Taj Gibson

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.”

Wolves Notes: Wiggins, Rose, Saunders, Draft

The Timberwolves need to take drastic action on Andrew Wiggins to get the franchise back on the right track, according to Michael Rand and Jim Souhan of The Star Tribune. Wiggins has regressed this year in the first season of a $147.7MM extension. His shooting percentage has dropped to a career-low 40.0% and he ranks last in the league in true shooting among 92 players who have logged at least 1,700 minutes.

Souhan believes Minnesota should do whatever it can to trade Wiggins this summer. Rand recommends taking away his starting spot, but admits that would only lower any trade value he still has. He adds that trading Wiggins now would mean selling him at a low point and likely taking back an expensive contract in return. Souhan contends that the Wolves are better without Wiggins, stating that the priority should be to get rid of him and accept whatever return they can get.

There’s more today out of Minnesota:

  • With Tom Thibodeau gone, the future of the “TimberBulls” – the ex-Chicago players he brought to Minnesota – is uncertain, writes Britt Robson of The Athletic. Derrick Rose, Taj Gibson and Luol Deng will all be free agents this summer and may be able to get better deals elsewhere. Rose has revived his career with the Wolves, but Robson notes that his value is only high when his shot is falling and he comes with a constant injury risk. Rose should receive several mid-level offers in the $6-8MM range, tweets ESPN’s Bobby Marks.
  • The best chance for interim head coach Ryan Saunders to keep his job is for ownership to recognize how he has been adapting to a short-handed situation, notes Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic. Keita Bates-Diop got his first career start in Saturday’s victory over the Wizards and Cameron Reynolds, who is on his second 10-day contract, played 20 minutes. Krawczynski points out that Saunders’ roster hasn’t been fully healthy since he took over for Thibodeau.
  • If the Wolves’ pick falls in the middle of the lottery, they could be the team to gamble on Bol Bol, Rand suggests in a separate story. The Oregon center was projected as a top-five pick before suffering an injury to his left foot.

Northwest Notes: Durant, Exum, Gibson, Rubio

Kevin Durant plans to travel to Oklahoma City for the jersey retirement ceremony of longtime teammate Nick Collison, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. The ceremony is set to take place on March 20 when the Thunder take on the Raptors at Chesapeake Energy Arena.

Durant and Collison spent eight seasons together on the Thunder (and one on the Sonics) from 2007-’16, reaching the NBA Finals in 2012 and multiple conference Finals in that span. Collison grew close to several teammates in his 14 years with the franchise and remained friends with Durant even after he joined the Warriors.

“That group was so special, that whole group from 2010 until I left there, it was special,” Durant told ESPN. “It’s about time for us to let go of all that extra stuff, and just come together — especially around this time, because it’s Nick.”

Several of Collison’s former teammates are expected to be in attendance for the ceremony, showing appreciation for the kind of hard-worker and consummate professional Collison was during his career.

Despite the brief return for Durant, neither he nor the Thunder organization have active interest in a basketball reunion, Wojnarowski reports. Durant emphasized that he still holds the Thunder, their fans, and the city in high regard.

There’s more out of the Southwest Division today:

  • Jazz guard Dante Exum (ankle) missed his 11th game of the season on Friday and is now ineligible to receive a $200K bonus, tweets Bobby Marks of ESPN. Exum would’ve received the bonus if he played 73 or more games this season with Utah. He also has a separate $200K incentive in his contract that can be earned if he plays 67 games or more on the season.
  • Timberwolves veteran Taj Gibson was fined $25,000 for aggressively pursuing and directing an obscene gesture towards a referee, the NBA announced on Friday. Gibson was ejected Thursday after excessively arguing a foul call with official James Williams. “He’s like a big brother,” Gibson said of Williams, according to Chris Hine of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “You see him every day, you have a relationship, sometimes tempers flare and you kind of lose it a little bit, but you know you mean well. I’ll see him again, but it was just part of the job. It was just one of those times I just lost it.”
  • Jazz point guard Ricky Rubio has remained focused on helping his team despite Utah’s reported interest in Mike Conley and Otto Porter Jr., Eric Woodyard of the Deseret News writes“I was in Minnesota traded like 20 times,” Rubio said. “Until it doesn’t happen, you have to really don’t pay attention to that. A lot of them are just rumors and just 5 percent are true, so if it happens it happens, but I’m committed 100 percent to this team, to the community, and nothing’s going to change.” Rubio, 28, is set to become a free agent on July 1.

Northwest Notes: Wolves, Nuggets, IT, Rubio

It’s possible that the Timberwolves will stand pat at the trade deadline as they look to push for a playoff spot in the West, but doing so would mean forgoing an opportunity to “leverage existing assets for future gains,” writes Britt Robson of The Athletic. As Robson points out, unless the Wolves have a plan for how to re-sign and incorporate veterans like Derrick Rose, Anthony Tolliver, and Taj Gibson, who are on expiring contracts, it might make sense to explore the trade market for possible deals.

Elsewhere in the Northwest, the Nuggets are another team whose trade deadline outlook remains cloudy, as Nick Kosmider of The Athletic details. The odds of Denver making a major move appear slim, but the club has a number of trade exceptions at its disposal that could be used to acquire a rotation player – perhaps a Wayne Ellington type – without going into the tax. Of course, with Isaiah Thomas potentially on track to return down the stretch, the Nuggets may simply view IT as their de facto deadline acquisition, Kosmider notes.

Here are a few more notes from around the Northwest:

  • Speaking of Isaiah Thomas, after a weekend report suggested that the Nuggets were optimistic the point guard would make his debut with the team before the All-Star break, head coach Mike Malone pushed back on the idea that there’s a set timeline, per Sean Keeler of The Denver Post. “Don’t believe everything you read,” Malone said. “I don’t know where these leaks come from, but (with) Isaiah, there’s no timeline. There’s nothing (that has) been set about February, this, that or the other thing. You’ll see him when he’s ready to play.”
  • Plagued by injuries at the point guard spot so far in 2019, the Jazz got a boost when Ricky Rubio returned to the rotation on Monday, writes Eric Walden of The Salt Lake Tribune. Dante Exum and Raul Neto remain sidelined, likely until at least next week, but Utah has made a nice run while short-handed, winning eight of 10 games to move into playoff position in the West.
  • Derrick Rose played a big part in helping Karl-Anthony Towns get through the Jimmy Butler “mess” earlier in the season, according to Kentucky’s John Calipari, who coached Towns for one season in 2014/15. According to ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan, Timberwolves team members say that Towns’ locker room presence receded as Butler became more frustrated and unhappy during his final days in Minnesota. “There was a dogfight, and Karl’s not one to get into that. So, he stepped back,” Calipari said. “Things happen. There are power struggles all the time in [the NBA]. If a guy can bully you, he will bully you. And that’s what Jimmy did to Karl. C’mon, that’s the league.”

Free Agent Stock Watch 2019: Northwest Division

Every week, Hoops Rumors takes a closer look at players who will be free agents or could become free agents next offseason. We examine if their stock is rising or falling due to performance and other factors. This week, we turn our attention to the Northwest Division:

Raul Neto, Jazz, 26, PG (Down) – Signed to a two-year, $4.4MM deal in 2018
Neto’s $2.15MM salary for next season becomes guaranteed if he’s still on the roster after July 6. Even though it’s not much money, Neto has given the Jazz little reason to keep him around. He’s not in the rotation with Dante Exum backing up Ricky Rubio. Except for a blowout win over the Knicks in which he played 20 minutes, Neto has either been benched or seen fewer than four minutes over the past 10 games. With Rubio headed to unrestricted free agency, it’s conceivable Utah could exercise that option as insurance. The Brazilian native is more likely to continue his career elsewhere, probably overseas.

Trey Lyles, Nuggets, 23, PF (Down) – Signed to a four-year, $10.4MM deal in 2015
Lyles has received rotation minutes but his offensive numbers have declined. He’s shooting just 41.1% from the field and 24.1% beyond the arc, compared to a 49.1/38.1 slash line last season. He was mired in a terrible slump last month, making just 32.3% (18.6% from distance) of his field goal attempts. Lyles will be a restricted free agent if the Nuggets extend a $4.63MM qualifying option. That may depend on some other factors. They hold a $30MM team option on Paul Millsap‘s contract. It’s also predicated on whether they believe Michael Porter Jr. will contribute significantly next season.

Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, Thunder, 23, SG (Down) – Signed to a three-year, $4.26MM deal in 2016
Luwawu-Cabarrot, a 2016 first-round pick by the Sixers in 2016, got some opportunities in his first two seasons with Philadelphia. His court time has diminished considerably in Oklahoma City. After playing in 69 games (19 starts) in his rookie year and 52 last season, Luwawu-Cabarrot has languished at the end of OKC’s bench despite Andre Roberson‘s injury issues. He’s played just 12 minutes since November 28. The Thunder didn’t pick up Luwawu-Cabarrot’s option during the offseason, so he’ll be unrestricted in July. It will be interesting to see if any team believes he has untapped potential or whether he’ll have to seek overseas opportunities.

Taj Gibson, Timberwolves, 33, PF (Up) — Signed to a two-year, $28MM deal in 2017
Gibson has become a more efficient offensive player in recent years while providing his usual toughness in the paint as well as rebounding. Gibson remains one of the top offensive rebounders in the league (2.7 per game) and has kept a positive attitude despite the addition of Dario Saric, which has cut into his minutes. If Tom Thibodeau remains in charge, the Timberwolves will likely try to re-sign him. Otherwise, Gibson will find work as a 25-30 minute option at power forward for a suitor looking for an upgrade at that position.

Nik Stauskas, Trail Blazers, 25, SG (Down)– Signed to a one-year, $1.6MM deal in 2018
Stauskas is playing for his fourth organization in five seasons. He will be on the move again if his shooting doesn’t perk up. After a strong start, Stauskas has gone into an offensive funk. He made just 24.3% of his 3-point attempts in December and went scoreless in a nine-minute stint against Sacramento in his first 2019 appearance. Stauskas reached double figures in five of his first eight games with the franchise but has hit that mark just twice since that point. With first-rounder Anfernee Simons showing no signs of taking Stauskas’ rotation spot, the Blazers may try to acquire a wing player before the trade deadline.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Western Notes: Smith Jr., Parsons, Saric, Patterson

Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle is trying to put a damper on speculation that Dennis Smith Jr. will be dealt. Carlisle said that Smith and rookie sensation Luka Doncic form a ball-handling duo that can coexist and put steady pressure on opposing defenses, Dwain Price of Mavs.com tweets. “We have two point guards out there. Let’s quit looking at it as Dennis is getting relegated to playing off the ball,” Carlisle said. “We’ve got two point guards out there, which is a great advantage, and we’ve just got to take advantage of that and create a balance and cause problems for teams.” A report surfaced earlier this week that Dallas was gauging the market for the second-year guard.

We have more from around the Western Conference:

  • Chandler Parsons has been medically cleared to play and has participated in four 5-on-5 scrimmages but it’s uncertain when the Grizzlies will begin using him again, according to David Cobb of the Memphis Commercial Appeal. Parsons, who has been battling knee soreness since being sidelined in late October, has yet to be activated. “He is dying to play,” Parsons’ agent, James Dunleavy, told Cobb. Parsons is making $24.1MM this season and another $25.1MM next season before his contract expires.
  • The duo of Taj Gibson and Dario Saric has provided a comfort level to Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau, Chris Hine of the Minneapolis Star Tribune writes. They have shared the spot since Saric was acquired from the Sixers in the Jimmy Butler deal. “Taj is playing unbelievable, and so is Dario,” Thibodeau told Hine. Gibson, who is making $14MM, will be an unrestricted free agent in July.
  • The backup power forward spot has been problematic for the Thunder, according to an Oklahoman report. Jerami Grant is averaging 12.4 PPG and 4.8 RPG as the starter but there’s a dropoff when he needs a rest. Patrick Patterson, the most likely candidate, has seen his minutes decline. He’s averaging just 3.9 PPG and 2.5 RPG in 15.9 MPG. Patterson holds a $5.7MM option on his contract for next season.

Wolves Notes: Butler, Thibodeau, Wiggins

The Timberwolves have yet to move All-Star shooting guard Jimmy Butler in a trade, keeping a distraction on their roster one game into the preseason and almost a week after the team’s media day. Butler requested a trade in early September after spending just one season with the team, with head coach Tom Thibodeau now focused on making sure his players don’t get distracted.

“That’s the NBA. That’s part of everyone’s job,” Thibodeau said, according to Chris Hine of the Star Tribune. “Don’t allow yourself to be distracted. You have to be focused on what your job is. My job is to do what’s best for the Timberwolves and that’s what we’re going to do.”

Minnesota’s asking price for Butler is said to be steep, with the team reportedly seeking quality veterans, future assets and cap relief. The idea of losing Butler, a longtime teammate of Derrick Rose, Taj Gibson, and other members of the Timberwolves, could make for a period of adjustment in the coming weeks.

“That’s part of being a pro,” Thibodeau said. “So in this league there could be distractions every day if you allow it, so it’s important to understand how to approach your job and I think we have a good mix of veterans who have been through it and they understand how important training camp is and getting ready for the season.”

There’s more from the Timberwolves:

Northwest Notes: Thunder, Roberson, Curry, Gibson

With a mammoth luxury tax bill looming at the end of the year, the Thunder plan on sticking with 14 players on their roster to begin this season, reports Erik Horne of The Oklahoman.

“Right now we’re going with what we have,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “If something changes, I’ve always said this with Sam (Presti) and Troy (Weaver), they’re always looking to improve, make our team better all the time… that would be something that if Sam decided to do that, we’d probably talk about that.”

As Horne notes, the decision to keep the roster at fourteen makes sense considering the Thunder would face major luxury tax implications with the signing of a fifteenth player.

Right now, both Bryce Alford and K.J. McDaniels are on training camp contracts with the Thunder, so they’ll ultimately be waived if Horne’s report is accurate unless one of them impresses enough to force the Thunder into waiving someone with a guaranteed salary.

There’s more from the Northwest Division:

  • In another piece for The Oklahoman, Horne writes that Thunder swingman Andre Roberson has been looking good in practice despite not yet being cleared for contact. Because he’s still rehabbing, he’s mostly limited to shooting drills at this point.
  • Joe Freeman of The Oregonian reports that all indications out of Trail Blazers practice is that new addition Seth Curry is looking good. Teammates are praising his jump-shooting and playmaking ability, while coaches are impressed with his basketball intelligence and versatility.
  • According to Nick Friedell of ESPNTimberwolves forward Taj Gibson was surprised at Jimmy Butler‘s trade demand, saying, “I worked out with him all summer, so when I said what I meant, it was like a right hook. I didn’t see it coming. I didn’t know. I thought — it looked like from everything things were going good.”

Wolves Notes: Butler, Towns, Thibodeau, Wiggins

Last summer’s Jimmy Butler trade was a good move for the Timberwolves even though they parted with several promising young talents, writes Britt Robson of The Athletic. Minnesota swung a draft night blockbuster with the Bulls, giving up Kris DunnZach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen for Butler and Justin Patton.

The deal paid dividends for the Wolves, who reached the playoffs for the first time in 13 years, and Robson contends that Butler has already become the second-best player in franchise history, trailing only Kevin Garnett.

On the down side, Butler missed 23 games because of injuries and was a steadfast defender of coach Tom Thibodeau, creating a rift with some of his young teammates. Robson advises the front office to delay renegotiating Butler’s contract, which pays him nearly $20.5MM next season with a $19.8MM player option for 2019/20, to see how the situation plays out.

Robson passes along more info from Minnesota in his mailbag column:

  • Rumors that Thibodeau could get fired this summer are premature, although the locker room has become increasingly divided between loyalists who previously played for Thibodeau in Chicago and younger players who are turned off by his abrasive style. However, replacing Thibodeau now would anger Butler and Taj Gibson and leave the team at a disadvantage heading into the draft and free agency. Robson believes Thibodeau, who still has three years left on his contract, could be in danger if the Wolves don’t move up the Western Conference ladder next season.
  • It will be surprising if Karl-Anthony Towns is put on the trade market this summer, even if the rumors about his unhappiness in Minnesota are true. Towns is just 22 and is under team control for at least two more seasons. A suggested deal for the Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard wouldn’t work for the Wolves because there’s no good way to replace Towns in the middle. Towns reportedly wants a bigger role in the offense and less “tough love” from Thibodeau and Butler.
  • Minnesota probably should have passed on an extension for Andrew Wiggins last summer and dealt with him as a restricted free agent. Robson suggests Thibodeau may have been forced into the move by owner Glen Taylor, but adds that a trade is unlikely now because it would be difficult for the Wolves to get equal value in return.
  • The team would almost certainly have to surrender a first-round pick to unload the contract of Gorgui Dieng, who is owed more than $48MM over the next three years. Thibodeau lost confidence in Dieng during the season and his playing time was cut nearly in half.

Wolves Rumors: Butler, Bjelica, Gibson, Rose

Jimmy Butler offered an update on his medical condition at a press conference before tonight’s game. Butler, who had surgery last month for a torn right meniscus, said there’s no projected date for his return, but he hopes to play before the end of the regular season.

“I’m excited at my progression because I know how close I am to returning back to the floor with my guys,” he says in a video tweeted by KSTP Sports. “I have a little bit of [recovery] time left, but I know my guys are going to stick this thing out and do what they’ve been doing. Keep us in that race, and when I come back we’ll see what we have left in the tank.”

There’s more news out of Minnesota:

  • Butler’s injury has provided an opportunity for Nemanja Bjelica, who is increasing his value on the free agent market with his recent performance, writes Jerry Zgoda of The Star Tribune. Bjelica was averaging just nine minutes per game before the All-Star break, but has topped 40 minutes three times in March. “To be hon­est, I just try to play as good and hard as I can and at the end of the day, ev­er­y­bod­y will be fine,” Bjelica, who will be a restricted free agent, said about the possibility of staying in Minnesota. “I’m hap­py here. My fam­i­ly is hap­py. Some­times I hate Jan­u­ar­y be­cause it’s so cold, but I kind of got used to it.”
  • Also taking on a heavy workload is veteran forward Taj Gibson, Zgoda notes in a separate story. In his first season with the Wolves after signing as a free agent last summer, Gibson is averaging 33.5 minutes per night, roughly five minutes more than his career peak set four seasons ago. The 32-year-old said he doesn’t mind the extra work. “Life is too short to be holding back,” Gibson said. “I go out there and lay it on the line, just do what I got to do. When I come off the court, I don’t want to have any regrets when I go home. I don’t worry about minutes or how much I play.”
  • Historical trends are working against Derrick Rose ever being an effective player again, according to Zach Kram of The Ringer. His study finds that a small percentage of guards who have made an All-NBA team are ever able to raise their level of play after their first below-average season.