Central Notes: McConnell, Middleton, Gallinari, Bulls

T.J. McConnell was considered a possible trade candidate back in the fall when he began the season out of the Pacers‘ rotation, but the veteran point guard made himself indispensable in Indiana as a result of his play with the second unit, writes Dustin Dopirak of The Indianapolis Star.

Pacers star Tyrese Haliburton referred to McConnell as “the best backup point guard in the NBA” and suggested that his performance on defense sets an example for other players on the roster. Head coach Rick Carlisle, who said back in October that he was “almost in tears” telling McConnell that he wouldn’t be part of the rotation to open the season, lauded the veteran for the way he has responded.

“(McConnell’s) adaptability is the story of his career,” Carlisle said. “Undrafted, everybody’s betting against him. I remember the story that the first game he suited up here, Nate McMillan said, ‘Hey, you’re probably going to be in the rotation.’ Something happened the first game of the year and then he didn’t lose the job for the next three or four years. He’s special that way.”

“I just really was focused on whether if I’m in the lineup or I’m not, just remaining professional,” McConnell said. “One of those things where you’re not trying to do woe-is-me, it’s one of those things just to remain a great teammate, and whether I’m in the rotation or not, just be there for the guys and be a pro and be a good teammate. That’s really all I was focused on. When my number’s called, just be a professional at that point and go out and do your job. That’s really how I looked at it.”

McConnell is under contract for one more season beyond this one, with his $9.3MM salary for 2024/25 currently partially guaranteed for $5MM.

Here’s more from around the Central:

  • Bucks forward Khris Middleton isn’t ready to return from the left ankle sprain that sidelined him for the last five games before the All-Star break, writes Eric Nehm of The Athletic. Head coach Doc Rivers said that Middleton won’t be available on Friday or Sunday, even though he’s improving. “He’s getting better. He feels great. He just doesn’t feel 100 percent,” Rivers said. “A playoff game, he’d clearly play, but it’s too early. There’s no reason to worry about it or panic about it.”
  • Within the same Athletic story, Nehm explores Danilo Gallinari‘s decision to sign with the Bucks, noting that the veteran forward believes he’ll fit in well with Milwaukee’s frontcourt players. Gallinari added that he’s capable of playing more than he has this season in Washington and Detroit (14.8 minutes per game in 32 appearances), but that he’s not necessarily expecting that. “I don’t care about playing every night, not playing one night, play the other night, I’m here to help,” he said. “… I’m not looking for guaranteed minutes or this kind of stuff. I’m just here to help.”
  • A resounding loss to Boston on Thursday served as a reminder for the Bulls of the difference between being competitive and being a contending team, says K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago. According to Johnson, in order to exit the organization’s “current cycle of mediocrity,” the Bulls‘ front office will have to show the same sort of creativity and aggressiveness this summer that it showed during the 2021 offseason, when the team landed DeMar DeRozan, Lonzo Ball, and Alex Caruso in free agency without using cap room.
  • Observing that DeRozan and Coby White lead the NBA in total minutes played this season, Annie Costabile of The Chicago Sun-Times wonders whether the two Bulls starters will be able to maintain their current rates of production while continuing to handle such a heavy workload.
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