Chicago Bulls

NBA Buzz: Bulls-Celtics not a typical 1-8 matchup, plus NBA award selections

NBA Buzz: Bulls-Celtics not a typical 1-8 matchup, plus NBA award selections

It didn't happen exactly the way Bulls might have drawn it up, but they did accomplish their primary goal of avoiding LeBron James the Cleveland Cavaliers in the opening round of the playoffs.

The Bulls are 0-4 against James-led teams in the postseason, and the thought of playing the defending NBA champs wasn't too exciting for anyone in the organization.

Of course, they're also 0-4 in postseason matchups with the Boston Celtics. But Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish aren't walking through the door to play in this year's series, and neither are Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen.

The Bulls split their four regular-season meetings with the Celtics, with each team winning on their home court. Boston has dynamic point guard Isaiah Thomas, who finished third in the NBA in scoring at 28.9 points per game, while the Bulls will counter with All Star Jimmy Butler, the league's 14th leading scorer at 23.9 per game.

The biggest advantage for the Bulls could come in the rebounding category, where Al Horford, Amir Johnson and Kelly Olynyk aren't exactly known for owning the defensive glass, tied for 26th in rebounding percentage. In the two games the Bulls won against the Celtics this season, they dominated the battle of the boards, leading to a significant edge in second-chance points.

Three-point shooting will also be critical to the Bulls' hopes of extending the series. Since Rajon Rondo and Nikola Mirotic returned to the starting lineup on March 13, the Bulls have suddenly become one of the league's best 3-point-shooting teams. Paul Zipser came off the bench to toss in a career-high five 3s in the regular-season finale against Brooklyn, and he figures to be a key member of a shortened playoff rotation.

If Mirotic, Zipser, Bobby Portis and Jerian Grant can connect from long range, that will open up driving lanes and post-up opportunities for Butler and Dwyane Wade.

Boston also has the ability to do some damage from long range, averaging 12 3-point field goals per game during the regular season. The Celtics ranked in the middle of the pack in team 3-point percentage, but Horford and Olynyk will be able to pull the Bulls' big men out of the lane with their ability to hit from beyond the arc, and Thomas, Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder all shoot 37 percent or better from that distance.

Still, most games will probably come down to the Bulls being able to limit turnovers and contain Thomas, the NBA's most prolific fourth-quarter scorer. Fred Hoiberg will be able to run multiple defenders at the 5-foot-9 Thomas in hopes of wearing him down for the critical stage of games. Rondo will get the first call, but the Bulls used 6-foot-6 Michael Carter-Williams on Thomas with some degree of effectiveness in a home-court win in mid-February, and you can count on Butler taking his turn in the final minutes.

Can the Bulls upset the top-seeded Celtics? Probably not, but they are certainly capable of stealing a couple games to extend the series and make the passionate fans of the NBA's winningest franchise more than a little nervous.

[BULLS TICKETS: Get your seats right here]

And the envelope please ... 

We won't know officially until the NBA's first-ever awards show on June 26, but here are my picks for the top regular-season honors.

Most Valuable Player

Clearly one of the closest and most fascinating races in the history of the league. In almost any other season, James Harden would probably be an easy winner after averaging 29 points a game, leading the league in assists and guiding the Houston Rockets to the NBA's third-best record.

But this isn't any season. Russell Westbrook has put up numbers we've only seen once before in NBA history. Westbrook joined the legendary Oscar Robertson as the only players to average a triple-double (double figures in points, rebounds and assists) over the course of an entire season. And he also topped the Big O's record of 41 triple-doubles in one season.

Westbrook refused to make excuses after Kevin Durant bolted for Golden State in free agency, carrying an average Thunder team to the playoffs. In looking back at every game this season, one of the team's regular beat writers concluded Oklahoma City probably would have had only 33 wins if not for Westbrook's big plays in the final minutes of close games.

With apologies to Harden, LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard and Thomas, Westbrook has to be the choice as NBA MVP.

Rookie of the Year

This one is also tough to pick but for a completely different reason. Philadelphia center Joel Embiid would have been a unanimous selection, but a knee injury limited him to just 31 games. After missing his first two seasons because of recurring foot problems, Embiid was one of the NBA's top centers in those games he played, showing Hakeem Olajuwon-like moves in the low post, along with a soft shooting touch out to the 3-point line. He also was a force at the defensive end, averaging two blocks per game. But it's tough for me to vote for a guy who played less than half a season.

Since most of the top picks from the 2016 draft turned out to be disappointments, I'm going with Bucks point guard Malcolm Brogdon for ROY. Brogdon had to fight to make the team as an unheralded second-round pick out of Virginia, but his maturity and play-making ability helped get the Bucks to the playoffs after Jabari Parker was lost for the season because of a second ACL tear.

The Bucks took off late in the season after Brogdon replaced Matthew Dellavedova in the starting lineup. His stat line isn't overwhelming — 10.2 points and 4.2 assists in 26.5 minutes per game — but he's shot 45.7 percent from the field and 40.4 percent from behind the 3-point line, and his ability to run Jason Kidd's offense efficiently is one of the big reasons the Bucks got back to the playoffs.

Embiid was clearly the best first-year player in the league this season, but Brogdon gets the nod for the award over another Sixer, Dario Saric.

Sixth Man

This award could probably be renamed the Jamal Crawford Award with the way he's dominated the race in recent seasons, but the 37-year-old Crawford didn't have one of his best years, opening the door for other players.

Lou Williams continued to put up big points off the bench for the Lakers and Rockets. Andre Iguodala excelled on both ends as the leader of the Warriors' second unit. Enes Kanter proved to be a reliable low-post scorer for Oklahoma City. And former Bull James Johnson had the best season of his NBA career in Miami. But the choice here is Rockets guard Eric Gordon.

In case you forgot, the former Indiana University star was one of the league's top scorers early in his career with the Clippers. But after battling injuries during his time in New Orleans, the 28-year-old Gordon has found a home in Houston playing in Mike D'Antoni's 3-point-happy offense. Gordon averaged 16.2 points per game while shooting better than 37 percent from beyond the arc. With Harden, Gordon, Williams and Ryan Anderson on the court, the Rockets are capable of lighting up the scoreboard from 3-point range. It will be interesting to see if their run-and-gun style holds up in the playoffs. The opening-round series against Westbrook and the Thunder should be one of the most entertaining we've seen in years.

Most Improved Player

Johnson is also a contender for the Most Improved Player category, but it's hard to choose anyone besides the "Greek Freak," Giannis Antetokounmpo, coming off a historic season in Milwaukee.

Antetokounmpo is the first player in NBA history to finish in the top 20 in total points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocked shots. After Parker went out with his knee injury, Antetokounmpo turned his game up to another level and led the Bucks on a late-season run to the playoffs. He's gone from a freakishly athletic curiosity to All-NBA player in just one year.

Big men Nikola Jokic in Denver, Rudy Gobert in Utah and Hassan Whiteside in Miami have elevated their games, with Gobert and Whiteside under consideration for one of the three All-NBA teams. But the Greek Freak is the choice here after making a jump we rarely see in one season.

Defensive Player of the Year

Another award that has several worthy candidates, including two-time winner Leonard and blocked shots leader Gobert.

The choice here is Golden State's Mr. Versatility, Draymond Green. Because of the roster changes needed to facilitate the signing of Kevin Durant, Green has been asked to defend all three frontline positions, and he's responded with excellence in the post and on the perimeter.

Golden State's small-ball lineups normally include Green playing center, and he's able to contain players that are often half a foot taller. Plus Green is capable of going out on the perimeter to contest players like James, Leonard, Butler and Paul George.

With all the attention given to the Warriors' 3-point shooting, they're also among the league's best defensive teams, and the key to that is Green's versatility.

Coach of the Year

Has any coach done more with the available talent on the roster than Miami's Eric Spoelstra? After losing Wade to free agency and Chris Bosh to blood clot issues, Spoelstra was given a roster loaded with veterans on one year make-good contracts to preserve maximum flexibility for 2017 free agency.

Spoelstra managed to turn a motley crew that included Dion Waiters, Wayne Ellington, Johnson and Willie Reed into an effective unit, bouncing back from an 11-30 start to make a run at the playoffs and finish the season at 41-41. Not many people gave Spoelstra credit when the Big Three of James, Wade and Bosh made it to four straight Finals and won a pair of NBA titles, but it's pretty obvious this guy is one of the league's elite coaches.

He's my choice for Coach of the Year, with Mike D'Antoni a close second.

Executive of the Year

The Houston Rockets' rise from a .500 team a year ago to the No. 3 seed in a talented Western Conference has been one of the league's most interesting stories.

D'Antoni deserves a lot of the credit for proving his fast-paced offense still works after failed stints with the Knicks and Lakers, but it's also clear a team has to have the right personnel for the coach's style to be effective. That's where Rockets general manager Daryl Morey fits in.

Morey made a pair of under-the-radar free agent signings last summer, bringing in both Gordon and Anderson to play off the penetrating ability of new point guard Harden. Morey also signed Nene to back up young center Clint Capela, and he made one of the best trades at the deadline, getting Williams to provide more 3-point firepower with the second unit.

Honorable mention to the Warriors' Bob Myers for doing the salary-cap magic to add Durant to the best team in basketball and to LeBron James for ordering David Griffin to bring in the bench help he demanded in the form of trade/buyout guys like Kyle Korver, Deron Williams, Derrick Williams and Larry Sanders. But my choice for Executive of the Year is Morey.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Bulls the worst team in NBA?


SportsTalk Live Podcast: Bulls the worst team in NBA?

David Haugh (Chicago Tribune), Nick Shepkowski (670 The Score) and Dan Cahill (Chicago Sun-Times) join Kap on the panel. Jake Arrieta will return to the rotation to face the Brewers. Can he recapture his pre-injury form? Mike Glennon gets another start Sunday but should he get the hook if he struggles again?

Plus, the guys discuss the one metric that says the Bulls are the worst team in the NBA.

A 'woke' Doug Collins returns to provoke thought — and we'll find out who's asleep in Bulls' front office

A 'woke' Doug Collins returns to provoke thought — and we'll find out who's asleep in Bulls' front office

Doug Collins made it clear, that his return to the Bulls organization won’t result in a return to the sidelines as head coach, meaning Fred Hoiberg has nothing to worry about in the way of looking over his shoulder.

What Collins did admit, though, is he’s back with the Bulls to provoke thought. Anyone who’s listened to Collins as a broadcaster for ESPN or Turner Sports, or talked to him in any basketball capacity, knows he’s not only a hoops lifer but also someone who can have strong opinions, capable of quick dissection of a complex picture in a moment’s notice.

“I’m not here to be a decision-maker. I want to provoke thought. My mind is very active,” Collins said Tuesday afternoon at the Advocate Center. “And I think to get into a room and to bounce ideas off each other or whatever, at the end of the day, Gar, Michael, Jerry, Pax will make those decisions. The beauty of it is is that when there’s a level of trust when you’re talking about things, you can speak openly and honestly with people knowing the only thing that matters is that whatever happens is the best for the franchise.”

Announcing Collins as a senior advisor to executive vice president John Paxson adds another voice to the Bulls’ braintrust and is probably an admission this rebuild will require more than what the Bulls already have, be it in terms of connections, observation and even innovation.

Collins’ connection to Paxson and Jerry Reinsdorf, a growing relationship with Michael Reinsdorf and ability to relate with Hoiberg due to the misery of coaching should align a front office to the floor in ways that has been in doubt for the past several seasons.

“Given Jerry's relationship and my relationship with Doug over the years, we thought, hey, let's see if maybe this isn't a good time for Doug to come back into the fold,” Paxson said. “So we approached him and it was very casual, no expectations other than he's been a friend of ours for so long. But the more we kind of dug into the prospects of this and what it means, the more we kept asking ourselves, why wouldn't we do this?”

Collins made it clear he won’t be giving up his family life, as he already has residence in Chicago and his son Chris is coaching Northwestern and a son-in-law coaching a high school team outside Philadelphia.

“The hours and the time commitment that Fred Hoiberg puts in on a day and the energy that he spends and being on the road and being away from his family,” Collins said. “(This) worked perfectly in my schedule when I talked to Pax that I could be a part of something special, the Chicago Bulls, and I love the Chicago Bulls.”

His energy and passion can light up a room, and though he tried his best to say that’s died down at age 66, claiming “I can sit and do a crossword puzzle for three hours now”, people wired like Collins don’t lose their fervor for the game.

“I think there’s this feeling that I’m a guy who’s always on and fired up,” Collins said.

But that fire and passion and presumably a willingness to be uncompromising with the truth should be something that’s welcome inside the Advocate Center. In addition to his acumen, one of Collins’ greatest strengths is his fervor, and it shouldn’t be scaled back.

That’s not how rebuilds work successfully. Lines have to be crossed and people have to be made uncomfortable in their line of thinking, even if it’s Paxson or Hoiberg or general manager Gar Forman.

It’s not hard to see the Bulls following the thinking of the Golden State Warriors when they added Jerry West in an advisory role years ago, resulting in several key moves being made, most notably West’s objection to Klay Thompson being traded to Minnesota for Kevin Love before Love was eventually moved to Cleveland.

West’s guidance played a part in the Warriors’ upward trajectory to championship status, and he hopes to have a similar affect with the Los Angeles Clippers.

Comparing West with Collins on its face is a bit unfair, considering West’s experience as an executive and championship pedigree dating back to his days with the Lakers.

At least with West, he’s not trying to convince anyone he isn’t anything but a tortured basketball soul at age 79. Collins reminded everyone he’s a grandfather of five and at a spry 66, West would call Collins a “spring chicken.”

What Collins can bring is a keen eye for observation, and expecting him to be a passive personality doesn’t quite seem right, especially leaving the cushy job at ESPN that allowed him maximum exposure and a schedule to his liking.

Perhaps the way Collins left the NBA, with a massive gambit in Philadelphia falling flat when Andrew Bynum’s knees rendered him useless and sending the 76ers franchise into “The Process,” left him with a bad taste in his mouth.

Maybe his competitive juices got him going again and the broadcast booth just wasn’t cutting it, along with having a front seat to the injury that changed the course of the Bulls franchise when Derrick Rose tore his ACL in 2012 against Collins’ 76ers.

Maybe the crossword puzzles just couldn’t get it done anymore. After all, the man once cried on the sidelines as his Detroit Pistons beat the Bulls in a regular-season game in 1997. Curbing that passion would be a disservice.

“See how things quickly change? The NBA is cyclical now,” Collins said. “Other than the San Antonio Spurs, over the last 20 years, every elite franchise has gone through this moment. And so now what you got to do, you got to dig yourself back up.

“We got to start doing all the things that are necessary to gain assets day by day, to put all the work, so we’re going to give ourself a chance, when we continue to get better players and more talent, that you’re going to win more basketball games.”

Collins said he has old-school values, all while being caught up with the times that he called himself “woke” as a nod to the current culture.

If he truly is, we’ll also find out who’s asleep in the front office, in desperate need a loud wake-up call.