In a league that’s getting smaller and quicker, the need for a knockout low post presence at center and power forward has been minimized. The NBA, more than ever, values spacing and sharing, and less of the low post hoggery that dominated the league’s first few decades or dull two-man game’ry that dominated the 1990s and early aughts. The Chicago Bulls boast what is probably the league’s deepest frontcourt, but it hardly reminds of the sluggo outfits from days of NBA yore. With Joakim Noah, Pau Gasol, Taj Gibson and Nikola Mirotic up front, the team is able to field four players with fabulously versatile games that could produce a ferocious array of passing, finishing, shooting from the outside and the ability to make life hell for opposing offenses. The one problem? None of these guys should be playing small forward, and there are only 48 minutes in a game, and just two positions to fill. Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau discussed as much in an interview with Chicago-area 87.7 The Game on Thursday morning , via Pro Basketball Talk : "I'm not sure on who's starting and who's finishing yet," Thibodeau told the Kap & Haugh Show on 87.7 FM The Game on Thursday morning. "Here's the thing, I know all three are going to have a significant role. I have 96 minutes there and I look at all three of those guys as starters. We'll see how it unfolds when we get to training camp and we let them play together." Regardless of how the minutes are divided up, Thibodeau only has one goal in mind. "We're always going to do what's best for the team and make us function at the highest level." Thibs went on to confirm that his current situation is “a great problem to have,” and he’s not wrong in that regard. The question that most Bulls fans fear, however, is whether or not Thibodeau will actually be faced with this “problem.” Joakim Noah missed just two games last season and in 2012, but he ended this year limping with a knee injury (that eventually required surgery) the Chicago medical staff allowed him to play through, and he had to gut through severe plantar fasciitis in 2012-13 when Thibodeau played the spindly center too many minutes. Pau Gasol recently turned 34, and he’s missed a combined 55 games over the last two years with a variety of injuries and sicknesses. If history is any indication, this lovely litany of capable big men could spend some time on the shelf this season. Luckily, that’s where Gibson and Mirotic come in. Neither are facsimiles of the players that they back up off the Chicago bench, but they’re not far off. Gibson isn’t the rebounder or passer that Noah is, but some Chicago observers believe that Gibson (and not Joakim, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year) is the best defender on the Bulls. Mirotic has yet to prove anything at the NBA level, he isn’t as tall nor as composed as Pau Gasol (who is?), but he does bring shooting and a fantastic and creative offensive touch. Longtime readers are aware of my Chicago affiliations, but fandom isn’t the reason behind my giddiness in the face of this frontcourt’s prospects. As an NBA fan above all, to me this is the most fascinating lineup of any crew in the league. As someone who adores high and low post passing and offense initiated by big men, the thought of Noah and Gasol whipping the ball around the court (and Gibson and Mirotic acting as the finishers on some of those passes) is incredibly compelling. And that’s without getting into the eventual return of Derrick Rose. For real this time. We swear. The overriding question, launching ahead of worries about health and minutes, has to do with this roster’s fit in the modern NBA. We just watched the San Antonio Spurs win a title based around spacing and the extra pass, and are the Bulls attempting to emulate that, or just sign as many darn good players as it can in the wake of Carmelo Anthony choosing money and security in staying home in New York ? Whatever the impetus, Joakim Noah digs the advancement. From a talk with K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune : "Pau is somebody who is very, very smart," Noah said. "He’s somebody who comes with a lot of experience. He’s not just a great player. He’s somebody who cares about the community as well. I’m excited to see him help us as well in trying to slow down the violence and help the kids out here in Chicago. It’s very humbling to play with somebody who has won championships with his pedigree. He’s somebody I can really learn from. […] "I’m happy for LeBron James," Noah said Friday. "He gets to go home. People are happy over there. But I really hope that we can kick his ass as many times as possible." With LeBron’s return to Cleveland, the Central division just perked up with another contender, a contender that still has a chance to improve were it to add Kevin Love in exchange for two rather raw (though promising) prospects. Indiana lost Lance Stephenson, but if it can return to its defensive-heavy ways , it should battle to defend its Central crown. Milwaukee and Detroit are rebuilding with youth and appear to finally have their collective heads on straight. Can Chicago battle each of those outfits with a smartly placed bounce pass and subsequent lay in? Can one of the more miserable offensive teams to behold, that 2013-14 squad was brutal, turn into the Eastern Conference’s prettiest offense? Can the big men hold up? It’s a fun set of problems to have. October can’t get here soon enough. - - - - - - - Kelly Dwyer is an editor for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at KDonhoops@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @KDonhoops
In the end, as is usually the case, Kobe Bryant got what he wanted. We hope he’s happy. The Los Angeles Lakers are in negotiations to bring Byron Scott back into the Laker family as head coach – ESPN was the first to report the interest , which Marc Spears discussed here . The 53-year-old won three championship rings as a Lakers shooting guard during the 1980s, and his final season in the NBA was on a team that featured Bryant in his rookie year. Since then, Scott has had an up-and-down career as a head coach, with some wondering if his final season with the Cleveland Cavaliers would be the last we see of Scott as a leading man. Patience paid out, apparently, as Scott and the Lakers had shown mutual interest and engaged in several interviews in the weeks since Los Angeles and former head coach Mike D’Antoni decided to part ways on April 30 . Byron had been on Los Angeles’ radar, but it’s anyone’s guess as to whether or not he took it as a slap to the face that Lakers general manager (and former Lakers teammate) Mitch Kupchak waited nearly three months to make a formal offer. It’s not Scott had much choice in the matter. He spent three disastrous years with the post (and pre)-LeBron James Cavaliers, years that saw the team’s young players show little in the way of player development, running one of the league’s worst defenses along the way. It’s true that he was asked to coach a team in rebuilding mode – even if the Cavaliers owner and general manager at the time refused to go into such a mode following James’ departure – but the abject lack of movement up the standings wore on Scott’s critics. Scott was well-liked by his players, though, as reportedly he eased off the Pat Riley-styled practices that marked his time as coach of the New Jersey Nets and the then-New Orleans Hornets. After several years as an assistant, Scott started his head-coaching career by making the daring move of establishing a Princeton-like offense in New Jersey despite the presence of the ball-dominating Jason Kidd. Flanked by a solid core of assistant coaches in Eddie Jordan and Lawrence Frank, Scott’s Nets thrived defensively, making two NBA Finals at the lowest ebb of the Eastern Conference’s bad 15 years off. Kidd and Scott eventually clashed, and with the Nets working with a mediocre record midway through the next season, the team replaced Scott with Lawrence Frank, who rebounded nicely in New Jersey with the addition of Vince Carter the following season. Byron was off to New Orleans next, where he worked two miserable years (and the team’s partial relocation to Oklahoma City for a season following Hurricane Katrina) before turning things around with Chris Paul at the helm. After a surprising playoff run in 2008, Scott was awarded the Coach of the Year, but injuries and poor long-term planning turned the Hornets into a middling team before long, and Scott was let go in 2009. Cleveland gobbled him up just days before LeBron left, and we know how that turned out. Los Angeles, at the moment, offers about as much promise. The Lakers are in a year-long holding pattern, waiting out 2014-15 in order to hopefully pounce on a veteran free agent to pair with Kobe Bryant as he enters the winter of his career. After missing out on Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James this offseason, the Lakers made a point to trade for (Jeremy Lin) and sign (Carlos Boozer, while Ed Davis and Jordan Hill have player and team options for next summer) contributors who won’t have to be on the books past next season. This isn’t dissimilar to what Dallas has been dealing with over the past few offseasons, but the Lakers’ core isn’t nearly as inspiring in spite of Kobe’s presence. Scott has no idea what he’ll get from point guard Steve Nash this season, or even if Nash will be around when the season starts, as the Lakers could still use the stretch provision on his contract (as it would potentially limit the team’s cap space next season and in 2016, it isn’t likely). Lin has never found a comfortable long-term setting in his nascent NBA career, Boozer is fading, and Bryant can’t possibly be the same player he once was at his age and after playing just six games in the previous 18 months as he enters 2014-15. On the surface, Byron Scott seems like an uninspired pick, especially as the team reportedly chose the former Laker over a more celebrated candidate in George Karl . Scott could be a retread who has some success with good players, one that might not be the best coach for Bryant at this point in Bryant’s career, as he looks to protect his aging and surgically repaired legs. Kobe’s a competitor, though, and he’s getting older – and older players want someone they’re familiar with, even if Byron is going to put Bryant through his paces. Maybe that’s what Kobe Bryant needs at this point in his career, and the glass-half-full outlook could tell you that year and a half off was a needed tonic for his ancient wheels. Maybe Scott, a Lakers legend, has learned quite a bit since his ouster from Cleveland. Maybe he’ll unleash some stellar young assistant who can make a difference. Maybe there’s some magic to be developed between the veteran trio of Bryant, Nash and Boozer, with a dash of Julius Randle’s fantastic potential tossed in. Or, it could be another snoozer of a season. The Lakers may finally have their coach, but we’re about to relearn that it’s always about the players. More NBA coverage: - - - - - - - Kelly Dwyer is an editor for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at KDonhoops@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @KDonhoops
Carmelo Anthony just agreed to a five-year deal worth well over $120 million to return to the New York Knicks. Actually, thanks to ShamSports.com's Mark Deeks , we can get precise — Anthony will earn $124,064,681 over the next five seasons. It's a contract he couldn't have gotten anywhere else, per the structure of the collective bargaining agreement between the NBA and its players; the so-called Larry Bird exception allows teams to offer a fifth year and a maximum raise of 7.5 percent in deals to re-sign their own free agents, while limiting other teams looking to poach a player to four-year deals . This is why Anthony said before the start of the 2013-14 season that he planned to enter free agency come summertime. This is why he exercised his early termination option to make that happen. And this, we all figured, is why — after a free-agent tour that saw him meet with several teams limited to four-year offers that couldn't crack the nine-figure mark — he chose to take the longest, richest, most lucrative deal available to him, and stay in New York. This is what we all figured, but now, Carmelo Anthony is saying it ain't so. From Jeff Goodman of ESPN.com : "I want to win. I don't care about the money," Anthony told ESPN.com. "I believe Phil will do what he has to do to take care of that." "I don't think we're that far away," he added. "People use 'rebuilding' too loosely." [...] the 30-year-old Anthony said he is invigorated to work with a new team president in Phil Jackson and a new coach in Derek Fisher. "It's a matter of me believing in the organization, believing in Phil," Anthony said. "I wanted to go somewhere where I can end my career." That last sentiment — "I wanted to go somewhere where I can end my career" — echoes remarks Anthony made during an interview with VICE Sports before the start of free agency, in which he framed his decision as "looking at the next six to eight years of your career — the end of your career, at that. So do you want to spend that much time in that place?" After spending three-plus years in New York, building a home and a life with his family in the No. 1 media market in the country, Anthony decided that he did want to spend that much time in that particular place. Not until after an "overwhelming" and "stressful" process, though, one that Anthony told Goodman resulted in "one of the hardest decisions I've ever had to make." "I was flip-flopping," he said . "It was hard. It was Chicago, but then after I met with L.A. , it was L.A. But it came back to Chicago — and was pretty much always Chicago or New York. That's a situation where I could have walked in now to an opportunity to compete for the next however many years." That juxtaposition is going to raise some eyebrows, and maybe elicit some eye-rolling. Anthony, like lots of other folks , looks at a Chicago team with Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah, a reportedly ready for battle Derrick Rose coming back on offense, and stellar head coach Tom Thibodeau, and sees "an opportunity to compete for the next however many years." Then he looks at a Knicks team that missed the playoffs in a bad Eastern Conference, that traded its best defensive frontcourt player after finishing 24th among 30 teams in points allowed per possession, that is now piloted by a first-time personnel boss and a first-time head coach , and that still figures to prominently features the $34.9 million tandem of Amar'e Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani ... and says he returned because he wants to win, and that he doesn't care about the money. When you put those things side by side, it kind of strains credulity. Then again, maybe we should take Anthony — who, after all, said at the very start of last season that while he wanted to enter free agency for the first time in his career, he also wanted to retire as a Knick — at his word. In the short term, Anthony would seem to have reasons to believe that the next Knicks team he plays on won't be worse than the last. Upgrades on the bench (Fisher needn't be a coaching savant, so long as he's not as glaring a negative as Mike Woodson was for large chunks of last season) and at the point (from Raymond Felton to Jose Calderon) could move New York closer to even-par on their own. Versions of J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert who aren't coming off summer knee surgeries could have stronger starts to the season, bolstering the Knicks' playmaking and (in Shumpert's case, at least) defense. The Knicks still figure to give up buckets in bunches, but stand a better chance of being able to cobble together 48 more-or-less competitive two-way minutes in the middle with with the quartet of Samuel Dalembert, Jason Smith, Cole Aldrich and Jeremy Tyler than they did during a 2013-14 campaign where an injured, overtaxed and often listless Chandler, Stoudemire and Bargnani ate up most of the center minutes. A successful implementation of the triangle offense could help the Knicks nudge north in both points scored (by creating better looks through more ball and player movement) and allowed (by keeping turnovers low and creating better floor balance to prevent fast breaks) per possession, and better maximize the talents of the players on hand. Fisher said when he took the Knicks' coaching job that he was "not as down on the roster and the team as some of you [reporters] in the room are," and Anthony offered similar praise of the summer re-tooling (" I feel like we have a brand-new team . It's a new beginning"). And as Anthony notes — and as we've noted , too — LeBron James' decision to rejoin the Cleveland Cavaliers has left the East's power structure unsettled. Maybe 'Melo takes a look at this reorganized landscape — one year removed from a division title, a No. 2 seed and a trip to the second round — and wonders why this Knicks team couldn't have a puncher's chance again. And maybe, as 'Melo said in that VICE interview , it's not just about this coming season: "And the average person is looking at it as next year, like it’s just one year. ‘Next year, you'll win a championship if you go here.’ We’re looking at the big picture here, now." Maybe he's thinking about the next few years — about the chances that Rose never gets back to MVP level, about all the miles on the wheels of a turning-30-this-season Noah, about Phil's rings, about a boatload of cap space for the Knicks next summer — and the big picture he sees is different from the one the rest of us see. Maybe he believes something that a declining number of NBA observers seem to believe: that a potentially talented but flawed team can be a contender if it's built (smartly and judiciously by a guy who knows how to win) around Carmelo Anthony. If he's right, then he'll have it all — the money and the winning. If he's wrong ... well, there are worse consolation prizes than $124,064,681. (All the better to "invest in early stage digital media , consumer internet and opportunistic technology startups," my dear.) - - - - - - - Dan Devine is an editor for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter! 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