Dominant Pau Gasol shows he may be a perfect fit for Bulls

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NEW YORK — Ever since he won the MVP award back in 2011, the fortunes of the Chicago Bulls have hinged completely on the effectiveness (and availability) of Derrick Rose.

Now, he may finally have some help, thanks to the addition of Pau Gasol.

As one of the game’s most electrifying point guards continues to shake the rust off following two seasons where injuries limited him to just 10 total appearances, the Bulls saw their major free agent acquisition turn in a resurgent opening night performance, and one that should have fans in Chicago all kinds of excited about this season’s possibilities.

The Bulls crushed the Knicks at Madison Square Garden, and on a night where Rose took just seven shots, Gasol was dominant, finishing with 21 points, 11 rebounds, and played the game in an aggressive way that brought back memories of his days as an All-Star four seasons ago.

It’s early in the relationship, but Gasol is drawing rave reviews from his teammates, and appears to be a perfect fit for what this Bulls team has been so sorely lacking in recent seasons.

“Pau has just been a leader,” said Taj Gibson, who was equally dominant on opening night coming off the bench. “One thing about Pau, once you push him and try to go at him, after a while, he gets mad. And you saw he got mad late in that third quarter, and we just kept giving him the ball. We’re going to need a lot from him, our guys on the bench learn a lot from him, and it’s showing in how well we’ve been playing.”

Gasol scored 11 of his points in the third, and had everything working to perfection. He hit a 20-ft jumper from the top of the key while trailing a play and receiving a pass from Rose on a drive-and-kick. He made a sweeping hook through the lane after backing down Samuel Dalembert following a post-up on the low block. Another play saw him elude the defense in a half court set to get loose for an uncontested dunk inside, and then he took it right at Cole Aldrich to score in the restricted area, which was followed by a stare-down as he backpedaled down the floor.

It was the type of performance that we used to see regularly during those championship seasons in Los Angeles, before the Lakers marginalized him with constant trade rumors and poor head coaching hires that didn’t come close to properly utilizing his talents.

The Bulls have made their way with defense, but were near the bottom of the league in offensive efficiency last season. They’re third there now after just one game — the smallest of sample sizes — and Rose, obviously, is thrilled to have the help.

“We’re forcing it to him,” Rose said. “Just making sure he gets touches, making sure that you have to play him when he’s on the floor. And he’s a guy who can consistently hit that midrange jumpshot. So if you want to double me, or if you want to go under (the screen) and contain, making sure I don’t get into the lane, I’m going to try to go at the big and make sure that it’s a long closeout whenever you do close back out to Pau. Normally, Pau will shoot that shot, so it’s going to be an easy game for us.”

In addition to what he brings to the game, Gasol has brought a level of professionalism and experience that his teammates have welcomed with open arms. It begins on the practice floor, where he’s constantly pushing after seemingly every single play.

“We had a lot of different guys that were stepping up, but we didn’t really have any older or veteran leadership that had really been there and won a championship,” Gibson said of last season’s squad.

It was something Gasol himself noticed when considering his free agent decision.

“I just thought that I could be a great fit for them,” Gasol said. “As far as my experience, what I bring to the table, the type of game that I have. I think I can really add to what they have going on here. It’s a pretty young group, so they’re hungry. They really haven’t achieved greatness yet, and I thought it was going to be a great opportunity for me to try to contribute, and hopefully take them to that next level.”

“It was probably the most difficult decision that I’ve made in my career, in my life probably,” he said.

It’s one game, of course, and it came against a New York team that’s expected to finish the year as one of the league’s bottom-feeders. But the fit is evident, and it appears as though Gasol couldn’t possibly have made made a better choice than to sign on with these Bulls.

Just a reminder, after draft and free agency Wizards have still not named official GM

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When Wizards owner Ted Leonsis finally ended Ernie Grunfeld’s run as team GM back in April — to the joy of Wizards fans everywhere — it was expected they would have a new head of basketball operations in place by the draft.

Nope.

So by the start of free agency, to guide the Wizards through this tumultuous summer?

Nope.

Tommy Shepard has been doing the job on an interim basis, and as Jeff Zillgit of the USA Today points out a lot of league talk in Las Vegas was about why Leonsis just hasn’t given Shepard the job.

Team executive after executive had the same question when the Washington Wizards’ unresolved top front-office job opening came up. “Why not just give Tommy the job?”

Tommy is Tommy Sheppard, the Wizards’ longtime exec, who has been running basketball operations since owner Ted Leonsis decided not to bring Ernie Grunfeld back. Sheppard ran the draft, free agency and the Wizards’ Summer League team, but he doesn’t have the full-time job.

A couple of more prominent names were linked to the Wizards job at points. There were reportedly talks with Tim Conley, who built Denver into a real threat, but he decided to stay in the Rockies. There were rumors of Masai Ujiri, but he has chosen to stay in Toronto after winning a title.

At this point, after Shepard has built the team for this coming season, is Leonsis really going to bring in someone else?

The Wizards have decisions to make. This is a young roster not ready to be a threat in the East, but with Bradley Beal and the injured John Wall (likely out for the season after tearing his Achilles), they also are capped out. So far they have turned away calls from other teams about a Beal trade (nobody is calling about a Wall trade with his max contract extension just kicking in).

Come July 26 the Wizards can offer Beal a three-year, $111 million extension, both sides are talking and the offer is expected to be made. That’s when the big decision comes — if Beal doesn’t sign that offer the Wizards have to look at trading him. Beal has spoken numerous times in the past about wanting to stay with the Wizards, but there was plenty of informed league speculation at Summer League that he is frustrated with the franchise and may not sign the extension, essentially forcing his way out. It’s something to watch in the coming weeks.

It probably would be nice to have a locked-in head of basketball operations by then, but who knows what Leonsis will do.

Cameron Payne reportedly agrees to partially-guaranteed contract with Toronto

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Cameron Payne was the starting point guard at one point early in the season in Chicago (until Kris Dunn returned), it didn’t last long, and by the middle of the season he was waived. The Cavaliers picked him up in a limited role at the end of the season.

Payne played for Dallas at Summer League and needed to impress there to have a shot a roster spot for next season. He did, averaging 20 points per game on 51 percent shooting, and he had one 32-point game.

The Toronto Raptors will bring Payne and let him compete to be the third point guard, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

The Raptors have Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet at the point, there are not a lot of minutes to be had there. However, both men are in the final year of their contracts. Plus, he brings some pregame dancing that every team needs.

The Raptors now have 16 potential NBA contracts coming into training camp, which means there will be cuts. The fact Payne has a decent guarantee his first year means he’s going to get a real look.

Payne, the No. 14 pick of the Thunder back in 2015, has struggled to find a fit in the NBA. While his skill set should fit the modern game, he doesn’t quite shoot or distribute well enough to earn a coach’s trust. He will try to change that with Nick Nurse.

Enes Kanter trolls (jokingly) Kyrie Irving on why Kanter will wear No. 11 with Boston

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Kyrie Irving is off to Brooklyn, which opened up the No. 11 jersey in Boston.

New Celtics center Enes Kanter will wear it, and his answer as to why is an awesome joke and troll of Irving.

You have to love the smile before he makes the joke, he has planned this out.

If you don’t get the “I want to be the reason no one else will” wear No. 11, you have to remember this Irving/Nike ad from Boston.

Well played Kanter, well played.

Report: Knicks’ Reggie Bullock could miss first month of season with injury

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On Tuesday, the Knicks made it official, they had signed sharpshooter Reggie Bullock to a two-year contract.

It had been a strange negotiation. Bullock had initially agreed to a two-year, $21 million contract with New York but after that (during the physicals) an injury of some nature came to light and the contract was re-negotiated down to two-years, $8.2 million (part of the room exception), money freed up allowed the Knicks to chase and land Marcus Morris.

Now comes a report Bullock will miss the start of the season with an injury. From Ian Begley of SNY.tv

There is no specific timetable for Bullock to be on the court at the moment. But, per SNY sources, Bullock is expected to miss at least a month of the regular season due to his ailment…

The medical issue that caused the hiccup is unclear, but Bullock has dealt with plantar fasciitis in the past.

Plantar fasciitis is something generally healed with rest, which Bullock should be getting plenty of this summer, making it a little unusual for it to extend into the season.

Bullock has a history of injury issues, having played 62 games two seasons ago in Detroit, then 63 last season between the Pistons and Lakers.

Bullock averaged 11.3 points and shot 37.7 percent from three last season. He will provide some much-needed floor spacing in New York, once he gets on the court.