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Three Things to Know: Fred Hoiberg wasn’t problem in Chicago, wasn’t answer either

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Fred Hoiberg wasn’t the biggest problem in Chicago, wasn’t the answer either. You can spin the firing of Fred Hoiberg as the coach of the Chicago Bulls a couple of ways — and both are true.

Hoiberg wasn’t the reason for the Bulls’ slow start, but he wasn’t showing himself to be the answer to turning it around, either.

Blaming Hoiberg for the 5-19 start for this team is wrong. Team president John Paxson explained the firing by saying the Bulls lacked “energy” and “spirit” but what they really lacked was talent — and that’s on him. And much of the talent they did have on the roster has been injured: Lauri Markkanen just played his first game Saturday, Kris Dunn has played in one game, Bobby Portis four, Robin Lopez has missed time, and on down the line. This was a team that was never going to win many games anyway, and if the front office went into the season truly believing this roster could hang around and compete for a playoff spot — even at the bottom of the East — then those were not your standard gummy bears they were eating.

This year’s Bulls’ roster followed a pattern — Fred Hoiberg was brought in to run a modern pace-and-space offense then was never given a roster that fit well with his principles. Not with Jimmy Butler, Derrick Rose, and Pau Gasol. Not with Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo. And not with this young team, which had potential but was never fully healthy.

However, Hoiberg also never commanded this team and was not the coach to lead them into the future either — which makes this firing the right move.

What exactly was the Bulls’ identity this season? That’s on the coach.

Hoiberg is simply not a strong personality and not the master psychologist who could get players with big egos to all pull on the rope in the same direction. From the day just 25 games into his rookie season as a coach when Jimmy Butler basically stepped over him after a dunk — saying the team needed to be “coached harder” — Hoiberg never had the locker room. At one point Wade and Butler complained about the effort of the young players to the media, Rondo stood up for them on social media, and the only thing that was clear was Hoiberg had lost the locker room. That trend continued.

Can Hoiberg be a quality NBA coach? Who knows. I’d love to see what he could do with a roster that actually fit his style of play.

Jim Boylen gets the head coaching job — and not on an interim basis, he’s the man (and no, this is not the Jim Boylan that took over for Scott Skiles when the Bulls fired him years ago, different spelling). Chicago wants the veteran to coach the rest of this season, plus he’s under contract for next season, they hope he earns sticking around. Maybe he can, the roster is finally getting healthy and, while it is not going to be good, it should be better than the six-game losing streak they are on. Can Boylen get some traction on the spinning wheels of the Bulls’ franchise? Maybe.

But the bottom line is Paxson and GM Gar Forman need to get a lot more talent on the roster before they blame the coach for wins and losses. The Bulls have made some smart moves to start building this franchise up again in the past couple of seasons, but they have a long way to go still. Regardless of who is the coach.

2) Denver goes into Toronto and picks up a “we’re for real” win on the road. Toronto gave up two dead-ball points late in the game that cost them a chance for the win at home. Well, the 3-of-22 shooting from three in the first half had a lot to do with it too — it’s never just one thing, a lot of things go into a close loss — but let’s focus on the two dead ball points at the end of the game.

The first came when Raptors coach Nick Nurse earned — and we mean EARNED — a technical foul with this reaction to a closeout foul call on Jonas Valanciunas.

Nurse was lucky not to be tossed for that reaction. As for the foul, Nurse has a point — while that’s a late and sloppy closeout by Valanciunas (why was he in a deep help position on Plumlee, leaving a shooter open) Monte Morris does jump forward with his shot, Valanciunas did not slide under him on a vertical leap. That said, Nurse has to own his reaction and giving up a point late in a close game is a mistake by the coach, regardless of what he thinks of the call.

Then there was the one Nurse can’t argue: With the game tied at 103-103 and :07 on the clock, Serge Ibaka unquestionably holds and hooks Nikola Jokic on an inbound play as Jokic is trying to come around a Jamal Murray pick. Because the ball was not inbounded it was one free throw plus the ball for Denver, but that changed everything (the game was no longer tied, it forced the Raptors to play the foul game).

Maybe last season this doesn’t get called (the Utah Jazz wish it wasn’t getting called) but that was not some subtle hold off the ball. Ibaka grabbed him and impeded Jokic’s movement. If you’re going to emphasize freedom of movement calls, you have to call that blatant one late in the game.

For Denver, this is their best win of the season — they have won six in a row, four of those on the road, and it includes wins at Oklahoma City, Portland, and now Toronto. On the big stage, against a good defensive team inside, Jokic looked All-NBA with a triple-double of 23 points, 15 assists, and 11 rebounds. He is brilliant, and the 16-7 Denver Nuggets are tied for the top seed in the West, and they are legit.

3) Timberwolves show how much things have changed since last playoffs with a 103-91 win against Houston. Last season, the Houston Rockets easily swept aside the Minnesota Timberwolves in the first-round of the playoffs, 4-1.

Right now, the Rockets are scuffling and don’t look like the same team, but how Minnesota played in Monday night’s win shows how much the script has flipped.

Remember last playoffs how Karl-Anthony Towns had trouble posting up against Clint Capela (and took a lot of grief for it)? Towns beasted inside Monday night, attacking much more forcefully out of post-ups, and he shot 8-of-12 inside eight feet of the rim. One thing that helped with that, however, is it was harder for Houston to bring help on those post-ups because they had to stay closer to Dario Saric, Robert Covington, and the shooters around Towns now.

The other big thing, Minnesota’s defense since the Butler trade has been much better — thank Covington for that. He has Towns focused and energized on that end, the Timberwolves have the second-best defense in the NBA since the trade (101.2 points per 100 possessions) and are 8-3.

The Rockets helped out that defense with a terrible shooting night, they missed their open looks, too. Houston scored just nine points in the fourth quarter, which is ugly and speaks to other issues. That said, bad shooting ights nights happen. The difference is last season Houston had a defense that could keep it in games when the offense stumbled, this season they get crushed. They have a bottom-10 defense on the season that has been worse lately (third worst in the NBA over the last 10). That is the end of the floor that is holding the Rockets back.

Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim: ‘NBA has never drafted a player for defense’

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Syracuse lost to Baylor in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

So, now Syracuse returns to recruiting. That means convincing prospects with NBA aspirations that Syracuse’s infamous zone defense won’t interfere with their pro path.

Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, via ASAP Sports:

What I do when I start out, I say the NBA drafts for one reason: Offense. The NBA has never drafted a player for defense. At any position, even at center. Like when they drafted Tim Duncan or David Robinson, or Olajuwon or Shaq, they didn’t get one of those guys because of their defense. They didn’t draft Steph Curry, James Harden, LeBron James, go down the list. They didn’t draft one guy because of defense; they draft because of offense.
We had more first-round picks in the old Big East than any school because they draft guys based on their offense. That’s what we tell recruits and that’s the truth.

There are degrees of truth here. NBA teams generally value offense more than defense and more than they should.

But defense absolutely affects players’ draft position. Some players are drafted primarily for defense.

Maybe Syracuse’s zone helps players look good to NBA teams. But it’s a tough sell the zone actually prepares the players for the next level.

Syracuse’s first-round picks since Carmelo Anthony:

  • Tyler Lydon (No. 24 in 2018)
  • Malachi Richardson (No. 22 in 2017)
  • Chris McCullough (No. 29 in 2016)
  • Tyler Ennis (No. 18 in 2015)
  • Michael Carter-Williams (No. 11 in 2014)
  • Fab Melo (No. 22 in 2013)
  • Dion Waiters (No. 4 in 2013)
  • Wesley Johnson (No. 4 in 2011)
  • Jonny Flynn (No. 6 in 2010)
  • Donte Greene (No. 28 in 2009)
  • Hakim Warrick (No. 19 in 2006)

We can’t know how those players would have turned out if they played elsewhere in college, but that’s an extremely uninspiring list. I would not advise a recruit on track to make the NBA to pick Syracuse.

Obviously, Boeheim is strongly incentivized to spin it the other way. He has made millions of dollars by convincing good players to help him win games.

There’s something to his sentiment here. But he goes way too far, to the point he’s wrong – as per usual.

Court reverses nearly $1.5M oil-spill award to David West

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) A federal appeals court says former NBA star David West is not entitled to a nearly $1.5 million award stemming from BP’s 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Court records show West submitted a claim under the terms of a settlement BP entered after the spill to avoid prolonged litigation with those claiming spill-related losses. The claim was based on his compensation as a member of the NBA’s New Orleans franchise having dropped after the spill.

BP challenged the award, saying West earned what he was expected to earn under a “front-loaded” contract he signed years before the spill. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed Wednesday that there was no loss. West’s attorneys did not immediately respond to emailed requests for comment.

James Harden: I want to play in 2019 World Cup

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James Harden skipped the 2016 Olympics.

But he sounds ready to rejoin Team USA for the 2019 World Cup.

Harden, via Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:

“Of course I want to play,” Harden said. “It’s an opportunity to represent your country, go out there and play basketball. It’s something I love doing. If that opportunity presents itself, I’ll be in. Not everyone gets that opportunity. As a basketball player, that’s one of the highest points you can get for basketball.

Harden is among 35 players listed as in consideration for a roster spot, but the MVP candidate is likely a lock if he wants to play. He won gold at the 2012 Olympics and led Team USA to another gold medal in the 2014 World Cup.

With the World Cup being held in China, where there are lucrative marketing opportunities, expect many other stars to participate. The competition for Team USA roster spots could be intense.

But Harden is good enough and has proven his commitment to USA Basketball. He’s probably safely in.

Celtics’ Kyrie Irving says he’ll rest before playoffs: ‘Makes no sense’ to emphasize regular-season games

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Remember when Kyrie Irving asked whether a November 2014 Cavaliers-Bulls game felt like a playoff game?

He has come a long way since.

Before LeBron James returned to Cleveland, Irving hadn’t made the playoffs. Three NBA Finals and a trade to the Celtics later, Irving is focused on the postseason.

Irving, via Chris Forsberg of NBC Sports Boston:

“I’m definitely taking some games off before the playoffs,” Irving said at Boston’s morning shootaround at the Wells Fargo Center on Wednesday. “Makes no sense, the emphasis on these regular games, when you’re gearing up for some battles coming in the playoffs.”

Irving will probably be more effective in the playoffs with additional rest.

But will the Celtics be more effective in the playoffs if Irving rests now?

Boston is fifth in the East. If that holds, that’d mean not having home-court advantage in any Eastern Conference playoff series and likely facing the Bucks – who’ve been the NBA’s best team throughout the regular season – in the second round.

That might not daunt Irving. After all, when asked why he’s so confident about the Celtics’ postseason chances, he said, “Because I’m here.”*
*That sounded a lot like LeBron.

But his teammates might benefit significantly from a better seed. Without Irving, Boston went 10-1 at home 1-7 on the road in last year’s playoffs – a historic split.

Catching the 76ers for the No. 3 seed is probably farfetched. But the Celtics are only a half game behind the Pacers for the No. 4 seed and home-court advantage in the first round.

Boston’s closing schedule is easier than Indiana’s. The teams even face each other twice. So, there’s an opportunity for the Celtics to clinch the No. 4 seed and rest Irving.

But little has gone to plan this season in Boston. If the Celtics’ seed is still up for grabs late in the regular season, will they rest Irving or keep pushing for a better record?