Hamilton finding rhythm at perfect time for Bulls

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Hamilton finding rhythm at perfect time for Bulls

CHARLOTTETo say it was a flashback would be an insult, but the way Rip Hamilton played Wednesday night, he looked like the player they anticipated when they acquired him in December. Granted, the former three-time All-Stars 22-pointon 9-for-13 shooting and 4-for-5 from three-point rangesix-assist performance came against the lowly Bobcats, but his outing was even more encouraging because it occurred with All-Stars Derrick Rose and Luol Deng sidelined with injuries.

Its feeling better. Each and every game, I get better. Thats the good thing. When I first came back, the problem wasnt me getting to the spots that I wanted to get to . It was actually just gaining a rhythm and getting a feel for the game again. But every game, it gets better. Im definitely pleased with whats going on, said Hamilton, who missed the bulk of the campaign with various ailments. The rhythm and the timing, the timing of the game and thats for anybody. When youre away from the game this long, the biggest thing is just rhythm and timing.

Im just aggressive. With Derrick out and Luol out the last couple games, I just try to be a lot more aggressive and try to make plays, continued the shooting guard, who also had a stellar night, albeit in a loss, against Washington at home Monday night. Just from a spacing standpoint. The more space that we have, with the type of players that we have, good things can happen.

Hamilton emerging as a major threat is happening at just the right time, with the injury-plagued Bulls almost at the finish line of the regular season. His teammates and coaches have taken notice.

Playing great, shooting lights out, super aggressive. Looks like the Rip Ive been playing against for a long time, praised Carlos Boozer, one of the prime beneficiaries of Hamiltons underrated passing ability. I think it opens up a lot of things for me and Joakim. You saw the way he was shooting, it got Joakim and I lots of layups and dunks. But at the same time, defensively, hes a tough defender. Another added weapon.

Chimed in Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau: Its hard to judge. Each day he gets better. Again, its how our team plays. Its not how one particular guy plays. Its how our team functions and thats what were focused on right now.

The fact that Hamiltons mentalityhe won a championship on a similarly-balanced and defensive-oriented Pistons teamjibes with his coachs approach has eased the transition, now that hes regained his rhythm, as he knows hes capable of scoring, but isnt overly concerned with putting up big numbers at this stage of his career.

Explained Hamilton: Its something that Ive been accustomed to my whole career, so its nothing I dwell on. Its just something that I say, Well, all right, if the team needs it, Ill do it, and I think coming back off an injury, you just say, My job is to get to my spots. If I can get to my spots and feel good, and not be as hurt as I was before the game, then I know my shot will end up falling.

Still, Hamiltons long-range shooting on a team in need of more consistent deep threats has been a pleasant surprise, since Hamilton has always been known as a mid-range specialist.

I always feel as though I can make them from the corner, but when Im hitting them up top, thats something different. I felt good. I think we really worked the ball inside-out and got me some easy attempts, he said. I always say, Why shoot threes when you can blow by your man? Thats always been my thing my whole career, but I did lead the league in three-point percentage one year the 2005-06 season. Thats what people dont realize. But I dont get caught up in that. I just take the best shot that I can get. If its 20 feet, if its a three-pointer, if its a layup, I just play the game and try to play it the right way.

Which teams have the best odds to sign Kevin Durant?

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Which teams have the best odds to sign Kevin Durant?

Now that Oklahoma City has become the 10th team to blow a 3-1 lead in a playoff series, the clock has officially started on Kevin Durant’s upcoming free agency. With the salary cap jumping to about $92 million this summer, almost half the league will be able to offer Durant a maximum contract at 11 p.m. on June 30th.

So, which teams have the best chance to sign one of the league’s top-three players? Here’s a look at the early odds.

Oklahoma City Thunder: 2-1. For financial and competitive reasons, Durant’s best move is to stay in Oklahoma City. With the cap jumping $20 million this summer and another $15 million in 2017, Durant can make an extra $40 million by signing a one-and-one contract with the Thunder in July, then opt out and sign a long-term deal in 2017. Plus, after taking the defending-champion Warriors to seven games in the Western Conference Finals, Durant has an excellent chance to win a championship with the Thunder next season. And, by signing for one year, he can align his free agency with Russell Westbrook’s in 2017. That way, if Westbrook decides to abandon Oklahoma City for a big-market team in Los Angeles or New York, Durant can bail from a sinking ship at the same time.

San Antonio Spurs: 10-1. Durant has a world of respect for the dynasty Gregg Popovich has built, and he would make the Spurs an instant title favorite if he made the move to San Antonio. The Spurs would have to jettison some contracts and nudge Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili into retirement to create cap room, but the thought of Durant joining Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge in San Antonio is pretty intriguing.

Miami Heat: 15-1. Never underestimate Pat Riley’s ability to sell a free agent on the ability to win championships by joining the franchise he runs. Riley worked his salary-cap magic to add LeBron James and Chris Bosh in 2010, and he even got a meeting with Aldridge last summer even though the Heat didn’t have the cap room to sign him. If Durant wants to get away from the top-heavy Western Conference for a better chance to get to the Finals, what better place to go than South Beach? The biggest problem in this scenario is Miami doesn’t have a lot of cap flexibility and would probably have to sacrifice the chance to re-sign free agent center Hassan Whiteside to make a run at Durant.

Golden State Warriors: 25-1. We’ve read the media speculation about the Warriors being the biggest threat to take Durant away from Oklahoma City, but if Golden State is able to win a second straight championship, do they really want to mess up team chemistry by adding a star player who would expect to get 20 to 25 shots a game? Sure, the triumvirate of Durant, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson would be something to behold, but would it make the Warriors a better all-around team or just a nightly All-Star exhibition? The Warriors would have to let restricted free agents Harrison Barnes and Festus Ezeli go plus make some other roster moves to create the cap room for a competitive offer.

Los Angeles Clippers: 30-1. The Clippers won’t have the cap room to sign Durant, but Doc Rivers could propose an intriguing sign-and-trade deal sending Blake Griffin back to Oklahoma, where he starred as a collegian. The trio of Durant, Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan could do some serious damage in the West, and Griffin might be a popular addition in Oklahoma City, though not quite the same franchise-altering talent as Durant.

Los Angeles Lakers: 40-1. Would Durant be willing to leave a championship contender in Oklahoma City and give up an extra $40 million to join a rebuilding Lakers team? Probably not, though the lure of Tinseltown can be appealing for a lot of athletes. Magic Johnson and Kobe Bryant would give their best recruiting pitches, but the answer is most likely no.

Boston Celtics/Washington Wizards: 50-1. Danny Ainge is still searching for that elusive superstar to elevate the Celtics to contending status, and Durant grew up in the Washington, D.C. area, but neither franchise is exactly what Durant is looking for. As we mentioned with Miami, moving to the East would give Durant an easier path to the Finals, but he’s already gone on record saying he doesn’t want the pressure of playing in his hometown, so the Wizards are probably out. Boston might be a long-shot team to watch if Ainge can make a trade to bring in another star to pair with Durant.

Chicago Bulls: 500-1. Given the current state of the franchise, it’s hard to imagine Durant agreeing to a meeting with the Bulls, much less choosing to sign here. Sure, he knows Derrick Rose from playing together on a couple of U.S. national teams, and the Bulls could probably create the cap room by trading off the contracts of Mike Dunleavy or Taj Gibson. But Durant and the other top free agents will have better options to choose from when the market opens for business.

If the Bulls don’t re-sign Joakim Noah, look for the front office to shop for a center and wing shooter from the second tier: names like Zaza Pachulia, Timofey Mozgov, Festus Ezeli, Marreese Speights, Courtney Lee, Arron Afflalo, Gerald Henderson, Jerryd Bayless — you know, the usual suspects. And, if they don’t draft a point guard, backup options in free agency include Shaun Livingston, Brandon Jennings, D.J. Augustin, Jeremy Lin, Mario Chalmers, Ty Lawson and Norris Cole.

The Bulls will also be impacted in free agency by the fact that unless they renounce their rights to Pau Gasol and Noah, they’ll have to wait until those players make their decisions before going out into the marketplace, since the cap holds based on last year’s salaries put them over the cap. That makes a serious run at one of the top-tier free agents even more unlikely.

So, unless the front office is able to pull off a major trade, it’s hard to imagine the Bulls significantly upgrading the roster for Year 2 under Fred Hoiberg. The Bulls will be banking on fewer injuries and internal improvement from the likes of Nikola Mirotic, Doug McDermott, Justin Holiday, Bobby Portis and Cristiano Felicio. A return to the playoffs is possible, but the championship window for this core group is closed.

NBA Draft Profile: Utah C Jakob Poeltl

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NBA Draft Profile: Utah C Jakob Poeltl

As part of our coverage leading up to the 2016 NBA Draft we will provide profiles of more than 50 prospects, including video interviews with each player, what they're saying leading up to draft day as well as their potential fit with the Bulls.

Jakob Poeltl, C, Utah

7'0" | 230 lbs. | 20 years old

2015-16 stats:

17.2 points, 9.1 rebounds, 64.6% FG, 1.6 blocks, 30.4 minutes

Projection:

Lottery

Quotable:

"I feel like I acvtually fit that style pretty good. Because the league's getting smaller but also you have to be more versatile as a big, you have to do more different stuff like step out a little bit, like be able to handle the ball, be able to pass the ball. And I feel like that's somethign I'm actually pretty good at. So I think I'll fit in pretty well."

Rotoworld mock draft selection:

10. Milwaukee Bucks: Jakob Poeltl, C, Utah – Greg Monroe hasn’t really seemed to gel with Jason Kidd’s offense and defense, but Poeltl has the potential to step in and help on both ends. He has above-average potential as a rim protector, and though not the most athletic player, he is skilled on the offensive end, comfortable in the pick-and-roll, and can make an impact on the offensive boards.

Fit for the Bulls:

It could be an offseason of change for the Bulls' frontcourt, as both Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol are set to become free agents. The Bulls hit on their Bobby Portis selection last year, and adding Poeltl to the mix would give a solid rim protector and post presence. Poeltl would be an excellent complement to Portis' stretch game. And if the Bulls opt to bring back one of Gasol or Noah, Poeltl would have a solid mentor to learn from. He'll become the first Austrian to ever play in the NBA, so the Bulls' fan base would grow exponentially in central Europe, for what it's worth.

The Bulls had the NBA's second best combined record against Cavs, Warriors

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The Bulls had the NBA's second best combined record against Cavs, Warriors

The Bulls' successes this season against the best teams in the NBA have been documented, and only make their inability to make the playoffs all the more baffling.

Those playoffs saw its number of teams dwindled down to two after the Warriors knocked off the Thunder in Game 7 Monday night in Oakland.

That means it'll be a rematch, as expected, between Steph Curry and the Warriors against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The Bulls, like all but nine teams this regular season, lost all their games against Curry's Warriors, which set an NBA record by going 73-9.

But the Bulls had quite a bit of success against James and the Cavs, winning their of their four matchups.

That gave them a 3-3 record against the two teams competing in this year's Finals (they were a combined 6-0 against the runner-ups in either conference, Toronto and Oklahoma City).

That's significant, as only one other team (Detroit) had a combined record .500 or better against the conference champions.

Here's a look at how the 28 eliminated teams fared against the Cavs and Warriors this season.

Rank Team Record Diff
1. Detroit 4-2 +1.8
2. Chicago 3-3 -6.0
3. Miami 2-3 +2.4
4. Boston 2-3 -6.0
5. Portland 2-4 -0.8
6. Toronto 2-4 -4.0
7. Washington 2-4 -4.3
8. Milwaukee 2-4 -6.0
9. San Antonio 2-4 -8.3
10. Minnesota 1-4 -8.8
11. Houston 1-4 -9.0
12. New Orleans 1-4 -11.4
13. Indiana 1-5 -3.1
14. Dallas 1-5 -4.5
15. Charlotte 1-5 -7.1
16. Utah 1-5 -7.3
17. Brooklyn 1-5 -8.3
18. Denver 1-5 -11.3
19. LA Lakers 1-5 -12.8
20. Memphis 1-5 -19.1
21. Atlanta 0-5 -8.6
22. Oklahoma City 0-5 -10.6
23. Philadelphia 0-6 -10.0
24. LA Clippers 0-6 -11.1
25. Phoenix 0-6 -14.1
26. Sacramento 0-6 -14.6
27. New York 0-6 -15.6
28. Orlando 0-6 -17.0

Only four teams beat both Golden State and Cleveland this season: Detroit, Boston, Portland and Milwaukee.

The Bulls' average point differential against the two finalists was -6.0, tied for eighth best in the NBA.

The Bulls had myriad issues against the cellar dwellers - their 9-3 record against the NBA's final four teams was the same as their 9-3 record against the NBA's worst five teams - but they held their own against the game's elite.