Winderman: Granger news takes pressure of Rose return

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The upshot of Wednesday’s prime injury news is that the Bulls’ injury news no longer is nearly as grim.

No sooner had the Pacers sent out their release about Danny Granger likely missing three months following a knee procedure, then Tom Thibodeau certainly would have been within his rights to call Derrick Rose and tell him, “Take your time.”

With Rose out until March, if not longer, due to his gruesome playoff knee injury, there had been thought of a precipitous seeding fall for the team that routinely had gone all-in for the conference’s No. 1 seed during Thibodeau’s stewardship, even in the face of the Heat’s Big Three.

The Pacers, after all, not only outlasted the Rose-less Bulls in last season’s playoffs, but arguably gave the Heat their toughest test this side of the Celtics.

Now?

Now the Central Division might be the worst in basketball.

And it might not take much to secure the division’s title and therefore a guarantee of a top-four East seed for Chicago.

So instead of wondering when Rose might come to the regular-season rescue, there might not be a need for a rescue. Not with this motley group. Not with the Pacers lacking Granger for upwards of half the season.

Milwaukee? The best you can say about Scott Skiles’ group is they’re scrappy.

Cleveland? Kyrie Irving & Co. are on the rise, but not necessarily division-title rise. Yet.

Detroit? Uh, have you seen the Pistons lately?

Had the Pacers been able to go into the season with continuity and maintain continuity, the Bulls could have fallen enough in the overall seedings to create concern of a déjà-vu first-round fate.

But with the shorthanded Pacers, the scrappy-at-best Bucks, the learning-stages Cavaliers and the ghastly Pistons, a team with Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah should be just fine without Rose, considering how they’re Central-ly located.

For now, for the Bulls, even without Rose, it’s about location, location, location.

Ira Winderman writes regularly for NBCSports.com and covers the Heat and the NBA for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. You can follow him on Twitter at @IraHeatBeat.

Jeremy Lin: Milwaukee security guard asked for my pass to Raptors team bus

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Jeremy Lin has discussed people not believing he plays in the NBA.

It apparently still happens.

Lin, whose Raptors are playing the Bucks in the Eastern Conference finals, via Bill Michaels Sports Talk Network:

After Game 2 in Milwaukee, I was trying to get to the team bus and one of the dudes in the Milwaukee arena just screams at me. He’s like, “Where do you think you’re going?!” And I’m like, “Uh, I’m trying to get to the team bus.” He’s like, “What?! Where’s your pass?” I was like, “I don’t have a pass. I don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t have a pass.”

This happens in a lot of arenas, so I just kind of go with the flow.

It’s a fine line. Lin shouldn’t be profiled as a non-athlete because he’s Asian-American. Arena staffers should keep everyone safe by stopping unauthorized people.

PBT Podcast: What’s next for Boston, Philadelphia, Denver? (And some playoff talk)

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Will Kyrie Irving stay in Boston? If not, what is Plan B?

Is Jimmy Butler back in Philadelphia next season? If he is will Tobias Harris be back?

What are the next steps to turn Denver into a contender?

I get into all of those things with the wise Keith Smith of Yahoo Sports (and Celtics Blog, and Real GM), we break down those three teams recently turned out of the playoffs. We also start off talking about teams actually in the playoffs, particularly Toronto’s comeback in the Eastern Conference Finals, and how those teams can take advantage against the Warriors with Kevin Durant out.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

We want your questions for future podcasts, and your comments, so please email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com.

Nikola Jokic’s All-NBA first-team selection shows his meteoric rise

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Just four years ago, Nikola Jokic was a second-round pick still playing in the Adriatic League. Just three years ago, he was battling a struggling Jusuf Nurkic to be the Nuggets’ main center.

Yesterday, Jokic made the All-NBA first team.

Jokic has risen incredibly quickly. Before this season, he had never even been an All-Star.

That makes Jokic the first non-rookie in NBA history to make an All-NBA first team without a prior All-Star season (including ABA All-Stars).

The No. 41 pick in the 2014 draft, Jokic is just the fourth second-rounder to make an All-NBA first team since the NBA-ABA merger. The others: DeAndre Jordan, Marc Gasol and Marc Price.

For most players not immediately deemed to hold first-round talent, it takes a while to build stature in the NBA. Jokic made the All-NBA first team in just his fourth season. That’s way sooner than Gasol (seventh season), Price (seventh season) and Jordan (eighth season):

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The Nuggets didn’t wait for this honor to make Jokic their franchise player. They gave him a near-max contract last summer, and by leading them into the second round of the playoffs, he triggered incentives to reach a max salary.

Denver has built a young supporting cast – mainly Jamal Murray and Gary Harris – to grow with Jokic. The Nuggets also signed veteran Paul Millsap, whose defense complements Jokic’s offensive-minded game.

So much is coming together so quickly for Denver, and Jokic’s honor is just the latest example.

Report: Trail Blazers sign president Neil Olshey to contract extension

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Just after a rumor emerged about the Wizards trying to hire Trail Blazers president Neil Olshey…

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

It’s nice to be wanted. It always adds leverage in contract negotiations.

Olshey has done well in Portland, building a winner around Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum after LaMarcus Aldridge left. But Olshey’s job will get harder now.

Evan Turner, Meyers Leonard and Maurice Harkless each have another season on the expensive contracts Olshey gave them in the wild summer of 2016. That’ll inhibit flexibility this offseason.

Then, Lillard is set to sign a super-max extension that will take effect in 2021. As great as Lillard is, it’ll be difficult building a contender around someone projected to earn $43 million, $46 million, $50 million and $53 million from ages 31-34. There’s so little margin for error, especially if ownership is less willing to pay the luxury tax than the late Paul Allen was.

But Olshey has earned a chance to handle these dilemmas.