How will Cam Payne remember the Cam Payne Game? 'I felt like it was the ocean'

How will Cam Payne remember the Cam Payne Game? 'I felt like it was the ocean'

Cam Payne was headed for another ugly game and more criticism.

The point guard, starting in place of the injured Kris Dunn, had missed both of his first-half attempts and had one more assist (three) than turnovers (two) in 12 quiet minutes. He was an ugly -11 while the Bulls were hanging around at home against the Hornets in part because of his backup, Ryan Arcidiacono, and the second unit.

Then the second half happened. And the Cam Payne Game was born.

Payne scored a career-high 21 points, all coming on a career-best seven 3-pointers after halftime, before deferring to Zach LaVine down the stretch as the Bulls tallied their first win of the 2018-19 campaign.

"I felt like it was the ocean," Payne said after the game.

Payne's first half wasn't all that bad, given that the rest of the first group struggled as a whole - the starters were 8 of 25 at the half - and Payne was matched up against Kemba Walker, the league's second leading scorer. But Payne has become the punching bag for the Bulls' shortcomings, of which the list is long. And after a scoreless first half, and especially in one where Arcidiacono looked solid behind him, criticism was going to roll in.

But Payne put that all behind him after halftime. The buzzword with Payne from Fred Hoiberg, his teammates and even himself has been "aggressiveness." It's admittedly a cliche in basketball circles, especially for a team's point guard in today's NBA. But it's true with Payne, who played passive in road losses to Philadelphia and Dallas.

So despite the 0-for-3 start, Payne continued to shoot. Zach LaVine did most of the initiating offensively, working a pick-and-roll action with Wendell Carter Jr. that forced Walker to help weak side. That left Payne open in the corner multiple times to begin the period, and LaVine and Payne made the Hornets pay. LaVine assisted on four of Payne's five 3-pointers in the third quarter, which helped the Bulls extend their lead to as many as 11 points.

Payne sat for Arcidiacono to begin the fourth quarter, which coincided with the Hornets cutting the deficit from nine with Payne went to the bench to a one-point lead when he re-entered. But Payne again made his presence felt in an instant, connecting on his sixth 3-pointer from the left wing to put the Bulls back up a pair. Later in the period Payne stripped Nicolas Batum which led to a transition layup by LaVine that pulled the Bulls within three after a 5-0 Hornets run.

Payne then connected on his seventh triple after grabbing his own miss on a floater, dribbling back out and connecting over an out-stretched Walker. That tied the game at 105 apiece. It was also the last shot Payne attempted, as LaVine went to work down the stretch, scoring the Bulls' final six points, including two free throws with 0.5 seconds remaining.

It was a remarkable performance from the Bulls' new starting point guard, nearly matching Walker's 25 points. It was only one game, but it was a huge one for Payne's confidence. He'll start for the next 4 to 6 weeks while Dunn recovers from his MCL sprain, so to get a performance like this in a win against a quality opponent was the perfect start.

"It was a huge night for Cam, huge confidence booster," Hoiberg said. "You know, Cam works as hard as anybody on this team. It’s great to see that hard work pay off and it’s a confidence booster, something he can build on."

LaVine concurred with Hoiberg's sentiment, that Payne - despite all the criticism he's faced since being dealt for Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott two trade deadlines ago - is beginning to reap the rewards of his hard work.

"That’s what hard work is for," LaVine said. "There’s gonna be times where there’s ups and downs, people are going to be on you but you have to have trust in yourself and I trust him. He made great plays tonight."

For Payne, "it's 1-0." The Bulls will travel to Charlotte to face this same Hornets team and a Walker who likely isn't pleased he went 5-for-14 against one of the league's worst defenses. Payne will have his work cut out for him, and while he won't be asked to make seven 3-pointers every night, Wednesday was a step in the right direction when both he and the Bulls needed it dearly.

"It means a lot, especially in front of the fans. I'm glad we got the win. That’s really the main thing," he said. "Zach found me on that first one and it went in. Then he found me again and it went in again, so all they could say was 'keep shooting.' I did that and they kept falling for me."

How Drew Gooden thinks LeBron James can surpass Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant

How Drew Gooden thinks LeBron James can surpass Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant

Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant or LeBron James? Who is truly the greatest of the bunch?

For Bulls supporters — and, it seems, most basketball fans in the wake of “The Last Dance” — the answer is simple. Jordan, of the five MVPs, six rings (and Finals MVPs), nine scoring titles and a litany of additional accolades is without comparison.

But appearing on Lunch Talk Live with Mike Tirico, Drew Gooden, now an NBC Sports Washington analyst and a teammate of James with the Cleveland Cavaliers from 2004-2008, brought up an interesting swing variable in the debate: Phil Jackson.

“There’s one variable that we never talk about when this discussion comes up between Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James and it’s one guy that I think is the variable in this formula and it’s Phil Jackson,” Gooden said. “I mean, if you take Phil Jackson out of this equation, how many championships does Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant have?

“LeBron James is in a unique situation outside of not having a Phil Jackson, being able to have to go like a vagabond and go figure it out himself with multiple coaches, multiple organizations, multiple systems. With that being said, I think his book is a lot different than Michael Jordan’s and Kobe Bryant’s, because I feel like they had the structure with Phil Jackson most of their career and were successful with Phil Jackson.”

Indeed, James’ three titles are divided between two franchises, two with the Miami Heat, one with the Cavaliers. And he's positioned for another deep run with the top-seeded Lakers this year. Jordan and Bryant’s title-rearing years came under one coach’s tutelage, James’ two (that he actually won titles with) and counting, and he's cycled through countless rosters and team infrastructures. Some will point to that tumult being his own doing, but the point stands.

Gooden wasn’t ready to anoint James ahead of Jordan and Bryant. But he did say this season could be a pivot point.

I think this will be the tale of the tape of, OK, I’ve not only done that two times, but I’m gonna do it a third time in Los Angeles,” Gooden said. “Doesn’t matter who the coach is, doesn’t matter who my teammates are, I’m gonna provide another championship for the city of Los Angeles. 

“Now if he does that now, you’re starting to see, alright, where does he separate himself from Michael Jordan and the late Kobe Bryant.”

It won’t look conventional, but with the NBA announcing a 22-team return plan for the late summer, it seems James will get a chance.

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Thad Young on the challenges of being a father in a racially unjust world

Thad Young on the challenges of being a father in a racially unjust world

Before getting to Jim Boylen’s future, the anticlimactic end to the Bulls’ campaign and the NBA’s unprecedented 22-team play-in format to finish its 2019-20 season, Thad Young had to address the full context at hand for his conference call with reporters.

For Friday marked the 11th day since George Floyd, a black man, died after white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on his neck for nearly nine straight minutes. The killing has sparked mass unrest, protests and fervent discourse around racial injustice and police brutality across the globe. The world also continues to grapple with the new reality of the COVID-19 pandemic, which shuttered the NBA on March 11, and the rest of the United States (where the virus has killed over 100,000 and counting) soon after.

“I know we’re stuck in unprecedented times where we’re in the house during COVID and then the thing that happened with George Floyd and social injustice,” Young said before fielding questions on the call. “I just want to make sure to let everybody know that I hope everybody is safe and healthy with our families, and make sure we’re holding each and every one of us close and try to get through these tough times…”

Young, 31, is currently bunkered down in his family’s new home in Texas with his wife, Shekinah, and two sons. Parsing through the realities of a racially unjust world with his sons, to hear Young tell is, has been a balancing act.

“When they come up with a question, it’s very hard to answer that question because I don’t want them to have to grow up and fear for their lives or have to grow up and understand that they can’t do the same things that other people are doing,” Young said. “That’s one of the toughest things. You want to give your kid the world. You want to get them to understand that, ‘Hey, you can do whatever you want to do.’ In these times, it’s just not the same. You can’t do everything that somebody else is doing. 

“If I’m going to be specific about it, the black kid can’t do everything that a white kid is doing. Those are things that are very, very tough to talk about. But it’s a harsh reality and we have to talk about them. My kids are still young, six and nine. They understand certain things that are going on, but not entirely everything. 

“For me as a father, that’s probably one of the toughest conversations to ever have with your kids. They all have questions because there’s so much stuff on social media and so much stuff on YouTube, which is what all the kids are watching now. When they see a video pop up with different things that happened… My youngest son, he asked the other day, ‘Why did they kill that man, Daddy?’ It’s hard for me to answer that question because you don’t want to push him into the harsh reality of what it is. But you have to answer those tough questions and you have to have those tough conversations with your kids. It’s definitely hard. What happened is definitely saddening for me but it also scares me to death because I have two young boys.”

Sadder still because the direct onus of those difficult conversations falls on black families far more than their white counterparts. It’s a testament to how ingrained racial biases (at best) and racist practices (at worst) still are, even today.

The hope of Young, Zach LaVine, who spoke on an earlier call, and countless others calling and fighting for change, is that a new dawn is on the horizon. Whether substantive change comes to fruition remains to be seen, but Young emphasized that resolution will come through unity.

“It’s so early right now just to see if there’s going to be change. One of the things that I do see is we have some unity coming,” Young said. “We have some people who are getting together. We have these protests. People are coming out and letting their voices be heard. You have a lot of celebrities and very, very influential people who are following suit. The good thing is we have a lot of people who are speaking up for change and speaking up for freedom and peace. 

“We’re bringing more and more people together. One of the biggest things is to continue to do that. Continue to let our voices be heard. Stay together. Stay unified. And also make sure we do what’s right and steer everybody away from doing what’s wrong.”

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