Bulls

The delightful arrogance of the Golden State Warriors

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The delightful arrogance of the Golden State Warriors

"The WHAT? How?” asked Stephen Curry, almost incredulously but with a hint of a smile as he finished his media session at the United Center Wednesday, slightly surprised but a little intrigued at where the conversation was going.

The NBA’s reigning MVP and odds-on favorite for a repeat was given an observation, that his team, the champion Golden State Warriors, was the cockiest team in the NBA.

“Does “cocky” have a good connotation?” The Best Shooter Ever fired back to CSNChicago.com, already knowing the answer.

Of course it doesn’t, particularly for African-American athletes in society where everything is under the microscope, but when Curry pulls up from the end paint of an opposing team’s logo to confidently swish a 3-pointer, the word “cocky” can float around in one’s head.

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Curry, when elaborating, slightly relented.

“I would call it “extreme confidence”,” he said. “People I’ve talked to when it comes to the mental aspect of the game, coaches, great minds of the game, they always talk about the great line between confidence and cockiness.”

Curry read the list like a basketball rolodex, champions in different ways, from different eras and perspectives — Don Nelson; Davidson coach Bob McKillop, the man who allowed Curry to blossom when he couldn’t get scholarship offers from the major schools; Hall of Famer Larry Brown, who led Curry’s pre-draft workout with the then-Charlotte Bobcats in 2009; Curry's current coach Steve Kerr; and the Greatest of All-Time, Michael Jordan.

“Cockiness almost to me makes you feel invincible and it’s a trap,” Curry said. “We’re confident to the fact that we know if we play the way we’re supposed to play, we should win most of our games and be the best team in the league. But we’re not invincible, where we can show up, psyche a team out, play any way we want to and come out with victories like it’s not, we won’t cheat the game like that.”

At 38-4 and nipping on the heels of historical proportions by way of challenging the 1996 Chicago Bulls for the most wins in a single season, it shows the Warriors aren’t cheating the game, but there’s something more to it than a dogged dedication to the pursuit of excellence, or at least it appears to be something more, visually.

Curry doesn’t deny there’s a mental edge they have that all champions acquire through greatness, where a team can take the air out of the other team before the ball is tipped, and no deficit is insurmountable.

“We might impose our will and throw a big haymaker punch early and eliminate any hope,” Curry said. “But for the most part this season and majority of last year we were getting everybody’s best shot.”

Curry often leaves his flicked right hand in the air when long triples swish harmlessly into the net, and when he beats you for a backdoor cut to finish with a left-handed layup, it’s held in the air, almost letting everyone know it was the off-hand that did you in.

In a game where such displays used to be met with a good shot that lands one to kiss the hardwood, no one dare challenge the Warriors — because the league isn’t like that anymore and they take full advantage.

“I’ll take that, if that’s what they call us,” said Draymond Green, the man whose versatility and toughness makes the Warriors just as special as Curry’s unlimited shooting range makes them dangerous.

His snarl, bred from his days in Saginaw, Mich. and Michigan State University, is the perfect counterpoint to Curry’s child-like smile.

“(But) No. I think everybody has confidence in themselves. If you don’t you can’t win. You gotta believe in yourself. We’ve been real confident.”

When asked if the Warriors have more motivation for validation due to wanting to shut up a vocal segment who believe they had some fortuitous bounces go their way through the Western Conference trek to The Finals, such as the then-champion San Antonio Spurs being eliminated in Round 1, Green just shrugged.

“Hmm? We’re gonna have our attitude regardless of what people say,” Green said. “Ain’t nobody softening us up or making us tougher. What they say isn’t gonna make us play harder, what they don’t say ain’t gonna make us play soft. We hold ourselves to a standard. We don’t need what other people say to make us move either way.”

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But when you look at it, from Green’s constant verbals to Curry launching from anywhere to their outright dismissal of competition, the word “arrogant” would be tagged to just about any other champion in recent memory.

Somehow, they’ve magically escaped that perception thus far.

“They’re confident,” a Hall of Famer told CSNChicago.com “If they weren’t champions, they would be arrogant because of their false belief of superiority. However, because you’re a champion your superiority is validated. When you’re the champion, arrogance and superiority are brothers.”

Partially, it’s because Curry is so easy to like and absorb. It doesn’t seem like it, but he’s a long and lanky 6-foot-3, although he’s treated as if he’s Muggsy Bogues height-wise.

And on the day it was announced his jersey was the best-selling in the league, he tried to explain.

“I’m not sure. The main thing I think about, I guess, is stature and the way I play,” Curry said. “It’s something that most people who play the game of basketball, go to the YMCA, city leagues and stuff, everybody wants to shoot. It’s something you want to work on, to have that creativity with the dribbling and stuff.”

It’s not that he strays away from controversy, as he spoke out about gun violence in a PSA that aired on Christmas Day, and made the hilarious comment about the Cleveland Cavaliers’ visitor locker room before their meeting Monday, saying “Obviously, walking in that locker room, it’ll be good memories. Hopefully, it still smells a little bit like champagne."

But Curry hasn’t caught any criticism — and nor should he — especially when he backs up the harmless comment with a destruction of the Cavaliers where their once 40-point lead was only matched by the distance from which Curry was trying to shoot, almost as challenge to himself.

“We stick with the preparation for how we get ourselves ready for those games,” Curry said. “Nobody takes days off, nobody cheats shootarounds and practices. Once that changes, your identity changes. You can’t allow your success to make you forget how you got there. That’s what we’re pretty good at, is staying within ourselves.

“Yeah, Draymond is gonna talk. He’s gonna play hard, get into it with somebody. I’m gonna have confidence shooting all over the floor, Klay is gonna have that look ‘no matter where I touch the ball, it’s going up and it’s going in’. That’s who we are but how we prepare for those games, there’s gotta be consistency there.”

Opinion varies on Golden State’s “confidence or cockiness”, depending on who you ask.

“They’re confident,” one league executive texted.

“They’re cocky because they’re confident,” another league executive texted.

“They’re both,” said a retired player from a championship team of the last decade.

“They’re confident,” a player from an opposing team said. “They took a lot of (stuff) from this summer from a lot of people, and other teams. ‘Cocky’ is LeBron saying Miami would win eight rings. They’re 38-4, they’re like Drake on his ‘back to back’ diss track.”

The player was referring to the popular rapper who took an unwilling rival to task a few months back, putting out consecutive songs that had the music world buzzing as much as it laughed at a lack of response—similar to what Golden State appears to be doing to the rest of the NBA at large.

But whether confidence or cocky, Andre Iguodala said it doesn’t come from an individual standpoint, but a collective — which could explain how the Warriors come at you in waves.

“I’m not a cocky guy, I don’t think I’m all-world but my teammates think that of me,” said Iguodala, who comes off the bench but could be their most important player. “So when I get it going, they’re behind me. When Steph shoots, we feel the same thing. When Klay shoots, we think it’s going in. We have confidence and we’re trying to have fun within the game.”

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When Iguodala talks, it sounds like he’s describing a cocky team but he makes the point to draw the line, to a degree.

“I like using the word confidence,” he said. “We have that belief in each other so strongly. When we went through tough times people said we’re not that good. Confidence is fragile, especially when dealing with the media.

“Confidence is fragile if you’re a fragile being. So in order for us to combat that, we always support one another, we always (give) positive feedback (to) one another.”

When Iguodala was playing for the 76ers early in his career, he ran across his share of teams that he described as “cocky”. He wouldn’t name them but said: “There were teams, but none of them were championship teams. That’s why I stay away from that, you gotta be humble and have your confidence.”

When asked why he wouldn’t name them, the veteran smiled and said, “They’re Irrelevant, they just didn’t win. They weren’t winners.”

Sometimes arrogance is good for the soul.

Here's why the Bulls didn't take Michael Porter Jr. last night

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USA TODAY

Here's why the Bulls didn't take Michael Porter Jr. last night

There was angst and anger among the Bulls fan base following the team's selection of Wendell Carter in Thursday's NBA Draft. Though the team had been linked to Missouri forward Michael Porter Jr. - and he was far and away the biggest fan favorite - the Bulls passed on the former No. 1 prospect, opting to play it safe and find a complement to Lauri Markkanen on the frontline.

Porter fell farther than just past the Bulls at No. 7. Cleveland opted for Collin Sexton. The Knicks and Sixers went with wings similar to Porter in Kevin Knox and Mikal Bridges.

Porter didn't hear his name called until the very last selection of the Lottery, with the Nuggets grabbing the 6-foot-10 scorer. It's a dice roll for Denver, but one it can afford after it won 47 games and was Game No. 82 away from making the postseason. They're a team on the rise that doesn't need an immediate contribution from a rookie. And that's good, because Porter might not be contributing at all in his rookie season.

Gar Forman and John Paxson were asked about whether Porter was in consideration at No. 7, and if his medicals played any part in the decision to pass.

And while Forman wouldn't address medical situations, he did say the Bulls were in contact with Porter throughout the draft process.

"We spent time with Mike, he’s a great young man," Paxson said. "We’re not gonna talk about medical things. We go through a diligent process every single year.

"This year we probably had more debate and dialogue as a staff. Varying degrees of opinion were really strong. We wish him the best out in Denver."

Paxson didn't say that "debate and dialogue" necessarily included Porter, but multiple reports said the Bulls weren't interested in Porter when it came down to choosing at No. 7.

And it makes sense. The Bulls are in a position where they're beginning to move along in their rebuild. They needed a contributor, and someone who could play right away. Porter wasn't that player, and he wasn't going to be a great fit with Markkanen and Zach LaVIne anyway.

It'll always be fun to think about what could have been, but the injury risk was simply too high for the Bulls to consider using an important 7th pick on a guy who might not play for 16 months.

Boise State coach Leon Rice believes Chandler Hutchison, Bulls are a 'match made in heaven'

Boise State coach Leon Rice believes Chandler Hutchison, Bulls are a 'match made in heaven'

The Bulls ended long-standing speculation and drafted Boise State senior wing Chandler Hutchinson with the No. 22 overall pick in the first round of Thursday's 2018 NBA Draft.

The 6-foot-7 Hutchison has been linked to Chicago since opting out of the 2018 NBA Draft Combine in May as he gives the Bulls a versatile and experienced wing on the perimeter.

A late-bloomer both during high school career in Mission Viejo, California and during his four years at Boise State, Hutchison has always been willing to put in the work to reach the next levels of basketball. Hutchison elevated from a mid-major recruit into a top-100 national prospect by the end of high school. And similar to his prep career, Hutchison blossomed into a first-round pick after a slow start to his career at Boise State.

Broncos head coach Leon Rice offered strong praise for his former star player, as Hutchinson became the go-to player for the Broncos during his junior and senior seasons. Because Hutchison can play multiple spots, rebound, defend and push off the break, he's an intriguing piece for the Bulls' future rotation. Hutchison should be able to play on the wing alongside other rebuilding pieces like Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr.

"I think the Chicago Bulls got a steal," Rice said to NBC Sports Chicago. "You look at the last four years, he's gotten better every year."

"I think it's a great fit. You've got a terrific coach out there for Chandler and the style that he is. It's just the same way. I think it's a really good match."

It wasn't always easy for Hutchinson at Boise State. Rice and former Broncos assistant coach Jeff Linder were both convinced that Hutchison had the ability to develop into a star from the time they started recruiting him. But Hutchison needed time to develop his strength and skill level before he became a standout player.

"Our assistant coach Jeff Linder, who I really think is one of our best evaluators, he went and watched this kid. And he calls me, and it's five minutes into the game, and he's like, 'I've seen enough. He's what we need,'" Rice said. "He's got a feel for the game, he's long. I think people labeled him a little bit because he's from Orange County. In my estimation, he didn't fit that label. He just wasn't developed yet. He was young and he looked young. He just wasn't mature yet, that's the bottom line."

When he arrived on campus, Hutchinson was a touted top-100 prospect -- a rarity for the program and the Mountain West Conference. But the program already had talented and experienced players ahead of Hutchison in the rotation. Earning playing time, and a spot in the starting lineup, wasn't guaranteed to Hutchison.

Junior wing Anthony Drmic was one of the best, and most competitive, players in the league as Hutchison had to earn his stripes by battling a veteran in practice every day as an underclassman. Forward James Webb III was another all-conference piece that was already in place for Hutchison to learn from. 

"By the time he got to Boise, there were a lot of strong guys to compete with. I think that brought him something positive. Things that he didn't have," Rice said. "Anthony Drmic is one of the fiercest competitors I've ever coached. Chandler got to go against him day-in, day-out as a freshman. I don't know if across the country, who had a tougher practice. It shapes who he is today."

When Drmic and Webb departed Boise State, Hutchison was ready to step up into a consistent double-figure scorer and go-to player before his junior season. Already putting in the work to become a more well-rounded wing, Hutchison set out to improve an inconsistent three-pointer that was never above 28 percent during his first two seasons with the Broncos.

The arrival of assistant coach Phil Beckner to Boise State was another huge part of Hutchison's personal development. An experienced coach who spent time developing Damian Lillard as an assistant at Weber State, Beckner also had NBA G-League coaching experience and trained NBA players. Beckner's work with Hutchison took the junior's game, and his jumper, to a new level during his final two seasons in college.

"I think the last two years there was a great jump. He got to work with Phil Beckner, one of our assistants, who has worked with Dame Lillard and a number of players. I think he's one of the best at player development. It was a lot of hours and a lot of time doing it. A lot of dedication," Rice said.

Hutchison saw his three-point percentage jump to 37 percent as a junior as he put up 17.4 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game, helping lead the Broncos to an NIT appearance. Senior year was even stronger for Hutchison. Elevating to 20.0 points, 7.7 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game, Hutchison was named first-team all-conference while being named a top-10 national finalist for the Jerry West Award. 

"He led us in just about every category. And we had a good ballclub, too." Rice said. "He was a do-it-all player and he could do it at every position. He rebounded. He guarded big guys and small guys. Led the break. He's a great decision-maker with his feel."

Rice is also impressed that his star player was always coachable and easy to deal with away from the court. Hutchison earned his degree from Boise State, and even attended graduation in the midst of his pre-draft workouts in Chicago. Hutchison even flew straight back from his graduation and didn't miss his next pre-draft workout.

"He finishes. He got his degree and there's only two or three guys in the first round that got degrees and got it done. I mean, that's impressive," Rice said. "These guys that are elite-level players have so much demands on them with media and with the team and the workouts and all of these extra workouts. To get a degree while dealing with all of that is very impressive."

Hutchison has taken some time to find his footing in every level of basketball. Rice thinks playing around other talented, high-IQ players will help Hutchison's all-around game shine in the NBA. Rice in convinced that Hutchison's work ethic and versatility make him a great fit for the Bulls.

"That's what I love about him. I think he can fill a lot of different positions and a lot of different needs. Depending on what you need, night-in, night-out he can adjust his game and bring those things," Rice said.

"A great organization like the Bulls, he couldn't be more excited. It's a match made in heaven."