Improved Bulls' shooting, Cook's initial impression, other notes

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Improved Bulls' shooting, Cook's initial impression, other notes

-- Nobody would confuse the Bulls for one of the more proficient three-point shooting teams in the league, but after a rough start from long distance to begin the season, the team is becoming more competent from deep.
Theres no Kyle Korver on the roster, but reserve shooting guard Marco Belinelli, after gaining confidence during the month of December as fill-in starter for then-injured Rip Hamilton, has emerged as the teams most reliable outside marksman. Luol Deng, a much-improved deep threat in recent years, is also finding his groove, while backup point guard Nate Robinson is streaky, yet dangerous, from behind the three-point arc. Veteran backcourt starters Kirk Hinrich and Rip Hamilton cant be ignored, either.
We were 30th in the league for a while. Weve steadily moved up throughout the course of the season. I think the threes that were taking right now are a lot better than the ones we were taking earlier in the year, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau said after Wednesday mornings shootaround at the Berto Center, before getting into the reasons why. Just rhythm, off-ball movement, off the swing, off the ball in the paint. I think when guys make the extra pass, thats usually when you get the high-percentage three.
Well, the game tells you how many threes you should take. I dont want to be an outside-in team. I want to take the right threes. A lot of your three-point shots come off double team, the coach continued.
You dont always have to take the three. What it does lead to is long close-outs or open shots and you want to get a balance of three, the drive, get to the free-throw line, but the ball in the paint is what wins in this leagueI think were a decent-shooting team. Our free-throw shooting has been excellent all year and now, the threes are coming around. When you look at what Hinrich has shot career-wise, you know that hes a good three-point shooter. Lu started off a little slowly, but now, his threes are going down. Marcos shooting the three great, Nates shooting the three great, so weve got some guys who can knock it down.

-- The Bulls newest addition, shooting guard Daequan Cook, isnt likely to play extensive minutes in the near future, but Thibodeau still likes what he sees in practice.
Its been a very short amount of time, but I like what Ive seen so far and weve liked him for a while, and so, his shooting is something that we need and I think he could help us down the road, the coach said. He just has to come in and learn right now, and you never know when the opportunity comes, so I like knowing that hes there. It gives you quality depth. I think he complements Carlos and Luol extremely well, and thats what youre doing. Youre always trying to build your team around your primary scorers and look at what they can add to the team."

However, it wouldnt be surprising if the 25-year-old is in the same boat veteran swingman Rasual Butler was in as a midseason acquisition two seasons ago, as the rotation is already set and Thibodeau is notorious for sticking with what he knows. Still, with his youth, the 2009 NBA All-Star weekend three-point shootout winner could be auditioning for the future.

-- Thibodeau is obviously familiar with Bostons Kevin Garnett and although the future Hall of Famer has rubbed several opposing players the wrong way with his constant barrage of trash talk on the court, dont count the Bulls head coach as among his detractors.
Garnett was again in the headlines following getting tangled up with Knicks superstar Carmelo Anthony on the court during the Celtics win Monday evening in New York. Anthony not only suffered through a miserable 6-for-26 shooting night, but he lost his cool both onthe two All-Stars were assessed double technical foulsand off the court, as reports surfaced of Anthony going to the visiting locker room to confront Garnett afterwards, then continuing the dispute all the way to Bostons team bus, something confirmed by video.

I havent seen it, so I dont really want to comment on that, other than my experience with Kevin was spectacular. He drives the team. Hes one of the those guys that, if youre if an opponent, you probably dont like him, but if hes on your side, you love him. He led that team to a championship and so, I have great respect for him, Thibodeau said. Carmelos a fierce competitor, too. Thats the one thing I respect about both of those guys. You put fierce competitors in a game together, theyre going to go at each other. Thats what they do. Thats what competitors do.

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.