Antoine Walker Would Be a Good Fit Within the Boston Celtics Organization

A personal story: On March 2, 2002, my cousin and I attended a Boston Celtics charity event held at the club/billiard hall The Rack. Fans were able to hang out, play pool and get their photo taken with the players.

Being photographed with Eric Williams, Rodney Rogers and Walter McCarty was cool, but I wanted a picture with Antoine Walker. I had to have it.

And Walker didn’t disappoint. After hours of saying hello to every fan who wanted a piece of him, the Celtics co-captain enthusiastically greeted us and put on a great smile for both photos.

The Celtics could use Walker as a part of the organization.

On Wednesday, Walker was honored by The Sports Museum in a ceremony called “The Tradition.” Walker was honored along with three-time Super Bowl champion Tedy Bruschi, two-time World Series champion Tim Wakefield, Stanley Cup champion Patrice Bergeron, Olympic gold medalists Bode Miller and Kayla Harrison and longtime sports radio personality/pioneer Eddie Andelman.

Walker seems like a natural to represent the Celtics at public events. He’s a recognizable former player with a successful professional career that Boston could use to help keep the Celtics’ name in the community.

All Walker would have to do is show up at Celtics-sponsored events and interact with the fans: Say hello, shake hands, give high fives and pose for pictures. Sometimes he’ll read to kindergarten children. Elsewhere he’ll help build a playground. Next time out he’ll watch high school kids do school work at a newly donated computer lab.

Walker made similar appearances before as a player, so it would be nothing new to him. Based on what I’ve seen, Walker would be a great ambassador for the Celtics.

Walker had a fine career: an NCAA championship with the University of Kentucky, a three-time NBA All-star with the Celtics and a NBA championship with the Miami Heat.

But Walker’s embarrassing personal life gives the Celtics reason to think twice about whether they want Walker associated with the franchise. You heard the story: Walker made more than $110 million and ended up broke. He declared for bankruptcy in 2010.

Walker is getting his life in order. He’s now debt free, though he had to sell his 2006 championship ring in the process. And like former New England Patriot Tony Collins said in his book, Walker has turned his mess into a message.

Walker had his life turned into a documentary called, “Gone in an Instant.” It’s a cautionary story that details how Walker lost his wealth. Walker shared that same story when he spoke to incoming rookies during the NBA’s Rookie Transition Program. Walker is a living example to rookies to be careful now that many are instant millionaires.

Walker has expressed an interest in coaching, but that’s not going to happen with the Celtics right now (Boston doesn’t need someone telling Jared Sullinger to shoot more three-pointers). If Walker wants a job in the NBA, working for the Celtics’ community outreach might be the best way for him to get his foot in the door.

When he was a Celtic, Walker embraced being the captain. He was accommodating with the media, and I witnessed his gregariousness with fans back in 2002. During what likely will be another trying season for the team, Walker can be a public figure to keep the Celtics’ name on people’s mind.

JoJo White already fulfills this role for the Celtics as the director of special projects and community relations representative. He’s a legend in Celtics history. Walker would be a great complement because many of today’s fans watched Walker during his seven and a half seasons as a Celtic. Whether fans loved him or hated him, many fans know who Walker is, which can’t always be said about White.

Walker’s presence also could be a benefit to the players. There might not be a better person for young pros to talk to regarding trappings off the court. Walker can take his message straight to the Celtics’ young players.

The Celtics won’t retire Walker’s number. Boston won’t celebrate the 2001-2002 team that lost the Eastern Conference Championship to the New Jersey Nets with a reunion. Coaching will have to wait. But Boston could find a role for Walker. Employee No. 8 could use a job. Would the Celtics hire him?

Questions? Comments? Send to randolphc82@comcast.net.

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Watchability: How good are Dante Exum, Jazz?

Dante Exum will draw the headlines, but the Jazz have a talented young team on the cusp.

      
 

 

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Watchability: How good is Exum?

Dante Exum will draw the headlines, but the Jazz have a talented young team on the cusp.

      
 

 

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The Good, the Bad and the Hopeful from Derrick Rose’s FIBA Appearances

 

Derrick Rose is going through growing pains. The Chicago Bulls’ star point guard has begun his return to basketball with Team USA in Spain as a part of their roster in the FIBA World Cup, and he’s shooting a paltry 21.6 percent from the field thus far.

This could have been expected. When Rose returned last fall, after missing the entirety of the 2012-13 season recovering from a tragically torn ACL, his numbers were similar. He tallied a career-low 35 percent shooting and tied a career-high 3.4 turnovers per game over 10 contests before tearing his meniscus and missing the rest of the year. 

Now, like then, Rose is showing his body has recovered to full explosive capacity. He’s got the speed, hops and singular instincts he’s always had. But the finer points of his game aren’t there yet. 

At his best, Rose is an auteur of dynamic layups, making shots at breakneck speed, from difficult angles, often using the backboard in unique ways while doing so. He hasn’t been able to regain that game-changing skill set since he tore his ACL. Doing so, hopeful Bulls logic says, will require a lot of floor time. Rose will need dozens of NBA games to play through his mistakes and become the MVP-level offensive force we remember him as.

The flip side to the Rose conundrum isn’t as bad as it may seem. It’s possible that he’ll never become the player he was before. His body simply may not allow him to play at the pace that made him famous for a full season. Whether it be from injury or not, we may never see the same Rose again.

But the Bulls are unquestionably due for a major upgrade at point guard this season, regardless of how long Rose takes to redevelop his game. He’s moved the ball very wisely with Team USA, finding ace shooters like Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry for open three-pointers. Despite his shaky shooting percentages, Rose still knows how to demand the defense’s attention and make them pay for it—in fact, he looks better at it than ever.

A more patient Rose has emerged. He doesn’t look frazzled, he’s rarely in a rush. He’s let the game come to him and swung the ball around wisely. When he sees an opening toward the lane, he takes it and gets to the rim. In time, he should be able to convert from there.

His defense will probably come along, too. Rose has struggled to cover his man at times in Spain, but his mistakes aren‘t physical as much as mental. He’s lost track of the endless subtleties and nuances that go into the complex chess match that is guarding professional basketball players. He allows his man angles he usually wouldn’t, and he gets slightly lost in defensive rotations.

No talented player who’s got Tom Thibodeau at his daily disposal can keep making those mistakes. Rose will fit into the Bulls’ steely defensive strings just fine—anything else would be a surprise.

In any event, Rose’s time with Team USA can only be seen as a positive. Unless he gets injured, he’s on the floor making progress, getting his legs under him and becoming more ready for the upcoming season. Per Blog a Bull’s Ricky O’Donnell:

It is September, and so it would be very silly to get too concerned about Rose just yet. Even if this is a sign that he may not hit the ground running at the start of the season for the Bulls, there’s nothing wrong with idea of him using the first few months to get back his feel for the game and his comfort with the ball in his hands. Sometimes, these things take time.

The most likely scenario involves protracted struggles from Rose, amounting eventually to his return as one of the most impactful players in the game. He could always get hurt again, but if not, the most rational result is the one Bulls fans are hoping for. They’ll just have to wait for it.

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Frank Caliendo as Charles Barkley reads speech from ‘A Few Good Men’ (Video)

Comedian Frank Caliendo, famous for his impressions of various pro sports personalities, stopped by ESPN Radio’s Mike and Mike in the Morning show Thursday to put his talent on display once again. One of the highlights was Caliendo reading Jack Nicholson’s famous courtroom speech from the movie “A Few Good Men” using the voice of Charles Barkley, while using Jon Gruden’s voice for the Tom Cruise lines. The reading had hosts Mike Golic and Mike Greenberg in stitches.Caliendo also read Allen Iverson’s famous “practice” speech using the voice of Morgan Freeman. An absolute riot.Video via ESPN.
This post appeared first on Holdout Sports.
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Amare Stoudemire “looks really good” this off-season

PHOTO COURTESY: BEN SOLOMON/NY TIMES
If Amare Stoudemire can remain healthy and regain his old form, the sky is the limit for the New York Knicks.
Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders was at IMG Academy on Labor Day where Stoudemire happened to be training.  Kyler tweeted that Stoudemire “looks really good,” as he trained in the Bradenton, Fla. facility.
Amare Stoudemire in the gym @IMGAcademy – looks really good. As trim as I have seen him. pic.twitter.com/AfUSOC1k53
— Steve Kyler (@stevekylerNBA) September 1, 2014
This is great news for a Knicks team that is poised to get back to the playoffs this season.  After improving at point guard and locking up Carmelo Anthony long term, the Knicks are certainly good enough on paper to make the playoffs in a weak Eastern Conference.
Stoudemire will be a large part of their future despite if he remains with the team through this year and beyond.  The 31-year old forward has been the rumor of trade speculation this off-season, with his expiring contract potent

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How Good Can Elfrid Payton-Aaron Gordon Combination Be for Orlando Magic?

With Elfrid Payton and Aaron Gordon, it’s all about potential.

What an annoying term—potential—given the uncertainty attached to it. 

But for what it’s worth, Payton and Gordon each have plenty of it. And if it hits four or five years down the road, the Orlando Magic will look back at the 2014 draft as the source for their likely success. 

Generally speaking, we could be talking about two long-term starters and cornerstones in Orlando. And together, they can help build and expand on this team’s identity. 

With ball-stopper Victor Oladipo already in place in the backcourt, Payton and Gordon give the lineup two additional strong defensive assets. 

Payton was named the 2014 Lefty Driesell Defensive Player of the Year while racking up 2.3 steals a game in the process. At 6’4″ with long arms and excellent quickness, he’ll match up with just about any point guard physically.

If you’re a Magic fan, you have to like the perimeter security Payton and Oladipo might be capable of providing. 

On the other hand, Gordon finished No. 1 in the country at Arizona this past season in defensive win shares, per sports-reference.com. He ranked first at the NBA combine in the shuttle run, which measures how fast a player can change directions. And at 6’9″ with a near 7’0″ wingspan, Gordon has the size and length to guard bigs and the foot speed to stay with wings.

Gordon’s defensive versatility is likely his current core strength and something he’ll lean on early while he sharpens the rest of his game.

“But what I’m most looking forward to is defending,” Gordon told Jack Winter of Dime Magazine (via Zach Oliver of prestointhepaint.com). “I want to be able to defend the greatest players in the world and see how I stack up.”

Ironically, for Gordon to really take off in Orlando, he’ll need Payton to help make the game easier for him. 

Because at this point, his offensive skills just aren’t there. And until he polishes them up, Gordon might find himself stuck in between positions, without the post game of a 4 or off-the-dribble game and jumper shared by most small forwards. 

If the Orlando Summer League was any indication of what to expect early on, we’ll probably be looking at a bumpy and lengthy transition. 

Still, chances are he’ll never become a go-to guy down low or isolation threat outside. That’s just not his game, which is what makes him one of the more unique high-profile prospects from the 2014 class. 

Gordon will make his money off his world-class athleticism and intangibles. It’s a valuable blend you just can’t teach or develop with time and reps. Gordon possesses a combination of strengths that most players will never add, no matter how hard they work or how skilled they become. 

From his 39″ max vertical and wide receiver-like coordination to his basketball IQ and instincts, Gordon projects as the type of contributor who can make plays without needing his number called. 

Backdoor alley-oops, interior touch passes, putback slams, weak-side blocks, coast-to-coast takes to the rack—Gordon’s energy and nose for the ball lead to easy buckets, rebounds and defensive activity. 

Whether Gordon hits his offensive upside might come down to just how well he improves as a shooter, as he’ll need a jumper in the arsenal to maximize his potential. He hit just 16 three-pointers in 38 games as a freshman, and he shot a disastrous 42.2 percent from the line. From a glass-half-full perspective, he did look capable when left open, and he’s still just 18 years old (turns 19 September 16).

I love the Shawn Marion comparison in terms of what type of two-way forward he can be. Marion was a four-time All-Star despite never owning much of a one-on-one game. 

If I’m projecting Gordon’s ceiling and most realistic outlook, Marion is the guy I’d expect him to eventually resemble most. 

Payton’s appeal stems from his playmaking ability, both as a scorer and facilitator. He averaged 19.2 points and 5.9 assists this past season, when he finished No. 2 in the country in free-throw attempts, a stat that highlights his crafty attack game. 

Between his size and athleticism, we’re talking mismatch at the point guard position, where he’s a natural. Payton has a dangerous first step, while his height and instincts allow him to make plays over or through the defense, whether he’s finishing or dishing. 

ESPN.com’s Michael Wallace notes how Payton’s physical characteristics should “help ease his transition from unheralded star at mid-major Louisiana-Lafayette to a potential impact player at the NBA’s toughest position.”

But like it will be with Gordon, it’s going to be a process for Payton, who’s played the last three years in the Sun Belt Conference. Against Baylor and Louisville in 2013-14, two NCAA tournament teams, he shot a combined 9 of 30 from the floor.

And until his jumper improves, Payton’s scoring output might suffer. In three years at Louisiana Lafayette, he’s hit a total of 30 three-pointers, never finishing a season above 32 percent from downtown or 65 percent from the line. 

But he’s a pretty good decision-maker with the ball, and if a shot isn’t there, chances are he won’t take it. Payton really does a nice job of picking and choosing his spots with regard to knowing when to attack versus knowing when to give it up. 

The fact that Payton could shoot 50.9 percent from the floor without a jumper as a junior tells you all you need to know about his scoring prowess around the key. 

If Payton ever learns how to shoot, he’ll start looking like a steal 10 picks deep in the 2014 draft.

However, though just 20 years old, we’ve seen Payton fail to improve as a shooter in three years at the college level, leaving less room for optimism and perceived room for growth.

I like the Devin Harris-in-his-prime comparison for Payton, when you take into account Harris’ playmaking ability inside the arc and career 31.8 percent three-point stroke.  

While there’s a lot to like about Orlando’s two incoming rookies, each are looking at significant learning curves. And without much talent to play off, the trial-and-error process might take longer than most would hope. 

Still, the potential reward Magic fans are looking at should be worth the wait and chase.

Nobody can really predict whether Payton’s jumper will eventually start falling or how far Gordon’s offense will come. We can just project what each prospect will look like if they do improve in the areas that are currently holding them back. 

And if these guys do hit their strides and settle into their respective roles, Orlando will likely have found itself two big-time franchise building blocks.

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Cleveland Cavaliers: Why this offseason has been a good one

This offseason for the Cleveland Cavaliers has been one for the ages and it could be far from over.
The summer started off well for the Cavaliers as they acquired No. 1 draft pick Andrew Wiggins and signed new head coach David Blatt. Things soon got even better as LeBron James announced he would be returning back home to play for the Cavaliers. Thus the stage was set to recruit even more players. General Manager David Griffin was able to bring in 10 new players to the roster.
The Cavs were able to trade forward Scotty Hopson to the Charlotte Hornets in return for center Brendan Haywood and rookie Dwight Powell. Haywood was signed to a $10.5 million non-guarantee for next season. If he stays healthy this season, he projects to be of major contribution on both ends of the floor as the Cavs only have one major center-Anderson Varejao. Although Dwight Powell is a rookie with not much NBA experience, he is a tall forward who can shoot and handle the ball well.
This off-season the Cavs picked up shooting guard Jame

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Nebraska assistant’s sick son gets good news

Avery Harriman will put a smile on your face.

      
 

 

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Chicago Bulls’ Depth Is a Good but Real Problem

The Chicago Bulls are in an unfamiliar position this year. Faced with the conundrum of their deepest roster since Tom Thibodeau became head coach in 2010, they need to figure out how to get all these guys minutes.

Thibodeau has gained the infamous reputation of shortening his rotation and playing his most reliable defenders into the ground.

While a short hook for blown assignments has had something to do with that, it’s never been entirely fair to put all the blame for the heavy minutes on the coach.

The players most acquainted with their chairs were hardly elite talent. Consider this less-than-illustrious list of names: Louis Amundson, Jarvis Varnado, Tornike Shengelia, Cartier Martin, Jimmer Fredette, Erik Murphy, Mike James, Marquis Teague, Daequan Cook, Vladimir Radmanovic, Malcolm Thomas, Brian Scalabrine, Rasual Butler and James Johnson.

That’s everyone who logged fewer than 500 minutes with the Bulls since the 2010-11 season. From that list, the only one with a post-Bull career worth mentioning is Johnson’s. That’s the talent Thibodeau has been “wasting.”

As a result, players like Jimmy Butler, Joakim Noah and Luol Deng have borne the brunt of the burden, playing excessive minutes. Deng led the league in playing time until last year. Then, Butler did so in his place.

Noah, who led centers in minutes last year, has been overly tasked, too.

But now the Bulls are suddenly boasting a roster that goes a legitimate 10 deep. And that’s a dilemma Thibodeau is not used to facing.

Who are all these guys, and how are they going to get playing time? Let’s break it down.

 

The Returning Players

Derrick Rose will be making his second return. He won the 2010-11 MVP award but has been struggling with injuries since then, missing all but 10 games the last two years. The Bulls will be happy if he can just finish the season.

Chicago is also bringing back the majority of the eight-man rotation that won 48 games last season. I won’t spend a lot of time discussing them because they are familiar faces already.

Kirk Hinrich served as the starting point guard the majority of the season. He’ll now back up Rose.

Butler will get the nod at shooting guard and was named to the All-Defensive second team. The Bulls are hoping his offense bounces back this year after his field-goal percentage dropped below 40 percent last year, but he’ll log minutes regardless because he’s one of the best wing stoppers in the league.

Mike Dunleavy Jr. stepped into Deng’s spot after he was traded on Jan. 7. There’s a good chance he moves back to the bench at some point in the season, if not to begin it.

Taj Gibson was expected to become the new starting power forward after Carlos Boozer was amnestied. Instead, he’ll be a significant bench player and favorite for Sixth Man of the Year.

Noah, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year and first-team All-NBA center, will maintain his starting status.

Tony Snell had an up-and-down rookie year but is hoping to build upon a standout performance in Summer League, where he was named to the All-NBA Summer League first team. He’s added bulk and is more familiar with the defense. An improvement by him could alleviate Butler of his extra burden.

The only key players Chicago lost are Boozer and D.J. Augustin.

That puts the Bulls at seven deep, just counting the returning players.

 

The New Players

The biggest acquisition for the Bulls was Boozer’s replacement, Pau Gasol. The 7’0″ Spaniard had a real plus-minus (rpm) of plus-1.04. Boozer’s was minus-4.13. Theoretically, that swap would result in a net difference of 5.17 points per game. While it’s doubtful it actually works out to be that dramatic, it’s indicative of a big improvement.  

Chicago also added two rookies, and either could potentially compete for Rookie of the Year.

The reputation that Thibodeau has gained is that he redshirts rookies. The reality is he doesn’t give time to guys who can’t play, regardless of their experience. See the aforementioned list as evidence.

It’s true that rookies haven’t really logged heavy minutes, but drafting in the bottom third each year, the Bulls haven’t been landing NBA-ready guys.

This year’s pair of first-year candidates is an entirely different issue. Using past seasons to predict playing time for this year’s rookies is literally the same as comparing Marquis Teague to Nikola Mirotic or Doug McDermott. And doing that would be just silly.

McDermott is the Naismith Award winner and the NCAA’s fifth all-time leading scorer. Mirotic is reigning MVP of the second-fiercest basketball league in the world. They are far more ready to play than any rookie Thibodeau has ever had, including Butler.

Some, expecting defensive issues, will cite that as an alternate reason the rooks will ride pine. But Thibodeau has given time to bad defenders who offer scoring.

Augustin was horrendous when the Bulls didn’t have the ball, and he logged more than 30 minutes per game.

Boozer’s defensive woes are legendary, and he still played 28 minutes last season, even when he was averaging only 13.7 points.

Kyle Korver improved in Chicago, but he was never a stopper at the wings. He played more than 20 minutes both his seasons with the Bulls.

You could argue that Thibodeau has given more minutes to lopsided players who skew defensively, but it’s not like there have been great scoring talents wasting away on the bench in their place.

He just hasn’t had scorers. Fredette is the closest thing to a pure offensive threat who was wasted, but he was so awful when the other team had the ball that he got thrown out of Sacramento. Sacramento!!!

The Bulls are also more vested in McDermott and Mirotic than previous Thibodeau rookies.

They gave up the Nos. 16 and 19 picks and a 2015 second-rounder to land the rights to McDermott.

They traded the No. 29 pick (Norris Cole) and a second-round pick in 2011 just for the chance to gamble that Mirotic would eventually come over. When he finally did, they gave him a three-year, $17 million contract.

As a result, expect both rookies to log regular minutes.

Aaron Brooks will serve as security if Rose gets hurt again. He might break the rotation if Rose stays healthy, as he offers more scoring punch than Hinrich, but due to defense, Thibodeau will likely prefer to stick with the “Captain.”

Other newcomers (or potential ones) who aren’t likely to break the rotation are E’Twaun Moore (expected to sign, per Mary Stevens of Sports Talk Florida) and second-round pick Cameron Bairstow.

 

Allocating Minutes

There are only 240 player minutes to distribute in a regulation game. Is that enough to give all 10 rotation players sufficient time?

To a degree, yes. Bear in mind that Thibodeau isn’t locked into positions, and many of the players on the Bulls can play and/or guard more than one spot.

Butler will always guard the opponent’s best wing, regardless of whether he’s the 2 or 3. Thibodeau’s schemes don’t really care about who is technically playing what position. And frankly, there aren’t a lot of teams with two potent scoring wings.

That means McDermott starting alongside Butler is a viable option. He’s not projected to be an elite defender, but he doesn’t need to be. In fact, he can survive as a below average one.

As a rookie, he will have a learning curve, but in this case that’s actually the reason it makes more sense to start him. And that’s also one of the keys to getting sufficient minutes to all the rotation players, counterintuitive as it may seem.

Thibodeau tends to play units, not just individuals. He prefers to keep at least three of his elite defenders together. He also likes to split the weaker ones so that they’re not on the court at the same time. That’s why, for example, Boozer and Augustin only shared the court for 647 minutes last year, per NBAWowy, and why almost all of them included Butler.

If both McDermott and Mirotic are coming off the bench together, it will be that much harder to hide them. Starting McDermott solves that problem.

It also resolves the biggest difficultly the Bulls have had on offense. While he’s not an elite shot-creator in the sense that Rose is, McDermott is a legitimate secondary threat to get shots on his own. His tremendous shooting range also dovetails nicely with the former MVP’s ability to drive and kick.

Furthermore, with McDermott starting, Dunleavy can return to the bench. He is not a great on-ball defender, but he’s an excellent team defender. In fact, he had the 10th-best DRPM of all small forwards last season at plus-1.91.

If Snell improves as expected, the Bulls will have two solid wings in the reserve unit and an on-ball defender beside Dunleavy. It would also have Dunleavy and Gibson to bookend Mirotic so that they can compensate for whatever mistakes he makes.

Offensively, it allows the new Bench Mob to be much more potent than previous versions. Hinrich, Snell, Dunleavy and Mirotic all have good to great range. The Bulls could run an effective four-out, one-in offense with that group.

And, just as importantly, both units would be able to maintain Thibodeau’s high defensive standard, with Butler and Noah anchoring the first unit and Dunleavy and Gibson securing the second.

Essentially, that allows all the rotation players steady minutes.

Additionally, because many of the Bulls can play multiple positions, Thibodeau can toy with the rotation. He can play Gasol and Gibson as either center or power forward if he wants to pound the rock inside. He can put Rose and Hinrich together when he needs two ball-handlers. Or, he can have Snell and Butler man the wings when two stoppers are required.

One of the overlooked aspects of their diversity is Mirotic, who has the skills to play both forward positions. Tony Kukoc—a former Bull Mirotic has been compared to—told K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune:

“Obviously, you can use him at multiple positions. He can be a big (small forward). But he also can play as a (power forward) because he’s a solid rebounder. Whatever he plays, he can shoot the 3-pointer so he can stretch the floor.”

One lineup that isn‘t immediately obvious is playing Mirotic at the 3 with Gibson and Noah, who both have the ability to step out and guard the perimeter. Mirotic would be able to still defend the 4, thus removing the concerns on that end of the court.

That would allow Mirotic and Gibson to earn some extra minutes off the bench while also providing Gasol more rest.

With all of that in mind, the table below shows how the Bulls could roughly distribute the time, providing everyone sufficient minutes while also keeping them under 30.   

The Bulls, more than in any year of the Thibodeau era, have a deep bench that can both defend and score the ball. There are 10 reliable players. And for once, some of them can actually score. Whether Thibodeau utilizes the exact schemes outlined above, it’s apparent that there are ways to get everyone in the game.

Regardless of how things end up working out, Bulls fans will happily take the new conundrum over the old one of wearing everyone down just in time for the playoffs.

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