Baseline to Baseline recaps: The Bulls are beating everybody

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What you missed while getting emails from your dead friend….

Bulls 85, Magic 59: Chicago is now 10-4 this season when Derrick Rose sits and now have beaten the Heat and Magic without him in the last week. Credit where credit is due — they have been playing the best basketball in the NBA for some time now. They play hard and smart and when Rose is in the lineup (with Richard Hamilton) they are serious title contenders.

Chicago single-covered Dwight Howard (18 points on 8-of-12 shooting) and stop everyone else. As usually happens against the Magic, it worked. Orlando players not named Howard shot 16-of-56, or 28.6 percent. Jason Richardson was 1-of-7, Ryan Anderson 4-of-13. It was ugly.

Meanwhile on the other end Carlos Boozer stepped up 24 points and John Lucas III had 20. And then there was this from Joakim Noah.

Celtics 79, Hawks 76: What a wild fourth quarter — Boston went on a 17-2 run to open a 15-point lead, but Atlanta went on a late 16-2 run to make it a nail biter at the end. That made it entertaining — it was not pretty. Boston won shooting 39.2 percent, Atlanta shot 38.7 percent. Ray Allen had 19 points on n nine shots, and Kevin Garnett had another impressive game, but mostly this game was about shots clanging of the rim. Joe Johnson did have 25 for the Hawks.

Sixers 105, Bobcats 80: Nothing can get a sick offense feeling better like playing Charlotte. You knew the Bobcats were in trouble when they shot a ridiculous 57 percent over the first 18 minutes and were still down by 2. Philadelphia owned the second half and both Jrue Holiday and Thaddeus Young had 20 for the Sixers. We’ll see if all this carries over to a real game.

Cavaliers 105, Nets 100: He may be a rookie but Kyrie Irving is a closer. He had 14 fourth quarter points and helped spark a late 10-2 run that gave the Cavaliers a hard-fought win. Deron Williams couldn’t stop Irving, so the Nets tried newcomer Gerald Wallace but that didn’t help either. Tristan Thompson had an impressive 27 for the Cavaliers as well.

Timberwolves 97, Warriors 93: It wasn’t all booing the owner, they played a game, too. Minnesota appeared in control until a Klay Thompson and David Lee inspired 22-7 third-quarter run made this a game. Kevin Love had 12 of his 36 in the fourth quarter — and Anthony Tolliver pitched in 10 in the final frame — as the Timberwolves made a late run to secure the win.

Odd fact of the week: Minnesota is the opponent it two jersey retirements this week, Chris Mullin’s Monday at Golden State and Bruce Bowen’s Wednesday in San Antonio.

Mavericks 112, Nuggets 95: Kenneth Faried has been making a splash lately, but asking him to try and hang with Dirk Nowitzki defensively proved to be a mistake. Nowitzki had 33 and was key to Dallas controlling this game most of the way. Denver went without JaVale McGee in this one, but if Nuggets fans think he makes a difference they haven’t seen him play. Wilson Chandler did look good getting his 13 points. Arron Afflalo led Denver with 24.

Michelle Roberts says if you don’t like player movement blame owners, too

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Last summer was one of the wildest offseasons in NBA history, maybe the wildest, and the headline was player empowerment. Anthony Davis pushed his way to the Lakers, Paul George forced his way out of Oklahoma City to go to the Clippers and join Kawhi Leonard, which soon had Russell Westbrook joining his old teammate James Harden in Houston. It led to frustration by some owners and changes in how the NBA will handle tampering.

Except, by choice is not how most players change teams. While AD or George has the leverage to make a power play — because of their exceptional talent — most of the time players are traded because the owner/team has all the power and can uproot players for whatever reason (basketball reasons sometimes, saving money other times). The stars have free agent options, rotation players much less so in that system.

Michelle Roberts, executive director of the National Basketball Players’ Association, wants you to remember that it’s not just player power that has led to the increase in player movement, as she told Mark Spears of The Undefeated.

Michele Roberts, told The Undefeated that she believes there is a “double standard” between how stars are viewed when they decide to move on compared with when franchises choose to make a major transaction, adding that team owners “continue to view players as property.”

“If you want to be critical of one, be critical of both,” Roberts said from the NBPA’s offices in Manhattan. “Those of us who made decisions to move, it’s really astounding to even consider what it feels like to be told in the middle of your life you are going to have to move. But that’s the business we’re in. …

“No one seems to spend a lot of time thinking about what it’s like to make those kinds of moves completely involuntarily. You volunteer to play or not play. But, yeah, if it’s still the case that if you think you’ve got to suck it up, player, then, hell, you’ve got to suck it up, team.”

She’s right. From Chris Paul to Blake Griffin, plenty of big stars have been moved against their will. The door swings both ways, but in those cases most fans tended to see why and like what the teams did. Those fans like it less when players do the same thing.

There’s also a classic labor vs. management angle to all this, which has political overtones.

For my money, how one views player movement tends to be part generational and part where you live.

Older fans remember days — or, at least think they remember days — when players stayed with teams for much or all of their career. It’s understandable, fans form a bond with players and want them to stay… while they’re still good and useful, after that fans beg ownership to get the “dead weight off the books.” Players before the late 1980s stayed with teams because they didn’t have a choice — for Bill Russell in the 60s or Larry Bird and Magic Johnson in the 1980s, free agency was not an option. And for every Kobe Bryant that did stay with a team, there were a lot more Wilts and Shaqs, who were traded several times and played with multiple teams.

Younger fans (generally, nothing is universal) are okay with the player movement, sometimes are more fans of a player than a team, and like the action and buzz of all the trades.

Location matters because if you’re in Oklahoma City there’s reason to not like what George did and the era of player empowerment. New Orleans fans can feel the same way (although part of that case is the “supermax” contract that owners wanted but really forced up the timeline on teams and players to make a decision on paying stars). But fans in Los Angeles or wherever players ultimately choose to go will feel differently. Fans want what’s best for their team, but there is no way in the star culture of the NBA to wash away the lure of big markets or of teaming up with another elite player.

The NBA dynamic is different from the NFL’s (for now), but it’s not changing. LeBron James helped usher in an era of player empowerment and it’s the new reality for the NBA, one the best franchises will adapt to rather than fight.

Evan Fournier says that Frank Ntilikina just ‘needs a real opportunity’

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New York Knicks fans haven’t had a lot to cheer for recently. The team traded away Kristaps Porzingis, who is thought to be the franchise cornerstone. Now they move forward with a young core, RJ Barrett, and tons of cap space.

So what does that mean for players who have been around in the Big Apple like Frank Ntilikina?

Based on how Ntilikina played in the 2019 FIBA World Cup for France this year, things might be looking up.

Ntilikina’s statistics weren’t eye-popping, but he was seen as a very solid player in a backcourt that helped propel France to the bronze medal in China.

To that end, fellow countrymen Evan Fournier thinks that all Ntilikina needs is a chance to shine.

Via Twitter:

Ntilikina’s season last year was marred by injuries, and he played in just 43 games. Still, he has the physical tools to be a useful NBA player, and he’s just 21 years old. With the surprisingly low-pressure situation in New York, it’s possible that extended time playing in the World Cup could help aid what Ntilikina is able to produce next season for the Knicks.

Report: Lakers receive DeMarcus Cousins disabled-player exception

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A chance at a championship. LeBron James. Anthony Davis. The Los Angeles market. Great weather.

The Lakers can offer plenty to anyone who gets bought out this season.

Now, the Lakers – who lost DeMarcus Cousins to a torn ACL – get a mechanism to offer post-buyout players more money.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

The exception holds little value presently. It’s worth less than a full-season minimum salary for anyone with more than four years experience.

But minimum-salary and mid-level exceptions decline throughout the season. This exception does not.

So, on March 1, a team with only a minimum slot available can offer a free agent just between $233,459 and $666,546 (depending on the player’s experience level). The Lakers can offer $1.75 million.

This means an NBA-appointed doctor ruled Cousins is “substantially more likely than not” to be out through June 15. Given that prognosis, the Lakers could open a roster spot by waiving Cousins, who’s on a one-year deal and facing a domestic-violence charge. They’d still keep the exception.

If Cousins can return more quickly than expected, he’d be eligible to play, whether or not the Lakers use the exception.

Damian Lillard says he plans to play for Team USA in 2020 Olympics

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Stephen Curry said he wants to play for Team USA in the 2020 Olympics.

He isn’t the only star point guard eager for Tokyo.

Damian Lillard, via James McKern of news.com.au:

“I plan on being a part of that. I plan on playing,” Lillard said

Though neither Curry nor Lillard played for Team USA in this year’s World Cup, there’s a potentially large difference: Curry never agreed to play. Lillard did then withdrew. USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo indicated particular scorn for players who decommitted.

Of course, Colangelo also wants to win. That might require swallowing his pride and accepting players who withdrew this year. He has talked tough in the past about players who didn’t show his desired devotion to USA Basketball. Lillard got cut in 2014 then missed the 2016 Olympics citing injury. It can be difficult to determine which absences Colangelo forgives.

One factor working against Lillard: The Americans’ point guard pool is deep. Curry rates higher. Kemba Walker earned respect by playing in the World Cup. James Harden (who also withdrew from the World Cup) and Kyrie Irving also factor.

I expect Colangelo to operate on a sliding scale: The better the player, the less prior commitment to USA Basketball necessary. Lillard is an excellent player. We’ll see how far that gets him.

And whether he’ll even want to play next year. The reasons for playing – pride of representing your country, prestige marketing opportunities – are more obvious now. The reasons not to play – injury, fatigue, personal commitments – are more likely to emerge closer to the Games.