears that won’t be Rajon Rondo. It could be the 30-year-old Teodosic.

After trading Jimmy Butler to Minnesota, where do the Bulls go from here?

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Jimmy Butler is now a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves. In a draft day trade, the Timberwolves received Jimmy Butler and reunited him with his old coach from Chicago Tom Thibodeau. In exchange for the shooting guard, the Chicago Bulls received the No. 7 overall pick — Chicago took Arizona’s Lauri MarkkanenKris Dunn, and Zach LaVine.

The question now in Chicago is this: now what?

Butler, 27, was the superstar the Bulls needed post-Derrick Rose. Now, with Butler gone, the Bulls will need to rebuild in a year in which they have young assets mixed with older, more expensive players that don’t seem to match up. After a year in which Chicago just barely made the playoffs with the eight seed, they are going to need to readjust their entire roster. That could mean new landing places for Rajon Rondo, Dwyane Wade, and Robin Lopez.

Forget on the on-floor performance for a moment, the real question for Chicago will be how to properly allocate their resources when it comes to salary in the coming season. Wade, 35, will reportedly opt into the final year of his contract to play for his hometown team despite Butler moving to Minnesota. Chicago will earn the right to pay Wade $23.8 million for this upcoming season. Rondo is in much the same boat, with $13.4 million left in the final year of his contract.

From a wins perspective, both players would no doubt be highly crucial to any wins this new Bulls team would garner in the coming season. But both players have a staggering amount of salary left, and would no doubt take up valuable playing time for the young, newly acquired players that the Bulls should want to develop.

The most obvious choice for both Rondo and Wade would be waivers or buyouts. Rondo’s contract only has $3 million left on it if he is bought out before June 30. Despite a solid playoff performance, Rondo does not have a $13 million value to the Bulls in terms of playing time, and they don’t have a need for whatever erratic play he may bring to the table.

While the Butler trade created a $15.3 million exception for the Bulls, Wade’s contract stands as an albatross that is in the way of both free agency this season and extensions for young players in the coming season. Chicago is facing restricted free agency for Nikola Mirotic come July, and will need to figure out what to do with younger players like Michael Carter-Williams and Cristiano Felicio.

After decisions are made this summer for those players, the Bulls will need to figure out how to sign LaVine to an extension. Given the market for players of his caliber and position, LaVine will almost certainly command a number comparable to what Wade’s salary currently occupies on the Chicago cap space.

This is all before we even get to Lopez, who has $26 million left on his contract for the next two seasons. While he is still a productive player, at age 29 it’s unclear at how much Lopez factors into Chicago’s future plans. Given his contract situation it might be better to try to move him as a means to acquire new assets that are closer in age to the Bulls’ new core.

If your head is not spinning by now, you’re one of the lucky ones. It just gets worse from here.

It seems highly probable that Rondo will be waived or bought out in order to minimize the impact he has on the cap this season. He doesn’t glean much on the trade market given his current full contract value, and his an uneasy play (despite his playoff prowess) is something that that has driven potential trade suitors away.

What to do with Wade is an entirely different conversation. If Chicago decided to buy him out this summer it would be a clear choice of direction in terms of both the roster makeup and the playing time allotted to the new young backcourt at the United Center. The Bulls would immediately become ultra flexible, and able to match a restricted offer for Mirotic without fearing any kind of retribution down the line for when they try to sign other players in free agency or offer LaVine an extension.

Then again, they could wait to buy him out until later in the season, say, around the All-Star Game, all the while taking in ticket sales for Chicago fans to see their hometown star. There is no doubt that Wade would be a good influence on younger players in the locker room, despite the high price tag. If they want to buy him out later in the season, he could join another team in time for a playoff run. That might convince Wade to take a larger amount off of his contract come buyout time.

Lost in the sauce of all this contract talk is just what the Bulls are doing with their future. LaVine looked excellent before his ACL injury in 2016-17, and Dunn had promise despite a disappointing first season in Minnesota. By all accounts, the Bulls gave up too much in their trade with the Timberwolves, with most lamenting their decision to send the No. 16 pick to Minnesota despite Chicago giving up the best player in the swap.

There’s also the matter of the Bulls trading Jordan Bell to the Golden State Warriors straight up for cash considerations. Bell was an excellent player at Oregon, and would have a fit right in with Chicago’s new young core. Given that there is an issue with the Chicago front line when it comes to Mirotic’s RFA contract and Felicio’s free agency, the idea that Bell would not have fit in with the young Bulls is sort of baffling.

Yes, Chicago selected Lauri Markkanen with the No. 7 overall pick, but the University of Arizona product is not projected to be enough of a influence to suggest Bell had to be moved. Bell is almost certainly getting sent to the G-League for the Warriors, but he could have played a role for a team in Chicago that needs theirs defined. If the Butler trade was symbolic of their new direction, perhaps the Bell-for-cash swap was most emblematic of how the Bulls do business.

At the end of the day, Chicago’s trade with Minnesota sending Butler back to Thibodeau feels hilariously lopsided, and pushes the full reset for the Bulls in the years since Rose, Joakim Noah, and Taj Gibson led the team. Unless either LaVine, Markkanen, or Dunn exceed Butler’s performance for Chicago, it’s unlikely that history will look kindly at this trade. When the Bulls brought in Wade and Rondo last season, it looked like the team that once challenged in the Eastern Conference had started their decline. Once Rondo and Wade are gone, we’re likely to see the bottom for Chicago.