While everyone around the Bulls plays it down, let’s just say it’s accepted as fact around the rest of the league that coach Tom Thibodeau and Bulls GM Gar Forman (and the rest of the front office) don’t see things the same way. There is naturally some tension in any coach/GM relationship — a coach wants assets he can win with now, a GM has to think cap and budget and three years down the road — but Chicago’s relationship has some real issues.
The latest issue could be Luol Deng.
The Bulls cut off contract extension talks with him and Deng is going to test free agency next summer. Thibodeau sees Deng as central to his system and the team.
So, tension follows. Joe Cowley at the Sun Times adds some color to this.
But at least one source feels that would change if forward Luol Deng is traded or allowed to walk into free agency without an extension next summer.
“Ask Tom how important he thinks Luol is,’’ the source said. “How happy do you think he would be with that decision?…”
“You need rebounding, he’ll give you rebounding,’’ Thibodeau said of Deng late last season. “If he’s not shooting well, he gives you great defense. No matter how the game is going, he’s always going to be there late for you, no matter if it’s pick-and-roll offense, swinging the ball, moving without the ball, making a great random cut from the weak side. He has great impact on winning. You can’t ask anything more of one of your best players.’’
Bulls management has looked at the Heat, the Thunder and other top teams around the league and seemed to be aiming for clearing out some space to add another elite player next to Rose. If Deng walks and they amnesty Carlos Boozer, they Bulls will have the cap space to target the deep crop of free agents this summer expected to include everyone from LeBron James (not likely to land in Chicago) to guys like Danny Granger and Zach Randolph. It’s a deep class, but it’s also a risk in trying to get a guy on the open market. The Bulls could also see what they could get in return for a Deng trade.
Thibodeau also knows he hadn’t seen what this group of players can do healthy in the playoffs — they were just hitting their stride and seemed destined for a showdown with the Heat two seasons ago when Derrick Rose injured his knee. Now this one season will become the test of how good this Bulls rotation will be.
It may also be the one and only time we get to see it. Which isn’t likely to make Thibodeau happy.
MILWAUKEE — Giannis Antetokounmpo had 32 points and 13 rebounds and the Milwaukee Bucks surged to a 24-point lead in the second quarter in a 133-86 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday night.
The 47-point loss was the Thunder’s worst of the season.
Chris Paul scored 18 points for Oklahoma City.
Both teams were without their second-leading scorers. Bucks All-Star Khris Middleton was a late scratch with a sore neck. An ankle injury kept Thunder forward Danilo Gallinari out.
The Bucks had won four in a row and the Thunder had won five straight.
The Bucks built their second-quarter lead behind 14 second-quarter points from Antetokounmpo, seven from Donte DiVincenzo, who started in place of Middleton, and back-to-back 3-pointers from Wesley Matthews.
A key moment occurred late in the second period.
With Milwaukee leading, 54-43, Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer got a technical foul after approaching a referee during a timeout with 3:43 left in the quarter. That was moments after Eric Bledsoe was called for a charging foul that irked Budenholzer. After that, the Bucks went on a 17-4 run and led 71-47 at halftime.
Milwaukee outrebounded Oklahoma City, 67-36.
The Bucks made a season-high 21 3-pointers. The Thunder were 6 for 35 on 3-pointers.
There is some meat to the James Harden/Giannis Antetokounmpo beef.
Harden was pissed Antetokounmpo won Most Valuable Player over him last year and vented about it. When it came to this year’s All-Star Game, captian Antetokounmpo drafted Kemba Walker over Harden while joking he wanted someone who’d pass. After his team lost the All-Star Game, Antetokounmpo said his team’s strategy was to get the ball to whomever Harden was guarding and attack.
Harden ramped up the skirmish of words Friday when speaking to Rachel Nichols of ESPN, saying:
“I wish I could just run, run and was 7-feet and run and just dunk. That takes no skill at all. I’ve got to actually learn how to play basketball and how to have skill.”
Antetokounmpo decided to let it die when ESPN asked pregame about what Harden said.
“I’m not the type of guy to take stabs at somebody. … I’m just trying to do my job which is win games and go back home to my family. At the end of the day, if that’s what he believes that’s what he believes. I can’t say anything about it. I’ve just got to keep being focused.”
If you’re circling dates on your calendar, March 25 is what you’re looking for, the day the Bucks host the Rockets.
Harden should believe he is the best player in the game — you don’t get to be where he is without that level of confidence. Antetokounmpo should believe the same thing about himself. We could say the same things about LeBron James, Luka Doncic, and a host of others. It’s part of what makes them great, and not a surprise.
If the MVP thing is eating at Harden he might not like this season’s outcome any better. While I haven’t done a poll, most voters I’ve spoken to have The Beard third behind Antetokounmpo and LeBron James. There’s still more than six weeks of basketball before votes are cast — and the Rockets as a team are surging — but right now, the Greek Freak looks like a repeat winner from what I am hearing.
Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta talks big about his devotion to winning.
But when Houston had a chance to turn a loss into a victory by protesting due to an uncounted James Harden dunk, Fertitta balked.
Fertitta, via Kirk Bohls of Statesman:
“That’s my basketball people who got mad at ’em. Honestly, I don’t think we should have filed the protest because honestly we blew the 22-point lead. But if something is important to my players and basketball ops people, I give them a lot of leeway.”
I wonder whether Fertitta would have publicly shared his stance if the protest succeeded. I also wonder whether how supported Fertitta’s basketball employees feel considering he’s publicly revealing that he wasn’t on their side.
But this is actually one of the more encouraging stories of Fertitta’s ownership. He allowed room for debate. He listened to the other side. He posted the $10,000 protest fee.
It didn’t pay off this time, but that’s how good owners operate.
Before they committed fully, Houston signed free agent Jeff Green to a 10-day contract. They just wanted to make sure the veteran forward was a fit in their small-ball system.
It turns out, he was a perfect fit.
Through four games, playing a little more than 19 minutes a game, Green averaged 9.8 points a game on a ridiculous 89.6 true shooting percentage. That’s not sustainable (he’s shooting 61.5 percent from three), but it was enough for the Rockets to sign Green for the remainder of the season, something the team announced Friday.
Green, at 6’8″, played on the wing most of his career. However, with the Rockets he backs up P.J. Tucker at center.
Green started the season a member of the Utah Jazz, but the fit there was not as clean. While he averaged 7.7 points per game in 30 appearances, the Jazz ultimately waived him to create a roster spot for Rayjon Tucker.
This contract only runs through the end of this season, but the Rockets could re-sign Green for next season, if the sides agree this summer. For now, the focus is on the Rockets’ hot streak and building on that as the league moves toward the postseason.