Jimmy Butler even plans to play defense in the All-Star Game

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LOS ANGELES — Jimmy Butler is an All-Star. The coaches voted the Bulls swingman in as a reserve, a huge honor for the fourth-year player (who just happens to be in a contract year).

But you know Jimmy, they don’t play defense in the All-Star Game.

“They might not, but I do,” Butler said with a smile Thursday night in Los Angeles. “So if you see me diving on the floor and people say ‘what is he doing?’ I can’t help but be the player that I am.”

That player is the guy seemingly on his way to the Most Improved Player award, the guy having a career year, and the guy who next summer will land a max (or near max) contract. Last summer the Bulls put a reported four-year, $44 million offer on the table and Butler decided to “bet on himself” to become a restricted free agent this summer. That move is going to get the man paid.

All of this started last summer in Houston, where Butler worked with trainer Chris Johnson to shed a little weight while improving his shot. It was Johnson who first suggested to Butler he could be an All-Star this season.

“My trainer Chris, he put it in my head over the summer, he said ‘that’s the first step, you want to be an All-Star.’ So I started thinking about it way earlier than a few weeks ago or the start of the season. Coach Johnson did so much for my confidence on the floor.”

That confidence has Butler averaging 20.4 points and six rebounds a game, plus being the Bulls best perimeter defender. But more than that in what has been an up-and-down season for Chicago — including a sloppy 2OT loss to the Kobe-less Lakers Thursday night — he has been the one steady guy, bringing energy every night. He led the Bulls with 35 points in that ugly Lakers’ loss.

“I think taking the weight off was critical for him,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “I thought he had a great training camp, he hit the ground running. Each year he’s been with us he’s gotten a lot better. His drive, his intelligence, and obviously you can’t do that without being very talented. When you combine all those things I think it’s huge.”

What Butler helps provide the Bulls is versatility — he can score in multiple ways, he can defend multiple positions. It’s a coach’s dream.

“In many ways he’s more similar to Derrick (Rose) in that they are power guards, and so they can score a lot of different ways…” Thibodeau said. “Jimmy is very good running the floor, moving without the ball, driving the ball, getting to the free throw line, you can post him, you can run pick-and-roll with him, and I think he’s gained a lot of confidence in his shooting… He’s starting to see more double teams now, so I think as time goes on, he figures that out, find ways to get things done.”

It took a while for Butler to find his footing in the NBA — he was the 30th pick out of Marquette — but Thibodeau said he liked what he saw from the start.

“He came in in an unusual season, it was the lockout year, so he missed all summer, the Summer League, summer practices, the fall practices,” said Thibodeau, who normally isn’t the most loquacious of guys but will willing to go on-and-on about Butler. “Then you have a condensed schedule, and that’s a tough way to come in when you’re trying to learn the league. He was fortunate to be around Luol (Deng) at that time who really helped him handle getting ready to play in the league. But every time he played he got something done out there.

“Then I think the second year he had the confidence that he could play, and he found a niche for himself. He knew defensively he could bring energy, get in there, play tough, and guard multiple positions, run the floor and score in transition. And then I think it just took off from there, (he) worked hard on his all around game, strong on both sides of the ball, and I think he’ll continue to improve.”

Like his coach, Butler just does not see this latest step forward as his last.

“Just goes to show that I’m confident in my game,” Butler said. “You could say it’s All-Star worthy right now but I have a long way to go to get where I want to… where we want to go as a team, I should say. The work this summer, it’s starting to pay off, but I don’t want it to end just here. There’s another step I want to take.”

He’s going to take that step a much more wealthy man. Not that the money will change Butler, he’s as grounded a guy as you’ll find in the league.

LeBron James: Neighbor’s walls, not Breonna Taylor, got justice

Lakers star LeBron James
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Louisville police officers were not charged with killing Breonna Taylor. However, former officer Brett Hankison was charged with first-degree wanton endangerment for allegedly firing firing recklessly into nearby apartments during the incident.

That outcome left NBA players unsatisfied.

LeBron James:

The emotions LeBron – and many others – are feeling are completely understandable. This was a tragedy. Faced with an obvious injustice, it’s easy to demand the harshest-imaginable punishment. That didn’t come.

But it is not too late to address the injustices – which were always far larger than the officers at the scene returning fire – at play in Taylor’s death.

Tyler Herro carries Heat over Celtics in Game 4, within one game of NBA Finals

Tyler Herro after Heat-Celtics Game 4
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If the Celtics targeted Tyler Herro in the 2019 NBA Draft, they have more reason than ever to lament their near miss.

Herro scored 37 points to lead the Heat to a 112-109 win over the Celtics in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals Wednesday. The 21-year-old rookie put Miami up 3-1 and himself in the record book.

The only other player so young to score so much in a playoff game? Magic Johnson, who had 42 points in Game 6 of the 1980 NBA Finals at age 20.

The Heat will look to reach the NBA Finals in Game 5 Friday. Teams leading a best-of-seven series 3-1 have won 95% of the time.

Miami’s big concern: Bam Adebayo, who hurt his wrist late in the game. Adebayo (20 points, 12 rebounds, four assists and two steals) played through the injury but appeared to be feeling it.

He and the Heat just kept grinding through everything, though.

Miami won despite shooting only 10-for-37 on 3-pointers (27%). Forget about make-or-miss league. The Heat willed themselves to victory with aggravating defense, hustle, rebounding… and, yes, big-time shot-making by Herro, who made 9-of-11 2-pointers and 5-of-10 3-pointers

The Celtics committed 19 turnovers – some forced by Miami, some self-inflicted. The Heat’s zone defense continues to make Boston uncomfortable, though Marcus Smart (10 points and 11 assists) found some success penetrating and kicking against it. Jaylen Brown (21 points and nine rebounds) knocked down some of those created looks.

After a scoreless first half, Jayson Tatum scored 28 points in the second half. Stephen Curry scored 33 second-half points after a scoreless first half in Game 6 against the Rockets last year. That’s the only time someone followed a scoreless first half with so many second-half points in the Basketball-Reference postseason database, which dates back to 1997.

But those successes weren’t sustained. Tatum (six), Smart (four) and Brown (four) all had too many turnovers.

This series is even by points scored. But Boston has been just a little too erratic, which is why Miami has the key 3-1 lead.

Report: 76ers open to trading if they hire Mike D’Antoni

76ers forward Al Horford and Tobias Harris
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The 76ers said they wouldn’t trade Joel Embiid or Ben Simmons.

Which makes it confounding they reportedly want to hire Mike D’Antoni as coach.

D’Antoni has typically succeeded with teams that can play small to spread the floor and pressure opponents through speed… and struggled otherwise. Post-based Embiid and non-shooting Simmons don’t fit D’Antoni’s demonstrated style.

Maybe Philadelphia’s roster could change.

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

Keith Smith:

The 76ers could trade Al Horford and Tobias Harris to reduce their glut of bigs. But Horford was already on the block (good luck convincing anyone to take his contract), and Harris is also expensive. For what it’s worth, Harris could thrive as a small-ball power forward in D’Antoni’s system, but Harris is often pigeonholed as a small forward on this roster.

The Embiid-Simmons pairing is a fundamental issue, though. Whatever Philadelphia does with Horford and Harris, Embiid and Simmons just haven’t played like they’d fit well together under D’Antoni.

If the 76ers remain insistent on not trading Embiid or Simmons, there are only so many roster moves that can be done to help D’Antoni.

Adding further complications, Philadelphia might be seeking a new lead executive. That could explain why Tyronn Lue has also gotten so strongly linked to this job. It’s not even clear who’ll oversee the coach and roster, let alone what plan that person will have.

So, yes, it’s meaningful if the 76ers are advancing trade talks with other teams to make their roster fit D’Antoni. But there are still plenty of questions about what will actually happen in Philadelphia.

For NBA players, Breonna Taylor grand jury decision ‘not enough’

Grizzlies forward Anthony Tolliver wears Breonna Taylor shirt
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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — LeBron James sent the word to the Los Angeles Lakers in a group text on Wednesday afternoon, and basketball suddenly seemed irrelevant.

A grand jury in Kentucky had finally spoken. And James was letting his team know that NBA players, who have spent months seeking justice for Breonna Taylor, did not get what they wanted.

“Something was done,” Lakers guard Danny Green said, “but it wasn’t enough.”

Wednesday’s decision by the grand jury, which brought no charges against Louisville police for Taylor’s killing and only three counts of wanton endangerment against fired Officer Brett Hankison for shooting into Taylor’s neighbors’ homes, was not unexpected by many NBA players and coaches. They had a sense it wasn’t going to go how they hoped.

“I know we’ve been using our platform down here to try to bring about education and a voice in a lot of players on our team, especially also spoken out on justice for Breonna Taylor,” Denver coach Michael Malone said. “We have not gotten that justice.”

Teams came to Walt Disney World to finish the season and crown a champion, and hoping that the platform of the NBA’s restart bubble could help amplify calls for change. Players and coaches have used the NBA spotlight to make statements at a time when the demand for racial equality and an end to police brutality is resonating as loudly as it has in generations.

And Taylor’s story – the tale of a 26-year-old Black woman who was killed March 13 by police in Louisville when they burst into her apartment on a no-knock warrant during a narcotics investigation centered around a suspect who did not live there – has captivated NBA players. Many have met, virtually, with members of her family to offer support. They say her name in news conferences, wear it on shirts, scrawl it onto their sneakers.

“We have moms. We have sisters, nieces, aunties. And just like men of color have experienced traumatic instances, so have women,” Boston forward Jaylen Brown said. “That is an example of some things that happen to women in our country. So, we wanted to stand alongside them, but also make it that it’s not just us. I think the future is female, so it’s important to show our sisters that we care. That’s why it’s been important.”

Even for teams not in the bubble, it mattered. Atlanta coach Lloyd Pierce leads a committee of NBA coaches tasked with finding new ways to use their own platform to create change, and he’s encouraged his own players – Black and white alike – to speak out and take action, whether in Atlanta or their own community.

Pierce took Wednesday’s news hard.

“Yeah, there was a grand jury and yeah, they went through the information and yeah, they have facts to support whatever the claims may be,” Pierce said. “But that doesn’t provide any justice for those that are on the outside, those that feel like the police and law enforcement are there to protect them. … What currently is happening isn’t good enough.”

Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell:

Clippers big Montrezl Harrell:

National Basketball Players Association executive director Michele Roberts went a step further. “Sadly, there was no justice today for Breonna Taylor,” Roberts said. “Her killing was the result of a string of callous and careless decisions made with a lack of regard for humanity, ultimately resulting in the death of an innocent and beautiful woman with her entire life ahead of her.”

The league shut down for three days last month when a boycott that was started by the Milwaukee Bucks – in response to the shooting by police of a Black man, Jacob Blake, in Kenosha, Wisconsin – nearly caused players to end the season because they felt their pleas for change were not being taken seriously enough.

And Wednesday’s news was another disappointment for them.

“We feel like we’ve taken a step back, that we haven’t made the progress we were seeking,” Green said. “Our voices aren’t being heard loud enough. But we’re not going to stop. We’re going to continue. We’re going to continue fighting, we’re going to continue to push, we’re going to continue to use our voices.”