James Harden vs. Klay Thompson Drew League Highlights

Harden vs. Klay is a 2-guard rivalry I’m excited for in the years to come. It began last season as Warriors vs. Rockets escalated and so did the their individual star power.

The two clashed, competitively, at L.A.’s famed Drew League recently with Klay Thompson playing for 7-seed C.A.B.C. and Drew mainstay James Harden for 2-seed LAUNFD.

Harden’s team won 78-71 and tallied 15 points, 9 rebounds and 9 assists. Quick video above featuring a smooth Harden stepback over Klay, some pure triples from Thompson, and culminating on what I hope was a fully finished posterization from Klay (not on Harden.) Man, I miss the NBA.

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Klay Thompson NBA Record 37 PTS in 1Q

What a great week for FREE NBA League Pass. Klay Thompson just set an NBA Record for Most Points in 1 Quarter.

In NBA history. This is insane.

He literally didn’t miss. 13-13 FG, 9-9 from 3, and only 2 FTs. Thompson had 37 points versus the Kings 22. He had a 15 point lead on an entire team, ha.

Klay also broke the NBA Record for Most 3s in a quarter, naturally, and tied David Thompson for most field goals made in a quarter. He ended with 52 points for the game and also joined his idol Kobe Bryant as the only players in the last 30 years with 50+ points in 32 minutes or less.

I happened to catch up with the 3rd and see my favorite of the heat checks — the baseline 3, which led to this tweet “Klay with the heat checks of all heat checks.” Before his last 2 FTs, he even made a deep 3, seemingly without even trying, but it was well after the whistle was blown. The Oracle crowd made the experience that much more special.

So did the reaction on Twitter… look at all the players who weighed in with amazement like you and I.

Klay’s performance even trumped the Clippers-Warriors rivalry, ha. Even tennis star Andy Murray chimed in from the Australian Open…

Perhaps most heart-warming of all… Klay’s father, former NBA player and current Warriors commentator, Mychael, got to watch it on the Lakers team plane.

Fellow bball nerds… what a flawless, beautiful shot chart.

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And LOL @ this game log.

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Bulls vs. Warriors: Running Diary

Bulls, Warriors, December 6th has been circled on my calendar since the schedule’s release in August. It didn’t take long since the rise of superstar Steph Curry for the Warriors to become a (distant) second favorite team behind my hometown Bulls. The battle between East and West contenders only happens once this year in Chicago (June not withstanding 🙂 )

So naturally, my fellow die hard Bulls fan, AK and I had to find a way to go. Thanks to some wonderful timing and an unspent budget, AK’s company rented a penthouse suite for last night. In other words, for me: the dream.

I knew going into the game that I wanted to provide some #Analysis in some fashion. As the night progressed, too many fantastic things happened — an instant bond over Rasheed Wallace here, a classic Benny The Bull gag there — that the Bill Simmons Running Diary format was simply the most perfect way to document it.

***

6:46pm: It’s a last-minute dash to make the intros! I flex my knowledge of the United Center area and drive through two shortcuts to bypass the traffic around Madison. At a red light, AK poses the question: Who do you think wins tonight?

*slight hesitation* I think we can win it tonight. After all, we do thrive on ending streaks.

That said, I wouldn’t be surprised if we lose. (As you can see, I didn’t have full confidence in the Bulls.)

The Warriors are rolling, but the matchups are fascinating. The backcourts: Steph vs. D. Rose, Klay vs. Jimmy. You got Bogut and Pau, it’s like these teams are modeled similarly. I worry about the Draymond vs. Joakim matchup though. We struggle against stretch 4s because Noah’s not used to guarding the 3 point line and Draymond’s been playin’ well lately.

(This proved to be a recurring topic of conversation later…)

6:54pm: Parked and speed-walking to the gate, which looked something like this. Looks like we’re not going to catch intros, or even the opening tip.

6:56pm: “Executive gate entrance 6 1/2” gets us up to the Penthouse with no lines. #SuiteLife already paying dividends!

6:59pm: A quick Twitter check reveals an instantly viral couple of images of Derrick Rose in a “I Can’t Breathe” t-shirt, in tribute to the tragic death of Eric Garner. Rose is the perfect person and personality to make a statement for justice like this, in this way. *applauds*

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7:05pm: The national anthem, the always chilling introductions, and the Kanye West “Power Clap” video never fail to change your mood from socializing to gametime. I’m amped and trying not to show it to the 6 new people I just met.

Quick tangent: The “Power Clap” (press play below) is the icing on the cake to our pregame intro — one as a whole that has to be unrivaled in hometown pride compared to the rest of the league. First, you got one of Kanye’s most famous, demonstrative songs and productions as the backbone of the pump-up. The core of ‘Ye asking for everyone to do the “Power Clap” is not from the original, but the Jay Z remix that you may have forgotten about. Plus, a seamless blend of “I’m a Chicagoan til Chicago ends” from the classic Dilated Peoples feature and an edited “You’re now fuckin’ with the best in the worrrlldd” from the “Lollipop (Remix)” complete the audio gem.

The visual set to the song features a mix of the players clapping with D. Rose’s chillness only being one-upped by Joakim’s chill golf clap. The most awkward was Aaron Brooks & Doug McDermott together, partly because they call each other Ray and Ron, but primarily because Doug McDermott doing anything on the jumbotron to a Kanye West song is as hilariously awkward as his photo with Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and Kid Ink.

Jimmy & Taj were the only ones who looked comfortable clapping, with Jimmy unofficially winning the most amount of Kanye lines lip-synched. Only fitting that the winner is the self-proclaimed “Baby Mike”.

The Power Clap:

7:20pm: The Bulls’ starters came out aggressive, but sloppy. Draymond has 2 3s already, about 5 minutes in. This is becoming a theme.

7:27pm: The Warriors feel like they’re converting every turnover into points. Ultimately, they get 27 fast break points in the first half and go on a 20-4 run in the first quarter. Still, two consecutive jumpers from Rose had AK and I hopeful we were there in person for Rose’s inevitable “F U game” on a big stage. Little did we know that this 3-pointer with 3:58 left in the first quarter was Rose’s last made field goal of the game.

7:31pm: The Warriors pull off one of their 3-man weaves and even though it wasn’t even their starters and it didn’t even lead to a bucket, it was oh so pretty. The quarter ends with the Warriors up 28-22 in what feels like it should be more.

7:38pm: Taj Gibson follows up an easy post-up layup with an emphatic block off the backboard of Shaun Livingston. This leads to an irrational confidence Aaron Brooks 3, a Bulls lead, and the largest rise out of the UC crowd thus far. All credit due to Taj’s spark plug energy; great to see in his first game back from a sprained ankle.

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7:41pm: Taj tips in a Jimmy Butler miss but it looks like a clear offensive goaltending. Before we know it, play is stopped and Steve Kerr earns himself a Tech. I immediately see an assistant coach holding Steve Kerr back. Gotta hand it to the rookie head coach, he’s got that “looking like a badass while getting a Tech” thing down.

7:42pm: As replays on the scoreboard clearly show Kerr has a case, Jimmy Butler promptly misses the technical free throw. Although I can’t yell “Ball Don’t Lie!” because it’s against the Bulls, I do acknowledge the moment by telling AK, “That was a Ball Don’t Lie moment.” After a long pause, the guy next to me says, “Ball don’t lie is one of my favorite phrases in sports.”

Me: Yeah!
Guy: I miss Sheed, man.

*Tibs just made a new friend.*

7:48pm: The Bulls have been on a 25-7 extended run going back to the first quarter, erasing the damage caused by 10 turnovers in the first quarter.

7:50pm: Taj Gibson is wheezing on the baseline in between plays. He’s gassed in his first game back but Pau checks in for Mirotic instead.

7:58pm: Jimmy Butler matches a Harrison Barnes 3 with one of his own, dancing with a little bit of a crossover before hitting the contested pull-up. AK and I say to each other almost instantaneously, “Jimmy doesn’t even take that shot last year, let alone make it.” What a season he’s having so far.

8:05pm: Already three chicken tenders in, I finish up my Chicago dog and continue to ignore finger food and salad. Can’t fill up on the extras. I instead pace myself like a veteran for the even better dessert cart to come in the second half. Fortunately, not that much has happened during my second dinner, but the Warriors have stretched their lead out to double digits, dominating the last half of the second quarter.

8:08pm: Joakim Noah throws a terrible 3/4 court pass with 2.9 seconds left that turns out to be a solid strategy. The ball goes off the Warriors out of bounds so the Bulls have the ball past half court with 2.3 seconds left. Enough time for Noah to get the inbound near the elbow and drive for a buzzer beating layup to bring down the Warriors’ halftime lead to 12, 61-49. I’m proud of the sneaky 2 points going into the half, but the crowd is a little out of it due to the double digit deficit.

8:08:30pm: I bolt downstairs to the 300 level to meet my friends Hugo and Kristin for halftime. Hugo’s a fellow basketball nerd and we both immediately agree the Warriors look legit and that it’s not lookin’ good for a Bulls comeback. We catch up on life for a bit… they just got a new place, he’s going to California for a week for work, I plan on writing a new Gowhere NBA Awards this week. Big things poppin’ for both of us. Then this happens…

8:20pm: Derrick Rose & Joakim Noah come out to warm-up first. They both dribble up at the same time for their first jump shots, and of course, the balls hit each other in the air. This would be on Shaq’tin a Fool.

Me: Wait, did you just see that?!
Hugo: Hahah, yeah.
Me: C’mon guys, let’s be professionals.
Me: …This is why I love going to games, to see things like this.

To further visualize, I drew a diagram for you. (I have an architecture degree, this is how we communicate.)

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8:22pm: I begin my journey back to the suite to catch the start of the second half, but quickly walk past someone I play pickup with in the concourse. (Gotta love random run-ins. I’ve never talked to him ever, but now we’re going to have a convo about this tomorrow night and probably end up on the same team.)

8:27pm: I can’t find an elevator without a line and there are no stairs up to the penthouse. I’m stuck in the concourse so I just stop to an abrupt standstill, watching a video board for the beginning of the 3rd quarter. I got in the way of about 4 people in this process.

8:38pm: I just made it back to the suite, but missed the Dunkin Donuts race during the timeout (which alone could warrant its own running diary.)

Jimmy Butler hits a 3 for his second consecutive bucket and brings the Bulls within 2. Beautiful extra pass ball movement by the starters and the crowd is especially into it now.

8:43pm: Butler steals an errant pass from Curry, passes it ahead to Rose, who alley-oops it to Gasol for the Bulls’ first lead since the 2nd quarter. The crowd erupts and it’s ultimately the loudest the UC gets for the night.

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8:46pm: Teams trade baskets and the lead for a couple minutes, highlighted by Curry doing a fadeaway 16-foot jumper off the glass that only a unique scorer like him would even attempt. Worried this may lead to more.

8:49pm: Pau, having made his last 3 shots in the quarter, is feeling it when he draws some surprise oohs and aahs from the crowd during this crossover display. As you can see, it unfortunately leads to a Kirk Hinrich brick (not the best Kirk Hinrich game…)

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8:55pm: Steph Curry with his most Steph Curry shot of the game. I was in awe of how fast he was coming off that curl, how quick he released it, and the fact that it was a no doubter splash.

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8:59pm: The score after 3 quarters, Bulls 80 Warriors 79. Thrilling quarter, shaping up to go down to the wire.

9:10pm: The second timeout of the quarter after a Kirk Hinrich 3 that brings the Bulls back within 2 with 8 minutes and change remaining.

Real thing I said to AK:
Man, I honestly can’t remember the last time I was at a game that really came down to the wire. It looks like it’s heading that way!

9:15pm: Klay Thompson hits a 3, blocks Kirk Hinrich’s 3 on the other end, then Draymond Green hits a 3 off a pick and pop that made D. Rose look silly.

Oh. 

The Bulls call timeout with the Warriors up 8 with 6 minutes to go. Pretty sure this is from the ensuing Draymond celebration:

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The lesson here is obvious: don’t jinx a close game by saying you haven’t been to a close game in awhile. Rookie mistake.

9:21pm: Jimmy brings back the deficit from 11 to 8 with 4 minutes remaining with his third 3 of the night. Draymond Green immediately responds with a United Center soul-crushing 3 of his own off a Klay Thompson pick and pop. That’s Green’s 7th 3 and a career-high 31 points. The disappointed gasp of the UC crowd was the most audible one of the night. You know it’s over and this guy, not even Steph or Klay, is killing us.

To make matters worse, we didn’t even get a dessert cart. #StillHungry #FirstWorldProblems

9:23pm: During the timeout, Benny The Bull went through his routine of attempting one handed half-court shots facing away from the basket. He’s remarkably good at this. I feel like I’ve seen him make it more than miss. He takes about 8 shots and comes close, but no cigar this time.

He then punts one of the basketballs into the stands. For the last basketball, he does the Hulk Hogan routine… finally picks a section and punts it. Two dudes in Steph Curry jerseys end up with the ball and obnoxiously celebrate to the crowd, milking in a shockingly loud number of boos. Out of nowhere, Benny sprints at them and silly strings both Warriors fans, much to the delight of the United Center. Benny The Bull, still the greatest.

9:35pm: The game ends rather anti-climatically, 112-102. After the buzzer, Steph gives a pat on the back to fellow Player of the Month, Jimmy Butler and to his Team USA teammate, Derrick Rose. Florida alum Joakim Noah and Marreese Speights handshake and hug at half court. I dunno, I always like to see who gives dap to one another after the game.

9:39pm: The Bulls’ music choice has been noticeably better over the years. “On To The Next One” plays at low volume, followed by the mellow “Hold On, We’re Going Home” as the UC crowd exits. Aw man, now this sad Drake song is making me feel even sadder.

#Analysis:

Derrick Rose 3.0

Contributing to the sadness is seeing Derrick Rose 3.0 in person. Summarizing this idea presented in this week’s Bulls Show, if Derrick Rose 1.0 was the wide-eyed rookie and Derrick Rose 2.0 was MVP Rose, then Derrick Rose 3.0 is post-injury, picking his spots Rose.

Now, I’m about as big of a D. Rose apologist as you can find, but I also can’t deny a trend in the early quarter of the season: over half of Rose’s field goal attempts since his return from the hamstring injury are coming from beyond the arc.

In those 7 games, Rose has attempted 87 field goals and of those 87, 46 of them have been from 3.

Rose is shooting the 3 at a 30% clip during that stretch, matching his below league-average 30% overall on the season. This is counting the ridiculous one-handed bank shot floater versus Dallas that sent the game to double overtime too.

Based on the shot attempts and the eye test, one can sense that Rose is still trying to figure out the times to attack the rim, or even pull up for a mid-range jumper. We’ve really only see him aggressively attack the rim in the team’s marquee games so far this year, most notably the home opener versus Cleveland and the post “be there for my son’s graduation” comments TNT game versus the Raptors. Hence my cautious optimism at the beginning of the diary that we could see a Bulls win and a more aggressive D. Rose with the Warriors being the elite opponent (best record in the league). It didn’t really happen beyond the first quarter with Rose finishing 1-7 from 3 and 2-11 overall.

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One more thing to keep an eye on going forward is Rose’s passing and ability to set up his teammates. It’s steadily improved as Rose has had 3 games with 2 or less turnovers in the past 5. Of course, in between was a 7 turnover outing versus the Mavs that was more close to his early November. Perhaps an underrated, lingering factor for the turnovers is one that’s non-Rose related: the games of his new and old teammates.

Eastern Conference Player of the Month Jimmy Butler is playing at an other-worldly all-star level he hasn’t touched in his career so far. It took LeBron James & Kyrie Irving just 1 month to play together more minutes than Derrick Rose & Jimmy Butler have in their careers. Think about that for a second.

Then you have Pau Gasol in vintage form, averaging 20.1 PPG (the most since ’06-’07) and 11.9 RPG (the most in his career). It’s early still, but both he and Butler are playing like all-stars and are focal points of the offense with or without Rose. In Rose’s entire career with the Bulls, he hasn’t played with offensive scoring options quite this impactful.

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So in conclusion, there is really no conclusion. Rose 3.0 is still a work in progress and we, whether a Bulls fan or analyst, have to maintain patience far beyond just a handful of games. The two focal points of Derrick’s game I’m carefully examining going forward are the 3-point attempts and the turnovers (and how he’s getting them.) I’m confident we’ll see both gradually decrease as Rose gets more acclimated to consistent full-speed games and his new teammates.

The City of Big Shoulders

Last night’s game marked the return of Taj Gibson after a 6-game absence with a sprained ankle. Great news for the Bulls, but it also pushed rookie Nikola Mirotic back to limited minutes. Niko only played 8 minutes in the wake of Gibson’s return, but his 2 TOs and 3 fouls in that time likely contributed to that. During Gibson’s injury, Mirotic averaged 12.7 PPG and 8.4 RPG in 27 minutes. He also leads all rookies with 3 double-doubles and is shooting the 3 at a 38% clip.

He’s proven he could play.

So where does he fit in the rotation now that everyone is healthy again?

The easy solution is to look at 34 year old Pau Gasol’s 36 minutes per game. Take 4 or 5 of those and give them to Niko, and it’ll save some burden on Gasol while preparing Mirotic for the playoff stage come April.

The asterisk is the notoriously stubborn Coach Thibs, but if Niko’s going to be under 10 minutes a game and Pau still at 36, I’m convinced there’s a clause in Gasol’s contract that he or the Bulls get a bonus for his all-star berth.

In addition to the minutes allocation, I’m intrigued to see what the Bulls do to resolve their defense versus the stretch 4. Draymond Green put the magnifying glass on this issue last night, probably singing “CoCo” while he was at it. 

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This is a challenge that we can date back to the preseason when the Noah/Gasol frontline allowed Thaddeus Young 17 points on 4 3s in 27 minutes, albeit on a much less mobile Noah in late October than now. Even still, as athletic as Noah is at full health, it’s hard to expect the center who anchored our defense at the rim to defend stretch 4s at the 3-point line, especially when they are roaming free in transition like last night. Taj Gibson is our best option for the Draymond Greens and Kevin Loves of the NBA, so we’ll keep an eye on the minutes to Jo and Pau in these specific matchups into 2015.

The Golden State Ws

Emphasis on Ws. That’s 12 of them now for Golden State — a new franchise record. Steve Kerr’s Warriors lead the league in Defensive Rating and on the flip side, Assists Per Game with a 4th place standing in Offensive Rating.

Basically, they’re legit.

The in-person experience was just as beautiful as it is on TV, even as a biased observer. The pick and pops, Steph’s left-handed swing passes, the 3-man weaves, Andrew Bogut… literally everything an advanced basketball junkee would want, in addition to everything the casual basketball viewer would want: the Splash Brothers.

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Come April, the Western Conference Champion will largely come down to health and matchups. But carrying its own weight is the continuity the Warriors have instantly developed under a new coach. Not only on the court, but off.

There have been stories that start from the top like Coach Kerr likening Draymond Green’s hustle after a loose ball to that of a beetle. Or the team plane Instagram videos of the team singing a song that’s basically about cocaine. (Someone finally caught on and told them to stop, ha!)

I saw it on their bench as their MVP-candidate leader Steph Curry led the rallying during Draymond’s galvanizing game-long heat-check. The intangibles of a team, or its “it” factor I suppose, is impossible to quantify, but at the same time: isn’t it simply pass/fail? Seeing them in person, the Warriors are emphatically a Pass.

2015 Finals Preview? Well, both teams have a lot left to prove still and we’re not even close to peak Bulls. But as a fan, you can bet I have the calendar circled.

NBA Extension Fallout

Ed. note: Originally written Tuesday 11.04, edited with new info Wednesday 11.05, published here today.

Halloween is circled on your calendar for a variety of reasons. For families, it’s trick-or-treating with your kids. For 20 somethings, it’s dressing up and hitting the town. For NBA fans, it’s more likely that “Favorite Team Home Opener” tops “NBA Contract Extension Deadline”, but it’s actually the latter that carries even more weight for your favorite team’s future. This past Halloween had as big an influence as any. Here is a breakdown of a few key rookies from the 2011–12 season that got a treat, a few that didn’t… and what it all means for the future. *Jimmy Kimmel voice* Apologies to Jan Vesely, we ran out of time.

Klay Thompson

Klay Thompson is surely a name you heard in one form or another this summer. He was famously kept by the Golden State Warriors in the Kevin Love trade discussions in a move widely criticized by experts and fans alike. He was lessfamously the second leading scorer on Team USA’s Gold Medal run during the second half of the summer, averaging 12.7 PPG on 52% shooting.

On Friday, Klay Thompson signed a reported 4-year max extension worth an estimated $70 million dollars. Grantland’s Zach Lowe reports today that the contract “sticks at four years and $69 million regardless of what happens to the 2015–16 cap between now and the start of next season,” meaning that Thompson still receives what’s equivalent to a max contract under today’s $66.5 million cap scenario, rather than his incremental raises rising at a percentage relative to the projected rising cap.

In the 2 games since Friday’s signing, Thompson scored 70 points, highlighted by a career high 41 versus his idol Kobe Bryant and the Lakers*, a posterization of Robin Lopez, and a game-winning runner over Wesley Matthews with 8.7 seconds remaining. Not bad. In fact, good enough to lead the league with 29.7 PPG (entering Tuesday’s play) and earn the season’s first Western Conference Player of the Week Award. Not to mention the team success as the Warriors possess a flawless 3–0 record.

(I must acknowledge though that Lakers* is now a thing. They’re last in the league in defensive efficiency, entering Tuesday’s play, by a whopping 9.5 PPG over the next to last team, thereby slightly diminishing impressive offensive accomplishments.)

The season’s first week has already quieted the Kevin Love trade critics, and even some full on Klayters, to believe in the potential the Warriors do in rewarding him with a max contract before restricted free agency. The eye test backs it up thus far, especially on offense in coach Steve Kerr’s new system. Gone are the heavy isolation post-ups and entering are dribble handoffs with 7-foot behemoth Andrew Bogut. Naturally, the latter has led to more high-percentage shots. And though it’s ridiculous to think that Klay will lead the league in scoring, for even the rest of the month, this is the type of upward trend that should last and ultimately lead to a career-high in scoring when the season is all set and done.

What the Warriors did by locking up Klay for the next 4 years was first and foremost, make a statement that the Splash Brothers are here to stay. Thompson is a great compliment to Steph Curry, both offensively and defensively, and should only keep improving through the duration of the contract. Besides, it would have looked pretty weak to not sign him for the long-term future after not budging on Klay for Kevin Love.

The Warriors also eliminated the possibility of a Chandler Parsons contract — the new benchmark for NBA teams to pry away a coveted restricted free agent. The Rockets declined to match the 3-yr/$46 million dollar contract that came with a 2-yr player option and 15% trade kicker this summer and front offices are absolutely taking note. Together with Gordon Hayward’s max-contract, the market is set for borderline, potential all-star wings, and Klay Thompson certainly fits the bill today, let alone come July. And at this pace, Thompson could even make the all-star team this season,even in a crowded Western Conference.

The Warriors now ensure a core of Thompson, Curry, Iguodala, and Bogut through 2017. The front office has other pressing issues to focus on now with David Lee’s contract running through 2016 and Draymond Green’s restricted free agency impending this upcoming July. If this week is any indicator, Warriors fans can see the scratches on the surface of this potential perennial Western Conference contender. With the core locked up and the results starting to show, that’s a secure a feeling as any fanbase can desire.

Jimmy Butler

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One can argue that Jimmy Butler is as important a player to his team as Klay Thompson is to the Warriors above. By no means is Butler worth a max contract today, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be come July.

Butler’s Halloween came up as a ‘trick’ as the deadline came and went without an extension, with Butler’s side rejecting an offer that was reportedly a multi-year contract averaging $11 million a year. But really, I think we’ll be calling it a ‘treat’ for Jimmy Butler by season’s end.

The market has been set by the aforementioned Chandler Parsons and Gordon Hayward and neither of those players have an All-NBA 2nd Team Award on their mantlepiece like Butler. Comparatively, Butler’s shortcomings come on the offensive end where he averaged 13.1 PPG on 40% shooting, 28% from 3. This comes with a footnote that Butler’s turf toe, no pun intended, affected his shooting rhythm throughout the year, as reasonably speculated by numerous talking heads close to the team.

Butler’s 2014–15 campaign is already indicative of improvement, with most translatable being Butler’s pension to get to the foul line throughout the preseason and into his first regular season game (even winning the game with 2 FTs). However, his playing style, where Butler sometimes recklessly flies into collisions, increases the chance of injury… and perhaps a big pay day too.

If an injury worse than the sprained thumb of the past few weeks shortens Butler’s season for an extended period, combined with stagnant shooting numbers, then we’re looking at a floor of 4-years $42 million. That’s the deal Utah Jazz shooting guard Alec Burks signed on Halloween. Good for him, absolute worst case scenario for Butler.

Conversely, Butler stays healthy, improves his shooting percentages, and proves in the playoffs that he’s one of the league’s best options to defend LeBron James. Then he’ll certainly garner offers more than the rumored $12-$13 million a year that Butler would have re-signed for on Halloween. This scenario would prove that the Bulls made a mistake in not locking up Jimmy Butler now.

Butler could even command a max contract with a career year, perhaps in the Parsons format, setting up a similar, but higher stakes scenario for the Bulls reminiscent of Omer Asik, who was let go in restricted free agency for nothing. The prospect of replacing Butler would be a daunting one given he is the roster’s only current, legitimate option to guard the best perimeter scoring wings in the game, including that big new division rival mentioned above. With a “career year” implying improved offense, Butler would become one of the league’s rare, two-way perimeter players. This would mean a long-term deal in the ballpark of at least $15 million annually, which could price out the notoriously stingy Bulls who are already committed to multi-year deals with Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Pau Gasol, Taj Gibson, and Nikola Mirotic.

Butler commented on the negotiations telling Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski, “It came down to me deciding that I want to bet on myself.” He further stated to Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times, “People say I’m chasing the money when that’s not it… because I’m going to be in Chicago. I’m not worried about it. I say that with a smile on my face because I know that for a fact. We’ll resume [negotiations] in July.”

I’m betting on Jimmy too. But that’s why I can’t say with the factual assertion he does that Chicago will be his home this time next year.

Ricky Rubio

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Ricky Rubio, point guard of the Minnesota Timberwolves future. The Wolves made it official on Friday, inking their 2009 draft pick to a 4-year $55 million dollar deal. By now, you know the variety of Rubio’s strengths… and his one glaring weakness. His sub-40% shooting makes for a hot debate on whether you can win a title with him as your starting point guard. That will speak to the core of players around Rubio as much as his individual improvement can dictate.

Rubio is the type of player whose strengths and weaknesses can be amplified and covered up with complimenting players. The post-Kevin Love Timberwolves may already have the perfect backcourt fit in #1 pick, Andrew Wiggins. Wiggins is already an NBA-ready defender and projects to have the versatility and length to combat the league’s more powerful, athletic point guards that Rubio struggles with (think Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, John Wall). Though Rubio’s defensive instincts propel him among the league leaders in steals every year, it is much harder with his frame to keep those big guards out of the lane.

On offense, you can already imagine the possibilities as Rubio and Wiggins on the break make the Wolves a League Pass favorite. If Wiggins can improve his perimeter shooting, then he can become that 4th quarter option the Wolves didn’t have from the guard spot a year ago, when coach Rick Adelman would sometimes bench Rubio. The wildcard in the backcourt rotation is fellow rookie Zach LaVine. His outside shooting and athleticism also suggest he’d be a great long-term fit alongside Rubio and Wiggins.

Rubio growing as a leader with a young core of Wolves is an exciting thought for a fanbase constantly in a rebuild. On one hand, it would have been perfectly excusable if the Wolves were to wait and see how the year plays out with their new faces and the jury still out on Rubio being a top 10 point guard in the league. But coach and GM Flip Saunders was already convinced, and 3 or 4 years down the line, this $55 million dollar deal may look like a steal with the new TV deal increasing the salary cap, which would even give the Wolves flexibility to trade Rubio if things go south or stagnant. Best case scenario: Rubio is leading one of the league’s elite and exciting offenses as the Wolves become a playoff threat a la the Steve Nash era Suns.

Kawhi Leonard

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In what many consider the surprise of the Halloween extension deadline, Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard was not locked up for the long-term future. The non-deal speaks louder when you consider that coach Gregg Popovich claimed Kawhi will “be the face of the Spurs,” two years ago. So why not extend him with a max deal that he’s assuredly going to receive in the restricted free agency market?

Because the Spurs are trying to save valuable cap room to make a run at another free agent next offseason and re-sign a couple more of their own, namely unrestricted starting shooting guard Danny Green. If Leonard were to sign his extension now, his cap hold becomes $16 million as opposed to $7.2 million in July, per Nate Duncan of Basketball Insiders.

That’s a large difference to spend on an impact free agent — the biggest name being speculated: Grizzlies center Marc Gasol, especially if Tim Duncan were to retire. In a NBA utopian world though, the 2015 season begins with one last year of Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili, and Marc Gasol starting at Center with the newly maxed-out Kawhi Leonard (the Spurs would use his Bird rights to sign him over the cap.)

Imagine for a moment a 10 pass possession leading to a lay-up. This lineup makes it possible even moreso, and with a higher likelihood of a wicked bounce pass, than the present-day Spurs.

So is there a way this backfires?

Yes, but in a way that won’t have an effect on the Spurs until the new TV deal enters its second year in 2017. A Chandler Parsons 2-year max + player option scenario is also in play for Kawhi Leonard. There really is no reason for the Spurs not to match any creative contract, but if Kawhi gets this offer sheet, then he’s entitled to an even larger payday 2 years sooner than if he was locked up to a 5-year max. on Friday.

If Leonard’s career progresses into the lead dog that many project, then the Spurs will be paying much more at the start of 2017 through 2020. A 5-year max., $90 million dollar deal averages to $18M annually and would last through the 2019–2020 season. With the cap projected to skyrocket by the hypothetical next payday for a 26-year old Leonard in 2017, he’ll likely break the bank in the mid-20s annually, easy, and that amounts to 3 more seasons of paying a higher price for Leonard, even if its relative to a higher cap.

The trade-off of not signing the Finals MVP now is another shot to retain, and add to their championship core this summer or replace a retiring Duncan with a marquee free agent. That’s a trade I would make everyday, especially with still so much unknown about the post-TV deal cap and the unlikelihood that Kawhi’s future deal cripples a team’s flexibility like present day Kobe’s deal, for example. At the end of the day, whatever you can do to extend the championship window or minimize the inevitable step backwards once Duncan retires, you have to do it.

Spurs gonna Spurs. This is just the latest example.

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ICYMI: Gowhere NBA Awards (Pt. 1) | Pt. 2

Klay Thompson game-winner vs. Blazers

The Warriors continue their early season roll as they steal one from Portland on a back-to-back, 95-90. The score is somewhat misleading because of free throws. Golden State was down by 1 with 25 seconds left. They created a controversial turnover to set up the above scenario. Klay Thompson ran a curl and then hit a tough runner across the middle of the lane over Wesley Matthews to put the W’s up 1.

This capped off a 29-point evening for Klay Thompson on the heels of last night’s career high 41. $70 million dollar Klay! He did this too.