Difficult offseason decisions await Bulls
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The big story of the 2011-12 NBA playoffs isn’t the saga of the Heat, or whether the Lakers will survive, or if the Thunder’s time is here, or if the Spurs are really for real. It’s the team that’s gone, the Bulls, the fifth ever No. 1 seed to lose in the first round, though under extraordinary circumstances, given the severe knee injury to Derrick Rose. And then Miami’s struggle Sunday with the Indiana Pacers and losing Chris Bosh for perhaps the rest of the series only further demonstrated what many believed, that the Heat are hardly the lock so many have suggested.
But with the Bulls out, it hardly looks like anyone can keep Miami out of the Finals in a playoffs that may not yield another 100 point game. The playoffs are physical, sure, but this is getting ridiculous. Why have a free flowing game that grinds to a halt at the most important time? The NBA is doing itself a major disservice on making its great product, the postseason, virtually unwatchable with the almost unchecked mayhem. Perhaps everyone is tired after the 66-game season in four months. You’d think Pat Riley was still coaching. Anyone seen Anthony Mason?
As for the Bulls, there are going to be a lot of hard decisions going forward even assuming Rose does recover well and quickly. One is the payroll, which already is around the projected luxury tax line. Will the Bulls spend into the luxury tax even if they aren’t sure how much of next season Rose can play? Should they? It wouldn’t seem to make sense. The tax is estimated at about $70 million. Here’s a look at next season’s payroll already committed:
That doesn’t include the team options for Kyle Korver, Ronnie Brewer and C.J. Watson, which total $12,570,000. And then there’s restricted free agent Omer Asik, whom the Bulls want to retain and might have to match an offer up to $5,000,000. So if the Bulls bring back just this core group, they are well into the luxury tax. Certainly things can change with trades. Maybe someone takes Hamilton’s salary as it is for one year and a small buyout, which could leave room for someone else. You have to be under the salary cap to recruit a top free agent. Even if the Bulls amnesty a player, they would not be far enough under to go for a top free agent. They could use their mid-level exception of about $5 million, but that brings in luxury tax considerations and makes that player cost $10 million, in effect. Currently, the Bulls are third in the NBA behind Miami and barely behind the Lakers for the most payroll committed for next season.
Here’s a look at the roster:
Derrick Rose: He had his surgery over the weekend and no one can say for sure when he’ll return or how it will work. The estimates range from Christmas to being out all season. Even when Rose returns, the history of ACL injuries is you don’t regain your full level until the following season.
Chance to return: 100 percent
Joakim Noah: He’ll play in the Olympics for France and his sprained ankle should be fine, though the Bulls believed after he was hurt he’d be out a month. His name will come up in trade rumors (here comes the Dwight Howard stuff again in July), but he’s still the defensive heart of the team. “I personally believe this group can compete against anybody, the Heat, anybody,” said Noah. “Derrick is going to come back. Like Thibodeau always says, ‘We are very privileged people doing what we love to. Let’s go out there, get better this summer. Come back hungrier than ever and make a run.’” Noah was the team’s leading playoff scorer with Rose out, though Noah only played three games.
Chance to return: 85 percent
Carlos Boozer: It was another disappointing last game. Boozer averaged 13.5 points and 9.8 rebounds on 42 percent shooting in the playoffs. He had a big Game 5 and then poor Game 6. His salary makes him basically untradeable in this new more frugal NBA era and he will not be part of amnesty. “I just want to come back a better player all around, inside and out, offensively and defensively, a better leader. Continue to improve as a player,” said Boozer.
Chance to return: 95 percent
Luol Deng: He’ll play for England in the Olympics and said he will then decide whether to have surgery to repair his torn wrist ligaments. Deng has been upset people have questioned him playing in the Olympics, given England gave his family shelter from the war in Sudan. If he has surgery, he probably won’t return until December. His name will come up in trade rumors as well, though because of the uncertainty about his surgery, there is less chance of anything happening. Still, he won’t be out that long. He averaged 14 points and 8.3 rebounds in the series with the 76ers, though he had a big final game.
Chance to return: 80 percent
Richard Hamilton: He was injured more than half the season amidst questions about whether he was pacing himself for the playoffs. He did average 13 points in just 28 minutes as the team leader per 48 minutes other than Rose. But it seemed coach Thibodeau never became comfortable with him after all the regular season time lost and he sat out numerous fourth quarters.
Chance to return: 50 percent
Taj Gibson: He averaged 9.5 points and 6.5 rebounds in the playoffs, both above his season averages, and displayed the aggressive play that was a team trademark. He is up for an extension and has one more season until he becomes a restricted free agent when he’ll be in high demand.
Chance to return: 90 percent
Jimmy Butler: The rookie didn’t play much this season and just four minutes in the playoffs. But the Bulls are high on him and have him targeted for the rotation next season off the bench.
Chance to return: 95 percent
Ronnie Brewer: He had an up and down playoffs, falling out of the rotation one game and then having a big Game 5. He is probably most vulnerable not to have his option picked up, as Butler plays his sort of defensive, hustling game. “Whatever happens, whatever the management does you have to live with and move on. I’ve enjoyed every minute of it here. The fans welcomed me and the team let me play my game. It would be ideal if they brought me back, but if it was my last game as a Bull, I left it all on the floor. I played as hard as I could every night and I hope everyone remembers me for that. They said they’d do everything they possibly can to bring me back. They are men of their word. All I can do is try to get better for next year and help this team out more than I did this year.”
Chance to return: 15 percent
C.J. Watson: He had a nice season starting 25 games for Rose. He shot a career low from the field, but was good on three pointers. Then he had that disastrous close to Game 6. He shot just 24 percent in the playoffs and 25 percent on threes after almost 40 percent in the regular season. He also is on a team option, though at $3.2 million the lowest of the three among he, Brewer and Korver. “I think we’re fine,” Watson said. “Getting everyone healthy is the key. With Derrick we’re all right to win games offensively and defensively. I’m not sure (what management will do). Hopefully, we’ll all be here to have another run at it. Hopefully, we’ll all be healthy and leave it up to management. Everyone was injured this year. It was a difficult year because we never had a healthy team all year.”
Chance to return: 20 percent
Kyle Korver: He had a good season, ranking in the top 10 in three point shooting again, but suffered a foot injury late in the regular season that worsened in the playoffs and he basically was unable to play in Game 6, though the team declined to discuss specifics. Korver is one of the league’s best perimeter shooters and an improving defender, so there’ll be good a market for him if the Bulls let him go. “We went in every day as a team believing we would win a championship,” said Korver. “We really went for it. We put everything into it every day. So it makes it a really tough finish. This team has a really bright future. Obviously, we need Derrick to come back healthy and strong, which we all think he will. There are some really great pieces. They told me they’d like to bring me back, but (I know) it will come to dollars. It’s a privilege to wear a Bulls uniform. It’s really an honor. I watched the Bulls growing up. To be part of an organization like that is great. The Bulls are first class in every way, great people, organization, culture and a great place to play basketball. Chicago is an amazing place for sports. Obviously, I’d love to be back, but we’ll see.”
Chance to return: 30 percent
Omer Asik: He is a restricted free agent, which means the Bulls can match just about any offer. There are some circumstances in which he can be offered more than a mid-level, though it’s tough to see a team using just about all its cap room on a guy who averaged 3.1 points this season. Though he is more valuable. Assuming the Bulls match, they could consider trading Noah. And Asik along with Brewer and Boozer were the only players to play all 66 games. Though you’d have to get a big scorer to make up for Asik’s lack of offense. It seems too complicated and unlikely.
Chance to return: 80 percent
John Lucas III and Brian Scalabrine are minimum salary free agents, though the Bulls can match on Lucas. He may get a higher guarantee and probably is more likely to be gone than Scalabrine. Though he didn’t play in the playoffs, Mike James would be worth another look as a backup point guard for a minimum if Lucas leaves.
Miami vs. Indiana: It’s already 1-0 Miami, though the series could tighten up with Bosh perhaps out with an abdominal strain. Was that Erik Spoelstra saying, “We have more than enough to win with.” Losing Bosh perhaps for this series with the Pacers would change things some if the Pacers sounded like they thought they could win. Darren Collison was complaining after the game about foul call disparity while one of five Paul George said, "People criticize me for not being aggressive. It's hard to be aggressive when I'm not touching the ball." Danny Granger was one of 10 for seven points and said, "I have to play in the system of the offense, in the rhythm of the offense. I can't just catch the ball and hoist up shots. I think it's on all of us. The coaching staff, myself, we have to find ways to get me involved." And then perhaps to show Frank Vogel he wasn’t Phil Jackson or Pat Riley, Leandro Barbosa got called for an offensive foul on a seeming flop by Mike Miller. I’m sticking with my Miami in five prediction, though watching these East playoffs does require a really empty life.
Boston vs. Philadelphia: After watching six games of the 76ers against the Bulls, I really didn’t want to watch another game of them missing so many shots. You figured they’d make a few more as Boston doesn’t play the Bulls’ defense or have the shotblockers. As good as Kevin Garnett has been, both Paul Pierce and Ray Allen are beat up and this should be another ugly mud bowl. If there’s an asterisk on this season, there has to be one on Rajon Rondo’s triple doubles as he could get one every game the way the 76ers shoot. Boston usually has trouble paying attention every game in a series with their version of basketball senior moments, but they should get through in seven in giving the 76ers the illusion they had a chance. And they’re all Miami has to beat to get back to the Finals?
Thunder vs. Lakers: This should be terrific. The Lakers took them out a few years ago in an exciting first round series when they were just coming. Now they’re here and with plenty of rest. When the Nuggets ran, the Lakers couldn’t keep up. But Denver had no size. The Thunder does and the league’s best shot blocker. They’ve got three scoring stars and Artest can only defend one. Unless he assaults James Harden’s beard again. I like Thunder in six to turn around that Lakers win of 2010.
Spurs vs. Clippers: Sometimes it’s enough just to get there, and that should be the Clippers. The first round win over Memphis saved the season. But both Blake Griffin and Chris Paul have injuries as does Caron Butler, who keeps playing. The Spurs are healthy, have been resting for a week and haven’t lost in about a month. They’re deep and determined and the question is whether Popovich will let them lose a game so he can yell at them for the conference finals. Say Spurs in five, though that’s charitable for the Clippers.
Korver among the best at giving back
-- It’s been a busy time as well for the Kyle Korver Foundation, which with its Seer Outfitters clothing line donated 7,000 t-shirts toward raising money for a new sports complex in his hometown of Pella, Ia. In memory of 16-year-old Blake Van Vark, who died in an auto accident. “The kid was really awesome,” said Korver. “I was friends with his dad and uncle, played sports with them growing up. The family always came to games (in Chicago). It’s the first kid I’ve known who passed away. Really tough. We’re building a brand new sports complex and want to name the field for him. It really made the city come together. We sold like 7,000 t-shirts and there’s 10,000 people in the town.”
Korver also is running a fundraising dodgeball tournament in Chicago this summer with Deron Williams, a project he and Williams did in Salt Lake City when they played for the Jazz to raise money for Korver’s foundation. The foundation is to help underprivileged kids with various projects.
A lot of athletes do a lot of good things. But Korver is one of the best I’ve seen. That’s because so much of what his foundation does he himself is involved with. There have been community center projects the foundation has helped fund. When Korver is in that city, he’ll go over and work there. I’ve seen him routinely on the road when the team has time off in a city go to work at soup kitchens or community centers in poor areas. He’s an athlete who isn’t too big to get involved. The NBA is fortunate to have players like him.
Stars have fallen in the postseason
-- So how do you build a winning team? Stars, right, the players who produce the greatest numbers during the season? The first round of the playoffs is over and from the regular season, 13 of the top 20 scorers are out (not counting Derrick Rose, who didn’t qualify being out so many games), seven of the top 10 rebounders and eight of the top 11 (tie for 10th) leaders in assists.
Scorers: Kevin Love, Carmelo Anthony, LaMarcus Aldridge, Dirk Nowitzki, Deron Williams, Dwight Howard, Monta Ellis, David Lee, Al Jefferson, Brandon Jennings, Rudy Gay, Joe Johnson and Josh Smith
Rebounders: Howard, Love, Kris Humphries, DeMarcus Cousins, Marcin Gortat, Tyson Chandler, Joakim Noah.
Assists: Steve Nash, Jose Calderon, Williams, Ricky Rubio, John Wall, Andre Miller, Ty Lawson and Mike Conley.
NBA news and notes
-- Was that Vinny Del Negro outcoaching Lionel Hollins? I like Hollins’ “World isn’t ending view of basketball.” Even though his season is over. But you have to credit Del Negro in that Game 7 win Sunday for sticking with his bench virtually the entire fourth quarter. He played Blake Griffin just 1:39 and no starter made a field goal. Chris Paul played just six minutes. It would have been easy to go with the stars, and Del Negro would have taken the heat for using Nick Young and Reggie Evans the entire fourth quarter in a loss. But they were big and the Clippers pulled what I saw as an upset. Certainly winning Game 7 on the road after being up 3-1. ... Now a team that is going to have to look inward is the Grizzlies. After a good start to the series, O.J. Mayo was awful and shot one of 11 Sunday and 27 percent for the series. Mike Conley was two of 13 Sunday. With a top 10 payroll in small market Memphis, the talk is the Grizzlies can’t retain restricted free agent Mayo. I heard an interesting suggestion that they should trade Conley and Rudy Gay for Deron Williams. Certainly, the Nets would do anything. But I can’t see Williams accepting a sign and trade and going to small market Memphis. He seems to have his heart set on a bigger market, though the Grizzlies’ greatest need is perimeter shooting. Gay’s name will certainly be mentioned as he and Zach Randolph again had problems working together. ... Gilbert Arenas wasn’t a distraction. He was just awful. His brief appearance to open the fourth quarter Sunday was when the Clippers took control of the game as he made several bad decisions. He averaged 4.2 points and shot 41 percent in 17 regular season games and less than a point on 28 percent shooting in the playoffs and the team couldn’t count on him Sunday with Conley having a poor game and supposedly ailing.
-- J.R. Smith was pooh poohing that $2.5 player option he has, though can you pay more for a guy coming off 18 percent three point playoff shooting and 30 percent overall? Smith shot 40 percent in the regular season and that $2.5 million may look pretty good in this market. ... There sure was a lot of talk about a team 1-8 in the playoffs the last two seasons with quick first round outs both times for the Knicks, who upon leaving heard coach (apparently returning Mike Woodson at a relatively small salary) that the Knicks’ three of Anthony, Stoudemire and Chandler with time will rival Miami’s. I’d give them a shot with Rose, Scalabrine and Gibson. ... One of the more intriguing free agents is Andre Miller, who is 36 but still very good. He’s said he wants to start with Ty Lawson taking over in Denver and finally making a name for himself with his play against the Lakers. It doesn’t seem likely the Bulls could get Miller for a lot of reasons. But they can be a title contender and he could start for Rose for a time and then perhaps move over as the Nuggets played him at two guard some, though he doesn’t shoot with range and doesn’t defend that well. Said Miller after the series ended: "I'll keep my options open. At this point in my career, if I'm going to be a backup, I'm going to be a backup on a championship-caliber team. Obviously, this team is a good team that's going to get to the playoffs, but the thing is if they are committed to getting to that next level to compete for that championship." ... The guy to get the big offer on Denver is likely to be JaVale McGee, who could lead the league in shotblocking. The Lakers took over that Game 7 on the boards when he had to rest. ... The 76ers outscored the Bulls in every fourth quarter in the series. ... Pretty brutal post season for Joe Johnson shooting 37 percent overall and 25 percent on threes. They’ll most likely entertain offers on Josh Smith, though owed $88 million for the next four years probably makes Johnson untradeable.
-- It was a curious ending for the Jazz in some ways as Raja Bell said coach Ty Corbin never spoke to him and C.J. Miles said Corbin told the wing players not to attempt any threes against the Spurs. Utah’s shooting was poor, anyway, and though they lost to the team that could win it all, it still was in the first round and having four bigs with little perimeter suggests they should trade either Al Jefferson or Paul Millsap. Derrick Favors came on strong in the playoffs, almost averaging a double/double and the Jazz say rookie Enes Kanter is their center for the future. Jefferson should command a lot of interest. John Wall and Evan Turner went ahead of Favors. But if that draft were done again you’d probably look higher at big men Favors, Greg Monroe and DeMarcus Cousins, though Cousins might still be too much a distraction despite his gaudy stats. ... The Heat issued an apology for P.A. announcer Mike Baiamonte saying Stoudemire had been “extinguished” when fouling out of Game 5, a pretty good, actually, reference to his battle with the device. It brought to mind the most obnoxious of these guys who scream and carry on and generally make a mockery of the event. He’s the worst probably along with the guys in Orlando, Detroit and Charlotte. Which makes it nice the Bulls have such a classy, professional guy like Tommy Edwards.