NBA Free Agency Update – July 16

For the latest news and analysis on all the action of NBA free agency over the last few days, check out my article via Reup Sports. Today’s post includes Jeremy Lin heading to Houston, Phoenix picking up Luis Scola, the ongoing battle for Nicolas Batum and more!

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Iguodala Free Throws, Late Chicago Collapse Advances Sixers

The Chicago Bulls had Game 6 within their grasp. They had the ball. Just 12 seconds to play. And a one-point lead. But in possibly the most questionable play of the postseason, backup point guard C.J. Watson placed Chicago’s playoff hopes in the hands of Omer Asik, which helped the Philadelphia 76ers become the fifth eight seed in NBA history to knock off the top seed in the first round. Andre Iguodala led the Sixers with 20 points while Lou Williams and Jrue Holiday each had 14 in Philadelphia’s 79-78 come from behind victory. Luol Deng led the Bulls with 19 points and 17 rebounds while Rip Hamilton also pitched in 19.

It was a great win for the Sixers, but a terrible loss for the Bulls, who completely choked down the stretch after leading by three points with just 25 seconds left in the game. Philly got a quick two, cutting Chicago’s lead to one. The Bulls were able to inbound the ball to C.J. Watson, which was followed by a questionable no-call when Jrue Holiday tried to foul him from behind. That no-call looked like it was going to be beneficial for the Bulls (it allowed them to waste more time on the clock) when Watson took the ball the length of the court and found himself in a 2-on-1 with just Spencer Hawes standing between Watson, Asik and a Game 7 in Chicago. But then C.J. Watson made an incredibly dumb decision and instead of dribbling the ball out to waste a few more precious seconds and be sent to the free throw line himself, he passed the ball off to Asik, a 46 percent free throw shooter, who was immediately fouled by Hawes. Watson, an 81 percent free throw shooter, effectively sealed Chicago’s fate as much as Asik did by missing the two free throw attempts that followed. Andre Iguodala then did the smart thing by attacking the basket with the game on the line, got fouled, and made both free throws with just two seconds left to finish off the injury-depleted Chicago Bulls. Watson had room to dribble out. He could have faked the pass and taken the ball to the rim to at least draw the foul. But he passed to Asik, Asik bricked both attempts at the line and Iguodala took it from there.

Jrue Holiday tried to foul C.J. Watson and made contact, but the no-call set up a terrible decision that sent Chicago home early.

Such a demoralizing collapse down the stretch seemed to be a fitting end for a team decimated with injuries to key players that many said had a chance to contend with the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals at the start of the postseason. When Derrick Rose went down in Game 1 with an ACL tear, it was fairly obvious the Bulls’ title hopes were devastated, but when Joakim Noah missed the end of Game 4 along with Games 5 and 6, it became clear their chances of even advancing to the next round were slim. And even with all of those problems and Carlos Boozer having a bad shooting night in Game 6, the Bulls found a way to push this series to six games. Credit Doug Collins and Philadelphia for doing what they needed to to win a playoff series, but Sixers fans, it’s time to bring you back down to earth.

The only reason Philly won this series is that they faced a Bulls team without their best offensive player (Rose), their best defensive player (Noah), and their second best scorer and defender (Luol Deng) played with an ailing wrist for the entire series. Evan Turner turned out to be a prophet after he said the Sixers matched up better with the Bulls than the Heat; it’s pretty easy to match up with a team missing two of its most crucial starters. So as happy as it was for the Sixers to get their first postseason series win since 2003, forgive me if I’m not jumping up and down with excitement about their “storybook run.” Nothing has changed; this is still the same mediocre Philly squad that plays solid defense but can’t score to save their lives. Philadelphia has their work cut out for them in the second round against the Boston Celtics, a group of veterans who just caught a huge break with Chicago being upset. Celtics fans should be ecstatic about the Sixers’ win, since it almost guarantees Boston will reach the Eastern Conference Finals. Unless the Celtics suffer a similarly catastrophic series of injuries to key players, the Sixers’ jubilation over beating such an undermanned Bulls squad will be pretty short-lived.

Andre Iguodala hit the free throws when they mattered and Omer Asik couldn’t.

Resilient Bulls Avoid Elimination

After looking like an injury-plagued team primed for a first round playoff exit, the Chicago Bulls went to battle in front of their home crowd and pulled out a 77-69 win over the 76ers yesterday to send the series back to Philadelphia. Chicago’s Game 5 victory put the series at 3-2 and helped the Bulls avoid elimination as the top seed in the Eastern Conference.

In an extremely low scoring contest, no one really stood out on either side except for Luol Deng, who finally accepted his role as Chicago’s leading scorer with Derrick Rose on the sidelines. Deng led the Bulls with 24 points and eight rebounds after a few underwhelming performances that allowed Philadelphia to grab momentum and three straight wins. So even though Rose is done for the postseason and Joakim Noah sat out for the second game in a row, with Luol Deng taking the lead on offense and knocking down shots, the Bulls stayed resilient and did what they had to to win at home. Carlos Boozer chipped in 19 points, 13 rebounds and six assists, but other than that, it was pretty balanced scoring for the Bulls. Despite tweaking his ankle, Taj Gibson was actually Chicago’s third leading scorer off the bench with just eight points. Gibson left into the locker room but returned to action soon after.

Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer led the Bulls to a huge Game 5 victory.

Unfortunately for the Bulls, it’s going to take an even more resilient effort to get a Game 6 win on the road to send the series back to Chicago for a decisive Game 7. Philadelphia has been in complete control in the two games they’ve played at home and if Luol Deng can’t knock down shots like he did in Game 5 it could be all over for Tom Thibodeau’s squad. C.J. Watson can’t shoot 2-for-10 like he did last night. Richard Hamilton has to score more than six points. Taj Gibson, Ronnie Brewer, John Lucas and Kyle Korver all have to contribute something off the bench. In a low scoring series, every point you get from your reserves is crucial and could be the difference between extending the series and going home empty-handed. However, the good news is that Joakim Noah is hopeful for Game 6, which will almost eliminate Hawes’ production and provide an offensive boost for the Bulls in the paint.

Jrue Holiday led the Sixers with 16 points while Lou Williams had 13 off the bench. Spencer Hawes, who had been dominant against the Bulls with Joakim Noah out, met tougher defense from Omer Asik and Taj Gibson and could only muster 11 points. But the biggest killer for the Sixers was Andre Iguodala, who shot an abysmal 4-of-19 from the floor to finish with 11 points. If the Sixers want to close out the series, they’ll need him to shoot the ball way less. Game 5’s disappointing performance just proved that Philadelphia is not a legitimate playoff team, which is what I’ve been saying all along. Without Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, the Sixers were able to seize momentum and a 3-2 series lead and even with that advantage they’re still not guaranteed victory here. The Bulls are resilient and have bounced back, putting some pressure on Philadelphia to close things out at home, which will be more difficult with Noah most likely taking the floor again. If the Sixers don’t take the series at home, they will face the incredibly difficult task of winning a decisive Game 7 with all the momentum going Chicago’s way in front of a rocking Bulls’ crowd. That is a nightmare scenario for the Sixers and if the series does go to a Game 7, you can almost be certain the Bulls will complete the improbable comeback and move on to the second round.

Andre Iguodala can’t shoot the ball 19 times if Philly wants to win.

Philly Capitalizes On Chicago Injuries

No Derrick Rose. No Joakim Noah. For the Philadelphia 76ers, that meant one thing in Game 4: no problem. The Sixers took advantage of the injury-depleted Bulls and took a 3-1 series lead in their 89-82 victory in front of a home crowd that could smell the blood in the water.

Without Joakim Noah in the interior for Chicago, Spencer Hawes had another productive game, leading the Sixers with 22 points, eight rebounds and three blocks. Jrue Holiday, who struggled with his shot for the majority of the game, hit back-to-back 3-pointers in the fourth quarter to extend a one point lead to seven. Carlos Boozer led the Bulls with 23 points and 11 rebounds and although C.J. Watson finally had a good offensive game with 17 points, six rebounds and 4 assists, the Bulls still looked out of place without two of their leaders on the floor. Luol Deng once again had a mediocre night and only scored 11 points, which was made even worse by Richard Hamilton’s seven-point performance. Omer Asik got the start with Noah sitting out, but he looked completely clueless as a defender and Hawes ate him up. Hawes hasn’t produced for the Sixers in months, so it’s a guarantee that against a quality center in the next round, he will sink back down to the level of production he saw against Joakim Noah. Taj Gibson provided a crucial boost for Chicago in the first half and finished with 14 points and 12 rebounds, but no Rose, no Noah and an unimpressive Deng really gave the Bulls no chance on the road.

Spencer Hawes and Sixers look good right now. Don’t be fooled, though.

At this point, it would be a miracle for Chicago to win this series. The entire team and the city of Chicago is in a state of shock after the events that have transpired in the past week and how fast their chances of winning a championship have evaporated. They might get a win at home in Game 5 to keep their fans from completely keeling over, but Philly has all the momentum right now and if Noah can’t go again, Hawes will kill the Bulls on the inside just like he has in the past five quarters with Chicago’s center sidelined. Tom Thibodeau hasn’t been able to rally the troops with all these disheartening injuries and the Sixers have taken advantage of Chicago’s weaknesses and injury problems as any playoff team should. But Atlanta and Boston should have no problem in the second round revealing this mediocre Philly team for what it is.

Andre Iguodala, Holiday and Hawes all looked impressive today in Philly’s Game 4 win. Evan Turner and Lou Williams have looked like quality scorers ever since Game 2. But up against an actual contender with a healthy starting lineup? The Sixers don’t stand a chance. Don’t forget how easily Chicago dismantled this team in Game 1 with Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah actually on the court. Doug Collins has done a good job preaching defense to his young team and he’s done what he’s needed to by keeping his team motivated to move toward pulling this upset off. But Philadelphia can’t score enough points to contend with anyone else in the East, especially against the defensively-sound Boston Celtics, who will likely be their opponent in the next round.

Joakim Noah had to cheer his team on from the sideline as the Sixers grabbed a 3-1 lead.

Injury-Ridden Bulls Fading Fast

The biggest disappointment of the 2012 NBA Playoffs so far has been the Chicago Bulls, who are in full collapse mode after dropping a pivotal Game 3 to a very underwhelming Philadelphia team and being crippled with injuries to two star players. Losing Derrick Rose eliminated them from contending for the NBA Finals, but losing Joakim Noah to a sprained left ankle might result in an appalling first round exit.

Make no mistake: the Philadelphia 76ers are not the better team here. The Chicago Bulls have been able to win without Derrick Rose all season, but with Joakim Noah now unlikely for Game 4 and given the way Luol Deng and C.J. Watson have absolutely fallen flat on their faces so far in this series, Thibodeau’s squad is practically handing the series over to a weak Sixers side. Losing Game 2 was unfortunate, but ultimately excusable because the entire city was still shell-shocked to see their superstar’s leg (and their title hopes) crumble right in front of them. Game 3 became a very pivotal contest that would make a statement about what direction the series would take: Would the Bulls show Philadelphia and everyone else that they still deserved to be taken seriously? Or would the Sixers take advantage of a key injury and sneak in a victory at home? Unfortunately for Chicago, when Noah went down in the third quarter, the Sixers were able to rally from a 14 point deficit in the fourth behind Spencer Hawes to answer that question decisively.

With Joakim Noah out, Spencer Hawes had a big fourth quarter and led the Sixers to a Game 3 win.

When you’re giving up fourth quarter rallies to guys who haven’t produced in months like Spencer Hawes, you know you have some issues (with Noah, Chicago’s center, leaving the game injured at the top of the list). Hawes finished with 21 points and nine rebounds after totaling just seven points and seven rebounds in the first two games of the series. With Derrick Rose sidelined, an area where the Bulls should have been able to find an advantage (defense on Philly’s point guards) has actually hurt them. Jrue Holiday had 17, Evan Turner had 16 and Lou Williams had 14 off the bench. And even though the Bulls held the Sixers to just 79, they couldn’t put up enough points on the board to win, being outscored 28-14 in the fourth quarter. Noah’s injury hurt and provided the spark for Spencer Hawes to go off, but Luol Deng has absolutely killed Chicago with his inability to knock down shots (five points in Game 3, eight points in Game 2). C.J. Watson hasn’t stepped in and been a quality backup point guard with Rose out, tacking on 12 points in Game 2 but failing to score in Game 3. John Lucas has been a bright spot, averaging 13.5 ppg in his last two, but it hasn’t been enough to get Chicago a win. What’s even worse is that Carlos Boozer has finally appeased Chicago fans and critics by playing consistently good basketball, scoring and rebounding well night in and night out. It figures it would come at a time when Chicago is missing two of its best players and has little chance of contending for a title anymore.

The Bulls aren’t done yet, but unless they win Games 4 and 5, they’ll most likely be going home early, which is disappointing considering the success they’ve had this season despite dealing with injury problems. Without Joakim Noah, who is a huge part of Chicago’s offense with his interior passing and their defense with his rebounding, I can’t say the Bulls will put up much of a fight. In the playoffs, it’s much harder to weather the injury storm and the Bulls are giving us a pretty clear example of that. This is not a case of Philadelphia playing great basketball and becoming a dangerous team on their way to an upset or anything like that. Philadelphia has simply taken advantage of Chicago’s misfortune as any playoff team should. Evan Turner looks like a prophet after saying his team matched up better with the Chicago Bulls than the Miami Heat; it’s a lot easier matchup when the other team is missing two vital players. Which means the Sixers are not dangerous, they can’t score consistently enough to give anyone else a challenge, and if they advance to the next round, whether they play the Celtics or the Hawks, they will most likely be going home.

Losing Derrick Rose wasn’t a death sentence for the series. But losing Joakim Noah on top of that just might be.

Windy City Woes

When Derrick Rose went down with an ACL tear with just over a minute to play in Game one against the Sixers, I was genuinely upset. Not because I was cheering for the Bulls in the series or because I’m a big D-Rose fan, but because without him, the Bulls can’t reach their full potential. Most of the basketball experts immediately started making doomsday proclamations about a Chicago team without Rose, saying it would be tough for them to even advance out of the first round. There might be some validity to those claims after Philadelphia stunned the Bulls in Game 2 with a 109-92 win on Chicago’s floor. The Sixers’ point guards killed a Derrick Rose-less Bulls team, with Jrue Holiday scoring 26 and Lou Williams adding in 20 of his own. So now the question must once again be posed to Tom Thibodeau’s squad: How far can the Bulls go with Derrick Rose on the sideline?

I’d like to say that Game 2 was just a fluke, a game that was destined to go Philly’s way after such a shocking and season-altering injury had occurred just a few days before. But the way the Sixers attacked Chicago with their point guards, even though this Bulls team has statistically played better defense in the past without Rose, raises some concern about the rest of this series as it shifts back to Philadelphia for the next two games. But despite the fact that Philly’s point guards grossly outscored Chicago’s (46 for Holiday and Williams compared to 27 between C.J. Watson and John Lucas), this beatdown was more about the Bulls than it was about the Sixers. In the regular season, Chicago was 18-9 without Derrick Rose. How? Because they played defense. Because they rebounded. And because Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer stepped up offensively. None of those things happened in Chicago’s awful second half collapse.

The Sixers buried the Bulls in the third quarter with a barrage of alley-oops and fast break points.

A normally stingy Chicago defense gave up 109 points to a Sixers team that has struggled to score all year. They were outscored 36-14 in the third quarter, the only time in franchise history a Bulls team has been outscored by 20 points in the third quarter. The gave up 59 percent shooting on the game as the Sixers got alley-oop after alley-oop during their big run to open the second half. They let Evan Turner walk all over their defense with 19 points, and this was the guy who Chicago had every reason to shut down after he ran his mouth and vilified himself for the entire first round with his outspoken comments about matching up well with the East-leading Bulls. They even let a guy like Lavoy Allen flirt with a double double (11 points and 9 rebounds). On the boards, the Bulls were out-rebounded by a smaller Sixers lineup, 38-32. But worst of all, no one other than Joakim Noah and John Lucas had proficient games. While Noah racked up 21 points, eight rebounds, five assists and one steal, Luol Deng finished with 8 points on 3-of-12 shooting while Carlos Boozer only had 9 points on 4-of-10 shooting.

Chicago’s Game 2 woes might have been a fluke; Philly doesn’t score that well consistently, Chicago normally plays defense and rebounds better, and Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer have nowhere to go but up after their appalling performances. But if this shell-shocked team continues to flounder without their floor leader and doesn’t harness that team basketball that got them so many wins with Rose sidelined, they might not advance past the first round against a truly weaker opponent. No disrespect to Philadelphia, but even without Derrick Rose on the floor, Chicago is a much better all-around team. Don’t forget that this is the same team that has beaten the Heat and other East-contending teams without their star point guard in uniform. Tom Thibodeau, aside from the questionable decision to keep Rose in the game so late, was a Coach of the Year candidate and has turned his team into a defensively minded, hard-nosed team that knows how to win. I still like Chicago in this series, but they need to get back on track and play their brand of basketball with two tough games in Philadelphia coming up.

With Derrick Rose on the sidelines, Chicago needs to channel their effective style of team basketball for Game 3.

A Costly Game One

The Chicago Bulls got a game one victory over the Philadelphia 76ers and everything looked like it was going according to plan. But with just over a minute left in the game and Chicago up by 12, Derrick Rose landed awkwardly on his left leg and went down immediately. It’s safe to say astronauts in outer space could hear the collective gasp from the city of Chicago as the Bulls playoff hopes may have just gone out the window.

While the extent of D-Rose’s knee injury is still unknown, the fact that he went down without any contact from a defender means it’s probably serious. Now up until this point, Tom Thibodeau has been a top candidate for the NBA Coach of the Year Award, but leaving your superstar, who has a history of injuries this season, in a game that was all but over has got to be the biggest bonehead move of his coaching career. I don’t question putting Rose back in the game with just under eight minutes to play; the Sixers had cut the lead to 15 and Chicago needed to squash any comeback hopes right away. In a seven game series, it’s critical to stomp on another team’s hopes whenever you get the chance. But leaving him in that long? The Bulls extended their lead once Rose came back in and it would have been perfectly acceptable to sub him out with four or five minutes left. This poor coaching decision might haunt the Chicago Bulls for the rest of the year.

Because now Chicago is looking at possibly playing the rest of the series, and maybe even the entire playoffs, without their star point guard. The reigning MVP is the only one capable of leading this Bulls team to the promised land. He had 23 points, 9 rebounds and 9 assists before going down with the injury, which is particularly impressive considering how little time he’s had to get back into full swing. The Bulls had a great team chemistry going: Rose was leading like they need him to, Richard Hamilton was scoring like they’ve wanted him to all season, Luol Deng and Kyle Korver were hitting shots and Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer were grabbing rebounds and displaying great interior passing. All of this makes Rose’s injury an even bigger disappointment: he went from almost dropping a triple double in an easy playoff win to potentially missing the rest of the year.

I’m not too concerned about Chicago winning the series. Philadelphia can’t score and C.J. Watson has proven himself as a capable backup point guard. But the Sixers smell blood and their odds of winning a few games just went up. But more importantly, this injury isn’t just about this series. Chicago has a real shot at winning a title with everyone healthy. Now they’re going to have to fight to get to the second round.

Chicago cannot win a championship without Derrick Rose. That’s just a fact. While they’ve proven that they can win without him, they cannot win the NBA Finals without D-Rose. Hopefully he’ll be able to return at some point this postseason, but a non-contact injury is never good and given his durability so far this season, I’m forced to make the unfortunate prediction that Derrick Rose won’t be back anytime soon. And Thibs and the Bulls will regret it for a long time.

UPDATE 4/28/12 AT 2:13 P.M.: Derrick Rose tore his ACL and MCL and will miss the remainder of the playoffs. Looks like Chicago’s title hopes will have to wait until next year. While Thibodeau made the right move putting him back in with 8 minutes to go, he singlehandedly destroyed his team’s chances of winning an NBA title by not taking him out.

UPDATE 4/28/12 AT 2:35 P.M.: NBC Miami prematurely reported that Derrick Rose had torn his ACL and MCL. The results of the MRI are still pending.

UPDATE 4/28/12 AT 3:29 P.M.: It has been confirmed that Derrick Rose has torn his ACL and is done for the rest of the season.

Chicago's title hopes now rest with Derrick Rose's latest injury.