Jimmy Butler: “I’m a point guard”

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Since signing a five-year, $94 million extension with the Bulls in July, Jimmy Butler has made a lot of noise about being the leader of the team. He certainly assumed that mantle last year, when he made his first career All-Star appearance and won Most Improved Player while Derrick Rose battled another round of knee injuries and inconsistent play. But now, with both of the Bulls’ backcourt stars expected to be healthy at the start of training camp, there’s been a lot of attention on their relationship, and how they can play together. There’s been talk of tension, which Butler dismisses, even as he dropped a surprising observation about his own role at Team USA minicamp in Las Vegas: he sees himself as a point guard.

From Bulls.com’s Sam Smith:

But sometimes there’s also internal change, which is what the best ones do in the summer. They add to their game, a shot, a move. Their games become the players you didn’t add. We saw it with Michael Jordan and that baseline jumper, Magic Johnson with his outside shot. They’re the same; until they are not. Rose and Noah reportedly have had healthy summers, and Butler continues to work on his own secret weapon.

“First off, I think I am a point guard,” Butler said without joking. “So I’ve done a heck of a lot of ball screen work, ball handling, getting into the paint and still handling, floaters, all that stuff point guards do. If I get a chance, high pick and roll more. I want some triple doubles. I’ve got to get my handle right so I can pass and get it to guys where they can make shots. I told Fred. You ask what position I play, I say point guard.”

It sounds like a joke for the guy who was supposed to be a small forward replacement for Luol Deng. But having another guard who can handle the ball and allow Rose to play off the ball with Butler’s defensive prowess provides a potentially exceptional and previously unknown element to the Bulls arsenal.

At first glance, that seems like a shot at Rose, who when healthy is the Bulls’ starting point guard. But it doesn’t have to be one or the other. If Butler emerges as a capable primary ballhandler, that’s just another dimension to the Bulls’ offense, which already looks to be more dynamic under new coach Fred Hoiberg than it was under Tom Thibodeau. In the past, Rose has played well with another point guard in the lineup. In 481 minutes together, lineups featuring Rose and Kirk Hinrich outscored opponents by 3.5 points per 100 possessions. In 191 minutes together last season, lineups featuring Rose and Aaron Brooks outscored opponents by 16.8 points per 100 possessions, per NBA.com. Considering Butler is a significantly better player than both Brooks and Hinrich at both ends of the floor, putting him in a ballhandling role and allowing Rose to play off the ball has the chance to be an effective option for Chicago.

A lot of people want to make the tension between Rose and Butler out to be something that could tear the team apart, but all indications are that the two stars actually play well together, and under a coach as offensively creative as Hoiberg, there’s no reason to believe that will change.

Lakers, DeMarcus Cousins reportedly may talk new contract next summer

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Sunday, the Lakers waived DeMarcus Cousins to clear out a roster space for Markieff Morris. Cousins was signed last July to be the team’s starting center, but he tore his ACL in training and has not stepped on the court this season. It wasn’t personal, it was business, and under the terms of the CBA Cousins can continue his rehab in the Lakers’ practice facilities.

Cousins may be officially gone, but he could return next season to the Lakers, reports Joe Varden at The Athletic.

But the Lakers could re-sign him this summer, something both sides have expressed interest in pursuing, sources said.

This would be another one-year minimum contract deal, and it makes sense for both sides. Dwight Howard is a free agent and, after a resurgent (but not elite) season in Los Angeles, likely will get offers for more than the Lakers can pay him. JaVale McGee has a $4.2 million player option. Whatever McGee decides, the Lakers will be looking for another big man (and maybe two). Cousins could step right in.

What he can offer on the court coming off a torn Achilles and ACL remains to be seen, but the Lakers will not ask a lot of their centers. Cousins is a two-time All-NBA, four-time All-Star player who should still be able to give the Lakers some solid minutes in the paint.

The Lakers will keep their options open, but don’t be surprised if the two sides reunite.

Vanessa Bryant suing helicopter company after crash that killed Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant, Vanessa Bryant and Gianna Bryant
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Ever since Kobe Bryant and Gianna Bryant died in a helicopter crash last month, we’ve been seeking answers about what went wrong during the flight piloted by Ara Zobayan. After all, Kobe Bryant had made helicopter rides such a normal part of his life.

Now, Vanessa Bryant – Kobe’s wife and Gianna’s mother – is suing the company that operated the helicopter for wrongful death.

Nathan Fenno of the Los Angeles Times:

The complaint in Los Angeles County Superior Court against Island Express Helicopters and Island Express Holding Corp. alleged that pilot Ara Zobayan, who also died in the crash, failed “to use ordinary care in piloting the subject aircraft” and was “negligent.”

“Defendant Island Express Helicopters’ breach of its duty and negligence caused the injuries and damages complained of herein and Plaintiffs’ deceased, Kobe Bryant, was killed as a direct result of the negligent conduct of Zobayan for which Defendant Island Express Helicopters is vicariously liable in all respects,” the lawsuit said.

Report: Ben Simmons back injury “isn’t a day-to-day thing”

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ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports that the back injury for Philadelphia 76ers All-Star Ben Simmons “isn’t a day-to-day thing”.

Simmons missed the Sixers first game following the All-Star break on Thursday. He then left Saturday’s game in Milwaukee after playing just 4:44.

Over the weekend, Philadelphia ruled Simmons out for Monday’s game against the Atlanta Hawks and said he would undergo further evaluation. Per Wojnarowski’s report, that evaluation is ongoing and a course of treatment is yet to be decided upon.

Expect Philadelphia to lean on Raul Neto, Alec Burks and Shake Milton as primary ballhandlers while Simmons is out. None possess the size and skill combination of Simmons, but all have had moments throughout their careers. Neto drew the start in place of Simmons on Thursday. Burks was acquired at the trade deadline to give the team much-needed bench depth. Milton has flashed at time in his second season, after beginning his NBA career on a Two-Way contract.

Philadelphia loses Simmons while in a battle with the Miami Heat for homecourt advantage in the Eastern Conference playoffs. The fifth-place 76ers are 1.5 games behind the Heat for the fourth seed, and two games ahead of the sixth-place Indiana Pacers.

Pacers: Jeremy Lamb suffers torn ACL, torn meniscus, fracture

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Kobe Bryant making two free throws after tearing his Achilles was one of the greatest moments of his legendary career.

On a day Bryant was honored, we learned Pacers guard Jeremy Lamb made a similarly gutsy pair of free throws during Indiana’s loss to the Raptors yesterday.

Pacers release:

During the second quarter of the Pacers game at Toronto on Sunday, Indiana Pacers forward Jeremy Lamb sustained a torn left anterior cruciate ligament, a torn lateral meniscus and a lateral femoral condylar fracture.

He will undergo surgery on a date to be determined. He will be out the remainder of the season. Any further updates will be provided after surgery.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Lamb misses all of next season. This is just a devastating set of calamities.

At least Lamb has a guaranteed $10.5 million salary each of the next two seasons.

Indiana (sixth place, 33-24) will have an even tougher time winning a playoff series now. The Pacers could challenge in the first round, but they’ll almost certainly be significant underdogs.

They have depth at shooting guard, for what that’s worth. Victor Oladipo just returned. Justin Holiday is a solid reserve. Finding his lane at point guard, Malcolm Brogdon can move off the ball when T.J. McConnell or Aaron Holiday plays point guard.