Bulls

Warriors' Shaun Livingston and Andre Iguodala rewarded for patience with NBA Finals success

Warriors' Shaun Livingston and Andre Iguodala rewarded for patience with NBA Finals success

Often times patience is necessary in the game of basketball. On offense it could be waiting for a pick and roll to develop. Defensively it may be holding your position in anticipation for the exact moment to jump into a passing lane. But sometimes what the game gives can be taken away in an instant.

For Shaun Livingston and Andre Iguodala patience and perseverance have been required traits woven into the success of their NBA careers.

After years of being tested they were rewarded with an NBA Championship last season as key reserves for the Golden State Warriors. This season they helped the organization capture the most regular season wins in league history.

Long before winning a title and being part of a 73-win season, Livingston and Iguodola both developed their skills while growing up in Illinois.

Livingston was born and raised in Peoria and won back-to-back IHSA state titles before leaping to the NBA straight out of Peoria Central High School. Iguodala, a Springfield native, sprouted up at Lanphier High School and then headed to Arizona for two seasons under Lute Olson’s tutelage prior to turning pro.

Both players were selected in the 2004 NBA Draft. Livingston went fourth overall to the Los Angeles Clippers, while Iguodala was taken ninth by the Philadelphia 76ers.

Iguodala would spend eight seasons in Philly, eventually becoming an All-Star in 2012 and leading his team to the playoffs five times. A second round exit following a seven game series with the Boston Celtics would be the farthest Iguodala would go in the postseason.

An offseason trade to the Denver Nuggets would offer the first real change Iguodala would experience in his career. In the 2013 playoffs, a first round loss to a talented but inexperienced Warriors team led by Stephen Curry would be the end of Iguodala’s lone season in Denver.

Before the 2013-14 season, he was the centerpiece of a sign-and-trade deal that brought him to the Warriors, where he would start 63 games and be named to the All-NBA Defensive first team. But a Game 7 loss to the Clippers in the first round of the playoffs would bring changes to the organization.

In came new head coach Steve Kerr, whose most notable coaching decision was to start Harrison Barnes over Iguodala. The 30-year-old veteran would be relegated to a sixth man role for the first time in his career. While at the time it wasn’t easy coming off the bench, it did prove to be effective.

The Warriors would catch fire and make it all the way to the NBA Finals. After finding themselves down 2-1 to the Cleveland Cavaliers, Kerr decided to go with a small lineup and inserted Iguodala as a starter with hopes providing better defense on LeBron James. The change worked. Three straight wins over the Cavs earned the Warriors an NBA title. Iguodala was named Finals MVP averaging 20 points, seven rebounds and four assists after remerging as a starter.

Livingston’s route to championship glory was much different.

A catastrophic knee injury in 2007 altered the Clippers' franchise point guard’s career. Livingston tore his anterior cruciate ligament, posterior cruciate ligament and lateral meniscus, while also spraining his medial collateral ligament and dislocating his patella and tibo-fibular joint in a late February game against Charlotte. Amputation was a possibility.

Fortunately the worst case scenario would not play out. After a long and painful rehabilitation, Livingston signed with the Miami Heat and returned to the court in October of 2008. He bounced around the league playing for seven different teams over six seasons. He found a little stability and success as a starter with the Brooklyn Nets, before landing with the Warriors as a free agent prior to the 2014-15 season.

Livingston would play in a career-high 78 games, averaging 5.9 points, 3.3 assists, 2.3 rebounds per game as a key reserve along side Iguodola. Although he was only on the court 19 minutes each night, he was a factor on an NBA Championship team. This a fitting reward for a man who had to overcome so much just to be standing on the court, let alone a major contributor off the bench.

Now in his second straight playoffs for the defending champions Livingston is shining even brighter. A team-high 20 points along with four rebounds and three assists was instrumental in a Game 1 victory over the Cavs. Iguodala had 12 points, seven rebounds and six assists in the win.

All these years later the two Illinois natives are experiencing overwhelming success. Not because it was their right. Not due to good fortune. Instead it’s been their unique abilities to persevere and be patient that is at the root of their basketball giving tree.

And the tree was happy.

  

Player development still the key in Year 2 of the Bulls rebuild

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USA TODAY

Player development still the key in Year 2 of the Bulls rebuild

In talking with Bulls' fans over the summer and reading posts on social media, it seems like expectations for the 2018-19 season are all over the board.

Some fans think the Bulls will finish at or slightly above the .500 mark and contend for a playoff spot, others are looking for more modest improvement with a win total in the low to mid 30's, while others believe Fred Hoiberg's team will be among the worst in the league.

Reality probably lies in the middle ground. Bulls' General Manager Gar Forman told us on media day the goals will be to win as many games as possible while still focusing on individual player development. The Bulls will again be among the NBA's youngest teams with 9 of their top 11 players under the age of 25. 

Bulls' Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations John Paxson made it clear at the end of last year's 27-55 campaign that he couldn't endure another season of manipulating the roster and player rotations to improve draft lottery chances, while Hoiberg enters the 4th season of his 5 year contract needing to show improvement to keep his position as head coach. 

Clearly, no one in the front office or coaching staff is talking about tanking with the hopes of landing a top 3 pick in the 2019 draft. The Bulls will play to win this season, but they’ll also have to ride out the normal highs and lows of competing with such a young roster.

So, as a Bulls' fan, what should you be watching for this season to judge how much the team has improved? Here's what I'll be looking for:

1. Will Lauri Markkanen take the next step towards All-Star status?

Losing your best player on the 3rd day of training camp isn't the ideal way to start a season, but the good news is Markkanen should return from his elbow injury around Thanksgiving with plenty of time to re-establish himself as one of the league's rising stars. The 1st team All-Rookie selection put on needed bulk and muscle in the off-season to improve his low post game and he's ready to punish smaller defenders who switch on to him in pick and roll situations. Markkanen has all the tools to become a top 30 player in the league. The question is, how much closer will he come to reaching that status this season?

2. Is Zach LaVine all the way back?

Judging by what we saw during the preseason, LaVine appears to be ready to pick up where he left off during his 3rd year in Minnesota when he was averaging 18.9 points per game and shooting nearly 39% from 3 point range before an ACL injury set him back. LaVine should average 20 points a game or more this season, but how much he improves in other areas of his game (particularly on the defensive end), will be the key to whether the Bulls made the right decision in matching that 4 year, 78 million dollar offer sheet LaVine signed with the Sacramento Kings back in July. If LaVine reclaims his status as one of the league’s most promising wing players, the Bulls will have at least two foundation pieces in place. 

3. Can the backcourt pairing of LaVine and Kris Dunn succeed long term?

The Bulls' young guards didn't get a chance to play many minutes together last season because of LaVine's ACL rehab and Dunn's scary fall after making a breakaway dunk against Golden State. Both players are most comfortable with the ball in their hands, and both showed the ability to make big shots at the end of games. Dunn will need to sacrifice some of his offensive game to get the ball into the hands of the team's best shooters, but he's already one of the better defensive point guards in the league and looks like a potential leader on future Bulls' playoff squads. Developing better chemistry with LaVine is critical in year 2 of the rebuild.

4. Is Wendell Carter Jr. the answer at center?

The Bulls used the 7th pick in last June's draft to grab the 6'10" big man, who played in the considerable shadow of Marvin Bagley during their one season together at Duke. Carter Jr. showed enough during Summer League play and pre-season games to move into the starting line-up ahead of 10 year veteran Robin Lopez, but whether he's ready to stay there is another question. Carter Jr. is an excellent rim protector and also has the lateral quickness to switch out on to smaller perimeter players, but right now he's a reluctant shooter. Given the fact Carter Jr. is only 19, it will be fascinating to track how much he improves throughout his rookie season. Did the Bulls strike gold again with the #7 pick?

5. How does Jabari Parker fit?

More than a few eyebrows were raised around the league when the Bulls decided to sign the Chicago native to a 2 year, 40 million dollar free agent contract. Parker was expecting to move to the small forward spot, but returned to power forward when Markkanen was injured, and then moved to the bench when the coaching staff wasn't happy with how the starting line-up was playing early in the pre-season. Parker could be a valuable weapon as a big-time scorer and facilitator with the 2nd unit, but if he's unhappy with his role or playing time, this season could turn out to be an unhappy homecoming. How Parker adapts to the challenges of establishing his role will determine whether the Bulls exercise the team option on the 2nd year of his contract. 

6. Which other players will be part of the roster when the Bulls are a playoff team again?

Questions remain about a number of the team's young players. Bobby Portis has established himself as a legitimate NBA scorer and team leader; his improved 3 point shooting will be critical to the team's success, whether he starts or comes off the bench. But after failing to reach agreement on a contract extension by the Monday deadline, will Portis be chasing stats as he looks ahead to restricted free agency next summer? Denzel Valentine, Cameron Payne and rookie Chandler Hutchison will all have to make the most of limited minutes, with each player needing to prove to the coaching staff and front office they deserve to be in the rotation long term.

So, don't get caught up in the Bulls chasing some arbitrary win total number. Even though the Eastern Conference is weaker overall than the West, Boston, Toronto, Philadelphia, Indiana, Milwaukee, Washington, Miami and Detroit all appear to be likely playoff teams, barring an injury to a key player. 

Hoiberg's offense will continue to emphasize pace, floor spacing and 3 point shooting which should bring out the best in a young and developing roster. 

2018-19 NBA Power Rankings: Opening Week edition

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USA TODAY

2018-19 NBA Power Rankings: Opening Week edition

The theme of the 2018-19 NBA season will be: “old faces in new places”. Like a season-long game of the NBA on TNT crew’s “Who he play for?” game, this year will be about fans trying to get used to the idea of LeBron James in purple (I won’t call it ‘Forum Blue’)-and-gold, DeMarcus Cousins being on a championship-contending franchise and Kawhi Leonard being the new face of Toronto.

The Warriors are still the easy favorite to make it four NBA championships in five years, but they will be tested perhaps more than any year before in a loaded Western Conference, where even the lowliest of teams (here’s to you Phoenix and Memphis!) made solid offseason moves geared towards winning games.

Over in the now-LeBron-less East, there is hope amongst at least four-to-five teams that they could actually have a shot to win the conference. The Pacers still have budding superstar Victor Oladipo, the Sixers still have Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, and the Raptors and Bucks made head coaching changes that could lead to deep playoff runs. But with the rest of the Eastern conference being stuck between lottery contention and middle of the pack, expect the half-experienced, half-youthful Celtics to takeover as East juggernaut.

But whether or not your favorite franchise is aiming for a high draft pick or a postseason berth, there is tons to be excited in a 2018-19 NBA season that will surely be an intriguing one. Check out Week 1 of our NBA Power Rankings right here.