NBA Notebook: Competitive playoffs, draft season

457846.jpg

NBA Notebook: Competitive playoffs, draft season

Friday, April 29, 2011
Posted: 10:04 a.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

And then there was one--first-round series, that is. In addition to Atlanta, the Bulls' second-round opponent, two other teams advanced Thursday night, leaving just Memphis and San Antonio as the lone ongoing opening-round matchup.

Although no series went to seven games--and none will, if the Grizzlies close out the Spurs at "The Grind House" (as Grizzlies guard Tony Allen has dubbed Memphis' Fed Ex Forum) Friday evening--this spring's edition of the playoffs has been among the most exciting in years. Only one team, Boston, swept its opponent (New York, which was missed both All-Star Amar'e Stoudemire and point guard Chauncey Billups for much of the series) and even in that instance, the Knicks gave the Celtics a battle half of the time.

READ: Second round matchup with Hawks favors Bulls

Upstart teams rose to the occasion--Indiana tested Chicago's mettle, Atlanta upset Orlando, Philadelphia refused to bow down to Miami, New Orleans stole two games from the defending champion Lakers, Portland threw a scare into Dallas, Denver didn't make it easy for Oklahoma City and Memphis is on the verge of shocking San Antonio--everywhere and even though the favored teams have mostly held serve, nobody appears to be invulnerable.

Adding to the fun is the possibility of a changing of the guard, with youth-driven teams in the Windy City and elsewhere (specifically Oklahoma City) having a clear path to the conference finals, something NBA conspiracy theorists probably love. That said, neither Derrick Rose nor Kevin Durant will have valet service on their way to their potential first NBA Finals trips, not with the old guard--the Lakers and Mavericks in the West, Miami and Boston in the East--looking to stand in their way after getting through much more obtrusive roadblocks.

Regardless of whether they face an underdog Memphis team or an aging San Antonio squad, the young Thunder should advance in no more than six games. As for the other conference semifinal matchups, expect the experience and team-oriented style of the Celtics to get them by the still-individualistic Heat in a hotly-contested, seven game slugfest, while the Lakers should make one more stand in Phil Jackson's final season coaching and rely on a rejuvenated Kobe Bryant--who, in turn, seemed to pass on that energy to his teammates in the process of dispatching Chris Paul's pesky Hornets--and their frontcourt dominance to beat Dirk Nowitzki's flawed Mavericks in six games.

Coaching carousel begins its ride

Always running concurrently with the playoffs is the start of the NBA's annual coaching carousel. The first organizations to make move this spring were Houston and Golden State, which parted ways with under-appreciated veteran Rick Adelman and rookie head coach Keith Smart, respectively.

READ: NBA releases Bulls vs. Hawks schedule

Adelman's ouster might not have been a surprise, but it seemed to come as a jolt to his players, who understood the incredible job he did with short-handed rosters that were without injured superstar center Yao Ming most of the time. Smart, on the other hand, was put in a tough position by being given the head job by the Warriors' new ownership group just before training camp; the longtime Don Nelson assistant couldn't be expected to change the team's culture in one season, but while free-agent signee Dorell Wright blossomed under his watch, their marquee acquisition David Lee was a mild disappointment and second-year star Stephen Curry appeared to regress.

One situation that bears watching is Indiana, where 37-year-old Frank Vogel took over for the deposed Jim O'Brien on an interim basis mid-year and not only led the Pacers to the playoffs, but adjusted the young team's approach and actually gave the Bulls a run for their money in four of the five games in the first-round series. Vogel is enthusiastic, a bit brash and somebody who inspires his team, which genuinely seemed to like playing for him.

If Larry Bird returns as the franchise's top executive, expect Vogel to also stay put, although Bird indicated he'd also interview other candidates for the opening. Indiana's youth and potential are obvious, and with the cap space the Pacers have, bringing in power forward that can score on the low block and a perimeter scorer to complement Danny Granger--a deal they almost made at the trade deadline would have brought them Grizzlies shooting guard O.J. Mayo--could elevate them in the Eastern Conference pecking order.

FOLLOW: Aggrey Sam on Twitter

While speculation about other openings--outside of the aforementioned Lakers, where Bryant has already offered his support for longtime assistant Brian Shaw to take over for the departing Jackson--would be unfair at this point, former NBA head coaches Mike Brown, Mike Woodson and Kevin McHale are hot names, as are a litany of current assistant coaches, such as Boston's Lawrence Frank and San Antonio's Mike Budzenholzer.

Draft season also shaping up

With the deadline for underclassmen to enter June's NBA Draft--players who didn't sign with agents have until May 8 to return to school--recently passing, it's clear that many collegiate stars are taking advantage of the upcoming multi-team mega-workout to be held in New Jersey. Sixty-nine underclassmen declared for the draft this year, with the usual anonymous names dotting the list alongside potential lottery picks like Duke point guard Kyrie Irving, Arizona forward Derrick Williams and Connecticut star Kemba Walker.

However, the list of entrants might be more notable for the names not on it, such as the freshman trio of North Carolina's Harrison Barnes, Ohio State's Jared Sullinger and Baylor's Perry Jones, all of whom were projected to be top picks, but opted to return to college. While some of those decisions were primarily motivated by the potential of team success--in Jones' case, it was surprisingly about improvement, something more shocking considering the NCAA-mandated suspension he faces at the beginning of next season for receiving improper benefits--the chance of an NBA lockout also likely played a role, as a truncated rookie campaign would be detrimental to player's development.

Having seen the three aforementioned prospects--and the majority of the other players on the early-entry list--develop from the time they were prep phenoms, their decision is commendable, although a perceived strong 2012 draft class might push some players to strike while the iron is hot. Still, even in what's being panned as a weak crop of incoming rookies for next season, there is a lot of underwhelming talent looking to make the leap and even if selected in the first round, some may never make an impact in the league due to lack of preparedness.

Artest wins league's citizenship award

Lastly, Lakers forward Ron Artest won the NBA's annual Walter J. Kennedy Citizenship Award, voted on by the Professional Basketball Writers Association, for his efforts in the field of mental; health. The former Bulls draft pick, who famously thanked his therapist after the Lakers won last season's NBA Finals, is one of the league's great turnaround stories, going from a pariah after various antics--well, the antics are still there, but in a non-destructive fashion--and more importantly, his role in the infamous "Malice in the Palace," to a media darling and fan favorite.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.com's Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

Windy City Bulls fill out roster in D-League expansion draft

Windy City Bulls fill out roster in D-League expansion draft

The Windy City Bulls are beginning to feel more like a real team.

On Wednesday, the Chicago Bulls' new NBA D-League franchise that will play games in Hoffman Estates beginning this season participated in the league's expansion draft.

As one of three new expansion teams joining the NBA D-League this season, the Windy City Bulls were allowed to select 12 players from the other 19 teams in the league. Each returning D-League team was allowed to protect the rights to 10 players on each roster with two players being available to the Bulls, Long Island Nets and Greensboro Swarm.

The Bulls acquired the rights to 12 players as here's the rundown of who they selected.

Round 1: Wesley Saunders, G/F, Harvard (Austin Spurs)
Round 2: Kiwi Gardner, G, Midland College (Santa Cruz Warriors)
Round 3: Ralph Sampson III, C, Minnesota (Maine Red Claws)
Round 4: Booker Woodfox, G, Creighton (Texas Legends)
Round 5: Jerel McNeal, G, Marquette (Northern Arizona Suns)
Round 6: Akeem Richmond, G, East Carolina (Reno Bighorns)
Round 7: Casey Prather, G/F, Florida (Northern Arizona Suns)
Round 8: Jon Octeus, G, Purdue (Canton Charge)
Round 9: Justin Dentmon, G, Washington (Texas Legends)
Round 10: Jamal Jones, F, Texas A&M (Delaware 87ers)
Round 11: Xavier Thames, G, San Diego State (Fort Wayne Mad Ants)
Round 12: Ian Chiles, C, Morgan State (Salt Lake City Stars)

It's important to note that although the Bulls have the rights to these 12 players for two seasons that many of them might never suit up for the team. Many players from this expansion draft group will head overseas to pursue professional opportunities there. If they do end up signing a D-League contract, the Bulls will have right of first refusal, giving the Bulls rights to these players for two seasons.

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

Among the notables picked by the Bulls include the 5-foot-7 Gardner, who has had a successful D-League stint in the past as well as some experience in the Saudi Premier League. Local college hoops fans will probably recognize the 6-foot-3 McNeal from his days at Marquette where he played for one season with Bulls star Jimmy Butler. McNeal also has more NBA experience than anyone on the expansion list as he most recently finished out the 2014-15 season with the Phoenix Suns. Former Washington product Justin Dentmon is also a native of Carbondale as the 6-foot-0 guard helped Carbondale High School to a fourth-place finish in the 2004 IHSA Class AA state basketball tournament.

Windy City will tip off the season with a home opener at Sears Centre on Friday, Nov. 11. The 2016-17 D-League schedule was released earlier this week as Windy City will have 24 home games, including 16 that will be played on Friday or Saturday night. 

While the Windy City roster will look very different from this expansion draft list, the Windy City Bulls should help the main Bulls franchise develop young talent in a nearby location as it will be the start of a very intriguing dynamic.  

Derrick Rose is really, really confident with the Knicks

Derrick Rose is really, really confident with the Knicks

Derrick Rose has never been shy about voicing his opinion. And that didn't change once he was dealt to the Knicks in late June.

He told NBA.com in late July that the Knicks, who also signed Joakim Noah, Courtney Lee and Brandon Jennings, had formed a "super team" with Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis. Rose said both the Knicks and Warriors, who won 73 games and then added this generation's greatest scorer in Kevin Durant, were the two super teams in the NBA.

Rose then doubled down on those comments earlier this month, saying every player should "believe in yourself" enough to feel as though you're playing on a super team.

That confidence didn't waver in the last week, as Rose made headlines once again for saying the Knicks have a chance to do something pretty special.

"I think (the Knicks) have a chance to win every game, and in the league, that's rare," he told Yahoo! Sports.

Now, it's important to recognize that Rose is not saying the Knicks are going to go 82-0, or even that they have a realistic shot at doing so (though Rose's other super team in the NBA, Golden State, may have a shot). It'd be even more odd to hear Rose say there were games the Knicks had no shot at winning this season, even though their 32-win season from a year ago would suggest otherwise.

What Rose's comments really show is that he hasn't lost any of the confidence that made him the league's youngest MVP. Even while battling through his myriad injuries Rose maintained that he'd get back to the level he once showed as a dominant point guard in the NBA. And with a fresh start in New York, he's hoping that becomes a reality.

The Knicks have a decent shot at getting back to the postseason for the first time since 2013. But with new head coach Jeff Hornacek and many new pieces needing to mesh, there's bound to be a few games early in the year that the Knicks have no real shot at winning (like Opening Night in Cleveland).

Bulls Talk: SB Nation's Ricky O'Donnell on Olympic gold for Team USA, Jimmy Butler's role in Rio

Bulls Talk: SB Nation's Ricky O'Donnell on Olympic gold for Team USA, Jimmy Butler's role in Rio

As part of a joint collaboration between CSNChicago.com and SBNation.com's Blog a Bull, Mark Strotman and Ricky O'Donnell are breaking down the latest happenings on the Bulls. Check back all season long for more video hits and features.

On the first edition of the collaboration, Mark and Ricky break down USA Basketball's road to a third consecutive gold medal in this month's Rio Olympics.

It marked the third consecutive gold for Carmelo Anthony, the first man to accomplish that feat, and head coach Mike Krzyzewski finished his career as USA Basketball head coach 88-1, including a 76-game winning streak to end things.

Bulls shooting guard Jimmy Butler was on that squad and provided crucial defensive work on the team's second unit. The guys break down whether or not he'll be a part of the 2020 team that heads to Tokyo looking for a four-peat.

And Butler wasn't the only member of the Bulls participating in Rio. Mark and Ricky look at Nikola Mirotic's encouraging play for the Spanish national team, as well as Cristiano Felicio getting his feet wet for the host country, Brazil.

See all of what they had to say in the video above, and be sure to check out Blog a Bull all season long for Bulls news and analysis.