The Chicago Bulls may have been the 7 point favorites over the Philadelphia 76ers going into Sunday’s game, but you would not have known that from their respective trajectories. The 76ers and Joel Embiid are the new darlings of the NBA having been surprisingly competitive in January, while Chicago has been embattled by locker room turmoil between Dwyane Wade, Rajon Rondo, and Jimmy Butler.
But the 76ers sat out Embiid for this game as part of his minutes restriction, and Jimmy Butler played like a star as Chicago took care of business. The 76ers hung around, prevented this game from becoming a blowout, and tied late, but Chicago had just enough offense and interior presence to pull off the win.
Philadelphia’s Interior Problem
The above title should sound absurd for a team which arguably has the best young true center in the league. But the story of the 76ers has been how good they are with Embiid on the court and how bad they are with him off the court. One of Philadelphia’s problems is their lack of interior protection without Embiid.
That may seem strange since Nerlens Noel has a good defensive reputation and Jahlil Okafor is a true big man. But Nerlens struggled with foul trouble tonight and Okafor was a DNP-CD. Without Nerlens and Embiid, Bulls center Robin Lopez got all the chip shots in the paint he wanted, scoring 21 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. He needs a lawyer for that one.
While Lopez had a good game, Jimmy Butler bounced back from a 1-13 performance against Miami which could have been one of the worst games by any player this season. Butler led the Bulls with 28 points and was much more willing to drive to the rim and draw free throws compared to the Miami game.
Chicago Defense not good enough
But while Butler and Lopez had good offensive games, the 76ers were able to stick around thanks to a strong offensive performance from Ersan Ilyasova with 31 points and Robert Covington with 21 points. Ilyasova has been a valuable veteran presence to the young 76ers squad, and Covington has his shot back after struggling for much of the season. While the Bulls are the 10th best defensive squad in the league as measured by defensive rating, they have had defensive struggles from Doug McDermott and an older Dwyane Wade.
It is not unreasonable to think that the 76ers could have won this game had Embiid played, but the center has not played both nights of a back to back this season and Philadelphia will be playing Sacramento tonight. However, Embiid is reportedly questionable for the Kings game with left knee soreness.
Even though the game was perhaps closer than Chicago would have liked, the Bulls have a nice bounce back win and need to make a strong push before the schedule toughens up in the next few weeks. Meanwhile, Philadelphia is working at identifying its weaknesses. While Embiid is still a potential superstar in the making, this 76ers squad is still a few players short of being able to make a serious playoff push.
DiMoro’s Call: Best Landing Spots For Paul George, Jimmy Butler, Kristaps Porzingis And Others
Wow, what an offseason.
As we approach Thursday’s NBA Draft there have been a number of big trades that have already tilted the NBA world on it’s axis.
The Charlotte Hornets landing the enigma known as Dwight Howard. The Los Angeles Lakers shipping D’Angelo Russell to the Brooklyn Nets for Brook Lopez. The endless trade rumors surrounding the likes of Chicago Bulls star Jimmy Butler and Indiana Pacers’ cornerstone Paul George.
And that’s just the tip of a very big iceberg, as there are more potential big moving parts that could be in motion as we head into Thursday.
Here are the best fits for some of the rumored talent, and the trades that make sense for all parties involved.
Paul George to the Los Angeles Lakers
Let’s start right here, at the very top.
The Indiana Pacers’ phone has been lighting up like a slot machine in a Las Vegas casino as word broke that Paul George would not be committed to staying in Indy.
This opened the doors for teams like the Cavs to start making their bids to acquire the All-Star forward.
But Cleveland lacks the assets, unless a 3rd team can get involved, to land George and they may not be able to convince George, who seems intent on playing for the Lakers, to stay in Cleveland long-term.
Which is why the Los Angeles Lakers, who are in the driver’s seat above other teams in trade negotiations, are the ideal spot.
And negotiations are getting deep.
ESPN.com’s Marc Stein reported that Indiana is trying to land the Lakers’ No. 2 overall pick and while Los Angeles Daily News‘ Mark Medina reports that talks remain at a “standstill” Medina was told that PG-13 remains “highly likely” to get traded before the draft.
The Lakers are trying to acquire more lottery picks and were rejected by the Sacramento Kings for pitching an offer including the Kings’ 2 lottery picks. Essentially, Los Angeles is trying to avoid having to part with the 2nd overall pick.
But they may very well have to if they want to land George.
A package involving the 2nd overall pick, Jordan Clarkson and Julius Randle could get close to enticing the Pacers.
Without the 2nd overall pick, Indiana is likely to be asking for a package headlined by Brandon Ingram, which the Lakers should want no part of.
Jimmy Butler to the Minnesota Timberwolves
The Chicago Bulls are actively shopping Butler and some may categorize it as “aggressive shopping”. CSN Chicago’s Vincent Goodwill reported that the team is “shopping Butler to many teams.”
Jimmy Butler prefers to stay in Chicago but also has some interest in Cleveland.
According to the Chicago Sun-Times‘ Joe Cowley:
“One of the sources indicated that Butler would even push his front office to get the deal done, which is a huge change of direction for Butler, who has told both general manager Gar Forman and vice president of basketball operations John Paxson numerous times over the last year that he didn’t want to be traded. But that was before the Eastern Conference powerhouse Cavaliers became a possible destination.“
ESPN.com’s Marc Stein reported that Cleveland has been informed Butler wants to stay in Chicago.
But don’t expect the reports to indicate a deal can’t be done. I just think Cleveland, unless they can pull Phoenix into the game, can get a deal done.
I look at Minnesota where Butler’s former head coach, Tom Thibodeau, is at the helm
If Butler is on his way out, then Bulls fans can get excited about a trade partner such as the Wolves.
Minnesota can offer the 7th overall pick and players such as Zach Levine, Kris Dunn and/or a myriad of other young pieces not named Karl-Anthony Towns or Andrew Wiggins.
Kristaps Porzingis to the Phoenix Suns
Another disgruntled player in the abyss of misery known as the New York Knicks. Phil Jackson is an albatross, but you, and everyone else, already knew that.
According to Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical, Knicks president Phil Jackson hasn’t ruled out the possibility of trading Porzingis, the 21-year old phenom from Latvia.
While it may be hard to part with Porzingis, the Knicks at least appear to be open to calls about their franchise cornerstone, or making crazy demands.
According to John Gambadoro of Arizona Sports 98.7 Radio, the Knicks asked the Suns for the 4th overall pick and Devin Booker in exchange for Porzingis, an offer that was apparently quickly rebuffed.
Yahoo Spots is reporting that the Knicks are eyeing either Devin Booker or Marquese Chriss, both considered to be major building blocks for the Suns youth movement and according to the report “neither is going anywhere.”
But does that mean the Suns don’t have anything else to offer the Knicks?
Phoenix can offer pieces such as Eric Bledsoe, the contract of Brandon Knight, Dragan Bender and fluff any package with the 4th overall pick. This could entice the Knicks but maybe not be enough to get the deal done.
The Daily News reported that the Boston Celtics have interest in Porzingis as well, so the Knicks will have plenty of teams to talk to.
At the end of the day, I think their best trade match would be Phoenix who can provide a powerful draft pick paired with a couple of proven, young assets, along with a young prospect, that could be just enough to get a deal done.
DeAndre Jordan to the Cleveland Cavaliers
What a difference a year makes.
Last year, the Los Angeles Clippers made a last-ditch effort to retain DeAndre Jordan as he was about to put on a Dallas Mavericks uniform and now they are shopping him.
The Clips offered Jordan to the Phoenix Suns for Tyson Chandler and the No. 4 pick but were rejected, and rightfully so.
But Jordan could be the “last resort” for the Cavs.
Jordan, who averaged 12.7 ppg and 13.8 rpg earning first All-Star selection and named to third-team All-NBA selection for the second time, would be an instant boost to the Cavs front court and could pay major dividends in an NBA Finals rematch with the Golden State Warriors.
Jordan could help the Cavs control the glass, establish a presence in the paint and also help slow the tempo, keeping the game at a half-court pace.
That should entice the Cavs to at least pick up the phone to call the Clips if they miss on the likes of Jimmy Butler, Paul George or Carmelo Anthony.
And the asking price won’t be as steep as it would for the aforementioned trio.
Bulls Off-Season Woes Set To Continue
Last off-season was one Bulls fans will not forget for a long time. Not long after trading hometown hero Derrick Rose, management appeared to have a plan.
Younger, more athletic. It appeared the Bulls were prepared to provide coach Fred Hoiberg with the kind of roster that fit his style of coaching. We all know what happened next: Two aging veterans that contradict the spacing approach that dominates todays NBA.
As the team inexcusably gave up in game 6 of the first round, the United Center roared with chants of “Fire Hoiberg.” While fans frustration is warranted, it should not be directed at the head coach.
Yes, he needs to be more consistent in rotations. He also needs to learn how to handle the personalities of the game better. One thing he has not been able to help is the roster he was given. Coming in after Thibodeau was fired would already be hard enough on any coach. To then be given a roster that Thibs would enjoy and you have to change for? It was just wrong.
While addressing the media at the conclusion of the season, John Paxson and Gar Forman threw the coach under the bus while explaining he will be returning. They talked about the commitment they made, and criticized his leadership abilities.
Hardly a ringing endorsement of the head coach. It sounds more like they don’t want to eat his contract yet, so will let him carry on until they are ready to have another head coach on the payroll.
Chatter in Chicago has grown steadily over the last few years about the front office and need for change. This year was the perfect time to bring in new faces to make personnel decisions.
The collective thought of fans is simple, Butler won’t get traded and the team won’t move far enough up or down the standings to truly matter. Another mid round pick does nothing for this roster.
Does this regime have what it takes to make the bold move? They haven’t shown it yet. The only time we could say they have done so is in firing Thibs, which most fans would love to take back and instead leave the front office behind.
A new face at the helm could make moving on from Butler possible. Even if Forman and Paxson did intend to move him, does anybody trust what they would get? It seems more then likely they would not value the modern day players who spread the floor like any other team would.
Could they make the bold move of calling a team like Denver and gathering multiple young players and potentially picks? Doubtful. All signs are pointing towards another year of moving a few pieces around here and there, only to not improve the team in any way.
Bobby Portis has shown glimpses of becoming a contributor. Cameron Payne looked awful in his short time not wearing a suit on the sideline. Valentine had a couple of moments, but will only be able to reach the level of role player. The truth is simple; this roster has no identity.
The hardest part of it all may be that Hoiberg will likely take the blame for the poor performance of a lackluster roster, allowing the front office to return and use him as the scapegoat.
Don’t look now Bulls fans, the troubles are already brewing once again.
Bulls’ Rajon Rondo Working Hard For Game 5 Return
Chicago Bulls guard Rajon Rondo, who was a crucial component of the Bulls taking an early 2-0 series lead over the Boston Celtics, is working hard at the possibility of being able to play in Game 5.
Rondo held a night workout in Boston to test his fractured right thumb and ailing right wrist to determine if he would be ready to return for Game 5.
“He wants to play bad,” one source close to Rondo said, according to ESPN.
“As of right now, it’s still tender and he’s erring on the side of waiting until Game 6. But knowing him, he could change his mind in the morning and try to play.”
Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg told reporters that Rondo was out for Game 5 as recently as Tuesday and Rondo, who suffered the injury in Game 2, was initially expected to be in a hard cast for at least 7-10 days.
“This is honestly the first time he’s touched a basketball with that right hand,” Hoiberg said.
“We’ll see. We’ll see how it goes. He’s going to continue to condition and do everything that he can. He was in the weight room yesterday getting a good session in there. It was his first time back in the weight room. He’s just getting this whole process started.”
Chicago has been in flux since Rondo’s injury, with lack of production from the point guard spot, a position that has given little production in the Bulls 2 home losses, which evened the series at 2-2.
“It’s so early in the process,” Hoiberg said regarding a potential Rondo return for Game 5.
“Just watching him wince a little bit as the ball was coming to him makes me think it’s a long shot; but if there’s anybody that can do it, will try to fight through it, it’s Rondo.
Just because the competitor that he is and obviously wanting to get back out there. Doing everything that he can to put himself into position, knowing that it’s obviously still a long shot for that to happen.”
Bulls forward Jimmy Butler knows how big a Rondo return for Game 5 would be for Chicago in the series.
“Obviously, that’s huge,” he said. “We want that guy back, but I don’t know if it will happen, if it won’t happen; I can’t tell you that.
“He’s still out here shooting shots with his left hand from the corner. He just shot that one right-handed, actually, air-balled it. But we love him. He’s our floor general out there. He knows everything. He knows every matchup, every position, and he’s still helping from the bench. We really want him helping out there from the floor.”
Rondo came up big for the Bulls in the first 2 games of the series against his former team. Rondo averaged 11.5 points, 10 assists, 8.5 rebounds and 3.5 steals in the Bulls 2 wins to open the series.
Rondo has said that he considers himself a fast healer but it may be far too outside the realm of possibility for him to return for Game 5.
Chicago had Boston on the ropes, thanks in large part to Rondo, but now they are looking for a way to swing momentum back in their favor, even looking to Rondo for what would be a miraculous return.
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