Thibodeau calls Team USA “perfect setting” for Derrick Rose to make return

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After two seasons of injury, there seems to be a lot people in Chicago that want to wrap Derrick Rose in bubble wrap until the season. Maybe until the playoffs. Just pack him away and keep him safe. (There’s also a group very down on Rose, but those people are too foolish to waste time on.)

But the only way Rose returns to anything near his MVP form is to get out and play.

Which is why Team USA always seemed a great setting to me — a high level of competition but with the talent around him (even after high profile injuries and defections) so the pressure to carry everyone is gone.

Bulls’ coach Tom Thibodeau said the same thing speaking to Sam Smith of Bulls.com.

“This is the perfect setting for him,” enthused Thibodeau. “I thought his first (USA team) experience in 2010 was the springboard to his MVP season. All summer long he’s gotten more comfortable. He went through the comeback last year and I think he learned a lot from it. I love the way he’s playing. He’s finding the rhythm of game and playing to his strengths and recognizing who’s on the floor with him and what their strengths are. He made several good plays, particularly against the zone in the fourth quarter. He’s shaking some rust off, but his explosiveness is back. He’s playing well on both sides of the ball. I think he’s in a really good place. It’s unfortunate what he’s gone through. But I think that adversity has made him a lot stronger. It was really seeds of growth for him. I love where he is mentally and physically right now.

“It’s something he really wanted to do,” Thibodeau said of the USA experience for Rose. “It’s a chance for him to measure where he really is. He’s not carrying the burden of the entire team. For Derrick, there are so many positives. I think this will be great preparation for the season. We have a baseline and we know there’s a long way up. His attitude and approach are terrific and I think that will serve him well. I’m very pleased where he is now.”

Thibs should be pleased, Rose has been a standout from when camp opened.

Nobody knew where he was physically or mentally, but he has looked great, with Coach Mike Mike Krzyzewski being the lead cheerleader (and moving Rose into the starting lineup).

What’s been most impressive is a more mature game from Rose, he’s not just relying on that explosiveness he’s beating teams with his mind. Put him on the court with a high IQ, great passing bigs like Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol, and you have the makings of a very good offense.

The Cavaliers are landing Kevin Love and may be the betting favorite to win the East, but the Bulls are going to be right there with them.

Report: 76ers rookie Zhaire Smith expected to return around Christmas

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76ers first-rounder Zhaire Smith suffered a Jones fracture in his left foot last month, leaving plenty of uncertainty about when he’d return.

Keith Pompey of The Inquirer:

The 76ers expect injured rookie Zhaire Smith to be available to play in a game around Christmas, league sources say.

A rookie on a team with legitimate aspirations of deep-playoff advancement, Smith was already unlikely to crack Philadelphia’s rotation this season. All this lost developmental time makes it even less likely.

But the sooner Smith returns, the better for him and Philadelphia. The No. 16 pick impresses with his athleticism and motor, but he needs time to develop his perimeter skills.

Kevin Love launches “Love Fund” to bring more focus to mental health issues

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The NBA is not shying away from the issue of the mental health of its players.

In the wake of All-Stars DeMar DeRozan and Kevin Love coming forward about their mental health challenges, the league and the players’ union combined to tell players to speak out on the issue and take advantage of the services offered.

Kevin Love is doing more than just that, he has formed the Kevin Love Fund to help change the stigma around mental health issues. The fund has partners such as Headspace, with the focus being on prioritizing mental health awareness. He went on the Today Show on NBC to talk about it.

Love has become a leader and spokesman around the issue. Love came forward near the end of last season to talk about his battles with anxiety and depression. That opened the door for others around the NBA to step forward as well, such as Kelly Oubre and Paul Pierce.

Sixers hire Elton Brand as new General Manager

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Filling the 76ers vacant general manager position dragged out all summer for one main reason:

They liked what they already had in-house. The Sixers were an especially collegial and collaborative group with their decision making, and if they brought in a big name from the outside — former Cavaliers’ GM David Griffin, or the two guys who went deep into the interview process Utah assistant GM Justin Zanik on Rockets VP Gersson Rosas — it would change that dynamic.

Which is why they have decided to keep this in the family, and will promote Elton Brand from vice president of basketball operations to general manager. It’s a story broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and confirmed by NBC Sports Philadelphia’s John Clark.

Brand, a former Philadelphia player, was the general manager of their G-League team, the Delaware Blue Coats, before becoming the VP of basketball operations. He will replace Bryan Colangelo, who was forced out following a Twitter scandal involving his wife.

There were other title changes within the organization as well.

What this means on the ground is don’t expect any significant changes with the Sixers’ plans — nor should there be. They are banking on Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and Markelle Fultz — now with a functional jump shot, they hope — to be at the core of a contending team, then next summer they will go big game hunting again for an elite free agent. (There is more pressure to get a deal done this summer before the big extensions for those young stars start to really kick in.) That said, this is a team poised on the brink of a great run.

And if things are going well, why make a dramatic change? Brand can help them on the course already set.

Pat Riley: Dion Waiters not recovered for start of training camp, “unlikely” for start of season

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This is a setback.

When Dion Waiters had ankle surgery 30 games into last season, the hope was that he would be healthy for the start of this season and return to the post All-Star form of 2017, when his hot play (15.6 points per game, 41 percent from three and carrying a heavy offensive load) led the Heat to offer him a four-year contract.

Turns out, that’s not going to happen.

It was Pat Riley who made the announcement, speaking to the media.

Waiters was not healthy last season, and while he averaged 14.3 points a game he was not nearly as efficient — 30.6 percent from three, shooting 39.8 percent overall, a PER of 10.5.

This could move Dwyane Wade into the starting lineup to open the season. Beyond that, the Heat have the guard depth to survive this with Wade and Wayne Ellington at the two, plus Goran Dragic, Tyler Johnson, Malik Newman, and Briante Weber heading into camp.

Waiters being out also is bad news for the player but could save the franchise money on another front: Waiters receives a $1.1 million bonus if he plays in 70 games this season. If he misses the start of the season, he becomes far less likely to make that threshold.