Bulls

NBA Buzz: Bulls-Celtics not a typical 1-8 matchup, plus NBA award selections

NBA Buzz: Bulls-Celtics not a typical 1-8 matchup, plus NBA award selections

It didn't happen exactly the way Bulls might have drawn it up, but they did accomplish their primary goal of avoiding LeBron James the Cleveland Cavaliers in the opening round of the playoffs.

The Bulls are 0-4 against James-led teams in the postseason, and the thought of playing the defending NBA champs wasn't too exciting for anyone in the organization.

Of course, they're also 0-4 in postseason matchups with the Boston Celtics. But Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish aren't walking through the door to play in this year's series, and neither are Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen.

The Bulls split their four regular-season meetings with the Celtics, with each team winning on their home court. Boston has dynamic point guard Isaiah Thomas, who finished third in the NBA in scoring at 28.9 points per game, while the Bulls will counter with All Star Jimmy Butler, the league's 14th leading scorer at 23.9 per game.

The biggest advantage for the Bulls could come in the rebounding category, where Al Horford, Amir Johnson and Kelly Olynyk aren't exactly known for owning the defensive glass, tied for 26th in rebounding percentage. In the two games the Bulls won against the Celtics this season, they dominated the battle of the boards, leading to a significant edge in second-chance points.

Three-point shooting will also be critical to the Bulls' hopes of extending the series. Since Rajon Rondo and Nikola Mirotic returned to the starting lineup on March 13, the Bulls have suddenly become one of the league's best 3-point-shooting teams. Paul Zipser came off the bench to toss in a career-high five 3s in the regular-season finale against Brooklyn, and he figures to be a key member of a shortened playoff rotation.

If Mirotic, Zipser, Bobby Portis and Jerian Grant can connect from long range, that will open up driving lanes and post-up opportunities for Butler and Dwyane Wade.

Boston also has the ability to do some damage from long range, averaging 12 3-point field goals per game during the regular season. The Celtics ranked in the middle of the pack in team 3-point percentage, but Horford and Olynyk will be able to pull the Bulls' big men out of the lane with their ability to hit from beyond the arc, and Thomas, Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder all shoot 37 percent or better from that distance.

Still, most games will probably come down to the Bulls being able to limit turnovers and contain Thomas, the NBA's most prolific fourth-quarter scorer. Fred Hoiberg will be able to run multiple defenders at the 5-foot-9 Thomas in hopes of wearing him down for the critical stage of games. Rondo will get the first call, but the Bulls used 6-foot-6 Michael Carter-Williams on Thomas with some degree of effectiveness in a home-court win in mid-February, and you can count on Butler taking his turn in the final minutes.

Can the Bulls upset the top-seeded Celtics? Probably not, but they are certainly capable of stealing a couple games to extend the series and make the passionate fans of the NBA's winningest franchise more than a little nervous.

[BULLS TICKETS: Get your seats right here]

And the envelope please ... 

We won't know officially until the NBA's first-ever awards show on June 26, but here are my picks for the top regular-season honors.

Most Valuable Player

Clearly one of the closest and most fascinating races in the history of the league. In almost any other season, James Harden would probably be an easy winner after averaging 29 points a game, leading the league in assists and guiding the Houston Rockets to the NBA's third-best record.

But this isn't any season. Russell Westbrook has put up numbers we've only seen once before in NBA history. Westbrook joined the legendary Oscar Robertson as the only players to average a triple-double (double figures in points, rebounds and assists) over the course of an entire season. And he also topped the Big O's record of 41 triple-doubles in one season.

Westbrook refused to make excuses after Kevin Durant bolted for Golden State in free agency, carrying an average Thunder team to the playoffs. In looking back at every game this season, one of the team's regular beat writers concluded Oklahoma City probably would have had only 33 wins if not for Westbrook's big plays in the final minutes of close games.

With apologies to Harden, LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard and Thomas, Westbrook has to be the choice as NBA MVP.

Rookie of the Year

This one is also tough to pick but for a completely different reason. Philadelphia center Joel Embiid would have been a unanimous selection, but a knee injury limited him to just 31 games. After missing his first two seasons because of recurring foot problems, Embiid was one of the NBA's top centers in those games he played, showing Hakeem Olajuwon-like moves in the low post, along with a soft shooting touch out to the 3-point line. He also was a force at the defensive end, averaging two blocks per game. But it's tough for me to vote for a guy who played less than half a season.

Since most of the top picks from the 2016 draft turned out to be disappointments, I'm going with Bucks point guard Malcolm Brogdon for ROY. Brogdon had to fight to make the team as an unheralded second-round pick out of Virginia, but his maturity and play-making ability helped get the Bucks to the playoffs after Jabari Parker was lost for the season because of a second ACL tear.

The Bucks took off late in the season after Brogdon replaced Matthew Dellavedova in the starting lineup. His stat line isn't overwhelming — 10.2 points and 4.2 assists in 26.5 minutes per game — but he's shot 45.7 percent from the field and 40.4 percent from behind the 3-point line, and his ability to run Jason Kidd's offense efficiently is one of the big reasons the Bucks got back to the playoffs.

Embiid was clearly the best first-year player in the league this season, but Brogdon gets the nod for the award over another Sixer, Dario Saric.

Sixth Man

This award could probably be renamed the Jamal Crawford Award with the way he's dominated the race in recent seasons, but the 37-year-old Crawford didn't have one of his best years, opening the door for other players.

Lou Williams continued to put up big points off the bench for the Lakers and Rockets. Andre Iguodala excelled on both ends as the leader of the Warriors' second unit. Enes Kanter proved to be a reliable low-post scorer for Oklahoma City. And former Bull James Johnson had the best season of his NBA career in Miami. But the choice here is Rockets guard Eric Gordon.

In case you forgot, the former Indiana University star was one of the league's top scorers early in his career with the Clippers. But after battling injuries during his time in New Orleans, the 28-year-old Gordon has found a home in Houston playing in Mike D'Antoni's 3-point-happy offense. Gordon averaged 16.2 points per game while shooting better than 37 percent from beyond the arc. With Harden, Gordon, Williams and Ryan Anderson on the court, the Rockets are capable of lighting up the scoreboard from 3-point range. It will be interesting to see if their run-and-gun style holds up in the playoffs. The opening-round series against Westbrook and the Thunder should be one of the most entertaining we've seen in years.

Most Improved Player

Johnson is also a contender for the Most Improved Player category, but it's hard to choose anyone besides the "Greek Freak," Giannis Antetokounmpo, coming off a historic season in Milwaukee.

Antetokounmpo is the first player in NBA history to finish in the top 20 in total points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocked shots. After Parker went out with his knee injury, Antetokounmpo turned his game up to another level and led the Bucks on a late-season run to the playoffs. He's gone from a freakishly athletic curiosity to All-NBA player in just one year.

Big men Nikola Jokic in Denver, Rudy Gobert in Utah and Hassan Whiteside in Miami have elevated their games, with Gobert and Whiteside under consideration for one of the three All-NBA teams. But the Greek Freak is the choice here after making a jump we rarely see in one season.

Defensive Player of the Year

Another award that has several worthy candidates, including two-time winner Leonard and blocked shots leader Gobert.

The choice here is Golden State's Mr. Versatility, Draymond Green. Because of the roster changes needed to facilitate the signing of Kevin Durant, Green has been asked to defend all three frontline positions, and he's responded with excellence in the post and on the perimeter.

Golden State's small-ball lineups normally include Green playing center, and he's able to contain players that are often half a foot taller. Plus Green is capable of going out on the perimeter to contest players like James, Leonard, Butler and Paul George.

With all the attention given to the Warriors' 3-point shooting, they're also among the league's best defensive teams, and the key to that is Green's versatility.

Coach of the Year

Has any coach done more with the available talent on the roster than Miami's Eric Spoelstra? After losing Wade to free agency and Chris Bosh to blood clot issues, Spoelstra was given a roster loaded with veterans on one year make-good contracts to preserve maximum flexibility for 2017 free agency.

Spoelstra managed to turn a motley crew that included Dion Waiters, Wayne Ellington, Johnson and Willie Reed into an effective unit, bouncing back from an 11-30 start to make a run at the playoffs and finish the season at 41-41. Not many people gave Spoelstra credit when the Big Three of James, Wade and Bosh made it to four straight Finals and won a pair of NBA titles, but it's pretty obvious this guy is one of the league's elite coaches.

He's my choice for Coach of the Year, with Mike D'Antoni a close second.

Executive of the Year

The Houston Rockets' rise from a .500 team a year ago to the No. 3 seed in a talented Western Conference has been one of the league's most interesting stories.

D'Antoni deserves a lot of the credit for proving his fast-paced offense still works after failed stints with the Knicks and Lakers, but it's also clear a team has to have the right personnel for the coach's style to be effective. That's where Rockets general manager Daryl Morey fits in.

Morey made a pair of under-the-radar free agent signings last summer, bringing in both Gordon and Anderson to play off the penetrating ability of new point guard Harden. Morey also signed Nene to back up young center Clint Capela, and he made one of the best trades at the deadline, getting Williams to provide more 3-point firepower with the second unit.

Honorable mention to the Warriors' Bob Myers for doing the salary-cap magic to add Durant to the best team in basketball and to LeBron James for ordering David Griffin to bring in the bench help he demanded in the form of trade/buyout guys like Kyle Korver, Deron Williams, Derrick Williams and Larry Sanders. But my choice for Executive of the Year is Morey.

Could star-crossed Derrick Rose be ready to call it quits?

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AP

Could star-crossed Derrick Rose be ready to call it quits?

I'll never forget watching the reaction of Derrick Rose after he found out his hometown Bulls had won the rights to draft first overall in the 2008 lottery. Rose was smiling from ear to ear as he imagined the possibilities of leading the team he rooted for growing up back to greatness. And, the fact the Bulls faced such long odds to win the top pick made the news even sweeter for the soft-spoken teenager from Simeon high school.

Rose took the NBA by storm, turning in the kind of highlight reel plays Bulls fans hadn't seen since the Jordan era. He was named Rookie of the Year and matched a record set by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar by scoring 36 points in his very first playoff game against the Celtics. The future couldn't look brighter for Chicago's hometown hero.

Rose really took off in his first season playing for Tom Thibodeau, averaging 25 points a game while leading the Bulls to a league-best 62-20 record, in the process becoming the youngest MVP in NBA history. The Bulls lost to Miami in the Eastern Conference Finals, but it appeared only a matter of time before Rose brought NBA championship to the city of Chicago.

But then came that fateful Saturday afternoon in April of 2012 when Rose ruptured his left ACL playing the meaningless final minutes of the Bulls' playoff opening win over Philadelphia. The Bulls would go on to lose that series while Rose headed off to a long and frightening rehab. The wunderkind suddenly robbed of his amazing gifts with one fateful misstep.

Rose sat out the entire 2012-13 season, drawing criticism from many fans and some media members who expected Rose to return after the mid-season All-Star break. Eleven games into the 2013-14 season, Rose was hurt again, this time with a season-ending right meniscus tear. Forget the flashy Adidas marketing campaign about Rose coming back better than ever, we would never see the explosive league MVP again.

Only Rose, his family and his trusted friends know the extent of the frustration that Derrick went through as he tried to prove to all the doubters he could still be one of the league's best players. Rose grew more combative with the media when questioned about trying to reshape his game given the new physical limitations. He would have one more knee surgery while a member of the Bulls, missing about six weeks in the 2014-15 season following another right meniscus tear.

Rose had one more heroic moment in a Bulls' uniform, banking in a three-point heave to give the Bulls a 2-1 series lead over LeBron James and the Cavs in the 2015 playoffs, but Cleveland would go on to sweep the next three games of the series, ending Rose's last chance to lead his hometown team to a championship.

Rose was traded to the Knicks in June of 2016 after the Bulls failed to make the playoffs, but after having a productive 2016-17 campaign in New York, Rose would suffer yet another knee injury, leading to another summer of rehab and doubt.

After talking openly with reporters about getting a shot at signing another max contract in September of 2015, two years before he would hit free agency, Rose could only land a veteran's minimum deal to hop on board with LeBron and the Cavs this season. He played fairly well in seven games, averaging 14.3 points on 47 percent shooting from the field, but then an injury sidelined him again, this time an ankle sprain.

Which brings us to Friday's bombshell that Rose was leaving the team to "re-evaluate his future in the NBA." Would the self-described "hooper" actually pull the plug on his NBA career at the age of 29? It seems like all the years of injuries, rehab and reduced effectiveness have taken a substantial physical and emotional toll.

In Rose's mind, he's still one of the league's elite players and should be held in the same regard as LeBron, KD, Steph, Russ and James Harden. Problem is, his body has already betrayed him, and the stat sheets that continually show more turnovers than assists are becoming too difficult to ignore.

Maybe some time away from the daily grind will convince Derrick he still loves the game and wants to get back with the Cavs to play whatever role is needed for a team with an excellent chance to get back to the Finals next June. Or maybe being with his son and family members during the holiday season will convince him that the cycle of injury and rehab is something he just doesn't want to endure anymore, even at the price of giving up the $80 million remaining on his shoe contract with Adidas.

Cavs coach Ty Lue says he's confident Rose will return to the team after some time away, and LeBron has been vocal in his support of Rose trying to re-establish his identity with a championship contender. My best guess is Rose will play again for the Cavs this season, but whether he wants to continue down the road of many injured stars, moving from city to city on minimum contracts, just might not be worth it anymore.

Another wild twist in the Derrick Rose saga

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USA TODAY

Another wild twist in the Derrick Rose saga

We may have seen the last of Derrick Rose on a basketball court. 

According to ESPN's Dave McMenamin and Adrian Wojnarowski, the point guard, who's currently recovering from ankle injury, is away from the Cavaliers organization and contemplating his future in basketball: 

The news may come as a shock considering Rose is still only 29 years old, but the Chicago native has experienced triumphant highs and depressing lows like few others in league history. Undoubtedly, that's taken a toll. 

From youngest MVP in league history to injury-prone backup, the former No. 1 pick of the Bulls has seen it all in his nine-year career. And just last season in New York, his passion for the game was called into question after missing a game without informing coaches, players or staff to attend to a family issue. 

He decided to team up with LeBron James in Cleveland last offseason -- a move that nobody could have predicted five years ago -- on a veteran's minimum contract, and averaged 14.3 points before, you guessed it, being forced to sit with injury. 

Fred Hoiberg, who coached Rose for one season in Chicago, weighed in before Friday's Bulls-Warriors game: 

If Rose ultimately decides to step away for good, eerie parallels can be drawn to Doug Collins' NBA stint. Collins didn't have quite the upside Rose had, but he was a three-time All-Star before foot and knee injuries cut his career short at, yes, also 29. 

It's another sad twist in the Derrick Rose Story. He may be the greatest 'What if' in NBA history.