ProBasketballTalk 2014-15 Preview: Chicago Bulls

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Last season: Derrick Rose appeared in just 19 games after suffering an injury that would sideline him for the season for the second straight year. Luol Deng was traded at the deadline in a cost-cutting move, after being far apart on a contract extension and in advance of him becoming an unrestricted free agent. As usual, the Bulls made the most of what they had, finishing with a record of 48-34 that was good enough for fourth place in the East, before being bounced in the first round of the playoffs by the Washington Wizards.

Signature highlight from last season: Rose missed all of the 2012-13 season due to injury, so when he returned for the home opener on Halloween against the Knicks, there was obviously an electric atmosphere. Rose didn’t disappoint, and finished with 18 points while hitting the game-winning shot.

Key Player changes:

Keys to the Bulls Season:

Derrick Rose: As has been the case since the wildly skilled point guard won the league MVP in 2011, the success of the Bulls begins and ends with Rose. One of the game’s most dynamic playmakers when healthy, Rose is a cornerstone superstar who is more than capable of leading his team to the promised land. Injuries have derailed him for the past two seasons, however, and it obviously remains to be seen whether or not he can not only stay healthy for the bulk of the 82-game regular season, but be able to return to playing at an All-NBA level along the way, while still having enough in the tank to be ready for the playoffs.

The good news is that Rose got an extended training camp of sorts by playing for Team USA at the FIBA World Cup, and by all accounts, came away feeling as good as ever. He showed flashes of his former self there, but is traditionally patient in an All-Star type setting, so his numbers didn’t necessarily jump off the page. But his time spent with USA Basketball should give him some confidence heading into the season.

Pau Gasol: The big man who spent six and a half seasons with the Lakers and helped the team win back-to-back titles in 2009 and 2010 was marginalized by the team in recent years, which, along with L.A.’s recent slide into lottery land made his decision to sign with a contender like Chicago an easy one. Not only was Gasol’s name constantly mentioned in trade rumors, but he wasn’t utilized properly in Mike D’Antoni’s system, which led to his being less than pleased with his new role in Los Angeles.

But as we saw with Spain during FIBA World Cup Play this summer, Gasol remains one of the most skilled bigs in the league. And on a team where he’s properly motivated and allowed to do what he does, it’s easy to envision him returning to All-Star form — and no coach consistently gets more out of his players than Tom Thibodeau.

Continue to dominate defensively: The Bulls were second in the league in defensive efficiency a season ago, allowing just 97.8 points per 100 possessions. They have the reigning Defensive Player of the Year in Joakim Noah, who should continue to be an absolute menace inside. Jimmy Butler applies pressure on the wing and the perimeter, and Rose has proven to be tenacious on that end of the floor, as well. Defense wins championships, as the saying goes, and to get out of the East against a Cavaliers team that’s loaded offensively, this, along with the health of Rose, will be the biggest factor in determining just how far Chicago can go this season.

Why you should watch: Rose is one of the game’s most entertaining guards, a player whose speed and athleticism are capable of producing a dazzling highlight every time he touches the ball. Gasol’s fit will be interesting, too, and guys like Noah and Taj Gibson are so active around the basket that their intensity simply makes the game a joy to watch.

Prediction: Going out on a bit of a limb here, considering how stacked the Cavaliers are with the additions of LeBron James and Kevin Love. But I like the continuity in Chicago under Thibodeau, and the effort with which he gets his guys to play should put the Bulls over the top, and help them finish with the best record in the Eastern Conference.

If the pieces come together as expected, the Bulls should at minimum find themselves in the Eastern Conference Finals, with a trip to the championship round a real possibility.

Kevin Durant reverses course on championship: ‘Every day I woke up, I just felt so good about myself, so good about life’

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Following his first NBA title, Kevin Durant said, “After winning that championship (last season), I learned that much hadn’t changed. I thought it would fill a certain [void]. It didn’t.”

How does Durant now reflect on that time with the Warriors?

Durant, via J.R. Moehringer of the Wall Street Journal:

“It’s very rare in our lives when we envision and picture something and it comes together the perfect way you envision it. [Winning a title] was the only time in my life that happened, and that summer was the most exhilarating time. Every day I woke up I just felt so good about myself, so good about life.… That was a defining moment in my life—not just my basketball life.”

It’s difficult to reconcile those two quotes. I’d love to hear Durant eventually explain.

I wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t relish the championship aftermath as much he initially expected but, looking back, now realizes how much he actually enjoyed it. The end of his time with Golden State wasn’t totally pleasant. That might have provided perspective on the better times. Or maybe the difference is simply his mood on the day of each interview.

Durant is continuing to try to find himself while in the public eye. That isn’t easy, and it’ll lead to contradictions like this along the way. I appreciate his openness, even when he’s still difficult to understand.

Jerry Colangelo: Team USA would’ve won FIBA World Cup if not for injuries

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Team USA finished seventh in the 2019 FIBA World Cup – the Americans’ worst-ever finish in a major tournament.

Why did the U.S. fare so poorly?

USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo had sharp words for the many stars who withdrew. But that’s not his only explanation.

Kyle Kuzma suffered an ankle injury that kept him off the roster. Jayson Tatum missed the final six games with his own ankle injury. Marcus Smart was banged up and missed time throughout the event.

Colangelo, via Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated:

“I believe that if we didn’t have those injuries, we would have won,” said Colangelo. “The injuries were just too much to absorb.”

Maybe.

Those players – especially Tatum and Smart, who occupied a roster spots – would’ve helped. But even with those two, the Americans were vulnerable. Australia beat them in an exhibition, and Turkey nearly upset them in the first round. France and Serbia clearly outplayed them in the knockout phase. Team USA just lacked its usual talent.

Perhaps more top Americans will play in the 2020 Olympics. That will make the biggest difference.

If USA Basketball had attracted more stars for the World Cup, it likely could’ve withstood a few injuries. This roster allowed little margin for error.

Jarrett Culver enlivens Timberwolves’ otherwise-quiet offseason

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NBC Sports’ Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

The Timberwolves are the only team with two max-salary players under age 29. Heck, they’re the only team with two max-salary players under age 25.

But Minnesota isn’t set.

Far from it.

Though Karl-Anthony Towns (23) is already a star and sometimes looks like a budding superstar, Andrew Wiggins (24) has stagnated on his max extension. Add expensive contracts for Jeff Teague and Gorgui Dieng, and the Timberwolves have limited cap flexibility. With veterans too good to allow deep tanking, Minnesota also has limited means to upgrade through the draft.

New Timberwolves president Gersson Rosas was likely always bound to limit his impact this summer. Minnesota faced few clear pressing decisions. Any big moves would start the clock toward Rosas getting evaluated on his prestigious job. In one of his main decisions, Rosas retained head coach Ryan Saunders, an ownership favorite.

Yet, in this environment, Rosas still found a simple way to add a potential long-term difference maker.

The Timberwolves entered the draft with the No. 11 pick – right after a near-consensus top 10 would’ve been off the board. They left the draft with No. 6 pick Jarrett Culver.

All it took to trade up with the Suns was Dario Saric, who would’ve helped Minnesota this season but probably not enough to achieve meaningful success. He’ll become a free agent next summer and is in line for a raise the Timberwolves might not wanted to give.

Culver is not a lock to flourish in the NBA. But Minnesota had no business adding a prospect with so much potential. This was a coup.

Otherwise, the Timberwolves remained predictably quiet, tinkering on the fringe of the rotation. They added Jake Layman (three years, $11,283,255) in a sign-and-trade with the Trail Blazers. They took Shabazz Napier and Treveon Graham off the hands of the hard-capped Warriors, getting cash for their trouble. They signed Noah Vonleh (one year, $2 million) and Jordan Bell (one year, minimum). They claimed Tyrone Wallace off waivers.

With their own free agents getting bigger offers, Minnesota didn’t match Tyus Jones‘ offer sheet with the Grizzlies (three years, $26,451,429) and watched Derrick Rose walk to the Pistons (two years, $15 million). For where the Timberwolves are, the far-cheaper Napier should handle backup point guard just fine.

Minnesota is methodically gaining flexibility. Teague’s contract expires next summer, Dieng’s the summer after that. The big question is how to handle Wiggins, but that will wait.

With Towns locked in the next five years, Rosas has plenty of runway before he must take off. Nabbing Culver was a heck of a way to accelerate from the gate.

Offseason grade: B-

Report: Iman Shumpert rejects offer from Rockets, who’ll have several familiar names in minicamp

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Iman Shumpert is the best free agent available.

Why hasn’t he signed yet? Apparently because he spent the offseason negotiating with the Rockets, but those talks haven’t produced a deal.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Kelly Iko of The Athletic:

Alykhan Bijani of The Athletic:

I wonder whether Houston tried to sign Shumpert to a contract similar to Nene’s, creating another trade chip. The Rockets are close to the luxury tax and probably wouldn’t guarantee Shumpert much. It doesn’t take months to negotiate a simple minimum contract.

Shumpert (29) is a credible wing in a league starving for them. He played well for the Kings last season before getting traded to Houston, where he struggled. Other teams should be interested.

The Rockets have just nine players with guaranteed salaries. There’s plenty of room for some of these past-their-prime veterans to make the regular-season roster. It might mostly depend on which of Terrence Jones (27), Nick Young (34), Luc Mbah a Moute (33), Corey Brewer (33), Raymond Felton (35) and Thabo Sefolosha (35) are in the best shape at this stage.