NBA Playoffs: It took five games, but Bulls play like contenders

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This looked like what we all expected this entire series to look like.

The Chicago Bulls dominated Game 5 Tuesday game from the start, were up 11 at the end of one quarter, pulled away in the third quarter and cruised to a 116-89 win. Now they sit around until next Monday (when the NBA says that series will start) and let Stan Van Gundy and Larry Drew fight to get off the hot seat.

The Pacers had kept the games in this series close by playing good defense, trapping Derrick Rose and using Paul George to limit him, and daring any other Bull to step up and beat them.

Finally the Bulls broke through Tuesday. Rose had 25 on 8-of-17 shooting and got a lot of those points against George — ankle problem? what ankle problem? — while Luol Deng had 24 points on 14 shots. The Bulls as a team shot 48.2 percent. More importantly, they shot 45.2 percent from three and hitting a franchise record 14 three pointers. In the end the Bulls averaged 123.4 points per 100 possessions, 19 points better than their season average.

Meanwhile, the Bulls kept on playing the defense that made them the No. 1 overall seed, with the Pacers shooting just 39.2 percent on the night.

You know things are going well for Chicago when Kyle Korver dunks.

The Bulls stretched out to a 10-point lead early on and the lead pretty much it hung around that number through the second quarter. Then in the third quarter the Bulls pulled away again, getting up by about 20, and from there we pretty much all knew it was about to end.

Maybe it got a little bit interesting was right at the start of the fourth quarter when Rose picked up his fifth foul. Of course, the Bulls were up 19, so there wasn’t that big a concern. The Pacers were looking for offense and went with a smaller lineup. Didn’t help.

The Pacers exposed some questions about the Bulls and their ability to score consistently in the playoffs that are going to have to be answered in the next couple rounds. Against better defenses.

For Indiana, there are a lot of big questions. They start with is Larry Bird coming back as president. Then, do you bring back interim head coach Frank Vogel, who certainly had the team playing better in his stint at the end of the season and into the playoffs. The offense opened up and there was a lot more defensive energy. But that is different than saying he’s a head coach.

The bigger question for the Pacers is how to step forward — this is a team stuck in the NBA’s quicksand of a middle ground. They are good enough to make the playoffs some years but never challenge. But they are not bad enough to fall down deep in the standings and try to find salvation in the lottery. A Los Angeles and New York can draw big free agents to get them out of that quicksand, Indiana cannot (not easily anyway).

So how do they move forward? They have some nice role players, but how do they get the stars to go with Danny Granger and make it a winner?

Kyrie Irving says he hasn’t talked with Jimmy Butler about joining Knicks

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If you listen to some people, they believe that NBA stars are constantly scheming to end up together on certain teams, years in advance of their pending free agency. That was partially the case for the Miami Heat when Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, and Chris Bosh teamed up together. But we can’t always verify what players are talking about together, and of course they are free to have those conversations. NBA players have more agency than ever in 2018.

One rumor that has been floating around the NBA sphere as of late is the idea of disgruntled Minnesota Timberwolves star Jimmy Butler pairing up with current Boston Celtics point guard Kyrie Irving on the New York Knicks next season. Butler has an option to get out of his current contract at the end of 2019, as does Irving.

Things are getting messy with Butler out in Minnesota, with the latest news being that owner Glen Taylor has decided to circumvent his front office team and offer Butler up for trade himself. Meanwhile, Irving still has not signed an extension with the Celtics, which has some fans in Boston nervous.

Of course, someone was going to have to give Irving the chance to respond to the rumors that he wants to team up with Butler, and Jackie MacMullan over at ESPN did just that in a recent feature with the Celtics star. For his part, Irving says that he has not spoken with Butler about teaming up or anything related to career decisions since 2016.

Via ESPN:

Irving said he’s aware that he’s been linked to Jimmy Butler in persistent free-agent rumors regarding a mutual desire to play together in New York, but he said he’s had no such discussions with Butler. In fact, he said, the last time he talked to Butler at length was when they were both playing with USA Basketball, and the two engaged in a spitballing session along with Durant and Cousins about what the future held for each of them.

“And that,” Irving laughed, “was in 2016.”

Players publicly denying things that could actually be true is nothing new. Readers can take Irving at his word, or continue to be suspicious. It’s your prerogative to decide, although admittedly there are few external factors that will help you confirm whether two players will actually end up on a team in this manner together.

Set aside whether actual planning has gone on: As we have seen with players like Paul George, the expanse of the NBA season can change sentiments for where players would like to play in the future. Nothing is set in stone, even if it feels that way.

At least one report has said that Butler’s interest in the Knicks has been overstated, and that he would like to win now rather than later. Certainly, adding him and Irving to the New York roster would help them move up a few rungs, but it’s unclear whether it would put the Knicks on top of major competition in the Eastern Conference.

For now, we have to sit tight and wait and see where Butler will end up. We likely won’t have to wait more than a few days.

Add Cavs, Blazers, Wizards, Bucks to list of teams calling about Jimmy Butler

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The Jimmy Butler saga in Minnesota has been difficult to track the past couple of days. No doubt that’s due to the irregular nature of the potential transaction, with Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor circumventing his front office to seek a trade for Butler.

It was reported Saturday that several teams were interested in Butler, including some of the teams the star shooting guard reportedly prefers to land. That list included Brooklyn, Detroit, Houston, the LA Clippers, Miami and Philadelphia.

Now, you can add several more teams to the list who have at least placed phone calls to Minnesota now that they know Butler is available to be dealt.

According to multiple reports, the Cleveland Cavaliers, Portland Trail Blazers, Milwaukee Bucks, and Washington Wizards are interested in seeing what they can do to add Butler to their roster.

Trading for Butler at this juncture is a tenuous balance for all parties. Butler can opt out of his current deal at the end of the season, and is expected to do as much. That means teams must be certain that Butler is going to re-sign with them, or be happy with his rental for whatever assets they decide to give up. It puts the Timberwolves in a tough situation as well, where they won’t to get fair exchange for Butler’s overall worth.

We don’t have many details on actual offers just yet. Things seem to be a bit hectic in Minneapolis and new information is still streaming in. Training camp for the Timberwolves starts on Tuesday, and reports say that they would like to have Butler out of town by then.

What teams are willing to give up is another factor, and that self-imposed timeframe could widen what Taylor sees as a good return for Butler.

For example, any deal for Butler with the Blazers would not include Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, or Jusuf Nurkic, according to NBC Sports Northwest’s Dwight Jaynes. That leaves some value for the Timberwolves, including Al-Farouq Aminu or perhaps Maurice Harkless. But if Portland is reportedly not willing to give up any of their most important core, you can expect other teams are heading to Taylor’s door with similar offers.

More teams being added to the potential list of Butler landing spots is not surprising. When a superstar becomes available, just about every general manager will at least place a courtesy call to the trading office. It doesn’t help that Taylor appears publicly to be in a position of little leverage, so no doubt rival general managers are licking their chops to try to snag Butler away for cheap.

Keep your eyes peeled. This one is going to happen quick.

Knicks reportedly near deal to waive, stretch Joakim Noah, making him free agent

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The Joakim Noah era with the Knicks is finally, mercifully coming to an end.

Back in the summer of 2016 — the summer when NBA GMs spent like a drunk sailor on shore leave — the Knicks’ Phil Jackson looked at Joakim Noah, who had played 29 games the season before due to injury and was showing the wear and tear of Tom Thibodeau miles on him, and thought “I should give him four years, $72.6 million because he will totally bounce back to Defensive Player of the Year form.” In the two year’s since Noah has played in 53 games total, and while he can still grab some boards when he gets on the court, he is not near the defensive force he once was, and he was never a great offensive player.

The Knicks are finally moving on and doing so in the next 48 hours, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical at The Athletic.

Much like the Luol Deng move by the Lakers, this is about freeing up cap space for next summer for the Knicks. New York will pay his full $18.5 million salary for this season, then stretch his final season of $19.3 million over three seasons, which works out to about $6.43 million a season on the books. That is without any discount in the buyout Noah may give New York.

For the Knicks, that frees up about $12.9 million in extra cap space next summer, when they want to go big game hunting for free agents. (The Knicks reportedly have Kyrie Irving at the top of their list, although most sources I talk to around the league don’t expect Irving to leave Boston next summer.) It does mean the Knicks will have some of that Noah money on the books through the summer of 2023. The risk for New York is if they strike out in free agency then they still have that Noah money on the books, rather than just taking their medicine and paying the full price, although having him in the locker room and wanting minutes would be a distraction, one the Knicks would like to move past.

As for other teams having interest in Noah, maybe if he can prove he’s healthy some team might consider him for a backup center, or third center on the roster spot. Maybe. But most teams would rather have a young player they can get cheaply and develop in that spot rather than a 33-year-old veteran with an injury history. It’s something to watch, but I doubt the market is very deep. That said, it just takes one.

76ers set to turn promising season into must-see TV

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CAMDEN, N.J. (AP) — Ben Simmons is set to turn the 76ers into must-see TV.

But he hopes to have another smash hit off the court. NBC has given a script commitment to “Brotherly Love,” loosely based on the life of the Aussie-born NBA rookie of the year.

Deadline described the pitch like this:

“Brotherly Love is inspired by the life of Ben Simmons and centers on a unique sibling relationship within a multi-ethnic family. Together, they pursue their dreams while navigating life in the spotlight in Philadelphia, a passionate city where sports is in your blood, and your blood is always boiling.”

Don’t touch that dial – well, unless the 76ers are on.

“It’s just funny because a lot of people probably pitch their lives and think everything should be a TV show,” Simmons said Friday. “We brought it to life. (My brother) wrote something up, pitched it to a few different people. NBC loved it and went with it. It’s really going to be about our relationship and how things just happen. It’s more of a comedy-sitcom type of show. It will be pretty funny. Hopefully, that goes through and works out.”

Oh, and LeBron James (through SpringHill Entertainment) is listed as an executive producer.

The 76ers were shooting for Ben & Bron.

The Sixers met with James’ representatives just hours before the free-agent signed with the Los Angeles Lakers, the brief flirtation enough to make the organization think they might have a shot at the NBA great.

“I feel like he could have been a great piece to add to get us where we need to be,” All-Star center Joel Embiid said.

So the 76ers will try to win their first NBA title since 1983 without The King.

But with Embiid, Simmons and 2017 No. 1 NBA draft pick Markelle Fultz aboard, the Sixers believe they can top the 52 wins and a playoff series win from a year ago as they chase a championship.

Embiid, speaking at 76ers’ media day, said a successful season would be “an appearance in the NBA finals.”

That’s a pretty lofty goal for a franchise that made no meaningful offseason additions and just this week named 39-year-old Elton Brand, who retired only two years ago, as general manager.

“I just remember dunking on him really bad,” Embiid said. “That’s crazy it was two years ago.”

Coach Brett Brown expected a dominant season out of Embiid (22.9 points, 11 rebounds) and Simmons, whose friendship with Kendall Jenner made TMZ headlines this summer. He spent the offseason working on his jumper.

“I’ve never been on a team where I have to take shots,” Simmons said.

But the player who can make the most impact as a pseudo-newcomer is Fultz. Bordering on bust territory after just one season, Fultz had his rookie year derailed by a mysterious shoulder injury, a broken shot and confidence issues. He played the first four games, missed 68 games because of the injury and was benched in the playoffs against the Celtics.

Fultz struggled with his mechanics when he played, and his shooting form was widely mocked around the NBA.

Even his personal trainer, shooting coach Drew Hanlen, said Fultz suffered from the “yips” and “completely forgot how to shoot.”

The 20-year-old Fultz said Hanlen used a “misterm in words.”

“What happened last year was the injury, let me get that straight,” Fultz said. “It was the injury that happened that didn’t allow me to go through a certain path that I need to shoot the ball. Just like any normal person, when you’re used to doing something the same way each and every day and something happens, of course you’re going to start thinking about it. It’s just normal.”

Fultz took about 150,000 shots this summer and reworked his form to prove he’s ready join Embiid and Simmons on the Big Three.

“This summer was really just me working to get my mechanics back, my confidence back, my swagger back,” Fultz said.

The Sixers need it all – the swagger, the shots, the early success that can propel them toward Eastern Conference contention. The franchise that won just 10 games three seasons ago is now on the cusp of becoming an elite team.

“It’s going to be a great year,” Embiid said.