Bulls front office on Tom Thibodeau firing: “We probably wouldn’t be sitting here if we won a championship”

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CHICAGO — To the surprise of absolutely no one, the Bulls fired Tom Thibodeau on Thursday. It’s been an open secret around the league for months that the relationship between Thibodeau and the Bulls’ front-office brain trust of GM Gar Forman and VP of basketball operations John Paxson was irreparably broken. It was a matter of when, not if, Thibodeau would be fired, and when the final decision was made Thursday afternoon, the two executives reflected on a season of missed opportunities.

“We probably wouldn’t be sitting here if we won a championship,” Paxson said at the press conference immediately following Thibodeau’s firing. “That’s just the truth. But we haven’t done that. And we go back to this year, when we had a real missed opportunity.”

Indeed, the Bulls came into their second-round series against the Cleveland Cavaliers with an unexpected advantage. Kevin Love was out for the year, after suffering a shoulder injury in Game 4 of the Cavs’ first-round sweep against the Celtics. The Bulls, for once, were healthy, and Kyrie Irving was hobbled. But the Bulls couldn’t put a run together despite taking the first game of the series and then taking a 2-1 lead after Game 3. Cleveland won Game 4 on a LeBron James buzzer-beater, and the Bulls did not win again for the rest of the series.

“Cleveland’s a great team and they’re in the Finals,” Paxson said. “But we really felt like, given their injuries, the path was there for us and we could have seized it. It’s about trying to take advantage of the moment, and we didn’t do that this year, and that was really disappointing.”

Thibodeau’s coaching style has been a source of controversy for some time. In particular, the minutes loads for players like Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, who were coming off knee injuries, were a point of contention. Thibodeau is famously hard-nosed and doesn’t believe in minutes limits or saving anything for the playoffs, while the front office wanted to take a more conservative approach.

For the first time in several years, the Bulls entered the playoffs with Rose healthy, but the team simply underachieved. They went long stretches without scoring and weren’t able to capitalize on a weakened Cavs team.

Beyond their disappointment with the way the season ended, though, Paxson and Forman repeatedly declined to go much into specifics about where things went wrong between management and Thibodeau.

“Out of respect for everybody involved, we’re not going to go into a lot of specifics and a lot of details in this decision,” said Forman. “We sit here today, we a great belief system in the core of players that we have, and we believe we’re headed in the right direction. After the meetings we had last week that I talked about, we feel like we’re headed in the right direction. We’re focused on the future and continue to feel our future’s very, very positive, that we’ve got a bright future.”

Report: Terry Stotts to remain Trail Blazers coach next season

Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts
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The Trail Blazers had big expectations after reaching the 2019 Western Conference finals and signing their top players, Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, to lucrative contract extensions.

Instead, Portland (26-32) is in a dogfight with the Grizzlies, Pelicans, Spurs, Suns and Kings for the No. 8 seed.

Often, teams underperforming like that fire their coach.

Sam Amick of The Athletic:

A source with knowledge of coach Terry Stotts’ situation said there’s no reason to believe he’s in any danger this summer, regardless of how this turns out.

Stotts has a few things working in his favor:

So expect Stotts back next season. But also expect him to face a little more pressure. Even if a lot of what wrong this season wasn’t his fault, losing tends to increase scrutiny on the coach.

In his eighth season with the Trail Blazers, Stotts is the NBA’s fourth-longest-tenured coach (behind only the Spurs’ Gregg Popovich, Heat’s Erick Spoelstra and Mavericks’ Rick Carlisle). It just becomes increasingly more difficult for Stotts to meet the high expectations he has helped set in Portland.

For now, though, Stotts appears to remain ahead of the curve.

Stephen Curry reportedly will return to Warriors lineup Sunday vs. Wizards

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After four months off, the Warriors were looking for a soft landing spot to ease Stephen Curry back into the rotation.

How about Sunday, vs. Washington and the worst defense in the NBA this season?

That’s the plan, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Curry has said for some time he was targeting March 1 for a return, this would be that exact date (to be fair to the Wizards, they have played better defense of late). After that, Golden State plays at Denver on the third, has a Finals rematch against Toronto at the Chase Center on March 5, then the 76ers visit the Warriors on the seventh.

Curry suffered a fractured hand just four games into the season when Suns’ center Aron Baynes fell on him. Recovery required two surgeries, one to put pins in to stabilize the bone through the healing process, then a second one to remove those pins once the recovery was far enough along.

While some fans had called for Curry to sit out the season and tank, Warriors coach Steve Kerr emphatically shot that idea down. As he should.

For one thing, Kerr wants to build some familiarity and chemistry between Curry and newly acquired Andrew Wiggins this season. Having Curry back may mean the Warriors don’t finish with the worst record in the league this season (which they have right now) but with the flattened out draft lottery odds that’s not as big an issue. Besides, this is not a deep draft. This is not a situation where the Warriors will get instant help — in our podcast recently, NBC Sports’ Rob Dauster described it as the top three picks in this draft would be 6-10 most seasons. The Warriors may ultimately try to trade their pick for a player who can help more next season.

Ben Simmons has nerve impingement in lower back, to be re-evaluated in two weeks

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The biggest concern with Ben Simmons back issue is not that it will have him out weeks, it’s that nobody is saying what exactly is causing it.

Simmons has a nerve impingement in his lower back that will have him getting treatment daily, and he will be re-evaluated in two weeks, something first reported  by Shams Charania of The Athletic and confirmed by NBC Sports Philadelphia. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski provided some context, but nothing that is very encouraging.

A nerve impingement — what is commonly referred to as a pinched nerve — is exactly what it sounds like: Something is pressing on the nerve, “pinching” it and causing pain.

The big question: What is impinging on the nerve? That’s what Jeff Stotts of In Street Clothes asked.

This does not sound like something that is going to be resolved in two weeks and Simmons will be back to normal.

Simmons injured his back last Wednesday in practice while grabbing a rebound, according to coach Brett Brown. Simmons sat out last Thursday’s Sixers game against the Nets, tried to play on Saturday vs. the Bucks but had to come out after one quarter, and has not set foot on the court since.

Simmons averages 16.9 points, 8.3 assists, 7.9 rebounds a game, not to mention a league-best 2.2 steals a night. The All-Star is a core part of the Sixers rotation and will miss significant time they try to climb up into the top four in the East and get home court for the first round of the playoffs. Shake Milton started Monday in Simmons place.

Tilman Ferttita: Rockets don’t fear Lakers, Clippers like they did Warriors

Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta
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Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta likes to talk.

Volume 48.

Fertitta, via Kirk Bohls of Statesman:

“I think Milwaukee is head over heels above everybody else,” said Fertitta

“We just need to get home court for the first and second rounds and see what happens.”

“None of us fear L.A. or the Clippers or Denver like we feared Golden State,” he said. “It’s not like how we were scared of them. We could easily win the West this year or get knocked out in the first round. Both L.A. teams, Denver, Houston, we’re all excellent teams. Just comes down to somebody gets hot and makes a shot. Our chances are as good as they’ve ever been.”

The Rockets stood up to the Warriors far more than any other team. But that was most true before Fertitta put his imprint on the franchise. He’s somewhat culpable for Houston cowering to Golden State.

As far as this season, Fertitta is right all around: The Bucks are great, combining last year’s success with important playoff lessons. Houston could easily win the West or lose in the first round. The Lakers, Clippers and Nuggets shouldn’t be feared. (Nobody fears the Nuggets, though they are a real championship contender.)

But the Lakers and Clippers also look like darned good playoff teams. Even if not predicting victory, Fertitta’s comments could become bulletin-board material in Los Angeles.