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NBA Buzz: No easy answers for Bulls rotation issues

NBA Buzz: No easy answers for Bulls rotation issues

The Rajon Rondo situation is one of many issues Fred Hoiberg faces in trying to put together a consistent rotation for the second half of the season. Outside of Paul Zipser and Isaiah Canaan, the other 12 players on the roster are competing for playing time, but the reality is any NBA rotation that contains more than 9 or 10 players is too difficult to manage.

Rondo played well in his first game back, scoring 12 points while dishing out six assists in a close loss to the Wizards. With key rotation players Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade and Niko Mirotic sidelined, Hoiberg decided it was the right time to end Rondo's 5 1/2 game banishment for ineffective play. But what happens when everyone's healthy again?

For now, it looks like Rondo will displace second-year man Jerian Grant as Michael Carter-Williams' backup at point guard. The coaches like Carter-Williams' defensive length at 6-foot-6 and his ability to finish at the rim, but Grant has been inconsistent. Taj Gibson made it clear how he felt about the situation, saying after the Wizards' game the Bulls are a better team with Rondo on the floor. Gibson is one of the team's most respected vets, so if he's saying the offense works better with Rondo at the point, that opinion will be hard for the coaching staff to ignore.

Hoiberg also has to figure out how to get some playing time for the Bulls' last two first round draft picks, Bobby Portis and Denzel Valentine. Portis put up 13 points and seven rebounds against the Wizards, showing the shooting range at 6-foot-11 that had NBA scouts so intrigued before the 2015 draft. Meanwhile, Valentine scored a career-high 19 points, hitting 5 of 11 shots from 3-point range, while showing the court vision that made him such an exceptional college player at Michigan State.

I would expect we'll be seeing a lot more of Valentine in the second half of the season, especially when Wade is resting on the second leg of back-to-back games. It's no secret the Bulls are looking to get more outside shooting on the court, and if Valentine proves he can shoot the NBA three consistently, he'll get minutes. 

Still, the rookie should probably forget about doing that little celebration dance we saw after making a big shot in the fourth quarter. John Wall told reporters after the game he had a message for Valentine when the teams took the court after a timeout, "You just woke up a monster."

[MORE BULLS: Rajon Rondo addresses benching]

The Portis situation is a little more difficult, since he lost out to fellow second-year player Cristiano Felicio for the backup center role. Portis is best suited to play the power forward spot, but unless the Bulls decide to trade Gibson before the February 23rd deadline, his prospects for playing time are a little murky right now. 

Once the flu-bug is finished making its way through the Bulls' locker room, the second unit figures to be Rondo and Valentine in the backcourt, with Doug McDermott, Mirotic and Felicio up front. And, as we saw in the come-from-behind win over Toronto, look for Doug and Niko to be on the floor late in close games as floor spacing shooting threats to open up driving lanes for Butler and Wade.

Around the Association

Boogie nights continuing in Sacramento? If the eternally petulant DeMarcus Cousins is contemplating taking the extra money to stay with the dysfunctional Kings' franchise, will ANY impact free agent change teams again in the NBA? Under the designated veteran provision in the new CBA, Cousins can command 35 percent of the team's salary cap and reports out of Sacramento suggest it's only a matter of time before he agrees to a long-term contract extension worth more than $200 million. Not bad for a guy who's never led his team to the playoffs, and is constantly bickering with teammates, coaches, officials and the media. Cousins was scheduled to become a free agent in the summer of 2018 when the Bulls are among a small group of teams expected to have enough salary cap room to offer a max deal. Instead, Cousins now will join superstars Russell Westbrook and James Harden in accepting early extensions and pass on a chance for free agency. Looks like getting lucky in the draft lottery or trades are now the only way to acquire a franchise-changing talent.  

The rich get richer. Speaking of trades, how about the deal pulled off by Cavs' general manager David Griffin, acquiring one of the league's best 3-point shooters, Kyle Korver, from Atlanta in exchange for Mike Dunleavy, Jr., Mo Williams and a 2019 first round draft pick. The 35-year-old Korver might not be the same player he was a few years ago, but he's still shooting 40 percent from 3-point range, giving the Cavs another long range option for the inevitable third straight finals match-up against Golden State in June. De facto GM LeBron James told Griffin it's time for the team to add a veteran point guard to replace the departed Matthew Dellavedova, so can Mario Chalmers, Norris Cole or Jarret Jack be far behind?

Hawks calling off the rebuild? The Korver trade sent the impression the Hawks' front office was ready to go into rebuild mode and trade off other veterans with expiring deals like Paul Millsap and Thabo Sefolosha. But with Atlanta riding a seven-game winning streak to move into fourth place in the East, Millsap has been taken off the trade market and it appears the Hawks are going to try to make another playoff run with the current cast. Atlanta added Dwight Howard in free agency this past summer, and fourth-year shooting guard Tim Hardaway, Jr., is playing the best basketball of his career. The reality is, no team in the East is equipped to take down the Cavs as long as LeBron James stays healthy, but the Hawks aren't ready to tear things down just yet.

Uneasy alliance by the Bay? Did you catch the heated "discussion" between Draymond Green and Kevin Durant last Friday after KD broke off a play in the closing seconds of a tie game against Memphis? Durant tossed up a low percentage 3-pointer that missed badly, and Green immediately confronted his superstar teammate to tell him that's not the way things are done with the Warriors. Durant is putting up good numbers in his first season, averaging 26 points a game, while shooting 53 percent from the field, but the marriage with fellow All-Stars Green, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson hasn't gone as smoothly as some people predicted. Remember, Durant can opt out of his contract after this season, and Curry is an unrestricted free agent this summer. Odds are Warriors management will be able to keep the band together, but it will be interesting to watch what happens if the All-Star quartet falls short of the championship everyone predicted. 

Stat of the week

The Bulls get their second look at Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah playing for the Knicks Thursday night. By now, I'm sure you're up to date on the Rose drama, who left the team without explanation to be with his family in Chicago on Monday. Rose returned to the Knicks the next day, and was fined for his absence, but the larger question involves his fit playing with Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis.

Which leads us to our stat of the week: when Rose takes 17 or more shots from the field, the Knicks have a 1-12 record. Not exactly a glowing endorsement for the free agent-to-be, who's still looking for a max contract this summer. 

Quote of the week

Of course, the Bulls have their own point guard soap opera going. Rajon Rondo had this to say about getting benched by Fred Hoiberg: "Playing for the Bulls, playing for big organizations, like Boston, you’re going to be judged from Day One. It’s part of it. You signed up for it. I don’t mind being judged or pressure being put on myself. People have been counting me out since Day One. That doesn’t matter about being in a box. It’s not a great feeling as a player to play like that. You're only as good as your coach thinks you are. That's a big part of each individual's success in the NBA.

"You look at James Harden and the year he's having. Mike D’Antoni turned over the keys to him and he’s having his best year ever with the right personnel around him. Certain guys got an opportunity to shine and play without restraint and certain guys will rise to the occasion. And some won’t."

Rondo is back in the Bulls' rotation for now, but it sounds like his unhappiness about his role with the team won't be ending anytime soon.

Where the Bulls stand in each of the NBA’s reported resumption plans

Where the Bulls stand in each of the NBA’s reported resumption plans

Wheels are spinning towards the relaunch of the NBA season. In which direction? For now, all of them.

Faced with a task unprecedented in logistical and financial scale, several formats for resuming and resolving the 2019-20 campaign amid the COVID-19 pandemic have emerged, all centered around Orlando’s Walt Disney World Resort as a likely bubble site. Returning 30 teams to tie a bow on an abbreviated regular season “has lost momentum, but still has significant lobby,” according to Adrian Wojnarowski. Skipping straight to a 16-team playoff? There’s a “good chance” of that, according to Brian Windhorst, though securing the necessary owner votes to do away with conference alignment could prove a long shot. On Tuesday, the possibility of a 20-team playoff that would replace the first round with a World Cup-esque “group stage” was extensively detailed by Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer. Other pool play options were offered up in a past canvassing conducted by the league. 

Some players and teams, regardless of positioning, are reportedly itching to play. Some would sooner be inclined to avert the risk of infection inextricable from bumping bodies without proper competitive incentive — most prominently (and publicly), Damian Lillard

All in all, there’s a whole lot on the table. But the league doesn’t yet appear near a consensus with calls reportedly slated with general managers and the Board of Governors on Thursday and Friday, respectively. 

The Bulls, for their part, are paused comfortably in purgatory. Should they be included in the NBA’s resumption plan, it could afford a sliver more time for the revamped front office to evaluate personnel and the coaching staff, and perhaps a sliver more excitement for a fanbase left wanting in that department this season. At the same time, this team is no title contender — even a de facto playoff berth would likely be short-lived — and the prospect of a month-or-more long training camp schedule leading up to five-to-seven games of (in the grand scheme) meaningless basketball could introduce excessive and unnecessary risk to players — many of whom are currently out-of-market — and staff. Scurrying straight to the offseason would potentially afford one of the youngest teams in the NBA a nine-month layoff between this season and next, and allow the new braintrust to fully plunge into draft preparation and long-term planning, both along the roster and on Jim Boylen’s fate.

That all leaves us with heads full of ideas, but not much in the way of certainty. Here, at least, are the options the NBA is reportedly mulling, and how the Bulls could fit into them:

All 30 teams resume regular season

In his most recent report, Wojnarowski pinpointed 72 games as the NBA’s target goal if they pursue some closure for the regular season. At 22-43, that would leave the Bulls with seven remaining games, a perfectly average figure. Their 65 games already played is two less than the teams with the most games completed (Dallas Mavericks, Atlanta Hawks), and two more than those with the least (Los Angeles Lakers, San Antonio Spurs). Who the Bulls’ remaining games would be against is unknowable for the time being.

In the interest of recouping lost revenue, sucking all 30 teams into a hypothetical bubble is likely attractive to the league — doing so exponentially multiples the number of telivisable games, and if the astronomical ratings for TNT’s “The Match” are any indication, interest will be immense regardless of matchup. But it also doubles the amount of variables necessary to maintain the wellbeing of everyone involved from athletes to coaches to accommodation staff and beyond. 

With no non-playoff team in either conference within 3.5 games of a berth (the Portland Trail Blazers, Sacramento Kings and New Orleans Pelicans all rest 3.5 back of the Memphis Grizzlies), the cost of that risk for anyone outside the top 16 is indeed the question.

Skipping straight to a 16-team playoff

Which brings us to the tidiest of the solutions reportedly on the table: fast-forwarding straight to a 16-team playoff. Less teams, less variables, less risk (though a healthy amount of that persists no matter the format). Seeded independent of conference, here’s what that could look like — though the more likely scenario is probably keeping the conference alignment as is:

 

Paused 8.5 games behind the Orlando Magic for the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference, the Bulls would fall well short of involvement in a jump straight to the postseason.

World Cup style

Here inlies the most ambitious of the proposals picking up steam, but creativity is commissioner Adam Silver’s MO. In this format, as detailed by O’Connor, the first round of the postseason would be replaced by a “group stage” wherein the teams with the best 20 records in the league would be divided up into five groups (four teams each). From there, each four-team grouping would compete in respective eight-game round robins, with the two best records from each group moving on to a bracketed, eight-team playoff.

The pros: It’s an exciting, inventive idea that could drive interest up, conjure 80 surefire compelling games and satiate fringe playoff teams (Portland, Sacramento, New Orleans, San Antonio) aggrieved by having their seasons cut short. 

 

The cons: Four extra teams increases risk, and it introduces tremendous potential for upsets and general randomness that could impact top seeds. Continuing to punish elite teams that will already be operating without their hard-earned homecourt advantage feels slightly backward.

Frankly, this format would be a ton of fun. But regardless of whether it comes to fruition, the Bulls, currently paused with the 24th-best record in the NBA, would be on the outside looking in. 

Other pool play options

That 22-43 mark, though, could sneak them into a potential 24-team “Playoffs Plus,” a format Shams Charania of The Athletic reported as being on a recent survey circulated by the league to general managers — and a bracket size the NHL just announced for their season. 

Any 30-team play-in tournament could feature the Bulls, as well, though an exact layout for that possibility remains to be determined. Wojnarowski and Zach Lowe combined to report that the league is considering pool play options that would involve anywhere from 16 to all 30 teams — possibly utilizing a structure akin to the group stage layout enumerated above.

In any event, more clarity should come soon, with GM and Board of Governors calls scheduled for Thursday and Friday, respectively. In the meantime, the season of speculation marches on.

How Michael Jordan reacted to Robert Parish taunting him at Bulls practice

How Michael Jordan reacted to Robert Parish taunting him at Bulls practice

Don’t mess with The Chief. Michael Jordan learned that lesson at a practice during Robert Parish’s lone season with the Bulls in 1996-97 — the last of his 21-year career.

Appearing on CLNS Media’s Cedric Maxwell Podcast, Parish told the story of him taunting Jordan (a rare sight at a Bulls practice in the ’90s), and the shock Jordan responded with. 

“We were scrimmaging, we played like six games going to five points. And so after the first two games, Phil (Jackson) put me with the second unit who I always played with. You know, my boys,” Parish told Maxwell. “We proceeded to kick their (the first unit’s) butts like four straight games. And Michael took offense to it, so I asked him, ‘How did he like that butt whooping?’

“He took offense to it because clearly no one ever manned up to him, you know, challenged him. So he said if I wasn’t careful, he was going to kick my ass. And I told him, ‘I’m not in awe of you. I’ve played with some of the baddest fellas there walking the court … And I’m supposed to be in awe of you?' You know, he’s looking at me like I had slapped his mug (laughs).”

Parish ended his career a four-time NBA champion — thrice with the Celtics (1981, 1984, 1986) and once with the Bulls (1997). He cited his experience playing with all-time greats from Larry Bird to Kevin McHale to Bill Walton to Maxwell as reason for not being intimidated by Jordan. 

Still, his gumption apparently sent shockwaves down the roster. 

“Derrick Dickey (Dickey Simpkins?) couldn’t believe that I talked to Michael like that,” Parish told Maxwell on the podcast. “Clearly, Michael was the alpha, you know, it was his team. He ran the ballclub and everybody kind of like got out of his way and let him do his thing.”

Parish added that he respected Jordan’s brazen leadership style, but that he preferred the manner in which Bird operated.

“Everybody got their own style, and the way they lead. Michael was in your face, he challenged his teammates,” Parish said. “Larry was our leader (with the Celtics), and he led by example. You know, he wasn’t a vocal leader, he let his play dictate how we should play. I think Larry’s style and philosophy makes the best leaders, because if you are a yeller and a screamer, after a while your voice fall on deaf ears and players just kinda tune you out, don’t hear what you got to say.

“I respect both leadership styles, but I prefer Larry’s style the best. Cause you know, some nights you don’t want to hear what he got to say, speaking of Michael. He all up in your face talking trash, you know, he might get a short right, man (laughs).”

Fair enough. Jordan’s abrasive ways weren’t for everyone. Surely, he’s content to let his six rings speak for themselves.

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