Kurt Helin

Giannis Antetokounmpo, LeBron James

Bucks’ GM believes team has six-man core of the future

15 Comments

Jabari Parker. Giannis Antetokounmpo. Greg Monroe. Michael Carter-Williams. Khris Middleton. John Henson.

Last season, with four of those six in place (Parker was injured most of the season, Monroe was in Detroit) the Milwaukee Bucks took a big step forward into the playoffs. They did it with great defense and the guidance of Jason Kidd.

Can they take another step this season? They should have an improved front line and offensive punch with Parker healthy and Monroe in the fold as a free agent. However, they Bucks sent veteran voices like Jared Dudley, how much will they be missed?

What matters more to GM John Hammond is continuity — he has a core in place now he thinks he can win with down the line. They just need time to grow and develop together. Look at what he said on The Baseline Podcast, as transcribed by Brew Hoop.

We’re trying to build around some kind of consistency with the nucleus of Michael Carter-Williams, Khris Middleton, Jabari Parker, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Greg Monroe and John Henson. Those six guys are the young core that we look and say that’s kinda the future of this organization, and that’s not discounting anyone else. Other players have to step and become a part of that group with us. But those guys are the group we hope we can build some kind of continuity with.

While we can debate whether guys like Henson or Carter-Williams are part of the long-term core for them, Hammond is spot on about continuity. But more than just continuity of roster, there has to be continuity of system and style. You can keep the same players, but if you change coaches and systems as often as Sacramento, it’s not going to matter.

Let these guys grow together and see what they can become under Kidd. They are still a few years away from being a threat to Cleveland (if they get there at all, we’ll see where their trajectory takes them) but the Bucks have to be patient and let it all play out.

Then right about the time they move into that new downtown arena, this could be a very dangerous team.

You have yet to see the best Nikola Mirotic, if you ask Nikola Mirotic

Nikola Mirotic, Joakim Noah
13 Comments

It’s natural for a player to make a leap between their first and second seasons in the NBA — they’ve adjusted to the style and level of play, the travel, plus they are working hard on their games.

That can be a little less consistent with European players who played at a high level overseas — their game has already been pushed to a degree. There is often improvement, but not the leaps you see in a guy turning 20.

The Bulls Nikola Mirotic could be the exception and make a big leap in production his coming second season. The reason starts with new coach Fred Hoiberg, who will likely give him real run and responsibilities from Day 1. Mirotic told Hoopshype to expect him to be improved, in the context of a question where he was asked about if the timing was right last season for him to jump to the NBA.

“So I felt the need to change. It was three years since Chicago drafted me and I waited for the right time to make the move. You can tell the timing was right by the kind of season I had. Some people may have been surprised with my performance, but those who know me know the best Mirotic is yet to come….

“Next year I guess I’m going to have more of a featured role with the team and that’s just another motivation to work extra hard so when the team needs me I’m ready to deliver.”

After the All-Star Game last season, Mirotic averaged 16 points a game with an above-average true shooting percentage of 56 percent, plus he grabbed 6.3 rebounds a game. In March, he averaged 20.8 points per game, and crawled into the Rookie of the Year conversation. Then in the playoffs Tom Thibodeau reduced Mirotic’s minutes, and he struggled shooting just 30 percent.

New coach Fred Hoiberg — with his more open, up-tempo, modern NBA offense — is going to lean on Mirotic more and more starting opening night. He’s going to count on Mirotic to space the floor (he needs to be more consistent from three) and move the ball. It should be a more comfortable setting for Mirotic.

He should improve. The Bulls are counting on little improvements and guys just staying healthy with a more reasonable minutes distribution to take them to the next level. We’ll see if that’s enough. But if it is, Mirotic is going to have a healthy sized role in all of it.

Ricky Rubio thinks Timberwolves can make the playoffs

Minnesota Timberwolves v Sacramento Kings
44 Comments

Last season, the Minnesota Timberwolves won 16 games, in large part due to having the worst defense in the NBA.

This season, they’re a team that will be fun to watch. Ricky Rubio dishing at the point with flair, Andrew Wiggins improving out on the wing and finishing like a beast, Karl-Anthony Towns finding his way in the paint, Zach LaVine dunking on everyone. They will be improved and entertaining.

The playoffs? That is still a ways off.

Unless you ask Rubio, which someone did at an Adidas store in the Philippines (Rubio is on tour promoting the brand). Rubio said he believes they can do it, as reported by rappler.com.

“I always dream big, and I always put the bar level really high, I know the Western Conference is really tough. There’s a lot of good teams who can make the playoffs, but I believe. I believe in me, I believe in my team, and I think we can do it….

“If we stay healthy, there’s no doubt that we’re going to have a chance. We have to be there to do that, and dream big.”

After playing just 22 games last season due to injury, if they can get a full season out of Rubio it makes the Timberwolves that much better. They have a good young core that’s improving. They have Kevin Garnett as a mentor. There is a lot to like, a lot of potential. This is going to be a team you stop and watch on League Pass.

But the playoffs. In the West? That’s more than a big dream, that’s fantasy right now.

 

Bulls’ Jimmy Butler talks about how Mark Wahlberg inspires him

Wahlburgers Coney Island Preview Party
14 Comments

Mark Wahlberg has come a long way, from Marky Mark to the star of “Boogie Nights” to the guy who was nominated for an Oscar in “The Departed.” Not to mention being an executive producer on “Entourage” and “Boardwalk Empire” while co-owning a chain of hamburger joints.

Wahlberg and the Bulls Jimmy Butler met a couple of years back when the actor was in Chicago filming the latest (but unfortunately not last) Transformers movie. They played some pickup, hit it off and are still friends.

It was a relaxed Butler speaking to the media out in Las Vegas at the Team USA mini-camp — signing a five-year, $95 million deal will put you at ease, I guess — and he talked to Sam Smith of Bulls.com about his relationship with Wahlberg (hat tip Ball Don’t Lie and Blog a Bull).

“From where he’s come from, he’s taught me so much,” Butler said. “What he’s been through to where he is now, we are kind of on the same path, just a little bit different. All this adversity where he is now….

“More than anything he doesn’t care I am an NBA player,” said Butler. “He just wants me moving in the right direction. He’s a role model for so many people. But I look up to him for the way he is with his kids, his family. And the way he treats his entourage (the successful HBO series and later movie was loosely based on Wahlberg). Everybody respects the guy because he treats you with respect. That’s how I want to be known. I want to treat you all with respect….

“The dude is an incredible dude,” said Butler. “He is one of the most genuine people you can be around. He works hard, studies the scripts. He just finished up Deep Water Horizon, but he’s probably on two scripts from now because that’s how his mind works. He’s actually the one (that) got (me) waking up at 5 o’clock and working because that’s what he does, wakes up 4:30, 5 and he reads (scripts) and then he goes works out and starts his day.”

I don’t know much about Wahlberg, but if Butler is getting that much out of their relationship, then good for him. Both guys had rough upbringings and made something of themselves. That’s a good foundation for a bond.

And Butler, say hi to your mother for me.

Kevin Durant says don’t believe thousands of rumors to come about his free agency plans

Miami Heat v Oklahoma City Thunder
5 Comments

Kevin Durant is the franchise changing, super-elite free agent next summer that every team is dreaming about.

While logic would tell you Oklahoma City remains the clear frontrunner, fans and executives dreams of free agency are not based in logic. Teams are planning just in case; fans are daydreaming and trying to talk themselves into why Durant wants to be a Wizard/Knick/Laker/Sun/whatever.

Which means there will be roughly 82,429 rumors between now and next July about what Kevin Durant wants to do as a free agent. Kevin Durant wants you to believe none of them, something he told Ken Berger of CBSSports.com.

Along with Matty Ice [Thunder PR man Matt Tumbleson], I’ve got two people that I trust with my life, my agent and my manager, who’s my best friend as well. I trust them with my life. So if you hear sources or anything, don’t believe it if it didn’t come from them. I tell them everything. We bounce ideas off each other. We collaborate on a lot of different things. They give me advice. so throughout this year, if you hear sources from anybody, it’s not true, unless you hear it from Charlie Bell, Rich Kleiman or Kevin Durant.

Of course, this will be about as effective as the Zune.

Other executives will talk, other agents will talk, and these conversations will become reports that will spread around the league. Durant will try to ignore them and stay focused on winning with a finally healthy Thunder roster. Certainly, how this season plays out will impact both his ultimate decision and the rumors.

Bottom line: Kevin Durant doesn’t know what Kevin Durant is going to do next summer. He knows how he is leaning, he knows what his priorities will be (after money, he’s a max everywhere although the Thunder can offer another year and larger raises), he knows the guys he wants to play with and the ones he doesn’t. But he can’t predict how things will look next July, an NBA season can feel like a lifetime.

So take the rumors with plenty of salt. But know they are coming in waves.