NBA preseason primer: Offseason losers


NBA preseason primer: Offseason losers

Leading up to Bulls media day on Sept. 28, Bulls Insider Vincent Goodwill and Mark Strotman will preview the upcoming NBA season with daily features on everything related to the Association. Today the pair analyze which teams "lost" the offseason with a combination of free-agent signings, trades and/or draft picks.

Mark Strotman: This is tough for me to admit as a Marquette graduate who covered him during my time at school, but for the life of me I can't figure out why a smart Dallas front office would sign Wesley Matthews to a four-year, $70 million deal. If he had stayed healthy I would have loved the signing; Matthews, 28, was enjoying a career year before blowing out his Achilles heel in March, ending his season abruptly. When looking at similar players' deals this offseason - Danny Green (4 years, $40 million), Monta Ellis (4 years, $44 million) and Lou Williams (3 years, $21 million) - Matthews' money looks far too steep for a guy who may never fully recover.

The DeAndre Jordan fiasco wasn't really Dallas' fault, but the reality is they now swap Tyson Chandler (Suns) with some combo of Zaza Pachulia/Sam Dalembert/JaVale McGee at center. I actually liked the safe Deron Williams signing (two years, $10 million) but in the ultra-competitive Western Conference the moves simply aren't going to be enough to make them legitimate contenders, if a playoff team at all. Mark Cuban was right that Jordan could have changed the outlook of the franchise; his 180 to the Clippers and the Matthews signing make that outlook grim. Sidenote: The Justin Anderson draft selection was a great one. At least they'll have that to look forward to in the post-Dirk era.

Vincent Goodwill: Ironically, Matthews was speculated by some to be a target of the Bulls this offseason, perhaps believing he wouldn’t sign a long-term deal until he was fully healthy. But the DeAndre Jordan fiasco made Matthews a beneficiary of Mark Cuban’s generosity. And even after all that, the Mavericks didn’t have the absolute worst offseason. They’ll get what’s left of the shell of Deron Williams, the best point guard they’ve had since an aging Jason Kidd helped them to the 2011 title.

That would be our friends in the Pacific Northwest would be the squad with the worst summer, the team whose second-biggest loss was Matthews. The Portland Trailblazers probably weren’t going to contend for a championship, as good as they were with a core led by LaMarcus Aldridge, Damian Lillard and Matthews But now they’re going to join the lottery-bound teams in the West, looking up to all the giants after losing Aldridge, Matthews, Arron Afflalo and Nic Batum over the summer. They brought in Al-Farouq Aminu and Gerald Henderon as space-fillers, but making the playoffs is a pipe dream.

They have Lillard, but being the undisputed No. 1 guy making super max money on a team going nowhere is sure to make him miserable…until the 1st and 15th.

MS: I suppose Dallas didn't have the worst offseason, but what it could have been and the return value they received post Emoji-gate was a punch to the gut. Another team that took one on the chin was the Los Angeles Lakers. LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Love, (for a short time) Marc Gasol and even Greg Monroe were all potential options, and that tasty prospect of Jimmy Butler not taking an extension with the Bulls to become a free agent in 2016 and join the Lakers seemed plausible thanks to his relationship with Marky Mark. Instead, Mitch Kupchak signed the aforementioned Williams and Brandon Bass, and traded for Roy Hibbert. In a vacuum this wouldn't seem like an awful offseason...

...But remember, the Lakers will lose their first-round pick if it's outside of the top three next season. With their additions and a (hopefully) healthy Kobe Bryant and Julius Randle returning, the Lakers won't be as bad as they were last year when they won 21 games and lucked into the second overall pick. I project them to top 30 wins this year, meaning they'll be handing that first-round pick over to Philadelphia (through Phoenix), really crippling their rebuilding efforts in the short-term. Also, I wasn't thrilled with them selecting D'Angelo Russell over Jahlil Okafor. I know you've got your reservations about Okafor's defense at the next level, but that kind of offensive skill set shouldn't have fallen to third overall. Plus, point guard Jordan Clarkson showed some real potential in the season's second half - nothing serious enough to consider him the team's future at the position, but just another reason Okafor should have been the pick. The Lakers made due with what the offseason handed them, but like the Mavericks it could have been a whole let better. Now they pray for Russell Westbrook in 2017.

VG: I think the Lakers were in an obvious catch-22, when you consider all the factors starting with an aging but expensive Kobe Bryant. Signing him to that deal which is now viewed as an albatross may hurt the Lakers in the short term because it’s more about “what you’ve done before” as opposed to current value, but his importance to the somewhat-tarnished Laker brand is undeniable. The franchise needed to have someone to hold up as an example for what it does for its own as a show of loyalty, and count this writer as someone who doesn’t criticize that organization for its particular set of circumstances.

Okafor is a borderline franchise big man in a league that’s moving away from being big. And seeing D’Angelo Russell in Big 10 country last season, he has star written all over him—another special circumstance of living in Los Angeles and playing for THAT franchise. But if we’re going to talk about “marquee” franchises that haven’t had the best luck in acquiring stars, the New York Knicks are the best place to start, because at least the Lakers have won titles in the last 40 years.

The Knicks also missed out on Aldridge, Monroe, Love and Gasol, with those players often using the Knicks’ interest to set the market for other teams to inevitably match. And although the drafting of Kristaps Porzingis may produce dividends in the long run, they have Carmelo Anthony making max money in the short term, with former Bulls coach Phil Jackson trying this executive thing out for the first time in his career. Jackson, a self-promoter in his own right, doesn’t want players coming to the Knicks for the money, although it’s clear the $12 million annual salary he’s commanding is the only reason he signed up for this mess. And it doesn’t look like he has any grand plan of getting this franchise out of it, after signing Arron Afflalo and Robin Lopez to free agent deals—names who won’t make the marquee at MSU, let alone MSG.

Expect another long season at the Garden, and another year full of laughs against the laughingstock of the league.

Previous previews

- Offseason winners

Lauri Markkanen nearly 'Finnishes' in Skills Challenge against former Bull Spencer Dinwiddie


Lauri Markkanen nearly 'Finnishes' in Skills Challenge against former Bull Spencer Dinwiddie

Los Angeles—Lauri Markkanen called himself “The Finnisher” when asked what the movie of his life would be called.

Apparently, that moniker didn’t apply to the All-Star Skills challenge as he took down the best big men but couldn’t close against a former Bull, Spencer Dinwiddie, in the final.

The contest highlights players’ ability to dribble around cones shaped like NBA logos, throwing a chest pass into a net while having to complete a layup and then 3-pointer before their opponent does.

Markkanen took down Detroit’s Andre Drummond and Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid before facing off with Dinwiddie. He held a pose after hitting a triple to beat the uber confident Embiid, in what will likely be used as a memorable gif following the weekend.

His confidence doesn’t come across as blatantly as Embiid’s, but that snapshot shows he’s no humble star in the making. He didn’t even practice for the contest, by his own admission.

“I heard some of the guys did,” Markkanen said. “I didn’t do much, just before the competition, I did a little warm-up.”

Missing on the first pass attempt into the circular net in the final, it gave Dinwiddie the advantage he wouldn’t relinquish, hitting on his second 3-point attempt before Markkanen could make it downcourt to contest.

“It’s a lot harder than I’ve seen,” Markkanen said. “I thought it was gonna be super easy but it was kind of tough. Maybe I need to hold my follow through (on the pass).”

“I saw he missed (the first shot) and I started going. I thought he would’ve missed it too. I think I would’ve gotten it on the third shot.”

Being one of the multi-dimensional big men in today’s game who can be adept on the perimeter as well as the interior, it almost seems like the contest was made for Markkanen. Although he doesn’t do much handling in Fred Hoiberg’s offense, it’s clearly a skill he will develop as time goes on.

The last two winners of the skills challenge were Karl-Anthony Towns and Kristaps Porzingis, and Markkanen was well aware of the recent trend.

“The last two years the bigs have won,” Markkanen said. “I’m kind of pissed that I couldn’t keep the streak going after (those two). I think there’s a lot of guys who can do that now, it’s why they changed the format to bigs versus smalls.”

For Dinwiddie, who was discarded by the Bulls last season after a promising start in the preseason so they could pick up R.J. Hunter, he’s taken advantage of an opportunity with Brooklyn.

“I think for Chicago it was just another series of unfortunate events,” he said. “They were in win-now mode. I was an unproven guard on a non-guaranteed contract and they felt Michael Carter-Williams gave them a better shot to win.”

Michael Jordan's Greatest Moments: 5-1

Michael Jordan's Greatest Moments: 5-1

This is part of a four-part series looking back at the historic career of Michael Jordan and the legacy he left on the game of basketball. It all leads up to Saturday when we unveil his top 5 moments on his 55th birthday. Here are 55-4544-23, and 22-6.

5. Jordan wins fourth title and finishes greatest individual season ever, June 16, 1996

It’s hard to comprehend just how much Jordan accomplished during the 1995-96 season. We’ll try:He won his fourth championship, was named NBA Finals MVP for a record fourth time, won All-Star Game MVP, won a record 72 games, was named to the NBA All-Defensive First Team, was the league’s leading scorer and became the Bulls’ all-time leader in games played. So when he dropped a casual 22 points in Game 6, it marked the end of one of the greatest seasons in NBA history. Oh, and Space Jam came out a few months later.
4. Jordan hits six triples, scores 35 points in first half against Blazers, June 3, 1992

During the 1991-92 regular season, Jordan never made more than three 3-pointers in a single game. In fact, the most 3-pointers he had in any two-game stretch that year was four. So when he began burying triple after triple in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, even Jordan couldn’t believe it, giving a shrug toward the NBC announcers as if to say, “I don’t know, either.” Jordan finished the first half with six triples and scored an NBA-record 35 points. The Bulls cruised in the second half, so Jordan finished with only 39, but his shrug remains one of the most iconic NBA Finals moments in history.
3. Jordan battles the flu, scores 38 in Game 5 on his way to fifth title, June 11, 1997

The Flu Game. Jordan was battling a nasty illness in the lead-up to a pivotal Game 5 in Utah, and there were concerns about whether he would even suit up. Hours before tip Jordan got out of bed and made his way to the arena, looking to halt Utah’s momentum after it had taken Games 3 and 4 to tie the series. The Jazz came out red-hot while Jordan looked sluggish, but he responded with 17 points in the second quarter alone to give the Bulls a halftime lead. Jordan then keyed a 10-0 run in the fourth quarter to erase a Jazz lead, and he hit a 3-pointer with 25 seconds left to give the Bulls a three-point lead. The Bulls hung on, and Jordan collapsed into Scottie Pippen’s arms walking off the floor. His final line? 38 points, 13 of 27 shooting, 7 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals. Two days later the Bulls won the title in front of a sellout Chicago crowd.

2. Jordan scores 63 points against Celtics in playoff loss, April 20, 1986

Jordan had just turned 23 years old when he took to the Boston Garden floor to face Larry Bird in his prime and the Celtics. These Celtics had gone 40-1 at home, led the NBA in field goal percentage defense, started FOUR future Hall of Famers and had a fifth come off the bench. They would ultimately go down as one of the all-time greatest teams, and Jordan made them look absolutely silly. He played 50 minutes in the double-overtime thriller, shooting 22 of 41 from the field and making 19 of 21 free throws, including the last two with no time on the clock and the Bulls trailing by two at the end of regulation. He scored 54 in regulation, added five in the first overtime and four in the second. He also led the Bulls with six assists. It still stands as the NBA record for most points in any playoff game. Twenty-three years old. Twenty. Three.

1. Jordan scores 45 in final game with the Bulls, securing sixth championship, June 14, 1998

Jordan’s final game with the Bulls was iconic. Like so many of these moments, die hards know exactly where they were. The 45 points were majestic, and while he only had one rebound and one assist he affected just about every possession on both ends. But what we’ll remember most is the final 37 seconds. Jordan drove to the basket for layup that cut Utah’s lead to one, then stripped Karl Malone from behind on the next trip down. That gave the ball back to the Bulls with 20 seconds left. Jordan let the clock tick down to around 9 seconds before making his move from the left wing, driving right on Bryon Russell, (maybe pushing off) and pulling up for a jumper at the foul line. The shot was good with 5.2 seconds remaining, and John Stockton’s ensuing 3-pointer was off the mark. It gave Jordan and the Bulls their sixth NBA title, and marked the perfect ending to his Bulls career: getting it done on both ends, in the clutch, and finishing with a victory. Because it encapsulated so much of his 14-year career in Chicago, it’s our top Michael Jordan moment.