It’s the last NBA Roundtable of 2014. This week we will examine the Chicago Bulls. Are they title contenders in the NBA? What does the Josh Smith signing do for the Rockets? Find out this and more as the panel discusses the latest in the National Basketball Association.
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On to the questions.
1. The Chicago Bulls: Contenders or Pretenders?
DJ: Not only are they serious contenders bu with Rose healthy and playing like he is they are the best team in the entire NBA right now. Adding Pau Gasol was a major addition and he’s playing like a man with something to prove this season. He’s playing like he did when he was first traded to the Los Angeles Lakers. Jimmy Butler is in a contract year and he’s turned up his game on offense, making this team even more dangerous. Rose isn’t the same player he was before the injury, but he’s still playing at about 85% of the former player he used to be. Butler’s offensive improvement offsets anything Rose may have lot and this is a dangerous team come the postseason. And the icing on the proverbial cake is coach Thibs, one of the better coaches in the league. No team in their right minds should want to play this squad in a series.
EJ: The Bulls are contenders but they have to be healthy. Derrick Rose is still looking a bit shaky, but the Bulls have the length to cause problems come playoff time and as long as Rose, Gasol, Noah and etc… can stand up straight and give decent minutes come May then the Bulls have a chance as good as anybody’s out East.
Bill: Contenders, for sure. While Rose’s absence did hamper their chances albeit slightly seeing as they had a solid roster while he was out, they’ve made some moves during the draft and the off season to bolster the team once he did return and return he has. Rose may not be every bit the uber athletic player he once was, but he’s still a stellar talent capable of putting up points in a big way and in a hurry. His teammates are certainly no slouches, either: Butler is doing a magnificent job as the starting off guard and to the tune of around 22 per night; Dunleavy, while not a well rounded killer, can fill it up from outside. Add to that one of the very best and most accurate shooters in the NCAA last season in Doug McDermott and defenses won’t have a choice but to always keep their eyes open and their man covered else bombs will be raining away. Joakim Noah continues to be a near double double machine each night and is the catalyst to their defense. His play and heart is what makes this team go. Then, to cap it all off, you’ve add in Pau Gasol? That’s almost not fair: 18+ PPG, 11+ RPG, and 2 BPG? Yeah… and I’ve not even mentioned Taj Gibson or Nikola Mirotic yet. This team is definitely built to contend and in a relatively weak Eastern Conference, they’ll definitely be there at the end. The only thing that stops them is a key player going down with a season ending injury. Can Rose hold out? Is he truly back to form? We’ll see, but I think that counting the Bulls out is a huge mistake.
2. What are your thoughts on Josh Smith to the Rockets? Good move, Bad move, or Does it really make any difference?
DJ: He’s buddies with Dwight and it was either Houston or Dallas (he’s also buddies with Rajon) and he’s been promised a starting role so it looks like Trevor Ariza is headed to the bench, but I don’t like it. Smith was a nice player in Atlanta at times, but he seems to have regressed and turned into an outside shooter with no conscience and an almost Kobe Bryant affinity for chucking up any 3-pointer he chooses to. If, and this is a big if, McHale can work with him and have him focus on playing defense and playing smartly on offense, it could be a good move.
EJ: I like this Josh Smith deal because of Dwight Howard. Smith and Howard are long time friends and I think that respect will go a long way towards Smith curtailing some of the bad aspects of his game. He might not be the athlete that he once was, and he’s a horrible shooter, but Smith is still a smart offensive player because he passes well for a big man, and despite the horrible shooting he does space the floor as a power forward. If Smith can stop settling for the long two, and settle in for a more makeable mid-range jumper then the Rockets have made a great acquisition.
Bill: Smith definitely needed to move and going to a team that’s being built for the now as well as the future with some of the better veteran talent (as well as a team built to his style) can only hep to turn his career around. For the Rockets, it’s a good move. It gives them a stretch four that can, on occasion, stroke from range. His ability to go to the basket and elevate goes without saying. His being on the team also takes some of the pressure off James Harden in terms of scoring and defending. The only thing that I can see as a negative in it is that Smith’s signing and insertion into the starting rotation now relegates Donatas Motiejunas to the bench as support for Dwight Howard. Will this affect him much or is a backup role really his place? Will he continue producing as he was when a starter or will that production fall off? I think there’s far more good than bad here and Smith’s production in his first game (21 points, 8 rebounds, and four assists) is certainly promising.
3. Last week we touched on your opinion on the Oklahoma City Thunder’s chances on making the playoffs. I wanted to touch on it one more time and throw out this statistic. Last year, the #8 seed in the West had a 45-37 record. In order for the Thunder to match that mark, they would have to go 34-19 the rest of the way which is a .642 win percentage. Is this possible for the Thunder given their position right now? And do you think they should rest Kevin Durant and make sure he is 100% for next season?
DJ: Last week I said they may make the postseason but I had my doubts because their 2 superstars seem to be getting banged up lately. Nothing has changed and I do think they need to take it easy with their 2 superstars. Neither should be rushed back, despite the closing window that people will inevitably bring up when talking about OKC’s timetable to win a title.
EJ: I have no idea why people want to count the Thunder out. Yes, Kevin Durant looks like he’s going to have a lost season, but has anyone been paying attention to the job Russell Westbrook is doing? Westbrook has been playing OUT OF THIS WORLD! The kid has been on MVP level lately. Super Saiyan levels lately. He’s finally gone from a streaky shooter, who was a bit selfish, to being a smart offensive masterpiece. As long as he keeps it going, and I see no way he doesn’t keep this up, the Thunder WILL make the playoffs.
Bill: Yes, I fully expect the Thunder to make the playoffs despite Durant’s recent issues. As the saying goes, “There’s a lot of games left to be played.” The Suns, current occupiers of the eighth spot, aren’t looking anywhere near as good as they looked last season. While they’re still managing wins and the three headed PG monster of Bledsoe/Dragic/Thomas is working, they’re not surprising anyone this time around. The Pelicans are also closing on them fast and have looked really competitive against the league’s best so far. If they can keep it up, that 7/8 spot is going to be hotly contested. Two games is all that separates the Thunder, Pelicans, and Suns at this point.
4. In the Christmas Day game between the Cavaliers and Heat, Lebron’s first trip back to Miami. The Miami fans gave him a standing ovation. If you were a Heat fan, do you give him a standing ovation?
DJ: Yes. For all the drama about him leaving, he did a lot of good. 4 NBA Championship appearances in 4 years, with 2 NBA titles. A few people gave some boo’s, but for the most part it was a well deserved ovation and well deserved. Now, James just needs to start mentoring the Cavs players. Because, they need it.
EJ: I said this yesterday before the game started but if those fans didn’t give him a standing ovation then they would be fools. Damn fools. Look, the man brought Miami four Eastern Conference titles and two NBA titles. You have to reward that. He left Miami to go back home to Cleveland. Smart fans respect that. If LeBron left Miami to go to L.A. for example then yeah you boo the shit out of him, but to go back home? Nah. Got to applaud the man for following his heart.
Bill: No. I would clap for him out of appreciation for the titles that he helped bring to Miami, but that’s where it would end. James made some pretty significant boasts shortly after signing with MIA and he bailed on the team when he wasn’t able to deliver on his “not six, not seven” nonsense. Yes, I’m aware that there are other players on the team and that winning an NBA title is very hard. Perhaps it would have been in James’s best interest to not make such an outlandish and essentially asinine proclamation in the first place and just let his play do the talking. They won two titles during he tenure there and that says a lot about how much James can make an individual difference to a team. Still, he did have two all-star caliber players to help shoulder the bulk of the load. That helped a ton. All said, James did contribute a plenty and helped the Heat get two more rings… but I just couldn’t bring myself to stand up and clap had I been there. I don’t think he deserves that much credit.
5. Lebron James, Stephen Curry, Anthony Davis, Kobe Bryant, and James Harden are the top five vote getters currently in the All Star Game voting. In your opinion, is this correct? Are these guys the top 5 in this order in the league currently?
DJ: No, but it’s a popularity contest. It’s not exactly based on accuracy.
EJ: Smart fans. Despite my praise for Westbrook, those are the five best players in the NBA so far this season. Some may argue about Kobe but what he’s done coming off a knee and Achilles injury should be commended and rewarded with an All-Star Game start. Got no beef with the leading vote getters. No beef at all.
Bill: No. Bryant should not be there and his being counted into that mix is based solely on popularity and little else. He’s nowhere near the player he once was and his standing as far as votes go shows what’s wrong with fan voting being so important. The ASG is nothing more than a sideshow of fan opularity and little else. There’s truly no merit in being elected to participate as I see it. Now, if the players were voted in by their peers, coaches, and the sporting press instead of by the fans then THAT might be genuinely worth something. As sad as it is to say, the ASG has become a tired, stale contest of dunks, sloppy play, and nothing that could pass as genuine defense. It’s mildly entertaining at best and completely boring at worst. I truly miss the days back when the game actually seem to mean something more to the players and when they put meaningful effort into trying to win. I used to always watch the ASG but, truth be told, I’ve probably not watched the last five seasons worth. It has completely lost its appeal for me.
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