When’s the $75 Million Boozer going to show up?

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So the Bulls are a pretty good team, right? Best record in the league, MVP Derrick Rose, top seed in the East, Conference Finals team with homecourt advantage (until Wednesday, at least). That’s pretty good. Except there’s just one problem that if the Bulls can solve, will mean their road to a championship and a restart of the 90’s heydays will be much easier.

Boozer.

Carlos Boozer signed with the Bulls for $75 million dollars over five years. He was the big free agent acquisition by Chicago in the free agent summer of a lifetime. Yes, the Bulls bought into a team-wide approach, adding role players like Kyle Korver, Ronnie Brewer, and Keith Bogans (Keith Bogans?!), but Boozer was the crown jewel. When the Bulls were getting railroaded out of the playoffs, everyone said they needed a No.2 option. Boozer was meant to be that option.

The result? Boozer had a rough start, tripping over a bag, yes, a bag, and injuring himself for the first few months of the season. When he returned, he put in his third lowest season PER of his career, and his lowest point total in five years, save for the injury-ridden 2009 season. Boozer wasn’t looked at as a liability, after all, the Bulls won all those games and averaged 17.5 points and 9.6 rebounds. But he’s simply not the force that the Bulls need, and if he’s ever going to show up, now would be a great time as the Eastern Conference Finals move to Miami.

The playoffs started off badly for Boozer as Tyler Hansbrough showed the world what Jazz fans have known a long time: Boozer’s a defensive liability. Hansbrough still had opportunities as the Pacers series continued, but couldn’t convert, mostly due to inexperience. Then against the Hawks, we saw the first signs that Tom Thibodeau may trust Taj Gibson more in key defensive situations than Boozer. The Conference Finals have expressed the same. In fact, Gibson accounted for the vast majority of the Bulls’ offense in their fourth quarter of Game 2. Granted, the Bulls only scored 10 points in that quarter, but the point stands.

The Bulls needed offense in Game 2 and Boozer scored seven points on 3-10 shooting. He secured eight rebounds, four offensive, but it makes the second game Chris Bosh has bested Boozer, and Bosh had a terrible Game 2. The Bulls need Boozer. With Rose struggling as the Heat’s defense keys more and more on him, the Bulls have to look elsewhere. Their offense is at best rudimentary and at worst most-often infantile. “Give the ball to Boozer in the post and let him do his thing” is one of the better options the Bulls have.

The interesting thing is Tom Thibodeau doesn’t see Boozer, who turns 30 later this year, as a “slow it and post it” option. Instead, Thibodeau thinks Boozer needs the ball more in transition.

“It’s the same thing, just like with Derrick [Rose],” Thibodeau said. “I think the more we can run the floor and get out into transition before their defense gets set, it makes our offense much more efficient. I think it also plays to what our strengths are … We gotta try to get easy baskets. If the defense is set, now you gotta move the defense. Now the clock starts working against you. If you’re settling for long jumpers at the end of the shot clock, you’re not going to be very successful against this team.”

Boozer echoed his coach’s preference to play up-tempo basketball.

“Well we gotta run,” Boozer said. “The thing about getting easy baskets is you gotta make the other team miss, so you can get out in transition. We got one of the fastest guys in the world on our team (Rose). But to get the ball to him in transition where we can follow him and chase him, we gotta get stops. Once we get stops we’ll get the ball in his hands so we can run.”

via Boozer, pace keys for Bulls’ offense – Chicago Bulls Blog – ESPN Chicago.

Boozer has the opportunity to be the difference in a title or exit for the Bulls. But he has to somehow do the things he was paid to do. Whether he actually has that ability or not remains to be seen. The Bulls’ future lies with Boozer. If the Bulls want to reclaim homecourt advantage, they’ve got to get Boozer going.

And he’s got to do more than just yell.

Report: Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta has griped about Chris Paul’s contract in front of rival executives

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In 2017, Chris Paul opted in to facilitate a trade to the capped-out Rockets. By forgoing free agency and a max salary, Paul sacrificed $10,083,055 that season. With Paul and James Harden, the Rockets became a championship contender and pushed the Warriors in the 2018 Western Conference finals.

The bill came due last summer.

Houston re-signed the aging Paul to a four-year max contract worth $159,730,592. That deal always looked like it could age poorly, and Paul – now 34 – is already slowing.

Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta has noticed.

Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

Fertitta has grumbled about Paul’s contract, expressing regret to Rockets staffers and even in front of rival executives, according to league sources.

Fertitta bought the Rockets after they traded for Paul. Though the sale was completed before they re-signed Paul, it seems the contract terms were at least discussed as far back as the opt-in-and-trade.

So, Fertitta didn’t necessarily sign off on this arrangement.

But it was good for Houston! It made the Rockets the biggest threat to the Kevin Durant-supercharged Warriors to that point. Re-signing Paul helped keep Houston in title contention this year. The Rockets were limited in that pursuit by Fertitta’s spending limitations, not by locking Paul into this contract.

Yes, there’s downside to Paul’s deal. Houston is feeling it now. Paul will be difficult, though not impossible, to trade this summer.

But as much as Fertitta talks about winning, he yet again shows why that’s all bluster.

Kawhi Leonard wears ‘Board Man Gets Paid’ shirt to Raptors’ championship parade (video)

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NBA championship celebrations have become defined by the shirts (or lack thereof).

The clear winner at the Raptors’ parade today: Kawhi Leonard and his ‘Board Man Gets Paid‘ shirt:

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MVP!

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Second place goes to Kyle Lowry, the Raptors’ all-time franchise player honoring Toronto’s original franchise player, Damon Stoudamire:

As expected, Julius Randle will opt out of contract with Pelicans, become free agent

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The math on this is very simple.

After a couple of impressive seasons in a row, Julius Randle‘s stock is going up. The 24-year-old forward averaged 21.4 points and 8.7 rebounds per game for the Pelicans last season, using his strength and athleticism to bully his way to buckets. That said, he also shot 34.4 percent from three, you have to respect him at the arc. He’s impressed a lot of teams.

Randle had a player option for $9.1 million with the Pelicans next season. On the open market, he likely will get a multi-year deal starting in the low teens ($13 million at least). So what do you think he was going to do?

The Pelicans are okay with this move. While they like Randle, they have Zion Williamson coming in playing a similar role (and they hope better).

A few teams to keep an eye on rumored to have interest in Randle are the Phoenix Suns, Brooklyn, Nets, and Dallas Mavericks. Others will throw their hat in the ring as well.

It’s going to be a good summer to be Julius Randle.

2019 NBA Draft Prospect Profile: Zion Williamson, the perfect prospect at the perfect time

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Over the course of the next two weeks, as the 2019 NBA Draft draws closer and closer, we at Pro Basketball Talk will be taking deep dives into some of the best and most intriguing prospects that will be making their way to the NBA.

Today, we are looking at Zion Williamson.

Previous draft profiles:

The thing that stands out when it comes to Zion Williamson, the biggest reason that he has become an internet sensation with a chance of becoming an international superstar, is his athleticism.

It’s the dunks.

Human beings aren’t supposed to be the size of Zion, and the people that are that big certainly are not supposed to be able to move – or fly – the way that he does. That athleticism plays a major role in the reason why he is, for my money, the best prospect to enter the NBA since Anthony Davis, but it is far from the only reason that he has a chance to be a generational talent at the next level.

In an era of positionless basketball, Zion Williamson has the potential to develop into the NBA’s preeminent small-ball five, or point-center, or whatever term it is you want to use to describe the basketball’s biggest matchup nightmares.

It starts on the defensive side of the ball. Williamson stands just 6-foot-7 with a 6-foot-10 wingspan, but between his athleticism, his strength and his anticipation, he plays like a 7-footer. He’s not going to get buried under the rim by even the biggest centers in the league, and he is terrific at coming from the weakside and blocking shots at the rim:

His anticipation is on another level defensively, which is what makes him such a dangerous playmaker on that side of the ball. He jumps passing lanes, he can pick a point guard’s pocket when blitzing a ball-screen, he has an understanding of what an opponent is going to try to do before they do it.

He’s not just a rim protector, however. He can move his feet on the perimeter, staying in front of point guards when he is caught in a switch:

He can do all of the things that bigs are asked to do defensively in the pace-and-space era, and he may be the best that we’ve ever seen when it comes to grab-and-go ability. In transition is where he may end up being the most valuable and the most dangerous. Williamson can lead a break. There is room for him to improve his handle, but he would be able to step onto an NBA floor today and be capable of bringing the ball up the floor. His speed and strength makes him nearly impossible to stop when he gets up a head of steam, but he also has terrific vision and is capable of making pinpoint passes through traffic when defenses throw multiple bodies at him.

That vision was most evident in transition this past season, but he did show flashes of being able to create off the bounce in a halfcourt setting as well.

Part of the reason those chances were limited was due to the way that defenses played Duke this season. The Blue Devils were one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the country last year, and the result was that by the the ACC and NCAA tournaments rolled around, the secret was out — other than Cam Reddish, you didn’t really have to worry about guarding anyone else beyond 10-12 feet. Opposing defenses simply packed as many bodies as possible in the paint, and while Williamson was still able to get to the rim just about at will — and shoot 68 percent from the floor in the process — it limited the chances that he had to actually rack up assists. He wasn’t dumping the ball off to the bigs when there were four defenders standing with a foot in the charge circle, and kick-out passes to the likes of Tre Jones, Jordan Goldwire and Jack White were precisely what defenses wanted.

Put another way, I think that Williamson’s assist numbers are going to be what spikes at the next level. Not only will he be playing in a league where there is significantly more spacing, but the reason for that spacing will be the fact that he is surrounded by guys that can actually make threes.

That spacing, by the way, will make Williamson significantly more difficult to guard. There simply are not any traditional fives in the NBA that are going to be able to keep Williamson in front with any kind of consistency, and the players that are quick enough are not going to be strong enough to keep Williamson from getting to his spots. And for all the concerns that have been voiced about Williamson’s shooting ability, he did finish the season hitting 33.8 percent of his three-pointers. If Draymond Green shot 33.8 percent from three, then the Raptors might actually respect him enough to feign guarding him beyond the arc in the Finals.

I bring up Green for a reason, because I think he is the perfect place to start talking about what Williamson can be at the next level. Williamson will be able to do, and has the potential to be better at, all of the things that Green does so well — guarding 1-through-5, protecting the rim, bringing the ball up the floor, leading the break. But what really sets Green apart from the field is the way that he is able to exploit 3-on-2s and 2-on-1s offensively and stop 2-on-1s defensively.

I’m not sure there is a player in the NBA that is as basketball smart as Green. He almost never makes the wrong decision on the offensive end of the floor, and part of what makes Golden State’s offense so lethal is that you’re forced to choose between using an extra defender to keep Steph Curry or Klay Thompson from getting a clean look at a three or letting Green make a play with a numbers advantage. On the defensive end, there is no one that is better at stopping those exact same 2-on-1 situations than Green.

There just isn’t.

And I think that Williamson has the basketball smarts and ability to be able to, potentially, do all of those things just as well one day.

He’s also bigger, more athletic, a better natural defender, a better scorer and a more difficult player to stop 1-on-1.

Imagine if you took Julius Randle‘s scoring ability, gave it to Green and then super-charged that Frankenstein with the kind of strength, speed and athleticism that would make the NFL’s best defensive ends jealous.

Would that be a player you might be interested in?