NBA preseason primer: Offseason losers


NBA preseason primer: Offseason losers

Leading up to Bulls media day on Sept. 28, Bulls Insider Vincent Goodwill and Mark Strotman will preview the upcoming NBA season with daily features on everything related to the Association. Today the pair analyze which teams "lost" the offseason with a combination of free-agent signings, trades and/or draft picks.

Mark Strotman: This is tough for me to admit as a Marquette graduate who covered him during my time at school, but for the life of me I can't figure out why a smart Dallas front office would sign Wesley Matthews to a four-year, $70 million deal. If he had stayed healthy I would have loved the signing; Matthews, 28, was enjoying a career year before blowing out his Achilles heel in March, ending his season abruptly. When looking at similar players' deals this offseason - Danny Green (4 years, $40 million), Monta Ellis (4 years, $44 million) and Lou Williams (3 years, $21 million) - Matthews' money looks far too steep for a guy who may never fully recover.

The DeAndre Jordan fiasco wasn't really Dallas' fault, but the reality is they now swap Tyson Chandler (Suns) with some combo of Zaza Pachulia/Sam Dalembert/JaVale McGee at center. I actually liked the safe Deron Williams signing (two years, $10 million) but in the ultra-competitive Western Conference the moves simply aren't going to be enough to make them legitimate contenders, if a playoff team at all. Mark Cuban was right that Jordan could have changed the outlook of the franchise; his 180 to the Clippers and the Matthews signing make that outlook grim. Sidenote: The Justin Anderson draft selection was a great one. At least they'll have that to look forward to in the post-Dirk era.

Vincent Goodwill: Ironically, Matthews was speculated by some to be a target of the Bulls this offseason, perhaps believing he wouldn’t sign a long-term deal until he was fully healthy. But the DeAndre Jordan fiasco made Matthews a beneficiary of Mark Cuban’s generosity. And even after all that, the Mavericks didn’t have the absolute worst offseason. They’ll get what’s left of the shell of Deron Williams, the best point guard they’ve had since an aging Jason Kidd helped them to the 2011 title.

That would be our friends in the Pacific Northwest would be the squad with the worst summer, the team whose second-biggest loss was Matthews. The Portland Trailblazers probably weren’t going to contend for a championship, as good as they were with a core led by LaMarcus Aldridge, Damian Lillard and Matthews But now they’re going to join the lottery-bound teams in the West, looking up to all the giants after losing Aldridge, Matthews, Arron Afflalo and Nic Batum over the summer. They brought in Al-Farouq Aminu and Gerald Henderon as space-fillers, but making the playoffs is a pipe dream.

They have Lillard, but being the undisputed No. 1 guy making super max money on a team going nowhere is sure to make him miserable…until the 1st and 15th.

MS: I suppose Dallas didn't have the worst offseason, but what it could have been and the return value they received post Emoji-gate was a punch to the gut. Another team that took one on the chin was the Los Angeles Lakers. LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Love, (for a short time) Marc Gasol and even Greg Monroe were all potential options, and that tasty prospect of Jimmy Butler not taking an extension with the Bulls to become a free agent in 2016 and join the Lakers seemed plausible thanks to his relationship with Marky Mark. Instead, Mitch Kupchak signed the aforementioned Williams and Brandon Bass, and traded for Roy Hibbert. In a vacuum this wouldn't seem like an awful offseason...

...But remember, the Lakers will lose their first-round pick if it's outside of the top three next season. With their additions and a (hopefully) healthy Kobe Bryant and Julius Randle returning, the Lakers won't be as bad as they were last year when they won 21 games and lucked into the second overall pick. I project them to top 30 wins this year, meaning they'll be handing that first-round pick over to Philadelphia (through Phoenix), really crippling their rebuilding efforts in the short-term. Also, I wasn't thrilled with them selecting D'Angelo Russell over Jahlil Okafor. I know you've got your reservations about Okafor's defense at the next level, but that kind of offensive skill set shouldn't have fallen to third overall. Plus, point guard Jordan Clarkson showed some real potential in the season's second half - nothing serious enough to consider him the team's future at the position, but just another reason Okafor should have been the pick. The Lakers made due with what the offseason handed them, but like the Mavericks it could have been a whole let better. Now they pray for Russell Westbrook in 2017.

VG: I think the Lakers were in an obvious catch-22, when you consider all the factors starting with an aging but expensive Kobe Bryant. Signing him to that deal which is now viewed as an albatross may hurt the Lakers in the short term because it’s more about “what you’ve done before” as opposed to current value, but his importance to the somewhat-tarnished Laker brand is undeniable. The franchise needed to have someone to hold up as an example for what it does for its own as a show of loyalty, and count this writer as someone who doesn’t criticize that organization for its particular set of circumstances.

Okafor is a borderline franchise big man in a league that’s moving away from being big. And seeing D’Angelo Russell in Big 10 country last season, he has star written all over him—another special circumstance of living in Los Angeles and playing for THAT franchise. But if we’re going to talk about “marquee” franchises that haven’t had the best luck in acquiring stars, the New York Knicks are the best place to start, because at least the Lakers have won titles in the last 40 years.

The Knicks also missed out on Aldridge, Monroe, Love and Gasol, with those players often using the Knicks’ interest to set the market for other teams to inevitably match. And although the drafting of Kristaps Porzingis may produce dividends in the long run, they have Carmelo Anthony making max money in the short term, with former Bulls coach Phil Jackson trying this executive thing out for the first time in his career. Jackson, a self-promoter in his own right, doesn’t want players coming to the Knicks for the money, although it’s clear the $12 million annual salary he’s commanding is the only reason he signed up for this mess. And it doesn’t look like he has any grand plan of getting this franchise out of it, after signing Arron Afflalo and Robin Lopez to free agent deals—names who won’t make the marquee at MSU, let alone MSG.

Expect another long season at the Garden, and another year full of laughs against the laughingstock of the league.

Previous previews

- Offseason winners

New-look Mavs looking to make big jump this season


New-look Mavs looking to make big jump this season

Outspoken Dallas Mavericks’ owner Mark Cuban conceded his team was playing for draft lottery position last season, but insisted it would be a one year only strategy.

Dallas finished tied for the league’s third worst record, but fell to fifth after the lottery.

So, Cuban and the Mavs’ front office decided to make a bold move on draft night, trading their 2019 first round pick to Atlanta to move up two spots for a chance to select international sensation Luka Doncic.

Early in the season, Doncic has more than lived up to the hype, showing the creativity and flair that made him such a fan favorite on the European professional circuit. Through the Mavs’ first two games, Doncic is averaging 18 points, 7 rebounds and 3.5 assists while giving Rick Carlisle’s team a much-needed boost in transition.

Doncic and second-year guard Dennis Smith Jr. will give opposing teams nightmares in the open court all season long. They led the offensive onslaught in the Mavs’ 140-136 win over Dallas Saturday night, combining for 45 points. Doncic finished with 26 points, while Smith scored 10 of his 19 in the 4th quarter, including a tie-breaking three-point play with six seconds left.

Veteran swing-man Wesley Matthews added 19 against the Timberwolves, and his 3 point shooting helps the Mavs maintain floor balance in half-court sets.

The Mavs also strengthened their front court in the off-season, signing veteran center DeAndre Jordan in free agency. Dallas was overmatched in the middle last season, with future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki and Dwight Powell giving up size in the post, but Jordan will provide rim protection and an alley-oop threat when Doncic, Smith Jr. or veteran point guard J.J. Barea drive to the basket. Jordan had a big game in the home opening win over Minnesota, scoring 22 points, pulling down 10 rebounds and blocking 5 shots.

Nowitzki, starting small forward Harrison Barnes and backup guard Devin Harris all missed Saturday’s game because of injuries, but Barnes and Harris are considered game-time decisions against the Bulls.

Here’s what the Bulls will need to do to get their first victory of the season Monday night.

1. GET BACK ON DEFENSE! Doncic and Smith Jr. are deadly in the open court, capable of making spectacular plays to bring the home crowd to life. The Bulls’ players have to sprint back on defense after missed shots to cut off transition opportunities, or it’s going to be a long night. The Mavs are averaging 128 points through the first two games.

2. CLOSE OUT ON 3-POINT SHOOTERS This will be a familiar theme in my keys until the Bulls start doing a better job of matching up in transition and closing out on three point threats. Detroit’s win at the United Center on Saturday came down to the Pistons’ 18-40 shooting from three-point range, and Dallas has even more players capable of doing damage from beyond the arc.

3. LET DUNN DO IT Getting Kris Dunn back from paternity leave should make a big difference on both ends of the court. Dunn has the athleticism and physicality to match up with either Doncic or Smith Jr., and his defensive skills will be critical in keeping the Mavs from turning this game into a track meet.

On the offensive end, Dunn need to be patient and get the ball into the hands of the Bulls’ top scorers, Zach LaVine and Bobby Portis. Even though Fred Hoiberg wants his team to play at a fast pace, they’ll need to pick their spots on when to run against the explosive Mavs.

As always, turn to NBC Sports Chicago for the very best pre and post-game coverage. Kendall Gill and Will Perdue join me for Bulls Pregame Live at 7 p.m/, and we’ll have expanded post-game analysis when the action goes final in Dallas. You can also stream the shows live on the brand new My Teams by NBC Sports app.

Bulls defense costs them late but showing 'competitive spirit' a step in right direction


Bulls defense costs them late but showing 'competitive spirit' a step in right direction

The Bulls defense is nowhere near where it needs to be, and it cost them dearly on Saturday night. But in a season that’s still about seeing progression both individually and collectively, the Bulls took a step in the right direction with their effort and what Fred Hoiberg called “competitive spirit.”

That won’t change the standings when they wake up Sunday morning, now facing an 0-2 hole in the early season. And while better effort and tougher defense helped them stage a second-half comeback they weren’t able to manage on Thursday, it was a defensive miscue that cost them the game.

Ish Smith split a double screen at the top of the key and sliced his way past Jabari Parker for a wide open go-ahead layup with 5.4 seconds left. Zach LaVine, who 20 seconds earlier had tied the game with the last of his 33 points, was unable to get a shot off after a timeout. Better than Thursday for 47 minutes and 50 seconds. But still costing them when it mattered most.

“We can’t give up a layup for the last play,” said LaVine, who was guarding Smith. “We just got to get our defense right. That’s why it’s really upsetting because we played so well, we came back but we can’t give up a layup. We at least have to make him take a tough one. That was as easy a layup as you can get. It’s really upsetting.”

Fred Hoiberg defended his decision to leave Parker in the game instead of inserting rookie Wendell Carter Jr. He opted to ride the group that helped the Bulls erase a fourth-quarter deficit when it appeared the Bulls were spiraling toward another double-digit loss.

But the Pistons were ready to find the weak link in the Bulls defense and expose it, like they did much of the fourth quarter while attacking Parker with Blake Griffin. As the screen was set Parker jumped outside to cut off Smith, who then made a cut inward and made a dash to the rim. Parker was a couple steps late, allowing the 5-foot-9 Smith to score with ease to give the Pistons their lead and the eventual game-winner.

Bobby Portis, whose shot wasn’t falling but played admirable defense against a talent like Griffin, was on the other side of the double screen and didn’t have a great view of the play. But he said allowing a layup with the game on the line is inexcusable.

“It’s a tough play but at the same time you don’t want to give up a layup at the end of the game,” he said. “You want to make him take a tough shot. That’s something we’ve got to work on, is late game execution on defense.”

But again, it’s about baby steps. The Bulls will want that final possession back, and Hoiberg might also want it back after leaving Parker in the game over Carter. But from where the Bulls were on Thursday, this was better. Granted, allowing 118 points and 18 3-pointers to the Pistons isn’t a recipe for success, it’s improvement nonetheless. Detroit got a career-high five triples from Griffin, four from Reggie Jackson (a career 32 percent 3-point shooter) and a pair from Stnaley Johnson (a career 29 percent 3-point shooter). The Bulls will be able to live with some of those makes.

On Thursday the Bulls trailed by just six early in the third quarter before the Sixers ripped off a 19-3 run to put the game out of reach. On Saturday the Pistons got out to a six-point lead on two different occasions, and then a seven-point lead with just 2:01 to play. All three times the Bulls came roaring back, using timely spots and clutch baskets from LaVine, Park and even Cameron Payne, who tied a career-high with 17 points.

Ultimately it wasn’t enough, but it’s a positive sign that they were able to battle back and show some fight defensively. They’ll certainly need that when they travel to Dallas to take on a Mavericks team that scored 140 points on the Jimmy Butler-less Timberwolves on Saturday. They should get Dunn back, which will help,  and now have a close contest under their belt on which to build. It didn’t result in a win, and the late-game cross-up was the cause, but the Bulls finished Saturday in a much better place than they were in on Thursday.

“Yeah but obviously we want to get the win. I feel like we fought hard,” Portis said. “Even when adversity hit everybody stuck together. We did our thing tonight. You want to win the game but I felt like we did our job tonight. We just gave up a bad play at the end of the game.”