Category Archives: NBA

Bulls Balling, Bailing on Rebuild

Bulls Balling, Bail on Bombing

The Chicago Bulls beat the Philadelphia 76ers 108-107 behind 39 points from Zach Lavine. He also had five rebounds and four assists. Most importantly, he ended the game by blocking a lob attempt by the Sixers. Robin Lopez added 19 while Otto Porter and Lauri Markkanen had 15 and 11, respectively.

Late Season Surge

Chicago is 5-3 since the All-Star break. It is a modest total, but the team is gelling and can hang their hats on beating two of the top-five teams in the East. The Boston Celtics were at the start of their current slide, but Philly came in on a heater, having won four of six coming into their matchup at the United Center.

Zach is averaging 27-5-5 post-break and Lauri averaged 26 points and 12 boards for the month of February. The Bulls are also 7-3 with Porter (18-5-2) in the lineup. His efficiency (49.6% from the floor, 49% from three) and off-ball prowess fit so well with Lavine and Markkanen’s more ball-dominant styles. Lauri’s ball handling has been on display of late as well.

The Rub

These are all good things, undoubtedly. But there is still a bitter aftertaste from every win knowing it pushes them closer to locked in for the fourth slot in the lottery. They will still have a shot at the number one pick, but drop in probability is not insignificant. They also run the risk of a farther fall when the ping pong balls drop.

Of course, that depends on who the Bulls have their eyes on. There has been speculation that Murray State point guard Ja Morant would be the target, but Chicago won’t be able to get him after three (and possibly even number two). It was thought to be a foregone conclusion at the start of the year they would be selecting from the trio of Duke players Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett, or Cam Reddish. Nbadraft.net, however, has them linked to Gonzaga‘s Rui Hachimura.

Silver Lining

At any rate, whomever they pick, they will have put an intriguing young nucleus together. Their ceiling is a complete mystery, but we know GarPax can put together competitive rosters. That Chicago has semi-pivoted on the tank is not a surprise. It is surprising that they held on to vets, namely RoLo. He is averaging 16 points, almost seven boards, two assists, and two blocks per game since All-Star weekend.

This space was used to lament the current status of the Bulls front office and their tendency to abandon rebuilds ahead of schedule. And how their press conferences and interviews are often standoffish. But the fact is they can identify and develop talent. The hope for Bulls fans has to be that that latter set of skills is what is most prominent going forward.

 

The NBA is Getting Set for Second Act

The NBA returns to action Thursday and the second act is set up to be just as thrilling as the first. With that in mind, we can take a brief moment and assess some burning questions. Some are award related while others will be about playoff seeding and advancement. And then some pertain to player movement this offseason.

NBA Second Act Sure to Deliver

The Bearded Freak

This year’s MVP is seemingly down to two people in most eyes, with the Houston Rockets James Harden defending his mantle against the Milwaukee Bucks Giannis Antetokounmpo. It is not an easy choice, Harden leads the NBA in numerous categories (scoring, minutes per game, box plus/minus, and PER to name a few) and mostly increased his counting stats over last year’s MVP-winning effort. Likewise, Giannis has increased his numbers while leading the NBA in defensive rating, defensive win shares, and total win shares. His team also sits atop the East at the moment.

Harden leads the NBA in turnovers and some even consider his high free throw totals a knock. He leads in usage rate due to the rash of injuries the Rockets have sustained. Harden carried the team through stretches this season but even he conceded the team would not keep winning playing exclusively through him. Chris Paul and Eric Gordon are healthy and Clint Capela is set to join them, so it remains to be seen if Harden’s numbers take a hit. The biggest thing working against him, specifically in this conversation, is the Rockets record. If they finish top-three and his numbers stay close, he could repeat.

The Greek Freak

Antetokounmpo — the Bucks Swi…Greek-army knife – is also seeing a jump in his stats, albeit to a lesser extent. He leads the team in points, assists, and rebounds. He is shooting a lower percentage from three and the stripe this year, but he raised his attempts per game on such shots. His biggest positives, at least for purists are his team’s record and his effort on the defensive end. If they win the East it will be hard not to give the award to the best player on the best team in a conference; a feat the Rockets are unlikely to achieve.

Stats will favor Harden and even Giannis’ lead in win shares is only .1 with the former’s offense nearly countering the defensive edge of the latter. Harden’s detractors will say he has been stat-chasing this year. It is not unfair to keep bringing up the injuries to Houston but Milwaukee just seems to be put together better and, most importantly, around the Greek Freak. That might hurt him in the eyes of some, but again, the best player on the team with (potentially) the best record may be enough to override that.

Playoff Hokey Pokey

The Los Angeles Lakers are in year one of the LeBron show in Hollywood and have dealt with numerous injuries including a groin injury to LBJ. The first has typically been a transitional year when Bron has changed teams in the past, but he does not have many of those left. They have the horses to make the playoffs but will need to get things together because their remaining schedule is the ninth-toughest with games against the Golden State Warriors, Toronto Raptors, and two against the Bucks. If they make it and catch the Dubs early in the postseason things could get interesting.

Indiana Pacers star Victor Oladipo ruptured his quad at the end of January but the team had won six straight before losing to the Bucks before the break. Their remaining schedule is the eighth-toughest and has two more road games than home games; notable given their 16-12 record away from Bankers Life Fieldhouse. They are not a team built around a single player, per se. But he was their best player and that matters down the stretch and in the playoffs. Their remaining slate features the Bucks, Warriors, and two apiece against the Denver Nuggets and Oklahoma City Thunder. All of those could very well be losses.

West Coast Royalty

The Sacramento Kings currently reside in the ninth spot in the West. They made the surprise acquisition of Harrison Barnes and went 6-4 in before the break. They will also face one of the easier schedules the rest of the way. The Los Angeles Clippers (the team currently occupying the eighth-seed) have a slightly easier schedule but the Kings are the more talented group. It has been a long time (13 years) since they have even sniffed the playoffs but this year is a fun story to watch that may get an extended run.

Back East, the Brooklyn Nets are very similar to the Kings. They have been toiling in the doldrums of the league as they recovered from their failed attempt at a super team. They made some shrewd moves and drafted well and now sit sixth in the East. D’Angelo Russell has blossomed and even made his first All-Star appearance as an injury replacement. They are a young team though and that could hurt them down the stretch. They face the third-toughest schedule in the NBA.

Send Me Your Location

Before the break, we had the drama of Anthony Davis trying to fly the coup after the New Orleans Pelicans rebuffed the Lakers offers. The belief was that New Orleans wanted to wait for more potential bidders this summer, namely the Boston Celtics. That decision cost GM Dell Demps his job. While it is understandable after trading for and then losing Boogie Cousins, who was brought in to aid in retaining Davis, how does this help with getting close to fair trade value?

A video surfaced from All-Star weekend of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving spending a lot of time together. The two are friends and Irving even bristled at the notion that a particular clip constituted any basis for hints at the pair teaming up on the New York Knicks. Irving may not want to entertain the potential team-up, but it will not stop the rumor mill from swirling. Some of it is certainly noise, but both stars have given somewhat vague answers regarding their futures. Again, that is their prerogative. Irving’s response was even Durant-like in its defiance.

Dame’s Lane

Damian Lillard recently reiterated he would rather stay with the Portland Trailblazers without a championship than “sell himself out” for one. That is a noble and refreshing take, especially with the current landscape of the Association. This could be a situation where a team has to ‘save’ Liilard from himself. It is possible he could win a championship in Portland, but his current team’s roster does not stack up well against the rest of the continuing teams. It will be interesting to see what happens with Lillard and backcourt mate C.J. McCollum.

Raptors fans had to have been thinking things were looking up when it came to keeping their prized trade-acquisition, Kawhi Leonard. That is until he came out with this during this past weekend’s festivities. It highlights a fundamental snag in their plan from the start. He is from California and has been determined to get to L.A. or bust. That may be the Lakers with LeBron, it may be to the Clippers with KD. Whatever the case Leonard is not a fan of snow and Canada won’t be getting rid of winter anytime soon.

Let the NBA’s Second Act Commence

No one knows how the second half of the season will unfold. You can bet it will be full of surprises and upsets but please hold the injuries, basketball gods. That way we can focus on if one of the favorites wins MVP, who makes the playoffs and who misses, and where will all the pieces land when the dust settles after free agency this offseason.

Chicago Bulls Hit Break Sans All-Stars

Bulls Break(down) Came Long Before All-Star Weekend

CHICAGO, IL — The Chicago Bulls hit the break with no All-Stars, a record of 14-44 (good for 13th in the East) and a myriad of issues. But the reality is their breakdown occurred long before the NBA annual mid-season hiatus.

They came into the season with questions of talent and roster fits. Coaching was an issue that has only been exacerbated by Jim Boylen taking over for Fred Hoiberg. And the front office’s greatest strength has become their biggest detriment.

Talent Show

Chicago entered the 2018-19 season with renewed hope of future success. They were entering the second year of their latest rebuild – there have been several in the past 15 years – and it finally seemed like they were starting to repair their image in the eyes of free agents with the signing of Jabari Parker.

Well, that rebuild is still stuck at square-one as the ‘core’ has not had significant enough time playing together to truly evaluate if they actually play well together. And Parker has been shipped out for Otto Porter after the Bulls apparently forgot who they were signing.

Injuries have hurt as every member of the Bulls young nucleus has missed significant time throughout the season. It has not always looked like a functioning unit even when they do all play, though. And the tea-leaves suggest who management sees as the next domino to fall.

The Bulls top-two scorers, Zach Lavine and Lauri Markkanen (Porter has only played in four games as a Bull) both thrive with the ball in their hands. Kris Dunn is an attacking, downhill type of player who lacks a consistent outside shot, as evidenced by his .339 average on 1.8 attempts per game.

Because they lack consistent outside shooting from the point, defenses are able to clog the lanes, preventing the drives off shot-fakes that (should) make both Lavine and Markkanen dangerous. This is also the reason there has been renewed talk of moving Lavine to point, a position he has played with success in the past.

That makes sense if the Bulls were to select a guard such as RJ Barrett or Cam Reddish in the draft. But signs seem to point to them looking at Ja Morant of Murray State. Bulls boss John Paxson has not committed to Dunn and Morant’s buzz is building.

The sophomore is a better athlete and scorer than Dunn. He is not necessarily a better shooter, but he is certainly a more willing participant, particularly from three-point range. Morant’s numbers are far superior to any that Dunn has put up even in college.

Dunn is not without his strengths. For one he is a hard-nosed competitor, a theme we will circle back to later. Conversely, Morant is not without question marks. ‘Why did he bloom late’ and ‘is he good enough to take over Duke trio Barrett, Reddish, and (likely top-pick) Zion Williamson’ being chief among them.

Two Coaches, One Season, Zero Solutions

When Chicago fired Hoiberg and elevated Boylen, Paxson cited ‘lack of competitive spirit’ by the players, adding it was not about wins and losses. The problem with that is even those who wanted Hoiberg gone knew he was not working with a full complement of assets.

Frame that with the Bulls regression post-Fred and their extremely early commitment to Boylen for the 2019-20 season and you get a glimpse into how they have become the butt of jokes around the Association. Such turmoil – Paxson has hired and fired five coaches – is a never a good look.

More damning is the blatant pattern that the hiring and subsequent firings have shown. The hard-coaching grinder followed by the more laid back, players coach and then back again. There is no right answer as to which is the better style, but the Bulls seem to be off in their pairing of coach and roster.

As noted, even his staunchest detractors would say Hoiberg was never really given a chance. He came from Iowa State as a first-time NBA head coach but was saddled with a veteran squad. Then the Bulls get the makings of lineup suited for Hoiberg’s pace and space offense but two months after firing him.

Boylen is more in the mold of Tom Thibodeau. Longtime NBA assistants with ties to top-tier coaches, brought in to tighten the reigns. The difference is Thibs came from outside, whereas Boylen has been with the Bulls since 2015. If he was not effective as ‘bad cop’, how can he be so as ‘top cop’?

That is what makes the commitment to him for next season seem so premature. You pay him as your head coach, sure. But if you have already gained a reputation for organizational instability in such a critical area, why paint yourself into that corner?

In fairness, the last time the Bulls had success with a coach like Boylen, he (Thibs) was given time to mold the team in his image. Perhaps the biggest thing working in the current coaches favor is, despite the early uprising, Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr were not among those upset by the coaches tactics.

Chicago is clearly banking on the hope that if they were able to get a meeting with a free agent, they could wow them in person. Their interactions with media and the stories going around about their perception signal a change in their situation changing anytime soon in that regard.

Paxson Both Problem and Solution

For years the Bulls front office has gotten the most out if their draft positioning. That is the result of sound scouting and player development. But it is also a necessary function of their reluctance to bottom out to maximize their potential in the draft.

They have been competitive for the better part of Paxson’s tenure, no doubt. But with only one appearance in the Conference Finals since MJ left town, something has to give. That does not mean a change in the people running the show, though there are many with that perspective. It does mean a change in approach.

Chicago has had a positive offensive rating (relative to the rest of the league) four times in the last 21 years. They have had a positive defensive rating 11 times over that same time frame with Paxson in control for the vast majority.

Paxson has shown a clear ability to identify players but he and his coaches have had tumultuous relationships by their end. It can not continue to be everyone around without assessment of the person bringing these coaches in.

Again, that is not to suggest Paxson remove himself from the position. But perhaps the best move would be to identify executive talent well as he does draft prospects. He then needs to get out of the way. Who knows if he is micromanaging, but he does more harm to himself than good with surly press conferences and interviews

They also need to dedicate themselves to rebuilding this thing from the ground up. They need to do whatever possible to get a top-three pick. They have avoided the temptation to pivot towards a playoff push, but they do not take it far enough.

Robin Lopez should have been bought out after failing to find a trade partner for him. But for whatever reason, maybe competitiveness, not only has the Bulls brain trust not moved him, they will not and have not sat him or reduced his playing time. That could be a costly mistake.

Then there is Doug Collins. The one-time Bulls coach and NBA lifer returned to the organization in 2017 as a Senior Advisor. Fans hoped he would be able to help, even if it meant sitting on the sidelines again. At some point, though, he too will cease to be thought of as separate from the madness on Madison Ave.

Bulls*** and the NBA Trade Deadline

Trade Deadline Reaction

The NBA trade deadline came and went yesterday with a flurry of activity. There were a few distinct winners and losers as well. Deals that were (and were not) made will have a significant impact on the playoffs. At least until the Finals, that is.

Bulls Treat Trade Deadline Like Free Agency

The Chicago Bulls traded forwards Jabari Parker and Bobby Portis along with a future second-round pick for forward Otto Porter from the Washington Wizards just a day before the NBA trade deadline. The move is an admission by the Bulls front office that they were never going match any serious offers to Portis, an impending restricted free-agent. Moreover, the organization acknowledged it has a diminished image in the eyes of free agents. It is a poor state of affairs for a franchise with their history.

One thing that has plagued them is the reluctance to fully commit to a rebuild since trading Derrick Rose. Moving Parker and Portis could (and should) have set up a chance for Chicago to embrace the tank. Instead, the trade for Porter makes them better. It is already a four-way battle for number one with the Bulls fourth on that list. The odds are similar to a top-three pick, but the floor is also lower. Chicago does have the second-toughest remaining schedule of the bottom four teams; behind the Cleveland Cavaliers.

In an interview on AM 670 WSCR in Chicago, Bulls Executive Vice President John Paxson became defensive when faced with questions about the job security of he and GM Gar Forman. It was a standard line of questioning; to which Paxson was obstinate. Both Paxson and Forman have been around long enough to know, eventually, you run out of other people to fire.

Deadline Winners and Losers

Winners:

Giannis Antetokounmpo: The Milwaukee Bucks went out and flipped big man Thon Maker to the Detroit Pistons for wing Stanley Johnson. His cup of coffee ended when the Bucks shipped him out with Jason Smith to the New Orleans Pelicans for forward Nikola Mirotic. The Greek Freak is a legitimate MVP candidate and adding a sniper like Mirotic (shooting .368 from three this season) to lineups with Brook Lopez (.387) and Khris Middleton (.384) should create wide-open lanes.

Boston Celtics: Danny Ainge got his wish, at least for now. The Pelicans held on to Anthony Davis after their very public courtship with the Los Angeles Lakers. Boston was unable to be a bidder at this juncture, but Davis remaining in New Orleans means the Celtics will be allowed to participate in the A.D.-sweepstakes this summer. Whether or not they can retain him is another story entirely. Ainge is not worrying about that or Kyrie Irving‘s potential exodus, apparently.

Markelle Fultz: This is more of a humanitarian nod than anything. His career has been derailed without ever leaving the station by thoracic outlet syndrome. The Orlando Magic acquiring Fultz gives him a chance to recuperate out of the spotlight and with no pressure. No one knows how the draft or free agency will unfold. But if Fultz can recover – a big if at this point – the Magic may have found their point guard of the future. All of that comes after what figures to still be a lengthy recovery.

Losers

Bobby Portis: This should probably be the Bulls. As mentioned Portis went to Washington with Parker for Porter. That was a surprise to fans as well as teammates. Bulls guard Zach Lavine spoke highly of Portis, who is set for restricted free agency. Chicago was not going to match the kind of offers Portis is expected to receive. A claim that Portis did not seem to buy himself. The Bulls will miss his outside shooting (.375 from three) and his toughness.

Philadelphia 76ers: Alright, this one is kind of nitpicky. Philly made one if the best moves before the deadline in acquiring walking-bucket Tobias Harris from the Los Angeles Clippers. He immediately steps in to give the Sixers, perhaps’ the most talented starting five in the East. The rub is that Milwaukee and the Toronto Raptors also made moves to improve and remain deeper; as do the Celtics. Philly is not going to be channeling their inner Thibs, playing guys 48 minutes. Their sudden lack of depth is concerning for the playoffs.

Feelings: A couple of the biggest rumored deals on the actual day of the deadline did not get done. The Davis trade and trades that would have sent guard Mike Conley to the Utah Jazz or to Toronto (with former teammate Marc Gasol). All were very public (especially the Lakers-Pelicans talks) and now the healing begins. Players whose names were bandied about now have to use it as fuel. The Conley talks revolved around veteran point guards that have all been traded aside from Conley himself. But the Lakers are younger and still growing as players. The win last night over Boston helps even though it came down to a Rajon Rondo buzzer-beating layup.

Chicago Bulls Should Take Notes From….the Nets?

The Chicago Bulls most recent loss came at the hands of the Brooklyn Nets. The lesson to be learned is not from the loss itself. After all, the Bulls have lost plenty this season as injuries and general dysfunction have not meshed well. A midseason coaching change is also never a goal, yet here Chicago sits at 11-40 (4th worst in the NBA) as rudderless as ever and the butt of jokes around the league.

Brooklyn Nets Work Worth Noting

Brooklyn has gone from perennial punchline to being linked to names like Jimmy Butler and Kyrie Irving in the past two campaigns. No big signings have come as of yet. But not long ago they were, as the Bulls are now, an afterthought for big names seeking new digs. They focused on improving their culture despite their shortcomings on the court.

They have re-entered the ‘destination’ side of the ledger, at least in discussions. That is due to the job started by the hiring of GM Sean Marks and Head Coach Kenny Atkinson in 2016. They dealt with a depleted roster and few viable options for improvement. A year later the Nets acquired an embattled D’Angelo Russell from the Los Angeles Lakers in exchange for Brook Lopez and the rights to Kyle Kuzma.

Brooklyn has already tied their win total from last season with 28 and sit sixth in the East. On pace for their first winning season since 2013, what Brooklyn has done off the court bears replicating. The Nets committed to their rebuild. They let players play to their strengths and incorporated a faster-paced system with heavier emphasis on the three-ball.

Bull Market Markedly Bad

If that sounds familiar to Bulls fans that is because it was the logic given for hiring the since-fired Fred Hoiberg. Jim Boylen was installed to instill toughness, simply repeating the cycle that saw Tom Thibodeau replaced by Hoiberg. Chicago has long been perceived as a non-destination for prime free agents. The proper coaching hire could go a long way toward changing that.

Acquiring Russell may have been the most important development in the Nets resurrection. It’s the most relevant to the Bulls. Reports are Chicago is one of current-Laker Lonzo Ball‘s preferred destinations should he be moved in a trade for Anthony Davis. It has also been reported the New Orleans Pelicans are enamored with Ball but that just adds to the intrigue of him landing in Chicago.

More changes are needed even if the Bulls were to acquire Ball. Not necessarily an entire organizational overhaul; the current regime has done well identifying and developing talent. They struggle to attract outside talent and the dysfunction of this season will certainly not help. They have gotten worse as the season has gone on. The chaos has made it hard to judge the actual talent of this team.

Moving On Now

Forward Jabari Parker‘s contract helps make everything work. His play since rejoining the Bulls rotation adds to his appeal. It also helps Chicago save face and preserve their efforts to shed their label of hometown talent not wanting to play here. Now Chicago sits in position to flip what was a questionable contract into a better situation at point guard.

More of the Same

It remains to be seen if the duo of John Paxson and Gar Forman can actually complete a rebuild. The business of sports is “what have you done for me lately” and any remaining goodwill GarPax had evaporated a weeks ago. They admittedly need to hit on this rebuild to remain, but anything short of a mass exodus of fans and players likely means they’ll remain.

Association Thoughts

Just a random collection of thoughts on the NBA ahead of Boogie Cousins’ return.

‘Dubs’ More Than a Name

Game over. That has to be the feeling around the NBA as everyone braces for the return of DeMarcus Cousins. His presence alone is big news, but it is who and what he is returning to that makes his debut the beginning of the end for everyone else.

The Golden State Warriors don’t ‘need’ Boogie to win (another) championship. They know that as well as he does. They also don’t need him to be the guy who averages 20-10, though that guy will certainly show up occasionally.

All they need is a solidifying presence at the pivot. We’ve already seen the evolution of the Warriors ‘death lineup’. Now imagine that being the primary grouping instead of just the final blow that puts teams out of their misery.

The Warriors have had their worst (relative term) season of this run so far. With Boogie set to make his highly-anticipated debut against the Los Angeles Clippers, the Association is about to witness the basketball version of Thanos ready to snap.

Lakers Seeds Flourishing

When LeBron James went to L.A. it was widely considered a non-basketball business move. He could pursue his off-court ventures and play for a legendary franchise while helping develop their younger guys. Well, LeBron’s vision may have been better than anticipated.

For all their well-earned grief received in James’ absence, the young Lakers dispatched of the Oklahoma City Thunder in overtime. Now 5-7 without their mega-star forward, the core of Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, and Kyle Kuzma have had ups-and-downs ice this stretch. Their upside was evident against OKC.

Their issue is consistency. It remains to be seen if that will change. James is not due back, according to some reports, until February. In the meantime, the young core will continue to build confidence and try to maintain that level once LeBron does return to the floor.

A Bunch of Bull

Imagine firing a coach, hiring his philosophical opposite, then firing that guy only to hire a lesser -version of the guy you let go, to begin with. If your head is spinning, you’re not alone. Bulls game and the rest of the NBA alike are wondering what exactly is the plan.

A leadership group that has built lost of its reputation on identifying and developing talent cannot even lay claim to that. If Lauri Markkanen’s stagnation is a reflection of the organization (duh) then those in charge must be held accountable.

John Paxson has said that if this rebuild is unsuccessful, those clamoring for his job will get their wish. It is fair to wonder if that will be the case. Ownership has long been reluctant to make changes on the executive level. Maybe that changes with the team currently a laughing stock.

Failure to Launch

The Houston Rockets will not win the NBA championship this season. James Harden is more likely to win the MVP again and I’m not certain that happens either. The Rockets are banged up without Chris Paul and Clint Capela, but even they would not change to ending.

Houston’s window was different from most contender in that it was put together somewhat on the fly with older players. Trevor Ariza left before the season, and in general, the switchy defenders from the last year are all gone.

If the Rockets cannot defend those switches with the same veracity, what are they? They are a deeply flawed team too-reliant on their remaining healthy star. They also don’t do that defending thing too well. Even when Paul and Capela return, there is no cure for what ails this franchise.

Season Half Over, Bulls Completely Done

Bulls Fans Given Little Hope in Tumultuous Season

Same Old Song

Stop me if you have heard this before, but the Chicago Bulls lost again. I wrote how the NBA is in a really fun place right now with the young talent and intrigue across the league. Not a part of that feel-good aura surrounding the Association, the Bulls. The place where they reside is neither fun nor intriguing; unless of course, you enjoy rubbernecking.

Expectations were not high coming into the season. The second year of a rebuild, a coach with job security questions (he has since been fired), and a roster that, despite some young pieces, is largely devoid of the talent needed to turn around the fortunes of a franchise. They drafted early last year – likely this year as well – but haven’t been the worst team in the standings despite the on-court product.

Not All Bad

That is not to say the front office duo of John Paxson of and Gar Forman have drafted poorly. To the contrary, the embattled pair can actually hang their hat on identifying talent that exceeds their drag slot. They can even claim development as a plus. That is where it ends, however. How they have handled players beyond that has left a lot to be desired.

More concerning is that it has come in a variety of forms. There were players the Bulls had and moved (Gary Harris and Jusuf Nurkic), players they sold the chance to get (Jordan Bell), even players that hinted at wanting to be in Chicago (Michael Porter Jr.). Granted, there is no guarantee those players would be who they are or that the Bulls would have even known what to with them.

Perception is Reality

Chicago’s inability to string together successes in the draft and free agency, then parlay that into a championship has been omnipresent under this leadership group. In a recent interview on local radio, a former Chicago beat reporter asserted that, around the rest of the NBA, players consider the Bulls a laughing stock.

Half-way through the 2018-19 season – and two coaches in – it is hard to argue those players are wrong. There have been personnel and schematic issues that have continued. Why that is important is because it was fundamentally why Fred Hoiberg was relieved of duty. Under Jim Boylen, the team has played better defensively, but have largely dropped across the board offensively.

Fans Deserve Better

So fans are left to wonder. When will the team be competitive again? They seem committed to being bad this year after denying the need to in the past, but they continue to win games they shouldn’t. It’s bizarre cheering for your team, not necessarily to lose, but definitely not to win. Since they do well on the draft and develop aspect, it makes sense to want them to have their pick of prospects.

This is life at the moment for Bulls fans. It is similar to the Chicago White Sox, also owned by Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf, and their situation with Kenny Williams. He had a heck if a run, but it is time for a change. The GarPax era has under delivered. Hopefully this coming offseason – yes it is already at that point – brings the sweeping changes. Hopefully, those changes bring another championship.

NBA In Fun Place

Adobe_Post_20190102_213829The NBA is in a fun place right now. The evolution of player movement has ushered in an era where trades are even more unpredictable. The Paul George and Jimmy Butler trades are prime examples. Heck, Kawhi Leonard got sent to another country.

 

Anthony Davis may be the next. Now teams like the Los Angeles Lakers, Boston Celtics, and even the Golden State Warriors have to consider making a move in the same vein to avoid missing out.

 

The league has always been based on “super teams”, but the Celtics’ iteration led to LeBron James‘ player control movement. Golden State emerged, restoring hope for organically built teams to prosper. Then Kevin Durant happened and then everything was out of whack again.

 

The George trade threw an interesting wrinkle in the player movement stratagem: send players to option ‘Z’. In other words, their least desired destination. Not the “worst” destination, that needs to be specified. Rather, the best package gets the deal done, regardless of player preference.

 

I know, groundbreaking stuff. What is interesting is that the recent deals have yielded positive returns for all parties involved. Again it meds to be specified, of course the goal is a win-win trade.

 

To actually see it bear out that way, though, is exciting. That is because it may lead to more deals, which brings us to the New Orleans Pelicans. More specifically it brings up their franchise player.

 

While AD has not asked for a trade, we have seen this movie play out countless times before. So who is going to pay up for arguably a top-three talent? Those previous trades showed that any team can swoop in and steal away a prized player, so none can really be counted out. Still, some destinations do stand out above the rest.

 

Los Angeles is obviously at the top of the list. LeBron a has a history of assembling talent-laden rosters and his representatives added AD as a client this year. Add in James’ comments in the media that spurred a league-wide memo about tampering and the dots connect themselves. Especially after the Lakers — whiffed on George — may not be where Kawhi ends up even if he comes to L.A.

 

The package would likely need to include two of the four young core members of Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, and Josh Hart. Which two is where it gets tricky. That Magic Johnson could pivot and deal for someone like Washington Wizards’ guard Bradley Beal instead makes it trickier.

 

Boston is finally at full strength after Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving both missed all or part of last season. They sit fifth in the East at the moment and are always attached as potential trade partners for big names. They have assets rivaling those of L.A. with the added benefit of not being in the same conference.

 

That is how Kawhi landed in Toronto and Butler in Philly. Celtics’ GM Danny Ainge just has to determine whether or not to pull the trigger. Something he has been reluctant to do for the most part.

 

Then there are the defending champion Warriors. They already added DeMarcus Cousins, who has yet to suit up but is said to be close to returning. Even with all that firepower they too are reportedly interested in the player known as the “Brow”.

 

Beyond those three, any team with assets is a viable landing spot. AD is a generational talent and one that every team will likely make a bid for. The Lakers risk losing out on yet another superstar and Boston is mentioned whenever stars are surrounded by trade rumors. The Warriors would have to do some remodeling get a deal done.

 

The darkhorse teams all risk gutting themselves for a one-year rental hoping to emulate what the Thunder did with George. It is a risk that most teams are willing to make. The only question is how do moves like that affect an NBA teams future? Maybe that is a question for another post…

Bulls Bad in 2018

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Bottoming out

What is the endgame? That has to be the question on the minds of all Chicago Bulls fans following Wednesday’s loss to the Brooklyn Nets that dropped their record to 7-25. This is shaping up to be the worst season since the 1998-99 season; following Michael Jordan‘s retirement. The issue here, however, is this Bulls team did not lose an MJ. They are not coming off of a single championship, let alone a second three-peat. In fact, this Bulls team only won 27 games all last season; 13th in the East.

Building Through The Draft

The thought going into last season was the Bulls would be rebuilding. That is code in 2018 for tanking. Chicago won more games than they should have, ending up taking Wendell Carter Jr with the seventh pick and Chandler Hutchison with the pick acquired in the Nikola Mirotic trade. Carter has been compared to Al Horford; a technician that can fill a variety of roles on offense and anchor a defense. Hutchison was a player the team fell in love with during the pre-draft process; going so far as to guarantee they would select him. Both may become really good players, but the NBA is a superstar driven league.

Greater Expectations

Top to bottom, this roster is just a collection of secondary and tertiary options playing out of position (Jabari Parker) or in the wrong role (Justin Holiday). The hole at small forward – created by the Jimmy Butler trade – is glaring. Drafting the right prospect is not necessarily the problem for this front office. The Bulls have largely done well on that front, but that is relative. They were a middling playoff team, so they could get by with getting the most out of under-the-radar players. When teams are bad, they must get immediate, high-impact players. Last year’s first-round pick, Lauri Markkanen forms a talented and dynamic duo with Carter Jr in the frontcourt, but that is where the hype ends.

Looking Ahead

Rumors swirled over the summer that, behind closed doors, the Bulls are not completely sold on Kris Dunn. Zach LaVine began the season as a candidate for Most Improved Player. That praise has since given way to criticism over LaVine’s late-game shot selection. To make matters worse, he is now dealing with an ankle sprain that will sideline him up to a month. It is just another injury added to the list in a season that saw Chicago start the season without Dunn, Markkanen or Bobby Portis – who is also dealing with an ankle injury. While no one likes to see injuries, it would be foolish to overlook the proverbial silver lining.

2018 Bulls Bad; 2019 Better?

The aforementioned issues have the Bulls with the worst record in the league; a dubious honor with the kicker being a shot at the number one pick. This assumes – already a risk with this team – that Chicago doesn’t get in its’ own way and win games unnecessarily. Discussion on the overall confidence in this front office is warranted. Questioning the tactics of Head Coach Jim Boylan, also fair. The 2018 Bulls are bad. Getting the first pick in the collective hands of Vice President John Paxon and General Manager Gar Forman, however, has proven beneficial in the past. Perhaps they can deliver again.

NBA Weekend Eventful

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NBA Weekend Eventful to Start

Is anybody else’s head spinning? Not that the Association can really ever be boring, but Friday and Saturday showcased what makes it so compelling.

Full Friday

From a failed trade reminding us of 2011 to Russell Westbrook not mincing words. Spencer Dinwiddie and Allonzo Trier continued to earn their new money; Giannis Antetokounmpo and Joel Embiid both dropped 40, albeit with different end results. Kawhi had 28, but it was Lillard time in TO, and Golden State and Miami both won close games with late runs. By the way, all this was just Friday.

Saturday Night Fever

Saturday night brought its own brand of drama. Orlando stayed undefeated in Mexico. Washington and Phoenix completed a simplified version of the nixed deal, minus Memphis. Speaking of, the Grizzlies fell to 3-5 in December after losing to Houston. James Harden had 32-12-10 while leading the game in points and rebounds – his 10 assists tied Chris Paul. LeBron and Lonzo used triple-doubles of their own to take out the Hornets; while the Thunder downed the Clippers behind Paul George’s game-high 33 points. Chicago, Detroit, and Phoenix upset San Antonio, Boston, and Minnesota respectively. On to Sunday.