Bulls

Thunder GM kills rumors of Van Gundy, Jackson

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Thunder GM kills rumors of Van Gundy, Jackson

From Comcast SportsNet
NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- Former Saints linebacker Scott Fujita, a union leader with a record of criticizing the NFL's player-safety record, sees elements of a "smear campaign" in a bounty investigation that has sullied his reputation. Some NFL players agree, and question whether Fujita's three-game suspension has something to do with retribution. "I'm not saying the NFL is intentionally lying," Fujita said in an interview with The Associated Press. "I've been willing to give them the benefit of the doubt that they may have just been working with the information they've been given, even though much of that information was inaccurate and lacked credibility. "It's their cavalier interpretation of everything that's been way off. They clearly proceeded with a public smear campaign with very little regard for the truth." NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell could rule on the appeals of Fujita and the other players suspended because of their roles in the bounty program as early as Monday. Saints linebacker Scott Shanle finds it hard to ignore the symmetry of the NFL portraying Fujita as a hypocrite on player-safety matters after Fujita had done the same thing to the league. "When you look at Scott, who was here for one season (of the three spanned by the bounty probe), for him to get three games, I just felt like there had to be more of a personal issue with that," Shanle said. "When you look at how outspoken he is and a lot of the issues he tries to address, it probably doesn't sit well with the league." NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said the NFL stands by its finding that Fujita gave "more than token amounts" of money to a pool that also rewarded injury-producing hits called "cart-offs" and "knockouts." "The process gave all of the players every opportunity to raise arguments and provide any mitigating information," Aiello said. "Scott Fujita unfortunately chose not to avail himself of the process. Nothing that he has asserted in his various public statements undermines the findings of the investigation." Fujita, who now plays for Cleveland, was one of four current or former Saints suspended in the bounty probe. Two of them, Jonathan Vilma and Will Smith, still play for New Orleans. The other, Green Bay defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove, left New Orleans after 2010, while Fujita left after 2009, the first season covered by the investigation. In 2010, Fujita became a member of the NFLPA executive committee, and has since echoed comments by Congresswoman Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.) comparing the NFL's 2009 position on concussions' links to brain disease to the way the tobacco industry denied knowledge that smoking caused cancer. Fujita argued Goodell undermined his own credibility on player-safety matters when he pushed for an 18-game regular season. He called for the NFL to employ independent neurological consultants after Browns quarterback Colt McCoy was knocked out of a game, but allowed to return, despite later being diagnosed with a concussion. Browns players say Fujita challenged Goodell's answers to a range of questions including how a lockout would affect players' health coverage when the commissioner visited the team in 2010. "Scott wasn't scared to ask the tough questions that some of us wouldn't or some of us didn't even know to ask," Browns tight end Benjamin Watson said. "Scott wanted to make sure the commissioner owned up to all that stuff and ... you could tell that Mr. Goodell wasn't comfortable answering some of those questions." Former Browns linebacker Eric Barton added, "Most people in the room were like, this guy (the commissioner) is full of it and Scott just called him out, and it was almost like, Oh, Scott, you're going to be in trouble.'" After seeing evidence the NFL presented against him in last week's appeal hearing on the four players' suspensions, Fujita has more questions: -- Why has the NFL linked him to bounties in its public statements, while its disciplinary letter announcing his suspension acknowledges there is no evidence he "pledged money toward a specific bounty" on a particular player? -- Why does that same letter state he was a member of the Saints in the 2010 season, when he was with Cleveland? And what does that say about the quality of the investigation? -- If the investigation was going on for parts of three years, why did no one contact him before the league's first report in March? -- Why did Goodell twice call his personal phone after union attorneys notified the NFL they were representing Fujita, meaning Goodell was not supposed to call him without an NFLPA attorney on the line? Aiello responded that while the NFL never accused Fujita of targeting a specific opponent, his discipline letter clearly stated "that he contributed a significant sum to the general pool that included payments for nonspecific bounties in the form of cart-offs' and knockouts.'" Fujita was not contacted about the probe earlier, Aiello said, because the league was unable to identify specific players and their roles in the program until late in 2011. "Every individual that was eventually disciplined was invited to speak to our office prior to any decision on discipline," Aiello said. "None of the players, including Mr. Fujita, agreed to be interviewed during the process." Aiello added that Goodell's calls to Fujita were in response to calls Fujita had placed to Goodell, but the NFLPA said Goodell should not have been making personal calls to players facing punishment at that point. "It's inappropriate. It is completely outside legal conduct rules," NFLPA lawyer Heather McPhee said. "You cannot directly contact a represented party when you know a party's represented and it's especially odd in this case when Roger purports to be the judge. Picture a judge getting on the phone with a defendant or a suspect." After the second call, McPhee emailed NFL counsel Jeff Pash and Goodell, saying Fujita would be happy to talk with Goodell with counsel present, but there was no further communication, and Fujita learned days later he'd been suspended. Fujita said his only chance to speak with Goodell directly came in early March after the release of the initial bounty report, which did not identify players, although Fujita's name had been leaked. Fujita said he called Goodell to explain locker room culture as it relates to tough talk and informal performance incentives, and how it could be misconstrued. He said Goodell told him then that "he would have no problem coming down hard on Saints coaches, but that when it comes to players, he's not quite sure what he's got." Fujita acknowledges he offered teammates cash for big plays, mainly because "that's the way it was done when I was a young player and I kind of looked at that as paying it forward." But Fujita contends he never contributed to team-organized pools, instead paying pledges directly to teammates. The NFL's current collective bargaining agreement applies only to pools organized by team officials, like the one former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has apologized for running. According to a transcript AP obtained from the appeal hearing, NFL outside counsel Mary Jo White described an unnamed coach and another witness saying Fujita pledged unspecified sums of cash for "big plays" during the 2009-10 playoffs. The NFL also presented printed reproductions of handwritten notes, which White said show Fujita pledging 1,000 to a pool for sacks and forced fumbles during the regular season, and 2,000 during the playoffs to a "general pool," which she said in part paid for injury-inducing plays. The note indicated safety Roman Harper, who was not punished, pledged 5,000 to the general pool, and that assistant head coach Joe Vitt pledged 5,000 to knock then-Minnesota quarterback Brett Favre out of the NFC title game. Hoping to protect those who helped their investigation, the NFL did not present the original notes or identify who wrote them. "We don't know who wrote the note. We haven't seen original, and the fact that Joe Vitt's name is on it proves how bogus it is," Fujita said. "No way he ever contributed not even 100 for anything. It's not his style." Vitt has said the part of the document showing his pledge is false, which he said raises questions about all of the evidence. However the bounty saga winds up, Fujita said he has no regrets about his aggressive tactics as a union leader. "I've had a few concussions myself. I have a dear friend (former Saints player Steve Gleason) who has ALS. I have a friend and former mentor (Lew Bush) who died earlier this year. Then there was the tragic death of someone I've admired for so long, Junior Seau," Fujita said. "I can't say for sure that all of these things happened because of football, but I've seen enough to have some concerns. I was elected to fight for these men, so in no way do I regret that."

Observations from Bulls' blowout loss to Warriors: Curry, Bell, records and a road-weary Markkanen

Observations from Bulls' blowout loss to Warriors: Curry, Bell, records and a road-weary Markkanen

Don’t tug on Curry’s cape: There’s an old saying in the NBA: “Send a limo for (insert player here) to the game tonight. I want to make sure he arrives safely.”

Translation: I’m gonna light him up tonight.

That’s what two-time MVP Stephen Curry did to Kris Dunn in the second quarter Friday, when a slim lead turned into a huge, expected deficit for the Bulls. Curry scored 26 of his game-high 33 points in the quarter, complete with heat checks and celebratory struts that have become commonplace with Curry’s performances.

Whether it was backdoor layups or 30-footers, Curry made Oracle Arena his playground—and Dunn his victim in what could best be described as an old-school baptism Dunn isn’t sure to forget.

Dunn likely set off Curry’s ire with Curry drawing two quick fouls in the first quarter and some aggressive physical defense that is traditionally the book on Curry, if there is such a book.

But when Curry returned in the second quarter, he took advantage of the ultimate green light as All-Star teammates Kevin Durant and Draymond Green were out. He performed his theatrics with relative ease, hitting four of 11 triples and shooting 10 of 18 overall in just 27 minutes of work.

It wasn’t just Curry, as Klay Thompson was even more efficient, scoring 29 on 12 of 17 shootng and hitting five of his nine triples. Nick Young was seven of 12 in 19 minutes for 17 points as the Warriors shot 58 percent and committed just 11 turnovers.

Curry, who can give them away at times, only had two turnovers and it helped lead to an easy win.

“You try to make it a little more difficult,” Dunn said. “He’s a phenomenal shooter, everybody knows that. Once he gets on a roll like that it’s hard but you’ve just got to make it difficult for him.”

Had it been necessary, Curry could’ve gone for a 60-point performance, having 31 at the half. Dunn, enduring a night he won’t sure forget, scored six points with four assists on two of 11 shooting in 25 minutes.

“The turnovers, the lack of awareness,” Hoiberg said. “It is hopefully something he’ll grow from and learn from and find a way to fight through when he’s not playing well. Absolutely. You learn form the good things, learn from the bad things. There’s plenty of bad we can learn from tonight.”

The great ones go through baptisms, especially the point guards considering they’re on an island in this talent-rich stretch of the NBA. Dunn has a chance to be special on defense as he progresses through the years, but if Friday was any lesson, being able to give it back is probably the best remedy—because just taking his medicine can’t feel good.

The Bell rung

Whether it was a bored championship team finding an easy way to motivate itself or wanting to troll the Bulls for sport, the Warriors found an easy storyline to exploit in the insertion of rookie Jordan Bell.

It’s easy to remember the Bulls drafted Bell in the second round for the Warriors in exchange for $3.5 million to go into the Bulls coffers the night they decided to go with a full-scale rebuild.

Bell was rewarded with a start after inconsistent playing time in the absence of Green and made his presence felt from the moment his name was called in the introductions, with a “money sign” as a way to remind the team that drafted him of what it was missing.

"I just wanted to see how cash considerations was playing over there,” he said after the game.

He then proceeded to give the Bulls nightmares all over the floor with his athleticism and shot-blocking, swatting away six shots—including a chasedown block of Denzel Valentine everyone in Oracle Arena could see coming from the moment Valentine started his ground-bound trot downcourt.

It was likely something he’d been envisioning since Warriors coach Steve Kerr told Bell he would be starting two days ago.

“At first I was thinking of things to troll the other team but as I got closer to the game, I was like let me focus on the game,” Bell said. “Then when I saw we won the game, I started trolling a little bit.”

Before the trolling, there was the teasing in the form of production. The eye-popping alley-oop from Zaza Pachulia and even the wild play of fouling Justin Holiday on a corner jumper that almost looked violent.

He was clearly pumped for the opportunity to play against a team that didn’t give him a second thought and his veteran teammates took every opportunity to press his buttons.

“I remember Klay said something, like they don’t want you JB,” he said. “Everybody kept reminding me of it today.”

And it will be a topic of conversation for the immediate future, especially as the Bulls are in the search for young, athletic talent they can build around.

One for the books

The 49-point drubbing was third-worst in franchise history and the Bulls are now the owners of the NBA’s worst record at 3-14, along with having the worst point differential at -12.9 points per game.

The second and third quarters were embarrassing, as the Warriors outscored the Bulls 81-34 in easy fashion. Usually in those occurrences, Hoiberg will make an opening statement to the media about the effort lacking before taking questions.

Friday was no different.

“From Day 1, going back into September, the biggest thing we talked about as a team was fighting through the tough times, handling adversity. Well…we went out and had a great start. Actually had a lead after the first quarter. They go on a run and we’ve seen this before, we put our heads down, we don’t’ fight through it, we start separating and lose trust in each other. That can’t continue to happen. We gotta find a way to battle through the tough times. Quit putting our heads down, find a way to toughen up and stay in the game.”

Hoiberg was asked what kind of effect this can have on a team if these type of beatdowns continue and he didn’t mince words—a shift of sorts from his usual straight-faced demeanor.

“Tonight, they got it going, we didn’t handle it well,” he said. “We stopped getting back. They were getting whatever they wanted. You’ve got to find a way to fight through that. If we don’t learn that soon, we’re going to keep getting our asses kicked.”

Robin Lopez said it’s a collective issue and one that needs to be fixed. Perhaps in a clear moment of self-awareness, Dunn said he can see when the Bulls stop competing.

“You can definitely see it. I think it’s the youth,” Dunn said. “We’re not used to that. In the NBA, people can put up points very quickly. It comes with the territory.”

He’s still a rookie, folks

Lauri Markkanen showed some signs of the west-coast swing getting to him in the fatigue department, struggling in his third straight game Friday.

The Bulls have made it a priority to get Markkanen better shots and cleaner opportunities but they were in short order as he was four of 16 from the field in 27 minutes.

There wasn’t much quality to go around anyways as the Bulls shot 35 percent and fell behind by as many as 49. After scoring 26 with 13 rebounds against Phoenix last Sunday, he’s averaged 10 points on nine of 42 shooting (21 percent).

“Today they didn’t fall in the second half—actually, in the first half either,” Markkanen said. “I’ve just got to work more. I’ve had a couple nights now where I don’t make shots. But I did have good looks, though, they just didn’t fall tonight.”

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks look to bounce back against Panthers

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Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks look to bounce back against Panthers

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Florida Panthers Saturday on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

(Reminder: Use #AskEdzo on social media and your questions may be answered by Eddie Olczyk, who will be in studio along with Adam Burish, Brian Campbell and Pat Boyle).

1. Another fast start coming?

The Blackhawks had one of their best starts of the season Wednesday in Tampa Bay, and the numbers favor Chicago to dictate the pace of play early again.

The Panthers are tied with the Buffalo Sabres for the fewest goals scored in the first period (13), and have taken a lead into the second period only four times (3-1-0) in 21 games. They are 2-7-1 in the 10 games they've trailed after the opening frame.

The Blackhawks, on the other hand, are tied for fourth when it comes to first-period goals (22) — albeit, five of them came on Opening Night against Pittsburgh — but they are just 4-2-2 in eight games when leading after one period. In fact, they took a 2-0 lead into the second in their most recent game against the Lightning and lost in overtime 3-2.

So while a fast start could certainly be in the cards, the finish must also be there.

2. Take advantage on special teams.

The Panthers are one of two teams ranked among the bottom six in both power play percentage (26th at 16.0) and penalty kill percentage (30th at 73.2).

Meanwhile, the Blackhawks are coming in hot in both areas. They're 6-for-17 (35.3 percent) on the man advantage in their last four games, and own the fourth-best penalty kill unit (84.8 percent).

This is the area to exploit for the Blackhawks going into the matchup, and it could decide the game.

3. Feed Lance Bouma!

In his seventh season, Bouma has faced every NHL team at least five times in his career, with the exception of Vegas (pointless in one game this season).

Bouma is not known for his offensive prowess (72 points in 325 career games), but it's a different story when he plays Florida.

In six career games against the Panthers, Bouma has one goal, six assists and a career-high plus-8 rating. That one goal also happens to be one of his six career game winners.

Florida is the only team Bouma is averaging at least a point-per-game against for his career, so you know what that means: Feed No. 17!