After years of being handcuffed by the ill-fated Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce trade that cost the Nets’ franchise several prime lottery picks, Brooklyn is starting to come out of the abyss under energetic young coach Kenny Atkinson.
The Nets’ front office was able to absorb the contracts of veteran players like DeMarre Carroll, Kenneth Faried and Darrell Arthur for draft considerations, while also picking up former #2 overall pick D’Angelo Russell by taking on the massive contract of Timofey Mozgov from the Lakers. In addition, they also traded veterans Thaddeus Young and Bojan Bogdanovic for 1st rounders that became starters Caris LeVert and Jarrett Allen.
Under Atkinson’s direction, the Nets have bought into a culture of hard work and unselfish play. They improved from 20 to 28 wins a year ago, and are currently within striking distance of the final playoff spot in the East.
LeVert is currently sidelined after dislocating his right ankle in a scary fall in early November, but he should return at some point this season. At the time of his injury, LeVert was leading the Nets in scoring at 18.4 points per game while shooting nearly 48% from the field, looking like a candidate for a spot on the Eastern Conference All-Star team. In his absence, the Nets have gone with a share the wealth approach, with Russell, Spencer Dinwiddie, Joe Harris, Allen and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson all scoring in double figures.
Dinwiddie is the name that should be familiar to Bulls’ fans. He was with the team during training camp in 2016, but let go when the Bulls acquired Michael Carter-Williams in a deal with Milwaukee. Since that time, Dinwiddie has fully recovered from an ACL injury he suffered in college and emerged as a top candidate for the NBA’s 6th man award, averaging 17.2 points and 5 assists per game while shooting almost 48% from the field. Hindsight is always 20-20, but Dinwiddie would certainly look good in the Bulls’ backcourt right now.
Still, the most exciting thing for Nets’ fans right now is the team’s salary cap situation. Thanks to all the moves made by General Manager Sean Marks, Brooklyn could have the ability to offer 2 max contracts in 2019 free agency. Whether Marks will be able to get a meeting with any of the big names like Durant, Leonard, Irving, Butler and Thompson is still to be determined, but at least there’s finally some hope for a turnaround in Brooklyn.
Meanwhile, the Bulls have sunk to 7-24 and have been the league’s least efficient offensive team since Jim Boylen took over as head coach. Boylen wants his shorthanded team to play at a more deliberate tempo in direct contrast to the current pace-and-space trend that’s taken over the league. With leading scorer Zach LaVine out because of injury and Jabari Parker inactive while the front office tries to work out a trade, the Bulls are painfully short on offensive options and need to rely on an improved defense to stay competitive in games.
Like Brooklyn, the Bulls figure to have cap space this summer to pursue free agents, but they’ll need to show improvement and stability over the final 51 games to make their sales pitch effective.
As for Wednesday’s game, here’s what the Bulls need to do to have a chance for a home court win.
1. FAST BREAK POINTS. We know Boylen wants to put the brakes on the Bulls’ transition game, but the Nets come to town after hosting the Lakers Tuesday night which means there could be a few players on the court with tired legs. When the Bulls force a turnover, they need to look for an easy scoring opportunity before the defense sets up. Oklahoma City had a 27-9 advantage in fast break points on Monday.
2. MARKKANEN IN THE POST. The 7 foot forward was extremely effective in the 2nd half of the come-from-behind win in San Antonio by isolating against smaller defenders for drives and step-back jumpers. Markkanen will have a height advantage against Brooklyn’s smaller frontcourt, and he should be able to shoot over the top of Hollis-Jefferson, another former Arizona Wildcat.
3. SHUT DOWN SPENCER. Dinwiddie has been in celebration mode this week after signing a brand new 3 year, 34 million dollar contract extension. Still, Dinwiddie gets pretty serious in talking about the 2 NBA teams that gave up on him (Pistons and Bulls) knowing that all he needed was time to fully recover from a serious knee injury. The 25 year old guard has been providing instant offense off the bench for Brooklyn, and you can bet he’ll have the green light when he enters the game at the United Center.
We hope you’ll join Kendall Gill, Kelly Crull and me for Bulls Pregame Live at 6:30 Wednesday on NBC Sports Chicago and the My Teams by NBC Sports app. After the game goes final, flip back to NBC Sports Chicago for Jim Boylen’s media session and player reaction from the locker room on Bulls Postgame Live, followed by Bulls Outsiders.