51 Questions: How will Rajon Rondo, Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler coexist?

Associated Press
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We continue PBT’s 2016-17 NBA preview series, 51 Questions. Between now and the start of the NBA season we will tackle 51 questions we cannot wait to see answered during the upcoming NBA season. We will delve into one almost every day between now and the start of the season (we’re taking some weekends off). Today:

How will Rajon Rondo, Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler coexist?

Usually, when a team adds a player the caliber of Dwyane Wade — three titles, Finals MVP, 12-time All-Star — the first thought is “good move.” This is a guy who averaged 19 points a game last season, is dangerous with the ball in his hands, cuts well off the ball, and showed in the playoffs that he can still dial it up for a stretch and take over games.

But when the Bulls brought him in, along with Rajon Rondo, the reaction around the league looked more like Seth and Amy saying “Really!?!”

The Bulls had finally made the right move — they traded Derrick Rose, let Joakim Noah walk, and moved on from the teams crafted for the Tom Thibodeau era. The Bulls were Jimmy Butler’s team, and they could go out and get players that fit the up-tempo, selflessly share-the-ball style Fred Hoiberg wants to play.

Which is why Wade and Rondo had people saying “really?”

How is this anything but treading water? Given the chance to rebuild and think strategically, the Bulls front office went for a quick fix move that isn’t really a fix.

It’s fair to ask how Rondo, Wade, and Butler can coexist on a playoff team?

Butler, Wade, and Rondo are three guys who work best with the ball in their hands slashing to the rim. Three guys doing the same thing is defendable. Plus, NBA rules still allow just one ball on the court at a time.

Even more concerning, in a league where every team is clamoring for more shooting, more floor spacing, the Bulls core guys now are not dangerous threats from three. Rondo, Wade, and Butler combined to make 133 three-pointers last season — an aging Kobe Bryant made that many by himself (in just 66 games). C.J. Miles made more by himself. Rondo was the most accurate of the three at 36.5 percent, and if he lines up beyond the arc this season, opponents will give him the shot.

It’s not hard to imagine a defensive strategy against the Bulls: Pack the paint, clog driving lanes, go under picks, and if anyone except Nikola Mirotic wants to shoot the three don’t run them off the line.

And we haven’t even gotten to the defensive end of the court. Rondo and Wade are not near their vintage selves on that end, key contributors like Mirotic and Doug McDermott struggle to get stops, and Robin Lopez is solid as a backstop but can only clean up so many messes.

All that said, we may be overestimating the issues with the Bulls. Somewhat. Maybe.

If the Bulls can do what Fred Hoiberg wants and get out and run — get offense before the defense sets — the slashing skills of Wade/Butler/Rondo can be put to good use. Have them slash, have Moritic and McDermott run to the arc, and you have a fairly dangerous offense.

The problem is last year’s Bulls were not built for that, and in this “rebuild” I’m not sure the Gar/Pax front office solved that problem. The Bulls didn’t get much more athletic.

The Bulls have talent on the roster — Butler spent his summer winning a gold medal in Rio, Wade can still get a team buckets, and there is depth with Lopez, Mirotic (who should have a big season), Taj Gibson (unless he’s traded), Tony Snell, McDermott, Bobby Portis, and rookie Denzel Valentine (maybe the player most ready to step in and contribute in the last draft).

The good news for the Bulls is in the NBA, talent wins out most nights.

If Hoiberg can stagger the minutes of his three big names and get more shooting on the floor, if he can find some balanced lineups, the Bulls are going to put up points. We also forget, Wade is a crafty player off the ball who makes smart cuts and will get some buckets that way. There is potential.

There are also many questions. Can player-friendly Hoiberg get enough buy in with his system? Is there a system that Rondo hasn’t pushed back against? Will Rondo stat hunt at the expense of the team? Will the ball move, or will it stick when Wade or Rondo get it and decide to pound it and survey the floor for five-plus seconds? Will set defenses just play back, take away driving lanes, and force the Bulls’ three big names to shoot jumpers? How healthy will Wade’s knees stay, and how what will the Bulls’ Wade maintenance program look like? If the Bulls are scoring, can they get enough stops for it to matter?

Rondo, Wade, and Butler can coexist — these are three competitive guys, two of whom have rings and one who is willing to learn — but not in a “this team can put a scare in the Cavaliers” kind of way. More in a “with those three guys the Bulls could beat out enough of the Miami/Atlanta/Charlotte/Washington kind of teams to make the playoffs” kind of way. Maybe. If the Bulls come together for Hoiberg.

But is that the way that Gar/Pax wanted to rebuild around Butler? Really!?!

 

 

NBA owners, players union reportedly agree to push back CBA opt-out date

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NBA owners and players are both making too much money to risk screwing things up with a labor stoppage, right? RIGHT?

Don’t be so sure.

In a sign the two sides have a lot of work to do to reach terms on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement — primarily because of an internal dispute among the owners — the NBA (representing the owners) and the players union have agreed to push back the opt-out date for the CBA from Dec. 15 (this would end the current CBA on July 1, 2023). Marc Stein reported this earlier in the week (covered here) and ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski added details today.

Talks on a new CBA are ongoing, and a formal ratification of an extension — likely into February — is expected to come at a virtual board of governors meeting Wednesday, sources said.

What’s the stumbling block? A group of owners — bothered by the massive spending into the luxury tax of the Warriors, Clippers, and Nets  — is pushing for an “Upper Spending Limit” for teams. Call it whatever they want, that’s a hard cap and there is no chance the players will sign off on any form of a hard cap. 

The NBA has used a punitive and progressively intense luxury tax to rein in the spending of some owners. However, some owners — how many is unclear, but enough that the NBA has put the issue on the table — feel the tax isn’t doing its job in the wake of new, even wealthier owners. 

Unquestionably some owners are unbothered by the tax. To use the example I have used before, Steve Ballmer’s Clippers are on track to pay $191.9 million in payroll this season, which will result in a $144.7 million luxury tax bill (leading to a payroll and tax total of $336.6 million). The Warriors and Nets will be in the same ballpark. The Clippers will pay more in tax alone than 11 teams will spend on total payroll. Two-thirds of NBA teams will pay around $150 million in payroll or less, not much more than the Clippers’ tax bill.

Recently, the same NBA owners approved a rule change that would allow a sovereign wealth fund — the financial arms of generally oil-rich countries such as Qatar or Saudi Arabia — to buy up to 20% of an NBA team as a silent partner. That has not happened yet, but the door is open. It’s part of a pattern of wealthier owners — including hedge fund managers and the like — entering the playing field for the NBA.

All that has some of the more established, older owners feeling squeezed by this new group’s willingness to spend. That has the older owners pushing for a hard cap to stop what they see as an increased willingness to spend.

Again, there is no chance the players approve a hard cap. The owners know this, but some seem willing to play brinksmanship with a lucrative, growing business (particularly internationally) to protect their bottom lines.

If you read all that and thought, “this isn’t about the players really, it’s an owner vs. owner issue,” you’re spot on. The league and players are giving the owners more time to work out their internal issues.

Are struggling Mavericks on the clock with Luka Doncic?

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Luka Doncic is in the first year of a five-year, $215.2 million contract. More than that, when asked recently if Mavericks fans should be worried about him wanting out as the team has stumbled at points to start this season, Doncic didn’t sound like a guy looking to bolt:

“I don’t think they’re worried about it right now. I got what, five years left here, so I don’t think they should be worried about it.”

The Mavericks’ front office should be worried about it — teams are always on the clock with a superstar.

The Mavericks let Jalen Brunson get away in the offseason, then brought in Christian Wood (whose defense is an issue and he is coming off the bench). This remains a team a player or two away from contending despite having a potential MVP in Doncic carrying a historic offensive load.

That doesn’t mean Doncic will ask out at the deadline or this summer (he won’t), but if his frustration grows over the next couple of years… who knows. Tim MacMahon of ESPN put it well on the Hoop Collective podcast (hat tip Real GM):

“I think they have a two-year window. This season and next season going into that summer [2024]. I think they have a two-year window where, you know, like Milwaukee did with Giannis [Antetokounmpo], I think in that window they really need to convince Luka that he has a chance to contend year in and year out right here in Dallas. If they can’t get it done in that two-year window, I’m not going to sit here and tell you that he’s going to force a trade or ask for a trade. I’m just saying at that point if he’s not happy, he has all the leverage in the world if he would be looking to leave..

“I don’t think Luka will look for reasons to leave. I think he’d be perfectly happy spending his entire career in Dallas. But if he doesn’t have to look for reasons and they’re slamming him in the face, then that’s a problem. He’s also a guy who is a ruthless competitor, which means he loves winning. He’s used to winning. He won championships with Real Madrid. He won a EuroBasket championship with the Slovenian national team. He also detests losing. Like can’t handle it.”

The Mavericks made the Western Conference Finals last season, knocking off the 64-win Suns in the process — this team is not that far away. Not with Doncic handling the ball. But it feels like a team that has taken a step back from those lofty levels this season. There are many more questions than answers, and it’s impossible to guess how Doncic will feel after this season’s playoffs, let alone the ones ending in the summer of 2024.

But the Mavericks stumbles this season have to put the Dallas front office on notice — this team is not good enough. And if we know it, you can be sure Doncic knows it.

Curry thinking retirement? ‘I don’t see myself slowing down any time soon’

2022 Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year Awards Presented by Chase
Kimberly White/Getty Images for Sports Illustrated
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Stephen Curry is playing at an MVP level this season: 30 points a game, hitting 43.2% from 3 with a 66.4 true shooting percentage, plus pitching in seven assists and 6.6 rebounds a game. He remains one of the best-conditioned athletes in the sport.

In the face of that, even though he is 34, asking him a retirement question seemed an odd choice, yet a reporter at the Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year award ceremony — Curry won the award, if you didn’t know — asked Curry about it seems he’s not interested.

Curry should not be thinking of retirement, but there is a sense around these Warriors that this era, this run is coming to an end in the next few years. Curry may be defying father time, but Draymond Green and Klay Thompson (especially post injuries) are not. There is a decline in their games (and this season, the role players have not stepped up around them the same way). With that comes a certain pressure to take advantage of the opportunities, there aren’t going to be as many.

Which is why the Warriors are a team to watch at the trade deadline (and will they sell low on James Wiseman to a team that still sees the potential in him?).

As for Curry, he will still be around and producing for a few more years. Nobody is ready to think about his retirement. Including Curry himself.

Block or charge: Alperen Sengun dunks on Zach Collins

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To borrow the catchphrase of the great Rex Chapman:

Block or charge?

The Rockets’ Alperen Sengun caught a body and threw one down on the Spurs’ Zach Collins but was called for the offensive foul.

NBA Twitter went nuts.

Rockets coach Stephen Silas challenged the call, but it was upheld (from my perspective, the replay officials are always looking to back the in-game officials if they at all can).

By the time Collins slid over and jumped, Sengun was already in the air — if anything that was a block. What the officials called was Sengun using his off-arm to create space.

I hate the call — that’s a dunk and an and-one. Not because it’s a great dunk — although it is that, too — but because Collins literally jumped into the path of an already airborne Sengun, Collins created all the contact. It’s on him. Under the spirit of the rules, Sengun’s off-arm is moot at that point — Collins illegally jumped in Sengun’s way and caused the collision.

Terrible call by the officials.

It was a good night for the Spurs, overall. San Antonio played its best defense in a while and Keldon Johnson — one of the few bright spots in a dark Spurs season — hit his first nine shots on his way to a 32-point night that sparked a 118-109 San Antonio win over Houston, snapping the Spurs 11-game losing streak.