There was a time, about a month ago, when the February 26 game at the United Center would have been appointment viewing. The Bulls were 24-16 and, somehow, without Derrick Rose, just a game and a half back of the second seed in the East. Rose’s return seemed imminent, and in a season where no clear challenger for Miami’s conference throne had emerged, Bulls fans held out hope that a retooling process that was supposed to take two years wouldn’t exist at all.
Along that road would be last night’s tilt against the Cavaliers, what would be the first clash of Rose and Kyrie Irving since the latter’s ascension to the fraternity of the league’s elite. That Rose didn’t end up playing comes as no surprise, given news of late. The Bulls have elected to bring him along slowly, and given what’s happened in the past few weeks, it’s hard to blame them. Chicago was 4-7 in February as of yesterday afternoon, with the average loss coming by almost 16 points.
Irving’s absence, on the other hand, wasn’t expected. He’d tweaked his right knee in practice last week but had managed to play in two games since. When the team announced yesterday morning that its star guard would be taking the night off, the month-long road from anticipated to unwatchable was complete. With the blessing of A Fate Worse Than Death architect Rafe Bartholomew, it was decided that there was no better time to resurrect Grantland’s dedication to the NBA hate-watch.
In case you were busy deciding who to eat first in case this whole blizzard thing gets out of hand, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday.
The Chicago Bulls and Toronto Raptors are reportedly exploring a trade that would send Carlos Boozer to Toronto in exchange for Andrea Bargnani. When Bulls general manger Gar Forman came down to practice to address the exploratory trade rumors, Boozer responded, "Oh, I didn't know we were exploring trades." Boozer then brought out a pile of furs and silks, and began to barter aggressively with reserve power forward Taj Gibson. When Gibson passed on Boozer's textiles, Boozer began hawking his wares to Kirk Hinrich, using his signature catchphrase, "Can you smell the Booze stank in the room?! Because I must be drunk to have prices this low!" Boozer wound up trading three silk scarves, a knit shawl, and a beaver pelt to Bulls assistant coach Adrian Griffin in exchange for a side of goat, which Boozer then roasted for his teammates as a traditional offering to show he wasn't concerned with the rumors. The Bulls, overfull with goat, then lost to the Nuggets, 128-96, in Denver.
With his team nursing a 94-86 lead in the waning moments of last night’s game against Philadelphia, Chicago center Joakim Noah crouched low on the left block as Evan Turner attempted the second of two free throws. As the ball arced toward the rim, Philly’s backup center, the lumbering Spencer Hawes, took one step toward the baseline, spun off his left foot, and put Noah onto his back.
It was an odd sight considering the state of unrelenting fervor Noah brings to the court, but it’s hard to find Noah at fault for the momentary letdown. The play came as Noah was putting the finishing touches on his sixth outing in the past 12 days in which he’s played at least 41 minutes. In fact, in back-to-back games against the Clippers and Sixers, Noah played a staggering 87 minutes, raising his season average to a mind-boggling 40.1 — a number that no big man has put up since Tim Duncan averaged 40.6 during the 2001-02 season.
With the absence of Derrick Rose, this type of usage has been born out of desperation. Last year, a deep Bulls bench featuring Kyle Korver, Ronnie Brewer, Omer Asik, and C.J. Watson went a long way toward picking up the slack as Rose missed 27 games with an assortment of injuries. This year, those four all have new addresses, a product of the Bulls’ offseason effort to cut costs. They’ve been replaced by an assortment of bargain-priced veterans and unproven young players. Though there have been some surprising developments — most notably the steady play of second-year wing Jimmy Butler and Warriors castoff Nate Robinson — the bench is still significantly lacking compared to a year ago.
At 4:53 p.m. PST yesterday, I joined everyone else in watching the battle for America’s soul. As I took my place in front of the TV, my mind wandered to what the night meant. This wasn’t about one man. It rarely is. This was about everything. This was about those in blue looking for a handout from a broken system, and those in red pulling themselves up no matter the circumstances. This was about what we, as a nation, want to believe. This was Magic-Bulls on Fox Sports Florida.
The idea came a few hours earlier. A few Grantland staffers were discussing the lack of Tuesday-night TV and wondered which, if any, sports would compete against the election. The answer was three NBA games (and one MAC football game): Bulls-Magic, Thunder-Raptors, Nuggets-Pistons. Because everyone in the office gets twisted enjoyment out of my feelings on this year’s Bulls, the challenge emerged as such: As everyone with a television considered our nation’s future, could I go to a sports bar and watch nothing but mediocre basketball? Challenge accepted.
The rookie deal non-max extension is one of the least efficient/riskiest contracts in the NBA. It comes when a player is still very young, at a stage when it’s possible to believe he might advance more in the next 12 months than he did in the previous 36 combined — even if history says that sort of leap at age 23 or 24 is unlikely. If a team passes on an extension and that growth comes right away, the team will have cost itself something like $10 million or $20 million by failing to lock up the player ahead of restricted free agency. Saving that kind of money has real roster-building impact; Boston would be short a Jason Terry or Courtney Lee right now had it not locked up Rajon Rondo at an absurdly cheap price at the extension buzzer in 2009.
I got the news of Omer Asik’s offer from the Rockets in an e-mail from a friend. The gist was that Omer, a restricted free agent, was getting paiddddddddddddddddddd — and to be clear, that’s “paid” with 19 d's. First reported by Yahoo!’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Houston Rockets and Asik verbally agreed to an offer sheet of three years and about $25 million (Asik can't sign the deal till July 11; the Bulls will have three days to match it), and as would be expected, the quick jokes followed. Instead of Dwight Howard, Houston’s new starting center could be a guy who scored 3.1 points a game last year. As someone who’s seen most of Asik’s 169 career games, the comedy was lost on me. In a world in which DeAndre Jordan makes $10 million a season, Daryl Morey was giving $8 million a year to one of the league’s best post defenders. Then I saw what he actually did.
So much amazing is happening, and the Shootaround crew is here to help you keep track of it all. You'll find takes on moments you might've missed from the previous night, along with ones you will remember forever.
Hero of the Night: Andre Iguodala
In the end what this Sixers team needed — after their regular-season hymn to the joys of team basketball — was a hero. In the absence of that, they turned to Andre Iguodala. And last night, that was just enough.
All season long, Iguodala seemed like the graduate still haunting his college campus bars, showing up at parties. Hell, audit some classes! Why not? Here's why not: This turf belongs to a new set of kids now. Namely, Holiday, Turner, Lou, and Thad. Iguodala was always a bridge from the Iverson-era Sixers to whatever was going to come next. This season, it felt like "next" had finally arrived.