Running with the Bulls: NBA midseason awards

Running with the Bulls: NBA midseason awards

Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2011
Posted: 1:20 p.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

Before every NBA season, there are players and teams that the so-called experts (this writer included) believe will dominate headlines and then fail to live up to the hype right away. After the first few weeks of the season, more predictions are made based on the early returns, with observers going out on a limb to proclaim that those who have made immediate impacts will sustain their effectiveness over the course of the campaign. The halfway point of the season, while not a crystal ball, is a much more accurate way of determining future successes or failures. But instead of making any hare-brained claims, let's take a look at the NBA's top first-half performers.
MVP: Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls
Forget about this being the obvious homer pick and let's examine his candidacy. One front-runner, Dallas' Dirk Nowitzki has missed significant time due to injury, leading to the Mavericks' recent slide. Another, New York's Amar'e Stoudemire, has been excellent, but his Knicks have also swooned lately. Miami's duo of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade have effectively separated themselves from the other, potentially splitting votes--or garnering less momentum because of their partnership--at season's end. Kobe Bryant hasn't had a vintage season and at least right now, neither are his Lakers. The only other player in the league who presents a credible threat at the midseason point is Orlando's Dwight Howard, but since winning does play a factor--it might be prudent to see how the Magic's overhaul plays out in the long run--Rose's guidance of the Bulls to success (without co-stars Joakim Noah andor Carlos Boozer for long stretches) wins out at this juncture.
Rookie of the Year: Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers

Is there any other choice? Not only is Blake Griffin already arguably the league's most exciting player, but he's managed to not only lead the perennially-lowly Clippers to the brink of respectability as of late, he's reinvigorated enigmatic point guard Baron Davis, possibly extending former Bulls head coach Vinny Del Negro's Hollywood shelf life in the process. Griffin isn't just good for a rookie, he's a dominant force, as evidenced by his NBA season-high 47 points Monday. The scary thing is, he's only going to get better.

Coach of the Year: Gregg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs

Maybe the Spurs are still boring as far as personalities are concerned, but nobody can accuse them of playing that way this season. Popovich has completely flipped their style of play, turning San Antonio into a run-and-gun team, de-emphasizing future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan on the offensive end (which many suspect is a ploy to save his legs for the grind-it-out, halfcourt-heavy playoffs) and making the up-tempo nature of backcourt stars Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili the team's new focal point. In addition to having likely the league's best backcourt, "Pop" has gotten through to small forward Richard Jefferson and has melded a seemingly haphazard bunch of role players (such as 26-year-old sharpshooting rookie Gary Neal and roly-poly undersized second-year bruiser DeJuan Blair) into an exemplary complementary unit, resulting in the league's best record.
Most Improved Player: Kevin Love, Minnesota Timberwolves

Another no-brainer, as Love, the league's top rebounder, has become the bizarro Dennis Rodman this season. The wide-bodied, ground-bound power forward Kevin Love is a freak of nature on the glass in today's NBA, recording multiple 20-point, 20-rebound games, including a high of 31 boards in one night. Defensively challenged, Love is a savvy and versatile offensive performer, with comfortable 3-point range, excellent passing ability and old-school sensibilities. Although he toils for an awful Minnesota squad, Love a must-see attraction, despite his decidedly below-the-rim game.
Most surprising team: New York Knicks

Although they haven't been as good lately--losing the element of surprise is a factor--the fact that the Knicks are one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference is a bit of a shocker, especially given their slow start to the season. Much of the credit can be given to the elite play of their top offseason acquisition Stoudemire (getting his former player back, as well as others who fit his "Seven Seconds or Less" system is obviously a big part of Mike D'Antoni's turnaround of the team), but the squad's supporting cast--the likes of floor general Raymond Felton, sharpshooter Danilo Gallinari, versatile forward Wilson Chandler and rookie Landry Fields have all played significant roles--has been much better than advertised, bringing legitimate excitement back to the Big Apple for the first time in more than a decade.

Most disappointing team: Milwaukee Bucks
After last season's "Fear the Dear" run, expectations were high for the Bucks, particularly after an offseason that many observers thought was quietly among the league's best. But injuries to second-year point guard Brandon Jennings and others, as well as star center Andrew Bogut's not-yet-complete return to form have derailed Milwaukee. One of the NBA's most inept scoring teams, they have simply been unable to regain the magic that carried them last season. In the top-heavy East, there's still time to make a run, but it's doubtful they'll be able to build on the progress made a year ago.

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.

Wake-up Call: Bulls rebuild begins; Montero calls out Arrieta; Sox walk-off Yankees

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What will Bulls do with Rajon Rondo and Dwyane Wade?

What will Bulls do with Rajon Rondo and Dwyane Wade?

The Bulls have made their biggest decision of the offseason but the future of Rajon Rondo and to a lesser extent, Dwyane Wade, is still in the air.

Due to the trade for Kris Dunn and the Bulls having acquired Cameron Payne at the trade deadline last season, it doesn’t appear to be much room for Rondo. Even moreso, considering Dunn and Payne’s lack of production, one would think the Bulls would easily guarantee Rondo’s $13.3 million for next season.

But with the June 30th deadline approaching, it seems more and more like the Bulls will buy Rondo out for $3 million and go with a total youth movement, despite Rondo’s success with guiding some of the young players on the roster.

If not for Rondo’s wrist injury in Game 2 of the Bulls’ first-round series against the Boston Celtics, the Bulls could’ve advanced to the second round of the playoffs. Instead, they’re embarking on what could be a long process that may take years to recover from.

“He’s always been a great teammate and nurturer of the young guys,” said Bill Duffy, Rondo’s agent. Duffy also serves as Zach LaVine’s agent, so he was in attendance for LaVine’s introduction at the United Center.

The handling of Rondo’s benching, re-emergence and subsequent importance to the Bulls this past season has helped Rondo, in a sense. Rondo proved to be a galvanizing force to a degree after being shuffled in and out of the starting lineup.

“I think it’s fair to say he definitely showed a different persona that what had existed but like I said, he’s always been that way, I think it’s more publicized,” Duffy said. “I think he just loves to develop people, always managing and directing. So I think that’s always the case with the younger guys.”

If Rondo is released—and it certainly appears matters are trending in that direction, the 31-year old could have suitors in the New Orleans Pelicans and Indiana Pacers, sources tell CSNChicago.com. One would think the Bulls could use Rondo’s type of straightforward but encouraging brand of leadership in the locker room, but the Bulls have yet to guarantee his contract for next season.

“That’s still to be determined,” Bulls Executive Vice President John Paxson said. “We’re going to sit down with Bill and talk it through. We do understand that veterans are important for a young basketball team, the right veterans – guys that are good teammates, are supportive of the young guys and can continue to teach them how to be pros. Those are things we’ll be addressing.”

“The proof’s always in the pudding and I think if you talk to the front office and coaches, they really love what he brought and how he handled the challenges last year,” Duffy said. “I think we all mature over time and he’s been in the league a long time. He wants to win but he loves the game. I think he appreciates it more, he’s kinda of in his twilight years or approaching it.”

As for Wade, he exercised his $23.8 million option for next season as he was expected to, but that was before the Jimmy Butler trade that ushered in a new day of change.

There’s been speculation Wade would seek a buyout from the Bulls at the start of free agency but so far, those conversations haven’t been held and Paxson intimated Wade would have to give back a significant amount of that money to become a free agent.

There’s been speculation of Wade joining LeBron James with the Cleveland Cavaliers, as well as Carmelo Anthony getting a buyout from the Knicks and following suit.

But the Cavaliers will have very little to offer in the way of cap space, so it’s tough to see Wade giving back a large sum then going to Cleveland for the veterans’ minimum—which would not make up the difference of a “significant” amount.

“I know Gar has spoken with Leon Rose, Dwyane’s agent, As far as the buyout, that has not been broached,” Paxson said. “I would say this: In this type of scenario, it would have to benefit us. It would have to benefit us. Dwyane was a great pro last year, and he’s been around a lot of different situations.”

But with Wade’s history of giving up large sums of money in the name of team, it’s harder to predict his moves. As strong as his relationship with Butler is, the possibility of Butler being moved didn’t affect him picking up his option, so his desire to play competitive or at least meaningful basketball could be weighed against wanting to keep his family comfortable after relocating to Chicago last year and collecting every dollar of his deal.

“He was in Miami when they had a couple rebuilding years as well,” Paxson said. “So right now we’re operating under assumption that he’ll be here. But like I said, if that subject is ever broached by them, it would have to be advantageous for us."