Hornets hit jackpot in NBA Draft lottery

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Hornets hit jackpot in NBA Draft lottery

One way to look at Wednesday night's NBA Draft lottery is that the fix was in. Another viewpoint is that the idea of being rewarded for alleged "tanking" died, or at least it should have.

After setting an NBA record for the lowest winning percentage in a season, albeit a lockout-shortened campaign, the Michael Jordan-owned Charlotte Bobcats suffered a mild upset, as the New Orleans Hornets won the luck of the draw, receiving the No. 1 pick in next month's draft. It has to be noted that although the Hornets will soon be owned by Tom Benson, who owns the NFL's New Orleans Saints, that purchase hasn't officially gone through yet, meaning the Hornets are still currently owned by the NBA.

But regardless of whether the Hornets getting the top pick in the draft is a mea culpa by the league for blocking the proposed Chris Paul-to-the-Lakers blockbuster deal prior to the regular season or not, it certainly affects a number of issues. This year's draft, while viewed as a solid group of prospects overall, is considered to possess only one franchise-changing player: Chicago native Anthony Davis.

The mediocrity of Jordan's Bobcats was hard to stomach this season, but with a 25-percent chance to acquire Davis, they had a shot to instantly improve and build a foundation for the future. Now, though they're still far under the cap, allowing them to at least throw a heap of money at the feet at the top free agents in a middling group, as well as the No. 2 pick--while the spot is up for grabs, especially with Charlotte having so many needs throughout the roster, no other prospect is seen as a no-brainer choice--the Bobcats' future isn't quite as bright as before Hornets head coach Monty Williams' face lit up with delight Wednesday evening.

New Orleans, on the other hand, still has a lot of improvement to make, but Williams is regarded as one of the league's top young coaches and despite not having an impressive record, the Hornets were mostly competitive in a lot of their losses this season. Now, the organization still needs to figure out if Eric Gordon, who missed most of the campaign with knee issues, is even interested in returning--the young shooting guard is a restricted free agent, so they can match other teams' offers for him--or if they should attempt to facilitate a trade, as the likes of his hometown Pacers are interested, with Indiana leading scorer Danny Granger, coincidentally a New Orleans native, and his potential departure conveniently clearing room for budding star Paul George to move to his natural small-forward position.

While Davis will have to adjust his mindset to one of patience after coming off a national-championship season at Kentucky, it's not as if he hasn't been on a losing team before. By now, almost everyone knows his story of sprouting from an unknown 6-foot-2 guard to a 6-foot-10 phenom and the nation's top prep prospect before his senior year, but few remember that his Perspectives Charter high-school team wasn't even in the Chicago Public League's top division and still had a losing record.

Obviously the shot-blocking phenom--in addition to winning national Player of the Year and top-freshman awards, Davis was also the top defensive player in college basketball--has improved since then and there are aspects of his game he didn't always get to display on a loaded Kentucky team. But while his overall skills, perimeter ability and underrated scoring will surprise people, it will take a while before Davis, who also needs to add strength to his spindly frame, will experience even close to the success in his future residence as the last time he was in New Orleans, where his University of Kentucky team won the national title last month.

Still, conspiracies and growing pains aside, both the Hornets, who seemingly have got the short end of the stick since their 2008, Paul-propelled playoff run, is finally having a run of good luck, as the All-Star Game will return to the city for the first time since that year, they have local ownership and now, the low-key Davis, whose personality fits the laid-back Crescent City. In the mold of the Bulls' Derrick Rose, a fellow South Sider, Davis is a genuinely nice young man and currently a better person than player, though with a game somewhat reminiscent of a young Kevin Garnett, who ironically played his final season of high school hoops in the Windy City, there's a chance that gap is evened in the future.

Other teams also had enjoyable evenings--Portland made out like bandits in the lottery, getting the sixth pick from the Nets as a result of the mid-season Gerald Wallace trade (if it was in the top three, Brooklyn, which was hoping for Davis, but ended up empty-handed, would have kept the pick); Golden State can breathe a sigh of relief, as they keep the seventh pick (instead of having it go to Utah, which would have occurred if it was eighth or lower); while New Orleans also received the 10th pick via the Paul trade--but although Davis is unlikely to make New Orleans a playoff team immediately by himself, it gives the franchise hope. Just maybe not enough to keep the local Times-Picayune a daily newspaper instead of just three print editions a week.

Morning Update: Bulls win first meeting with Cavs; LeBron pays off Cubs-Indians bet

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USA TODAY

Morning Update: Bulls win first meeting with Cavs; LeBron pays off Cubs-Indians bet

Here are some of Friday's top stories in Chicago sports:

Saturday on CSN: Bradley vs. Nevada; Illinois State vs. New Mexico

Dwyane Wade, Bulls take first blood with LeBron James, Cavs

Bears-49ers: And the winner is?

Jonathan Toews practices but won’t play vs. Flyers

For Cubs, winter meetings will be all about the hunt for pitching 

White Sox reportedly asking for No. 1 prospect plus more in trade return for Chris Sale

'Quarterback' Rajon Rondo executes Bulls' game plan, logs first triple-double of the year

White Sox agree to one-year deals with Brett Lawrie, Avisail Garcia

LeBron James pays off bet, rocks Cubs uniform to the United Center

High School Lites basketball roundup: Week 1

'Quarterback' Rajon Rondo executes Bulls' game plan, logs first triple-double of the year

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USA TODAY

'Quarterback' Rajon Rondo executes Bulls' game plan, logs first triple-double of the year

Two nights after managing just 90 points in a lackluster home loss to the Lakers, the Bulls entered Friday night’s tilt against the defending-champion Cavaliers with a specific offensive game plan.

Attack, head coach Fred Hoiberg told his team, the interior of the Cleveland defense early to establish a presence in the paint. Knowing the Cavs, for all their strengths that made them NBA champions five months earlier, lacked a true rim protector, the Bulls made it a point to get Taj Gibson and Robin Lopez going.

The Bulls managed to do exactly that, tallying a season-high 78 points in the paint in their 111-105 victory over the Cavaliers. And while Lopez was again his usual efficient self and Gibson turned in his best performance of the season – the two scored 33 points on 15-for-23 shooting – it was point guard Rajon Rondo who proved to be the kick-starter for a Bulls offense that needed to be at its best to match Cleveland’s star power.

Rondo logged his first triple-double with the Bulls in the victory, tallying 15 points, 11 rebounds and 12 assists. But looking past the raw numbers, it was the shots Rondo took, and the passes he made, that allowed the Bulls to play so efficiently on offense and ultimately come away with their most impressive victory of the year.

Of Rondo’s 12 assists, all but two of the made shots off those passes came from a distance farther than 7 feet. Ten of Rondo’s assists resulted in baskets in the paint, of which the Bulls had 39 as a team. Squaring off against a subpar defender in Kyrie Irving, Rondo was active in knifing into the paint and finding open bigs inside. Rondo had six assists in the first quarter, and all but one resulted in baskets within 3 feet of the hoop.

All four of his made field goals in the first half were layups, as was his only bucket in the third quarter. His putback midway through the fourth quarter was also at the rim, and gave him his tenth rebound to secure the triple-double. Two possessions later he connected on a 3-pointer that gave the Bulls an eight-point lead; Cleveland never got closer than four the rest of the way. Rondo only took three shots outside of the paint. Friday marked the first time in a month Rondo had shot better than 50 percent from the field in back-to-back games.

Past Rondo’s own numbers, Gibson said that the Bulls’ point guard was instrumental in leading the Bulls’ offense to match up against a Cavaliers offense that entered the night second in the league in efficiency.

“He’s like a quarterback. Even though he never really played any contact football the way he always gathers the huddle, he always sees what’s going on in the game,” Gibson said. “He’s always encouraging. He’s pushing it. He’s a great teammate and I know he got a lot of criticism before the year, a lot of people talk about the negative that’s in it, but he’s been showing me nothing but great stuff on and off the court.”

In a game that had a playoff-like atmosphere to it simply because of the matchup between Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, as well as the defending champs coming to town, the veteran Rondo took it upon himself to lead the Bulls offense. Though the Bulls wanted to avoid getting into a track meet against the fast-paced Cavs, Rondo didn’t allow the offense to become stagnant when it was apparent they could get into the paint at will.

“I thought Rondo was great all night long,” Fred Hoiberg said, “getting guys out and running, pushing them. You can hear him yelling “run with me” to get the guys down the floor. Rajon was a huge factor.”

His defense will continue to be a liability – Irving had an off-night shooting more than anything – and he won’t score 15 points each night, but his leadership and ability to run an offense with precision has the Bulls behind their floor general as they head into the season’s second month.

“He’s always inspiring. He’s one of those guys you want to go to war with. He’s one of those guys that’s in the huddle, you know that every time down the court if it’s a wrong call, a foul, a scuffle, if you not feeling right he’s always going to have your back no matter what.”