Derrick Rose is hurt again. Where do the Bulls go from here?

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CHICAGO—On Tuesday night, the Bulls delivered the devastating news that Derrick Rose would need yet another knee surgery after suffering a second tear of the medial meniscus in his right knee. It was a crushing blow for Rose and for the Bulls, who had been rounding into shape as the contenders everyone thought they’d be. The loss of Rose opens up a lot of questions about this team’s future both in the short and long term.

How long will Rose be out?

At shootaround on Wednesday morning, Thibodeau said that when Rose had the last surgery, the team knew it was a possibility he’d tear the meniscus again.

Rose’s timetable for recovery is not clear, and it won’t be until after he undergoes knee surgery. A date for the procedure still hasn’t been set, and we don’t know what kind of surgery he’ll opt for. Last season, he chose to repair the meniscus rather than remove it, which meant missing the rest of the season. If he goes that route again, then he will once again miss the rest of the year.

If Rose chooses to remove the meniscus instead of repair it, he could be back sooner, maybe even by the time of the playoffs. This is the route that Eric Bledsoe, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade and others have gone, and it’s risky. It allows them to come back sooner, but it can be more detrimental to their long-term health.

Plus, we’re far enough into the season now that a six-week recovery from the latter surgery (likely the best-case scenario) would put Rose on pace to come back in the second week of April, with just a few games left before the playoffs start. Even if he’s fully physically cleared to play, the mental hurdles that come with it are going to be tough for Rose to clear, especially after everything he’s been through. It’s already been an up-and-down process to integrate him back into the starting lineup after two years off, and his play was uneven. Throwing him back into playoff-level action coming right off this surgery and expecting him to play at a high level is unrealistic at best and reckless at worst.

The team will know more after Rose undergoes surgery, but it’s a safe assumption that they will be going the rest of the season without him.

Will the Bulls make a move in the short term?

It’s bad luck for the Bulls that Rose’s injury was discovered after the trade deadline, because their ability to make moves is now extremely limited. Chicago has an open roster spot, but they can only sign a player to a 10-day contract or the veteran’s minimum. There’s a good chance they do that.

“I’m sure John and Gar have a list of guys and we’ll be hearing from a lot of people,” Thibodeau said at shootaround. “But right now, we’re concerned about Derrick and the guys we do have here. I don’t know what options we may have. We’re always looking at different options anyway. But we haven’t discussed anything yet.”

One player who immediately comes to mind is Nate Robinson, who has been without a team since January. Robinson was Rose’s fill-in for the 2012-13 season, most notable for scoring 34 points in a triple-overtime playoff win over the Brooklyn Nets. He was a fan favorite and excelled as a source of instant offense off the bench when he was in Chicago. But the Bulls already have Aaron Brooks for that role, and they might go the direction of bringing in a facilitator instead.

Mike James, another Thibodeau favorite, is a name they could look at. That’s the caliber of player they’d be able to bring in. Unless something unexpected happens on the buyout market before the March 1 playoff-eligibility deadline, the options are pretty unexciting. But with the point-guard depth limited now to Brooks and Kirk Hinrich, who has battled injuries of his own this season, it’s a good bet that they’ll bring in somebody.

How far can the Bulls go without Rose this season?

They’re probably not title contenders without Rose, as inconsistent as he’s been. But they still have plenty of talent, and a coach that has specialized in getting the absolute most out of any collection of players he has, no matter what. They’re still going to be competitive—that much is obvious.

The good news is that this Bulls team is much more talented than either of the previous two. Last year, after Rose went down and Luol Deng was traded to Cleveland, the team’s leading scorer was D.J. Augustin. This year, they have more weapons. Jimmy Butler has emerged as an All-Star talent and first option on offense, which he wasn’t last year. Pau Gasol commands a double-team. Tony Snell, who has emerged as a threat since the All-Star break, will get more time.

Combine that with the steadiness of Taj Gibson and the improved recent play of a finally-healthy Joakim Noah, and the Bulls absolutely could—and probably will—win a first-round series.

Beyond that, who knows? A trip to the Eastern Conference Finals depends on the matchup they get in the second round, and none of those look favorable. The Hawks and Cavs are the two strongest teams in the conference, and beating either one of them in a seven-game series is a rough proposition without Rose. Even if they had him, those teams are so deep and talented that it would have been a bloodbath. As inconsistent as Rose has been, the dropoff from him to Brooks and Hinrich is huge. Just the threat of him having a game like the 30-point explosion against the Cavs right before the All-Star break is something that will be extremely difficult to make up.

The likeliest scenario is a second-round exit, unless Rose shocks the league and comes back in time for the playoffs and plays his best basketball of the season. Don’t hold your breath.

How does Rose’s injury impact the franchise’s long-term outlook?

For better or worse, this Bulls core will be what the Bulls have to work with for the next several years. Butler hits restricted free agency this summer, and the team has been adamant that they’ll match any offer he gets. Noah is too good to trade and has too much of an injury history to get fair value for.

Even if the Bulls wanted to cut their losses with Rose after this latest injury—and there’s been no indication that they do—moving him would be next to impossible. He’s set to make $20 million next season and $21.3 million in 2016-17, and will be coming off what is now three consecutive knee surgeries. The Bulls and Rose are in it for the long haul together, regardless of what he’s able to do on the court.

Still, even if Rose gives them nothing over the final two years of his deal, Chicago has a solid core of Butler, Noah, Gibson and Nikola Mirotic to build around. And if Rose is never again the superstar he was before the injuries, it’s still not unreasonable to expect him to be a contributor in a smaller role.

The more interesting wrinkle of his injury is what it might mean for Tom Thibodeau’s future. The coach and the Bulls’ front office don’t have a great relationship as it is. That’s been widely reported. But as long as they’re winning, it’s going to be difficult to part ways. Another season-ending Rose injury taking them out of title contention would potentially make it easier for the team to decide that the Thibodeau era has run its course.

There is a lot of uncertainty around the Bulls after the injury, both in the short and long term. Losing a player like Rose again sucks on both a basketball level and a professional level, and it remains to be seen how the team will respond. But the future isn’t all dark.

Five teams most likely to trade for Kyrie Irving before deadline

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Kyrie Irving wants a trade out of Brooklyn. Now. Before the Feb. 9 trade deadline.

It’s no sure thing a massive trade like this comes together in less than a week, but it has spiced up what was a relatively flavorless trade deadline to this point (with all due respect to Rui Hachimura).

Irving’s trade request asks some tough questions of the team’s interested in him. The incentive to make a deal is obvious — landing one of the game’s biggest names and an elite shot creator averaging 27.1 points, 5.1 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game while shooting 37.4% from 3. On the other hand is the long list of disruptions he has caused the Nets and other teams he’s been on, combined with the fact he is asking out in Brooklyn partly because they would not give him a four-year max contract extension. Does a team trading for Irving look at his track record and want to lock him up for that long? (To be clear, a team that trades for him is limited two a two-year, $78.6 million extension; he might want to re-sign with the team as a free agent, a risk for the team acquiring him.)

What may best sum up the trade market for Irving: Teams calling are more interested in what this means for Kevin Durant than Irving (according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN).

Still, teams will be interested. Here are the top five worth watching.

1) Los Angeles Lakers

When reaching out to league sources in the wake of the Irving bombshell, the Lakers were the first name off everyone’s lips. Which makes sense because the sides discussed the idea last summer but never pulled off the trade. Now, more than halfway through the season, with the Lakers three games below .500 and sitting outside even the play-in tournament, there is a sense of desperation to do something so as not to squander an All-NBA season from LeBron James. Is that enough to get a deal done?

LeBron is trying to add some pressure.

The trade would, at its core, involve Russell Westbrook and the Lakers’ two available first-round picks (2027 and 2029), likely unprotected (although Wojnarowski reports the Lakers “privately expressing limitations on offering significant trade assets for Irving”).

That doesn’t mean Westbrook is headed to Brooklyn, the sides likely will engage a third team in the deal (San Antonio has cap space, and the Lakers have talked to the Jazz) to take on Westbrook in exchange for draft compensation. However, putting together a trade that works for everyone gets difficult, which is why one never happened this summer.

It’s obvious why the Lakers want to do this trade. Irving playing next to Lebron and Anthony Davis makes the Lakers potential contenders in a West where nobody has run away with the conference (even if Denver is trying).

It’s less obvious why this is the best option for the Nets.

In a direct swap, Westbrook — even with the added depth of a quality young role player — is a dramatic drop-off from All-Star starter Irving. Plus, in a straight-up Westbrook for Irving deal the Nets take on more salary, adding $56 million to a luxury tax bill already at $109 million (numbers via Bobby Marks of ESPN). Whether the Nets would be more enticed by a three-team trade depends on the other team and players involved, but if the Nets are going to hold on to Durant they need to find a way to stay a contender, and that won’t be easy to do in any trade with the Lakers.

2) Phoenix Suns

The Suns can make a trade work in a couple of different ways, but they all center around Chris Paul heading to Brooklyn — a big name but a player whose game has fallen off this season at age 37. The trade likely would involve either Jae Crowder or Cameron Johnson — both of whom need to be paid after this season — plus some picks headed to Brooklyn.

The Suns need half-court scoring, and an Irving and Devin Booker backcourt would be a force that could get Phoenix back in the mix at the top of the West. Would soon-to-be new owner Matt Ishbia be willing to pay big and go into the tax for Irving in future years? Would the Nets consider CP3 and some depth at the four enough to pull the trigger?

3) Dallas Mavericks

It’s no secret the Mavericks are desperate to find a second star and shot creator to go next to Luka Dončić, who is wearing himself out carrying this team. It’s also no secret that coach Jason Kidd and former Nike executive turned Mavericks GM Nico Harrison have strong relationships with Irving. Is that enough?

A trade can be constructed by sending former Net Spencer Dinwiddie back to Brooklyn along with just made available Dorian Finney-Smith, plus draft picks (there are reports the Mavericks are also hesitant to go heavy on draft picks in an Irving trade). Marc Stein reports that Dallas might want to unload one of its longer contracts in a trade, such as Tim Hardaway Jr. or Dāvis Bertāns.

Would some combination of those players plus a few picks be enough to interest Brooklyn? Is Dallas interested in signing Irving for the long-term, a four-year deal this offseason? Those questions could hold up the deal.

4) Miami Heat

Miami was on Irving’s leaked “places I would be willing to be traded” list last summer. Considering the Heat have struggled this season (despite the better play of late) and their struggles at point guard, it’s easy to see Miami’s interest.

However, it’s difficult to make a trade work. The Heat would want to send back Kyle Lowry, but there likely is little interest from Brooklyn in taking him on (he has a fully guaranteed $29.7 million on the books for next season). The Nets might want Tyler Herro, but he is in the poison pill year between signing his extension and it kicking in (the trade numbers going out and coming back are different for Herro under the CBA, making a trade very difficult to pull off).

Would the Heat want to sign Irving long-term? Is he a fit with the Heat culture?

You know Pat Riley will make the call, he’s always aggressive and wants to win now. But he’s not putting a player over the franchise, and he won’t give up too much to get a deal done.

5) Los Angeles Clippers

The Clippers are always aggressive as a front office, they need point guard help (someone who can create in the backcourt), and the owner is more than happy to spend if it means winning. The Clippers are loaded with mid-level salaries — Norman Powell, Marcus Morris, Luke Kennard, Robert Covington, Reggie Jackson, Nicholas Batum — who can be packaged to make a deal work. They also have good young players to temp the Nets, such as Terance Mann and Brandon Boston Jr.

Is another high-priced mercurial star prone to missing time what the Clippers need right now? They will make calls, but it feels like a long shot.

Brooks given one-game suspension for shot to Mitchell (who was fined)

Memphis Grizzlies v Cleveland Cavaliers
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Dillon Brooks did earn a suspension for hitting Donovan Mitchell in the “groin,” but he got off light.

Brooks was suspended one game and Mitchell got a $20,000 fine for their altercation during the Cavaliers’ win against the Grizzlies on Thursday night, the league announced.

“Brooks initiated the altercation by striking Mitchell in the groin area in an unsportsmanlike manner,” the NBA said in a release announcing the fine. “Mitchell then escalated the situation by throwing the game ball at and pushing Brooks, after which both players continued to physically engage with one another.”

Both Brooks and Mitchell were given Flagrant 2 fouls and ejected.

Brooks will serve his suspension Sunday against the Raptors. The one-game suspension is going to cost Brooks $78,621 in salary.

It’s difficult to watch the video of the altercation and not think that it was an intentional act by Brooks. As such, a one-game suspension seems soft and certainly isn’t sending a message of deterrence to other players. After the game Thursday, Mitchell fired shots at Brooks for the act.

The two teams do not meet again this season.

Reports: Kyrie Irving demands trade before Feb. 9 deadline

New York Knicks v Brooklyn Nets
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Kyrie Irving‘s agent tried to spark contract extension talks with the Nets recently, but Brooklyn felt no rush to dive into those talks, and the offer they did make — not for a full four years and filled with guarantees for Irving to meet — increased Irving’s frustration with the organization. The Nets, wisely, wanted to see more out of Irving before talking about the future, while Irving has felt everything with Brooklyn has been conditional.

Irving responded with a bombshell, demanding a trade before the Feb. 9 deadline. Shams Charania of The Athletic was first with the news, but Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and Chris Haynes of Bleacher Report have since confirmed it.

 

So much for a quiet trade deadline.

There are so many angles to this bombshell, but the sense of Irving feeling disrespected by Nets management and ownership is not new. Charania added this detail in his story at The Athletic:

The Nets recently offered Irving an extension with guarantee stipulations, according to league sources, an offer which was declined.

Irving wants a four-year, full max extension, no stipulations, Charania reports. That’s also what he wanted when he pushed for a contract extension with the Nets last summer, but after a couple of seasons of disruptions and him missing a lot of games due to his COVID vaccination status, the Nets were not interested in cementing their relationship long-term (Irving did look around for a new home, but that went nowhere).

The disruptions carried over into this season when Irving was suspended for what became eight games due to a Tweet promoting an antisemitic documentary. Through all this, the Nets fired Steve Nash as coach.

Whatever has happened off the court, when Irving has been on the court he has been his elite playmaking self, averaging 27.1 points, 5.1 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game. Fans voted him in an All-Star starter, and he has carried the Nets while Kevin Durant has been out.

While the Nets don’t want to give away Irving in a trade, if he’s gone this summer as a free agent they need to find a deal to get something in return (and ideally keep their status as a potential, maybe fringe, contender in the East). The Nets are not wrong that all the places Irving would want to go as a free agent will require a sign-and-trade, which gives Brooklyn some leverage. Irving has some leverage here, too: If Team X comes up with a trade the Nets like but Irving lets it be known he won’t re-sign there as a free agent, it limits what teams will offer.

When checking with league sources,  the first name on everyone’s lips are the Lakers, with a package centered around Russell Westbrook and both of the Lakers’ unprotected future picks (a trade that was discussed last summer). The Lakers likely have to sweeten that pot a little with another young player. Adding Irving to the mix with LeBron James and Anthony Davis does make the Lakers a threat to come out of a West with no dominant team, and Los Angeles might be willing to extend or re-sign Irving to a longer deal, they are all in on winning now.

Other teams that come up in conversations are the Heat (a team looking for point guard help and a spark, but does Irving fit the Miami team culture?), the Mavericks need another star next to Luka Dončić, and the Clippers are always active and aggressive at the trade deadline. Shams Charania of The Athletic reports the Suns are interested. Other teams looking to make the leap up to contender status may try to throw their hat in the ring. Considering Irving’s reputation as a challenge for coaches and front office staff, it will be interesting to see how many teams are interested in Irving’s extensions/contract demands.

Whatever direction this goes expect the Irving trade rumors to fly for the next six days.

 

Damian Lillard reportedly to take part in 3-point contest All-Star weekend

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The All-Star Saturday night 3-point contest has passed the Dunk Contest in watchability because the stars still do it. Look at this year’s Dunk Contest, there are some interesting athletes involved, and maybe it becomes a memorable event. Still, there will be no Ja Morant, Zion Williamson, or Anthony Edwards (the way that Jordan, Kobe, and other greats took part in the contest back in the day).

However, the stars turn out for the 3-point contest. This year, that starts with Damian Lillard, according to Chris Haynes of Bleacher Report and TNT.

The coaches selected Lillard as one of the All-Star Game reserves, he was already headed to Salt Lake City. This is Lillard’s third time in the 3-point Shootout.

Over the coming week, expect a lot more big names to jump into the 3-point contest — the best shooters in the game want to do this event (Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson have each done it multiple times, although whether they will this year is unknown).

All-Star Saturday night: Come for the 3-point Shootout, hang around for the Dunk Contest.