West sacrificing numbers for chance to learn and win

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SAN ANTONIO — When the white-hot Warriors and splendid Spurs collide Saturday at the AT&T Center, perhaps all that will be missing is a catwalk for the NBA’s two model teams.

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Every athlete pays a price to be a part of this kind of atmosphere in this kind of game. Blood, cheap authentic nba jerseys sweat and tears. Hours, nights and years.
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David West paid with cash.

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The grounded, reliable veteran certainly couldn’t have envisioned that he’d be part of such electric fanfare and hoopla amidst two clubs both still chasing 70 wins.

But West’s experience this season inside their Spurs locker room and their pursuit of a sixth championship in franchise history is exactly why the power forward gave up a guaranteed $12.6 million with the Pacers to play in San Antonio for the veteran’s minimum of $1.49 million.

Was the $11-million decision worth it?

“Probably more,” West says with a grin.

West came here not to pursue records so much as an attitude and a sense of satisfaction. After 12 seasons of toiling diligently and effectively among a variety of different teammates, he wanted a 13th that could deliver a similar mindset and professional satisfaction. He wanted to win, for sure. But he also wanted to grow and learn in an organization that never stops growing and learning and he wanted the discipline that comes from a roster full of players that think and act just like he does.

“It’s been everything that I expected and hoped it would be,” West said. “It’s a great experience being around the knowledge and legendary information that these guys have. It’s great to walk in and see Tim Duncan every day and talk to him. You’ve got four guys with Hall of Fame talent here. It’s really been a great experience. My family’s enjoying it. I have no complaints.”

Neither do the Spurs.

There is a constant information flow that comes from everyone, and everybody is chugging in the same direction. Nobody cheap authentic nba jerseys is pulling off to the left or right, with personal stuff and egos and things like that.

– Spurs forward David West

From the concentration he brings to each trip up and down the practice floor to the hard edge he brings to every game, West has delivered the professionalism and the worldly experience they wanted. At 35, West is only the fifth-oldest player on the Spurs roster, yet his game and approach are wise beyond his many years in the league.

He is averaging the second-fewest minutes (17.5) of his NBA career and scoring less (7.0) than anytime since 2004-05. He has scored in double figures just 16 times all season. Yet West has been valuable for his ability to mesh with the program and rise to occasions.

A week ago in a high profile showdown against the Thunder, the Spurs trailed by seven points with a little more than five minutes left in the third quarter. Tony Parker and Danny Green were struggling to find their offense to that point neither of them had made a single basket when the veteran forward checked into the game.

It was a familiar sight to West. The first time he wore a Spurs jersey for regular season game was in a loss at Oklahoma City back on opening night.

But so much has changed since then as West has settled in to his role and the Spurs have churned out a perfect 34-0 record at home that has kept them chasing only the other-worldly Steph Curry and the defending champion Warriors.

Make Plans: Saturday Night Primetime on ABC Mashup: Warriors-Spurs

Stephen Curry leads the Golden Stater Warriors into San Antonio to face Kawhi Leonard and the Spurs.

This time when the fourth quarter began, West began to assert himself. He knocked down a pair of his specialty mid-range jumpers, then attacked the bucket for a tip-in that tied the game. He would not score again after his solo 6-0 run, but West kept right on blocking shots, blocking out, rebounding and defending as the Spurs secured the win.

“We have a team full of coaches,” he said. “There is a constant information flow that comes from everyone, and everybody is chugging in the same direction. Nobody is pulling off to the left or right, with personal stuff and egos and things like that.”

He had heard the stories over the years about how the Spurs do this and the Spurs do that and how it’s the perfect place to play basketball. Now he’s living and believing the experience.

“Every moment, every play means something,” West said. “That’s what I wanted. Every game, every possession means the world to us.

“There’s an ideology that exists here. You just trust it.”

Enough to pay the price that David West did for admission to the epic Warriors-Spurs showdown. In cash. Trending

Rookie big men netting solid returns on their vast potential

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The regular season is barely a week past the All-Star break, not close to done, and yet the discussion is mid-April closed.

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The rookie big men of 2015-16 who were expected at the start of the season to be unusually good, in a way a crop of newly arrived centers and power forwards haven’t been for years, have been that good. So good, in fact, that it’s impossible to imagine anything happening in the final 30 percent of the regular season to change that opinion.

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It’s late February, and it’s over.

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The point could be made that the bigs have actually exceeded collective expectations because the Minnesota Timberwolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns, while projected by most front offices to eventually become the best player in the Draft, has had a far greater immediate impact than imagined. General managers picked him to finish second for Kia Rookie of the Year, behind Jahlil Okafor of the Philadelphia 76ers, and yet here is Towns threatening to turn the race into a runaway.

Only one non-point guard or wing has won the award in the last seven years, Blake Griffin in 2010-11. The top three finishers when ballots are submitted in April could be cheap nba basketball jerseys a center (Towns), a power forward (Kristaps Porzingis) and a center (Okafor). Indiana Pacers power forward Myles Turner, meanwhile, has been one of the best rookies since the calendar turned to 2016. Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic has earned a spot among the best newcomers despite little preseason buzz because he was drafted in 2014, and as the No. 41 pick at that.

Four months into the season, everything — and nothing — has changed. The rookies have stepped far into their new world by the latest position-by-position breakdown, although with difficulty in some cases, and the bigs have collectively performed at a high level. As expected.

Point guards

NBA Rooks: D’Angelo Russell

As All-Star Weekend approaches, BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge participant D’Angelo Russell of the Lakers talks about the learning curve of a rookie point guard.

1. D’Angelo Russell, Los Angeles Lakers

2. Cameron Payne, Oklahoma City Thunder

3. Emmanuel Mudiay, Denver Nuggets

4. T.J. McConnell, Philadelphia 76ers

5. Jerian Grant, New York Knicks

Preseason ranking: Mudiay, Russell, Grant, Payne, Delon Wright.

Jan. 1 ranking: Russell, McConnell, Mudiay, Raul Neto, Grant.

Summary: Although still one of the weaker positions of the first-year class, with only Russell in the top 10 of the latest Rookie Ladder, point guard has improved greatly in the last month with Payne and Mudiay playing much better. With Russell in the midst of his best month, shooting well and taking care of the ball better than any time in the first half of the season, and with McConnell continuing to offer solid play under the radar in Philly, there is suddenly decent depth. Not enough that it’s a tough cut to leave someone off the first five, but definitely forward progress.

Shooting guards

Devin Booker Finds His Shot

Check out rookie Devin Booker getting acclimated to the NBA 3-point line this season!

1. Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns

2. Jonathon Simmons, San Antonio Spurs

3. Mario Hezonja, Orlando Magic Jerseys

4. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Brooklyn Nets

5. Lamar Patterson, Atlanta Hawks Jerseys

Preseason ranking: Hezonja, Booker, Rashad Vaughn, Norman Powell, Pat Connaughton.

Jan. 1 ranking: Hollis-Jefferson Booker, Hezonja, Patterson, R.J. Hunter.

Summary: Hollis-Jefferson was the easy leader in the first in-season progress report, and then he got hurt. Booker is the clear call in the update just after the All-Star break, and now he is slumping. Shooting guard is every bit the soft spot it was at the start of the season. It may not turn out that way when the Draft class as a whole is re-evaluated in three or five years — Hezonja could still develop into a star, Hollis-Jefferson could still become a steal as the No. 23 pick, Booker could have a long career tormenting defenses from the 3-point line — but 2015-16 has been an undeniably a slow start for this position. It helps, a lot, that Simmons has turned into a tremendous success story by going from an NBA D-League open tryout to getting about 14 minutes a game for the second-best team in the league. Hollis-Jefferson’s healthy return from an ankle injury would be another plus.

Small forwards

NBA Rooks: Justise Winslow

10th overall pick Justise Winslow takes stock of his season so far, including how he’s benefitted from his relationships with Dwyane Wade and Head Coach Erik Spoelstra.

1. Justise Winslow, Miami Heat Jerseys

2. Stanley Johnson, Detroit Pistons

3. Kelly Oubre, Washington Wizards Jerseys

4. Justin Anderson, Dallas Mavericks

5. Anthony Brown, Los Angeles Lakers

Preseason ranking: Johnson, Winslow, Anderson, Oubre, Hollis-Jefferson.

Jan. 1 ranking: Winslow, Johnson, Oubre, Simmons, Anderson.

Summary: This could turn out to be the start of years of the Winslow-Johnson comparison — small forwards who will get real minutes at other positions, one-and-done college players, potential physical forces on defense, each needing to prove they can make shots, and off the board about the same time in June 2015. (Johnson went No. 8 and Winslow went No. 10.) They have been 1-2 from the beginning, in some order, and will finish the season that way barring a surprise. Oubre, with some of the similar background as the No. 15 selection, has had some encouraging moments and could join the conversation in later years. For now, though, only playing about 11 minutes a game means a significant gap from the lead pack.

Power forwards

Inside Stuff: Towns and Porzingis at All-Star

Inside Stuff goes behind the scenes with Karl-Anthony Towns and Kristaps Porzingis as the rookies experience their first All-Star Weekend.

1. Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks

2. Myles Turner, Indiana Pacers

3. Bobby Portis, Chicago Bulls

4. Larry Nance Jr., Los Angeles Lakers

5. Frank Kaminsky, Charlotte Hornets Jerseys

Preseason ranking: Porzingis, Turner, Willie Cauley-Stein, Kaminsky, Portis.

Jan. 1 ranking: Porzingis, Kaminsky, Nemanja Bjelica, Nance, Richaun Holmes.

Summary: A clear top two, then a bit of a drop to No. 3, then a big drop. But there has been enough production in that third group for the close call of four players with a case for the final two spots — Nance Jr., Kaminsky, Holmes and Lyles. Each has contributed and each has shown the ability to handle prominent roles, Lyles and Kaminsky for potential playoff teams. That’s good depth for a position that has offered pleasant surprises all along, especially with Holmes, Nance and Bjeclia coming from far back of the pack to rank among the best power forwards.

Centers

Kia Awards: Karl-Anthony Towns

Timberwolves rookie Karl-Anthony Towns is averaging 22.2 points and 12.4 rebounds per game in February.

1. Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves

2. Jahlil Okafor, Philadelphia 76ers

3. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets

4. Willie Cauley-Stein, Sacramento Kings

5. Boban Marjanovich, San Antonio Spurs

Preseason ranking: Okafor, Towns, Jokic, Walter Tavares, Joshua Smith.

Jan. 1 ranking: Towns, Okafor, Jokic, Cauley-Stein, Marjanovich.

Summary: There is no better sign of the strength of the position than Cauley-Stein, a starter having a good season as the first installment to what should be a long career, as the fourth-best center. While Towns took control of the top spot early, for the entire Rookie of the Year race as well as the position breakdowns, the next three have been far more than afterthoughts. All four were in the top 10 of the Rookie Ladder as recently as Feb. 10, just before the All-Star break, and all four could be there at the end amid the possibility of a Cauley-Stein return. Offense will generate most of the attention, especially with Towns and Okafor plus the massive potential there for Porzingis, but there is a lot of defense on this list.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting. Trending

Even in seemingly lost season, Bucks’ future remains bright

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The Milwaukee Bucks Jerseys look nothing like a playoff team today. Their defense has relaxed, their record (14-22) is trending in the wrong direction and they stand 5 1/2 games out of the No. 8 seed in the improved Eastern Conference.

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And yet theirs is an altogether enviable position.
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Look at the roster: Jabari Parker is 20, Giannis Antetokounmpo is one year his elder, and both look like eventual franchise stars any rival would covet. Their senior starter is Greg Monroe, the 25-year-old center who spurned the larger-market New York Knicks Jerseys and Los Angeles Lakers to sign here last summer.

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“They have some very good, young, talented players here,” said Monroe, who is good, young and talented himself. “I definitely would like to help them grow as much as possible.”

Antetokounmpo Dominates Warriors

Giannis Antetokounmpo becomes the youngest Buck to notch a triple-double, scoring 11 points with 12 boards, and ten assists to stop Golden State’s historic winning streak.

After making the 2015 playoffs and taking the more experienced Chicago Bulls Jerseys to six games — a team they face tonight on NBA TV (8 ET) — there has been little drama during this relatively frustrating season in Milwaukee. Overall, there’s no hint that changes need to be made or that jobs in jeopardy.

The reason that wisdom is prevailing is because the Bucks are not tanking. They already have a deep hierarchy that starts with two A-list talents amid several other high-upside players, along with a young coach in Jason Kidd who proved last year that he knows how to inspire them.

Now the job is to nurture their potential and develop the roster with patience, both of which will be Kidd’s duty once he returns from the right hip surgery he underwent last month. Milwaukee should also benefit from the eventual recovery of backup point guard Greivis Vasquez — their second-oldest player at 28 — as he rehabs from recent ankle surgery.

Along the way the Bucks will continue to both impress and exasperate. The team that ended the Golden State Warriors’ 24-0 start (and threatened to upset the Warriors again in Oakland six days later) will also continue to be the team that has suffered all but one of its losses in bunches of two or three games in a row.

“Everybody would like to make the playoffs, but we’ve got to work through the process, we can’t skip any steps,” Kidd was saying last month. “We’ve got to first make sure that we get better as a team and as individuals. So the carrot is to make the playoffs, but you’re going to have your ups and downs, especially with a young team.”

Milwaukee hoping to take well-worn path

They’re NBA champions now. But back in 2011-12, the Warriors were concluding an ugly four-season run in which they won 29, 26, 36 and 23 games, respectively. Reigning MVP Stephen Curry was there for three of them. He was 25 when he qualified for his first playoff game.

Another helpful example is the Oklahoma City Thunder Jerseys. Going back to their days as the Seattle SuperSonics, they won 35, 31, 20 and 23 games from 2005-09. Yet that enabled them to Draft and develop talents like Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka and James Harden.

The Bucks haven’t been in contention for a long time, and yet they haven’t been consistently poor enough to benefit. In the last seven drafts they’ve had one top 9 pick (spent on Parker at No. 2 in 2014). Milwaukee’s future is reassuring because GM John Hammond discovered Antetokounmpo in 2013 (No. 15 pick), traded for Khris Middleton (a 2012 second-rounder by Detroit) that same summer and picked John Henson (No. 14, 2012).

All-Access: Bucks Draft Parker In 2014

All-access look into the Bucks’ war room as they select Jabari Parker as the number two pick in the Draft14.

A second lesson in perspective to be derived from the Warriors, Thunder and other young teams is that the Bucks are just need time to develop. Of course, the Bucks themselves want to hear nothing of this.

“A lot of times when I struggle, my teammates tell me, ‘Don’t worry about it, you’re going to play so many years in this league,’ ” Antetokounmpo said. “But for me it is all about today. I think about today. I’m not thinking about tomorrow; I’m not thinking about the day before. I’m thinking about today and how can I do something today to help my team or to be better.”

The pressing issue for Antetokounmpo and 24-year-old point guard Michael Carter-Williams — the 2013-14 Rookie of the Year whom Milwaukee acquired last season from Philadelphia — is to develop their shooting range. Antetokounmpo is attempting just 1.4 3-pointers (converting 26.1 percent) and Carter-Williams is down to 0.8 attempts (32 percent). “The Greek Freak” is averaging a career-best 15.3 points and he and Carter-Williams rank in the top 50 in drives to the basket.

“I don’t think I can say it is my safer option,” Antetokounmpo said of his driving. “I think it is my strength. Coach wants us to play to our strength, so that’s what I try to do. I know sometimes I might be open but I don’t feel it — I don’t feel like I’m going to make this jump shot, so I don’t take it. Because if I don’t feel like I’m going to make it, (that’s when) I don’t make it. So I just try to play through my strengths.”

We’ve got to first make sure that we get better as a team and as individuals. So the carrot is to make the playoffs, but you’re going to have your ups and downs, especially with a young team.

– Bucks coach Jason Kidd

“I’ve told them you’re being judged on playing hard,” Kidd said. “It’s about rhythm shots. That’s the one thing we’ll talk about — was that a rhythm shot? And if you can shoot rhythm shots — make or miss — those are the right shots to take.”

It can be hard to convince young players to believe in themselves. Last summer, as Tom Heinsohn was entering the Hall of Fame for his work as coach of the Boston Celtics Jerseys, he recalled forcing his rookie center Dave Cowens to look for his jumper. “I was eager to have him shoot the ball coming up on the break in the trailer spot,” Heinsohn said. “That wasn’t his best game at that point in his career. As a competitor he didn’t want to shoot that shot because he was missing. He said, ‘Tommy, I can’t make that shot. I don’t want to shoot it.’ I said, ‘Dave, don’t worry about missing — the more you take now, the sooner you’re going to be making them.’ ”

The same dynamic may apply to Antetokounmpo and Carter-Williams’ shooting range.

“Sometimes as a young player, you don’t know what that means,” Kidd said of “rhythm” shooting. “That’s just the process of understanding what the rhythm of a good shot is, and also feeling comfortable with yourself when it comes to shooting.”

Bucks add much-needed dimension

“If there’s one thing on the offensive side that we definitely will continue to get better at, it’s shooting,” said Monroe, whose stats — 15.5 points, 9.4 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 52.3 percent shooting — are in line with his numbers from his Detroit days.

“I think he has adjusted to that role of having to be the leader and being held accountable at a higher level than he was in Detroit,” Henson, 25, said.

Monroe’s presence has enabled the Bucks to develop a halfcourt structure where he’s fed the ball in the post, waits for a double-team and then, finds shooters. To date, Monroe ranks 6th in total post-up possessions.

Monroe Delivers vs. Blazers

Greg Monroe records 16 points and 12 rebounds plus the game-winner as the Bucks come back to defeat the Blazers.

“He’s getting double-teamed more than 50 percent of the time he catches the ball in the post, and Greg has been able to open up perimeter shots and driving lanes for other people,” Hammond said. “It has changed us offensively for sure. But every team needs someone who can break down the defense either out of the post or off the dribble.”

The Bucks celebrated a stunning 26-win improvement last season despite the absences of Parker and center Larry Sanders, who negotiated a buyout after playing 27 games. They were able to do more with less by relying on a long, hyperactive defense to create baskets.

While the defense has declined with the additions of Monroe and Parker, the Bucks’ longterm outlook there remains strong.

Henson, the backup big man, is averaging a team-best 1.8 blocks in 16.1 minutes. The 6-foot-6 Carter-Williams has the length and athleticism to be a strong defender.

Henson Gets Two Swats

John Henson rejects Jahlil Okafor back to back.

“Giannis is a good shot-blocker today, and he’s going to be a great shot-blocker,” Hammond said. “He can be an excellent defensive rebounder with his overall length and his ability to stay in front of people.”

The Bucks aren’t finished filling out their roster, either. cheap reversible basketball jerseys Another top 10 pick could be on the way in June. Five of their top six scorers in double-figures are 25 or younger, and it is not inconceivable that the continuing growth of Middleton and Carter-Williams transforms the team-minded Monroe into the Bucks’ No. 4 or No. 5 player — which would make them formidable.

“We can’t look too far ahead,” Middleton said. “We have to focus on doing our jobs right now. But I think definitely we will be one of the top teams in the league in a couple of years.”

Can they balance their longterm promise with the need to succeed right now? The tension of these next two years will be fascinating.

Ian Thomsen has covered the NBA since 2000. You can e-mail him here or follow him on Twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting. Trending

Friday’s showcase lacking in newbies this time around

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Rosters for the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge were announced last week for the game that will be played Friday night in Toronto as part of All-Star weekend, a game designed to spotlight the best young players of the game.

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In other news, it won’t.

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Any opportunity to include the assistant coaches’ votes as part of getting a read on the top rookies in 2015-16 disappeared with the return of the 2015 format of the United States against the World. To fill out ballots, teams had to include four guards, four frontcourt players and two at either spot with a minimum of three rookies and three second-year players. All of that combined to make selections internationally weird.

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Only three rookies made the U.S. squad: Jahlil Okafor, D’Angelo Russell and Karl-Anthony Towns mostly because of the number of deserving candidates in their sophomore season rounded out the roster. The World squad, on the other hand, included six newcomers — Mario Hezonja, Nikola Jokic, Emmanuel Mudiay, Raul Neto, Kristaps Porzingis and Trey Lyles as an injury replacement for Nikola Mirotic — even though some would have trouble getting into the conversation for the 15 best rookies. (Nothing personal, Neto.)

The vote became a numbers game and a balancing act, not another layer to be factored in. Maybe guard Russell making the U.S. roster and forward Justise Winslow was something to be put in The Ladder equation, maybe it was a position thing.

The final Ladder heading into the All-Star break, meanwhile:

1. Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves

Last week’s ranking: No. 1

Towns Dominates Bulls

Karl-Anthony Towns scores 26 points with 17 rebounds as the Timberwolves surge past the Bulls on Saturday Night.

Towns has started at power forward and back at center, his original position, with Nikola Pekovic sidelined the last four games by a foot injury, but it doesn’t make a difference. The rebounding tear has reached eight consecutive games in double digits, with particularly impressive numbers recently on the offensive boards. Towns is at 12.5 in that stretch and 10.1 overall, No. 10 in the league. Only one Rookie of the Year in the last 10 seasons has averaged double figures, Blake Griffin with 12.1 in 2010-11.

2. Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks Jerseys

Last week’s ranking: No. 2

Dunk of the Night: Kristaps Porzingis

Kristaps Porzingis puts his defender in the spin cycle before soaring to the basket for the slam.

While interim coach Kurt Rambis, himself a former power forward, obviously understands Porzingis’ importance this season and especially to the future of the franchise, a coaching change always means uncertainty for a lot of players on their role and minutes. Porzingis was at 28.2 minutes per game at the time of Derek Fisher’s firing and 31.1. the last four. The No. 4 pick still had yet to recapture the rebounding numbers from November, but remained a presence as a shot blocker, all the way to No. 1 in the class and No. 7 in the league.

3. Jahlil Okafor5, Philadelphia 76ers Jerseys

Last week’s ranking: No. 3

Okafor Shines vs. Nets

Jahlil Okafor scores 22 points and grabs 17 rebounds as the Sixers defeat the Nets 103-98.

The minutes are dropping slightly, though with a steady decline in a very bad trend, and the scoring opportunities are dropping a lot. Okafor has gone from 16.3 shots a game in November to 15.2 in December to 13.0 in January before an encouraging, if slight, change of direction to 13.8 the first four games of February. At 13.8 points this month, and with Towns surging on offense, Okafor is in danger of not holding the top spot for the rookie scoring lead since the early days of the season. He is at 17.0, Towns at 16.7.

4. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets

Last week’s ranking: No. 4

Jokic has consistently been contributing three or four assists a game, small input in a lot of cases but noteworthy for centers and especially meaningful during a recent shooting slump. He is tied for seventh in the class as the highest-ranking non-point guard. If the 1.9 per outing holds, he will become just the sixth rookie center in the last 16 years to average at least 1.7 assists, joining the good company of Pau Gasol, DeMarcus Cousins, Andrew Bogut, Marc Gasol and Yao Ming.

5. Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns

Last week’s ranking: No. 6

Booker Shows His Court Vision

On the break, Devin Booker throws the behind the back pass to P.J. Tucker for the reverse layup.

It took until just before the All-Star break, but Booker has finally reached the qualifying minimum to be ranked among the league leaders in 3-point shooting. He is 17th, in addition to second among rookies and along with fast-charging Cameron Payne of the Thunder the only first-year player better than 40 percent. That is part of his six straight games with at least 15 points before the streak ended Monday, pushing Booker to 10.6 overall (sixth in the class). Booker didn’t get picked for the Rising Stars game, but will be in Toronto for the Foot Locker Three-Point Contest on Saturday night.

6. Justise Winslow, Miami Heat Jerseys

Last week’s ranking: No. 5

Winslow’s Big Block

Justise Winslow with a wonderful block during the second quarter.

The drop was more the result of Booker’s continued surge than anything Winslow did wrong. If anything, he has been solidifying his standing lately as one of the top rookies with the improved offense that has reached 56.8 percent from the field the last eight appearances, along with the big contribution of 7.9 rebounds in the same time. Winslow does not have a big scoring role with the Heat, but the shooting trend is encouraging as a complement to the defense that has been very good all season.

7. D’Angelo Russell, Los Angeles Lakers

Last week’s ranking: No. 7

Russell Finds Black

D’Angelo Russell finds Tarik Black with the bounce pass for the big-time slam.

Talk about a nice couple weeks. The seal of approval with the Rising Stars vote has been coupled with shooting 44.4 percent the last five games, a small sample size but a positive development for someone at 41.5 percent overall. There have also been better moments as a distributor after a lot of struggles the first half of the season. Russell’s new Ladder problem is that his two closest challengers for the spot are playing well enough to pass the Lakers point guard if the encouraging signs do not continue.

8. Myles Turner, Indiana Pacers Jerseys

Last week’s ranking: No. 8

George, Turner Overpower Lakers

Paul George records 21 points and nine rebounds, Myles Turner adds a double-double as the Pacers defeat the Lakers.

Turner has not yet reached the qualifying minimum — appearing in 70 percent of his team’s games — to be ranked among the league leaders in blocks, but his 1.43 an outing would be 18th. And with appearances in just 30 of Indiana’s 52 contests because of the fractured thumb that cost him most December, that status won’t come for at least a few weeks. Turner will have to be satisfied with rising to third among rookies and being one of the best in the league in the category regardless of experience the last three weeks or so.

9. Stanley Johnson, Detroit Pistons Jerseys

Last week’s ranking: No. 9

Johnson Scores Plus the Foul

Off the miss by Jose Calderon, Brandon Jennings outlets to Stanley Johnson who finishes with the shot off the glass plus the foul.

The player who has spent most of his time at small forward and has the physical tools and tenacity at 19 years old to handle real minutes at power forward in small-ball situations is now the starting shooting guard in place of the injured Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. The key development remains Johnson and his continued improvements as a shooter. He is at 45.3 percent and 12.4 points the last 11 games, the first extended contribution on offense after previously making his mark on the other side of the ball. The season-long number, though, is still 39.3 percent.

10. Willie Cauley-Stein, Sacramento Kings

Last week’s ranking: No. 10

Willie Cauley-Stein Oop

Rajon Rondo finds Willie Cauley-Stein for the alley-oop.

The Kings’ latest re-emphasis on defense, this time while telling George Karl to take a few steps backward off the plank, creates more of an opportunity than before for Cauley-Stein. And he had a big role before — 20.5 minutes a game overall but 25.6 the last five. He is fourth among rookies in blocks, sixth in wholesale basketball jerseys rebounding, first in field-goal percentage and defending. Watch the minutes the first couple weeks back from the All-Star break. This is his chance.

Dropped out: none.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting. Trending

Playoffs have long line of series-changing injuries

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The NBA playoffs are only a couple of weeks old, and already we’ve seen them radically changed thanks to a couple of key injuries.

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Golden State’s presumptive MVP Stephen Curry, who led the NBA in scoring during the regular season at 31 points per game, sprained his ankle in Game 1 of their first-round series against the Rockets, then returned in Game 4 and suffered a knee injury that could keep him out for two weeks. More recently, during Game 4 of the Clippers’ series against Portland, Los Angeles point guard Chris Paul suffered a fractured hand, which will sideline him indefinitely, and Blake Griffin re-injured his quadriceps, which means he will miss the rest of the playoffs.

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Injuries are an unavoidable part of sports. Over the last few years, we’ve seen teams trying to preserve players by sitting them out of games and limiting their minutes. And along the way, we’ve also learned that nobody seems able to avoid the fickle hand of bad luck, particularly where injuries are concerned.

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This season is not the first time we’ve seen an NBA team in the playoffs have its destiny altered by circumstances beyond its control. Let’s take a look back over the last 15 years at some of the injuries that have had a significant impact on their team’s postseason plans…

Derek Anderson Jerseys, San Antonio Spurs

Playoff series: 2001 Western Conference semifinals vs. Dallas

Injury: Separated shoulder in Game 1

How it affected the series: The Spurs finished the 2000-01 season an NBA-best 58-24, with Anderson the team’s second-leading scorer behind Tim Duncan, averaging 15.5 points in 82 games. Anderson injured his shoulder on a flagrant foul from Juwan Howard, although the Spurs went on to beat the Mavericks in five games. Anderson returned during the Western Conference finals, but the Lakers swept the Spurs in four games.

Peja Stojakovic, Sacramento Kings

Playoff series: 2002 Western Conference semifinals vs. Dallas

Injury: Sprained ankle in Game 3

How it affected the series: Coming off an All-Star season as Sacramento’s second-leading scorer, Stojakovic’s injury kept him out nearly three weeks. He finally returned to help the Kings win Game 5 of the Western Conference finals, although the Lakers bounced back to win Games 6 and 7 and advance to the NBA Finals.

Chris Webber, Sacramento Kings

Playoff series: 2003 Western Conference semifinals vs. Dallas

Injury: ACL injury in Game 2

How it affected the series: Webber was Sacramento’s leading scorer during the regular season, averaging 23 points. The Kings were leading 1-0 when Webber went down, and without Webber, Dallas was able to eliminate the Kings in seven games. Although, as Dallas was about to learn, the injury bug is inescapable.

Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks

Playoff series: 2003 Western Conference finals vs. San Antonio

Injury: Knee in Game 3

How it affected the series: The Mavs finished the regular season tied for the NBA’s best record at 60-22. After beating the Spurs in Game 1, Nowitzki strained his knee going for a rebound in Game 3, and missed the rest of the series. The Spurs went on to win the series and, eventually, the NBA championship.

Sam Cassell, Minnesota Timberwolves

Playoff series: 2004 Western Conference finals vs. Lakers

Injury: Hip injury in Game 1

How it affected the series: The Wolves had won a regular season franchise-best 58 games and entered the postseason as the top seed in the Western Conference. Point guard Cassell was injured one minute into Game 1, and wasn’t nearly as effective as he was during the regular season. The Lakers won the series in six games to advance to the NBA Finals.

Joe Johnson, Phoenix Suns

Playoff series: 2005 Western Conference semifinals vs. Dallas

Injury: Broken orbital bone in Game 2

How it affected the series: Johnson had played 287 consecutive games for the Suns before a foul from Jerry Stackhouse caused an eye injury that resulted in a minor concussion and required surgery. Johnson missed the rest of the series, as the Suns were able to defeat the Mavericks in six games. Johnson returned in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals, but the Suns lost in five games to the San Antonio Spurs.

Yao Ming, Houston Rockets

Playoff series: 2009 Western Conference semifinals vs. Lakers

Injury: Fractured foot in Game 3

How it affected the series: After the Rockets finished the regular season with 53 wins, they won their first-round matchup against the Portland Trail Blazers. In Game 3 of the conference semifinals, Yao had to limp off after suffering a stress fracture. The Lakers would go on to win the series and, eventually, the NBA championship.

Kendrick Perkins, Boston Celtics Jerseys

Playoff series: 2010 NBA Finals vs. Lakers

Injury: Knee injury in Game 6

How it affected the series: Perkins wasn’t Boston’s most dynamic player, but his defensive presence and leadership were valued by the Celtics. The Celtics held a 3-2 lead going into Game 6, but an early Perkins injury derailed Boston, as the Lakers went on to win Games 6 and 7 and take the NBA title.

Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls Jerseys

Playoff series: 2012 Eastern Conference first round vs. Philadelphia

Injury: Torn ACL in Game 1

How it affected the series: Rose was the NBA’s reigning MVP, and had led the Bulls to the Eastern Conference finals the previous season. In 2012, Rose led the Bulls to a first-place finish in the Central Division and they were one of the favorites to contend for an NBA title. Rose’s knee injury in Game 1 was catastrophic for Chicago, as they went on to lose the series in six games.

Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder

Playoff series: 2013 Western Conference first round vs. Houston

Injury: Torn meniscus in Game 2

How it affected the series: One season after a trip to the NBA Finals, the Thunder finished the regular season with a 60-22 record, best in the Western Conference. Westbrook had played all 82 regular season games, averaging 23.2 points and 7.4 assists. Westbrook collided with Houston’s Patrick Beverley and came up limping, and ended up needing surgery and missed the rest of the postseason. The Thunder ended up winning the series behind Kevin Durant, but lost the conference semifinals to the Memphis Grizzlies.

The Starters: Beverley vs. Westbrook

The Starters discuss the heated rivalry between the Patrick Beverley and Russell Westbrook along with their respected teams.

Serge Ibaka, Oklahoma City Thunder

Playoff series: 2014 Western Conference semifinals vs. Clippers

Injury: Calf injury in Game 6

How it affected the series: One season after losing Westbrook in the postseason, the Thunder were still harboring championship aspirations. But during the Thunder’s Game 6 victory over the Clippers, Ibaka suffered a calf injury. A day later, the Thunder announced that Ibaka was done for the rest of the postseason. But after the Thunder fell behind 0-2 to the Spurs during the Western Conference finals, Ibaka returned in a limited role but the Spurs would go on to win and advance.

Kevin Love, Cleveland Cavaliers Jerseys

Playoff series: 2015 Eastern Conference first round vs. Boston cheap nba jersey

Injury: Dislocated shoulder in game 4

How it affected the series: After the Cavs added Kevin Love and LeBron James to a young core, they finished the season as the best team in the Eastern Conference. But during Game 4 of their first round series against Boston, Love and Kelly Olynyk became tangled going after a loose ball, and Love suffered his season-ending injury. The Cavs had enough interior depth to win the series and eventually advance to the NBA Finals, but soon learned there were more injuries ahead…

Love’s Injury

Kevin Love leaves the game after injuring his shoulder while battling for the rebound with Kelly Olynyk.

Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers Jerseys

Playoff series: NBA Finals vs. Golden State Warriors

Injury: Patella fracture in Game 2

How it affected the series: Irving actually missed two games against the Atlanta Hawks Jerseys in the Eastern Conference finals with a knee injury, but returned to play against the Warriors’ strong backcourt in the NBA Finals. Irving suffered the injury during overtime of Game 1, knocking him out for the rest of the series. The Cavs would go on to lose the Finals in six games.

Kyrie Irving’s Injury

Kyrie Irving drives, lands awkardly and appears to sustain an injury on the play.

Lang Whitaker has covered the NBA since 1998. You can e-mail him here or follow him on Twitter.

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Jazz’s paint patrollers bear burden of team’s playoff goal

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It is becoming less of a secret, the longer he plays and the closer he comes to helping the Utah Jazz Jerseys get back into the playoffs: Derrick Favors can be driven by his anger.

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“I know he is somebody who is very quiet,” says Rudy Gobert, the 7-foot-1 Utah center who partners with Favors, the 6-foot-10 power forward.

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“But when he gets angry, that’s when he is at his best.”
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A five-game losing streak ended two weeks ago when that anger flared up. Favors did not turn into the Hulk. He did not cause harm. But he did generate 28 points on 19 shots to go with six blocks, 11 rebounds and three assists as he outplayed All-Star Anthony Davis Jerseys in a crucial 106-94 win at New Orleans.

“We both have a lot of pride,” says Gobert, who contributed 18 rebounds and two blocks to that win. “I feel like we both got the chip on our shoulder. We both have something to prove and we’re showing it on the court.”

Favors Helps Jazz Stun Cavs

Rodney Hood scores 28 and Derrick Favors adds 19 points and 5 rebounds as the Jazz beat the Cavs 94-85.

After surviving a run of competitive losses that had gone the wrong way in the fourth quarter, the young Jazz have now won five of six (including a telltale victory at home last week against the Cavaliers) to raise the significance of its showdown at Houston tonight (8 ET, NBA League Pass). It is going to feel like a postseason play-in game, given that the Rockets are only a ½-game ahead of No. 9 Utah in the Western Conference.

Injuries have thinned the perimeter — a season-ending knee injury to point guard Dante Exum, a broken fibula shooting guard Alec Burks suffered in December that ended his 2015-16 and the ongoing plantar fasciitis plaguing top scorer and small forward Gordon Hayward — so Utah will be leaning on the defensive leadership of Favors and Gobert. In spite of the injuries to a roster that was already the youngest in the league in terms of experience, the Jazz have gone 21-17 when Favors and Gobert have started together.

We both have a lot of pride. I feel like we both got the chip on our shoulder. We both have something to prove and we’re showing it on the court.

– Utah Jazz Jerseys center Rudy Gobert, on he and Derrick Favors

Even more intriguing than the uphill pursuit of Utah’s first playoff appearance since 2012 is the longterm question that may be answered over the next three weeks: Can Favors and Gobert establish a foundation at both ends of the court that will carry Utah back into perennial contention?

“Peoples’ initial response is: Can they play together? And can they coexist offensively?” says Jazz coach Quin Snyder. “I think they can. But they are unique, and they are not going to play off one another the way a typical power forward and center combination would.”

Duo a unique defensive tandem

For perspective, consider the frontcourt issue that the Los Angeles Clippers Jerseys are seeking to resolve. Can Blake Griffin (pending his return from injury and suspension) and DeAndre Jordan reach an NBA Finals together? The questions arise from the absence of a floor-spacer among them: Griffin isn’t a 3-point shooter, and Jordan is a threat mainly around the basket.

Gobert Finds Favors

Rudy Gobert throws it up to Derrick Favors who throws down the alley-oop dunk.

In Utah, Favors and Gobert have emerged as a poor man’s version of the Clippers’ front line. Favors is 1-for-14 in his career as a 3-point shooter, while all but five of Gobert’s field goals — he’s averaging a career-best 9.5 points and shooting 56.5 percent — have been scored within 5 feet.

“I think a lot of is just the two of them being disciplined in their spacing,” Snyder said. “There is less room because their range isn’t typical of a combination like that. Their passing has to make up for it, and I think both of them will develop. Both of them have to be realistic about their strengths and weaknesses and where they can improve, and embrace some of those things that they can get better at.”

I knew right away that he was a good defensive player. I was a defensive guy too when I came into the league — still am. It was right from the beginning where we were both blocking shots and playing team defense.

– Utah Jazz Jerseys forward Derrick Favors, on Rudy Gobert

Both are years away from fulfilling their upside. Despite back problems that sidelined him for 16 games in midseason, Favors, 24, has elevated his scoring average for a fifth straight year (16.9 points) while also averaging 8.4 rebounds and 1.5 blocks while shooting 51.3 percent. Gobert, 23, missed 18 games with a knee sprain, yet his 9.5 points and 11.0 rebounds are both career bests.

They appear willing to complement one another in recognition of each other’s strengths. Protection of the rim — and the gaudier shot-blocking numbers that go with it — have been ceded to Gobert (2.2 blocks per game). Meanwhile, Favors has shown the defensive versatility to defend away from the basket.

“Faves this year has been showing he can guard perimeter guys for a possession,” Hayward said. “That allows us to start switching 1 through 4 late, which is just huge for us.”

Snyder points out that most of Gobert’s blocks come off the ball, while Favors tends to block shots within his matchup. “On defense I let him do his thing,” says Favors of Gobert. “So I take a backseat to that, because I nba jerseys wholesale know he’s going to block shots, he’s going to get the rebounds, he’s going to do all of that stuff. And then on offense he knows I’m going to be the guy who will get most of the touches. So he plays off me.”

Gobert can be seen spacing away from Favors, but he commands respect when rolling or diving to the basket. At times it seems as if the lobs can’t be thrown high enough. “With his ability to jump, you throw it too low and he may drop it,” says point guard Trey Burke. “Then sometimes you may throw it too high because you feel like he can go get anything.”

No odd couple here

Gobert has little in common with his power forward in terms of background. Favors grew up in Atlanta as a can’t-miss prospect who was rated by some as the No. 1 high school player nationally in 2009. After averaging 12.4 points, 8.4 rebounds and 2.1 blocks as a freshman at Georgia Tech, he went No. 3 overall to the Nets in the 2010 Draft. Four months into his rookie season, Favors was moved to Utah as the main piece in the stunning trade of then-All-Star Deron Williams.

Favors Shines vs. Pelicans

Derrick Favors scores 28 points and grabs 11 rebounds as the Jazz defeat the Pelicans 106-94.

It was as if he had been moved back in time. His new mentors included Al Jefferson, owner of the NBA’s most retro post game, and Favors would invest hundreds of hours in his footwork. “When I first came into the league I was the athletic guy — running, jumping, blocking shots,” says Favors. “And when I got to Utah it was like, `We play the system. So you’re going to have to rotate over, you’re going to have to work on your post game, you’re going to have to play team defense. You’re not going to get a lot of shots because we want you to rotate over early.’ So that was something I had to learn. And I’ve kept with it.

“I knew that it was going to pay off in the long run. That’s why I stuck with it, and I’m glad because obviously it’s paying off now. I know when I get older, my athleticism is going to leave me. So every day I try to work on my post game. I try to work on different finishes around the rim where I’m not dunking the ball, and I continue to work on my footwork around the paint.”

Favors had finished his third season (9.4 ppg) when Gobert arrived as No. 27 pick in the 2013 Draft via a trade with Denver. Expectations were low: Gobert had been overlooked as a teenager in France until a late growth spurt turned him into a rim-protector. Even then, he was limited to 434 minutes as a rookie while spending time in the NBA D-League before he declared his readiness at the 2014 World Cup. In France’s quarterfinal upset of host Spain, Gobert outrebounded Pau and Marc Gasol 13-12 while effectively protecting his rim.

Defense Leads to Offense

Rudy Gobert rejects Ricky Rubio’s layup attempt which leads to the fastbreak dunk by Derrick Favors.

“When he came in as a rookie, a lot of people didn’t know,” says Favors of Gobert. “I knew right away that he was a good defensive player. I was a defensive guy too when I came into the league — still am. It was right from the beginning where we were both blocking shots and playing team defense.”

“Not many teams have two guys that are long and have the timing and natural defense instincts,” Hayward said. “There are a lot of big men who don’t know how to protect the rim like they do. And then the other stuff you don’t see is their competitiveness, their fire — just wanting to be great.”

I know when I get older, my athleticism is going to leave me. So every day I try to work on my post game. I try to work on different finishes around the rim where I’m not dunking the ball, and I continue to work on my footwork around the paint.

– Favors, on his post game

The fire is obvious in Gobert, who is as explosive emotionally as he is athletically. “Sometimes I overreact to things,” Gobert says. “I have been smarter about this. Sometimes it is better to not say anything. But sometimes it is tough.”

Favors rejects suggestions that he and Gobert are Utah’s odd couple, based on perceptions — which he rejects like a ball around the rim — that he is introverted. “I’m not really quiet,” Favors says. “I’m just more laid-back and he is more outspoken, you can say.”

Gobert Swats Parker

Jabari Parker slashes into the lane for the shot attempt and Rudy Gobert swats it out of bounds.

His experiences have taught Favors to channel his anger. “My first couple of years in the league, after we lost or I had a bad game, I was kind emotional inside,” he says. “Now if I’m having a bad game, I try to find some energy from somewhere, some motivation, and use that to my advantage whether it’s on the offensive or defensive end. You just don’t see it, but I keep it inside. And I use it to my advantage.”

Plenty of mountains for Jazz duo to climb

Snyder has noticed it. He is fully aware of the potential of both Favors and Gobert, especially since the Jazz have moved on from other talented big men — Jefferson, Paul Millsap and Enes Kanter — in order to create room for them to grow.

“Derrick has the ability to defend on the perimeter, instead of just being an interior defender,” Snyder said. “That may have surprised some people last year, his ability to go out and guard some guys and stay in front of smaller people.

Gobert Denies ‘Melo

Rudy Gobert goes up strong and denies Carmelo Anthony’s dunk attempt.

“And then just from the skill standpoint they both have potential. I think Rudy is going to be a solid free-throw shooter. For Derrick it’s about getting a more refined post game, of learning how to play down there efficiently, and then also stepping out to extend his range as well. Something as simple as going from 15 feet to 18 feet — those are gains that don’t come overnight.”

Neither Favors nor Gobert is going to want to hear about the long term, not when the playoffs are within reach for next month. For the Jazz, however, the ultimate payoff is going to come when each is in his mid-to-late 20s.

Gobert’s Five Dunks vs. Nets

Rudy Gobert tallied five dunks on Friday against the Nets.

“The main thing for the two of them is going to be just how committed they are to working on their games,” says Snyder. “Both of them are really good NBA players right now. But if they want to be great, and if they want to be great together, they’ve got to work on things that complement one another. It’s almost a collective of the two of them playing off each other.”

Will Gobert control his temper — and will Favors lose his? It’s hard enough to predict how young players will react to the pressures of a playoff race.

Can they help each other offensively in order to make it possible for them dominate defensively? The Jazz are looking forward to that day when their frontcourt opposites are defined not so much by their personality differences, but rather by their working partnership.

Ian Thomsen has covered the NBA since 2000. You can e-mail him here or follow him on Twitter.

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Despite defeating Cavs, Bulls left with plenty of questions

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CHICAGO — The Chicago Bulls Jerseys finished 7-1 against the top two teams in the Eastern Conference. They outplayed the Cleveland Cavaliers Jerseys in the fourth quarter and beat the defending conference champs in a playoffs-like atmosphere at United Center on Saturday.

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And yet, after the final two games on their regular season schedule, the Bulls are headed home. To lick wounds, to mine what positives they can from their wildly mediocre and extremely unreliable 2015-16, to press their noses occasionally against the glass of the postseason party to which they uninvited themselves and to spin. Always to spin.

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What Bulls fans will get when it’s all officially over, after the Philadelphia 76ers Jerseys drape black crepe Wednesday over another lost season, will be more eulogy than autopsy. “Injuries” will be mentioned a lot and, while they existed and nagged, there’s been nothing like the Derrick Rose blowouts around which Chicago navigated nonetheless to the three most recent of the franchise’s seven consecutive playoff appearances.

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There will be talk about new coach Fred Hoiberg’s challenge in fitting a touted pace-and-space offensive style to a group of players more familiar and comfortable with predecessor Tom Thibodeau’s bark-and-park halfcourt game.

And fans who keep showing up at United Center 22,000 strong, thereby providing no tangible urgency for change, will hear about an offseason devoted to every last button, pulley and lever, about Bulls management being committed to using every apparatus available — draft, trades, free agency — to restore Chicago to playoff respectability.

It might even match in sincerity and staying power the justifications belched up a year ago for paying Thibodeau and his .647 winning percentage as much as $9 million to go away.

So no, the eulogies aren’t going to offer much in the way of explanation for what went wrong for the Bulls this season, literally from the get-go of Rose’s “I’ll be a free agent looking for another pay day in July 2017” Media Day comments in September 2015. For that, you needed to have been paying attention over the past week or so, as Hoiberg, Jimmy Butler, veteran Pau Gasol and a few others dissected the team’s failings while it still was a few blips shy of flatlining.

They definitely step up their game when they see me.

– LeBron James

Gasol rattled off three of Chicago’s most galling failings earlier Saturday, citing “a lack of sense of urgency,” “a lack of awareness” and “a lack of maturity” in the locker room.

“There’s been times where we dropped games, lost games, that we should never have lost, especially at home against certain teams,” the 35-year-old center said. “Those are the times that guys don’t realize how big of a price that you can pay at the end of the year and how much of a different position you’re going to be [in] by those games in November, December, January. ‘Ah, there’s still 40 games to play, there’s still 50 games to play.’ No, those games are just as meaningful as the ones we’ve been playing for the last week or two where our life has been on the line.”

Gasol, whose defensive lapses are as gaping as any of the Bulls, does an admirable job of laying out the what of things gone wrong for the Bulls. What he does not or cannot explain is the how of those nasties infiltrating what was brought back as an experienced, allegedly savvy intact roster from last season.

Was there no one to nip it all in the bud early? No voice that could rise above the rest and command his Bulls teammates to plant their sneakers and say no to that noise? Well, Gasol and Rose don’t have the personalities or the volume in their voices. Joakim Noah, he of the awkward game but fiery heart, was hurt and marginalized.

As for Butler, he grabbed too directly at the team’s leadership reins, generating more eye-rolls than followers. By last week, the self-made All-Star was dropping third-person references to “Jimmy Butler,” still the only Bulls player he really could call out.

Butler did call out Hoiberg early, after a desultory loss to the Knicks in Madison Square Garden on Dec. 19, saying the first-year NBA head coach needed to “coach harder” in holding players accountable. There are those who think Hoiberg’s immediate response should have been to sit Butler out of Chicago’s next game, a loss to Brooklyn, to make his authority known up-close and personal. But he did not. Chicago got a nice 7-1 bump (including six playoff-bound opponents) to reach 22-12 on Jan 7, then began its slide back to blah.

Butler’s challenge persists, in its candor and its perspective, as the defining moment of Hoiberg’s first season. It was brought up again, four months after the fact, in pregame questioning Saturday: So, will you be louder and more direct next season?

Jimmy Butler: Should Bulls Trade Him?

Rumors are that the Bulls will explore trading Jimmy this offseason, but should they?

“When I go back and look at the different segments of the season,” Hoiberg said, “we got off to a pretty solid start with this thing. Then some things happened. I think most of that comes from the one comment that was made after the New York game by Jimmy. We had some pretty heated moments with our group, in the locker room, the in-film session. Would I change it and be more vocal, more direct? Maybe. Again, we’ll evaluate that as we go into the offseason.”

Add it to the list, already a long one. Gasol almost certainly is gone, the early-out in his contract offering him at a chance, as he turns 36, to land with a legitimate contender for some late-career fun. General manager Gar Forman’s comments about Gasol as a building block for the Bulls — at a price significantly higher than his current $7.7 million — rang hollow as soon as he said it in February, offered more to stifle chatter about next season than to lay out a real blueprint.

Noah might or might not be back, his game less valuable to the Bulls than his presence. Rose and Butler claim they’ll work out together this offseason to improve their chemistry and communication, though it’s easy to imagine a summer stalemate in which the former in L.A. and the latter in San Diego each expects the other to make the I-5 drive.

VP John Paxson and Forman are safe because that’s the way newly enshrined Hall of Famer, Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, rolls with his executives. And Hoiberg has the dual job security of being Forman’s choice as coach even before the position was vacant and of having four years and $20 million left on his deal. It wasn’t Hoiberg’s fault he was undercut well before his arrival, by management telling the locker room “Aw, don’t worry what the coach wants” all of last season.

The Bulls’ championship ambitions, for this bunch at least, are ending with more whimper than bang. LeBron James, who normally puts them down each spring, instead gave them a pat on their heads and a sideways shot on his way out of town Saturday, heading to far better things.

“The Chicago Bulls Jerseys team that plays us is not going to be the one that’s struggling a little bit off and on, as of late,” James said. “They always play well versus us. It’s like human nature — when they see me, it’s like ‘OK.’ They wish I wore every uniform at this point. They definitely step up nba basketball jerseys their game when they see me.”

Except that the struggle hasn’t been a little bit, merely off and on, or just of late. It got addressed in this space quite a while back, both here and here.

What it has been is an embarrasingly blown opportunity in which Rose has played in 66 games, Gasol at 35 has put up 46 more double-doubles and Butler again reached All-Star status. The defense drooped, the offense never got traction, and rosy talk in training camp about Doug McDermott, Tony Snell and Bobby Portis has given way to rosy talk on the brink of elimination about Cristiano Felicio, Justin Holiday and E’Twaun Moore.

But hey, the Bulls are 7-1 against the best in the East and 11-5 against the top six teams in the NBA this season. You can do the math for how they’ve done against everybody else, those more of their ilk.

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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