Bulls

LeBron maximizes young core: 'That's what I came back here for'

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LeBron maximizes young core: 'That's what I came back here for'

This is why LeBron James returned to Cleveland.

When the four-time league MVP made the decision to sign with the Cavaliers 10 months ago he envisioned playing alongside a young and talented group with which to mold into a championship unit, a stark contrast and a new challenge from the veteran-laced Miami Heat team he had taken to four straight NBA Finals appearances.

Plenty has changed since James' arrival and the path to a championship has been altered, but his goals have remained intact. And he took another step Thursday in the Cavs' 94-73 Game 6 victory over the Bulls.

"I do everything for my team. I do everything for my teammates. I want these guys to be able to feel this moment, that’s what I came back here for," James said. "I got four guys that never made the postseason that play a huge role for this team. And for me to be able to bring them joy playing the game of basketball, that’s what I care about more than anything."

James made those comments following a near triple-double - 15 points, 9 rebounds and 11 assists - and being flanked by two of those players making their playoff debuts this year, Matthew Dellavedova and Tristan Thompson. The pair of 24-year-olds stood in valiantly for Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, James' two primary sidekicks dealing with injuries, with Dellavedova scoring a game-high 19 points and Thompson grabbing 17 rebounds.

[MORE: Weight from previous years comes crashing down in one night for Bulls]

James spoke considerably in his postgame press conference about the mental growth of his young group. After winning 97 games in the four years following James' departure from Cleveland in 2010, the inexperienced Cavaliers were thrust into the national spotlight and put under the NBA's microscope on a nightly basis. Even the trade additions post-Decision II - Kevin Love, Iman Shumpert, JR Smith and Timofey Mozgov - had never been out of the first round of the playoffs, leaving James as the unquestioned on-court leader and, perhaps more importantly, the role model to create the foundation for a group with championship aspirations.

"The way we approach the season was, we have a chance to play with someone that’ll go down as one of the best ever. So, it just motivates us to work harder," Thompson said before recalling James being the first player in the practice facility on the first day of practice. "And for us, we know we’ve got to catch up. We’ve got to do the extra things. If he’s doing that, we’ve got to do double, triple, because this opportunity has definitely been a blessing for us and we’ve got to make the most of it and help him."

That they did Thursday night. With Love sidelined and Irving exiting the game for good after aggravating a knee injury early in the second quarter, the Cavaliers were again looking at needing a heroic performance from James to get past a veteran-laced Bulls team attempting to stave off elimination on their home floor. And when James' shot wasn't falling - he missed 11 of his first 14 shots - he turned to the teammates he had mentored all year for help.

And they responded. James doled out 11 assists, seven of which resulted in 3-pointers, and stepped up defensively, limiting the Bulls to 42 points in the final three quarters. He managed the game and got the most out of his young core.

"It’s really what LeBron is doing to you," Tom Thibodeau said of the Bulls' defense. "Because of what he’s doing, it’s opening up things for them. If you look at LeBron’s line, you can say 7-for-23 (shooting). But what he did in that game, he controlled it. He made plays, he found the open 3s and he had not only 11 assists, but a lot of other plays that led to a second pass and a wide open 3."

This certainly isn't how James drew it up when the season began. He expected to be sitting next to a point guard and a power forward at the podium, just not "Delly" and "Double-T." Irving, not Shumpert, was supposed to be going toe-to-toe with Derrick Rose. Love, not Smith, was supposed to be draining clutch 3-pointers. Anderson Varejao, not Mozgov, was supposed to be the Cavs' rim protector.

[MORE: Lifeless Bulls fall to Cavaliers in series clincher]

Things change, and James has adapted with his team. He admitted after the game that the Cavs "have no room for error," but their young core and underrated depth has allowed as much, especially against the Bulls. They won a game in which James went 10-for-30. Irving played 12 minutes in Game 6 and the Cavs won by 21 points. Smith missed two games and the Cavs survived.

"We’re never out of any game. Every game in the playoffs is going to be tough, every game is going to be close," Shumpert said. "Crazy stuff is going to happen, as you saw in this series. As long as we got each other and we keep everything in this locker room we’ll be fine."

And it all starts with No. 23.

This is why LeBron James returned to Cleveland.

Bulls interested in Jahlil Okafor?

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USA TODAY

Bulls interested in Jahlil Okafor?

A report via Sporting News writer Sean Deveney surfaced early on Tuesday morning, stating that the Bulls possibly have interest in free agent big man Jahlil Okafor. 

Deveny stated:

According to sources, Okafor, the No. 3 pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, worked out for four teams last Wednesday in Las Vegas, and remains hopeful of signing with a team ahead of training camp next fall.

The Pacers were listed along with the Bulls as teams that could be looking at Okafor, though neither team was at his summer workouts in Las Vegas.

From a public relations standpoint, the Bulls could sell the idea of having a roster with multiple IHSA champions. It would be a feel-good story, with Okafor and Parker joining a young and developing core. But from an on-court perspective, the move makes little sense.

Chicago has a clogged frontcourt rotation that includes Lauri Markkanen, Bobby Portis, Robin Lopez, Cristiano Felicio and No. 7 overall pick Wendell Carter Jr. And while Parker is likely going to play the majority of his minutes on the wing, he will see time at the four and possibly five as well in spot minutes. Okafor has proven to be a capable low-post scorer and little else at this stage in his career.

Okafor has averaged 12.9 points per game and 5.3 rebounds per game, but has only played 131 games over three seasons. He struggled to get minutes last year with the Sixers or the Brooklyn Nets (12.6 minutes per game in 2017-18). His continued poor defense and lack of rebounding prowess were the main reasons why.

He had a 59.3 true shooting percentage in his 26 games with the Nets, as well as 18.2 points per 36 minutes. But his defensive rating of 110 points given up per 100 possessions would do little to help a Bulls team that currently lacks established defensive centers sans Lopez. Even on a minimum contract, an Okafor signing would likely signal a forthcoming trade from the Bulls. In today’s NBA, having four centers on your roster would be ridiculous, no matter how good the narrative is. 
 

Antoine Griezmann professes his love for Derrick Rose after winning World Cup

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USA TODAY

Antoine Griezmann professes his love for Derrick Rose after winning World Cup

Antoine Griezmann, you just won the World Cup, what are you going to do next?

Apparently, profess his love for Derrick Rose.

In the celebrations of France winning the World Cup on Sunday, French forward Griezmann spotted his teammate Paul Pogba getting interviewed by FOX Sports. Recognizing this was the American audience, Griezmann took the mic from FOX's Jenny Taft and had one thing to say:

"I love Derrick Rose."

Griezmann, who scored a goal in France's 4-2 win against Croatia in the final, is a big NBA fan. He has been spotted at multiple games over the years, including Game 5 of the 2017 Eastern Conference Finals between the Celtics and Cavs.

This also isn't the first time he has made a comment about D-Rose. He recently signed a contract extension with his club team, Atletico Madrid, but a year ago said the only way he would leave was to play with Rose.

"I would only leave Atleti to play with Derrick Rose," Griezmann said through translation.

In 2015 he posted an image of himself in a Derrick Rose Bulls jersey to his Instagram.

Later that year he took in a Bulls game and got a photo with Joakim Noah.

Maybe when the 27-year-old is ready to leave Europe, he will join a Major League Soccer team just so he can watch more NBA games.

UPDATE: Rose tweeted congratulations to Griezmann.