Posted on: April 19, 2010 11:12 pm
As I watched the Bulls force LeBron James to score 40 points to beat them in Cleveland Monday night, they reminded me of the team that kept playing and kept pushing the Celtics in the first round last spring – all the way to a nail-biting defeat in seven games.
This year’s Cavs are not last year’s Celtics, but this year’s Bulls aren’t last year’s Bulls, either. Every time Jamario Moon hit a 3-pointer or LeBron did whatever he wanted to do, the Bulls’ answer in Game 2 was, increasingly, nothing. A year ago, it was Ben Gordon.
Next year at this time, it’ll be _____.
The Bulls will be scary next year. That will be little consolation when they eventually lose this series to the Cavs – whether they win one or two games in Chicago or not. There was nothing to be ashamed of in their 112-102 loss to the LeBrons in Game 2, nor is there anything wrong with heading back to Chicago down 0-2 in the best-of-7 series. That was to be expected. This is what LeBron does, and it’s what the best team in the NBA is supposed to do.
But a year from now? With news Friday from David Stern that the salary cap could be $56.1 million next season – anywhere from $3 million to $6 million more than projected last summer – the Bulls will be able to bring this same team back to the playoffs with one exception. They’ll have someone to go shot-for-shot with LeBron.
That is, assuming it’s not LeBron; there’s no reason to believe it will be, and I hope it isn’t. Remember a few weeks ago, when LeBron lamented the lack of rivalries in today’s NBA? He’d go a long way toward bringing rivalries back by staying in Cleveland and standing toe-to-toe with whoever receives Chicago’s max money. Dwyane Wade, the ideal rival to LeBron, would be perfect – except he handles the ball too much to play with Derrick Rose and will have a hard time turning his back on South Beach once the Heat flex their salary-cap muscles to put more talent around him. Joe Johnson? Possible; he’d be a good complement to Rose and would’ve had something to say Monday night when LeBron started doing to the Bulls what Michael Jordan used to do to the Cavs in the playoffs.
However it works out, the Bulls will have an answer to LeBron next spring. They won’t need to resort to Joakim Noah’s made-for-headline quotes. With a lineup of Noah, Luol Deng, Taj Gibson, Rose, a max player to be named later, Kirk Hinrich off the bench, and a moderately priced big man who can block shots, the Bulls won’t be facing the Cavs in the first round. They’ll be squaring off in the conference semifinals or finals.
That’ll be a rivalry – one worthy of a bigger, later playoff stage.
Posted on: April 16, 2010 2:45 pm
Edited on: April 16, 2010 3:33 pm
NEW YORK -- At the end of a typically mundane summary of the NBA's two-day Board of Governors meeting, commissioner David Stern dropped a bombshell of sorts Friday. And it means that teams chasing 2010 free agents will have considerably more money to spend than they thought.
Based on a more optimistic revenue picture than the league was projecting as recently as All-Star weekend, Stern said the revised projection for the 2010-11 salary cap is $56.1 million. That's significantly higher than last summer's estimate of between $50.4 million and $53.6 million -- figures that were floated last summer in a doomsday memo to teams that warned of a league-wide revenue decline of between 2.5 percent and 5 percent.
Teams that have been clearing cap space to pursue marquee free agents like LeBron James and Dwyane Wade this summer -- such as the Knicks, Nets, Bulls, Heat and Clippers -- have spent much of the season budgeting on a $52 million cap in '10-'11, which would've been a nearly $6 million drop from this season's payroll limit of $57.7 million. The reason for the healthier figure was what Stern called a "Herculean effort" by teams to prop up ticket and sponsorship sales that were hit by the recession.
Stern said "it's pretty clear" that although revenue will still be down from last season, the drop will "not be as much as we feared at the beginning of the season."
One of the people most affected by the revised financial picture, Knicks president Donnie Walsh, was sitting in the second row of Stern's news conference when the announcement was made. Walsh, who already was figuring on having enough cap space to sign two max free agents for about $32 million, now has more flexibility.
Walsh, who was on hand to learn the result of a draft-pick tiebreaker, merely smiled when I dropped this line on him after Stern's news conference broke up: "Now you have enough money for two max players and Jerome James."
But the news was far more significant than that for an organization like the Knicks, which has hitched its future to the hope of landing at least one major free agent this summer when numerous NBA stars will be on the market. In addition to courting LeBron, Walsh also will be exploring sign-and-trades to revamp the roster and will be simultaneously juggling his desire to retain unrestricted free agent David Lee. For every dollar the cap exceeds Walsh's $52-$53 million projection, it helps his efforts on all fronts.
Similarly, the Heat now don't have to sweat losing Wade nearly as much, as they'll get $2-3 million more space on top of the $18-$19 million they were already projecting -- money that can be used to sign a star and a second-tier player to placate Wade and persuade him to stay. The Bulls now will have enough room to sign a max player and add another piece without doing a salary-dump trade beforehand.
So what changed?
The precipitous decline in the cap that teams were warned about last summer was based on a doomsday projection of an 11 percent collapse in gate (or ticket) revenues, a person with knowledge of league finances told CBSSports.com. As the league closes the books on the regular season, the person said gate revenue actually declined only 7 percent. Based on league-wide gate receipts of $1.1 billion last season, an 11 percent decline would've amounted to a loss of $120 million in ticket revenue. A 7 percent decline at the gate would result in a loss of only $77 million.
Whereas league officials were projecting a decline in overall league revenue of between 2.5 and 5 percent last summer, the revised figure now calls for only a 0.5 percent decline, said the person familiar with league finances, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Basketball-related income, or BRI, determines the salary cap and luxury tax threshold, which is now estimated to be $68 million next season -- down only slightly $69.9 million this season.
Stern was less specific about a controversial number related to the ongoing negotiations aimed at achieving a new collective bargaining agreement and avoiding a lockout after the '10-'11 season. Despite the rosier revenue picture he painted, Stern didn't back off much from the $400 million in league-wide losses he projected for this season during his All-Star address in Dallas two months ago. He placed the new figure at between $380 million and $400 million. Billy Hunter, executive director of the National Basketball Players Association, already has disputed the $400 million figure, telling CBSSports.com last month that it was "overstated."
On the labor front, Stern said the league continues to furnish financial data to the union and that negotiations are taking place on the "staff meeting" level. League owners and executives will meet again during Summer League in Las Vegas, but no high-level CBA talks are expected to occur until after the players submit their counterproposal to the league. Hunter told CBSSports.com last month that the players intend to do that sometime between May 1 and July 1.
Posted on: April 11, 2010 1:40 pm
CLEVELAND -- Stan Van Gundy has been stumping for Dwight Howard as the NBA's MVP for a few weeks, as is his right. Not only is Howard Van Gundy's player, a very credible case can be made for him to win the award.
But with anticipation that LeBron James will win his second straight MVP and do it unanimously, Van Gundy said Sunday that we might as well just give him the trophy for the next decade.
"Obviously I'm biased," Van Gundy said before the Magic played the Cavs in Cleveland's regular season home finale. "I'm in a situation where I see a guy every day and know what he does. But look, I've said all along, too: We all know how the vote’s gonna go. I mean, LeBron will win the MVP every year until he retires.
"I think it is tougher for big guys, but there’s a lot of things that go into it," Van Gundy said. "For the next eight to 10 years, LeBron basically has to go into the year and lose the MVP award. I think you guys have already decided that he’s the MVP and he has to go in and lose it. That’s a pretty good position, and he ain't ever going to lose it because he’s a damn good player."
As usual, Stan the Man was on a roll, and there was no stopping him.
"I don’t even know if Jordan was as hyped as he is and then he goes out and lives up to the hype and sometimes exceeds it," Van Gundy said. "That’s not easy to do. He’s a hell of a player. I mean, I'm not going to argue when he’s the MVP, that’s for sure."
But Van Gundy did take issue with a couple of aspects of the voting. First, in basketball and all sports, Van Gundy said the MVP voting shouldn't be done until after the playoffs. To an extent, I agree. (Remember Dirk Nowitzki winning the MVP in 2006 and losing in the first round to Golden State.) But the NBA Finals MVP usually takes care of the best player in the playoffs, and it's not all bad to keep what essentially are two separate NBA seasons apart when it comes to awards.
"The year’s not over this week," Van Gundy said. "To disregard the playoffs, I don’t care what sport you’re in, when you’re picking an MVP doesn’t make any sense to me. Then again, I’m not running the league."
Secondly, Van Gundy believes scoring is given too much weight in the media's calculation of MVP worthiness. I can see both sides of this argument. On one hand, Howard will most likely be named the unanimous defensive player of the year, a well-deserved honor for his defensive and rebounding dominance. But shouldn't his impact on those areas of the game be given equal consideration with scoring average? There is a scoring title for that, after all.
"His scoring would have to go way up," Van Gundy said. "We’re a team that offensively is not going to help him right now win an MVP award. We’re built on much more balanced scoring than most of the other teams. It’s tough. [Steve] Nash did it as a point guard, but it’s tough to do it without averaging 25 right now."
Posted on: April 8, 2010 11:11 am
Edited on: April 8, 2010 7:59 pm
Chris Bosh is out for the rest of the regular season after undergoing surgery to repair a facial fracture suffered on the other end of an inadvertent elbow. No, you are not the only one wondering if the All-Star power forward has played his last game in Toronto.
First of all, the Raptors will have a tough time making the playoffs without Bosh, so the remaining four games could be all that's left of their season. Of more concern is the fact that team executives I've spoken with recently continue to believe that Bosh is the most likely of the highly regarded free agents to change teams this summer.
Like LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, Bosh signed his most recent extension with the intention of testing the unrestricted free agent market this summer; each has a player option for the 2010-11 season. All three turned have turned down extension offers since last summer, with Bosh the most recent prospective free agent to say no. The Raptors relayed an extension offer in January, and Bosh's position was that he wanted to play out the season and deal with the contract afterward.
Injury aside, Toronto's inability to make significant improvement this season despite the addition of free agent Hedo Turkoglu has frustrated Bosh to the point where people close to him believe he is the most motivated of the Big Three to seek a new address this summer. In all likelihood, the Raptors would try to accommodate his wishes via a sign-and-trade so they can avoid losing him and getting nothing in return.
It has been long speculated that Bosh, a Texas native, would seek a return to his home state. Conveniently, there are three teams located there, all of which might be enticed to explore a sign-and-trade. The Rockets are in desperate need of star power, the Spurs are aging, and the Mavericks are always game for splashy, big-ticket moves.
One thing's for sure: It's gotten a lot easier over the past 48 hours to imagine Bosh wearing another uniform next season.
As for the Raptors' battle for the eighth playoff spot in the East with Chicago, the Bulls got another break Thursday night -- also at the hands of the Cavs. LeBron James was inactive for Cleveland's game in Chicago, giving the Bulls a chance to move ahead of Toronto with four games to play for each team. The Raptors hold the tiebreaker and have the easier schedule: at Atlanta, at Detroit, and home to New York in addition to hosting the Bulls on Sunday. Chicago is at New Jersey Friday night and finishes the season against two playoff teams: home to Boston and at Charlotte.
Posted on: April 4, 2010 1:34 pm
Edited on: April 4, 2010 2:19 pm
BOSTON -- The video of Andrew Bogut's horrific arm injury was bad enough. The specter of a late-season injury to their own teams was enough to make stomachs turn Sunday at TD Bank Garden.
Ray Allen, a former Buck who had been preparing for possibly facing his former team in the playoffs, said, "This is a tough time of the year because they are making playoff plans, selling playoff tickets and they’re right there in the hunt. I think every coach dreads that."
Rivers was adamant -- and I agree -- that Bogut was not the victim of a dirty play. Running out for a court-length pass and breakaway dunk Saturday night against the Suns, Bogut dunked ahead of Amar'e Stoudemire and tried to hang on the rim in an effort to protect himself and Stoudemire.
"If he could've hung onto the rim long enough to get his feet back, he wouldn't have been injured," LeBron James said. "Just a freak accident."
There was no significant contact from Stoudemire, who may have had a hand on Bogut as he went up -- if that. The issue was that as he tried to protect himself by grabbing the rim, Bogut lost his grip and tried to brace the fall with his right arm, which bent catastrophically beneath his entire body weight.
And with it, the Bucks' aspirations of going deep in the playoffs crumpled, too.
Posted on: April 4, 2010 1:13 pm
Edited on: April 4, 2010 1:36 pm
BOSTON -- After LeBron James and Dwayne Wade both strongly hinted in the past week that they're considering skipping the World Championships in Turkey this summer, USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo responded with a warning: Such a decision could jeopardize their spots on the 2012 Olympic team.
LeBron lobbed his own response back to Colangelo on Sunday: He doesn't think that's fair.
The war of words is on.
"I think everyone in the U.S.A. knows what type of commitment these guys have made, including myself, since 2003," James said before the Cavaliers played the Celtics. "I'm not trying to bash Jerry or anything like that, because he's a good guy and I respect him. I don't respect that because of the commitment we've all given to the U.S.A. Right off the bat, we didn't second guess it at all. If we're jeopardizing being in London, what can we do?"
In recruiting members of the 2008 Olympic gold medal team to return for the 2012 Olympics in London, Colangelo has consistently presented to them his desire for a two-year commitment: Win the 2010 worlds in Turkey to earn an automatic Olympic berth, and they get the summer of 2011 off.
But the summer of 2010 is more complicated for James, Wade, Chris Bosh and other 2008 Olympians who will have a chance to be unrestricted free agents on July 1. James also has plans to participate in the filming of a movie; the combination of on-court and off-court responsibilities would seem to make it difficult at best for him to travel to Turkey.
Last week, Colangelo told Yahoo! Sports, "There are no free passes to London." He has since backtracked somewhat, acknowledging that he doesn't expect free agents to practice with Team USA until their situations are resolved. It would be almost inconceivable for Colangelo to punish James for skipping the worlds by leaving him off the Olympic team for London. But in the meantime, he has to maintain the appearance of consistency; if James and Wade bow out, others could follow.
"If that is the case, we'll have to see when it happens," James said. "There's a lot that goes on with being a professional athlete other than just basketball."
Posted on: April 2, 2010 4:58 pm
Edited on: April 2, 2010 5:53 pm
Forget about Kobe Bryant joining the 2010 free-agent frenzy. The three-year, maximum extension he finally agreed to Friday with the Lakers put an end to that.
Instead of exercising his early termination option after the season, Bryant is signing up to finish his career in a Lakers uniform. With a $24.8 million salary next year, Bryant is eligible to make $27.4 million in 2011-12, $30 million in '12-'13 and $32.6 million in the final year of the extension.
This is splendid news -- and not only for Bryant and agent Rob Pelinka, who will get a nice chunk of that $90 million as a commission. It's splendid because it promises four more years of Lakers drama -- the annual questions about whether Phil Jackson will be back to win one more title, and what Kobe will do/think/say if Phil ever does decide to ride off into the sunset with Jeanie Buss and never look back.
It's also splendid because it may offer a glimpse into the decision LeBron James will have before him three months from now. Granted, they are at very different stages of their careers. But if Bryant just laid down the blueprint for LeBron -- hey, if they've given you everything you want, you might as well stay -- then there will be a handful of extremely disappointed general managers standing around with cap space and nothing to spend it on come July 1.
Bryant's extension offer has been on the table since July, when he decided not to exercise the first of two straight termination clauses. It was widely believed that he would follow that good-will gesture by quickly signing an extension, but it took months to finalize.
In addition to eliminating Bryant from a free-agent class that is expected to include James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and others, his decision to commit to three more years with the Lakers suggests that Bryant believes Jackson will be back for at least one more year as coach. Jackson, 64, told NBA.com last week that he expects to be back, barring any surprises in his annual post-season physical. Jackson later backtracked, saying he wasn't leaning one way or the other. Bryant, it would appear, believes otherwise.
Bryant's decision will come as a surprise to several GMs I've spoken with recently who are in the planning stages for this summer's free-agent signing period. They had begun to expect Bryant to make himself available to the highest bidder -- that Bryant was the free agent everyone kept forgetting about. It was never assumed that Bryant wanted to leave L.A., but rather that uncertainty over Jackson's future might compel him to keep his options open.
With four titles and another one possible this June, what better options could there have been? Apparently, according to Kobe, none.
The last time I saw Bryant, he was walking toward the loading dock at the Ford Center in Oklahoma City, sunglasses on and head hanging after a particularly humiliating loss to the Thunder. Minutes earlier, Bryant had gotten more of the rubbish he gets in every NBA city -- more of these comparisons to players who haven't won anything yet. It would stand to reason that Bryant put the LeBron comparisons to rest last June, when he hoisted his fourth championship trophy, and first without Shaq. James hasn't won any yet, and Bryant is within two of tying Michael Jordan, and yet all anyone can talk about is LeBron, LeBron, LeBron.
Bryant can take that; there is no denying James' talent and no telling how many titles he'll ultimately win if he puts himself in the right situation, starting this summer. But now Bryant supposedly has been passed in the NBA hierarchy by Kevin Durant, according to the great basketball publication Rolling Stone.
"Whoever said that is a little bit over their head with that one," Jackson said.
Asked that night in Oklahoma City if he "got caught up" in the head-to-head matchup with Durant, Bryant smiled and said, "That's a silly question." With nine turnovers in the loss, Bryant also was asked if the player defending him -- Thabo Sefolosha -- had become one of the better defenders in the league.
"Sure," Bryant said, with about $90 million worth of sarcasm.
Bryant could have joined the new generation chasing him in the chase for dollars this summer. On Friday, the best player of his generation decided to sit that one out. Let's compare the resumes in four years and see if he was right.
Posted on: February 17, 2010 7:07 pm
Edited on: February 18, 2010 12:38 am
Before the All-Star break, LeBron James made it clear to Cavaliers management what he wanted to see them accomplish at the trade deadline. "Go get Antawn," the King told the Cleveland brass, according to sources.