Bulls

Kevin Durant's Golden State decision is a winner for the NBA

Kevin Durant's Golden State decision is a winner for the NBA

Kevin Durant’s decision to join the Golden State Warriors has stoked many different reactions from NBA players, coaches, agents, fans, and media members. However, there seems to be one area where everyone can agree – the Warriors are the heavy favorites to win the 2017 NBA Finals. The Warriors will likely be the clear favorites to win the NBA championship every year for the foreseeable future.

The Warriors added the 2013-14 NBA MVP, who is in the prime of his career, to a team that won an NBA-record 73 games and was one game away from winning the 2016 NBA Finals. It seems easy to make the case that Durant going to the Warriors will be bad for the NBA because there will be little competitive balance. More specifically, the Warriors will be so dominant that no other team will have a realistic shot at winning the title. In theory, that should not be a good thing for the NBA.

Competitive balance is often described as the core element that makes sports successful. Why would NBA fans, media, and sponsors want to be a part of the league when the champion is “known” before the season starts? Fans are not going to watch or attend games when the outcome is not in doubt. The media will not cover games as closely for the same reason. If fans and media are not engaged with the NBA then sponsors are less likely to want spend their advertising dollars with the league. As The Ringer’s Micah Peters writes, “It was fun, you guys, but I think it’s time we start a new league and not tell Golden State about it.” Without competitive balance the NBA cannot be successful.

The only problem with this argument is that it is not true (usually a big problem for arguments). The NBA has not had competitive balance in a long time, and the league has been at its strongest when it has dominant teams. Seven NBA teams won 33 of the 35 NBA crowns between 1980 and 2014. The most memorable parts of NBA’s history during this time period are filled with dominant teams and players. From Magic Johnson and Larry Bird with the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics, respectively, to Michael Jordan with the Chicago Bulls to Kobe Bryant with the Lakers to Tim Duncan with the San Antonio Spurs, the NBA has been filled with dominant teams throughout its history. The converse of few teams winning so many titles is that most teams rarely compete for a title.

This year is no exception. The NBA Finals was a rematch of last year’s showdown between the Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James appeared in his sixth straight Finals. The dominant storyline this NBA season was how quickly the Warriors became the overwhelming favorite to win the title after starting the season with 24-game winning streak. The Thunder nearly defeated the Warriors in the playoffs during a seven game Western Conference Finals, but the Thunder were one of only maybe 2-3 teams in the Western Conference that had any real chance of beating the Warriors (the Spurs and Los Angeles Clippers being the others, in my opinion). Few teams in either the Eastern or Western Conferences had a realistic shot at winning the championship. And yet NBA attendance hit record a high for the 2015-16 season and television ratings increased from the 2014-15 season. The Finals were the highest-rated since 1998.

Dominance as a driver of audience interest can also be seen in other sports. Leagues throughout the world have arguably never been more popular or more successful at a time when fewer teams than ever before appear to be competitive for a championship. Durant’s decision to join the Warriors could produce the most dominant team in any major professional sports league throughout the world. And that is likely the best possible outcome for the NBA.

Adam Grossman is the president of the sports sponsorship and analytics firm Block Six Analytics. He is also the co-author of "The Sports Strategist: Developing Leaders for a High-Performance Industry." In addition, he is currently an adjunct lecturer at Northwestern University, where he teaches classes on entrepreneurship and quantitative analysis. Grossman also contributes to Forbes. Follow Adam Grossman on Twitter @adamrgrossman.

This article originally appeared on Forbes.com.

Add Wendell Carter to list of unknowns that define the 2019 Bulls

wcj.jpg
USA TODAY

Add Wendell Carter to list of unknowns that define the 2019 Bulls

The 2018-19 season was supposed to begin bringing answers to the Bulls’ rebuild. A healthy offseason for Zach LaVine, head coaching stability for Kris Dunn and a gym membership that Lauri Markkanen clearly made the most of was the lead-up to expectations of progress – if not a few more wins – in Year 2 since dealing Jimmy Butler on the night of the 2017 NBA Draft.

It was also the unwrapping of rookie Wendell Carter Jr. The Bulls selected the Duke center as a high-floor prospect, someone who could help complement Markkanen’s shortcomings, fill an immediate need and provide an anchor to a Bulls defense that had ranked 28th in efficiency the previous season.

Four months after a promising offseason the Bulls are 10-35, the second worst record in the NBA behind the post-LeBron-depleted, Kevin Love-less Cavaliers. Even the most ardent supporters of tanking must be at least somewhat concerned that the team has shown little growth under both Fred Hoiberg and, more recently, Jim Boylen. The Bulls really don’t know what they have outside of a volume scorer in Zach LaVine, a uniquely built Lauri Markkanen and a plus defender in Dunn.

And after news broke Friday, that Carter will miss the next 8 to 12 weeks – and presumably the rest of the season – after undergoing surgery on a sprained thumb, he can be added to the list of unknowns that is defining a lost season.

Carter had his bright spots to be sure – he finishes his rookie campaign averaging 7.0 rebounds and 1.3 blocks – and despite his smaller build for an NBA center, proved he can anchor a unit. It’s unfair to dig in to his numbers too much considering he spent the majority of his minutes alongside Bobby Portis, Markkanen and Jabari Parker, who aren’t exactly Serge Ibaka replicas. The Bulls’ defensive efficiency was almost identical when Carter was on the floor (115.7) as it was when he was off it (115.6).

He was a fearless shot blocker – ask Russell Westbrook – with exceptional footwork for a 7-footer (and 19-year-old) who didn’t back down in a starting role while facing Joel Embiid, Andre Drummond and DeAndre Jordan in the first week of his NBA career (he also faced Anthony Davis and Nikola Jokic in the preseason).

He was an above-average pick-and-roll scorer, showing off some chemistry with Zach LaVine the last few weeks that was clearly built up in the early part of the season when LaVine was a usage monster and Carter was being asked to be a second or third scorer.

That was the good. Carter also had a serious fouling problem, tied for fifth in the NBA in personal fouls per game (3.5) despite playing just 25.5 minutes a night. Those numbers had thankfully dropped off some in January, as he averaged only 2.6 fouls per game after averaging 3.8 in 29 games over November and December.

He had his offensive limitations but was working through them. Though he was featured less as a distributor out of the high post once Boylen took over, Carter showed a soft touch around the rim, averaging a team-best 66 percent from shots inside 5 feet; to put that number in perspective, Deandre Ayton and Jaren Jackson Jr. were at 71 and 70 percent, respectively.

The 3-point shot we believed would be part of his game never came to fruition. He was asked to do more offensively under Hoiberg because of the injuries, but he still averaged twice the 3-point attempts (1.0) as he has under Boylen (0.4). Then again, he connected on just 18.8 percent of his 32 triples.

That’s where the final 37 games really would have helped Carter. Boylen has shown some open-mindedness toward pushing pace and allowing his young core full of athletes to play at the style they’re most comfortable in. Carter would have been part of that.

There’s also been plenty of discussion about the time Markkanen, LaVine and Dunn have spent together on the court. Their net rating is a ghastly -20.3, no real leader has taken over among the three and there has been little progress as a collective group.

But Carter is part of that, too. It’s easy to lump the three together because they were the return for Butler in 2016, but the Duke product is just as much of the core as Markkanen and LaVine are. This was a critical period for Carter to play in pick-and-roll action with Dunn, and learn defensive tendencies playing alongside Markkanen. Instead, Carter finishes his rookie campaign playing just 312 minutes with Dunn and Markkanen on the court together.

It’s tough to truly give Carter’s rookie season a grade. Markkanen set the bar high for expectations from the No. 7 pick, and Carter gave us a handful of “wow” moments. There’s no reason to believe he won’t continue to progress and turn into the center of the future. He wasn’t going to post the raw numbers Markkanen did, and while the Bulls expect big things from him he was clearly low on the seniority totem pole behind LaVine, Markkanen and Dunn.

Now, like so many of the Bulls’ key figures in this rebuild, we’ll wait and see what happens. Even if Carter does return at the tail end of the season to give him some momentum, it won’t make up for the 12 weeks he’ll miss – both in game action and in practice. His rookie season ends as an unknown, much like it’s been in every facet of the Bulls’ season.

 

Wendell Carter Jr. could be out 8-to-12 weeks after surgery

Wendell Carter Jr. could be out 8-to-12 weeks after surgery

In the first part of the season, the Bulls were overwhelmed with injuries. It now appears the team has been dealt a massive injury blow.

Rookie center Wendell Carter Jr.'s left thumb injury is severe enough that surgery is recommended for Carter. If he has surgery, the Bulls said in a press release he is expected to miss 8-to-12 weeks.

Carter suffered the injury Tuesday at the Lakers. An MRI on Wednesday showed a sprain and further tests from team specialists resulted in the recommendation.

If Carter is out for 12 weeks, he could miss the rest of the season. The 19-year-old has been a bright spot for the Bulls this season, averaging 10.3 points and 7 rebounds per game while shooting 48.5 percent from the field.

Carter losing development time in a season where the Bulls are primarily focusing on trying to develop their young core is a blow to a rebuilding effort. The Chicago Tribune's K.C. Johnson said Carter could still opt out of surgery and try to play through the injury.

Johnson followed up with a source saying surgery is "almost certainly" the plan.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.