NBA Sunday: Bulls’ Road Goes Through Miami
It’s No Circus, But Chicago Hits the Road, Anyway
The Chicago Bulls will kick off a nine-game road trip on Sunday in Miami, which is about as brutal a stretch of away games any team will ever see in this league. It is the longest road trip for any organization this year, and it presents a pretty unique challenge for the team with the best record in the NBA.
“We’re a team that can handle that road,” said Bulls center Joakim Noah. “Obviously, we like playing at home, but everybody has to play a certain amount of games on the road. Let’s just go out there and handle our business.”
Despite avoiding the annual circus road trip because of the lockout, Chicago started the season playing 7 of 9 games away from the United Center, yet they still managed to jump out to the league’s best overall record. At 8-3 they’ve got the second-best road record in the entire NBA right now, so it’s not like this trip kills all the team’s momentum; it just makes things really, really difficult.
“It’ll be February 14th before we’re back here,” Kyle Korver said. “We’re going to have to be mentally tough and understand that this is a two-and-a-half week period where we have to lock in. We’ll know that when we get done with this part of the schedule, the rest of the season will look pretty good for us. Only a few back-to-backs, one of them at home. More days in between games, more time with our families.
“We just have to go into it with the mindset that it’s going to stink,” he continued. “It’s going to be a grind, but if we put in the work we’ll be alright after that.”
The rest of the team—Derrick Rose, Carlos Boozer, Taj Gibson—all said the same thing about how a team tackles something like this. All they can do is take each game as it comes. If they look too far ahead, they’ll lose focus, and that’s something head coach Tom Thibodeau has worked very hard to eliminate with this team.
“We’re taking it one game at a time,” Rose said. “We know that it’s going to be very hard. We know that we’re going to have to play together. We’re down some players, so we’ve just got to execute while we’re out there and play hard and compete every time we step onto the court.”
The good news is that that the fifth game of the set, right smack-dab in the middle of the road trip, is an away game at Milwaukee. The team will fly back to Chicago for that one and make the quick 90-minute drive to Wisconsin to play that particular game. A whole lot of Bulls fans will make the trip, too, as often happens for Bulls/Bucks games in Milwuakee. In those ways, it’s not exactly nine straight games away from home, just nine straight games away from the United Center.
That’s still enough to make this next stretch of games a huge challenge for the Bulls, especially considering the first game is against the Miami HEAT, the team that defeated Chicago in the Eastern Conference Finals. But if they make it out of this trip alive and still have one of the best records in the league, the rest of the season could be smooth sailing. If not, at least they can live with the idea that things get easier from there.
Livingston Makes His Way Back, Slowly But Surely
When Shaun Livingston was selected with the fourth overall pick in the 2004 NBA Draft, the expectation was for him to develop into the next Magic Johnson. That’s not a joke. His combination of height at the point guard position and uncanny overall offensive abilities got him drafted that high straight out of high school for a reason.
But, as we all know, his slight frame made it very difficult for Livingston to stay healthy those first few seasons in the league, and his knee injury from 2007 is one of the most disgusting things one can legally watch on YouTube.
That changed everything. It meant that Livingston wasn’t going to come anywhere near Magic. But, unlike a lot of other lottery picks that have flamed out and disappeared in the past, it didn’t mean he was done in the NBA. Miraculously, he found his way back to a starting role for a professional basketball team. Back in 2008, that seemed pretty unlikely.
Despite that, Livingston says he’s content with the way his career has turned out.
“You ask anybody if they’d go back in time and make different decisions, they would. That’s just part of life,” Livingston told HOOPSWORLD. “As far as my decision, I’ve always felt like when you make a choice you stick with it and stand behind it. It’s part of being an adult. It’s part of being a man. If I had to go back, I think I’d make the same decision with all the information I had in front of me. Maybe I’d do some little things differently, but the big ones I think would stay the same.”
The biggest one, obviously, was forgoing college to leap straight to the NBA—something that, as a #4 overall pick, gave Livingston a lot to prove. And not just to other people. He had to prove it to himself, too.
“Being that high of a draft pick, you’ve got big expectations for yourself going to a big city like Los Angeles. I was excited. I wanted to make my mark on the NBA. I just had these really lofty expectations,” Livingston said. “I still do, but at that time, with those circumstances and all of the hype, giving me the reins of the starting point guard position for that team… it was a very exciting time in my life.”
That exciting time didn’t last long, though. Livingston missed 101 games in his first three seasons in the NBA, and since L.A. let his contract expire in 2008 he’s played for five NBA teams and the D-League’s Tulsa 66ers. Now, he’s starting for the Milwaukee Bucks, and head coach Scott Skiles has been impressed with what he’s seen so far.
“He’s played well,” Skiles said. “He’s got good size, good vision, and he’s a good ball-handler. He’s already made some nifty plays for us in key moments, and he’s got good length defensively. Overall, he’s played really well for us. We really trust him out there.”
This opportunity, like the one he got with Charlotte last season, has been remarkably positive, perhaps more than anybody thought would be possible three years ago.
“With any player it’s about the situation you’re in,” Livingston said. “It’s about the team, the coach, the fit, the roster, style of play. All of that stuff comes into play. So I’m trying to make the most of the situation that I’m in. The Bucks gave me an opportunity to play, so I just want to take advantage of my minutes. I want to show that I’m back, I’m healthy, and I’m ready to compete.”
It appears as though, finally, Livingston has returned a respectable point in his career. It wasn’t an easy trip to get here, but he’s back in an NBA starting lineup. That’s more than commendable. It’s borderline unbelievable.
Add Boston to List of Teams Chasing Kaman
When New Orleans announced they would be trading Chris Kaman this season, most of the teams in the league sort of went bananas at the possibility of acquiring a difference-maker at center. On top of the fact that no smart team turns its nose at inexpensive help at the center position, the fact that so many players have gotten hurt this early in the season means everybody’s looking for depth right now.
It shouldn’t be surprising that the Boston Celtics are now officially one of the teams hoping to land Kaman this season, according to Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe. The problem is that the C’s don’t have the kinds of trade assets New Orleans would want from a trade involving Kaman, which means if they’re going to get him it would likely have to be after a buyout with the Hornets.
A buyout isn’t impossible, but there’s been enough interest in Kaman league-wide that it would be a little surprising if the Hornets weren’t able to come up with a trade that at least returned them a draft pick.
Cleveland, Houston, Indiana, Detroit, Utah, and San Antonio are a handful of teams that have expressed interest early on, and many of those teams have the right kinds of assets to offer in trade. Some of them could even bring Kaman aboard without having to send any salaries back to New Orleans because there are interested teams still below the minimum payroll for the new CBA.
In the event of a buyout, there’s not even a guarantee that Boston would be Kaman’s first choice. Philadelphia, for example, would be a great fit. Milwaukee could certainly offer him plenty of playing time now that Bogut’s out for most, if not all, of the rest of the regular season. Atlanta could use an extra big body to fill in for Al Horford. Any of those three Eastern Conference teams could be viewed as better short- or long-term fits for the center.
But Boston does hold a certain appeal with the last hoorah of the Big Three. Getting Kaman would put them in a much better place as they try to pursue one last championship together. In the postseason, healthy, the Celtics could still be a good team, it just doesn’t look as though Vegas odds will be very high on them being the team that lands Kaman, despite the interest.