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.

C.J.McCollum, Eric Gordon both withdraw from USA Basketball for World Cup

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First Anthony Davis. Then James Harden.

Now add C.J. McCollum and Eric Gordon to the list, as reported by Shams Charania of The Athletic and Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports.

Don’t be surprised if a couple of new players are added to the USA roster for training camp.

The loss of those four stars strips the Team USA of some international experience. As pointed out by John Schuhmann of NBA.com, now only four members invited to USA camp have played in the World Cup or Olympics: Harrison Barnes, Andre Drummond, Kevin Love, and Kyle Lowry — and Lowry just had thumb surgery and is questionable for the playing in China.

USA Basketball can still roll out this starting five:

Damian Lillard
Bradley Beal
Khris Middleton
Tobias Harris
Andre Drummond

Then off the bench have Kemba Walker, Donovan Mitchell, Kyle Lowry, Jayson Tatum, P.J. Tucker, Kevin Love, Brook Lopez.

That’s still enough talent, coached by Gregg Popovich, to win the World Cup. The USA remains the heavy favorites for a reason.

USA Basketball is scheduled to begin its pre-World Cup camp in Las Vegas Aug. 5, with an intrasquad exhibition game at the T-Mobile Arena on Aug. 9. Then the team heads to Southern California for more training followed by an exhibition against Spain on Aug. 16 at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif. Then the team heads overseas for the World Cup, which begins in China on Aug. 31.

James Harden reiterates it was ‘false talk’ he and Chris Paul were at odds

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The Houston Rockets — not in an anonymous way, but in a “we are putting our names on this, quote me” kind of way — have pushed back hard on the narrative that there was tension between Chris Paul and James Harden that led to the Rockets trading CP3 for Russell Westbrook this offseason. Rockets GM Daryl Morey has denied it, team leader P.J. Tucker called it fake news, and Paul himself has pushed back.

Harden has done that again, speaking at his camp on Saturday.

The counter-argument to this: Chris Paul is in Oklahoma City right now.

People will believe what they want to believe, but the Rockets guys have all gone on the record about this. Nothing leaked and anonymous.

From the Rockets’ perspective, they made a trade for Westbrook that is a roster upgrade. Houston has a dynamic duo that can compete with the Los Angeles teams and the other contenders around the league, and whatever questions fans and the media may have about the ultimate fit of Harden and Westbrook the talent level is not in question.

Do the Rockets make that trade if everything is great between Harden and Paul? Probably, if they saw CP3 as in decline and Westbrook as a talent upgrade (which they did). The Rockets can be a cold, business-like organization in terms of their pursuit of a title.

We will see next season if that calculation paid off. Whether or not Harden and CP3 got along.

Report: Kyle Korver reaches one-year deal to join Milwaukee Bucks

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The Bucks can never have enough shooting around a driving Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Enter Kyle Korver. The veteran sharpshooter will be headed to Milwaukee on a one-year contract, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

This is a quality pickup at the minimum (it is a veteran minimum contract). Korver averaged 8.6 points per game last season, taking 72 percent of his shots from beyond the arc and knocking down 39.7 percent of them. The man has gravity and pulls a defender because even at age 38 defenders cannot leave him. Shooting is a skill always in demand.

The Bucks will start Wesley Matthews at the two and have Sterling Brown behind him. They have Khris Middleton and Pat Connaughton at the three. Now they have some reliable veteran depth at those spots and a guy who can hit the big shot for them.

James Harden buys piece of MLS Houston Dynamo

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NBA players being minority owners in a soccer team is not new, LeBron James owns a small piece of Champions’ League winner Liverpool, for example.

James Harden is keeping it closer to home — he bought a share of the Dynamo, Houston’s MLS franchise.

“I’m very excited about the opportunity to join the ownership group of the Houston Dynamo and Houston Dash and proud to be a part of a club with tremendous history and a great future,” Harden said in a statement. “Houston is my home now, and I saw this as a way to invest in my city and expand my business interests at the same time. Soccer in general, and especially MLS, have exploded in this country throughout my lifetime. I’ve been a fan of the game for several years, and I know that Houston has a massive soccer fanbase, so it was an easy decision for me when this opportunity arose.”

Harden reportedly purchased a five percent stake in the team.

The Dynamo — a former MLS cup champion and a franchise that has consistently been strong — is primarily owned by Gabriel Brener, and it has boxing legend Oscar De La Hoya as one of its minority owners.

Harden has earned more than $141 million in NBA salary in his 10 NBA seasons and has four years left on the $228 million contract extension he signed with the team in 2017. In addition, he has a large shoe contract with Adidas and other endorsements.