Cavaliers all-in for tank after losing LeBron James for the 2nd time


Cavaliers all-in for tank after losing LeBron James for the 2nd time

Just like Michael Jordan, LeBron James probably could make a case for being voted the league’s Most Valuable Player in every year of his prime.

After all, look at what his presence meant to the Cleveland Cavaliers. He took a nondescript roster to the NBA Finals in 2007 and routinely had Cleveland among the top seeds in the Eastern Conference after that. But after James left in 2010 free agency, the Cavs quickly sunk to the bottom of the league standings, earning the No. 1 overall draft pick in three of the four post-LeBron years.

When James came back, Cleveland became an instant championship contender, going to the Finals in four-straight seasons and culminating in the 2016 Cavs winning the city’s first professional sports championship since the 1964 Browns.

Now LeBron has left his beloved northeast Ohio for a second time and Cleveland has truly embraced the tank. After losing their first six games of the season, they fired the coach who led them to their lone championship, Tyronn Lue, and replaced him with assistant coach Larry Drew.

That was followed by All-Star forward Kevin Love opting for surgery to repair a toe injury, and now two other starters, George Hill and Cedi Osman are sidelined by injuries. The result? The Cavs are 1-10 and one of the early favorites to finish with the league’s worst record, which could mean a chance to draft the guy Steve Kerr called the next LeBron, Duke freshman Zion Williamson.

Seems like it’s business as usual in Cleveland under owner Dan Gilbert.

Looking at the roster, you would think the Cavs should be a lot better. Veterans Tristan Thompson, JR Smith, Kyle Korver, Channing Frye and Hill are still around, while young players Rodney Hood, Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr. and Osman were believed to have the potential to become solid pros. Plus, the Cavs used the No. 8 overall pick acquired in the Kyrie Irving trade with Boston to select exciting, young point guard Collin Sexton, a player the Bulls seriously considered one pick earlier.

But apparently when you take away the best player in the league from Cleveland, all of the other players’ individual weaknesses become magnified. Korver and Smith aren’t getting those wide open looks anymore, and Thompson’s hustle plays don’t mean as much when the team is down by 20 points.

Sexton is intriguing with his speed and athleticism, but reportedly he’s rubbed some of the veteran players the wrong way with his ball-dominant style. Sexton is averaging 10.9 points on 42% shooting from the field, but only 2.1 assists in 24.7 minutes per game.

Cleveland re-signed restricted free agent Hood, hoping he would be ready to take a big jump starting in James’ vacated small forward spot, but Hood is only averaging 12.3 points on 43% shooting. Clarkson has been productive, averaging 15.2 points on 47% shooting, but overall the roster lacks consistency at both ends of the court.

Since Cleveland is not a destination for free agents without James around, the Cavs will be hoping for more lottery luck to find their next franchise player. Expect the front office to explore trades for Love & just about any other player on the roster in the coming months.

So, what will it take to beat this dysfunctional group Saturday night?

1. GET OFF TO A FAST START.  With everything that’s gone wrong in Cleveland over the first month of the season, the Cavs’ players don’t need much adversity to decide it’s not going to be their night. Running out to a 10 or 15 point lead in the opening quarter should allow the Bulls to dictate tempo for the rest of the game.

2. DOMINATE THE BOARDS. Thompson is still an effective energy player, and Nance Jr. will attack the offensive glass when he comes in, but if the Bulls can control their defensive board and get the ball out in transition they should be able to score at will against this dispirited Cleveland team.

3. SECONDARY SCORING.  Zach LaVine continues to deliver sensational play at the offensive end. He entered Friday’s action ranked 4th in the NBA in scoring at 27.4 points per game. LaVine should be able to get his points against Clarkson and JR Smith, but Fred Hoiberg would love to see Jabari Parker, Justin Holiday or even Antonio Blakeney emerge as a consistent secondary scoring option.

We hope you’ll join Kendall Gill, Kelly Crull and me Saturday night for Bulls Pregame Live from the United Center Atrium at 6:30 on NBC Sports Chicago and the MyTeams by NBC sports app. Then, after the game goes final, flip back to NBC Sports Chicago for the Hoiberg media session, player interviews and a whole lot more on Bulls Postgame Live.

Tom Thibodeau, Daryl Morey offer strong endorsements of Arturas Karnisovas

Tom Thibodeau, Daryl Morey offer strong endorsements of Arturas Karnisovas

The Bulls got their man, and their man is no slouch. Arturas Karnisovas, one of the more well-respected veteran executives in the NBA, is on the cusp of officially signing on to be the organization's new head of basketball operations.

The league-wide veneration for Karnivoas that has trickled out in the wake of his reported hiring is telling of his aptitude. As is the fact that, in the past four years, Karnisovas has advanced late into the interview processes for front office roles with both the Brooklyn Nets and Milwaukee Bucks, been promoted from assistant general manager to general manager of the Nuggets in 2017, and rebuked the Philadelphia 76ers when they came calling for a new general manager in 2018.

Where does that respect come from? The good news for Bulls fans is the answer to that question is multi-pronged. Since the announcement of his hiring, multiple highly-regarded ex-co-workers of Karnisovas' have come out and made their endorsements known — all for fresh reasons.

Tom Thibodeau, for one, worked with Karnisovas when USA Basketball won the gold medal at the 2014 World Cup in Spain. The former Bulls’ coach joined NBC Sports Chicago’s David Kaplan on his ESPN-AM 1000 radio show Thursday morning to discuss Karnisovas’ imminent hire to run basketball operations in Chicago.

“I think it’s a great hire for the Bulls. He’s hard working, has a lot of integrity, very pragmatic,” Thibodeau told Kaplan. “There are a lot of positive things in place there. I think he’ll add a lot to that.

“He has a great demeanor. He’s a very bright guy. I think he’ll be methodical in how he’ll analyze everything.”

Karnisovas’ connections with the international committee jump out in almost every conversation regarding the former Nuggets general manager. One of those relationships is with longtime Bulls international scout Ivica Dukan, who was instrumental along with Jerry Krause in drafting Toni Kukoc.

“As we all know, there’s a lot of talent internationally,” Thibodeau told Kaplan. “I know from my experience with Team USA, Arturas knew those players inside and out. International players were instrumental in Denver.”

Daryl Morey, the long-time general manager of the Houston Rockets and revered as a founding father of the modern front office in his own right, added his voice to that chorus in an appearance on the McNeil and Parkins Show on 670 The Score Thursday afternoon. Karnisovas got his break on the team side in Houston as an international scout, working under Morey from 2008-2012.

"Arturas is really, really great at his job," Morey told McNeil and Parkins. "He just rose through our ranks so fast, we unfortunately couldn’t keep him in Houston cause Denver had a big job for him, and now you guys have an even bigger job, and I think Bulls fans are going to be thrilled. He’s built a team from a non-contender to a contender in Denver and I think he’s got a very good chance to do that for you guys."

"He’s got a great basketball mind. He also has great judgement. And then on top of all that, he’s a great leader. So, he’s someone who, when I first got there, our international scouting was I thought a little bit behind other teams. He took it from where it was to I think one of the best in the league before he moved on to Denver."

Morey added to that endorsement descriptions of a thoughtful analyst, deft communicator and compelling salesman. All of those traits will be essential to Karnisovas as he looks to revamp the Bulls' front office and front-facing perception to players around the league. They stem from his path from decorated international player to highly-regarded executive, and should help in the recruiting process.

"I think he’s almost like the perfect combo you might want," Morey said on The Score of the weight Karnisovas puts on analytics versus his instincts as a former player. "That’s not his lead thing (analytics), but what I can tell you is what he will do — and what he did do for us — is he understands it, he knows who to hire, he knows when to use it, when not to use it. He’s very thoughtful about it. And I think over his time with us and then with Denver, who is also a very advanced team, very well run by Tim (Connelly) there. You know, he’s able to take that information, contextualize it and make great decisions with it, and that’s where you’ll see his strengths.

"He lives and breathes basketball, and I’m excited for you guys to get to know him better because he’s a great human being. He’s frankly a much better communicator and someone that people just want to be around (more) than myself, and I think that’s another real skill for him that will come to play in free agency. Players are gonna really want to work with him."

P.J. Carlesimo coached Karnisovas at Seton Hall before Karnisovas went back overseas to play professionally. He sang praises most high to Waddle & Silvy Thursday afternoon, also on ESPN-AM 1000.

"He will," Carlesimo told Waddle & Silvy when asked if Karnisovas could put the Bulls back on the map. "I think they've got somebody that understands how you build a team... He understands people maybe moreso than anything. People are going to love him when they meet him, when they hear him talk.

"I really think this is going to be a home run for the Bulls."

That should be music to Bulls' fans ears. Karnisovas' work is just getting started — and a modicum of patience should be afforded — but his track record and sterling reputation leave every indication that he's up to the task ahead.

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Sports Talk Live Podcast: Bulls make moves as they hire Arturas Karnisovas as new VP of basketball operations


Sports Talk Live Podcast: Bulls make moves as they hire Arturas Karnisovas as new VP of basketball operations

KC Johnson, Jason Goff, and Jamal Collier join Kap on the panel.

0:00 - Arturas Karnisovas is the Bulls' new Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations. The guys react to the hire that has been lauded throughout the basketball world.

7:30 - The Bulls get criticized for not interviewing any African-American candidates. 

11:00- Will Jim Boylen still be the head coach when the season resumes?

13:30- How much closer are the Bulls to being contenders with this hire?

16:00- Denver sports columnist Paul Klee from the Gazette joins Kap. He talks about Karnisovas' background and discusses why he thinks the Bulls' new Executive VP will be a big success in Chicago.

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Sports Talk Live Podcast