Bulls

Can Del Negro handle pressure of leading revamped Clippers?

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Can Del Negro handle pressure of leading revamped Clippers?

With the acquisition of superstar point guard Chris Paul, the Clippers are the talk of the NBA these days. With the likes of Paul, reigning Rookie of the Year Blake Griffin, promising young center DeAndre Jordan, free-agent signee Caron Butler, veteran Chauncey Billups and bench depth highlighted by scoring point guard Mo Williams, the "other" team in the City of Angels has a chance to not only make some noise this season, but even surpass their Staples Center co-resident, the Lakers.

For all of the pieces the team has, however, their is one perceived weakness: Vinny Del Negro. Los Angeles Times columnist Bill Plaschke recently wrote an excellent piece about the pressure facing the Clippers head coach.

Del Negro is obviously a familiar name to Chicagoans from his stint stalking the Bulls sidelines. In his two seasons in the Windy City, the Bulls finished with identical 41-41 records and first-round playoff exits.

Aside from the drama that surrounded his final days in Chicago, Del Negro was a much-maligned figure locally, as he was viewed as a coach incapable of taking the team to the next level, something magnified by Tom Thibodeau's success in his first season. Thibodeau also had more talent to work with, but the fact that Del Negro, at the least, didn't hinder the development of Derrick Rose, among others, has to be noted.

Subsequently hired by the Clippers the summer following his dismissal, Del Negro seemed to be entering a situation in which there were few expectations for a perennially-losing franchise, but a rough start to last season immediately turned up the heat and although his young squad improved as the season went on -- even beating the Bulls upon his return to Chicago -- an early-season pregame press conference in L.A. when the Bulls were in town, in which local writers aggressively questioned his competence as a coach, showed it wasn't all smooth sailing. But that was then and this is now.

Del Negro, equipped with a roster that's the envy of the majority of the league, has to oversee a successful campaign in the last year of his contract. While he's often quietly lauded for giving young players the room to improve, this season can't simply be a care-taking effort, as the stakes are just too high, with Paul only committed to the Clippers for two seasons, Billups and Butler likely on the downsides of their careers, the organization committing to Jordan with a four-year extension and Griffin's eventual free agency looming, not to mention trading assets like up-and-coming shooting guard Eric Gordon, former All-Star center Chris Kaman, second-year small forward and 2010 lottery pick Al-Farouq Aminu and perhaps most importantly, the Timberwolves' 2012 first-round draft choice (likely to be a fairly high selection in a loaded draft class) to the Hornets in exchange for Paul.

Can Del Negro surpass expectations for his own performance to help meet expectations for the team, preserving his own coaching shelf life in the process? What do you think?

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.