CSN NBA Insiders Notebook: The fallout of the Kyle Korver trade

CSN NBA Insiders Notebook: The fallout of the Kyle Korver trade

AN ARENA NEAR YOU – Here we are, back for another edition of the CSN Insiders notebook. We’re creeping up on the midway point of the season, a time when teams really start to separate themselves from one another and the rumor mill starts to heat up.

One team that’s not just talking trade – they’re making it happen – is the defending NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers.

Despite standing atop the East most of this season, they too have holes to fill.

One of the most significant needs between now and the playoffs for them, was to add another shooter to help fill the void left by J.R. Smith whose thumb surgery will likely keep him out for most if not all of the regular season that’s remaining.

So what do they do?

They don’t just add another guy who can knock down shots.

They go out and get Kyle Korver from Atlanta, one of the best 3-point snipers in the game.

THE FALLOUT OF THE CAVS-HAWKS DEAL

One of the particulars of the Kyle Korver trade to Cleveland was Mike Dunleavy going to Atlanta.

But Dunleavy isn’t looking to be part of rebuilding Hawks team, which is why he has not reported to Atlanta for his physical and reportedly is seeking a buyout.

When all is said and done, everyone will get what they want out of this trade.

The Cavs will get Korver who with Cleveland, will have his best shot at winning an NBA title. Meanwhile, Dunleavy will find his way on to a roster that’s a lot closer towards winning a title than the Hawks.

But determining a buyout amount as well as the next team the 36-year-old Dunleavy will take his talents to, remains to be worked out. – by A. Sherrod Blakely

 

CENTRAL DIVISION

BUTLER FOR MVP, OR BEING TRADED?

Jimmy Butler completed one of the more impactful weeks of his career while enduring the seemingly never-ending trade talk that was stirred up by a Bleacher Report story stating the Bulls were listening to offers on their growing superstar, days after a 52-point showing against the Charlotte Hornets and a day after taking over the fourth quarter against the champion Cleveland Cavaliers on the road.

Butler probably sealed Player of the Week honors by averaging 38 points, 9.3 rebounds and 6.3 assists, and who knows if the trade talk will die anytime soon, but Butler is elevating himself to even greater heights after turning himself into an All-Star two years ago.

“I think so,” said Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg when asked if Butler deserved MVP consideration.

“Just what he’s done for this team. This stretch he’s got going. Continues to add to his game. He’s playing with the ball in his hands a lot. He’s been phenomenal.”

If these numbers and this production continues, voters will have to take notice and put him in the same class as the presumed frontrunners, Russell Westbrook and James Harden.

“I don’t know about all that,” Butler said. “Take that one step at a time. All that’s way down the road from here. We have to continue to win for that to ever be a question.” – by Vincent Goodwill

SECOND ROUND PICK, BROGDON A FIRST RATE SUCCESS STORY

The underwhelming rookie class from the 2016 draft has a sleeper--and the Milwaukee Bucks just so happened to unearth second-round pick Malcolm Brogdon at the right time.

Brogdon, the 36th pick out of Virginia, is making a name for himself at just the right time. With the Bucks having injury problems in the backcourt, Brogdon has received more playing time, resulting in increased production every month. In addition to putting up a triple-double in a win over the Chicago Bulls to end the calendar year 2016, he's averaging 11.3 points, six assists and 4.7 rebounds in his first three games of 2017.

While dunking on LeBron James and Kyrie Irving during an early-season Cavs visit to Milwaukee, it underscores his savvy (age 23) and rapid growth in a short time.

“He just knows how to play,” Bucks coach Jason Kidd said. “There’s no panic in his game.”

And while the Bucks are dangerous due to Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker, having a stable young player isn't hurting their chances come postseason. – by Vincent Goodwill

VAN GUNDY COACH, PREZ STRUGGLES TO FIND ANSWERS

The duality of Pistons coach and president Stan Van Gundy seem to be conflicting at the moment, thus highlighting the dangerous land organizations walk when choosing to hand all the power over to one figure with no real accountability aside from ownership.

President Van Gundy put together a team with young players on the upswing with locked-in contracts, making them a preseason favorite to elevate themselves to the middle to top of the East. But one wonders if coach Van Gundy can get through to a team that's underwhelmed and can't seem to get on the same page.

“It’s not hard to separate the big picture. It’s a frustrating time because I know that our players and our group are better than what we’re showing over the last month,” Van Gundy said Wednesday. “As a coach, what you’re trying to do is maximize the talent you have — and I’m not doing that right now.”

And if President Van Gundy decides that coach Van Gundy isn't doing a good enough job--as the Pistons have a 17-21 record as of Sunday afternoon--will the president fire the coach?

No, of course not.

But it makes things much more murky and thus highlights the urgency for the Pistons to follow up on preseason expectations with some actual production. – by Vincent Goodwill

PACERS STREAKING, WIN FIVE STRAIGHT

Who's the hottest team in the Eastern Conference?

The Indiana Pacers, who seem to also double as the team most observers have no idea what to expect from on a night-to-night basis. But five straight wins--all by double figures--show that perhaps Jeff Teague is the key to this team realizing its true potential as a party-crasher in the East.

Teague, in the last four wins, has shot over 56 percent in every game and averaged 10 assists, including a 21 and 15 performance against the Brooklyn Nets Thursday night.

Paul George is undeniably the Pacers' best player and a guy who has to come up big every night, but Teague, acquired from the Hawks over the summer, is likely their most important player at their most important position. – by Vincent Goodwill

 

ATLANTIC DIVISION

SOURCE: SIXERS TO WORK OUT D-LEAGUE POINT GUARDS

The Sixers have been down a point guard since Jerryd Bayless suffered a season-ending wrist injury. They cleared up a roster spot by waiving Hollis Thompson, and now they could use it to find another floor leader.

According to a source, the Sixers will work out four D-League point guards on Monday:  Cat Barber, Yogi Ferrell, Chasson Randle and Briante Weber.

Bayless was signed to be the starting point guard. Sergio Rodriguez had been starting in his place, but recently third option T.J. McConnell stepped in when Rodriguez was sidelined by an ankle sprain. - by Jessica Camerato

SMART ON THE TRADE BLOCK?

Lately, Boston Celtics fans don’t cringe nearly as much as they used to when Marcus Smart raises up for a 3-point shot. His defense remains at an elite level. He’s improving as a scorer, ball-handler and decision-maker on the floor. And while that’s good for his growth, it’s not necessarily going to be what keeps him in Boston.

The Celtics have a logjam in the backcourt that doesn’t seem to be easing up anytime soon, in part because all of their guards are playing well.

Isaiah Thomas will be selected to his second all-star game next month. Avery Bradley has played at a level to where he’s in the conversation, although unlikely to be selected. Terry Rozier has had some ups and downs, but he too has shown growth from where he was a year ago.

But what separates the 6-foot-4, 225-pound Smart from the other three is his combination of size, strength, versatility and potential which is why he will be a player that Celtics president of basketball Danny Ainge will continue to get calls on as we get closer to the trade deadline next month.

Thomas isn’t going to get any taller, and Bradley’s ball-handling and court vision is better but not on Smart’s level. Rozier has talent, but isn’t close to delivering the physical presence that Smart does.

So why would the Celtics trade him?

Because in Boston’s never-ending pursuit of a superstar-caliber player, there has to be a sacrificial lamb and Smart could very well be the chosen one for the aforementioned reasons.

Smart is well-versed on trade rumors and how as a player it shouldn’t be taken as a bad thing.

“It just means somebody else wants you, likes your game,” he said recently. “That’s a good thing in this league.” – by A. Sherrod Blakely

SIMMONS TRAVELS WITH TEAM, NO TIMETABLE FOR HIS RETURN

The Sixers have a new addition on the road.

Ben Simmons joined the team for games against in Boston and Brooklyn, his first road trip of the season. Simmons was on the court for individualized work pregame and had his own locker at Barclays Center. [LINK: http://www.csnphilly.com/philadelphia-76ers/ben-simmons-makes-his-first-road-trip-sixers-boston ]

Incorporating Simmons into the team away from Philadelphia is another step in his rehab (right Jones fracture). There is no timetable for his return.

“There’s a different light at the end of his road,” Brett Brown said. “There’s a bounce to his personality, there’s a bounce to his step and you do feel like there’s a new way he sort of sees the world when he’s with the team.” – by Jessica Camerato

PORZINGIS: ‘IT’S NOT COMING TOGETHER YET’

After adding an aging all-star in Joakim Noah and an injury-riddled one in Derrick Rose, the Knicks knew health would be an issue to keep an eye on.

Turns out, the same can be said for chemistry which the Knicks seem to be in short supply of lately.

And to hear it from arguably the most optimistic Knick of them all, Kristaps Porzingis, speaks to how serious an issue this is for a New York team that has lost seven of its last eight games.

Even when they were four games over .500 (14-10), Porzingis wasn’t sold on them being on the right track.

“In the moment we were four games (over) .500, I said it — I don’t see ourselves as that good of a team yet,’’ Porzingis told reporters following a 123-109 loss at Indiana on Saturday, a game that wasn’t nearly as close as the final score might indicate. “We were still growing. We were winning games, but we still had a lot to learn. It was a good moment based on our talent, but we weren’t there yet and now it’s showing. I don’t see ourselves as that good of a team yet.

Porzingis added, “We got to figure this out and keep growing as a team. It’s not coming together yet. It’s frustrating.’’ – by A. Sherrod Blakely

KILPATRICK BREAKOUT PERFORMER FOR NETS

Very little has gone right for the Brooklyn Nets this season, but certainly the play of Sean Kilpatrick doesn’t fall in that category.

Since being signed by the Nets to a 10-day contract (he was new GM Sean Marks’ first signing), Kilpatrick has just gotten better with time.

He’s averaging a career-high 14.9 points per game this season, averaging career highs in rebounds (4.3) and assists (2.6) as well.

And while those numbers are decent, the statistical difference in Brooklyn wins and losses tells you just how valuable he is to this team’s success.

In wins, he’s averaging 22.5 points, 7.3 rebounds and 3.1 assists.

When Brooklyn loses, his numbers plummet to 12.7 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.4 assists.

His current contract has one year remaining and it’s non-guaranteed if Brooklyn decides to waive him prior to June 30.

Considering how he has played in wins and the fact that the one year remaining is worth just $1.05 million, Kilpatrick should feel pretty confident that he’ll be donning a Nets uniform next season. – by A. Sherrod Blakely

RAPTORS IN MILLSAP HUNT?

With Kyle Korver on the move, all signs point toward Hawks forward Paul Millsap as Atlanta continues to gut out the squad that won a franchise-record 60 games just two years ago. The Raptors are among the many teams that would make a lot of sense for Toronto to pursue.

They have the second-best record in the East, but they’re not fooling anybody but themselves if they think their roster, as it is currently constructed, is good enough to get past Cleveland.

But adding Paul Millsap to a core that includes DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry and DeMarre Carroll (his ex-teammate in Atlanta) certainly solidifies them as the No. 2 club in the East and one that won’t go away quietly in the playoffs.

And maybe more than anything else, the window of opportunity for Toronto is shrinking which should make them an aggressive pursuer of Millsap who right now is the most talented player who in all likelihood be traded. – by A. Sherrod Blakely

 

SOUTHEAST DIVISION

THORNTON’S FUTURE IN WASHINGTON ON SHAKY GROUND?

After a disastrous road trip that led to Marcus Thornton quickly dropping from the rotation and Tomas Satoransky no longer in it, the Wizards don’t appear ready to move with a roster shakeup. If they do, it’s unlikely it would be rookies Sheldon McClellan, Daniel Ochefu or Danuel House.

The bench production usually is between 18-22 points a game on most nights for the Wizards, which means they’re relying heavily on the starters to do the scoring. President Ernie Grunfeld’s two biggest free agent acquisitions in Ian Mahinmi (knees) and Andrew Nicholson haven’t panned out. Mahinmi will be re-evaluated at the end of this month before settling on a return date and Nicholson has been below standard.

"Ernie and I are always in communication trying to figure out ways that we can improve our team," Wizards coach Scott Brooks said. "We're very comfortable with what we have right now. An important piece was Ian. ... We're always looking. We have guys that we're going to continue on our team, our younger players. Nothing is in the works.”

Ochefu has to stay because Brooks is short on big bodies sans Mahinmi. McClellan may have solidified himself above Thornton in the rotation, making two extra passes for assists late in the fourth quarter of a comeback win vs. the Timberwolves. He is a better athlete and has a better defensive IQ as Thornton botched several rotations late in a loss at the Houston Rockets. House is recovering from a broken right wrist and has value as a future stretch four option. 

While all are on minimum deals (another reason to keep them), the Wizards have preached commitment to development and won't s sacrifice the long-term for a short-term fix. If they were to make a roster move, Thornton is more likely to be waived than any of those rookies to make room. He’s on a $1.3 million vet minimum deal that’s already fully guaranteed and while the Wizards are over the salary cap they’re an under-the-tax team so they’d have wiggle room for a pro-rated deal. – by J. Michael

MIAMI SWAMPED BY INJURIES

A 27-point loss to the L.A. Lakers made a bad ending to the week that much worse after the Heat had to request an injured player exception for forward Justise Winslow, who’d recently returned from a wrist injury only to require season-ending surgery to his right shoulder.

Winslow only appeared in 18 games for Miami which also lost Josh McRoberts to a stress reaction, a precursor to a season-ending fracture, in his left foot. Hassan Whiteside has been out with a bruised retina and to make matters worse, Goran Dragic was ejected in the Lakers loss.

Dragic responded to a shove in the back from Jordan Clarkson and both were given the boot. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra repeatedly called Dragic’s second career ejection a “bailout” and “disgraceful.”

Come Feb. 9, the Heat could request cap relief because of Chris Bosh.

That date represents exactly one year from his last game and that would open a roster spot but they're on such a downward spiral it probably won't make a huge difference for this season.

"To say I am disappointed is an understatement," Winslow said. "It hurts that I can't be there for my teammates, the coaching staff and our fans. After a lot of thought, this surgery is what is best for my career." – by J. Michael

ROUGH TIMES FOR HAWKS

The first block in the restructuring of the Hawks has been shifted with the agreed upon deal that has yet to become official that will send Kyle Korver to the Cavs. Now Paul Millsap is on the clock, too, but the organization also is dealing with another public-relations crisis.

Hawks GM Wes Wilcox told a joke in a meeting with season ticket-holders about his interracial marriage that didn’t go over well with fan Clarenton Crawford. Danny Ferry, whom he replaced two years ago because of racially insensitive remarks made about Luol Deng in a scouting report, lost his position and was replaced by Wilcox two years ago.

“At an early December chalk talk, I made a self-deprecating comment at my own expense regarding my family, which is multi-racial,” Wilcox said in a statement. “This joke offended Mr. Crawford and his wife and for that, I apologize.”

Who knows what more changes could be ahead or if this is the end of the situation with Wilcox. But Millsap is the lone player remaining from the franchise-setting 60-win team in 2014-15 that was the No. 1 seed in the East. DeMarre Carroll was first to depart in free agency, then Al Horford and Jeff Teague was traded and now Korver.

Millsap has a player option for 2017-18 at $21.4 million so if Atlanta believes that he’s likely to opt out it’s more prudent to move the stretch power forward now rather than waiting until the offseason and have him walk for nothing. – by J. Michael

 

PACIFIC DIVISION

FAN VOTING MAKES ‘ZAZA RULE’ NECESSARY

Fan voting for the Feb. 19 All-Star Game is under way, which means the sun is shining brightly upon Warriors center Zaza Pachulia.

Upon the release of early ballot returns, Pachulia is in second place among Western Conference frontcourt players, behind only teammate Kevin Durant. This is the second consecutive season in which Pachulia is on the brink of All-Star status, as he also posted a strong showing last season as a member of the Dallas Mavericks.

How does this happen for the 14-year journeyman center from the Republic of Georgia? He benefits from an abundance of social-media based national support. The NBA changed the voting rules in part because Pachulia’s showing last season nearly mocked the marquee event. Fan voting is 50 percent of the tally, with players and media accounting for 25 percent apiece.

“The Zaza Rule,” says Pachulia’s teammate Draymond Green, who trails Pachulia in the voting.

Pachulia is delighted by the support but understands it may not be enough to lift him to All-Star status.

“I don’t care about All-Star (status) and the fame that comes with it and the recognition that comes with it,” he says. “I care about the support and the love I’m getting.” – by Monte Poole

MOZGOV: ‘I NEED TO PICK IT UP’

Look out below. Timofey Mozgov, the 7-foot-1 Lakers center, is about to get mean. Or so he says.

The Lakers added the veteran big man over the summer, at a cost of $64 million for four years, to fill in the middle as the team’s young core develops around him. Early results have been mixed, and Mozgov says he plans to intensify.

“I need to pick it up, be more physical and hit people around,” Mozgov told Southern California reporters. “It’s not like killing someone, but being stronger.”

Size aside, the Mozgov has never been a brutish player. But the Lakers may benefit from a new Timo. They were unusually physical in their next game, crushing Miami, 127-100. If Mozgov keeps his word, and the Lakers benefit, things could get interesting in LA. – by Monte Poole

CLIPPERS READY TO WHINE DOWN A BIT

After so many years of whining, coach Doc Rivers and his Los Angeles Clippers are ready to try a new image. Call it a slightly belated New Year’s Resolution.

The plan, as called for by Rivers himself, is to dial back the baiting of referees, something for which the Clippers have, above all other teams, a well-deserved reputation. Rivers has pledged that for every technical foul he gets he will donate to a Violence Intervention Program in Los Angeles.

He’s asking his players to do the same.

"All of the money that I have been fined is going to them now and any technical foul after that is going to them," Rivers said. "Any technical foul the players get, I want them to find their group and give it to an organization."

It’s an earnest attempt to curb a habit that has hurt the Clippers in the past.

Just remember, though, this comes one month after big man Marreese Speights, the ex-Warrior in his first season as a Clipper, urged his new teammates to “leave the refs alone.” – by Monte Poole

REPORT: KINGS SHOWING INTEREST IN MILLSAP

 Sacramento can’t get out of their own way. Losers of two straight and 4-of-5 coming into Sunday’s matchup against the Golden State Warriors, the Kings are clinging to the eighth seed in the Western Conference.

Rudy Gay returned to action Friday night after missing 10 of the last 11 with a strained right hip flexor. Gay looked solid in his return, finishing with 18 points and seven rebounds in the loss to the Clippers.

With the trade deadline just over six weeks away, the rumor mill is heating up already. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Kings have made inquiries into the availability of All-Star big Paul Millsap. Whether the Kings have the assets to make a deal work is still in question. – by James Ham

SUNS RISING TO THE CHALLENGE MORE OFTEN LATELY

Break up the Suns! Winners of two of their last three (they gave defending champs Cleveland all they could before losing 120-116 on Sunday), Phoenix is showing signs of life.

Brandon Knight returned to action after missing a game with a wrist injury. He dropped in 17 points on 6-of-11 shooting in Phoenix’ win over the Dallas Mavericks on Thursday evening. Before sitting out, Knight had played just 24 minutes combined over the previous three games for coach Earl Watson.

Marquese Chriss put up a career-high 18 points Tuesday against the Heat and added six rebounds in 31 minutes of action. He backed that up with a two-point performance two days later versus the Mavericks. Welcome to the NBA, rookie. – by James Ham

 

SOUTHWEST DIVISION

SPURS ROLL ALONG, BONNER CALLS IT A CAREER

San Antonio continues to plug away at an incredible clip. They’re a game behind the Golden State Warriors for the NBA’s best record and drawing very little media fanfare.

Kawhi Leonard ranks third behind Kevin Durant and Zaza Pachulia in the Western Conference All-Star balloting for frontcourt players with 341,240 votes.

Former Spurs forward, Matt Bonner, officially retired from the league this week, but he isn’t going far. He will join San Antonio’s broadcast team as a studio analyst. The 36-year-old Bonner played 12 seasons in the league, including his last ten with the Spurs. He leaves the game with two championship rings. – by James Ham

HOUSTON D’ANTONI’S RESURECTION

There are lots of folks who should be given strong consideration for Coach of the Year, but Houston’s Mike D’Antoni has to be among the leaders of the pack at this point. After unsuccessful head coaching stints in New York (2008-2012) and with the Los Angeles Lakers (2012-2014), D’Antoni has the Rockets soaring akin to what he did with the Phoenix Suns (2003-2008) in the 2000s when they were one of the most exciting, winningest teams in the league.

It’s still too soon to say whether D’Antoni’s return to the upper ranks of NBA coaches will last, but give him credit. He has a team that’s exciting to watch and winning – a perfect combination for any coach. – by A. Sherrod Blakely

GOLDEN STATE’S KRYPTONITE … MEMPHIS?

Coaches and players try to convince us media folks and fans that every win counts the same, but let’s be honest: we know that’s not true.

The Grizzlies knocked off the Golden State Warriors, ON THE ROAD, 128-119 in overtime. And they did so at the end of a long, four-game road trip.

Memo to the Grizzlies:

Beating the Warriors in their building is not the same as beating Philly or Dallas or any other bottom-of-the-NBA club.

More significant than the win, was the fact that it was their second victory in as many games against Golden State this season, the kind of thing that breeds a high level of confidence that just may come into play if these two were to meet in the playoffs.

“I hate to sound cliché, but it’s a grit-and-grind style we play,” Grizzlies guard Tony Allen told reporters after the win. “We didn’t do anything special.” – by A. Sherrod Blakely

MAVS (FINALLY) HEALTHY

The injury bug has had the Dallas Mavericks playing short-handed all season. But there appears to be some light around the corner for them. Saturday’s loss to the Atlanta Hawks was the first game this season in which Dallas did not have a player sidelined due to injury.

“Good to have everybody back and all the pieces together, but we still have a lot of work to do,” Mavs guard J.J. Barea, who had missed the previous seven games with – what else? – an injury, told reporters following the Hawks loss. “But we have to play better, play harder and show more fire.”

And with all his players healthy enough to play, look for head coach Rick Carlisle to tinker with lineups and his rotation of players even more going forward.

“We’ll see, I’m pretty whimsical with lineups,” Carlisle said. “You never know with me what’s going to happen next.” – by A. Sherrod Blakely

 

NORTHWEST DIVISION

BLAZERS ACQUIRE FUTURE FIRST-ROUND PICK

If Cleveland wins a second straight NBA title, an assist has to go to the Portland Trail Blazers. Lost by many in the Kyle Korver-to-Cleveland narrative was the swapping of first round picks by the Blazers and Cleveland prior to the Korver trade becoming official.

Portland acquired Cleveland’s first round pick in this year’s draft while giving them back a 2018 first-round pick that the Blazers received as part of their trade for Anderson Varejao last February.

NBA rules prohibit teams from trading first-round picks in consecutive years, so Cleveland had to get back a 2018 pick in order to convey a 2019 first-round pick to the Atlanta Hawks as part of the Korver trade.

The deal now gives the Blazers a pair of first-round picks in this year’s NBA draft. – by A. Sherrod Blakely

HILL-CLIMBING IN UTAH

When it comes to helping facilitate winning, there are few who get it done as well as George Hill has this season.

But there’s one problem: the dude doesn’t stay healthy.

This season for Hill has been part-breakout, part-breakdown physically for the NBA veteran whose numbers on so many levels are insanely good.

Leading up to their 94-92 win on Saturday over Memphis, Hill’s offensive rating was 113.6 with a defensive rating of 95.7. That means for every 100 possessions he was on the floor, the Jazz were outscoring teams by 17.9.

But what really matters to fans, coaches and players?

Winning games.

And when he has been healthy enough to be on the floor with Utah’s best player Gordon Hayward, the Jazz are a perfect 8-0. – by A. Sherrod Blakely

WIN OR LOSE, WESTBROOK SPECIAL TALENT FOR THUNDER

OKC had a rough week, dropping three straight before knocking off the Denver Nuggets on Saturday.

Russell Westbrook has stuffed the stat sheet all season, but his performance in a loss to the Houston Rockets this week was something special. The All-Star guard dropped in 49 points on 16-for-34 shooting, including 8-of-15 from long range. Westbrook has hit 15-of-27 from behind the arc over his last two games.

After missing the entire season to date with a foot injury, point guard Cameron Payne returned to the floor Friday night against the Nuggets. He finished the night with eight points on 3-of-4 shooting in 13 minutes off the Thunder’s bench. – by James Ham

T-WOLVES WAIVE JOHN LUCAS III

The young just got younger with the Timberwolves waiving 34-year-old John Lucas III this week. He saw few stints on the active roster, let alone being a part of the team’s rotation. He earned a roster spot in training camp, although the idea was to have him around as a seasoned veteran who could be somewhat of a mentor.

But as the losses continue to mount, head coach Tom Thibodeau who doubles as the team’s General Manager, sees greater value in the flexibility that now exists with the one open roster spot.

“We’re going to take a look at who’s available,” Thibodeau told reporters. “And what opportunities we may have.” – by A. Sherrod Blakely

MALONE REGRETS PUBLICLY CRITICIZING HIS VETERAN PLAYERS

We see and hear all the time about players who open their mouths and out comes something that they wish they didn’t say? Well the same holds true for coaches; at least it does for Denver’s Mike Malone.

After a loss to Sacramento last week, Malone questioned what he saw as a lack of veteran leadership on his team.

Not surprisingly, this did not go over well with his players.

Aware of this after the fact, Malone began to retreat from his early criticism almost immediately after it became public knowledge.

“The only thing I'll say regarding that, and I apologized to our veterans, anything that's going on in our locker room should be left in the locker room," he said prior to a 28-point loss to San Antonio. "So I failed in that regard the other night. I let my frustrations after that loss get the best of me. If I have issues with our veterans, I'll address it with our veterans one-on-one to try and resolve whatever issues there may be.'' – by A. Sherrod Blakely

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NBA Buzz: In wake of trade deadline, Bulls again caught in the middle

NBA Buzz: In wake of trade deadline, Bulls again caught in the middle

Thursday's trade with Oklahoma City points out the problem with trying to stay in playoff contention while also rebuilding the roster with more young and athletic players.

The Bulls obviously hurt their postseason chances by dealing locker-room leader and rock-solid pro Taj Gibson and their best 3-point shooter in Doug McDermott. And, at first glance, the players they got back don't look very impressive.

Bulls executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson made it clear that one of the objectives in Thursday's deal was to free up playing time for his last two first-round draft picks, Denzel Valentine and Bobby Portis. He also made it clear that newly acquired point guard Cameron Payne would play a lot over the final 25 games of the season.

So, how does Fred Hoiberg now deal with an unwieldy number of players expecting to get minutes? If Payne is going to play, that probably means Rajon Rondo is out of the rotation. But will Rondo sit by quietly so the Bulls can preserve his $14 million salary slot for possible trades this summer? Or will the front office be forced to offer him a contract buyout?

And what about the other two players acquired in the Oklahoma City deal? Long-range specialist Anthony Morrow is suffering through one of the worst seasons of his career, hitting just 29 percent of his attempts from 3-point range. Will he get the minutes previously given to McDermott, or is he a candidate for a buyout? Paxson cryptically said Morrow's role is "still to be defined."

Joffrey Lauvergne, a 6-foot-11 center, has some ability, but he's a restricted free agent at season's end and it's hard to project him getting any meaningful playing time behind Robin Lopez and Cristiano Felicio.

So let's add it all up. Hoiberg now has four point guards — five if you count Isaiah Canaan — and three centers to juggle, plus he'll have to find minutes for Valentine, Morrow and Paul Zipser at the wing spots behind Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade.

How will Portis fare as the new starting power forward? And what to do with Nikola Mirotic? His fading confidence is probably at a new low after the team's failed efforts to find him a new home before the deadline.

It will be fascinating to see if this team can manage to hold onto a playoff spot after losing Gibson and McDermott, to say nothing of the maddening inconsistency we've witnessed over the first 57 games of the season.

Good health will be critical, with the team's two best players, Butler and Wade, each enduring some bumps and bruises in the final weeks leading up to the All-Star break. We've seen what the Bulls look like without Butler, and it's not pretty. They're 1-5 in the games Butler missed because of illness and a right heel contusion.

The story is different when Wade has been out. The Bulls are 5-4 in the games he's missed because of illness, injury or just plain rest. Still, the 12-time All Star has shown the ability to raise the level of his play when the games matter most, and you can expect he'll be a big factor for the Bulls down the stretch. Don't forget, Wade almost single-handedly took an undermanned Miami team to within a win of the Eastern Conference Finals last season with a turn-back-the-clock playoff performance.

Hard to gain much from looking at the remaining schedule. Only 11 of the remaining 25 opponents have winning records, but we've all seen how that's gone in the past. If the Bulls can head into April around .500, they should be in position to make a strong closing run with a pair of matchups against the NBA's worst team, Brooklyn, along with games against the Pelicans, Knicks, 76ers and Magic to close out the regular season.

Of course, since Hoiberg has been told to give significant minutes to Portis, Valentine and Payne the rest of the way, it's possible making the playoffs isn't quite as important as it was at the start of the season. Questions about Butler's future will start up again as we approach the NBA Draft in June since Paxson wouldn't commit to trying to build around the three-time All Star, and if Butler goes, it's a pretty safe bet that Wade follows him out the door.

Life's never easy in the NBA when you're stuck in the middle. Maybe the trade with Oklahoma City is the signal we've been waiting for that a full rebuild is on the horizon.

[MORE BULLS: What the Bulls are getting in point guard Cameron Payne]

Here are a few stories from around the Association that have caught my attention.

Off to see the Wizards

The Wizards have been on fire since Dec. 12, putting together a 25-12 record. In case you haven't noticed, fourth-year forward Otto Porter is among the league leaders in 3-point percentage, shooting 46.5 percent to go along with 14.6 points and 6.7 rebounds per game. It's going to cost the Wizards a small fortune to sign the restricted free agent this summer.

Washington's backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal is finally starting to reach the potential everyone saw when the Wizards upset the Bulls in the first round of the 2014 playoffs. The two are combining for an average of 45 points and 14 assists per game, with Wall now a perennial All Star capable of taking over games with his scoring and playmaking. Beal probably should have made the Eastern Conference All-Star team as well with his 22.2 points per game scoring average, shooting 47.3 percent from the field and 40.2 percent from behind the 3-point line.

The Wizards also made an under-the-radar pick-up, getting Bojan Bogdanovic from Brooklyn for a first-round pick in this summer's draft. You probably haven't watched a lot of Brooklyn Nets basketball over the last couple years, but Bogdanovic is a good 3-point shooter who can also score off the dribble, averaging 14 points a game this season, while shooting 44 percent from the field and 35.7 percent from 3-point range. Bogdanovic will be a major upgrade for a Wizards bench that's struggled this season.

Moving to Canada

Toronto made two good moves before the deadline, acquiring a starting power forward in Serge Ibaka and a backup small forward in P.J. Tucker. Ibaka's ability to block shots and stretch the floor from the 3-point line should help the Raptors on both ends, while Tucker gives them another strong perimeter defender to go along with DeMarre Carroll in a possible playoff series against LeBron James and the Cavs.

LeBron loading up

Speaking of the Cavs, they're expected to add former Illini star Deron Williams to their bench once he clears waivers and completes a buyout with Dallas. Williams gives Cleveland the additional playmaker James has been demanding for the last couple months and sets up a potentially epic Finals matchup against Golden State. Williams gets a chance to compete for a championship late in his career, and he's still capable of being a difference maker in big games, averaging 13 points and seven assists per game. Cleveland is now loaded in the backcourt with Kyrie Irving, Williams, J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert and swingman Kyle Korver.

No luck for the Celtics

The one contending team that didn't make a move at the deadline is Boston. Danny Ainge talked trade with the Bulls about Butler and with Indiana about Paul George, but in the end he wasn't willing to give up those precious Brooklyn first-round draft picks he's been hoarding for years. Keep in mind the Celtics reportedly love University of Washington guard Markelle Fultz, who's expected to be the No. 1 pick in this year's draft, and they'll have enough cap room to make a run at free-agent swingman Gordon Hayward, who played for Brad Stevens at Butler.

Even with the addition of Butler or George, the Celtics might not have been able to take down King James and the Cavs in this year's playoffs, but they are still lurking as the rising power in the East. Now, we'll all have to wait to see what Ainge does in the days leading up to the draft.

Quote of the week

Gibson gave the Chicago media one last lengthy session before boarding a private jet with McDermott to their new home in Oklahoma City.

On his time in Chicago: "Every day I came to the locker room just seeing my name on the back of a Bulls jersey was a dream come true."

So what will it be like to join a new team after eight and a half seasons in Chicago? "I'm like a kid going to a new school. I don't know where to sit on the bus."

Something tells me Russell Westbrook and the Thunder will let Gibson have any seat he wants.

Good luck in Oklahoma City, Taj (and Doug). You will be missed by Bulls fans and media.