Nikola Mirotic

Reinsdorf Defends Staff, Sees ‘Big Jump’ Next Season

Bulls president Michael Reinsdorf defended his top front office executives and head coach in a radio interview on Monday and said he expects the team to make big strides next season. Reinsdorf made those comments on 670 The Score’s Mully and Haugh (hat tip to NBC Sports Chicago’s Dan Santaromita).

Reinsdorf and the Bulls have taken a lot of heat for retaining GM Gar Forman and VP of basketball operations John Paxson. Reinsdorf said the duo built “championship-caliber teams” before Derrick Rose suffered serious knee injuries. He also feels they have drafted well, naming Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson, Nikola Mirotic and Joakim Noah among their best picks.

He’s confident with a young core group and a high lottery pick, the Bulls are on the upswing. Heading into Tuesday’s lottery, Chicago holds the No. 4 spot.

“I feel like we have a great opportunity with this year’s draft to add another player and I don’t think it’s unreasonable to think we can jump from where we were this year to a much better record,” Reinsdorf said. “I really think we’re set up. … I don’t claim that next year we’re going to be a championship caliber team, but I think you’re going to see the next step next year and a big jump.”

The Bulls could have up to $19MM in cap space this summer and Reinsdorf says they’ll use it to fortify the bench.

“We’re going to follow this plan through,” Reinsdorf said. “We have some cap space this year to spend on players. I do think we need to add to our depth and we’ll do that.”

Chicago’s decision to hand Jim Boylen a multiyear extension also caused grumbling among Bulls fans, considering the team’s 22-60 record. Reinsdorf was convinced by season’s end that the head coach had earned it.

“I think we knew towards the end of the season that Jim was the right person for us,” Reinsdorf said. “We had enough experience with him and so it was just a matter of getting the contract done.”

Malcolm Brogdon To Remain In Bench Role?

Despite the benefit of an extended break that he and his Bucks’ teammates will now enjoy while awaiting the winner of the Raptors/Sixers series, shooting guard Malcolm Brodgon appears likely to continue coming off the bench for the time being, writes Matt Velazquez of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Brogdon, who sat out for nearly two months with a torn plantar fascia in his right foot, made his return in Wednesday’s Game 5 win over the Celtics and performed well off the bench, scoring 10 points, dishing out four assists, and grabbing three rebounds in limited minutes.

In addition to Brogdon’s injury, absence, and resulting rust, the potential decision to keep him out of the staring lineup is also a result of the improved performance of a recently-inserted starter who played extremely well against Boston – forward Nikola Mirotic.

Per Velazquez, Budenholzer has been impressed (and perhaps pleasantly surprised) by Mirotic’s activity on defense, particularly the way he has been able to play with both Brook Lopez and Giannis Antetokounmpo and therefore defend smaller wings like Jayson Tatum, Marcus Morris, or Gordon Hayward. As for whether the Bucks’ regular reserves prefer to play with Brogdon or Mirotic, they don’t seem to care.

“Whatever coach wants to do we’ll support,” reserve guard Pat Connaughton said. “If we have to re-knight Niko back into it we’ll re-knight him. If Malcolm’s still with us, we’re happy to have him. Regardless of who is a part of the bench mob, the bench mob’s goals and morals still stay the same.”

Bucks’ Success May Dictate Team Temperature on Luxury Tax

This season may be Milwaukee’s best chance at a title, as the team has many players set to hit the open market in free agency this summer. Sources tell Tim Bontemps of ESPN.com that ownership’s willingness to go deep into the luxury tax may be dependent on how far the Bucks advance.

Khris Middleton is likely to turn down his player option and hit the market. Malcolm Brogdon will be a restricted free agent. Brook Lopez will almost certainly want a raise on his one-year, $3.38MM deal. And Nikola Mirotic, who the team added at the trade deadline, will pursue a new contract as well.

The Bucks are not against becoming a taxpaying team. They have to do everything they can to surround Giannis Antetokounmpo with a strong supporting cast and give him every reason to sign a super-max extension once he’s eligible next summer. However, if the team with the best record in the league can’t get past the fourth-seeded Celtics, the decision to go deep into the luxury tax becomes a tough one.

The first of their many offseason decisions will likely involve Middleton, and Bontemps writes that the shooting guard is likely to see max contract offers. The Mavs reportedly will be among the teams looking to poach him from Milwaukee.

Central Notes: Sabonis, Middleton, Griffin, Pitino

After giving Myles Turner a four-year, $70MM extension last summer, the Pacers will likely be reluctant to make a similar move this year with Domantas Sabonis, according to Tim Bontemps of ESPN. Both players are primarily centers and it’s difficult to use them together in a league where downsizing is the trend. Sabonis is extension-eligible this summer and will hit free agency next year if the Pacers don’t work out a deal.

Coach Nate McMillan put Turner and Sabonis on the court together occasionally this year to gauge their effectiveness. That strategy worked during the regular season, Bontemps notes, as the Pacers outscored opponents by 3.1 points per 100 possessions, but the Celtics have exploited the pairing in the playoffs.

This offseason will be vital is charting the future in Indiana, where six key players will be unrestricted free agents. Starters Darren CollisonWesley MatthewsBojan Bogdanovic and Thaddeus Young will be joined on the market by rotation members Cory Joseph and Tyreke Evans. Bontemps notes that owner Herb Simon is reluctant to go into the luxury tax, so some difficult decisions will have to be made.

There’s more this morning from the Central Division:

  • Bucks swingman Khris Middleton, who is headed for a major payday in free agency, learned about the business side of the league as a rookie with the Pistons in 2013, writes Vince Ellis of The Detroit Free Press. Detroit legend Tayshaun Prince was traded during the season, then Middleton got shipped to Milwaukee over the summer. “You get a reminder of what this league is about, how it’s a business and business decisions are made,” Middleton said. “It’s nothing personal. It’s all about the organization. You see stuff like that, right in front of your face, you always hear about it, but hey, you learn anything can happen in this league. You got to be prepared for it and be ready to move on.”
  • Blake Griffin returned to action last night, but he couldn’t help the Pistons overcome the Bucks, relays Rod Beard of The Detroit News. Griffin, who missed the first two games of the series with swelling and pain in his left knee, wore a heavy brace under a leg sleeve as he scored 27 points in 31 minutes.
  • The Cavaliers are denying a report that they have talked to Rick Pitino in their coaching search, according to Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com“False. We are, respectfully, not interested in him at all,” a source told Fedor. “No conversations with him by (team chairman) Dan (Gilbert) or anyone else.”

Injury Updates: Mirotic, Griffin, Anunoby, Oladipo

Nikola Mirotic has only played 14 games since the Bucks traded for him in February, but the club expects him to be ready for its playoff opener against the Pistons tomorrow, relays Malika Andrews of ESPN. Mirotic, who has been sidelined for nearly a month with a broken left thumb, was able to participate in a full practice Friday and a non-contact workout today, both times with the thumb lightly taped.

“Not much soreness, as we expected,” he said. “I should be ready to go.”

Mirotic moved into the starting lineup three games before getting hurt, replacing injured guard Malcolm Brogdon. Sterling Brown has been starting in Mirotic’s absence.

“Niko has been traveling with us,” Eric Bledsoe said. “He has been around practice. We have been feeling his energy. Him just being around has been big for us. I think he’s doing pretty good.”

There are more injury updates to pass along:

  • The Pistons aren’t sure if Blake Griffin‘s sore left knee will allow him to be ready for Game 1, writes Keith Langlois of NBA.com. Griffin offered no clues after today’s practice as the team prepared to fly to Milwaukee. “We’re taking this day by day,” he said. “I’m not looking forward to a day that’s not here right now in front of me. I’ll sit with our training staff and whoever else needs to be in on that decision and make that each day.” Griffin sat out four of Detroit’s final seven games as the team was battling for a playoff spot. He was limited to riding an exercise bike during today’s practice.
  • On top of their loss to the Magic today, the Raptors got some bad health news about OG Anunoby, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. Originally projected to miss at least two weeks after an emergency appendectomy on Thursday, Anunoby may now be sidelined until the Eastern Conference Finals.
  • There’s no chance he’ll return for the playoffs, but the Pacers are encouraged by the progress Victor Oladipo has made since suffering a ruptured quad tendon in January, tweets Scott Agness of The Athletic. Oladipo has been in Miami since the injury and is reportedly doing “really well.” He will see a doctor in a few days and hopes to be in Indiana for Games 3 and 4 of the Pacers’ playoff series.

Bucks’ Mirotic Fractures Thumb, Expected To Miss At Least 2-4 Weeks

The injury bug continues to plague the Bucks, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic, who reports (via Twitter) that Nikola Mirotic has sustained a slight fracture of his left thumb. League sources tell Charania that Mirotic is expected to be sidelined for at least two to four weeks.

Mirotic had just entered Milwaukee’s starting lineup within the last few days, replacing Malcolm Brogdon, who is expected to be on the shelf for at least six weeks due to a foot injury. Now the Bucks will have to find another new starter to replace Mirotic, who may be out until the playoffs — the final day of the regular season is three weeks from today.

Acquired by the Bucks at last month’s trade deadline, Mirotic missed his first few games due to a strained right calf, but had settled in nicely since then, averaging 11.6 PPG and 5.4 RPG on .415/.356/.870 in 22.9 minutes per contest for Milwaukee.

With Mirotic sidelined, the Bucks may have to lean a little more heavily on the likes of Ersan Ilyasova and D.J. Wilson in the frontcourt. New addition Pau Gasol could see some action as well, as the club looks to secure the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference.

Central Notes: Bucks, Mirotic, Cavs, Boylen

The Bucks haven’t won a postseason series since 2001, but general manager Jon Horst believes this is the year the team breaks that streak, and potentially makes a much deeper playoff run, as he tells Sam Amick of The Athletic.

“This is a time for us to take a step forward and to win a playoff series,” Horst said. “Even though people are sleeping on the Bucks, I think if we bowed out in the first round, everybody would be like, ‘What in the hell happened?’ Me included. That would be a disappointment.

“But it would be a significant thing for us to advance, because we haven’t done it in so long and it would be a big step for this group. But I think the metrics line up where if we can do that and stay healthy, and stay together, have some lucky breaks along the way, I think the talent and the performance thus far would show you that we should be playing into June, hopefully.”

As Amick explores in his deep dive on the Bucks, the team has enjoyed the sort of camaraderie and chemistry this season that Horst believes can play a significant part in a club’s success. In Horst’s view, that sort of enthusiasm to come into work extends to all aspects of the organization in Milwaukee, rather than just the 15 players on the NBA roster.

“Quite honestly, I’ve fired people in our organization because they can’t get excited about working for a franchise that has a brand new arena, a brand new practice facility, Giannis Antetokounmpo as a superstar, Mike Budenholzer as a head coach, and the ownership that we have,” Horst said. “And I say, ‘If you can’t get excited, and wake up in the morning to be part of that, then you don’t belong.’ That’s from a staffing perspective, and a player perspective, on down. That’s the culture. That’s the filter that we’ve tried to establish.”

Here’s more from around the Central:

  • Nikola Mirotic, who arrived in Milwaukee just a few weeks before Pau Gasol did, played a key role in ensuring his fellow Spaniard ended up with the Bucks, as Matt Velazquez of The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel details. When Gasol was presented with the opportunity to leave the Spurs via buyout and was considering joining the Bucks, he asked Mirotic for his impressions of the organization. “I said, ‘Listen, man, I really feel this team is special and if you want to be part of something special you should join this team,'” Mirotic said, per Velazquez. “That’s all I told him and I really felt that way.”
  • During the Cavaliers‘ four-year run as Eastern champs, they ultimately gave up on Joe Harris, who has since evolved into an important contributor in Brooklyn. Now that they’re in the midst of a rebuild themselves, the Cavs are looking to find “value in the margins” by identifying players like Harris, who may slip through the cracks elsewhere, writes Jason Lloyd of The Athletic.
  • Count Sixers head coach Brett Brown among those who believe in Jim Boylen‘s ability to lead the Bulls. Before his 76ers fell to Boylen’s squad on Wednesday night, Brown praised the Bulls’ head coach for getting the most out of his players, calling him the right person to “help steer this program” through its rebuild (link via Mark Strotman of NBC Sports Chicago). While Boylen took over for Fred Hoiberg during the season, he’s expected to return as Chicago’s coach next season.

Central Notes: Mirotic, Bulls, Lopez, Draft Prospects

Nikola Mirotic appears ready to make his Bucks debut when the season resumes tomorrow, writes Matt Valazquez of The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. Acquired from the Pelicans in a deal at the trade deadline, Mirotic has been sidelined since January 23 by a strain in his right calf.

Mirotic spent the All-Star break in Milwaukee, getting treatments from the Bucks’ training staff and doing strength and conditioning exercises. The coaches were busy in Charlotte, but they left plenty of material for Mirotic to study. He was able to participate in five-on-five activities at today’s practice and will likely be listed as probable for Thursday’s game against the Celtics.

“It was great; I feel way, way better,” Mirotic said. “Today was huge for me to practice with the team. It was great being back with the team and doing some work, some scrimmage.”

There’s more from the Central Division:

  • The Bulls will prioritize winning over draft position for the rest of the season, according to Joe Cowley of The Chicago Sun-Times. Chicago entered the All-Star break at 14-44, fourth in our latest Reverse Standings and just two games away from a chance to share the best odds for the No. 1 pick. However, building for the future is more important to the organization than tanking for a shot at Zion Williamson“I don’t make all those big picture decisions,” coach Jim Boylen said. “Again, I’m doing what I’ve been asked to do, which is coach the team as hard as I can in the best way possible. I’m just trying to do that, and our guys have been great and they’ve improved. We’ve got to get more out of them and they’ve got to improve more, and we’re going to coach them that way.’’
  • The Bulls‘ stance seems to include a commitment to center Robin Lopez, tweets K.C. Johnson of The Chicago Tribune. Lopez saw his minutes cut back late last season and previously appeared to be a buyout candidate with a $14.4MM expiring contract. “We have not discussed a diminished role for him at all.” Boylen said.
  • With Duke and North Carolina dominating the basketball spotlight tonight, Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com talked to Cavaliers officials to get their view of NBA prospects from both schools. One member of the Cavs’ coaching staff compares Williamson to Charles Barkley, while Channing Frye believes Cameron Reddish is the best of the group.

The Deadline Deals That Didn’t Happen

The Raptors were close to acquiring Nikola Mirotic, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports on his podcast. The power forward would have been part of a three-team trade with the Pelicans and Magic in the proposed framework. Toronto didn’t have the expiring contracts that New Orleans was seeking and Mirotic was instead sent to the Bucks.

Toronto shifted its focus back to Marc Gasol and acquired the big man from Memphis in exchange for Jonas ValanciunasDelon WrightC.J. Miles, and a 2024 second-round pick.

The Hornets came close to acquiring Gasol before some “last-minute haggling,”  ESPN’s Zach Lowe writes. Charlotte had a lottery-protected first-round pick on the table for most of the week leading up to the deadline. Lowe passes along more deals that were discussed behind the scenes. Here are the highlights from his latest piece:

  • The Sixers offered two second-rounders to the Pelicans for Mirotic and prior to trading for Tobias Harris, Philadelphia and New Orleans discussed a Markelle Fultz-Mirotic swap. Fultz was dealt to the Magic for Jonathon Simmons and a pair of picks.
  • The Hornets pursued a deal for Harrison Barnes, dangling a first-round pick to the Mavericks, Lowe adds in the same piece. Dallas would have had to take back long-term money in the potential deal, something that it wasn’t willing to do.
  • The Nets and Grizzlies briefly discussed sending Allen Crabbe to Memphis along with a first-round pick (Denver’s 2019 selection) in exchange for Garrett Temple and JaMychal Green, sources tell Lowe. Tax concerns led Memphis to shy away from acquiring Crabbe, who will take home approximately $19MM next season.
  • Several teams attempted to pry Andrew Wiggins from the Wolves without giving up much in return. Minnesota was uninterested in giving Wiggins away.
  • Kris Dunn was available at the deadline but the Bulls weren’t looking to deal Zach LaVine. Lowe writes that Chicago may have only considered trading LaVine if it received an overwhelming offer, something that was unlikely to occur.

Lowe’s Latest: Sixers, Mirotic, Hornets, Nets, More

The Buckstrade for Nikola Mirotic was made sweeter by the fact that the Sixers were in the hunt for the Pelicans‘ power forward before New Orleans opted to send him to Milwaukee, writes ESPN’s Zach Lowe in his post-deadline round-up.

According to Lowe, the Sixers offered a pair of second-round picks in their offer for Mirotic, which the Bucks bested by surrendering four second-rounders. Before the 76ers acquired Tobias Harris, they also discussed the general framework of a Mirotic/Markelle Fultz swap with the Pelicans, according to Lowe, who notes that it’s unclear whether those talks would have gotten serious if Philadelphia hadn’t completed its blockbuster deal for Harris.

Lowe’s article is packed with several more tidbits on the trade deadline, so we’ll round up the highlights here:

  • The Hornets came close to acquiring Marc Gasol from the Grizzlies for a package that would have included a lottery-protected pick, but the deal fell apart over “last-minute haggling” on the price, sources tell Lowe. Charlotte also pursued Harrison Barnes, but any offer that included a first-round pick would have also included multiyear salary the Mavericks didn’t want, Lowe reports.
  • Before the Grizzlies sent JaMychal Green and Garrett Temple to the Clippers, Memphis discussed a deal involving the duo for the Nets, according to Lowe, who says the return would’ve featured Allen Crabbe and Denver’s first-round pick. The Grizzlies, who had tax concerns, settled instead on L.A.’s offer, which didn’t include a draft pick.
  • At least one of the offers the Wizards received for Otto Porter featured a low first-round pick, but it would have been meant taking on multiyear money, per Lowe.
  • Kris Dunn probably could have been had at the deadline, but the Bulls likely wouldn’t have listened to inquiries on Zach LaVine unless someone had “overwhelmed” them, Lowe writes.
  • The Magic told teams in recent weeks that they wouldn’t part for Terrence Ross for anything less than a first-round pick, sources tell Lowe. Orlando ultimately kept Ross on its roster.
  • Jrue Holiday is a player worth keeping an eye on if and when the Pelicans eventually trade Anthony Davis. Sources tell Lowe that Holiday wants a chance to compete in the playoffs and is waiting to see what New Orleans gets in return for Davis.