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

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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.

Anthony Davis hears your cheers, reiterates he wants to win in New Orleans

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When Anthony Davis was introduced and stepped on the court at the Boston Garden Monday night, Celtics fans did their best to recruit him and show their love.

Davis has gotten the same reaction in Los Angeles and other cities. If the Pelicans ever decide they have to trade him — something that will not happen until this summer, if it happens at all — or if he decides to leave the Big Easy as a free agent in 2020, the Celtics, Lakers and every other team in the NBA will be lined up for the chance to get a transformational player entering his peak.

Davis has heard the cheers. He knows the situation. He knows every other fan base in the NBA covets him.

And he reiterated again Monday night — after his squad fell to a shorthanded Celtics team — that what he really wants to do is win In New Orleans. Davis told Tim Bontemps of ESPN he thinks the Pelicans can repeat or improve on their trip to the second round from last season.

“For sure,” he said after scoring 41 points to go with 7 rebounds in Monday’s loss. “We had everybody healthy the first four games, and we went 4-0. Then Elfrid [Payton] goes down, I’ve been out a couple games, Niko [Mirotic] … a lot of guys have been out. Every time we’ve had a full roster, we’ve been a tough team to beat….

“I heard it tonight,” the 25-year-old said when asked if he heard the local fans cheering for him during the game. “But I’m just focused on this team. I’m trying to do whatever I can to help this team get wins with the roster we have. It’s been a rocky season, so it’s on me to try to figure it out….

“So for me, I just go out there and play with this team and go out there and try to have fun and get wins. That’s all I’m worried about is getting wins for this team and hopefully we can get further than we did last year.”

The 14-15 Pelicans sit as the current 10 seed in the West, just two games out of the final playoff slot. If they can get healthy, if they can string some wins together they can certainly make the playoffs. There it will become all about matchups, but the Pelicans showed last season that behind Davis they have the talent to advance.

Will that be enough for the competitive Davis, who wants to take his seat with the best in the game today?

Only Davis knows, and all he has ever said is he wants to win in New Orleans.

Come July 1, the Pelicans will offer Davis the designated veteran max extension, which is in the ballpark of $230 million (or more) over five years. That’s more than any other team will be able to offer him, and it’s A LOT of money. Not something someone walks away from lightly. He may well re-sign in New Orleans (he would sacrifice $33 million guaranteed if traded to another team and he re-signs there, he would give up $84 million guaranteed to leave as a free agent).

If Davis and new agent Rich Paul say no to the contract extension, then the Battle Royale to trade for his services would be on. Probably. Would the Pelicans trade him or try to woo him for another season, players like this don’t come around often? Would Davis try to exert control over the trade process saying he would only re-sign with certain teams? Would a team roll the dice with an over-the-top offer thinking that they could win him over (sort of like OKC did with Paul George and Toronto did with Kawhi Leonard)? There are a lot of variables.

But that is all just speculation. Right now, Davis is just trying to win with the Pelicans.

Jimmy Butler says he shot only once while leading Timberwolves’ third-stringers to practice win over starters

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Fed up with Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins not matching his competitiveness, fed up with the Timberwolves for not trading him yet and apparently fed up with being told he must practice… Jimmy Butler unleashed hell during a scrimmage before the season.

Butler reportedly arrived late, led third-stringers to a win over the starters, talked smack and then left early. The Minnesota practice instantly became legendary.

And we didn’t even realize the full extent of Butler’s showing.

Butler, via The Ringer:

The most interesting detail of that whole scrimmage that nobody knows: I only shot the ball once.

Oh, I was dominating, but I only shot the ball once. Dimes, boom, boom, boom. Steals, blocks. I only shot the ball one time.

That is peak Jimmy Butler. He is so good. Though he’s a quality scorer, he affects the game in so many ways. Nearly all stars are excellent with the ball, but the ones who contribute to winning without the ball give their team an extra edge.

Butler has those skills, and it allows 76ers teammates like Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid more room to operate in their comfort zones. With so many questions raised about Butler as a teammate, I’d take him on my team any day.

NASA offers Stephen Curry tour or lunar labs after claim we didn’t land on the moon

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In the pantheon of really terrible conspiracy theories, the one that the moon landing was faked is right up there with “the earth is flat” and Pizzagate in their level of provable idiocy.

Yet, Stephen Curry said he was down with the idea that we did not go to the moon. Rockets GM Daryl Morey even knocked Curry for that one.

NASA has invited Curry for a tour of one of their lunar labs (maybe that was what Curry was going for all along).

“We’d love for Mr. Curry to tour the lunar lab at our Johnson Space Center in Houston, perhaps the next time the Warriors are in town to play the Rockets,” Allard Beutel, a NASA spokesman, said in a statement to NBC News…

“During his visit, he can see first-hand what we did 50 years ago, as well as what we’re doing now to go back to the Moon in the coming years, but this time to stay,” Beutel said.

NASA sent six rockets to the moon between 1969 and 1972 with a dozen American astronauts walking on the moon’s surface. It’s really not up for debate, it happened. If you choose not to believe it, it really says more about you than the facts. Which is the saddest part about this for Curry (and his fans).

That said, he is the master of PR spin, look for Curry to make a positive out of this somehow.

Kevin Durant on Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan: ‘How do you not say they’re by far better than anybody who’s played the game?’

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Kevin Durant has already called Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan the greatest of all-time.

Now, the Warriors star is intensifying the rhetoric.

Durant, via Shams Charania of The Athletic:

But watching Kobe and Mike, I’m like, ‘How do you not realize how good these dudes are?’ How do you not say they’re by far better than anybody who’s played the game? Just by the way they move, how fluid they are.

“Everybody that comes to my house, whether it’s friends or family, I make them watch Jordan highlights. This is equivalent to (Albert) Einstein … fucking (Ludwig van) Beethoven … or (Barack) Obama. This is the greatest talent and athletes and minds of the world. Just because they play sports, people think one way. But they’re masters, they’re geniuses. I just started realizing that a few years ago: Watching those guys can really spark my creativity.”

I don’t view basketball the same way Durant does. The players with the most skills are not necessarily the greatest players. Not all skills are equally important. I’d rank players with narrower skill sets – like Tim Duncan and Shaquille O’Neal – ahead of Bryant. Duncan and O’Neal were so efficient in what they did, and they were far better than Bryant at avoiding miscues like missed shots and turnovers. I care more about the end effectiveness than the means to get there when ranking greatness.

And what about LeBron James? I’d rate Jordan and LeBron top-two by my criteria. But even by Durant’s, I’m not sure why he doesn’t consider LeBron in that elite pantheon of skills. LeBron does everything.

Durant’s point of view comes out often enough to recognize his philosophy. When I interviewed him for this article about Knicks undrafted rookie Allonzo Trier, Durant said:

“Scorers that go get baskets, especially inside the 3-point line, they’re like extinct at this point. Because games are so fast, and it takes Zo longer in a possession to get his game off. So, a lot of people bypass that. But everybody needs a scorer on their team.

“I think just natural scorers, the guys that get baskets before anything, they’re kind of frowned upon in this league. But that’s the core of the game to me.”

That’s the mindset of someone who calls Bryant and Jordan “far better than anybody who’s played the game.”

This all also speaks to how Durant views himself. He tries to perfect different aspects of his game. He entered the NBA as a scorer, but he since added rebounding, passing, defense, playing like a big. I’ve never been convinced Durant cares as much about willing his team to victory as he cares about expanding his skill set (which obviously indirectly helps his team win).

There’s nowhere Durant can try new skills like Golden State. The Warriors’ elite roster offers him room to experiment and keep winning, anyway. Just something to consider as he enters free agency next summer.