For the past two regular seasons, the Chicago Bulls were the best team in the East. They were the top seed.
But they played much of the season in their top gear — especially on defense — which overwhelmed opponents but left questions about whether they could step it up in the playoffs. We’ll never know what might have happened if they faced the Heat in the conference finals last year because Derrick Rose’s ACL gave out on a jump stop.
In the off-season the Bulls started making moves to suggest they were looking at adding a star in two summers rather than just trying to win with what they have. The bench got shorter — C.J. Watson turned into Kirk Hinrich, Kyle Korver became Marco Belinelli, Omer Asik became Nazr Mohammed, Ronnie Brewer downgraded into Vladimir Radmanovic.
Now they have to start the season with that bench and without Rose — and likely go until around the All Star break in late February to get him back. So how good are the Bulls next season?
Taj Gibson told ESPNChicago.com he thinks the Bulls will still be competitive (hat tip to SLAM).
“We still did good even when we didn’t have Derrick (last season),” said Gibson, who threw out a ceremonial first pitch before the Chicago White Sox’s game on Monday. “We beat the Heat without Derrick.
“Our mindset hasn’t changed. It’s about staying focused and taking one game at a time. We understand it’s going to be up and down at the beginning of the season. We can’t look forward to the end. We got to look forward to one game at a time and playing to our strengths and just listening to coach (Tom Thibodeau). I know it’s going to be a long season, but I’m really optimistic about what’s going to happen.”
That’s a good attitude. The Bulls were 18-9 in the regular season without Rose and were able to continue to overwhelm opponents, but when it got to the Sixers in the first round of the playoffs the Bulls went 0-4 on games he did not play.
Come the regular season the Bulls are not going to keep winning two-thirds of their games without Rose. But with their defense and athletes they are not a below .500 team either. The issue is that when Rose comes back he will have to round into shape for a while. The Bulls could end up being that six or seven seed that nobody wants to face because they are getting healthy.
But they are not the best team in the East any more. Not sure that they ever really were.
Suddenly the annual “he lost/gained 15 points and is in the best shape of his life” portion of the NBA summer is upon us.
The Miami Heat are known around the league for having one of the best conditioning programs, guys who go there almost universally get in better shape. Dion Waiters last season seemed to be the exception to the rule. Waiters wasn’t 50-year-old-suburban-dad-with-a-beer-gut out of shape, but coming off an injury where he didn’t get to train like he wanted, Waiters didn’t look like a guy in NBA shape either. Critics lit Waiters up on social media.
Waiters posted his response — he’s been hitting the gym.
Good for Waiters.
Let the flood of NBA workout videos and shots of guys with their new physiques begin.
Philly fans will be hoping to see one from Joel Embiid.
Whatever their long-term intentions, after Paul George was traded the Oklahoma City Thunder changed focus. General Manager Sam Presti sat down with Russell Westbrook and his agent, talked about the future, what the former MVP wanted, then worked on trading him where he wanted to go.
That was Houston.
The Westbrook to the Rockets trade for Chris Paul — with Oklahoma City picking up two first-round picks and two pick swaps — is now official.
In announcing the trade, the Thunder praised the greatest player in their franchise history on his way out the door.
“Russell Westbrook is the most important player in the brief history of the Oklahoma City Thunder. He has left an indelible mark on this team, city and state,” Presti said in a statement. “None of us could have anticipated the player he has become, and we are all deeply proud of what he has contributed to the success of the franchise and to our community. Russell and his wife Nina, their three children, his brother and his parents will always remain part of the Thunder family. We wish them nothing but happiness and success in the future.”
“I have a great deal of respect for Russell and there is no way to adequately describe our appreciation for what he has meant to Oklahomans,” said Thunder Chairman Clayton I. Bennett. “His legacy here is immense, and he will be honored by the team for all he has done. We wish he and Nina and their family all the best. While this era of Thunder basketball now comes to an end, I’m confident our talented team of people will once again position the Thunder for success in the future.”
While Presti and the OKC front office are still working on a CP3 trade, they are entering a rebuilding phase.
The Rockets are banking on Westbrook and James Harden being able to work out any fit issues — and finding a way to defend with both of them on the court — to keep them as title contenders.
After the drama around his push to get to Los Angeles, league executives and other sources around the NBA expect Anthony Davis to re-sign with the Lakers on a max contract next summer.
However, Davis has paired up with LeBron James, and rule one of the LeBron contract playbook (and agent Rich Paul’s, too) is to keep the pressure on a franchise. Make the team improve and keep itself in title contention.
So it’s not a surprise that when ESPN’s Rachel Nichols asked Davis about re-signing with the Lakers, he didn’t answer the question directly.
Nichols: You’re only signed through this season. Do you think you will be a pillar of the Lakers for years and years to come?
Davis: Honestly, Rachel, I’m just focused on this season. I don’t know what’s going to happen. I have one year here, so I’m going make the best of this year. And when that time comes around in the summer or, you know, whenever the season’s over — hopefully, around, you know, mid-June, after we just had a parade, and I need a couple days to think — then we can talk about that. But until then, I’m trying to do whatever I can to help this team win this year.”
That a well-handled scripted answer hitting all the talking points.
After the NBA summer we have just gone through (and continue to see with Chris Paul), nobody sane will say Davis would never leave the Lakers after one season. Cut to Kevin Garnett screaming “Anything Is Possible.”
However, he came to the Lakers to win rings (now and in the future), to take over as the face of the franchise when LeBron steps away in a few years, to get the kind of recognition and endorsements he felt were not coming his way in New Orleans, and ultimately to have his jersey up in the rafters with Wilt and Kareem and Shaq. That’s the plan. Which means AD will re-sign with the Lakers next summer.
He’s just not going to say that right now.
Zion Williamson‘s weight became a discussion point during Summer League.
The general consensus going into the draft was that Williamson would ultimately want to play a little lighter in the NBA than he did in college (but without losing his strength). Since then Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski came out and said the No. 1 pick was not in Summer League shape and should not have played. Some broadcast analysts said he looked heavy. In the hallways and behind-the-basket defacto meeting space of Summer League there was a lot of talk among league watchers about the Pelicans needing to get Zion with their trainers and dietitians to prepare him for the 82 game grind.
Kendrick Perkins warns that’s not going to be all that easy in the Big Easy.
As a wannabe foodie, let me just say that Perkins is spot on about the food in New Orleans. It may be my favorite food city in America, it is home to the ultimate comfort foods, and the portions are not small. From muffulettas to gumbo to po’ boys to fried every-kind-of-protein-you-can-name, New Orleans cuisine is both undeniably delicious and not the foundation of a healthy diet.
It’s going to take some discipline from Williamson, who also can afford his own chef now to keep the meals at home healthy and tasty. Then gumbo can be a splurge-day treat.