What does another Miami Heat loss tell us? That Chicago is good.

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For many this s going to be about Miami losing again in a close game against an elite team (87-86 to the Bulls).

About the Heat players crying in the locker room afterward. About how the Heat are now 1-16 this season on shots to tie or win in the final 10 seconds of the fourth quarter. About how Erik Spoelstra can’t draw up the right play or motivate his team. About whether that pushing foul on Mike Miller after Luol Deng missed crucial free throws was really a foul (no, it wasn’t). About how the Heat were the more desperate team but still lost.

What should this game be about?

Officially welcoming the Chicago Bulls into the ranks of NBA title contenders.

The Bulls have just enough offense and plenty of defense. A Heat team that scores 110.7 points per 100 possessions during the season was held to 101.2 in this game. On the final play, the Bulls anticipated the Heat trying to get the switch of a big man on to LeBron James off a pick, but with Joakim Noah and his length and quickness there is no mismatch. Then Dwyane Wade hustled to get the offensive board, but the long arms of Luol Deng were there to contest that shot.

It would be wrong to say the Heat are not executing their plays at the end of games, because that would imply they are running plays. The Heat are falling back to isolations or a pick at best. The offense — which isn’t that complex to begin with — goes the way of the Dodo bird late in games.

The Heat had an early lead in this one by double digits at points  (led by 9 at the half) because their defense forced turnovers. The Heat had 20 points in the paint in the first half, just half that in the second half. The Bulls adjusted and the Heat settled.

The Bulls were not perfect. Rose, who played a great game, blew off the Tom Thibodeau play call to try to get isolated on Wade late, then launched and missed a three that was a poor shot. Carlos Boozer didn’t bother to make the  rotation to stop drive by Mario Chalmers what put the Heat up two late.

(Chalmers was the best Heat player down the stretch, hitting big shots like he was still winning a national title at Kansas. He had the Heat’s last five points.)

But those were the exceptions. The Bulls played within themselves. They got enough offense out of Rose (27), Boozer (12) and a great game by Deng (18) to get the win.

Sure, the Bulls caught some breaks. Ask any champion if they caught some breaks. The Bulls were able to control the pace in the second half (once they limited turnovers) and the Heat — even with their big three — could not score against that defense consistently.

The Bulls are in the mix as contenders. I’m not convinced they will win until they find a way to get some easier buckets once in a while (Rose is spectacular but I don’t think he knows was an easy bucket is), but they are scoring enough.

Enough to leave the Heat in tears. Enough to be title contenders.

Report: After working out Darius Garland, Knicks set on R.J. Barrett with No. 3 pick

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R.J. Barrett is the consensus No. 3 prospect in this draft. The Knicks have the No. 3 pick.

A potential snag  – New York working out Vanderbilt point guard Darius Garland today – apparently won’t keep Barrett from his desired Knicks.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

The top of the draft looks clear:

1. Pelicans: Zion Williamson

2. Grizzlies: Ja Morant

3. Knicks: R.J. Barrett

New Orleans has the No. 4 pick but is looking into trading it. I rate Garland as the top available prospect, but the Pelicans already have Lonzo Ball and Jrue Holiday in the backcourt. They could still take Garland, but the fit would be tricky.

Will New Orleans pick Garland? Take someone else? Trade the pick?

The draft will get interesting at No. 4.

Trade who? Wizards reportedly will offer Bradley Beal three-year, $111 million contract extension

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Predicting what the Wizards will do this off-season — from the No. 9 pick in the draft on Thursday through what to do with Jabari Parker‘s $20 million team option — is difficult because they do not have a permanent general manager. The Wizards have made a run at Toronto’s Masai Ujiri (something sources told me is true despite owner Ted Leonsis’ denials), but for now in-house candidate Tommy Sheppard is running the show (and will for a while longer).

The biggest question: What will the Wizards do with Bradley Beal?

While every team in the league has called to try and feel out trade possibilities, the Wizards are leaning toward offering him a three-year, $111 million extension to his current contract, something reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

“He’s eligible for a three-year, $111 million extension. I’m told it’s the team’s intention to offer that up to him and try and move forward.”

The Wizards should offer it up.

It would be a surprise if Beal accepted it.

In part because he will want to see who is in charge and what direction this person takes the franchise before he commits to it, but also in part because it doesn’t hurt him financially. Beal can get a larger-year four-year extension in the summer of 2020, or become a free agent and sign a max five-year contract in 2021 (or, he could bolt them to another team that summer). Beal is just 25 years old and has not had the kind of injury issues that would make him think he needs to take the security now (he has played 82 games the last two seasons).

This little dance will go on in our nation’s capital, but it signifies nothing. Meanwhile, Beal will gear up for next season, another without John Wall where Beal will once again be the focal point of the office.

Mavericks reportedly front runners to land Al Horford, Lakers and Clippers also interested

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Al Horford is moving on from Boston, the latest blow in a year where the Celtics went from “they will be in the Eastern Conference Finals every year for the next five years at least” to “they’re okay but have a lot of work to do.” It’s been a perfect storm of things gone wrong.

So where does Al Horford play next season?

How about next to Kristaps Porzingis in Dallas?

That’s the buzz, with the two Los Angeles teams trying to get in the conversation, according to Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer.

The Mavericks are considered favorites to land Celtics free-agent big man Al Horford, according to league sources, and the two Los Angeles teams are said to also have interest, though they both have their sights set on bigger fish like Kawhi Leonard.

Dallas makes sense for both sides.

The Mavericks have the cap space to offer Horford the $20 million or more starting salary he wants, reportedly he seeks $100 million across four years (he opted out of a $30.5 million season in Boston for the security of more years). Dallas has $31.3 million in cap space, even after Dwight Powell opting in. While they likely will reach a max deal on a new contract with Porzingis, the Mavs have his bird rights so they can sign Horford then go over the cap to re-sign Porzingis (who missed all of last season recovering from an ACL injury).

On the court, Horford can both be paired with Porzingis — two bigs teams have to defend out to the three-point line — and help limit the young big man’s minutes. While not young at 33 (and the Mavs may regret the final year of a four-year contract), Horford is the kind of glue big man who can do everything well, giving coach Rick Carlisle a lot of options. Horford can score in the post, shot 36 percent from three, sets good screens, is a good man defender and can protect the rim, and all that versatility makes him valuable. He can fit into the Dallas frontcourt rotation with Porzingis, Dwight Powell, and Maxi Kleber.

That versatility would make him a great second addition to the Clippers if Kawhi Leonard chooses to leave the Raptors to join Doc Rivers’ squad (he Leonard stays the Clippers are out of this running). While Los Angeles start Ivica Zubac at the five, Horford would be an upgrade and they still have Montrezl Harrell off the bench. Horford also could mix in at the four for the Clippers.

For the Lakers, who are looking for a third star, they could sigh Horford at a $20 million starting salary (with raises from there) without having to go through the salary cap gymnastics it would take for them to clear cap space to land someone like Jimmy Butler or Kemba Walker.

Horford has fans all over the league and will have options, but Dallas is aggressive and there is a logical fit there.

Ted Leonsis denies making overture to Raptors’ Masai Ujiri to run Wizards

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The NBA offseason is a time for rumors and official denials. The Washington Wizards were reportedly going after Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri to run the franchise. The reported talks with Ujiri centered around a role that could have expanded his influence beyond the Wizards. Monumental Sports owns the Washington Capitals and Mystics in addition to the NBA franchise.

Now Wizards owner Ted Leonsis is denying that they have pursued the Raptors president. Speaking to the Washington Post this week, Leonsis said that they will not name a new president until after the 2019 NBA draft on Thursday. That seems like an odd decision given that the draft is one of three ways NBA teams can get better, and likely is the only way the Wizards will be able to improve their roster thanks to the cap hell they find themselves in due to John Wall‘s massive super max contract.

Via the Washington Post:

On Tuesday, Leonsis released a statement to The Washington Post in which he shared the plan to take his time in forming the franchise’s new leadership team. Leonsis also denied reports that the Wizards pursued Toronto Raptors President Masai Ujiri, who constructed the roster that last week won the NBA Finals.

Tommy Sheppard, who has led the Wizards’ basketball operations on an interim basis for the past 11 weeks, will continue in the role through Thursday’s NBA draft and the start of free agency, which arrives June 30.

“I am very happy with the work and preparation Tommy Sheppard, Coach [Scott] Brooks and our staff have done and I’m confident we’ll execute both the draft and free agency in an expert manner,” Leonsis said in a statement. “Having that confidence has given me the freedom to continue the conversations I’ve been having on how to build a great organization and, as a result, I don’t expect to make any decisions before the start of free agency.”

This comes with information from ESPN’s Brian Windhorst that the Raptors would require significant compensation to allow Ujiri to walk to another NBA team.

Ujiri is still under contract with Toronto.

Via The Hoop Collective:

“I have heard there’s been at least some communication between the franchises and Toronto has expressed that if they’re going to give up Masai Ujiri, they would like to have significant compensation.”

Ujiri took a big risk to land Kawhi Leonard and it worked out. The former San Antonio Spurs small forward is now trying to decide where he wants to go this offseason as well, with reports saying he is still strongly considering the Los Angeles Clippers.

Marc Stein mentioned in his most recent newsletter that Leonard could also sign a 1+1 deal that gives him a $33 million payout for this upcoming season and an option for the next.

In short, everything is up in the air and nobody has gone anywhere… yet. The NBA offseason is already wild with July still some weeks away. Strap yourself in, it’s only going to get weirder from here.