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Bulls sign Shaquille Harrison, waive Omer Asik

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Kris Dunn, the Bulls’ clear top point guard, has yet to play this season due the birth of his child. Even when he returns, Chicago’s other point guards – Cameron Payne, Ryan Arcidiacono, Tyler Ulis – are uninspiring, even as backups.

So, the Bulls added Shaquille Harrison, whom the Suns waived after agreeing to sign Jamal Crawford.

Bulls release:

The Chicago Bulls have signed guard Shaquille Harrison.

In a preceding move, the Bulls waived center Omer Asik.

Harrison is a nice pickup, one of the better free agents available and someone who plays a position of need. The Bulls could use several swings at finding long-term point guards, and the 25-year-old Harrison is a potential fit.

Waiving Asik is an interesting move. Asik was injured, and this could end the 32-year-old’s career. But Chicago loses the ability to trade his contract. Just $3 million of Asik’s $11,977,527 2019-20 salary was guaranteed, which could have been useful in a salary-accepting trade.

Instead, Asik will count $11,286,516 against the cap this season and $3 million after that. The Bulls can either pay the entire $3 million next season or stretch it to $1 million each of the next three seasons. Stretching the money would indicate Chicago still plants to be aggressive in free agency next summer. Paying all it once would suggest a more patient rebuild.

Will LeBron James keep outlasting Eastern Conference field?

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DETROIT – When I brought up comments he made about LeBron James during the Cavaliers’ sweep of the Raptors in last year’s playoffs, Kyle Lowry responded before I even asked a question.

“Finish the quote, though,” Lowry said. “Go look at the whole quote.”

The headline:

Kyle Lowry: ‘They’ve got LeBron James and nobody’s closing the gap on him’

“The whole quote,” Lowry insists. “So, what did it say? Go ahead.”

The second paragraph and first quote:

“They’ve got LeBron James,” Lowry told The Vertical late Friday night. “Nobody’s closing the gap on him. I mean, that’s it right there: They’ve got LeBron James and nobody’s closing the gap on him.”

“Did you finish the quote?” Lowry asks again.

Finally, the fifth paragraph (which followed a large image):

“I don’t know when his prime is going to stop,” Lowry told The Vertical. “I don’t think it’s going to stop anytime soon. I think he’ll be able to continue what he’s doing for a long time. But that’s basketball. You’ve got to find a way to beat the best.”

To Lowry, the key portion of the quote: “You’ve got to find a way to beat the best.” He believes people took his statement out of context with that part buried.

“Yes, they did,” Lowry said. “For sure. That’s why it kind of got to me.”

Lowry said he meant no disrespect with his defensiveness, and I took none. He sounded tired of hearing about that quote for nearly an entire year.

He doesn’t want that soundbite to go the way of Brandon Jennings‘ “Bucks in 6,” Lance Stephenson‘s ear blow and Stanley Johnson‘s “I’m definitely in his head” as the latest punchline in LeBron’s reign of Eastern Conference dominance. No, Lowry wants to end LeBron’s rule completely.

“We’ve got to be better than him to be the best team we can be,” Lowry said. “And that’s what it is. We’re not afraid of him. We’ve got to be a better team and figure out how to beat him and beat every other team.”

The Raptors are the last challenger standing in the wreckage left in LeBron’s wake.

LeBron has won seven straight Eastern Conference titles, four with the Heat then three with the Cavs. In that span, he’s 21-0 in Eastern Conference playoff series and 84-21 in Eastern Conference playoff games.

Of the 21 Eastern Conference teams LeBron has beaten in this run, 11 have completely turned over their roster since losing to him.

LeBron has broken up the Kevin Garnett-Paul Pierce-Ray Allen-Rajon Rondo Celtics, Paul George-Roy Hibbert-Lance Stephenson-David WestGeorge Hill Pacers, Derrick RoseJoakim NoahLuol Deng Bulls, Al HorfordPaul MillsapKyle KorverJeff TeagueDeMarre Carroll Hawks and Isaiah ThomasAvery BradleyJae Crowder Celtics. Yup, LeBron is going for seconds.

Of Eastern Conference players who lost to LeBron’s Miami teams, only John Henson (2013 Milwaukee) and Kemba Walker, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Cody Zeller (2014 Charlotte) have remained with the same team. And those were teams LeBron swept in the first round, hardly marquee competition.

Here’s everyone who has played against LeBron in the Eastern Conference playoffs the last seven years. Players are sorted by minutes in the series. Those in green remain with that team. Those in red and crossed off changed teams (though three – Lance Stephenson, Brandon Jennings and Omer Asik – returned).

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LeBron’s moves from Cleveland to Miami in 2010 and then back to Cleveland in 2014 were obviously monumental. But his presence has loomed over the entire East.

“You’re gauged on if you can beat his team that gets to the Finals every year,” said Bucks center John Henson, the only man who has stayed with an Eastern Conference team beaten by LeBron’s Heat from 2011-2013. “Constantly building and rebuilding and trades are being made to dethrone him.”

Paul George takes pride in pushing LeBron as hard as anyone in the East has during this time. His Pacers were the last Eastern Conference team to reach even a Game 7 against LeBron (2013 conference finals), and Indiana battled the Heat in a hard-fought six-game conference finals the following year.

“Going through that changed me as a player, changed my learning, my experience,” George said. “And that’s what it came down to. I was very proud of where we, that group that competed in that Eastern Conference finals, I’m very proud of what we accomplished in that short period of career we had together.”

George has moved on to the Thunder in the Western Conference, where the competition certainly isn’t easier, but at least doesn’t include LeBron.

Al Horford helped the Hawks win 60 games in 2014-15 only to get swept by LeBron’s Cavaliers in the conference finals. Atlanta returned mostly intact the following year, but got swept by LeBron again.

“They just kind of just kept wearing down on us over the years,” Horford said.

Now, Horford is with Boston, again trying to get past LeBron.

The Celtics appear particularly conscious of LeBron. While still competitive, they traded icons Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce in 2013. Though the Nets’ ridiculously generous offer certainly helped, it’s hard to believe Boston wasn’t influenced by LeBron being in his prime.

That prime has only continued. After losing in five games to LeBron’s Cavs in last year’s conference finals, Boston got rid of 11 of 15 players.

If the Celtics’ front office fears LeBron (wisely, if it does), it shares company with his opponents on the floor

“Some people he plays in this league, for sure, get intimidated,” said P.J. Tucker, who faced LeBron with the Raptors last year. “…People, when you watch the TV, you think he’s just going to come in and just manhandle you.”

Of course, LeBron isn’t doing this alone. He played with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love in Cleveland.

But that’s part of the lore. LeBron has engineered super teams so he could dominate a conference for the better part of a decade.

Continuing the streak won’t be easy. The 76ers are growing up before our eyes. The Celtics are young and good, and they’ll be healthier another year. The Raptors are digging in.

And the Cavs look vulnerable. Their defense is ugly. For the first team in this era, LeBron has only one supporting star, Love. The Cavaliers are just the No. 4 seed, LeBron’s lowest seed since 2008. Though LeBron isn’t worried, that means a first-round matchup with the Pacers (48-34) – the best record of any of LeBron’s first-round opponents.

LeBron has won all 12 of his first-round series, including 21 straight first-round games. Given how much Cleveland relies on him, even a prolonged series with Indiana could have lasting negative consequences deeper in the playoffs.

The last time so much was on LeBron’s plate was 2010, when his top teammates were Mo Williams and a declining Antawn Jamison. The Cavaliers lost to the Celtics in the second round.

Rajon Rondo, now with the Pelicans, said he had no idea that Boston squad was the last non-LeBron team to win the East.

“He won seven straight, huh?” Rondo said. “It’s looking like it’s about to be eight.”

Report: Thunder among teams interested in Rodney Hood trade

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Rodney Hood was right in the middle of our “five players most likely to be traded” story Monday morning, but having him third may have been too low. Even though his game has some flaws and he’s a restricted free agent next summer, Hood can shoot the rock — averaging 16.4 points per game and hitting 38.7 percent from three — and every team could use more shooting.

Add the Thunder to the list of teams that are interested, reports Tony Jones of the Salt Lake Tribune.

 With the NBA’s trade deadline looming Thursday, the Oklahoma City Thunder, Chicago Bulls and Detroit Pistons are all showing interest in acquiring Utah Jazz shooting guard Rodney Hood, The Salt Lake Tribune has learned. League sources say the Denver Nuggets and Orlando Magic have also shown at least a passing interest in Hood, who is set to be a restricted free agent this summer….

The Jazz would like an asset for Hood, according to sources. A first round pick would be optimal. Last week, the Bulls garnered a first-rounder when they traded forward Nikola Mirotic to the New Orleans Pelicans. But the Bulls were forced to take on a bad contract — center Omer Asik — in return. It remains to be seen whether the Jazz would be willing to do that.

The Jazz are not going to get a first-round pick for Hood without taking on a bad contract back, something the franchise is unlikely to do. We’ll see if the Clippers can get a first rounder for Lou Williams, however, in the current market firsts are only available if you take on a bad contract (ala Asik) or you’re trading a real star (such as Blake Griffin). With Hood as a restricted free agent next summer, his value is even less if teams aren’t sure they can re-sign him.

Hood has value, however, and could really help the Pistons or Thunder with depth and shooting. The question for both of those teams, as they flirt with the luxury tax, is how much would they be willing to pay him next season.

Utah is a team to watch as a seller at the deadline. Joe Johnson has requested a trade and the reality is anyone not named Rudy Gobert or Donovan Mitchell is available at the right price. Derrick Favors has also drawn interest.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of the Nikola Mirotic to Pelicans trade

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Nikola Mirotic was going to get moved at the trade deadline, the only questions were where, and would the Bulls get the first round pick they wanted?

Yes, they did — from a Pelicans team desperate to make the playoffs, battling a major injury and who needs both shooting and more big men. The Mirotic trade to the Big Easy was put together on Thursday and will be official soon.

As a reminder of how this trade shakes out:

Chicago receives: Omer Asik, Tony Allen, Jameer Nelson, a 2018 first-round pick (with a Nos. 1-5 protection this year, so it conveys unless the Pelicans miss the playoffs then land in the top three in the lottery) and the right to swap second-rounders with the Pelicans in 2021.

New Orleans receives: Nikola Mirotic and the Pelicans’ own 2018 second-round pick (New Orleans traded it to Chicago in the Quincy Pondexter salary dump last summer).

So how did everyone do in this deal? Let’s break it down Clint Eastwood style with The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

The Good: Nikola Mirotic. He got what he wanted most — the Pelicans agreed to pick up his $12.5 million contract option for next season. Yes, Mirotic wanted to get out of Chicago after the “Bobby Portis broke his face with a punch” incident (although the fallout from that seemed to have mellowed out), and yes he wanted the opportunity to show off his skills, but mostly he wanted the cash. It’s always about the money.

That said, he’s going to get a chance to shine in New Orleans and really help a team trying to hold on to a playoff spot. If the Pelicans sign Greg Monroe (bought out by the Suns) as expected, Mirotic will be the third big, the first off the bench, and they are going to lean on him to create looks and get shots with the second unit. Mirotic is not going to finish the season shooting 42.9 percent from three, that’s already started to slow down, but he can score the rock inside and out, and the Pelicans can use that with DeMarcus Cousins sitting in street clothes and a cast. (Alvin Gentry did a great job of staggering Anthony Davis and Cousins, now that second unit needs the boost.) Plus it means less Darius Miller at the four, which is a good thing.

What’s more, Mirotic may be the perfect guy at the four when Anthony Davis is at the five. That’s why we get to the next “good” part of this trade.

The Good: The New Orleans Pelicans (mostly). New Orleans prioritized making the playoffs this season (read: Alvin Gentry and Dell Demps like their jobs), and since Cousins went down with a torn Achilles the Pelicans have lost to the Clippers and at home to the Kings. It felt like they were about to spiral, but this move (and likely signing of Monroe) likely helps them hold on to a postseason berth.

The Pelicans are not as good as they were with Cousins — and they are locked into playing Mirotic next season — but they will be good enough (considering the Clippers probably take a step back). Also, having Mirotic on the roster next season is some insurance in case Cousins does leave via free agency (most people think he stays, but you never know).

Here may be the best part of the Mirotic trade: We can finally see some Pelicans’ lineups with Anthony Davis at the five and actual shooting around him. How about this lineup: Davis, Mirotic, E'Twaun Moore, Jrue Holiday, and Darius Miller. That lineup has potential. (I just hope Gentry doesn’t screw it up and put Rondo in rather than Miller.)

The only downsides here for the Pelicans are giving up that first-round pick, and adding $1.2 million more in salary to the books next season (that’s how much more Mirotic will make compared to Asik). The Pelicans will be flirting with the luxury tax next season, the advantage is Mirotic will be a contributor to the team on the court, unlike Asik.

The Good: The Bulls “effort” to get a high draft pick. The Bulls will not use the word “tank,” but they should be closer to the bottom of the standings than they are. Chicago started poorly this season but has played well of late (gone 15-13 in their last 28) and if the draft lottery were today it would be seeded sixth (a 6.3 percent chance at the top spot and a 21.4 percent chance of landing in the top three). With this move the Bulls should lose a little more, and stand a better chance of sliding behind the Suns out West and maybe other teams to improve their lottery (and ultimately draft) position.

The Bad: The rest of this deal for Chicago. The Bulls did land the Pelicans first-round draft pick (likely in the high teens somewhere), and that has some value (as long as they learned their Jordan Bell lesson and don’t sell it). But to do that they gave up a strong trade asset in Mirotic, took on salary almost up to what Mirotic would have made had they had just picked up his option, and did they need to give the Pelicans their second-round pick back?

I don’t hate this deal, it’s not selling the Jordan Bell pick bad (or giving up the No. 16 pick in the Jimmy Butler deal), but it’s not great.

The Bad: Anyone who thought the Pelicans would try to trade Anthony Davis this summer. Most non-crazy Celtics fans realized that if New Orleans comes to the realization it has to move Davis or lose him, they won’t do it until the summer of 2019. Go ahead and try to rationalize the “they will get more for him now” arguments if you want, but the reality in New Orleans is far more straightforward: They are not going to see a player like Davis come through for a long time so they need to do everything they can to keep him. Davis isn’t just a No. 1 pick, he’s a top-five NBA player who brings it on both ends, a first-team All-NBA level player, and he is just entering his prime. You don’t trade a guy like that unless you have to.

The Pelicans are going to try to make this all work. Maybe it doesn’t and Danny Ainge can swoop in from the vulture’s perch he’s sitting on and pick the carcass clean, but that’s not happening for more than a year.

The Ugly: The playoff dreams of the Utah Jazz. It was going to be a longshot for the Jazz to make the postseason anyway, they probably need to go at least 21-9 or better the rest of the way to make the cut. However, with the Cousins injury and the Blake Griffin trade from the Clippers, it may have felt in Salt Lake City like the door to the postseason was opening a crack.

This trade to get Mirotic to New Orleans pretty much slams that door shut. It will stop the bleeding in the Big Easy. Sorry Jazz fans, hopefully next year the core can just stay healthy.

Reports: After buyout, Greg Monroe leaning heavily toward Pelicans

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DeMarcus Cousins went down for the season, but New Orleans is not throwing in the towel on the playoffs.

First, they traded for Nikola Mirotic, agreeing to pick up his $12.5 million option for next season, and in doing so moved Omer Asik, Tony Allen, and Jameer Nelson. That freed up a roster spot in New Orleans

Enter Greg Monroe. The former Bucks and Suns center was bought out in Phoenix and will be a free agent. Monroe’s also a New Orleans native and the Pelicans could use a big man, so cue the reports.

The buzz around the league is this is all but a done deal.

I don’t know how much Monroe helps the Pelicans in the postseason, but he might help get them there and he’s as good a pickup as they can make this time of the season. Monroe can provide some scoring inside, either starting alongside Anthony Davis so he doesn’t have to play the five (AD prefers to play the four) or with the second unit. Monroe doesn’t provide any floor spacing or great defense, but for a team looking to fill in minutes along the front line with a solid player, he has a role.