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Hornets hit jackpot in NBA Draft lottery

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Hornets hit jackpot in NBA Draft lottery

One way to look at Wednesday night's NBA Draft lottery is that the fix was in. Another viewpoint is that the idea of being rewarded for alleged "tanking" died, or at least it should have.

After setting an NBA record for the lowest winning percentage in a season, albeit a lockout-shortened campaign, the Michael Jordan-owned Charlotte Bobcats suffered a mild upset, as the New Orleans Hornets won the luck of the draw, receiving the No. 1 pick in next month's draft. It has to be noted that although the Hornets will soon be owned by Tom Benson, who owns the NFL's New Orleans Saints, that purchase hasn't officially gone through yet, meaning the Hornets are still currently owned by the NBA.

But regardless of whether the Hornets getting the top pick in the draft is a mea culpa by the league for blocking the proposed Chris Paul-to-the-Lakers blockbuster deal prior to the regular season or not, it certainly affects a number of issues. This year's draft, while viewed as a solid group of prospects overall, is considered to possess only one franchise-changing player: Chicago native Anthony Davis.

The mediocrity of Jordan's Bobcats was hard to stomach this season, but with a 25-percent chance to acquire Davis, they had a shot to instantly improve and build a foundation for the future. Now, though they're still far under the cap, allowing them to at least throw a heap of money at the feet at the top free agents in a middling group, as well as the No. 2 pick--while the spot is up for grabs, especially with Charlotte having so many needs throughout the roster, no other prospect is seen as a no-brainer choice--the Bobcats' future isn't quite as bright as before Hornets head coach Monty Williams' face lit up with delight Wednesday evening.

New Orleans, on the other hand, still has a lot of improvement to make, but Williams is regarded as one of the league's top young coaches and despite not having an impressive record, the Hornets were mostly competitive in a lot of their losses this season. Now, the organization still needs to figure out if Eric Gordon, who missed most of the campaign with knee issues, is even interested in returning--the young shooting guard is a restricted free agent, so they can match other teams' offers for him--or if they should attempt to facilitate a trade, as the likes of his hometown Pacers are interested, with Indiana leading scorer Danny Granger, coincidentally a New Orleans native, and his potential departure conveniently clearing room for budding star Paul George to move to his natural small-forward position.

While Davis will have to adjust his mindset to one of patience after coming off a national-championship season at Kentucky, it's not as if he hasn't been on a losing team before. By now, almost everyone knows his story of sprouting from an unknown 6-foot-2 guard to a 6-foot-10 phenom and the nation's top prep prospect before his senior year, but few remember that his Perspectives Charter high-school team wasn't even in the Chicago Public League's top division and still had a losing record.

Obviously the shot-blocking phenom--in addition to winning national Player of the Year and top-freshman awards, Davis was also the top defensive player in college basketball--has improved since then and there are aspects of his game he didn't always get to display on a loaded Kentucky team. But while his overall skills, perimeter ability and underrated scoring will surprise people, it will take a while before Davis, who also needs to add strength to his spindly frame, will experience even close to the success in his future residence as the last time he was in New Orleans, where his University of Kentucky team won the national title last month.

Still, conspiracies and growing pains aside, both the Hornets, who seemingly have got the short end of the stick since their 2008, Paul-propelled playoff run, is finally having a run of good luck, as the All-Star Game will return to the city for the first time since that year, they have local ownership and now, the low-key Davis, whose personality fits the laid-back Crescent City. In the mold of the Bulls' Derrick Rose, a fellow South Sider, Davis is a genuinely nice young man and currently a better person than player, though with a game somewhat reminiscent of a young Kevin Garnett, who ironically played his final season of high school hoops in the Windy City, there's a chance that gap is evened in the future.

Other teams also had enjoyable evenings--Portland made out like bandits in the lottery, getting the sixth pick from the Nets as a result of the mid-season Gerald Wallace trade (if it was in the top three, Brooklyn, which was hoping for Davis, but ended up empty-handed, would have kept the pick); Golden State can breathe a sigh of relief, as they keep the seventh pick (instead of having it go to Utah, which would have occurred if it was eighth or lower); while New Orleans also received the 10th pick via the Paul trade--but although Davis is unlikely to make New Orleans a playoff team immediately by himself, it gives the franchise hope. Just maybe not enough to keep the local Times-Picayune a daily newspaper instead of just three print editions a week.

NBA, NBPA announce zero positive COVID-19 tests from inside Disney bubble

NBA, NBPA announce zero positive COVID-19 tests from inside Disney bubble

In the first round of testing announced since the NBA began playing official restart games on July 30, there's more good news.

Of the 343 players tested for COVID-19 since the last results were announced on July 29, there remains zero positive tests. This is the third round of testing results made public in a joint statement from the NBA and NBPA, whose strict safety protocols appear to be working. Teams have now been in the so-called "bubble" on the Disney World campus outside Florida for close to a month.

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The statement reiterated that if one positive test occurs, that player will be isolated until he meets all rules established by the two parties to resume play. The 22 teams on the Disney campus traveled with limited parties of 35 people. Players undergo daily testing.

The season is scheduled to conclude in October with the NBA Finals. Commissioner Adam Silver and Michele Roberts, executive director of the players association, long made it clear they badly wanted to crown a 2019-20 champion, even when Silver paused the league in mid-March after Rudy Gobert posted the first positive test. The league and NBPA have drawn rave reviews from around the sporting world for the execution of their plan to this point.

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Here are key Bulls players' most recent public comment on coach Jim Boylen

Here are key Bulls players' most recent public comment on coach Jim Boylen

It’s Day 147 since the Bulls last played a game. The NBA has restarted its season to first-weekend-of-March-Madness-esque affect. With no positive COVID-19 cases yet reported from within the bubble, and games taking on a playoff feel, buzz is palpable.

But no, the Bulls have not yet announced a decision on the future of head coach Jim Boylen.

Still, tea-leaf reading continues to abound with respect to Boylen’s job status, and it’s easy to reason why. After a tumultuous third year of the current rebuild, ownership installed fresh leadership at the highest level of the front office in executive vice president Arturas Karnisovas; in turn, Karnisovas brought on general manager Marc Eversley, assistant GM J.J. Polk and VP of player personnel Pat Connelly. John Paxson retreated to an advisory role and Gar Forman was fired. There’s been a bit of deck-shuffling in the training and coaching staffs, though most were based on contract option deadlines.

All of which is to say, winds of change are howling for a franchise that was in dire need of it.

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So — whichever direction the team goes — what’s the hold up on committing to or moving on from Boylen? Karnisovas publicly addressed that question at his end-of-season conference call nearly two months ago.

“I know that you are anxious for me to comment definitively on our future of the Chicago Bulls. I understand that anticipation,” Karnisovas said. “That said, I take pride in being deliberate and thoughtful in my decision-making and take the weight of my decisions seriously. I’m not inclined to make evaluations prematurely to satisfy our excitement to move this team forward.”

Then: “I’d like to be in a building, to be in practices, to be around the coaching staff in meetings. We’re looking forward to getting in the video room together, analyze the games, to watch games together… In order for me to keep players and coaches accountable, I have to have personal relationships with them.”

That, and leaguewide financial uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic, appear to have contributed to Karnisovas playing the long game in deciding on Boylen’s future.

But a vocal segment of the fanbase hasn’t been satisfied with that approach. And a common mantra among that group has been that keeping Boylen aboard as long as the new regime has is directly contradictory to their stated goal of making the Bulls a “players first” organization. Boylen’s 39-84 record through one-and-a-half seasons is the kindling for calls for his job. Reports of players privately expressing discontent with him have stoked the flames further.

So, in the spirit of getting it down on paper, let’s run through key Bulls players’ most recent public comments on Boylen (disclaimer: since the league shutdown began). We’ll update this piece if and when more filter through:

Tomáš Satoranský, Aug. 4: “I certainly don’t want to throw dirt on him”

Tuesday, Lukas Kuba, who’s all over all things Sato, had this tidbit from an interview Satoranský conducted on Express FM, a Czech radio station. In it, Satoranský acknowledged the harsh realities of the 2019-20 season, but was largely sympathetic towards Boylen due to a combination of his first-year status, front-facing role and work ethic:

 

Per Kuba, Satoranský has commented on Boylen to Czech media multiple times since the Bulls last played, and stayed diplomatic doing it. A common thread: Sato seems to see Boylen as a positive thinker who works hard, even if the fruits of that care factor haven’t bloomed on the court. He has also criticized Boylen’s rotations, but maintained — at least publicly — that he thinks Boylen will be back next season:

  

All of the above is likely translated from Czech — important context to note if analyzing every word.

Daniel Gafford, July 21: “He aight”

For the most part, Bulls players have maintained diplomacy speaking on Boylen since the NBA shuttered on March 11. Rookie center Daniel Gafford represents the most glaring exception. Here’s how he responded to a viewer question on his opinion of Boylen while live-streaming on Twitch:

 

“He aight. I don’t like him a lot but he OK,” Gafford said. “Got some things he can work on. Got some things he can get better at — as a person and as a coach. Not gonna hate on him, not gonna hate the man, but you know (trails off)...”

Far from a ringing endorsement, especially when you listen to Gafford’s tone in the audio itself. 

Context: Boylen light-heartedly admitted in the preseason that he’d been hard on Gafford in the run-up to the start of his first year; then, Gafford started the season out of the rotation in favor of free-agent-signing Luke Kornet before the rooke from Arkansas burst out with 21 points (10-for-12 FG), five rebounds and two blocks on Nov. 18 against the Milwaukee Bucks, unimpeachably proving his merit.

And on Jan. 6, there was this incident, when Boylen appeared to leave a timeout in his pocket with Gafford writhing in pain on the floor after turning his ankle in a game against the Dallas Mavericks. Gafford was allowed to sub out only after play stopped for a foul called on Tim Hardaway Jr.

 

Zach LaVine, June 5: “I think he goes out there and does his best.”

Thad Young, June 5: “He’s probably one of the more energetic coaches I’ve played for”

Both LaVine and Young took the high road when asked about Boylen in their end-of-season press conferences back in early June.

“I’m going to keep the same stance I always have. It’s not for me to judge somebody. I think he goes out there and does his best. I don’t think anybody in any organization in the NBA goes out there and tries to fail,” LaVine said. “Sometimes, it’s out of your power on won-loss record or what happens during the game. I know for a fact he tries and does his best. That’s all you can ask for sometimes. As a player, I just follow the lead and do my job. On decisions and things like that, I leave that up to higher management. That’s not my role in the organization.”

And, in a perfect closing line: “I think you know I was going to answer that correctly.”

“That’s not really a question for me to answer,” Young echoed. “I think that’s more up to the front office. Obviously, Jim is very energetic. He’s probably one of the most energetic coaches I’ve played for. My job is to go out there and basically help lead this team to try to win games and play to the best of my ability each night. It’s the same for each guy down the line. That’s something you’ll have to ask Marc and Arturas and let them answer.”

Both LaVine and Young also had public differences of opinion with Boylen throughout the season. For LaVine, the inflection point was being pulled three-and-a-half minutes into an early-season blowout loss to the Miami Heat for what Boylen termed “three egregious defensive mistakes.”

“I’ve got pulled early before by him. I guess that’s just his thing to do,” LaVine said that night, only to drop 49 points and 13 3s on the Charlotte Hornets the next. 

An evident show of frustration (“Why?”) caught on camera following a last-minute Boylen timeout amid a 27-point defeat to the Toronto Raptors stands out, too. The near-coup that took place when Boylen took over in 2018 is well-documented, as is LaVine paying a $7,000 fine for the coach late last season — at the time, a sign of an evolving relationship that has since seen more bumps.

And Young’s frustrations with his role, first made public in a report by the Chicago Sun-Times in December 2019, permeated an up-and-down campaign in which he was asked to adjust to a style he hadn’t encountered in his 13-year career and inconsistent playing time. His best stretch came in place of an injured Lauri Markkanen, but he finished 2019-20 with non-rookie-year career-lows in points, rebounds and minutes per game.


How much stock you put into the above comments is in the eye of the beholder. They all contribute to the murky picture around the Bulls’ coaching situation right now.

RELATED: Why Arturas Karnisovas’ long play on Jim Boylen's future is the smart play

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