Marquette must go small in Wojo’s 1st year

Wojo to lean on guards in 1st year at Marquette, though big recruit looms for next year

      
 

 

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Marquette must go small in Wojo’s 1st year (Yahoo Sports)

FILE - In this April 1, 2014, file photo, Steve Wojciechowski speaks at a news conference where he was introduced as the new head coach of the Marquette University men's NCAA college basketball team in Milwaukee. Wojciechowski is dealing with a thin roster in training camp as he prepares the team in his first year as head coach. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)

MILWAUKEE (AP) — Practice for the 2014-15 basketball season at Marquette is barely a few days old and already there is talk about next year.


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3 Signs of Growth Oklahoma City Thunder Must Display This Season

The Oklahoma City Thunder still have plenty of room to grow. 

That’s a scary thought, especially considering how well the team has played for the past five years. During that span, the Thunder have notched at least 50 wins every year except for 2011-12, when they won 47 games in a lockout-shortened season. That year, Oklahoma City ended up in the NBA Finals. 

The presence of superstars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook has been both a gift and a curse. On the one hand, the greatness of the dynamic duo has transformed the Thunder into perennial title contenders. On the flip side, because Durant and Westbrook have been such an integral part to the team’s success, it has masked many of the team’s flaws. 

That is why, for all of the talent on Oklahoma City’s roster, there are no championship banners hanging up in Chesapeake Energy Arena. During their stretch among the NBA’s elite, the Thunder have found as many reasons to disappoint as they have to succeed. 

Key injuries have derailed the last two promising seasons. In the 2012-13 playoffs, Russell Westbrook’s knee injury in a first-round series against the Houston Rockets hindered Oklahoma City’s best shot at redemption, following their loss in the 2012 Finals. Last season, a late injury to Serge Ibaka hurt the team’s chances of overthrowing the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Finals. 

This season, there are no excuses. The Thunder must atone for past mistakes and emerge as a better team. More specifically, they must become a championship team. To do that, they’ll need to show development in key areas.

Here are three signs of growth the team must display this season. 

 

Better Ball Movement

This season, Thunder head coach has put an emphasis on moving the ball around more, per Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman.

We’re athletic. We’re quick-hitting. We have attack players,” Brooks said. “But we want to be able to have the ball swing from side to side, body movement from side to side. We still want to take a shot when it’s open and not worry about making it or missing it along as it’s a good shot.”

Of course, a commitment to getting others involved starts with the guy charged with bringing the ball up the court. Fortunately, point guard Russell Westbrook is on board with his coach’s demand to become a better passing team, per NBA.com’s Jeff Caplan 

I think that’s key. Moving the ball is definitely a big part of our improvement as a team,” Westbrook said. “It’s something that we made a conscious effort to be able to go into this year trying to do. There should be something that you see new from us.”

The Thunder averaged 21.9 assists per game last season, which was tied with the Memphis Grizzlies for 13th in the NBA. That’s actually a step up from the past two seasons, when they finished 21st and 30th, respectively. 

According to NBA.com, Oklahoma City was 26th in the league with 268.3 passes per game. The team also finished 15th in points created by assist per game (51.2). Despite their unwillingness to move the ball around, the Thunder still scored 106.2 points per game, which was good for fifth-best in the NBA. 

This is a good example of how Westbrook and Durant’s excellence overshadows the team’s problems. On the surface, it’s hard to notice any problems with the Thunder’s offense because their two best players can score so effortlessly. 

While Westbrook has averaged 6.9 assists per game during his six years in the league, he still tends to call his own number a lot. Imagine how much better this offense could be, if he decided to spread the ball around a little more. With the talent around him, Westbrook could be a double-digit assist guy on a nightly basis. 

With an increased effort to distributing, the Thunder could finally move into the top 10 in assists per game. The extra passes will also open up opportunities for the whole team, which takes some of the scoring pressure off Durant and Westbrook. That will make an already-explosive offense even more efficient. 

 

Development In Young Role Players

This offseason, the Thunder lost some quality veterans. Small forward Caron Butler signed with the Detroit Pistons. Perimeter defender Thabo Sefolosha opted to join the Atlanta Hawks. Point guard Derek Fisher retired and became the head coach of the New York Knicks

The Thunder have spent years stockpiling young talent in the hope that they’d eventually become key contributors. That time has to be now. The team doesn’t just need their young players to fill the void of those key departures. They also need them to provide quality depth. 

The lack of a proven bench has hurt the Thunder in recent years. We saw it when Serge Ibaka went down in last year’s playoffs. The team didn’t have anyone that could even pass as an adequate replacement. 

This season, there are a number of young role players poised to break out. Reggie Jackson is playing for a new contract next summer, and has proven of being a dynamic scorer. Steven Adams could finally wrestle the center job away from long-time starter Kendrick Perkins. 

Shooting guard Jeremy Lamb raised his scoring average from 3.1 points per game as a rookie to 8.5 last season. According to Mayberry, the player that has made the biggest impact in training camp so far has been second-year man Andre Roberson.

Perhaps it’s time we start focusing on what the second-year guard can do rather than what he can’t do, because after Sunday’s performance Roberson appears to be the favorite for the starting shooting guard position. His length, perimeter defense and rebounding ability are real weapons.”

Roberson’s emergence helps the Thunder in a number of ways. First, his ascension to the starting rotation keeps Jackson on the bench, where he’s best suited to be the team’s sixth man. It also gives Oklahoma City a solid perimeter defender in the backcourt, which allows Westbrook to focus more on the offensive end. 

As for Adams, his continued development will be huge as well. The Thunder have managed to get by with Perkins manning the middle. The problem is, for all of Perkins’ prowess as an interior defender, he limits what the team can do offensively. Adams is still growing as a scoring option, but he has the speed and athleticism to be better than Perkins by default. 

Lamb’s shooting (35.6 percent from three last year) and McGary’s toughness will come in handy as well. When you throw in veteran shooter Anthony Morrow and combo forward Perry Jones III, the Thunder’s second unit has the potential to be exponentially better than it has been in years. 

However, that is contingent on the young guys stepping up. If they do, there will be few teams that can compete with the Thunder’s balance. If they don’t, it will put a lot more pressure on the team’s core to carry the load. 

 

Better Coaching

Of course, the key to the Thunder’s championship hopes starts at the top. No matter how great a team is, they will only go as far as the man leading them. Do you know why the San Antonio Spurs have managed to stay on top for so long? They have Gregg Popovich. How have the Chicago Bulls survived with Derrick Rose missing most of the last two seasons? Tom Thibodeau doesn’t let them get complacent. 

In Oklahoma City, head coach Scott Brooks has taken his share of criticism for failing to make a champion out of one of the most talented rosters in basketball. Bleacher Report’s own Kelly Scaletta may have said it best when he tweeted “Brooks is not a good coach. He’s Kevin Durant’s coach.” 

One of the biggest knocks on Brooks is his reluctance to adapt, particularly when it comes to making changes in his starting lineup. His bullish refusal to steer away from Perkins as his starting center, despite the big man having one of the worst seasons of his career (3.4 points, 4.9 rebounds), was like Rocky Balboa refusing to throw in the towel while Ivan Drago pounded on Apollo Creed in Rocky IV. 

To his credit, Brooks has earned the respect of his players. During the team’s exit interviews in June, both Durant and Westbrook showed support for their beleaguered coach, per Young.  

“That’s our guy. I’m riding with him.” Durant said. 

Westbrook added:

Ever since I’ve been here and Scotty became the coach, he’s done a great job in having confidence in me personally. There’s times where things have gone south and he’s the only that always, always had my back, regardless of what happened. People saying I was doing this or doing that, being selfish, being that, he was always the first person to step up and have my back and support me regardless of what’s going on. I think he does a great job of always staying positive and trusting in our guys and trusting in our team.”

It’s easy for Durant and Westbrook to defend Brooks. His offensive philosophy over the years has been to put the ball in their hands and pray something good happens, as ProBasketballTalk’s Kurt Helin pointed out over the summer:

There are a lot of voices around the NBA suggesting it is time for Scott Brooks to go, for a new coach to see if he can lift this team to the next level. There is logic to the argument — the Thunder run pretty simple offensive sets, ones that rely heavily on the creativity of Westbrook and Durant, but that leave the other players without as much of a defined role. The role players on this team sometimes play their role, sometimes, step up, but their definition of what to do is more nebulous.

Brooks has also shown a Dusty Baker-esque need to run his star players ragged. Durant played a combined 130 minutes in the final three games of the regular season, 45 of which came in the meaningless finale against the Detroit Pistons. Is it any wonder that KD complained a fatigue this summer? 

The Thunder will only go as far as Brooks takes them. If he evolves as a coach, Oklahoma City could finally bring home an NBA championship. If he sticks to his guns and the team falters again, he could be looking for a new job. His ability to learn from past mistakes will be the most important factor for the Thunder this season. 

Like any young team, the Oklahoma City Thunder must show some growth this season. Scott Brooks has to grow as a coach. Russell Westbrook has to grow as a passer. Ibaka must continue to become a more complete forward. Steven Adams, Andre Roberson and Reggie Jackson must grow as role players. 

It’s possible that this team has only scratched the surface of their potential. That begs the question: If the Thunder are already among the NBA’s elite, how great will they be once they put it all together?

(All statistics courtesy of basketballreference.com, unless otherwise noted)

 

 

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Kobe Bryant Debut: Mamba Must Adapt to Limitations to Boost Lakers

Kobe Bryant returned to the court for the Los Angeles Lakers against the Denver Nuggets, tallying 13 points on 5-of-12 shooting and adding five assists. What can we take away from Kobe’s first appearance back in the purple and gold?

Kevin Ding joins Stephen Nelson to dissect Bryant’s 21 minutes in the video above.

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1 Burning Question Every NBA Team Must Answer in 2014-15 Training Camp

For every NBA team, training camp is a search for answers. With camp finally upon us for all 30 teams, it’s time to discuss what each side’s questions are. 

Whether it’s teams like the Cleveland Cavaliers or Oklahoma City Thunder that plan on title contention, or teams like the Philadelphia 76ers or Orlando Magic that are plotting a much more long-term plan, training camp serves as a fine opportunity to see what’s being worked with and what could be in store for this season. 

Some teams have rotation issues to work out this month. Others must figure out bigger-picture questions before technical problems can be fixed. Every organization has something on the front burner during camp, and ahead, we discuss the situation for each NBA team.

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What LeBron James must do to pass Michael Jordan

USA TODAY Sports’ Eddie Johnson gives five things Michael Jordan must do to become the greatest player of all time.

      
 

 

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Biggest Adjustments International Prospects Must Make in the NBA Game

You have to be wired a certain way to successfully make the NBA jump from overseas.

It’s a serious jump, given the difference in competition and style of play. The NBA’s speed and athleticism is just at a whole other level.  

“Watching NBA every day on TV, you can’t get the perception of how strong and quick everybody is. I was really impressed by the speed and athleticism, ” Croatian rookie Damjan Rudez told Mark Montieth of Pacers.com following his first practice with Indiana. 

And don’t let the Dirk Nowitzkis and Tony Parkers of the NBA fool you. For every international prospect that’s made it in the pros, there’s a bunch that failed and went back.

Prior to being drafted, many of them found the radar during showcase events like the Under-16 and Under-18 European Championships or the Nike International Junior Tournament. A good portion of these prospects end up securing deals with premier teams at young ages and therefore don’t see too much action the season before being drafted. 

That’s why some of the international prospects who’ve been drafted lately have been stashed abroad until they’re more prepared—both physically and fundamentally. 

Nikola Mirotic was the No. 23 pick in the 2011 draft, and he’ll finally be making his NBA debut for the Chicago Bulls after spending the last few seasons abroad. 

Now 23 years old, Mirotic should be a little more seasoned than he was when he initially entered the draft. And based on early reports, he’s appeared to fit in nicely so far in training camp. 

“I thought he had a really good first day. And then after watching the film, it was even better than I thought,” coach Tom Thibodeau told Bulls.com’s Sam Smith. 

Mirotic also touched on his first practices and individual strengths:

It feels good. For me, different because I played before in Europe. So I don’t know really how they work, but I learn every day something new; so they’ve helped me, teammates. Coaches have helped me. I feel good. So exciting. I’m really hungry to work and be better every day. I like to run, you know, fast break. I like to be very good on defense, to give good energy and my game I like to pick-and-pop, three-point line, to penetrate, to make one more pass. I try to do best for team. Depends on how they want to use me.

Having already played in two Euroleague Finals and having averaged over 22 minutes a game since 2011 in the competitive Spanish ACB, Mirotic isn’t your typical international rookie. 

The adjustment process for him shouldn’t be as lengthy or challenging as it would be for a 19-year-old kid who either rode the bench the past season or played in a secondary division. 

Mirotic, who was used in a respectable 21.65 percent of his team’s possessions last season, played in a lineup with former NBA players like Rudy Fernandez and Sergio Rodriguez. And of course, unlike the college kids making the jump, he’s been battling against grown men and professionals for the past few seasons. 

His game should really translate seamlessly to the stretch 4 position in the NBA, where he’ll be able to play to the same strengths he played to as a versatile scorer for Real Madrid. 

Though not a standout athlete by any means, at 6’10″, Mirotic is money from outside, having connected on 46.1 percent of his three-pointers in Euroleague and 35 percent in the Spanish ACB. That size and shooting touch alone should give him purpose in Chicago’s lineup. And those skills should allow him to slide right in without having to make too many changes or adjustments. 

Mirotic happens to have more to his game—he’s fully capable of putting the ball on the deck, wiggling his way to the rim or stopping in the mid-range for a jumper. But until he nails down the closing speed and lateral quickness of superior NBA defenders, it could be a little while before he’s creating on the move.

However, the biggest early adjustment for Mirotic will undoubtedly come on defense and the glass. While the European game is tough and physical—guys play through contact—in the NBA, they play above it or right past it. 

An under-the-rim big man, Mirotic could have difficulty contesting shots in the paint or carving out space under the boards. 

Regardless, between his ability to stretch the floor and effectively score in between, Mirotic‘s offensive strengths hold plenty of value in Chicago. I’d imagine it won’t be long before Coach Thibodeau is calling on him to knock down shots off the bench.

Though Mirotic should find a way to contribute right away, the adjustment process is ultimately different for each international prospect.

Big men who lack athleticism or the strength to hold their own down low better adjust their games and develop an outside shot. Jan Vesely and Yi Jianlian didn’t. Donatas Motiejunas hasn’t. 

The only thing keeping Andrea Bargnani’s bank account loaded is the jumper he helps stretch the floor with.

Monsters like Tiago Splitter, Marcin Gorat and Marc Gasol haven’t needed to make as many offensive adjustments, as their strength and power have allowed them to do damage inside the NBA paint. In the meantime, Gasol and Gortat have ultimately added to their games and are each now considered two of the best at their position. 

Looking down NBA depth charts, there are actually a lot more international bigs than there are international guards or wings. 

Though it’s tough to prove, I’d argue you’ll find the top NBA athletes at the small forward position. 

International scoring wings must adjust to Paul George-like athleticism and length, something you rarely see at the position overseas (the ones that do possess those traits get drafted, like Nicolas Batum, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Bruno Caboclo).

There aren’t many international wings who’ve recently succeeded at high levels in the NBA. Peja Stojakovic comes to mind. So does Danilo Gallinari, another guy who’s been able to win the one-on-one battle with tremendous skill and shot-making ability. 

The ones who aren’t built to win the one-on-one battle will likely have to adjust to a stretch role as a shooter. Omri Casspi has made it work. Damjan Rudez will have to make it work to justify minutes in Indiana.

It’s rare to even see an international wing get NBA consideration. Since 2005, the only international small forwards that have been taken in the first round have been Casspi, Batum, Victor Claver, Christian Eyenga, Antetokounmpo, Sergey Karasev, Livio Jean-Charles and Caboclo

The speed and athleticism of the NBA game isn’t too kind on international guards either, particularly ball-handlers at the point. 

The ones who have made NBA impacts rank rather highly on the “clever and crafty scale.” Tony Parker, Goran Dragic, Ricky Rubio and Jose Calderon—the only starting international point guards—all make up for athleticism with sneakiness, deception, IQ and extremely high skill levels.

Last year, we saw Atlanta Hawks rookie point guard Dennis Schroeder struggle after being drafted No. 17 overall. 

Schroeder is quick, and that stood out in Germany, but it didn’t in the NBA. At least not last year. 

The first step that worked for him abroad now doesn’t seem as dangerous. It’s tougher to get to spots on the floor. Defensive rotations and pick-and-roll defenders recover much faster. 

The perimeter, as well as the secondary level of defense, is a whole lot quicker in the NBA. 

Of course, the transition is tough on everyone, whether you’re coming over from college, Europe or Mars. Every player will ultimately realize they have a number of adjustments to make once arriving.

Even adjusting to the lifestyle and a new language can pose as a challenge. 

“Communication problem is the biggest thing,” Marcin Gortat told Paul Coro of azcentral.com back in 2012. “I’ve seen a lot of good foreign players not make it because they don’t speak English well or they’re afraid to speak up because they know people will laugh at them.”

For these international prospects looking to test their NBA luck, the right adjustments should enhance and ultimately extend one’s career. A failure to adjust could lead to a one-way ticket back overseas. 

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Watchability: Warriors backcourt is a must see

Stephen Curry leads one of the most unassuming yet exciting title threats in the NBA.

      
 

 

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Roy Hibbert Must Silence Critics for Indiana Pacers to Survive Paul George Loss

The Indiana Pacers and their fans had a nightmare offseason.

They saw young burgeoning star, Lance Stephenson, leave for the Charlotte Hornets, bona fide star Paul George horrifically break his leg during the FIBA World Championships and watched as division rivals Cleveland added the planet’s best all-around player in LeBron James. And all of that was after watching a historically bad collapse by their team following the All-Star break. This collapse corresponded with the surprisingly bad play of All-Star center Roy Hibbert, who will be called upon to return to form if the Pacers want a return trip to the postseason.

Roy Hibbert’s struggles following the All-Star break were well-chronicled, with some even calling for his benching. Hibbert, who averaged three points less, three rebounds less and .75 blocks less following the break, was lost on offense and abused on defense. This obviously corresponded with the success of his team as his pre-All-Star-break +/- was +12.7 whereas his post-break +/- was -3.1.

Hibbert was bad, we get it, but what does that mean for the future?

The Pacers lost 36 percent of their scoring from last season (George and Stephenson), as well as 49 percent of their three-pointers. This is a devastating amount of offensive production to lose, but the real loss may be on the defensive end.

In George, Stephenson, forward David West and Hibbert, the Pacers sported four players in the top six as far as defensive win shares contributed are concerned. Not to say that Hibbert is offensively incompetent, but this is the area he can most help the Pacers succeed. They are a team that prides itself on defense. This is a team that won 56 games last season despite being the sixth-lowest scoring team in the league.

The Pacers know how to win without offense, so it will fall upon Hibbert to help them succeed through their defense. He will make players like West and Luis Scola better on the defensive and offensive ends if he can return to his All-Star form. A return would require him to hide defensive incompetency and draw the occasional double-team on offense.

The Pacers will have less talent than last season and, as a result, will need to be a better TEAM. This begins with good defense, but will also require smart offensive play.  According to Candice Buckner of the Indianapolis Star, Hibbert texted his long-time friend Tim Duncan for advice on ball movement:

 

This is the exact type of play that will make the Pacers a better team despite their obvious losses.

The Pacers will likely live and die by the play of their frontcourt, but specifically Roy Hibbert, who will have to lead them defensively in order to make the playoffs. Hibbert may have regressed some last season, but can prove his skeptics wrong with strong leadership and a higher level of play. Pacers’ fans certainly hope this is the case, as it is likely the only way they can return to the postseason.

 


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As Deadline Approaches, Chicago Bulls Must Make Crucial Decision on Jimmy Butler

CHICAGO — In just a few short weeks, Jimmy Butler could be a very rich man. There isn‘t much room for outside distractions in the Chicago Bulls‘ training camp. Tom Thibodeau makes sure of that. But whether the team lets it show or not, Butler’s uncertain contract status looms large over the start of the Bulls’ most important season in years.

Butler and the Bulls have until October 31 to agree to an extension. Otherwise, the fourth-year shooting guard will become a restricted free agent next summer. The sides have been talking, but neither camp is eager to let the negotiations play out in public.

Taj Gibson was in Butler’s shoes two years ago. His negotiations came down to the wire, with his agent and Bulls brass hammering out the details of a four-year, $33 million extension from the locker room during the Bulls’ season opener. Gibson gave the deal a final go-ahead before he even had the chance to shower after the game.

Gibson admitted at the time that he could have probably attracted bigger offers had he waited for restricted free agency, but he valued the long-term security and ultimately signed the extension with the Bulls.

“I don’t wish that on anyone,” the sixth-year power forward said after practice on Wednesday, reminiscing on his talks. “It’s a blessing, though, at the same time. You’ve got to think about all the players that wish they were in that situation.”

Whether or not Butler’s own talks cut it that close (the Bulls play their home opener against the Cleveland Cavaliers on October 31), he’ll have a similar decision to make. Young, athletic perimeter players are highly valued in today’s speedy NBA. The Utah Jazz and Gordon Hayward inked a maximum offer sheet this summer, and the Golden State Warriors are expected to sign Klay Thompson to a similar deal in the near future. Butler doesn’t have nearly the offensive ceiling of Thompson, but elite shooting guards are scarce in the current NBA landscape. If Butler waits it out, he could be in line for a big payday of his own.

Still, the long-term security is a real concern, especially given Butler’s workload. He led the Bulls with 38.7 minutes per game but missed 13 games in November and December nursing a turf-toe injury that continued to nag at him throughout the season. Since Luol Deng’s departure, he’s taken up the mantle of the Bulls’ iron man, and even though he’s only 25, there’s enough injury risk that comes with that role that he can’t afford to take next summer for granted.

On the flip side, if the Bulls don’t lock Butler up now and he has a career year, it becomes much more difficult to keep him next summer when other teams can throw big offers at him. If Butler and the Bulls can agree on a fair number now, it would be in the interest of both sides to do it.

But what constitutes a fair price? Entering his fourth year, Butler’s value is still a question mark. His defense has always been his meal ticket. The title of perimeter stopper is one he stepped into in the 2013 playoffs when Deng was sidelined with a spinal injury, and it’s one he continued to perform excellently last season after Deng was traded in January. He’s the guy Thibodeau regularly sticks on the LeBron Jameses, Kevin Durants and Kobe Bryants of the league.

Offensively, Butler is much less of a known quantity. He didn’t play much his rookie year but took on a larger offensive responsibility over the last two years while Derrick Rose battled consecutive season-ending knee surgeries. After putting together a solid shooting season in 2012-13 (46.7 percent from the field and 38.1 percent from three-point range), Butler struggled last year. His overall shooting percentage dropped to 39.7, while his three-point clip plummeted to 28.3 percent.

“He’s a defender,” said Rose. “You think about all the defenders in the league, the ones who have made a long career out of it, like a Bruce Bowen, a guard who was mainly a defender but can make an open corner shot. It changes the game. That’s the kind of role Jimmy is going to have to find his way to.”

That role is a lot easier to play when you’re at best a fourth option on offense, as Butler will be on this deeper Bulls team. In 2012-13, his best offensive season, Butler took just 6.2 shots per game. Last year, that number jumped to 10.3, and his effectiveness took a hit. With a healthy Rose and the addition of Pau Gasol, the Bulls won’t need Butler to do much more on offense than knock down open threes when he gets them.

Hitting those shots consistently is the key. The Bulls know how good Butler is defensively, and they have every reason to lock him in now, while his value is relatively low. A contract similar to Gibson’s, paying just over $8 million per year, would be an ideal scenario for the team, but even a deal for $10-11 million annually could look like a steal in a couple years if Butler’s shooting improves.

Shooting guards go for much higher prices when they reach restricted free agency than if their teams are able to lock them up before they hit the market.

Player Team Contract Type
Eric Gordon New Orleans 4 years, $58 million Free agent (restricted, 2012)
DeMar DeRozan Toronto 4 years, $38 million Extension (2012)
Lance Stephenson Charlotte 3 years, $27 million Free agent (unrestricted, 2014)
Gordon Hayward Utah 4 years, $63 million Free agent (restricted, 2014)
Klay Thompson Golden State Seeking max contract TBD (2014-15)

It will be tough to judge any deal Butler signs for several years, and not just because of how he may develop as a player. The NBA’s television deal is up after the 2015-16 season, and its new agreement is expected to raise the salary cap by as much as $15-20 million. If Butler signs a contract that seems like a slight overpay now, it could wind up a bargain if the new agreement is as lucrative as it appears.

Whatever number the Bulls and Butler eventually settle on, it hasn’t weighed too heavily on Butler’s mind. In the first week of training camp, his teammates haven’t noticed a distraction. Rose didn’t even know Butler’s contract was up.

“It’s this year?” the 2011 MVP asked on Tuesday. “I didn’t know that. You can’t tell by the way he’s been practicing.”

“He’s handled it the right way,” Gibson added. “He’s been playing well in practice. He’s a good guy. He’s not a selfish guy. People understand in this situation, you’re not just worrying about yourself. You’re worrying about your future and your family. I think they’ll get something done.”

Butler isn’t sweating the prolonged talks, at least not yet.

“I grew up without money,” he said. “I think I’ll be alright for a couple more days.”

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