Bulls

Can anybody beat the Warriors? Breaking down which teams have the best chance

Can anybody beat the Warriors? Breaking down which teams have the best chance

With most of the major offseason moves already made in the NBA, it's probably a good time to take stock of whether any team has closed the gap on the rising dynasty in the Bay Area.

Golden State is young and talented with most of its core players locked up for the next several years. The Warriors re-signed two-time MVP Steph Curry to a designated player extension worth over $200 million and also brought back NBA Finals MVP Kevin Durant on a two-year deal that was about #9 million less than what he was entitled to under the league's collective bargaining agreement.

Durant's willingness to give the Warriors a "hometown discount" allowed general manager Bob Myers to also bring back productive vets Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston on multi-year deals, while using league exceptions to add shooters Nick Young and underrated Omri Casspi for depth off the bench. The Warriors also re-signed veteran big men Zaza Pachulia and David West. Barring a serious injury to one of the team's stars, Golden State is locked and loaded to steamroll the league for the foreseeable future.

But that doesn't mean the other 29 teams have given up trying.

Houston GM Daryl Morey says it's now an "arms race" for contending teams, adding the Warriors "aren't unbeatable." Morey struck before the start of free agency with a blockbuster trade to acquire one of the league's top point guards, Chris Paul, from the Clippers, and he's still pursuing a Carmelo Anthony deal with the Knicks to form the NBA's latest "super team."

Problem is, does anyone really believe a Houston team with three ball-dominant players in Anthony, James Harden and Paul have any chance to beat Golden State in a best of seven series? Especially given the fact Harden and Anthony are going to get torched on the defensive end? I didn't think so.

San Antonio is still a threat after bringing back most of the key players from last year's team, along with free agent addition Rudy Gay. But even though Kawhi Leonard is a top 10 player, and LaMarcus Aldridge is a reliable secnd scoring option, the Spurs are getting pretty long in the tooth with Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Pau Gasol. Plus, they lost one of their most dynamic bench players, Jonathan Simmons to Orlando in free agency.

Can Gregg Popovich lead this group past the Warriors? I don't think so.

Love what Sam Presti did in Oklahoma City, adding top 10 talent Paul George in a trade with Indiana for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis. Both George and league MVP Russell Westbrook can be free agents next summer, so it will be fascinating to see if they can develop some on-court chemistry and lead OKC to a top four seed in the West, while pushing their own personal agendas to the side. The Thunder have a couple of talented big men in Steven Adams and Enes Kanter, and they also brought back defensive specialist Andre Roberson. But beat the Warriors. No chance.

Let's move over to the East. Boston won the free agent sweepstakes for Gordon Hayward, and top draft pick Jayson Tatum was impressive in summer league play. But the Celtics had to sacrifice Avery Bradley, Kelly Olynyk and Amir Johnson to fit Hayward in under the salary cap. So, is Brad Stevens' team really better than the one that had the best record in the East last season? Maybe, but probably not improved enough to beat the Cavs.

Speaking of Cleveland, the biggest offseason story for the Eastern Conference champs involves the future of LeBron James. James reportedly is frustrated and disappointed by the lack of roster improvement, but then what should he expect, considering the Cavs still haven't replaced general manager David Griffin, who was fired over a month ago.

Chauncey Billups turned the job down after getting a low-ball initial offer, and the Cavs missed out on their opportunities to acquire George or Jimmy Butler in part because of the front office dysfunction. Cleveland still figures to be the class of the East next season, but anything short of a championship could send James looking for a better life out west with the Lakers or Clippers.

As for the rest of the East, Toronto and Washington should hold on to top-four seeds after re-signing their key free agents, and Milwaukee could be a team on the rise, especially if Chicago native Jabari Parker can make it all the way back from a second ACL injury.

Philadelphia will be fun to watch with the top picks from each of the last two drafts, Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz, and free agents J.J. Redick and Amir Johnson joining talented big man Joel Embiid. But it's pretty bleak after that, with the Pacers and Hawks joining the Bulls in pushing the reset button and hoping for luck in next year's draft lottery.

Back to our original question: Can anyone beat the Warriors next season? Sure doesn't look like it.

Reflective Jimmy Butler looks back on time in Chicago during All-Star weekend

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USA TODAY

Reflective Jimmy Butler looks back on time in Chicago during All-Star weekend

LOS ANGELES — Jimmy Butler was absent from the scoresheet of the All-Star Game, unless you count a “DNP-Coaches’ Decision” as activity. Whether due to the All-Star festivities of the weekend or even the grinding minutes he plays under Tom Thibodeau, it wasn’t truly surprising to see him want to have a night off of sorts.

But what was mildly surprising was the reflection he displayed on Saturday at All-Star Media Day in reference to his time with the Chicago Bulls. Usually, Butler’s armor is up because of his feelings surrounding his draft-night departure.

“I learned a lot in Chicago,” Butler said. “Just all through the season and life in general. What to do, what not to do and how to adapt to any situation that you’ve been in. I’ve done that to the best of my abilities. I have a ways to go in that.”

It’s clear he’s still grasping the weight of his words as the best player on a team, or at least, the player whose words impact everything around him.

“A people pleaser? No, I just didn’t say much,” Butler said. “Now I just don’t care. I never talked whenever I was in the league at an early age. It really didn’t matter, nothing I did was gonna make or break us when it comes to losing a game. Now it does and I have a lot to say. Half the time it’s not the right time or right way to say it but it’s okay.”

Whether it was the battles with Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg or the internal struggles in the Bulls’ locker room through his ascension from bench warmer to rotation player to impact player to now, a legitimate star, he’s modifying his approach—just a tad.

“I’ve never been the best player on my own team. I was in Tomball,” he joked, in reference to his beginnings in small town Texas. “I wasn’t in junior college. At Marquette I wasn’t. I’m probably not now. In Chicago I wasn’t. You just pick up on it, watch others and learn.”

He admitted to writing in a journal and reading self-help books now that he’s in Minnesota. The novel he’s reading now, “Faith, Forward, Future” is authored by Chad Veach, a Los Angeles pastor and the subtitle of the book says “Moving past your disappointments, delays and destructive thinking.”

Whether he started the book following a slow start with the Timberwolves in November, where his nightly numbers looked like one of a high-level role player, he took some self-evaluation before leading the charge since, playing like an MVP candidate with 25.2 points, 5.5 rebounds and 5.3 assists on 49 percent shooting since the start of December.

“It’s relatively new. Yeah, basketball is still basketball but it’s hard when somebody else is coming in and roles change overnight,” Butler said. “You gotta see where you fit in with the group. At the end of the day you gotta win. I didn’t feel the way I was playing was our best opportunity to win games.”

Bringing along the likes of Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns, with Towns being a fellow All-Star for the first time, has been a process.

“I’ve never actually had to be a leader,” Butler said. “I just always done what I was supposed to do, didn’t say much and played hard. Now you know, everybody wants to call someone a leader.”

He disputes taking a softer hand, especially as Towns and Wiggins seem to struggle with sustaining concentration at critical moments. The Timberwolves won’t be able to make those mistakes during the playoffs, but he’s being more selective with his words.

“I’m not soft,” he said. “If I see something wrong, I speak on it. If you don’t like it, oh well. You’ll get over it.”

One thing he could take a bird’s eye view of was the aftermath of LeBron James and Kevin Durant’s comments to the “Uninterrupted”, where they were criticized by cable news hosts for speaking out against President Donald Trump.

No stranger to criticism, Butler would likely have the same approach if he dipped his toes into that arena.

“I like it. You got the right to say what you want and you speak on what you think is right,” Butler said. “Good for them. And they are magnified in a very big way. They embrace it and they’re doing the right thing, I’m all for it.”

And if the day comes where he doesn’t stick to sports, Butler’s directness and lack of diplomacy would certainly cause an interesting reaction.

“I don’t care. Whatever I believe in, I believe in,” Butler said. “Everybody else does it. You see everybody on Twitter and the Internet doing it and saying what they want to say. We just have a different job than the person to our left and right.”

Well, not quite a warm and fuzzy Jimmy Butler.

Anthony Davis could be the lone torch-bearer for Chicago at All-Star weekend in 2020, and object of recruitment

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AP

Anthony Davis could be the lone torch-bearer for Chicago at All-Star weekend in 2020, and object of recruitment

There were no Lakers or Clippers in the 2018 All-Star Game, but Los Angeles was well-represented with plenty of homegrown talent, plenty of historians with Los Angeles ties and all the pageantry L.A. can provide.

Russell Westbrook, Paul George and James Harden are among the All-Stars who came home to put on the biggest show of entertainment the league has to offer, and the new format featuring captains LeBron James and Stephen Curry produced one of the most competitive finishes in recent All-Star history as the spectacle wasn’t lost on DeRozan, who plays for the conference-leading Toronto Raptors.

“It was a dream come true,” DeRozan said. “I’ll forever be a part of this, and to come out and be a starter in my hometown, it was a dream come true.”

With Chicago hosting the event in 2020, one wonders if the city or the Bulls will be as represented.

“What better time to do it than in Chicago?” Bulls rookie Lauri Markkanen said about his aspirations of being an All-Star sooner rather than later.

New Orleans’ Anthony Davis, to this point, is the only Chicagoan carrying the torch as an All-Star. For years, Chicago could claim their homegrown talent rivaled the likes of Los Angeles and New York, the self-proclaimed “Mecca”.

But now they’ve fallen behind in the way of star power, as Derrick Rose has gone from MVP to one of the biggest “what if” stories in modern-day sports. Jabari Parker was expected to be next in line but his future as a star is murky due to the same dreaded injury bug.

“I didn’t know that. But there’s a lot of great players (from Chicago),” Davis said Saturday during media availability. “Jabari is just coming back, Derrick is going through what he’s going through. That’s fine. D-Wade is getting older. We have a lot of great guys. Guys have been hurt, in D-Wade’s case he’s just getting up there in age now (laughs).”

Davis is arguably the league’s most versatile big man, keeping the New Orleans Pelicans afloat while DeMarcus Cousins is out with an Achilles injury. He’s had to watch the likes of George deal with free agent questions about the prospect of coming home to L.A., even after he was traded from Indiana to Oklahoma City in the offseason.

It still hasn’t stopped the chants from Lakers fans, panting after George in the hope he’ll be a savior of sorts. And even though his contract isn’t up for another few seasons, teams are lining up in the hope they can acquire him through free agency or trade.

It could very well be him getting the chants when the All-Star party comes to Chicago and he could be joined by the likes of Markkanen and Zach LaVine in the big game.

LaVine was in Los Angeles for the weekend and Markkanen opened eyes around the league with his showing in the rising stars game as well as the skills challenge.

Davis could wind up being the object of everyone’s affection and could find himself being recruited by the likes of LaVine.

Even though 2021 is a long way away, a guy can dream, right?

“I mean, I’m cool with a lot of dudes in the NBA. I feel like I’m a likeable guy,” LaVine told NBCSportsChicago.com about recruiting star players to the Bulls franchise. “I can talk about situations like that, it would be my first time being put in a position. It would be a little bit different but I think I can handle it.”

LaVine has his own contract situation to take care of this summer, being a restricted free agent but understands the Bulls’ salary cap position and their long-term goals.

“Yeah I think once the offseason comes and everybody settles down, and I’m comfortable, and I know the position I’ll be in,” LaVine said to NBCSportsChicago.com.

“I think we’ll start having those conversations because we want to get the franchise back to where it was, on that high plateau. That’s what it’s supposed to be.”

“I’m trying to solidify myself in the league to a certain degree. Once you start reaching those points you can talk to anybody to get to where you want to get to.”

LaVine attended several events over the weekend and shared the same space as several All-Stars in non-media settings. It’s easy to see why he would think he could have that affect with his peers.

Being careful about the rules on tampering, he said about a potential sit-down with Davis, “I would bring some Harold’s chicken to the meeting and we’ll be all good.”