Chicago Bulls backcourt. When Derrick Rose and Jimmy are both attacking, getting into the paint off the dribble, scoring and setting guys up — plus drawing fouls — you are in trouble. Monday night the Toronto Raptors were in trouble. Rose had 29 points on 19 shots, he was getting into the lane (he shot 5-of-8 at the rim) but what was real trouble was his jumper was falling and he was 6-of-7 from the midrange. It was a great show down the stretch as Rose would make a play then Kyle Lowry would make a play — Rose had 15 points in the fourth quarter, Lowry had 18 — but in that time the Bulls kept playing enough defense to pull away. Butler was a rock all game, scoring 11 in the first quarter and playing good defense all game. He helped lead the charge from 12 down and getting the Bulls a quality win.
James Harden, Houston Rockets. The Rockets went on a 20-5 run in the second quarter and from there pretty much ran away and hid from the Portland Trail Blazers, who had been red hot the last couple weeks. It’s a quality win and it was a James Harden showcase — he had 31 first half points and finished with 44 points on 26 shots, and he did it knocking down threes (4-of-9) and midrange jumpers. Plus of course getting to the line. It’s this game that cements Harden in the MVP race as one of the guys toward the front.
Atlanta Hawks. They have won 12 of their last 13, but it’s the quality of wins the past week that should get your attention — they beat the Bulls, Cavaliers, Rockets, now on Monday night you can add the Mavericks to that list, 105-102. The Hawks did it without Jeff Teague — Dennis Schroder got the start at the point and had a team-high 22 points, hitting 5-of-8 three pointers. Dominique Wilkins told PBT last week he thought Paul Millsap was again playing at an All-Star level and he had 13 points and 12 boards, and he was rock solid. Coach Mike Budenholzer has them sharing the ball and playing great team basketball. This team is for real — they are ranked 7th in both offensive and defensive efficiency, and teams in the top 10 in both can be considred title contenders. If they can sustain this, watch out.
Tony Parker. After missing eight of the Spurs last nine he returned and was expected to play limited minutes, instead he dropped 26 points on 11-of-18 shooting, plus had four assists and two steals to lead the Spurs past the Clippers. San Antonio had struggled in recent games, not looking themselves with Parker and Kawhi Leonard out (and he will be out a while longer). With Parker back the Spurs offense clicked again. You just know this is going to be a dangerous team when it matters.
David Lee. He was back for Golden State, playing in his first game of the season, and the former All-Star gave them six points and seven boards in a little over 16 minutes. He looked rusty, as one would expect. But what is really key is he came off the bench and said he was willing to accept that role. With Draymond Green in the starting lineup the Warriors have been a force and coach Steve Kerr was not going to mess with that has outscored opponents by 27 points per 100 possessions. Now the Warriors will bring Andre Iguodala and Lee off their bench — this team is going to be a real playoff threat (if Andrew Bogut is healthy, that’s the caveat).
Arturas Karnisovas and Marc Eversley, the two guys at the top of Chicago Bulls basketball operations, fired a coach in Jim Boylen that the team owner liked. Which means they have to nail the next hire.
Chicago in on to the second round of interviews and four names stand out, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.
The Bulls are narrowing to finalists for their head coaching job and expect to conduct final interviews soon, sources said. Denver assistant Wes Unseld Jr., Philadelphia assistant Ime Udoka, Milwaukee assistant Darvin Ham and former Brooklyn head coach Kenny Atkinson are among the coaches who have had strong interviews so far.
Atkinson has a more proven resume after what he did in Brooklyn, but the other three are top assistants who have earned their shot in the big chair. Unseld Jr. is a hot name right now because his team is still in the bubble and playing well — he’s Mike Malone’s lead assistant on the Denver Nuggets — but every name on this list is qualified.
Whoever lands the job will head a team with plenty of potential but also plenty of questions. The Bulls have quality young talent on the roster — Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, Coby White, Wendell Carter — but do they are fit together? How good Chicago is next season may depend more on the growth of White and the health of Markkanen than it does on who gets selected as coach.
Expect Karnisovas to spend a year putting his stamp on this roster and moving players around. First, however, he’s got to find his coach.
Michael Jordan is getting into the NASCAR game.
The North Carolina native has teamed up with three-time Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin to form a new NASCAR Cup Series race team — and they’ve signed Bubba Wallace to drive.
Wallace is the only Black man driving full-time in NASCAR’s top series (the previous three seasons he raced for Richard Petty Motorsports). Wallace has been at the forefront of bringing social changes to NASCAR, including the banning of the Confederate flags at NASCAR events and tracks.
“Growing up in North Carolina, my parents would take my brothers, sisters and me to races, and I’ve been a NASCAR fan my whole life,” Jordan said in a statement. “The opportunity to own my own racing team in partnership with my friend, Denny Hamlin, and to have Bubba Wallace driving for us, is very exciting for me.
“Historically, NASCAR has struggled with diversity and there have been few Black owners. The timing seemed perfect as NASCAR is evolving and embracing social change more and more. In addition to the recent commitment and donations I have made to combat systemic racism, I see this as a chance to educate a new audience and open more opportunities for Black people in racing.”
Michael Jordan becomes the first Black owner of a full-time race team in NASCAR top series since NASCAR Hall of Famer Wendell Scott in the 1960s and early 1970s (he owned the team and drove the car). Bubba Wallace is the first Black full-time driver in the top NASCAR series since Scott.
Hamlin will be a minority partner in the new team and continue to drive for Joe Gibbs Racing.
“This is a unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I believe is a great fit for me at this point in my career,” said Wallace in a statement. “Both Michael and Denny are great competitors and are focused on building the best team they possibly can to go out and compete for race wins. I’m grateful and humbled that Michael and Denny believe in me and I’m super pumped to begin this adventure with them.”
The car manufacturer, number, sponsors and more will be announced at a later date.
Jordan is the primary owner of the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets.
Luka Doncic, in his second season, made the leap into the NBA’s elite — fourth in MVP voting and First Team All-NBA. All at age 21.
Not surprisingly, he’s the player under 21 NBA teams would want to build around.
Michael Scotto of Hoopshype polled 15 league executives (including four general managers) and players under 25 they want to build around and Doncic was the unanimous choice.
“To me, Luka is the clear No. 1,” one scout told HoopsHype. “He’s a guy who can be a lead ballhandler. He’s good enough to score and create at a high level, has the right mental makeup and is incredibly smart. He’s been a winner everywhere and will probably be a winner in the league.”
It’s hard to argue when Luka Doncic is already doing this in the playoffs:
Boston’s Jayson Tatum came in second, Phoenix Devin Booker was third, followed by Ja Morant (Memphis) fourth and a tie at fifth between Donovan Mitchell (Utah) and Bam Adebayo (Miami).
An interesting note about that top five: None of them was a No. 1 pick.
Zion Williamson had been on top of this poll a year ago, but after a season where he played just 19 games then looked a step slow in the bubble there are concerns about his long-term health.
“He’s just a special player inside the arc who’s an elite finisher,” one executive told HoopsHype. “Offensively, he can finish at an elite rate. He’s one of the best finishers behind Giannis (Antetokounmpo) and LeBron (James). He can hit the open man. He’s so physically dominant. His shooting shouldn’t be a problem, but we’ll see. I think he’s always going to be hurt, though.”
One healthy dominant season from Williamson and those opinions could shift, but even then Doncic will be an MVP level player the Mavericks can build a contender around. He’s the guy under 25.
Spurs president-coach Gregg Popovich reportedly had an $11 million salary in 2015 then signed a contract extension in 2019 that keeps him the NBA’s highest-paid coach. Doc Rivers was earning $10 million annually with the Clippers before his latest extension. Warriors coach Steve Kerr, Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle and Heat coach Erik Spoelstra also signed extensions in recent years.
What about Nick Nurse, who just signed an extension with the Raptors?
Shams Charania of The Athletic:
Raptors coach Nick Nurse signed a new multiyear contract extension on Tuesday — a deal that pays him around $8 million per year, sources say.
That’s a lot for a coach, especially in these times.
But Nurse has proven his value. He might even be the NBA’s best coach right now. He checks so many key boxes.
He has shown the ability to prepare his team for the playoffs then adapt through a long playoff run. His players have developed under his watch. He has dealt with roster upheaval and kept everything humming.
After just two seasons as head coach, Nurse still must prove himself in more situations, especially as opposing teams become more familiar with his strategies. But Toronto should want to keep him.
Credit Raptors ownership for paying to make it happen.
Now onto Raptors president Masai Ujiri…