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.

Report: Celtics “most likely” offer Jayson Tatum a max contract after season

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This should not be a surprise.

Jayson Tatum is a cornerstone of the Celtics now and going forward: 23.6 points and 7.1 rebounds a game, an efficient 56.2 true shooting percentage, a shot creator, an athletic finisher at the rim, and a guy who shot 39.8 percent from three. Tatum was an All-Star in his third season and will draw third-team All-NBA votes (whenever those votes happen).

Tatum is eligible for an extension to his rookie contract after this season. Is he worth a full max contract? Yes, especially considering he is 22 and still improving by leaps each season.

ESPN’s Brian Windhorst said on SportsCenter the Celtics are expected to offer Tatum the max (hat tip Bleacher Report).

“If Jayson Tatum is the superstar that they envisioned when they began this whole rebuilding process when they traded Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce for all of those draft picks hoping to land a player like this, we could see ‘Glory Days’ for the Celtics again. But it’s very much up in the air, and I’m gonna tell ya, they’re gonna have to pay him like it because after this season ends, he is going to get most likely a max contract. They’re going to bet that he becomes that player.”

It’s fair to argue that max contracts should be reserved for true alphas, true No. 1s and maybe a few No. 2 players on a team, and that Tatum has yet to prove he is one of those. Boston would be betting he becomes that player — but right now that looks like a good bet. More importantly, last summer the Celtics locked up Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown on four-year contracts, sign Tatum and the Celtics have a core that will have them at or near the top of the East for years.

Exactly what a max contract will look like this coming off-season after the coronavirus hit to the league’s finances is another question, one nobody has an answer to right now. Under the old cap, it would have been $181 million over five years (and if he made All-NBA teams it could jump to $218 million), but those numbers don’t apply to the new reality. Even if Tatum signs the max offer this summer, he will make his $9.9 million next season then be paid whatever the max is for him starting in the 2021-22 season (and again, it’s impossible to say what the league’s finances will be at that point).

Pay the man his money.  Expect Boston to make the offer whenever the offseason arrives.

Zion Williamson’s attorneys work to avoid him answering questions about improper benefits at Duke

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MIAMI (AP) — Attorneys for NBA rookie Zion Williamson seek to block his former marketing agent’s effort to have the ex-Duke star answer questions about whether he received improper benefits before playing for the Blue Devils.

In a Florida court filing last week, Williamson’s attorneys say those questions are “nothing more than a fishing expedition aimed at tarnishing Williamson’s reputation” and designed to “maximize potential embarrassment and media coverage in an attempt to improperly gain settlement leverage.”

“Plaintiffs’ irrelevant and invasive requests are designed to harass and not calculated to lead to discovery of relevant evidence,” Friday’s filing states.

It is the latest exchange in the fight over the No. 1 overall NBA draft pick’s endorsement potential.

Prime Sports Marketing and company president Gina Ford filed her lawsuit last summer in Florida, accusing Williamson and the agency now representing him of breach of contract. Williamson filed his own lawsuit a week earlier in North Carolina to terminate a five-year contract with Prime Sports after moving to Creative Artists Agency LLC.

Ford’s attorneys had submitted questions this month asking whether the New Orleans Pelicans rookie or anyone on his behalf sought or accepted “money, benefits, favors or things of value” to sign with Duke. Those filings – offering no evidence of wrongdoing by Williamson or his family – sought answers within 30 days to establish facts under oath in the pretrial discovery process.

Williamson’s attorneys seek a stay while appealing the December denial of their motion to dismiss the Florida case based on lack of jurisdiction, or a protective order as an alternative.

At the heart of the dueling lawsuits over Williamson’s marketing rights is this: Williamson says the contract he signed with Prime Sports is illegal under North Carolina’s Uniform Athlete Agent Act (UAAA) because Ford was not registered with North Carolina to negotiate with amateur athletes (which Zion was at the time, having just played for Duke). Ford and Prime dispute that, saying this was a legal and binding negotiation.

One key reason NBA may return with 22 teams: Players want regular-season games

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Nothing is set in stone about an NBA return — at least not until next Thursday — but momentum seems to be building behind a plan that would bring 22 teams to the Orlando bubble.

That plan brings every team within six games of the playoffs when the season was halted into the competition, a total of 22 teams (13 from the West and nine from the East, the playoff teams plus Portland, New Orleans, Sacramento, San Antonio, Phoenix, and Washington). There would be some regular-season games played, likely five to eight, followed by a play-in tournament for the final playoff seeds, then the playoffs with full seven-game series each round. Exactly what that play-in tournament would look and if the NBA would stick with the conference playoff alignment or seed 1-16 is up in the air (although the conference alignment seems to have more backing).

Why that plan? For one, it gets more cities and more fan bases involved — and it happens to bring Zion Williamson and the Pelicans into the mix, a big television draw. It also could help a few teams reach a 70-game broadcast threshold with local broadcasters.

Mostly, however, the players want it because they get some games under them before the playoffs start, something Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne reported on at ESPN.

Regardless of how many teams are ultimately included in the playoffs, the National Basketball Players Association has consistently stressed that it wants several regular-season games to be played prior to the start of the playoffs, sources said. That has been a prevailing sentiment among several contending teams that prefer a tuneup before beginning the postseason, sources said.

A lot of players — influential players — have pushed for some regular season or meaningful games before the playoffs start. It’s about health, as trainers told us at NBC Sports, go from zero to 100 jumping straight into the playoffs and teams are asking for injuries. Players understand that.

Maybe only 20 teams end up in Orlando, that plan is on the table as well, but either way expect some regular-season games before the playoffs start. If the powerful players want it to happen, it will.

PBT Podcast: 2020 NBA Mock Draft crossover podcast, Part Deux

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We’re back at it… and not just drinking beer during a podcast. Although we do that, too.

For the third consecutive season, Rob Dauster of College Basketball Talk and I collaborated for a first-round mock draft. Rob knows the prospects better than anyone; I provide some knowledge about what the teams might be looking for. The result is a unique listening experience breaking down who will be picked where based on fit.

The first ten picks can be found over on the College Basketball Talk feed.

Here we finish off the lottery and run through the entire rest of the first round.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

We want your questions for future podcasts, and your comments, so please email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com.