NBA Playoffs: Bulls fight valiantly, but the Cavs are still the Cavs

Leave a comment

rose and noah game 5.pngThe Chicago Bulls were neither deep enough nor talented enough to pose much of a threat to the Cleveland Cavaliers, but they competed. They worked defensively and made things as difficult as they could for LeBron and co., but facing an opponent with so many scoring options and such chemistry ultimately proved to be too much.

Expecting Chicago to be a significant obstacle would be somewhat misguided, given how many of their possessions end in bad shots and how heavily the Bulls are forced to lean on their starting five. Chicago got just 32 total minutes out of their reserves, and those three players totaled 10 points (on 4-of-11 shooting), six rebounds, and two assists. Oh, and their names are Brad Miller, Flip Murray, and Hakim Warrick. Not exactly a Sixth Man candidate among them, and no sure-fire contributions lest you count Flip’s tendency to take over the scoring load for stretches.

By comparison, Cleveland’s reserves score 28 points (11-of-22), grabbed 11 boards, and notched five assists in about 78 total minutes. To make matters worse, that’s without tapping Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Leon Powe, or Daniel Gibson for minutes. The Cavaliers are a veritable army, and their ability to play a number of different lineups with varied strengths is tough for almost any team to counter. Factor in LeBron James as a big part of most of those lineups, and you’ve got a team that looks like a no-brainer for the Conference Finals, at the very least.

I could tell you that Rose was impressive with 31 points on 27 shots but was a play or two away
from glory, that Antawn Jamison has been overlooked entirely in this
series, or that Joakim Noah’s aggressive style got the better of him —
but what’s the point? The outcome of this series isn’t exactly a
surprise, and neither was the outcome of Game 5.

The Cavs weren’t perfect in this game, and they weren’t perfect in the series; Shaq is still working himself back into a groove, LeBron is forcing some things, and their defense could stand to improve. This team, despite their status as a title contender, is not necessarily in tip-top shape for championship-level competition. That’s okay, though, because a second round date with the Boston Celtics should be just what the doctor ordered. There’s enough animosity on both sides that if the Cavs need a wake-up call, they’re sure to get it in the coming games.

The Bulls don’t need a wake-up call. They can snooze until the draft and until free agency, as they’ve made their case as an intriguing free agent destination. Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade should take note of every Derrick Rose floater, every Joakim Noah rebound, every shot that Luol Deng bothered.

Chicago may not be deep now, but they could very well be by next season’s opening tip. The developing talent there is undeniable, and while I can’t imagine a single NBA player declaring their desire to go play for Vinny Del Negro, the prestige of the team and the talent already in place (don’t forget about supplementary pieces like Kirk Hinrich and Taj Gibson, either) could be enough to draw some major upgrades.

Isaiah Thomas to Danny Ainge: ‘If the opportunity is there, I would just like to let you know that I’d love to come back’ to Celtics

AP Photo/Elise Amendola
2 Comments

Isaiah Thomas had a rough year.

The Celtics traded him to the Cavaliers. He missed most of the season with a hip injury. In between, he played destructively bad for the Cavs and Lakers and got run out of Cleveland, in part, for making waves in the locker room. Free agency was especially cruel, Thomas’ Brinks-truck dreams ending in a minimum salary from the Nuggets – a historically low figure for someone who finished top-five in MVP voting just two seasons prior.

On a bright note: Thomas ended his feud with Celtics president Danny Ainge. In fact, those two spoke during Thomas’ free agency.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Before finalizing the agreement with Denver, Thomas had reached out to Boston GM Danny Ainge. They talked for 15 to 20 minutes, Thomas says, and he told Ainge: “If the opportunity is there, I would just like to let you know that I’d love to come back.”

Ainge says his mind was open to the idea, but the Celtics needed to work through Marcus Smart‘s restricted-free-agency discussions before they could consider making an offer to Thomas. Ainge was willing to continue the conversation, but Thomas accepted the Nuggets’ offer before Boston had reached its new deal with Smart.

“S—, I’d have gone back,” Thomas says. “I don’t hold grudges.”

Thomas played his best basketball in Boston. Brad Stevens empowered Thomas as a go-to offensive player and successfully hid him on defense. I understand the appeal of going back.

But that Thomas could never return to those Celtics. He’s older, and his hip injury might have sapped his athleticism. Boston acquired Kyrie Irving, and Terry Rozier broke out. Marcus Smart remains.

A reunion would have likely ended in disappointment.

Instead, Thomas will try to prove himself in Denver, backing up Jamal Murray. Thomas is aware of his standing, and his interview is both endearing and sympathetic. He wears his emotions on his sleeve and carries a chip on his shoulder – the reason so many of us are drawn to him. And he’s keenly aware that, in a league where so many players are paid based on past performance, he’s judged by a hip injury teams believe will hinder him going forward.

Thomas, as always, seems driven to prove himself. And maybe he will. Returning to a reserve role isn’t glamorous, but there’s an opportunity with the Nuggets.

But I also fear, no matter how well Thomas plays next season, teams will be apprehensive of a 30-year-old 5-foot-9 point guard with a history of hip problems in 2019 free agency. He might be stuck in a no-win situation and just can’t get his big payday.

Especially after this interview, though, I’m excited to watch him try.

Report: Carmelo Anthony to sign minimum contract with Rockets

J Pat Carter/Getty Images
5 Comments

Carmelo Anthony signing with the Rockets has been a near-certainty for a while.

The final steps – the Thunder trading him to the Hawks, Atlanta waiving him, Anthony clearing waivers – are close enough that specifics are emerging.

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

Carmelo Anthony is planning to sign with the Houston Rockets upon clearing waivers in coming days, according to two people with knowledge of his plans.

He is expected to receive a one-year deal from the Rockets at the league’s veteran minimum salary

The Rockets have the $5,337,000 taxpayer mid-level exception available, but clearly wary of an expensive payroll, they’ll get Anthony for much less.

Anthony will count just $1,512,601 toward the cap and luxury tax. He’ll pocket pocket an extra $1,871,635 – in addition to the $27,928,140 paid by the Hawks. Not a bad summer for him, as he’ll get all his money plus a little more and get to join his desire team.

For the Rockets? It’s a classic tale. They let more expensive players – Trevor Ariza ($15 million from Suns) and Luc Mbah a Moute ($4,320,500 from Clippers) – leave and settled for minimum-salary players: James Ennis and Anthony.

Ennis fits well in Houston, but he lacks the talent of the departing players (who also fit well). Anthony brings name recognition, but unless he works to complement James Harden and Chris Paula huge question mark – this won’t go well. That’s why he’s leaving Oklahoma City, and there are many reasons to be skeptical he’ll acquit himself better with the Rockets.

You get what you pay for.

John Wall calls Washington’s off-season moves “pretty interesting”

Getty Images
1 Comment

After another season where the Wizards underwhelmed — due to injuries, due to chemistry issues, due to a lot of things — what were the bold moves of this summer in our nation’s capital? Well, they signed Jeff Green. And in a trade they got Austin Rivers.

The other part of that Rivers’ trade was the big news — they sent center Marcin Gortat to the Clippers. That cleared the way to sign Dwight Howard this summer. The idea of adding Howard to a locker room with questionable chemistry is a bit of a punch line.

In a podcast with Chris Miller of NBC Sports Washington, Wall called the Wizards’ summer “pretty interesting” and praised Howard.

“Even though [Howard] is older, he’s still an athletic big averaging 16 [points] and 12 [rebounds],” Wall said in the pod. He talked up Howard as a pick-and-roll threat lob threat as he rolls to the rim, saying defenses can’t cheat off of him.

“Not only do you get more layups, probably, you get more wide open threes.”

That’s great, but Howard got the ball back as the roll man on 12.5 percent of his possessions last season — it has never been something he wants to do a lot. Post-ups, however, accounted for 40.1 percent of his possessions, once you include his passes out of the post (and the Wizards scored a rather meh 0.85 points per possession on those post ups). Howard has long been better as the roll man, he just dislikes to do it.

Last season, Marcin Gortat got 20.9 percent of his shots out of the pick-and-roll and just 18.2 percent on post-ups. The Wizards don’t want to take the ball out of Wall’s hands. Nor should they.

Howard, even at this point in his career (when he is not the force of nature he was back in Orlando), can be an upgrade for the Wizards at center, but not a massive one. Nothing else GM Ernie Grunfeld did this summer moved the needle in Washington.

It’s all “pretty interesting” I guess. The Wizards look like another middle-of-the-pack team just not living up to all the potential on the roster, and it’s hard to see what changes about that this season.

 

Report: Tobias Harris turned down $80 million extension from Clippers

Getty Images
5 Comments

Is $80 million enough for Tobias Harris? Tobias Harris certainly doesn’t think so.

The lengthy Los Angeles Clippers forward is just 26 years old, and is in line for not one but probably two more significant contracts. That being said, according to a report from TNT’s David Aldridge, Harris recently turned down an extension offer from the Clippers in the area of four years, $80 million.

That reported number would have been a significant increase over the contract Harris signed with the Orlando Magic back in 2015. That deal was for four years and $64 million, but it appears that Harris is biding his time and waiting for the summer of 2019 when more teams have cap space.

Via Twitter:

Harris turning down this extension sort of leans into something I’ve been mentioning lately, and that is that some of these mid-range or cusp-level stars might end up taking less than they expect while waiting for 2019.

Yes, there is cap space to be had next summer. But there’s not an unlimited amount, and I believe that many GMs will be reticent to spend money the way they did a couple of years ago after the cap spiked. Teams handed out some crazy contracts in 2016, and several GMs will have learned their lesson.

Eighty million dollars is completely reasonable for Harris, so it seems he is either wanting more cash or perhaps he wants a change of scenery. What LAC reportedly offered Harris was an extension, and now it appears he will head straight into unrestricted free agency.

Harris is still young, and he is a good 3-point shooter. He shot 41.4 percent from deep for the Clippers last season, and he has the ability to play several positions. It’s possible that a team who wants to move into the modern, small ball type of play we’ve seen over the last couple years steps up with a big offer.

The question is who that might be.