Otto Porter

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Bulls, coach Jim Boylen reportedly agree to multi-year extension

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Jim Boylen took over mid-season for Fred Hoiberg in Chicago and instantly was the hard-*** that Hoiberg was not, doing some punitive stuff (harsh public criticism, hockey-style five-man substitutions, suicides in practice) to change the culture around the team. It nearly led to a player rebellion not showing up to practice, but eventually a peace (or at least a detente) was reached, with a player committee passing along concerns to the coach.

Boylen also took over in time for Lauri Markkanen to get healthy, and not shockingly the Bulls played better with him on the court, once he got adjusted. Then the team traded for Otto Porter to pair with Zach LaVine, and there were flashes of what this team could be in the future (a very impressive offense in February). Rumors circulated that the Bulls’ front office brain trust of John Paxson and Gar Forman liked what they saw and wanted to extend Boylen’s contract as coach.

That has happened, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

It’s a gamble. The Bulls were 17-41 under Boylen with a -7.8 net rating (27th in the NBA) and a bottom five offense and defense in that time. Chicago was 8-16 after the All-Star break with a -8 net rating (although some guys were shut down early, impacting those numbers). Plus, when The Athletic surveyed players and asked “which coach do you not want to play for” Boylen was first among active coaches (trailing only Tom Thibodeau), and that could influence some free agents (although his relationships with players seemed to improve as the season wore on).

Boylen, a long-time NBA assistant coach, is going to get his chance. The Bulls were 5-5 in February with a 116.2 offensive rating, second best in the NBA. Chicago is betting that can be closer to the future than the rest of the past campaign, and that he can help lift this team back into the playoffs, to start.

NBA Power Rankings: Warriors remind everyone why they should finish on top

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Golden State’s thrashing of Denver Tuesday night was the latest reminder that when the Warriors care and flip the switch they have gears no other team in the NBA has. They move back into the top spot in this penultimate power rankings of the season, and they should probably finish on top for good reason.

 
Warriors small icon 1. Warriors (52-24, Last Week No. 2). Golden State flipped the switch and dominated the Nuggets (behind DeMarcus Cousins’ best game as a Warrior), reminding everyone what they can do when they care. With the win, the Warriors are all but assured to have home court through the West playoffs (and in the Finals, unless they face Milwaukee or Toronto). As Mark Medina told me in this week’s PBT Podcast, the Warriors don’t feel all that threatened by anyone in the West this season. The biggest problem for Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry is having to listen to Draymond Green crow about that Michigan State win all week.

 
Bucks small icon 2. Bucks (58-20, LW 1). Milwaukee has been the best regular season team in the NBA, but the questions linger: Can they execute like this in the playoffs? Can Eric Bledsoe/Kris Middleton/Brook Lopez keep up this level of production deep into the playoffs and the pressure mounts? What happens when they run into a team with a stretch big that pulls Lopez out of the paint? Fair questions. The counter: Giannis Antetokounmpo is playing less than 33 minutes a night, what happens when that jumps to 40? I will tell you, a lot more of what he did to the Nets:

 
Raptors small icon 3. Raptors (55-23, LW 5). It was kind of the ideal week for Toronto — four wins and Kawhi Leonard got his “load management” rest in two of them. With little to play for, expect more rest for a lot of Toronto players this week. The Raptors are locked into the two seed, which doesn’t tell them who they will face in the first round yet but does set up a second-round showdown with the Sixers that will be an amazing series.

 
Rockets small icon 4. Rockets (49-28, LW 4). To help bolster James Harden’s MVP case, here’s a fun stat from our old friend Matt Moore of The Action Network: Harden scored more points this past January than any player had in January during the last 50 years. Harden’s scoring alone is not going to win them playoff games, the fact the Rockets have the second-best defense in the NBA in the last 15 games will. The Rockets have a relatively easy last 5 games (just two playoff teams) but they need wins to beat Portland to the three seed and avoid Utah in the first round and being on the Warriors’ side of the bracket.

 
Nuggets small icon 5. Nuggets (51-25, LW 3). Denver is not a good matchup with Golden State (but who is?), and combine that with a Denver offense stumbling down the stretch and you get one ugly loss. That loss, however, does not define their season. The Nuggets should finish as the No. 2 seed (although Houston is just 1.5 games back in third) and this team should be able to advance to the second round in its first playoff appearance. That’s the goal, and that’s a strong season for one of the youngest teams in the league. However, like in that Warriors’ game, there are some tough lessons to learn ahead.

 
Sixers small icon 6. 76ers (49-28, LW 6). Philadelphia is becoming an increasingly trendy pick among league watchers to come out of the East, because the ceiling is so high with that starting five (and they get more minutes together in the postseason). That lineup — Ben Simmons, J.J. Redick, Jimmy Butler, Tobias Harris, Joel Embiid — is +17.6 per 100 this season, with strong play on both ends of the court. Hopefully all this rest for Embiid has him ready to go for the playoffs (he is sitting out this three-game road trip), they need him. Big showdown with the Bucks on Thursday.

 
Jazz small icon 7. Jazz (47-30, LW 8). The hottest team in the NBA, they have won 10-of-11 and in that stretch have a +16.3 net rating. However, before you get too high on the Jazz, in those 11 games the Jazz have played just one playoff team (Brooklyn). Utah has three more games against non-playoff teams before closing with the Nuggets and Clippers. The Jazz would love to hang on to the five seed and (potentially) get the banged-up Trail Blazers in the first round (although that 4/5 seeding means the Warriors in the second round).

 
Blazers small icon 8. Trail Blazers (49-28, LW 7). Who is fading? Portland is 3-1 in the games since Jusuf Nurkic went down injured, and every one of those games was without C.J. McCollum, too. Portland is just half a game back of the Rockets in the race for the 3/4 seed, and the Blazers only have two of their remaining games against playoff teams (a home-and-home with Denver Friday and Sunday). Getting the three seed means avoiding a surging Utah team in the first round, plus it keeps them on the other side of the bracket from the Warriors.

 
Clippers small icon 9. Clippers (47-31, LW 9). Part of what makes the Clippers a tough regular season matchup for teams is they bring two of their three best players off the bench. “You want to find your best defenders on Lou (Williams) as much as you can, but your rotation has to change for that to happen,” Grizzlies coach J.B. Bickerstaff said last week. “You’re getting guys out quicker so they can get back in and find that matchup. That’s the pressure that they put on you and I think is brilliant by Doc.”

 
Celtics small icon 10. Celtics (46-32, LW 11). Gordon Hayward has looked better the last couple of weeks, his best stretch as a Celtic. Hayward is averaging 13.8 points per game of 53.1% shooting in his last five games and grabbing 6.2 rebounds a game, although he is still not shooting well from three (25% in those games). The Celtics remain tied with the Pacers in the battle for home court in the first round when those two teams meet, they go head-to-head Friday and that could go a long way to deciding where the playoffs start for Boston.

 
Spurs small icon 11. Spurs (44-33, LW 10). The Spurs have stumbled of late — losing 4-of-7, with Derrick White coming back to earth — and that has them in a tie with the Thunder for the 7/8 seed, and neither of those teams wants the Warriors in the first round. San Antonio’s toughest remaining game is Wednesday night (in Denver on a back-to-back) then after that they have three non-playoff teams. The Spurs can’t afford let-down losses like the recent ones to the Kings and Hornets if they are going to get the seven seed.

 
Thunder small icon 12. Thunder (44-33, LW 13). Russell Westbrook’s 20-20-20 game was extraordinary, even by his standards, and it came when the Thunder needed it as they had lost 7-of-9 and found themselves in a battle with the Spurs to avoid the eight seed (and the Warriors in the first round). OKC has a tougher closing stretch than San Antonio and they could use more Westbrook (and a more efficient Westbrook at that), but what they really miss is pre-All-Star Game, MVP level Paul George. The Thunder are essentially in the playoffs the rest of the way.

 
Pacers small icon 13. Pacers (46-32, LW 12). Indiana’s Domantas Sabonis has a strong case for Sixth Man of the year, as evidenced by this stat (hat tip Justin Kubatko): Sabonis has 25 double-doubles coming off the bench this season, the most by a reserve since Detlef Schrempf in 1991-92. The Pacers and Celtics will face off in the first round and the only question remaining is home court for the 4/5 series — the teams are tied and face each other Friday night.

Pistons small icon 14. Pistons (39-38, LW 18). Blake Griffin deservedly gets a lot of credit for making Detroit’s offense work this season, and while Andre Drummond hasn’t always been a comfortable fit next to Drummond he has been steady. Another stat from Justin Kubatko: Drummond has 37 games with at least 15 points and 15 rebounds this game, putting him in a select company of players who have done this (Moses Malone did it four times, most recently Kevin Love did it). While not completely safely in the playoffs (Detroit is 1.5 games up on nine-seed Orlando), the Pistons look like a playoff team this year under Dwane Casey. Probably as the six seed.

 
Magic small icon 15. Magic (38-40, LW 14). Fivethirtyeight.com projects the next three teams in this ranking (Orlando, Miami, and Brooklyn) all to finish at 40-42, bringing it down to tiebreakers to see who gets into the playoffs and which one of those teams stays home. Orlando went 2-2 on its recent road trip, including beating Miami (and Indiana), but with the tough-out Hawks and Celtics on the schedule this week, Orlando needs to win at least one of those to make sure they have a chair when the music stops.

 
Heat small icon 16. Heat (38-39, LW 15). Miami has struggled at home more than it should all season (18-21, and their two games left there are the Celtics and 76ers), and in recent weeks the Miami offense has sputtered. The Heat have scrapped and clawed to stay in the playoffs, but now they need some upset wins with Boston, Toronto, and Philly on the schedule in the next week. It’s the ultimate test of a scrappy team.

 
Nets small icon 17. Nets (39-39, LW 16). Caris LeVert started the season so hot he got far-too-early most improved player buzz, but his severe leg injury set his season back. Of late he has started to find that form again, including having 24 points and 6 assists in a loss to the Bucks. “From a confidence level and a physical level, that was the Caris from the beginning of the year,” Coach Kenny Atkinson said after that Bucks game. Smart move by the Nets locking up Atkinson and his staff with new contracts.

 
Kings small icon 18. Kings (38-39, LW 17). This will be the 13th consecutive season the Kings miss the playoffs, the longest active streak in the NBA and tied for the second longest all-time — yet this season has to be considered a success. Sacramento was expected to be high up in the lottery, instead they are pushing .500, found a style of play and identity, and found a future star in De’Aaron Fox. This is a team heading in the right direction and it has been a season to build on. The playoff streak will be in danger of ending next season.

 
Lakers small icon 19. Lakers (35-43, LW 21). The Lakers finally decided to shut LeBron James down for the season with six games left, which was probably later than it should have been considering his groin injury was clearly not fully healed. The Laker defense was middle-of-the-pack for the NBA season, but strangely for a LeBron team it was the offensive end that was the problem — the Lakers were bottom 10 and the pieces did not fit. Turns out, shooting matters. Who knew?

 
Hornets small icon 20. Hornets (35-42, LW 19). Reality caught up with Charlotte on the road, where they have dropped three straight and in practice have fallen out of the playoff chase in the East (three games back with five to play). Kemba Walker is still in the mix for one of the final All-NBA guard slots, but missing the playoffs doesn’t help his cause (if he makes it and the Hornets can offer a super-max contract it makes it more likely he sticks around this July).

 
21. Timberwolves (34-43, LW 20). Ryan Saunders seems likely to keep the Timberwolves head coaching job — Karl-Anthony Towns and other players love him — but it might be wise to get an experienced defensive coach next to him. Under Saunders, the Timberwolves have struggled on that end, starting with KAT and his level of interest. Since the All-Star break, Minnesota has the worst defense in the NBA, and that can’t continue into next season if this team wants to get back into the playoff mix.

 
Wizards small icon 22. Wizards (32-46, LW 24). And there was much rejoicing in Washington, for Ernie Grunfeld is out as the Washington GM. Fans had been calling for his head for years. But whoever takes this job has got an Everest of challenges to climb, starting with: Do you trade Bradley Beal and start a rebuild, or re-sign him (possibly to a supermax extension if he makes All-NBA) and build around him? You get to make that call while managing the ego and expectations of owner Ted Leonsis. Plus, the anchor of the John Wall contract will hang around the new GM’s neck for four years.

 
Hawks small icon 23. Hawks (28-49, LW 25). Atlanta is making an impressive surge late in the season, and for playoff teams needing wins for seeding (or just to get in) this is not the team they want to see on the schedule right now. Trae Young 24.2 points and 8.9 assists per game in March, with a solid 55.8 true shooting percentage — the kid is special (but now Hawks fans, he’s not winning Rookie of the Year, sorry).

 
Grizzlies small icon 24. Grizzlies (31-46, LW 23). The trio of Mike Conley, Jonas Valanciunas, and Avery Bradley pass the eye test for me — together they look like they could do some damage. On the season the Grizzlies are -3.6 per 100 possessions when those three are on the court together (less than 200 minutes, so small sample size), but you have to wonder what they might have been able to do under different circumstances. Once the season ends the Mike Conley trade rumors will start to ramp up as we head toward the draft.

Pelicans small icon 25. Pelicans (32-46, LW 22). Was their an uglier, more disappointing season in the NBA than the one in the Big Easy? The breaks did not go their way, and then Anthony Davis torpedoed the second half of the season. In their last 10 games, the Pelicans have a -11.3 net rating, which puts them in the neighborhood of the Bulls and Cavaliers in that stretch (not the company they want to keep). The GM search is underway and that person will sit down at his new desk and find a massive to-do list.

 
Mavericks small icon 26. Mavericks (31-46, LW 26). Dallas’ first-round pick in the upcoming draft belongs to Atlanta but is top-five protected. Currently, the Mavericks are tied for the 6/7th worst record in the NBA. Dallas currently has an 8.2% chance of jumping up to the No. 1 pick, and a 34.2% chance of landing in the top four and keeping the pick. Which means basically a two-thirds chance of losing it. With Luka Doncic a year older and Kristaps Porzingis joining him on the court next season, this might be the Mavericks’ last shot at a high pick for a while.

 
Bulls small icon 27. Bulls (21-57, LW 27). Chicago heads into the NBA Draft Lottery with at least 12.5 shot at landing Zion Williamson (the Bulls will have at best the fourth worst record in the NBA). The Bulls have a lot of needs heading into the draft, but there are things to be positive about: I am curious what a Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. front line looks like. Put Zach LaVine and Otto Porter on the wings around them and this becomes an interesting squad next season.

 
Suns small icon 28. Suns (18-60, LW 29). Devin Booker is putting up insane numbers recently, scoring 59 against Utah, 50 against Washington, and 48 against Memphis — but Phoenix lost all three of those games. Mostly because their defense remains dreadful. That certainly is a team problem, but it will fall more on Deandre Ayton to become a good rim protection and stop some of those buckets in the paint. The No. 1 pick had an impressive rookie season on offensive end, but we know what he needs to work on this summer.

 
Cavaliers small icon 29. Cavaliers (19-59, LW 28). The interesting question heading into the draft for Cleveland: What to do if the Cavs land the No. 2 pick? Ja Morant is the second best player on the board, but the Cavaliers have been very happy with how Collin Sexton and how he has found his game the second half of the season. Do they draft Morant and try to get the two guards to mesh? Draft R.J. Barrett or another wing? Trade the pick? It may be a moot issue, but it’s the kind of thing a GMs need to be prepared for.

 
Knicks small icon 30. Knicks (15-62, LW 30). Mitchell Robinson’s potential as a defensive force in the paint is the one good thing about the grinding end of the season in New York. As Justin Kubatko noted on Twitter, Robinson is averaging one block every eight minutes he is on the court, which is the third highest block rate by a rookie ever. Whatever is getting built in New York in the coming years, he can be key part of it in the paint.

Three Things to Know: Westbrook dedicates historic 20-20-20 night to Nipsey Hussle

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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) Russell Westbrook dedicates historic 20-20-20 night to Nipsey Hussle. Russell Westbrook so often puts up ridiculous stat lines we’ve almost become numb to it. There was a time when Oscar Robertson’s averaging of a triple-double for a season seemed like Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak — an untouchable record in the modern era — but Westbrook did it. Then did it again. And is about to do it one more time.

Yet what Westbrook did Tuesday night was mind-boggling by even his standards.

Westbrook had 20 points, 20 rebounds, and 21 assists — the NBA’s second-ever 20-20-20 game. Wilt Chamberlain was the other one.

After the game, Westbrook dedicated the game to slain rapper Nipsey Hustle, who was shot outside his Los Angeles’ clothing store days ago. Westbrook is a Los Angeles guy, and the players from the city know how Hustle gave back and was committed to his neighborhood, trying to lift people up, in a way few celebrities are. He meant a lot to people and the city.

We could nitpick the accomplishment — Westbrook shot just 8-of-23, and he was hunting those rebounds in the final minute — but we shouldn’t try to diminish this singular accomplishment. It is a mind-boggling effort.

Westbrook did this and lifted his team up when the Thunder needed the win, the Thunder beat the Lakers handily. This victory keeps the Thunder tied with the Spurs (who beat the Hawks) for the 7/8 seed in the West. OKC wants to avoid that eight seed and getting the Warriors in the first round because…

2) Golden State flips the switch, dominates Denver, all but secures top seed in West. In this week’s PBT Podcast, Mark Medina — Warriors writer for the San Jose Mercury News and Bay Area News Group — had a great line about the Warriors’ up-and-down effort this regular season:

They care and play hard when it’s convenient for them.

Tuesday night it was convenient.

The Warriors needed a win over Denver to lock up home court throughout the West playoffs, and so they came out and flipped the switch, dominated the game leading by 30 in the fourth (the Nuggets are just a poor matchup with the Warriors), and reminded everyone that the Warriors have gears nobody else in the NBA can hit.

And now they have DeMarcus Cousins at center now — he overwhelmed Nikola Jokic and every other Nugget defender in the paint on his way to 28 points and 13 rebounds. In recent games Cousins has seemed to find a comfort level playing with the Warriors, and that should scare teams heading into the postseason.

Kevin Durant pitched in 21 points in less than three quarters before he got ejected.

(Durant and Draymond Green each have 15 technical fouls this season, if either picks up one more before the end of the regular season they will be suspended for a game.)

Stephen Curry pitched in 18 points. The Warriors are the best team in the NBA when they want to be — when it’s convenient for them. During the playoffs, they will flip the switch most nights, and when they do no team in the West is a genuine threat to them. And the Warriors know it.

3) Wizards finally fire Ernie Grunfeld as team president/GM. Next step is big one for Wizards. One could make a very good case that Ernie Grunfeld should have been fired back in the day when he put together a roster with Gilbert Arenas, Andray Blatche, and Nick Young on it. The team where a gun was pulled in the locker room. Of course, one could make the case Grunfeld should have been fired a lot of times, like when he cleared the books and planned around Kevin Durant coming home in 2016 when that was never a realistic option. There was no “Plan B” after Durant went West, not East.

However, it took 16 years and a season where owner Ted Leonsis thought this was a 50-win, conference finals roster — the Wizards never came close to that dream and are going to finish well out of the playoffs — for him to see the light and let go of Grunfeld. That happened on Tuesday.

What’s next is hard.

Whoever is next in the GM chair inherits a mess of a roster. John Wall’s $171 million supermax extension kicks in next season — a season he will miss much of with a torn Achilles — and runs four years. It is the most untradable contract in the NBA right now. Beyond that there’s Ian Mahinmi‘s $15.5 million, Dwight Howard‘s likely will be on the roster (at $5,6 million), and the talented Otto Porter is gone because Leonsis doesn’t want to pay the luxury tax. Oh, and Bradley Beal may well make an All-NBA team and be eligible for a $199 million four-year extension on top of the two years on his current contract — and the Warriors need to lock him up. He’s their best player (whether Wall returns to form or not).

It’s unclear who comes in. Denver’s Tim Connelly is reportedly a target, but would Washington settle for Nuggets GM Arturas Karnisovas? There are the guys next in line such as Gersson Rosas of the Rockets, Troy Weaver of the Thunder, and Mike Zarren of the Celtics (Zarren is a much longer shot, he will be hard to pull out of Boston). David Griffin’s name will come up. Wizards interim GM Tommy Sheppard deserves a look. That’s just the tip of the iceberg.

What the Wizards need is a creative mind, because it’s going to take one to build anything competitive around Wall’s contract (even when Wall returns he may well not be the same player). Just as importantly, they need a GM who can manage Leonsis, get him to buy in on what could be some painful next steps. In Washington, that may be the hardest part of the job.

Wizards fire president Ernie Grunfeld

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Wizards owner Ted Leonsis said his goal for this season was winning 50 games and making the conference finals.

Washington is 32-46 and eliminated from the playoff race.

So, it’s time for consequences.

Wizards release:

Chairman and CEO of Monumental Sports & Entertainment Ted Leonsis announced today that Ernie Grunfeld has been relieved of his duties as president of the Washington Wizards.

“We did not meet our stated goals of qualifying for the playoffs this season and, despite playing with injuries to several key players, we have a culture of accountability and a responsibility of managing to positive outcomes,” said Leonsis. “I wish to thank Ernie for his service to the Washington Wizards. He and his family have been great leaders in our community and have worked tirelessly to make us a top NBA franchise.”

Senior Vice President of Basketball Operations Tommy Sheppard will report to Leonsis on all basketball matters beginning immediately. The team will begin a search for a new head of basketball operations (which will include Sheppard as a candidate) upon conclusion of the season.

Grunfeld had unusual job security given his pedestrian record. He ran the Wizards 16 seasons in which they went 568-724, made the playoffs only half the time and never advanced past the second round. Yet, Leonsis kept giving him secret contract extensions. Leonsis even gave Grunfeld an A grade for last offseason.

But the owner finally had enough.

Fans in Washington certainly had long ago.

Now, whoever succeeds Grunfeld must dig the Wizards out of their hole. John Wall, who’s guaranteed a projected $171 million over the next four years and seriously injured, has arguably the NBA’s worst contract. Ian Mahinmi‘s $15,450,051 salary next season is a burden. Even Dwight Howard‘s $5,603,850 player option looks like a liability. Washington has only one young player – Troy Brown Jr. – under contract beyond this season.

The bright spot: Bradley Beal, who’s locked up two more years. He’s incredibly valuable. Washington could build around him or trade him to get a head start on rebuilding.

But if he makes an All-NBA team this season, he’ll be eligible for a super-max contract extension this offseason that projects to be worth $199 million over four years. As Wall shows, those large deals carry major downside risk for teams, even when the player looks pretty good.

The next front-office leader must also navigate ahead with an owner who claimed he’d never tank. Maybe that’s just something Leonsis said. But it also might be a real mandate.

Leonsis has also shown reluctance to pay the luxury tax (which is why talented Otto Porter is gone). Another constraint.

Of course, Leonsis also just kept Ernie Grunfeld 16 years. The lure of that job security should draw candidates.

Bulls shut down Lauri Markkanen for season after incident of ‘rapid heart rate’

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After the Bulls’ loss to the Raptors on Tuesday night, big man Lauri Markkanen spent the night in a Toronto hospital for what the team termed “extreme fatigue.” While he caught up to the Bulls Wednesday night in Chicago and asked to play against Portland, Markkanen was held out of the game.

Now he is being shut down for the season, the team announced Wednesday night. From the official press release:

Lauri Markkanen has been undergoing a series of tests to determine the cause of an episode of a rapid heart rate and fatigue during the game in Toronto on March 26. At this point all testing has been normal, but as a precaution, the medical team has recommended additional testing over the next 10-14 days. Markkanen will not return for the remainder of the season.

The Bulls have just six games remaining after tonight, so being cautious makes sense.

Chicago has already shut down Wendell Carter Jr. for the season and have Zach LaVine (thigh), Otto Porter (shoulder) and Kris Dunn all out as well.

For Bulls fans rooting for GarPax to drive the tank the rest of the season…

The Bulls have the fourth worst record in the NBA. The teams with the three worst records each have the best chance (still just 14 percent under the new lottery odds) of landing the top pick and the chance to select Zion Williamson. As it stands now the Bulls have a 12.5 percent chance. Chicago would need to “make up” 1.5 games (one in the loss column) on Cleveland to have one of the three worst records.