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NBA lockout: Doomsday or a happy ending?

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NBA lockout: Doomsday or a happy ending?

Friday, Sept. 16, 2011Posted: 4:56 p.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com Bulls Insider Follow @CSNBullsInsider
From NBPA president Derek Fisher's letter to his constituents to NFLPA union chief DeMaurice Smith's presence in Las Vegas -- where several NBA players have congregated for Impact Basketball's Competitive Training Series -- and even reports of the league's owners not being completely unified (the issues of revenue sharing and willingness to miss an entire season are supposedly the divides) at both Tuesday's negotiating session in New York and the subsequent Board of Governors meeting in Dallas, one could glean that significant developments favoring the players are occurring on the lockout front. On the other hand, multiple reports of agents pushing for the union to decertify -- a tactic used by the NFLPA, but something the aforementioned Smith downplayed as a road to success -- and signs of dissatisfaction from various players can be interpreted as bad signs for the "millionaires" (players) in their fight against their "billionaire" counterparts (owners).

Due to the "gag order" that's been mostly adhered to by the union and league, it's hard to know which way, if any, the tide is turning in the ongoing NBA lockout. However, it's clear that although there's continued to be a trickle of players signing contracts to play abroad -- for example, veteran Nuggets guard J.R. Smith, a free agent, reportedly inked a deal to play in China with no "out clause" -- the anticipated mass exodus of players overseas (Jazz All-Star point guard Deron Williams, who has already started to play in Turkey, remains the lone true superstar to cross the waters) hasn't happened as of yet.

At the same time, how much leverage the union would gain from players plying their trade in far-off destinations for a fraction of what they make in the NBA is dubious, as is the idea that participating in the "lockout league" in Vegas (or the one former NBA player and coach John Lucas has proposed for Houston) or star-powered exhibition games would pose a threat to the owners. But what's clear is that both sides have dug in their heels for a battle that could potentially jeopardize the entire season, a reality that's beginning to sink in, despite recent reports of optimism.

Not to say that any of my peers would stretch the truth in order to get a scoop, but without being in the actual meetings and having to rely on translating the posturing rhetoric from Fisher, NBA commissioner David Stern, NBPA chief Billy Hunter and others, even information from the most well-placed sources are subject to scrutiny. Besides the fans, the people who are truly affected by this lockout are those who don't make millions or billions -- whether they're minimum-contract veterans who have to make a decision on the behalf of their families, team employees who have been laid off, draft picks who haven't yet collected a professional salary or people whose livelihood depend on the game, like arena security guards, concession-stand workers and in some cases, even media.

Their plight is unfortunately secondary in this drama, but without fervently arguing a case for either side (the expired CBA clearly favors the players, but while the owners did agree to it and the players have a right to want to keep the system the same, they'll likely have to concede more than a small percentage of their split of basketball-related income, something they reportedly proposed recently, for this ordeal to end, although the owners must come to their own conclusion regarding revenue sharing first), it seems that it might take their own examples of hardship to get somebody to crack. Maybe it's a group of players admitting they're not financially prepared to go a season without pay after overseas opportunities dry up or the owner of a profitable franchise finally having their fill of a dispute that puts a cramp in their style (and team's earning potential, such as Micky Arison's star-studded Heat, James Dolan's resurgent Knicks, Jerry Buss' perennial power Lakers, even Donald Sterling's Clippers, led by Rookie of the Year Blake Griffin and yes, Jerry Reinsdorf's Bulls, back in the NBA's upper echelon behind reigning league MVP Derrick Rose; like politics, owners have been categorized as "hawks" and "doves") that puts a chink in the armor of one party or another.

What are your thoughts on the situation? Do you see the season starting on time or an entire year without the NBA?

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.com's Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

It's Bobby's World in Bulls' lottery-improving loss to 76ers

It's Bobby's World in Bulls' lottery-improving loss to 76ers

The final 25 games was supposed to be all about the development of the Bulls’ recent acquisitions and securing a record worthy of one of the last three envelopes at the NBA Draft Lottery.

Only Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn seemed to matter, with Cameron Payne and Cristiano Felicio being the perfect window dressing for development as opposed to just saying a team is tanking.

But Bobby Portis is making a case that he isn’t to be forgotten in the big picture, that his worth is more than just being a punchline to the jokes that followed his incident with Nikola Mirotic.

The only thing Portis didn’t do right in the Bulls’ 116-115 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers was missing a point blank shot that would’ve given the Bulls an improbable and unwanted win, and it would’ve given him 40 points.

Instead he had to settle for a career-high 38 as Joel Embiid was bearing down on Portis when he caught a diagonal pass from Dunn with 1.1 seconds left, having the shorter T.J. McConnell on him and taking a power dribble to gather himself.

“If I could go back I would’ve just went up the first time off the glass like I always do,” Portis said. “We just have to try to close out games better.”

Embiid showed he’s worth all the trouble with his health problems, scoring 30 with 13 rebounds and five rebounds while Ben Simmons put up 32 with 11 assists and seven rebounds as the 76ers improved to 31-25, good enough for seventh place in the East.

In a game that featured remarkable resolve from a purposely undermanned Bulls team as they sat Robin Lopez and Justin Holiday, they put themselves in position to win after trailing by 18 early. After leading by five courtesy of a LaVine walk-down triple with 1:02 left, they made a couple critical errors that allowed the 76ers to steal a game the Bulls won’t mind them taking at the end of 82.

Denzel Valentine’s inbounds pass with 5.9 seconds left was intended for LaVine, but Embiid stepped in front for a steal as they were in position to make it a free-throw game the rest of the way.

Similar to the Bulls’ unlikely win over the Orlando Magic before the All-Star break, they returned the favor as 76ers rookie Ben Simmons made free throws after the steal to give the visitors a one-point lead, setting the stage for the final play.

If learning lessons is what the last 100 quarters of basketball is supposed to be about, the Bulls got a big-time lesson in a game that ultimately means nothing.

“These are learning opportunities for our team,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “I couldn’t be happier, the way we went out and competed. We dug ourselves an 18-point hold and (fought) our way back—have complete control of the game.”

Control was wrestled from the 76ers by Portis’ able and quick hands. Taking more of a scoring posture since Mirotic’s departure, Portis has never been shy about being aggressive.

But now he’s being encouraged in that department, playing a big part in the Bulls’ tying their franchise record of 18 triples with six of his own, scoring 21 in the first half and not backing down one step from the massive Embiid.

“I kind of struggled from (three) in the last six, seven games,” said Portis, who didn’t take much time off during the All-Star break. “I think I’ve shown this entire year, trying to stay consistent and be a spark off the bench.”

Counting the last two games before the break, Portis has been on the best scoring binge of his career—cementing his place in the league when just a few months ago, many were questioning if the Bulls should’ve actually picked up his player option following the Mirotic incident.

His 25.0 points in the last three, along with scoring in double figures for seven straight games are career-bests. With every flex, every energetic plea to the crowd and resourceful score underneath the rim, Portis is becoming a player the Bulls can’t afford to plan without.

The stage was set for a Portis breakout shortly after the incident, when he was serving his suspension to start the season. When the Bulls traveled to Miami and Orlando, he flew on his own to Orlando for dinner with his mentor, former NBA veteran and Magic assistant coach Corliss Williamson.

Williamson, a player who was not to be trifled with during his career, told Portis essentially, “this too shall pass”.

“Just play your game,” Williamson told NBCSportsChicago.com recently. “Don’t put any pressure on yourself about what’s gonna happen after this year. What’s got him here is hard work, how hard he plays in the game. He continues to do that, he’ll be successful.”

Portis recalled the dinner where he was finally able to confide and unleash after weeks of frustration. Calling Williamson a father figure dating back to their Arkansas roots, where Portis played on Williamson’s AAU teams in middle school, Portis put his trust in him and came back reinvigorated.

“We talked for hours about the whole situation,” Portis told NBCSportsChicago.com “He told me when I come back to come 10 times harder. When people play this game and play the right way, they forget about the other stuff. That’s what I’m trying to do.”

Scoring 38 tends to remake a narrative.

“Bobby just continues to improve,” Hoiberg said. “He’s a confident kid that goes out and plays with a ton of swagger and toughness. You need that, to go out and play with that type of effort. He’s tenacious on the glass. He’s getting the crowd into the game.”

When speaking of Portis, Hoiberg’s face went from flush to beaming, knowing how far Portis has come in his three years—being a player who wouldn’t take 3-pointers with confidence to now unleashing them whenever a defender’s feet shows the slightest hint of leaning back.

No hesitation.

“Regardless if I’m making shots, I try to leave it all out on the floor,” Portis said. “It felt good making shots, being able to help the team. I wanted the win tonight.”

Portis helped make up for the Bulls not getting their usual production from Dunn, who struggled guarding the bigger Simmons and Lauri Markkanen, who missed all five of his 3-pointers and made just one field goal in 32 minutes.

“You can put he and Lauri together,” Hoiberg said. “It gives you two guys that can stretch the floor and space it, two guys that can rebound, two that can put it on the floor. It’s exciting to think about when Kris gets his rhythm back.”

And now, Williamson’s words have proven to be prophetic for his pupil, because if the Bulls aren’t seeing Portis as a key part of their future, there’s about 25 other teams who’ll be lining up for his services this summer.

“I told him don’t even worry about it,” Williamson said. “Let your game speak for itself. People who really know you, know what type of person you are. You start producing people will forget about it and love you for what you do on the court.”

His game is talking, even if the Bulls’ loss was one they’d rather have taken in silence.

Bulls Talk Podcast: Projecting the Bulls’ future

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USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: Projecting the Bulls’ future

In the latest edition of the Bulls Talk Podcast, Mark Schanowski, Will Perdue and Kendall Gill recap the Bulls’ 116-115 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, look at the continued growth of Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn, and discuss if Bobby Portis is part of the Bulls’ long term future.

They also check in on LeBron James and the new-look Cleveland Cavaliers, discuss whether or not the Golden State Warriors can make another title run and the latest on the status of San Antonio Spurs guard Kawhi Leonard. The guys also discuss how Oklahoma guard Trae Young could look in a Bulls uniform if he’s available for them in the draft.

Listen to the full episode at this link (iOS users can go here) or in the embedded player below. Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts.