Jimmy Butler scores 33, Bulls beat Hawks 106-104

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CHICAGO (AP) — Jimmy Butler saw confidence and swagger, a team embracing the moment. No one welcomed it more with open arms than he did.

Butler scored 33 points and hit two free throws with 2.1 seconds left to lift the Chicago Bulls to a 106-104 victory over the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday.

“I see guys doing what they’re supposed to be doing – playing hard, shooting the ball when they’re open, not trying to do too much,” Butler said. “That’s what we need.”

Butler scored the Bulls’ final nine points. His free throws gave them a two-point lead and capped a 15-4 run.

Tim Hardaway Jr. then missed a 3-pointer for Atlanta as time expired, giving the Bulls their third straight win.

Chicago also moved into seventh place in the Eastern Conference. The Bulls are tied with Miami and Indiana at 37-39 but own tiebreakers over the Heat and Pacers. Sixth-place Atlanta (39-37) – which had won two straight after dropping seven in a row – trails Milwaukee by a game.

Rajon Rondo had a season-high 25 points and added 11 rebounds. Denzel Valentine scored 13 points, hitting two 3-pointers down the stretch to help the Bulls stop a seven-game losing streak to Atlanta.

The win comes on the heels of a victory over LeBron James and the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers.

“We had a great win a couple of days ago, but it means nothing if we came out and laid an egg tonight,” Rondo said. “Also, these guys have beaten us seven straight times.”

Dennis Schroder led the Hawks with 29 points. Hardaway scored 20, and Dwight Howard finished with 13 points and 12 rebounds.

“They responded well and you have to give them credit,” Schroder said. “We’ve got to execute better in crunch time and just do a better job, screening, rolling to the basket and taking care of the ball.”

TIP-INS

Hawks: All-Star F Paul Millsap missed his eighth consecutive game because of a left knee ailment. Coach Mike Budenholzer said Millsap is “making positive progress,” though the Hawks are being “aggressively cautious” with him. If Millsap misses Sunday’s game at Brooklyn, he will have three more days before the Hawks host Boston on Thursday. … F Mike Dunleavy Jr. played 12 minutes but did not score after missing a game because of a sore right ankle, while F Thabo Sefolosha (strained right groin) sat out his fourth in a row. G Malcolm Delaney sat out with back spasms.

Bulls: Butler was 10 of 10 at the foul line. … The Bulls hit 12 3-pointers, their sixth straight game with at least 10.

FINAL PUSH

The Bulls trailed by 10 in the fourth quarter and were down 100-91 with less than five minutes to go.

Valentine hit a pair of 3-pointers to start the game-ending run, and Butler took over from there. He tied it at 102-all when he connected from long range with 1:59 left.

Schroder pulled up for the go-ahead jumper after Butler’s baseline shot hit the front of the rim to give the Hawks a 104-102 lead with 35 seconds left. Butler immediately answered with a driving layup to tie it again.

After a timeout, Schroder lost his dribble out of bounds with 25 seconds left. Butler then got fouled by Kent Bazemore as he attempted a jumper with 2.1 seconds remaining and hit both free throws as the crowd chanted “MVP! MVP!”

Hardaway’s 3 after a timeout then hit the back of the rim as time expired.

“I should have pump-faked,” Hardaway said. “Two seconds left, I think that’s an easy pump-fake, one-dribble shot. I think I had time. But it felt great coming off my hands. It felt great. It was in line. It just was a little bit long.”

 

Report: Markelle Fultz was available in trade packages on draft night

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The Philadelphia 76ers are saying all the right things about Markelle Fultz — they are patient, they believe in his work with his new trainer to rebuild his jump shot, and they see him as part of the future. Plus, his handles look sharp.

That doesn’t mean the Sixers are not willing to trade him in their pursuit of a star player. In fact, he was available on draft night in packages, reports Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

The Sixers say they aren’t shopping him. However, there was a report that they had internal discussions about packing him with Nos. 10 and 26 picks to move up into the Top 5 in Thursday’s draft. And multiple league sources have said that Fultz was available to be traded.

But it’s hard to get equal value in return for trading someone relearning how to shoot. The Sixers know that. They also know that if things do come together, Fultz will be a special player. He has the potential to become the type of player they would regret trading away.

Outside of a handful of superstars, every player in the NBA is available in a trade, at least in theory. Fultz is no different. The question in his case is what do they see as an upgrade vs. his potential?

Kawhi Leonard would be an upgrade, unquestionably. Fultz could be part of a package to land Leonard in a trade (Fultz, Robert Covington, the Miami 2021 first rounder, and probably more picks would be a starting point). Once the Spurs get serious about a potential Leonard trade (they are not there yet) how enticing that offer might be comes down to what they think of Fultz and his potential.

The Sixers are not shy about their desire to land an established All-Star to pair with Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. If they don’t get Leonard, they will be looking at the next All-Star who becomes available, and Fultz could be part of those deals, too.

Fultz is not playing in Summer League for the Sixers, but if he comes back this fall trusting his jumper and starting to look like the player who was drafted No. 1 that trade value goes way up (and the Sixers may be less inclined to move him).  It may be then before the Sixers can get a respectable return on any Fultz trade.

Report: Indiana to retain Bojan Bogdanovic, he could start again next season

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Bojan Bogdanovic is the kind of floor spacing shooter the Pacers need next to the attacking Victor Oladipo. He started 80 games for the team, scored 14.3 points per game and shot 40.2 percent from three.

Bogdanovic is due $10.5 million next season, but the Pacers can buy him out before next Friday (June 29) for $1.5 million.

They’re not going to do that, the Pacers are going to retain Bogdanovic, reports Ben Gibson at the Pacers site 8points9seconds.com.

The Indiana Pacers currently plan to retain Bojan Bogdanovic — whose contract is only partially guaranteed for next season — and would be comfortable going into next season with him as a starter, according to a source familiar with the Pacers offseason plans.

There’s no surprise here, it was expected. Bogdanovic provides genuine value to the team — they need him on the court as a shooter, he averaged the second most threes per game on the squad. And, as an expiring contract, he could be used in any potential trades for another star.

The Pacers also have a decision to make on Darren Collison, who is owed $10 million next season but has a $2 million buyout by July 1. They will probably keep him around.

Al Jefferson is owed $10 million next season but can be bought out for $4 million before next January 10. Expect the Pacers to exercise that option and buy him out well before that date.

Carmelo Anthony sends message to haters: ‘Take A Step Back… And Enjoy Life’

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When the expected became official and Carmelo Anthony opted to take the $27.8 million contractually owed him next season, there were groans from the Thunder faithful.

It was Anthony’s right — and everyone knew he was going to take the cash (we all would have done the same) — but his value on the court has shrunk and that’s what eats at the OKC faithful. Anthony’s response on Instagram was, essentially, “relax, it’s just basketball.”

It will be interesting to see if Anthony is back with the Thunder next season, or if he gets bought out. If he does return, how do they better fit him in the offense?

Anthony’s defense has long been a concern, but his offense used to be efficient enough, and his ability to create shots important enough, that teams lived with the defense. However, his efficiency has slid in recent years and, as we saw in the playoffs in April, it’s not enough anymore. The Thunder played better with other lineups. To which Anthony responded he has to get back to his old style of play more.

It’s going to be a wild summer in OKC. Whatever happens.

Suns to sign French point guard Elie Okobo to first-round style contract

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The Suns have an impressive young core four: Devin Booker at the two, Mikal Bridges at the three, Josh Jackson at the four, and Deandre Ayton at center.

The hole: Who will be the point guard?

The Suns like Elie Okobo of France a lot. They drafted him 31st overall, the top pick of the second round, but they will give him a first-round style contract with two guaranteed seasons and two team options after that, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

The Suns hinted they were going to do this, and it’s a smart move at a fair price if they can develop Okobo (even as a backup).

Okobo has potential. Last season, at the highest level of the athletic French league he averaged 13.2 points on 57 percent shooting (38 percent from three) plus 4.4 assists per game. Okobo is an NBA level athlete who has all the tools to be a good NBA point guard — and he already knows how to score (he had 44 points in a playoff game this season). He’s going to have to round out his game and adapt to the NBA style, but the Suns think they have something.

And they are betting they have with a nice sized contract.