Miami Heat

Derrick Jones Jr. takes down Aaron Gordon in an all-time great NBA Dunk Contest

Derrick Jones Jr. takes down Aaron Gordon in an all-time great NBA Dunk Contest

Ask anyone from Chicago around All-Star weekend, and you'll quickly learn the city breeds tough, gritty and relentless basketball.

Apparently, it also breeds controversial dunk contests.

Thirty-two years after Michael Jordan bested Dominique Wilkins in a contest at the Old Chicago Stadium that many agree saw a healthy heaping of home-cooking on the menu, Derrick Jones Jr. topped Aaron Gordon in an affair that sent shockwaves through the NBA universe. Here's the rundown:

Highlights from regulation

There was a special feeling about this one from the very beginning.

Perhaps white men can jump:

 

 

Dwight busted out the cape (again) — and tributed Kobe along the way:

 

Aaron Gordon at one point rattled off five 50s in a row:

 

The finish

In the end, it all came down to Gordon and Jones, who duked out a dunk-off that featured some absolute haymakers:

 

It was raucous fun, truly. But the controversy came at the finish. Jones' final dunk was an attempted reprisal of Julius Erving's famous free-throw line dunk (re-popularized by Jordan, partly in that aforementioned '88 contest), which registered a 48. Gordon then pulled out the 7-foot-6 Tacko Fall for an improvised leapfrog that nearly tore the roof down.

 

"It was a great decision for him to do that. Everybody knows Tacko's a fan favorite," Jones said. "I knew it was going to get the crowd hyped."

"He (Fall) was a little bit nervous. He was like 'I got faith in you.' I was like, 'I appreciate it,'" Gordon said.

That dunk, though, garnered only a 47 from the judges. Game, set, match: Jones. Boos cascaded from the rafters.

The reaction

That sentiment carried over into the postgame presser.

"What are we doing here?" Gordon bemoaned to assorted media before even taking his seat at the podium. "Jumping over somebody 7-foot-5 and dunking is no easy feat. What did I get, like a 47? Come on, man. What are we doing?"

All fair questions. All fair points.

"I don't even know who gave me the 9s. I'm going to find them," he added with a laugh. "Trust me, I'm going to find them tonight.

Dwyane Wade, Scottie Pippen and Chadwick Boseman... Look out.

Gordon did give Jones his due, calling him a "leaper" and "great dunker." Still, this appears to be the final contest of Gordon's career.

"It's a wrap, bro. It's a wrap. I feel like I should have two trophies," Gordon said, alluding to his defeat at the hands of Zach LaVine in 2016. "My next goal is going to be trying to win the 3-point contest."

Jones, meanwhile, contested the premise that Gordon was robbed at all.

"When I got that 48, it was tough because that was a dunk that I was doing since high school and I know that's 50-worthy. There's no way I should have got a 48," Jones said. "He clipped Tacko's head when he did that dunk, so I knew they couldn't have gave him a 50 for that one. I would have respected it if they gave him another 48, so we can go again."

In that event, Jones said he would have been ready.

"I just turned 23, I got legs for days," Jones said. Jones' birthday was the night of the contest, and he said he had dunks planned for as long as the judges allowed them to.

And though Jones hasn't yet thought about where this dunk contest ranks in the history of ones before, he's ready for the next challenge.

"Whoever want to step out there. I don't know. I'm not naming no names. I don't want to call nobody out, but whoever want to step out in front of me, I'm there. I'm not going to shy away from nobody."

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Heat All-Star Jimmy Butler takes high road on Bulls' sputtering rebuild

Heat All-Star Jimmy Butler takes high road on Bulls' sputtering rebuild

Jimmy Butler never has been afraid to do the dirty work, whether that’s on the court with defense or off it in the form of direct leadership.

But the former Bull also isn’t averse to taking the high road when it’s his genuine path of travel.

So it was Saturday morning at Wintrust Arena at NBA All-Star media day. With the Bulls floundering in their third season of a full rebuild since trading Butler, the now five-time All-Star could’ve piled on to a franchise that has become a punching bag to some.

Instead, Butler, who is leading a Heat renaissance at 35-19, not only spoke highly of the Bulls and its beleaguered management team, but also didn’t fully rule out playing again for the franchise he never wanted to leave.

“I got faith in management here. They have to know what they’re doing. I think their decision (to rebuild) was right for them. I’ll continue to wish them the best,” Butler said. “I think they got some really great young talent. They’ll figure it out. They got nothing but time.”

That’s to be determined. Multiple media outlets, including NBC Sports Chicago, have reported that changes are expected this offseason after the Bulls so publicly stated expectations to challenge for the playoffs and become relevant again and instead find themselves mired with a 19-36 mark.

But that’s no longer Butler’s concern.

“It just goes to show the Heat are great at bringing in guys that can get stuff done,” Butler said, when asked how it feels to have Miami, which also has Bam Adebayo as an All-Star, so well represented. “Guys that are overlooked, that work incredibly hard and try and perfect their craft. I think they put each one of our guys, including myself, in a position to be successful and to being acknowledged and recognized for having incredible talent.”

Butler rose from being the 30th pick in the 2011 NBA draft and barely playing as a rookie to becoming a two-way tour de force with the Bulls, for whom he earned three of his All-Star berths. He’s averaging 20.6 points, 6.8 rebounds and 6.1 assists this season.

“I’ve been to an All-Star Game before, but I think it’s always a little bit special where my whole NBA career started here in Chicago,” Butler said. “It’s incredible. Chicago fans, they love their teams through the good and the bad obviously. I still have homes here. I’m always here during the summertime. I got a lot of love for this city, and I’m so fortunate that this city still has a lot of love for me.”

The Heat have welcomed Butler’s work ethic and direct leadership approach. Butler has been equally complimentary of the Heat and praised Pat Riley, the team president.

“I think that culture was already there. It just fit me. I just brought myself,” Butler said. “The culture was going to stay the same with or without me.

“Everything I heard about Pat is legit, for real. He’s straight to the point, direct, involved in everything and I love it. It shows that he cares and he wants to win, and he wants to win now. You know, none of this is guaranteed. He realizes it, everybody in Miami, the organization realizes it. And we’re trying to make it happen.”

Meanwhile, the Bulls are enduring another injury-plagued season, trying to find their footing.

Butler is under contract through 2022-23 with the Heat, owning a player option on the final season. Perhaps he was merely paying lip service to the possibility of returning here one day. But it’s true he never wanted to leave.

“Like, come on, this is Chicago. This is home for me for a long time, still is home for me now. It’s a definite possibility – maybe toward the end of my career. Who knows?” he said. “We’ll find out when that time gets here.”

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Miami Heat's crowded rotation should interest Bulls

Miami Heat's crowded rotation should interest Bulls

Similar to the Bulls, but amid much different circumstances, the Miami Heat are dealing with a bit of a roster crunch. Their rotation has been excellently managed by NBA Championship winning coach Erik Spoelstra, but they still possess veterans who are hoping to see an uptick in playing time, just like Thaddeus Young in Chicago.

In a report from South Florida Sun-Sentinel writer Ira Winderman, Miami frontcourt players Kelly Olynyk and James Johnson have recently discussed how they have dealt with not being extremely involved in what has been a great Heat season thus far. Possible first-time All-Star Bam Abedayo (15.8 points, 10.4 rebounds, 4.6 assists per game) and Meyers Leonard have held down the Heat frontcourt for most of the year, both playing in all 40 games to this point in the season. Olynyk is at 19.8 minutes per game for the season but has only played in one of the Heat's last five games. 

Heat forward James Johnson has only played in 10 games on the season but has seen a slight uptick in playing time, averaging 17.3 minutes per game over four games in January. But that numbers figure to come way down, possibly all the way to zero, when Justise Winslow returns to full health. And of course once Winslow returns, there is no guarantee he gets, minutes, making him an intriguing (although unlikely) target.  

For all of the reasons listed above, the Bulls should be interested in the Heat's roster right now. While they are likely looking to preserve 2021 salary cap space,  recent history indicates that Miami is always in 'championship hunt mode' and will always look for ways to improve their current roster while worrying about cap-space saving moves later. On that note, per Basketball-Reference.com, Johnson, Leonard, and newly signed rookie Chris Silva are the only players currently on the roster playing more than 60% of their minutes at power forward. 

The Heat, again one of the best teams in the league, aren't desperate for forward depth but could possibly use a defensive-minded forward to close over Leonard for certain matchups in the postseason. 

Enter Thaddeus Young. 

It's easy to see how a closing lineup of Butler-Kendrick Nunn-Duncan Robinson-Young-Adebayo would be smothering defensively. And while Young is not the elite floor spacer that Leonard is, he shot 35.4% on corner 3-point shots last season with the Pacers. It is not inconceivable that he could return to that type of accuracy in a slightly different role with a Heat team with a bit more on the roster in terms of threats on offense. 

Young has played a whopping 97% of his minutes at power forward for Chicago and while the Bulls have made attempts to get him more playing time, the situation lingers as an awkward one. Young is definitely a talented enough player to deserve more than the 22.2 minutes per game he is currently receiving with the Bulls but. As he has said himself: "we have different things that we're trying to do. Like I said, we're trying to develop guys and we're trying to win at the same time."

Miami is a team that—while filled with young talent—is firmly in "win-now" mode. While the Heat likely wouldn't be able to give Young the 30 minutes he is used to, they would be able to supply him a chance to fight for a title with the best homecourt team (18-1) in the league. There are no reports of mutual trade interest between the Heat and Bulls right now but with the Feb. 6  NBA trade deadline fast approaching, the Heat are a team that the Bulls should definitely have their eye on. 

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