Carmelo Anthony turning down the Bulls was a blessing in disguise for Chicago

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CHICAGO—The first game at the United Center between the Chicago Bulls and New York Knicks should have been a spectacle. After the Bulls’ much-publicized pursuit of Carmelo Anthony this summer, here was an opportunity for the Chicago’s fans to make their feelings known.

But then, nothing happened. Anthony didn’t play, sitting out with a knee injury that has been bothering him for the past month. The Bulls were without Derrick Rose (who fell ill) and Taj Gibson (whose ankles flared up). But if anything, the anticlimactic game was the best thing that could have happened here: it was an opportunity to put the tired “superstar spurns fans” trope to bed.

Especially since, in this case, it worked out for everybody. Anthony lost the chance to contend for a championship, but his family was happy living in New York and he got his five-year, $122 million contract.

“I’m a live-in-the-moment kind of guy,” Joakim Noah said at practice on Wednesday. “He made the best decision for himself. I can’t be mad at it.”

Every other Bulls player who was asked echoed the same sentiment. And truthfully, they don’t have much reason to resent Anthony’s decision. For as enticing as it was to sign a player like him, missing out has arguably worked out better for this Bulls team.

The Bulls’ last several pursuits of star free agents have been much more damaging than this one. They suffered through years of early-decade mediocrity after failing to land Tracy McGrady in 2000. Attempts to trade for Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett in 2007 fell short. They tried to get in on the LeBron James sweepstakes in 2010 and wound up paying $80 million to Carlos Boozer, who had to be amnestied to allow them to make moves this summer. But missing out on Anthony, on the other hand, has been a blessing in disguise.

Despite not landing Anthony, the Bulls are well positioned to compete for a title. Their fallback option in free agency, Pau Gasol, is rejuvenated and having his best year since 2010. Jimmy Butler’s career year wouldn’t have happened if Anthony was taking 25 shots a game. Promising rookie big man Nikola Mirotic may have had to be traded to bring in Anthony, and Chicago certainly wouldn’t have had the money to sign him. Paying Anthony upwards of $20 million per year well into his 30s is, in hindsight, less appealing than the shorter, cheaper contract they gave to Gasol with the flexibility to make more moves.

Make no mistake, the Bulls would have loved to sign Anthony. He would have given Chicago a second go-to scorer to take pressure off Derrick Rose as he returns from two major knee injuries. His defensive shortcomings could easily be hidden in Tom Thibodeau’s scheme, and his offense could be helped by being surrounded with teammates who know how to do their jobs, unlike the disastrous Knicks teams of recent years.

But Melo chose the money and the comfort, and it’s hard to blame him. He’s going to live with his decision, and the Bulls have moved on. Butler has become the go-to scorer they hoped to get when they pursued Anthony, and much younger and better defensively to boot. These Bulls have weapons, they have depth and they have versatility that they wouldn’t have had if they had ended up with Anthony.

That’s why the Bulls were uninterested in rehashing the summer’s free agency exploits. Melo turned them down and they moved on, arguably better off for it. And the Knicks team he re-signed with is a mess and not getting better any time soon. He’s considering shutting down for the year because of the knee injury, which would have been another in a never-ending list of health issues for the Bulls that was long enough as it is. He’s made his decision on how to spend the rest of his career, and he has to live with it. The Bulls certainly can.

Report: NBA Draft Lottery to be conducted virtually this year

NBA Draft lottery
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We’ve all been part of more virtual meetings — and happy hours — than we care to count. Now 14 NBA teams are going to be on another one — one that could help determine their fate.

The 2020 NBA Draft Lottery will be held virtually on Aug. 20. Not a surprise, but Shams Charania of The Athletic reports it will soon be official.

Teams will still “send” representatives to the lottery, but via Zoom rather than with a lucky charm in person.

This is considered a relatively weak draft, but, as always, there are players near the top who could help teams. The odds of landing the top pick for the eight teams in the lottery are:

1. Golden State Warriors (14%)
2. Cleveland Cavaliers (14%)
3. Minnesota Timberwolves (14%)
4. Atlanta Hawks (12.5%)
5. Detroit Pistons (10.5%)
6. New York Knicks (9%)
7. Chicago Bulls (7.5%)
8. Charlotte Hornets (6%)

Washington’s dreadful play in the NBA restart bubble — the Wizards are 0-6 — means it now has a worse record than both Charlotte and Chicago, but the lottery odds for those teams were locked in before the bubble.

 

Break up the Suns! Phoenix remains perfect in bubble defeating OKC

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — Devin Booker scored 35 points, and the Phoenix Suns rolled past the short-handed Oklahoma City Thunder 128-101 on Monday to remain perfect and improve to 6-0 in the restart and improve their playoff chances.

The Suns have surged in the Western Conference standings. They entered the day just 1 1/2 games behind eighth-place Memphis and a game behind ninth-place Portland in the race to qualify for a spot in the play-in series.

“We haven’t accomplished anything,” Phoenix coach Monty Williams said. “That may sound like coach-speak, but we dug ourselves a hole with our record. We scrapped all year long and won some games, but it’s been an uphill battle.”

Williams appreciates the position the Suns are in.

“We’ve done a good job of getting to this point,” he said. “No one knew we were going to be here, but we’re here and we’re thankful for that.”

Phoenix center Deandre Ayton sat out the first quarter because he missed his coronavirus test on Sunday. He tested negative on Monday and was cleared. He started the second quarter.

“In an NBA season guys are going to make mistakes,” Williams said. “You have to be able to give people grace. It wasn’t intentional. Thankfully he was able to get tested early enough that he was able to come back and play, and the guys received him with open arms because we all understand we’re human.”

With Ayton out, Oklahoma City led 37-23 at the end of the first quarter. After Ayton entered the game, Phoenix dominated the rest of the way. He finished with 10 points and six rebounds in just over 17 minutes.

Oklahoma City was without four of its top five scorers. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (bruised right calf), Danilo Gallinari (left ankle maintenance), Dennis Schroder (birth of child) and Steven Adams (bruised left leg) sat out. Reserve center Nerlens Noel (sprained right ankle) also did not play.

Rookie Darius Bazley had 22 points and 10 rebounds for the Thunder.

The Suns rallied from 15 points down in the second quarter to take a 65-64 lead at halftime. Phoenix opened the second half on an 11-2 run and controlled the game from there.

“I thought their pressure disrupted us,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “I thought we got a little bit stagnant. We made some pretty decent plays. We were able to get some open looks, but I thought there in the second quarter they turned up their defensive intensity and that probably took us out of some rhythm.”

Rumor: Pelicans will soon fire coach Alvin Gentry

Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry
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Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry works for a lead executive – David Griffin – who inherited, rather than chose, Gentry in the first place. Gentry has had just one winning season in five years in New Orleans, and the Pelicans particularly underwhelmed this season.

Connect the dots.

William Guillory of The Athletic:

The worst-kept secret in the NBA is that Gentry’s time with the Pelicans won’t last much longer.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Executive VP David Griffin and Pelicans ownership have a decision to make with a year left on Gentry’s contract, sources said. Consider two relationships Griffin has back to his front-office days in Cleveland and Phoenix, respectively, if there’s a change in New Orleans: LA Clippers assistant Ty Lue and Los Angeles Lakers assistant Jason Kidd, sources said.

Zion Williamson was transcendent at times this season. Brandon Ingram blossomed. Youngsters Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart and Jaxson Hayes showed flashes. Veterans Jrue Holiday, J.J. Redick and Derrick Favors provided reliable depth and versatility.

But New Orleans was never quite as good as the sum of its parts.

Some of that falls on Gentry.

The Pelicans’ defense was often scrambled. An offensive-minded coach, Gentry hasn’t shown he can correct that issue. His lineup decisions rarely maximized the offense, either.

Lue and Kidd are unsurprising candidates. Lue had a great record working for Griffin with the Cavaliers (obligatory LeBron James mention), and Kidd is good at getting his name tied to job searches. Are Lue and Kidd the most likely coaches to replace Gentry? Maybe. Or maybe they’re just the first candidates to emerge publicly. This job search isn’t even officially underway.

But it could be soon.

76ers coach Brett Brown says he expects Joel Embiid (ankle injury) back before playoffs

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Joel Embiid injured his ankle in the 76ers’ loss to the Trail Blazers yesterday.

How serious is it?

Noah Levick of NBC Sports Philadelphia:

Joel Embiid is out for Tuesday’s game against the Suns with the left ankle injury he sustained in the first quarter Sunday vs. the Blazers. He’ll be undergoing treatment and evaluation at the team’s practice Monday night.

Brett Brown said he expected Embiid to play again before the playoffs, though characterized that view as “just one man’s opinion.”

That sounds like great news for Philadelphia, which is already without Ben Simmons.

Embiid can be dominant. With him, the 76ers still have a chance of advancing in the playoffs. It might even be easier to create space around Embiid – where Embiid can really feast – without Simmons (though the loss of the talented Simmons lowers Philadelphia’s ceiling).

However, the 76ers don’t deserve benefit of the doubt for setting accurate injury timelines, particularly with Embiid. There’s an element of “see it to believe it” here.