Phil Jackson says the Bulls ‘overachieved.’ So that means the Lakers…

12 Comments

There are so many things Phil Jackson will miss about the NBA. The comfy feel of a custom chair brought in just for him. The smell of reporter sweat as he toys with them like a cat with a mouse. The lavish comforts of studio hosts proclaiming him as the best thing since sliced bread. The roar of the crowd, so vivid he can almost here them now… “We want tacos! We want tacos!” they seem to say.

All that’s gone, replaced by a quiet fade into the sunset.

But good news! Being retired doesn’t mean Jackson has to give up his favorite pastime: taking potshots at other coaches, teams, and players! Woo!

From ESPN Chicago:

“I think they overachieved last year as far as record and how they got to the spots they got to in the playoffs,” Jackson said Thursday on “The Waddle & Silvy Show” on ESPN 1000. “They still have to have some steady shooters from the outside to complement the penetration they have, and then (Carlos Boozer) has to have that post-up game that he was brought there to give them.

“They just can’t be one-dimensional in that regard. They have to have those complementary pieces to assist Rose in his game.”

via Phil Jackson said Chicago Bulls need to add pieces to help Derrick Rose – ESPN Chicago.

Jackson’s comments should rank about a -500 on the outrage scale. Everyone knows that Rose needs more surrounding help. The overachieved thing is interesting, however, as is the assessment of their personnel moves.

At another outlet, last fall I gave the Bulls a C+ for their offseason. I later adjusted it to a B- based off the hiring of Tom Thibodeau, who I had overlooked. (I re-did the grade prior the season starting, so I wasn’t just using revisionist history after they won.) Bulls fans were apoplectic, as you’d expect, and I looked like a moron the entire season especially when they won the most games in the NBA.  Let me say that again. I gave a B- to a team that won the most games in the NBA. 

But here’s the question. Were they really that good? Were they always doomed to an elimination based on their roster?

Let’s consider the Spurs for a moment. The Spurs had one of the best seasons in franchise history. They were the number one seed. But their season and roster makeup is considered a monumental failure because they were ousted by an eighth seed in the first round.

The Bulls, on the other hand, made it all the way to the conference championship. That settles that question, right? Except that if the Bulls had played the Grizzlies, don’t you think that might have been pretty tight, considering the Bulls had what can be considered the toughest five-game series win in recent history? They struggled mightily with Indiana. Struggled mightily with the Hawks. In essence, if it weren’t for Derrick Rose going above and beyond in three games in the playoffs, the Bulls are looking at longer series and possibly getting eliminated by the Hawks. The Hawks.

“But they didn’t, so this is pointless” Bulls fans might say, and they’d be correct. They did win those series, they didn’t play Memphis, and they did win the most games in the NBA and wind up in the conference finals. But the reason I gave them a B- early was because their biggest acquisition was Carlos Boozer. And anyone who’s paid attention to the Jazz over the past four years could have told you that Carlos Boozer is not the way to a championship. He is not Rose’s Pippen, Kareem, Shaq/Kobe, or even his Manu. And that was their big signing.

Other than that? Ronnie Brewer who didn’t really make much of an impact, Kyle Korver who alternated being brilliant and terrible in the playoffs, and… yeah, other than that it was just Thibodeau. Thibodeau, who was the real cause of the Bulls’ run. Their offense wasn’t up to snuff, but Thibodeau’s defense made lineups featuring both Boozer and Korver terrific defensively. That’s insane in itself. Yet it was Thibodeau’s inability to adjust that lead to problems in the playoffs and their eventual demise at the hands of the Heat.

Now, let’s go back one more time.

I’m saying here that the Bulls weren’t really that impressive, that their signings were less than formidable, and that their making the conference finals is kind of a sham, a case of overachievement.

You realize the 2008 Celtics struggled with the Atlanta Hawks to the nth degree in the first round, then fought down the Cavaliers in a similar manner to the Hawks, before taking down the Pistons? What’s the point? The point is that great teams struggle in the playoffs. Everyone struggles in the playoffs at some point, save for the truly greatest teams, or at least those with dominant matchup advantages.

The Bulls didn’t have a B- offseason. They had an A+ offseason, because they made the moves which lead to wins. But it’s going to be really interesting to see how this team develops over the next few years. They won’t amnesty Boozer, though they should. And Thibodeau eventually is going to have to make changes to his style and approach or he’s going to become the anti-D’Antoni, the NBA version of Marty Schottenheimer. All defense, but not enough knives being brought to a gun fight.

Finally, if the Bulls were overrated and made the Finals, then what were the Lakers last year? Interesting question for Jackson.

Russell Westbrook sneak-snacking steals show on NBA’s opening night

2 Comments

NBA’s opening night was quite tame. The Celtics and Warriors won as expected, neither the 76ers nor Thunder mounting much of a challenge.

That allowed Russell Westbrookout with an injury — to have the most fun moment when he looked around deviously, turned to his side and ate something.

What did did Westbrook eat? Was he not supposed to be eating? Did he not want to share? Big questions remain unanswered surrounding this important incident.

Joel Embiid on 76ers-Celtics: ‘This is not a rivalry … They always kick our ass’

2 Comments

The 76ers-Celtics rivalry is being renewed.

But it’s not there yet, according to Philadelphia center Joel Embiid.

The 76ers are 3-19 against Boston since drafting Embiid, and though that includes multiple tanking years, Philadelphia hasn’t fared much better since getting good. The 76ers went 2-7 against the Celtics last season, including 1-4 in their second-round playoff series. Philadephia followed that with a season-opening loss to the Celtics last night.

Embiid, via Matt Haughton of NBC Sports Philadelphia:

“JJ (Redick) mentioned it earlier, this is not a rivalry,” Embiid said to reporters after the Sixers’ 105-87 season-opening loss to the Boston Celtics (see observations). “I don’t know our record against them but it’s pretty bad. They always kick our ass.”

I appreciate Embiid’s directness. We can all see the problem. There’s no point denying it.

The subtext is Embiid’s motivation to change this status quo, and a lot of it does fall in Embiid. Al Horford has given him fits. Even Aron Baynes worked him at times last night. Embiid is talented and far younger than those two. He’ll eventually get there.

In the meantime, he’s not mincing words.

Vinsanity grinds into a 21st season, rare company in the NBA

Getty Images
3 Comments

ATLANTA (AP) — Vince Carter feels like a 20-something again.

Always does when this time of year rolls around.

Never mind the specks of gray in his beard, all the wear and tear on his body, a resume that shows he entered the NBA the same year teammate Trae Young was born.

Carter has made it to another opening night. The thrill of a new season flows through those creaky ol’ bones. Once again, it all seems worthwhile: the monotonous practices, the tedious film sessions, the long plane flights, the grind of 82 games.

“If I had that old `heck, here we go again’ feeling, then I wouldn’t play,” Carter said Tuesday, having finished up practice with a few extra jumpers. “This is like I’m in my third, fourth, fifth year. I’m excited about the opportunity. I’m excited about playing. I still love playing. I still love competing. I still enjoy the traveling, the ups and downs of the league. That’s what it’s all about. It’s hard to let go.”

The league’s oldest player – Carter is 41 and will turn another year older in January – is back for his 21st season. That puts him on the cusp of some very exclusive company: Robert Parrish, Kevin Willis and Kevin Garnett are the only players to last that long in the NBA (Dallas’ Dirk Nowitzki also has a chance to join the 21 Club this year).

Carter is hardly chasing a championship, signing on with a rebuilding Atlanta Hawks team that is years away from having a realistic shot at competing for a title. He’s here to mentor to a bunch of young players and serve as a virtual player-coach on a first-year staff led by Lloyd Pierce.

“When we have our locker room and on-the-bus debates and conversations, he’s on our side,” quipped Pierce, a rookie head coach who is only about eight months older than Carter. “He can relate a little closer to the coaching staff than he can with the players.”

Kent Bazemore, the last holdover from a 60-win team that reached the Eastern Conference finals in 2015, lost most of his golfing buddies – including Paul Millsap and Kyle Korver – when the Hawks embarked on a rebuilding plan that send them tumbling to 24-58 last season.

With Carter on the roster, Bazemore again has someone to tee it up with on off days.

“I’ve got a new golfing buddy,” said Bazemore, who at 29 is one of the oldest players on the roster not named Vince Carter. “I’m excited about that. (The younger players) haven’t gotten into it yet.”

As expected, Carter takes some good-natured ribbing from his teammates, a grandpa joke here, an “ain’t it past your bedtime” there.

But all in all, he seems to fit it quite nicely with all these kids.

“We have a lot in common, believe it or not,” Carter said, breaking into a smile. “I make it my business to know what’s going on in the millennial world.”

While expected to fill a largely backup role for the Hawks, Carter will be in the starting lineup when they open the season Wednesday night against the New York Knicks. He’s subbing for power forward John Collins, a first-round pick in 2017 and one of those building blocks for Atlanta’s future, who is sidelined by an ankle injury.

Never mind that Carter is only 6-foot-6 and has spent his entire career at shooting guard and small forward.

Wherever he’s needed, he’s ready to give it a shot.

“I prepare myself in the summer for any situation,” Carter said. “I tell the coach first thing: `I’m willing to do whatever it takes.”‘

Young, the No. 5 overall pick and cornerstone of the Hawks’ makeover, looks forward to gleaning all he can from a player who was once one of the league’s brightest stars, a guy who threw down sick jams and averaged more than 20 points a game in 10 of his first 12 seasons.

Carter’s above-the-rim antics earned him a variety of nicknames – from “Vinsanity” to “Half-Man, Half-Amazing” – and a likely spot one day in the Basketball Hall of Fame, even though he’s never won a championship and there was griping early in his career about whether he was giving it his all.

These days, he’s a respected senior citizen, a player who draws nothing but awe for hanging on as long as he has, even though he’s bounced around to six teams in the past decade and hasn’t been a regular starter since 2012.

“He’s experienced so many things,” Young said. “I can go to him about anything and just ask him questions. He’s a future Hall of Famer. I’m just blessed to be around him and get advice from him.”

Carter hasn’t decided how long this ride will last.

Twenty-one years might be enough.

Then again, if he still feels that same sort of excitement that he’s feeling right now, he might go where no one has gone before in the NBA.

A 22nd season.

“At year 18, 19, I just said I’ll assess how I feel and the situation at the end of each year,” Carter said. “Just because I’m close to a bunch of different accomplishments, I don’t want to change my routine. I’ve had a lot of success doing it this way.”

With that, Carter hustled off to the locker room, the last guy to leave the court.

There was another flight to catch.

Another opening night to get to.

 

Nuggets agree to contract extension with coach Mike Malone

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Mike Malone was one of the names on the coaching hot seat lists this season. Not that his seat was warm just yet, a lot of pundits were high on his Nuggets (I predicted them to be fourth in the West), but after just missing the playoffs the past two years, if Denver got off to a slow start this season….

Cross Malone off your list, he just got a contract extension from the Nuggets.

This reportedly adds two years to his existing contract, so it now runs through 2021, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Expectations are high in Denver with a return to the playoffs the only acceptable outcome. The Nuggets have improved each season under Malone and won 46 games last season (that gets you in the dance most years). The Nuggets have a deep and impressive roster led by a top 20 NBA player in Nikola Jokic, a point guard in Jamal Murray who is poised to break out in his third season, plus quality rotation players such as Gary Harris and Paul Millsap.

Malone can earn that new contract — and get the team into the postseason — just by finally improving the Denver defense, which was 26th in the NBA last season. If they move up to the middle of the pack, with the Nuggets’ elite offense, they are in.

Whatever happens, Denver is a team to watch this season. And Malone isn’t going anywhere.