Bulls

Bulls should expect a more aggressive LeBron James

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Bulls should expect a more aggressive LeBron James

CLEVELAND — It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that either the long layoff hurt LeBron James or Chicago’s defense did in Game 1 on Monday, with the road team taking full advantage in stealing the series opener.

And the beauty of this delicate dance between two talented teams is James has a chance to respond, while the Bulls have a chance to prepare for the alterations James will try to make.

For one, anybody with a set of eyes can tell you James wasn’t his usual aggressive self. Jimmy Butler wasn’t backing down and he had a gang of teammates behind him ready to help, knowing not too many of James’ teammates could beat them.

“I have to be better,” James said.

[MORE: 3 unsung keys to the Bulls' Game 1 victory over the Cavs]

James’ 19 points weren’t enough, nor were his 22 shots. In his third opening-game series loss to the Chicago Bulls, their star, Derrick Rose, didn’t want to hear anything about the past. Rose has deflected bringing up the past in interviews leading into the series and took the same tone Tuesday after the Bulls’ film session.

“I hadn’t thought about it unless I’m being asked,” Rose said.

But when asked what he feels James is going through mentally, Rose offered a glimpse into James’ thinking.

“I think he’s…I really don’t know,” Rose said. “Being aggressive, I think he’s gonna try to dictate the whole game from both sides of the ball.”

“And we have to prepare for that because he can actually do that. There’s a couple things he can do but I don’t want to talk about it (laughs).”

James has publicly stated he’ll be more aggressive, and the Cavaliers have to strategically change plenty of things before Game 2 — most notably their deplorable pick-and-roll defense — but one has to wonder if a change in James’ attitude will be the biggest alteration.

But if James takes over, will that play right into the Bulls’ hands? Talk about a delicate dance the Bulls are walking, along with James. If James becomes super aggressive, what does that do to Kyrie Irving, a player who isn’t a natural facilitator?

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Strategically, the Cavaliers could run more with their smallish lineup, but Cavaliers coach David Blatt could be overmatched here.

“They have a unique offense because of what LeBron brings to them,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “Kyrie can handle the point. You can never let your guard down against them. They can score 10 points in less than a minute. They can play in a number of ways and you have to be ready for the different looks and hopefully we can do a good job getting our defense back and being set.”

Along with Iman Shumpert, who scored a surprising 22 points, those three were the only impactful men wearing home whites on Monday night. And the Bulls certainly appear to have struck a blow that could last longer than 48 minutes.

Rose was asked how the Cavaliers would play him any differently, but he could very well have been James speaking about what the Bulls do to him.

“Who knows? That’s the great thing about the playoffs,” Rose said. “Even if I’m not scoring or having a bad game you gotta figure things out. I can’t go into the game having that thought in my mind. Only having good thoughts.”

It’s certainly going to take more than good thoughts for James to overcome another complex puzzle, one which the Bulls are happy to change around rapidly every game this series.

2018-19 NBA Power Rankings: Opening Week edition

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USA TODAY

2018-19 NBA Power Rankings: Opening Week edition

The theme of the 2018-19 NBA season will be: “old faces in new places”. Like a season-long game of the NBA on TNT crew’s “Who he play for?” game, this year will be about fans trying to get used to the idea of LeBron James in purple (I won’t call it ‘Forum Blue’)-and-gold, DeMarcus Cousins being on a championship-contending franchise and Kawhi Leonard being the new face of Toronto.

The Warriors are still the easy favorite to make it four NBA championships in five years, but they will be tested perhaps more than any year before in a loaded Western Conference, where even the lowliest of teams (here’s to you Phoenix and Memphis!) made solid offseason moves geared towards winning games.

Over in the now-LeBron-less East, there is hope amongst at least four-to-five teams that they could actually have a shot to win the conference. The Pacers still have budding superstar Victor Oladipo, the Sixers still have Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, and the Raptors and Bucks made head coaching changes that could lead to deep playoff runs. But with the rest of the Eastern conference being stuck between lottery contention and middle of the pack, expect the half-experienced, half-youthful Celtics to takeover as East juggernaut.

But whether or not your favorite franchise is aiming for a high draft pick or a postseason berth, there is tons to be excited in a 2018-19 NBA season that will surely be an intriguing one. Check out Week 1 of our NBA Power Rankings right here.

Deadline passes as Bulls, Bobby Portis fail to reach agreement on contract extension

Deadline passes as Bulls, Bobby Portis fail to reach agreement on contract extension

The Bulls and Bobby Portis were unable to reach an agreement on a contract extension by today’s deadline, which will make the power forward a restricted free agent next offseason.

According to The Chicago Tribune’s K.C. Johnson, Portis’ agent Mark Bartelstein and Gar Forman had “lengthy face-to-face negotiations” on Monday prior to the deadline. The two sides weren’t able to come to an agreement.

The negotiations – and lack of a deal – come after a summer and training camp in which Portis continued to show progression. After beginning the preseason coming off the bench Portis quickly played his way into the starting lineup alongside rookie Wendell Carter Jr. Portis finished five preseason games averaging 17.0 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.2 steals in just 22.4 minutes.

Portis, the 22nd pick of the 2015 NBA Draft, has seen his role increase each of his three seasons. He made a jump last season in Year 3, averaging 13.2 points and 6.8 rebounds in 22.5 minutes. He was one of three players, including DeMarcus Cousins and Kevin Love, to average 21 points, 10 rebounds and 1.5 3-pointers per 36 minutes.

Though the Bulls certainly had the room to sign Portis to an extension, there were obvious reasons on both sides to wait on a deal. For starters, the Bulls will still be able to match any deal Portis receives in free agency next July, much like what happened with Zach LaVine and the Sacramento Kings. The Bulls maintain their abundance of cap space for the 2019 offseason, when they’ll be able to offer a max contract to the top-tier free agents, and they get to see if Portis makes another jump.

For Portis, it’s a case of him betting on himself. If the Bulls came in with a number he wasn’t satisfied with – to help keep their max cap space – he now finds himself on a contract year playing for his next contract. Still only 23 years old, Portis should cash in in July.

Two players from Portis’ draft class were able to cash in. Pacers center Myles Turner signed a reported four-year, $80 million extension and Cavaliers forward Larry Nance Jr. agreed to a four-year, $45 million deal. Portis likely would have fallen somewhere in between those two deals had an agreement occurred.

The Bulls are hardly in an easy situation with Portis. Though they value the versatile power forward, Lauri Markkanen is entrenched at the position for the foreseeable future and the team just spent last year’s No. 7 overall pick on center Wendell Carter Jr. Portis realistically is stuck behind both those players, though he certainly has starting level NBA talent.