[Thanks to Alex for today's game preview -yfbb]
Well, it's all over. After Chicago's improbable win against Cleveland at home Saturday night -- thanks to a perfect night from the field by Cristiano Felicio (who already looks better than the Bulls' much-touted draft "steal"Bobby Portis) and some of that patented Jimmy LeaderballTM -- the Bulls had a technical shot at an eighth consecutive playoff berth. That was of course predicated on the Indiana Pacers falling to all three of its final regular-season opponents, who at the time were on pace to average just about 29 wins on the season (each with just 1-3 games left to play). Needless to say, that didn't happen, as the Pacers felled the Brooklyn Nets by 24 points last night. Now the 40-40 Bulls are left with nothing to play for outside of jockeying for lottery position with Washington (39-41).
Tonight, they duke it out with the New Orleans Pelicans' JV line-up at the hilariously-monikered Smoothie King Center. NOLA is another team with a new head coach (the head coach I had wanted for the Bulls, actually) and disappointing returns on their 2015-16 season. The 30-50 Pelicans are definitely playing to lose, as they too would like to move up in the draft lottery, and have a record that threatens to tie or surpass those of theKnicks, Kings and Timberwolves. Will Chicago sit all of their best players and try to give Portis, Felicio, and Justin Holiday some run? Because they should. Thus far, we know that Pau Gasol and Derrick Rose are done for the season. But that's not enough. There is absolutely no reason Jimmy Butler should be out there, either. Damn it, he could actually lead us to a win! It's important to see what they can get out of flippable pieces like these three (although Felicio is probably too good on too favorable deal to move for the cost-conscious FO). Los Bulls will also have a better shot at a loss this way, which would ultimately be desirable for their lottery-drawing odds. Of course, next up Chicago hosts the 10-win Philadelphia 76ers in their Wednesday season finale, a team to which it would be almost impossible to lose. The Bulls have come close, though, so there's hope.
A thought on Anthony Davis: things are all well-and-good between Davis and the organization at present (and considering the $146 million contract extension he signed in the offseason, that makes a whole lot of sense), but how long should we reasonably expect things to stay rosy? Sure, they'll have significant space for free agent signings this summer ($25 million) and one very tradable contract under the new cap (Evans, making $10.2 million on the final year of his deal). And yes, the Western Conference has suddenly become very top-heavy, and can get even worse if KD or Mike Conley bolt for the East. But can we trust the current Pellies management to make smart moves? Because if not, hey, maybe Davis forces his way out, like Chris Paul and Kevin Love before him. And what better place to go than his hometown, where he could immediately transform a mediocre team into a contender playing in a depleted Eastern Conference?
Let's quickly review the Pelicans' recent history -- GM Dell Demps has had a mixed go of it thus far. Sure, he drafted Anthony Davis. He also signed or traded for a bevy of expensive, injury-prone "core" pieces: Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson, and Omer Asik. He overpaid Tyreke Evans in 2013 to steal him from the Kings, but that contract now can be flipped -- hard to say the same for Holiday, Gordon (who is mercifully off their books this summer), or Asik. Asik's game (no scoring outside of put backs, no real speed) is such an awkward fit in the pace-and-space NBA that his being re-signed by the Pelicans for 5 years and $58 million at age 29 was, well, really dumb. The Holiday trade, where he flipped Nerlens Noel and a protected first-round pick (which the Pelicans kept), was one that many around the league questioned at the time, although Noel's underwhelming, injury-riddled run in Philly has made it kind of a wash. Although, to be fair, in drafting Noel, he passed on Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, C.J. McCollum,Michael Carter-Williams, Steven Adams, Dennis Schroeder, the Greek Freak, and the Stifle Tower. Any of those pieces would be better on the Pelicans than Justin Holiday'smore-talented-but-oft-hurt brother. The Pelicans have made the playoffs once in Davis's four seasons there, and though they have a guaranteed lottery pick coming up in the draft this season, it's hard to see Anthony Davis wanting to stick around a rebuilding project for too long. Granted, the Bulls aren't exactly holding a treasure trove or trade chips at present, but the Davis thing would probably take another season or two of futility until the tension really reached a boiling point.
The Pelicans have already shut down ten players, nine of them rotation guys. Their best players (the Brow, Evans, Ryan Anderson, Holiday, Alexis Ajinca, Eric Gordon) are all done. They were annihilated by a hapless 22-win Phoenix team on Saturday. The Bulls, though, are so erratic that, even with their full compliment of healthy players available (i.e. sans Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson or E'Twaun Moore), they do have an outside chance of losing accidentally. The smarter play is putting out a pu-pu platter line-up and hoping to out-suck the Pellies. Thank goodness Cameron Bairstow is apparently healthy again.
Prognosis: A damaging victory.
Tip: 7 p.m. on CSN and ESPN AM-1000.