Bears

With the 29th pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, the Chicago Bulls select...

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With the 29th pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, the Chicago Bulls select...

Even with Thursdays NBA Draft quickly approaching, it isnt as buzzworthy as Derrick Rose being on a video-game cover commercials featuring the Bulls point guard, Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant and Clippers All-Star Blake Griffin were in heavy circulation during the recently-concluded NBA playoffs or the overblown speculation surrounding whether or not All-Star Luol Deng will be traded for a lottery pick, but the Bulls have continued to diligently make preparations to select a player with the 29th overall pick.
The organization has brought in several players to work out in preparation for the draft, as well as to contemplate potential additions for Julys summer league roster, but it is believed that the team is targeting the best available player with the choice, particularly a guard prospect.
Sure, if the likes of Ohio State power forward Jared Sullinger, whos been medically red-flagged because of back problems, drops that far in the first round, it would be hard to pass him up, but other than that unlikely occurrence, the Bulls will look to add shooting or a player who can create his own shot, preferably both. One player that fits that description is Memphis shooting guard Will Barton, who is scheduled for a return visit to the Berto Cente rhe worked out with a large group of prospects almost a month ago for a solo workout Wednesday morning, according to a source.
The slender swingman made great strides as an outside shooter between his freshman and sophomore seasons, but that aspect of his game, as well as adding strength to his frame, are still considered works in progress compared to the rest of his versatile skillset. However, Bartons stock is rising around the league and he may not be available when the Bulls make their selection.
Nevertheless, heres a rundown of prospects the Bulls may consider Thursday:

Will Barton, 6-foot-6 shooting guard, Memphis: The aforementioned Barton is a high-energy, jack-of-all-trades type with a penchant for attacking the basket, something the Bulls could use, especially with Rose on the shelf to begin the season.
Jared Cunningham, 6-foot-4 shooting guard, Oregon State: Another slashing type, Cunningham is regarded as a combo guard and a high-level athlete, as well as a player well-regarded for his defensive acumen.
Kim English, 6-foot-5 shooting guard, Missouri: A wing shooter, English played on a balanced Missouri team in college, but has distinguished himself in both the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament and pre-draft workouts.
Festus Ezeli, 6-foot-10 center, Vanderbilt: Still a raw offensive talenta function of the native of Nigeria not playing much organized basketball before collegeEzeli is viewed as a rim protector on the defensive end with a pro-ready body.
Evan Fournier, 6-foot-7 shooting guard, France: Fournier, a smooth swingman who possesses both scoring and playmaking ability, is perhaps the highest-rated international prospect in the draft and is expected to play in the NBA next season, not be stashed in Europe.
Draymond Green, 6-foot-7 forward, Michigan State: Green lacks the size to play power forward and the quickness to play small forward, but his intangibles, toughness, winning mentality and uncanny passing ability intrigue a lot of teams.
John Jenkins, 6-foot-4 shooting guard, Vanderbilt: Jenkins is a bit undersized for his position and lacks the athleticism and versatility to impact the game other than shooting the ball, at which he may be the best in the draft.
Orlando Johnson, 6-foot-5 shooting guard, UC-Santa Barbara: A scorer with toughness, Johnsons strong build and mature game have eliminated many doubts about the lower level of competition he played against in college.
Doron Lamb, 6-foot-4 shooting guard, Kentucky: A tremendous outside shooter with a savvy game, Lamb lacks great size and athleticism, but simply knows how to play the game, as hes capable of scoring in bursts, but also playing off the ball or functioning as a playmaker.
Scott Machado, 6-foot-1 point guard, Iona: A pure point guard who might already be close to hitting his ceiling, Machados size is a question mark, but his unselfishness and passing ability could allow him to make an impact as a rookie backup.
Quincy Miller, 6-foot-9 small forward, Baylor: A North Chicago native, Miller has one of the biggest upsides in the draft, but with only a lone season of college hoops under his beltone in which he was still recovering from an ACL injury suffered during his senior year of high schoola small sample size to evaluate.
Jeff Taylor, 6-foot-7 small forward, Vanderbilt: Yet another Vanderbilt player, Taylor already has a niche as a defensive-oriented wing with nice athleticism and a continually-developing outside jumper.
Tyshawn Taylor, 6-foot-2 point guard, Kansas: Criticized as erratic throughout his four-year college career, Taylor brings good quickness and the ability to defend to the table, as well as the experience of playing in high-pressure situations.
Marquis Teague, 6-foot-2 point guard Kentucky: The brother of Atlanta Hawks point guard Jeff Teague, the younger Teague had an up-and-down freshman season, but his physical toolsnamely, his explosivenessmight be too hard to pass up.
Tony Wroten, 6-foot-6 point guard, Washington: Wroten has excellent size for his position and remarkable court vision, but hes also turnover-prone and has a shaky outside jumper, descriptions that were attributed to Celtics All-Star Rajon Rondo when he was coming out of college.

2017 Bears position grades: Defensive Line

2017 Bears position grades: Defensive Line

2017 grade: B+

Level of need: Medium

Decisions to be made on: Mitch Unrein (free agent), John Jenkins (free agent)

Possible free agent targets: Jared Crick, Frostee Rucker, Dominique Easley

This unit was consistently the Bears’ best in 2017, with Akiem Hicks playing at a Pro Bowl level (don’t let his exclusion from the game fool you on that) and Eddie Goldman putting together a rock-solid, healthy year. 

Hicks signed a four-year contract extension just before the season began and rewarded the Bears with a dominant year, racking up 8 ½ sacks and 15 tackles for a loss. Goldman played in and started 15 games and was a key reason why the Bears limited opposing rushers to four yards per carry, tied for the 10th-best average in the league. 

But while the Bears’ defensive line was certainly good, it wasn’t as good as it could’ve been. These words from Vic Fangio ring true for Hicks and Goldman:

“I think they all have a lot more to give to us than we’ve seen,” Fangio said. “And it’s our job to get them to improve and become even better players. That will be more important to us than anybody we can acquire between now and whenever our first game is. So, and I know it’s always sexy to talk between now and the first game, you know, who are you going to draft, who’s in free agency, etc., but we’ve got to get our so-called good players playing even better. And that will be critical.”

Hicks will enter Year 3 in Fangio’s scheme, while 2018 will be Goldman’s fourth. It’ll also be a critical year for Jonathan Bullard and Roy Robertson-Harris, who’ve flashed potential at times but haven’t been able to turn that into consistent success on the field. 

And that’s where we begin to look ahead to free agency and the draft. Is the Bears’ evaluation of Bullard -- their 2016 third-round pick -- positive enough to hand him a bigger role in 2018? That’s question No. 1 to answer, with No. 2 then being if the team should try to re-sign Mitch Unrein. 

It may be a bit risky to move forward with Bullard, given how popular Unrein was among the Bears’ defensive coaching staff. 

“He’s one of the glue guys on the defense and the team,” Fangio said last November. “Every team needs a few of those guys who are going to do everything right, full speed, hard and tough all the time, and that’s Mitch.”

Defensive line coach Jay Rodgers offered this up about Unrein back in October: “He allows those guys to play fast,” with “those guys” being Hicks and Goldman. 

Statistically, the 30-year-old Unrein doesn’t  jump off the page, but he did record a career high 2 ½ sacks in 2017. Perhaps there would be some benefits to continuity in the Bears’ base 3-4 defensive line.

Worth noting too is this position isn’t a huge need, given Unrein usually played between 40 and 55 percent of the Bears’ defensive snaps on a per-game basis last year. Keeping Unrein for a relatively low cap hit would make some sense, as opposed to testing free agency to replace him.

Jared Crick is coming off back surgery and an ineffective 2016; Dominique Easley is coming off his third torn ACL this decade; Frostee Rucker is in his mid-30’s. The Bears could look to pick a 3-4 defensive end in April, but that would be a pretty quick re-draft of the position and would be an indication they don’t think much of Bullard. This seems like a position where keeping the status quo is likely, save maybe for replacing John Jenkins with a different backup behind Goldman. 
 

Anthony Davis could be the lone torch-bearer for Chicago at All-Star weekend in 2020, and object of recruitment

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AP

Anthony Davis could be the lone torch-bearer for Chicago at All-Star weekend in 2020, and object of recruitment

There were no Lakers or Clippers in the 2018 All-Star Game, but Los Angeles was well-represented with plenty of homegrown talent, plenty of historians with Los Angeles ties and all the pageantry L.A. can provide.

Russell Westbrook, Paul George and James Harden are among the All-Stars who came home to put on the biggest show of entertainment the league has to offer, and the new format featuring captains LeBron James and Stephen Curry produced one of the most competitive finishes in recent All-Star history as the spectacle wasn’t lost on DeRozan, who plays for the conference-leading Toronto Raptors.

“It was a dream come true,” DeRozan said. “I’ll forever be a part of this, and to come out and be a starter in my hometown, it was a dream come true.”

With Chicago hosting the event in 2020, one wonders if the city or the Bulls will be as represented.

“What better time to do it than in Chicago?” Bulls rookie Lauri Markkanen said about his aspirations of being an All-Star sooner rather than later.

New Orleans’ Anthony Davis, to this point, is the only Chicagoan carrying the torch as an All-Star. For years, Chicago could claim their homegrown talent rivaled the likes of Los Angeles and New York, the self-proclaimed “Mecca”.

But now they’ve fallen behind in the way of star power, as Derrick Rose has gone from MVP to one of the biggest “what if” stories in modern-day sports. Jabari Parker was expected to be next in line but his future as a star is murky due to the same dreaded injury bug.

“I didn’t know that. But there’s a lot of great players (from Chicago),” Davis said Saturday during media availability. “Jabari is just coming back, Derrick is going through what he’s going through. That’s fine. D-Wade is getting older. We have a lot of great guys. Guys have been hurt, in D-Wade’s case he’s just getting up there in age now (laughs).”

Davis is arguably the league’s most versatile big man, keeping the New Orleans Pelicans afloat while DeMarcus Cousins is out with an Achilles injury. He’s had to watch the likes of George deal with free agent questions about the prospect of coming home to L.A., even after he was traded from Indiana to Oklahoma City in the offseason.

It still hasn’t stopped the chants from Lakers fans, panting after George in the hope he’ll be a savior of sorts. And even though his contract isn’t up for another few seasons, teams are lining up in the hope they can acquire him through free agency or trade.

It could very well be him getting the chants when the All-Star party comes to Chicago and he could be joined by the likes of Markkanen and Zach LaVine in the big game.

LaVine was in Los Angeles for the weekend and Markkanen opened eyes around the league with his showing in the rising stars game as well as the skills challenge.

Davis could wind up being the object of everyone’s affection and could find himself being recruited by the likes of LaVine.

Even though 2021 is a long way away, a guy can dream, right?

“I mean, I’m cool with a lot of dudes in the NBA. I feel like I’m a likeable guy,” LaVine told NBCSportsChicago.com about recruiting star players to the Bulls franchise. “I can talk about situations like that, it would be my first time being put in a position. It would be a little bit different but I think I can handle it.”

LaVine has his own contract situation to take care of this summer, being a restricted free agent but understands the Bulls’ salary cap position and their long-term goals.

“Yeah I think once the offseason comes and everybody settles down, and I’m comfortable, and I know the position I’ll be in,” LaVine said to NBCSportsChicago.com.

“I think we’ll start having those conversations because we want to get the franchise back to where it was, on that high plateau. That’s what it’s supposed to be.”

“I’m trying to solidify myself in the league to a certain degree. Once you start reaching those points you can talk to anybody to get to where you want to get to.”

LaVine attended several events over the weekend and shared the same space as several All-Stars in non-media settings. It’s easy to see why he would think he could have that affect with his peers.

Being careful about the rules on tampering, he said about a potential sit-down with Davis, “I would bring some Harold’s chicken to the meeting and we’ll be all good.”