Vincent Goodwill

Pre-Lottery Mock Draft: Bulls pass on Porter, add sidekick for Markkanen

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USA TODAY

Pre-Lottery Mock Draft: Bulls pass on Porter, add sidekick for Markkanen

The ties have been sorted out and the pre-Lottery draft order is now set. Here's a look at who might be the first 14 picks off the board in June.

1. Phoenix Suns: DeAndre Ayton, C, Arizona

Not quite the hometown kid but Ayton has been under the Suns’ eyes all year. The best big and he could be the best overall prospect.

2. Memphis Grizzlies: Luka Doncic, G-F, Real Madrid

The video of the game-winner went viral and those who’ve seen him say he’s as pro ready as any European prospect that’s ever come into the league.

3. Atlanta Hawks: Marvin Bagley, F-C, Duke

Perhaps the best scorer and polished big, especially his ability to get on the offensive glass and decent footwork.

4. Dallas Mavericks: Mohamed Bamba, C, Texas

Wouldn’t surprise to see Dallas go Bamba or bust here. A more gifted shot-blocker than Ayton but still very raw.

5. Orlando Magic: Wendell Carter, F-C, Duke

A skilled big man who was overshadowed by Bagley but was a more skilled big man away from the basket and perhaps possessing a higher floor.

6. Chicago Bulls: Jaren Jackson, F-C, Michigan State

Jackson’s calling card would be his versatility, able to play everything from small forward to small-ball center, protecting the rim and shooting the three-ball at a respectable rate.

7. Sacramento Kings: Mikal Bridges, F, Villanova

A talented player but a safe choice as someone who can defend and shoot from long range. Perhaps the Kings inject a player from a winning program into their system.

8. Cleveland Cavaliers: Trae Young, G, Oklahoma

Young is the best shooter in the draft and has star potential, despite his slow finish to the season. With LeBron James’ future in the air, they’ll look for another torch bearer at that spot.

9. New York Knicks: Michael Porter Jr, F, Missouri

Very little was seen from Porter because of his back injury but assuming he’s healthy, he could be a steal for the Knicks at this spot.

10. Philadelphia 76ers (via LA Lakers): Kevin Knox, F, Kentucky

Knox is certainly a candidate for the 76ers to allow to develop at his own pace as a 3-point shooting forward who can play both positions.

11. Charlotte Hornets: Miles Bridges, F, Michigan State

Bridges could be a steal here, being in the top 5 early in the college season. Powerfully-built and improving jump shooter, he can step in and play decent minutes immediately.

12. L.A. Clippers (via Detroit): Collin Sexton, G, Alabama

An aggressive, quick guard who’s the best athlete at his position and has great potential as a defender with his length.

13. L.A. Clippers: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, G, Kentucky

Next best player for a team with back-to-back picks after the Blake Griffin trade. Great size, can play multiple positions as he physically matures.

14. Denver Nuggets: Zhaire Smith, G-F, Texas Tech

A late riser on draft boards, an athlete and 3-point shooter, if he stays in the draft.

The main takeaways from John Paxson’s news conference

The main takeaways from John Paxson’s news conference

He hated the tanking but deemed it necessary: The last six weeks of this season was a desperate, ugly slog meant to mitigate the exhilarating 14-7 stretch that revitalized the season.

However, that stretch came at a cost as the Bulls had to stay focused on their long-term objectives; getting the best pick possible in this coming June’s draft, evaluating young players and keeping costs down for the future.

It didn’t mean, though, that the finish was something easy for Bulls Executive-Vice President Paxson to stomach, even if it was for the greater good.

“We did this year what we felt was in the longterm best interests of the Bulls,” Paxson said. “It’s not a situation that any of us want to ever be in again; it goes against everything as a competitive person that you believe in; but it’s the way the system is set up.”

The Bulls are tied for seventh-worst odds with the Sacramento Kings, and the coin flip to determine who gets the upper hand in the lottery will be tomorrow. The system is undergoing minor changes next season, and perhaps full-fledged lottery reform is on the way.

But if it isn’t, one has to wonder if the Bulls will be in a similar position 12 months from now. Paxson doesn’t envision he’ll be addressing this issue, though.

“We feel we went about it the right way; our intentions were to see what we had and develop our young guys,” Paxson said. “But we didn’t ever want to ever be in this position again and honestly I don’t think we will and I think next year if we stay healthy.”

The Zach LaVine situation will be tricky: By the time LaVine heads into restricted free agency this summer, he’ll be 17 months removed from ACL surgery and not a strong sample size since to make teams throw max money at him.

Then again, it only takes one team among the usual suspects with cap space: Sacramento, Dallas, Atlanta and Philadelphia, among others. The Bulls haven’t traditionally thrown money at their restricted free agents so it’s not hard to see a standoff on the horizon.

He’ll want a max contract; The Bulls’ first offer will certainly not be that. But it’s hard to see the Bulls taking a pass on matching a market-based deal, even before it gets to the offer-sheet stage.

“Well, the market dictates a lot and how things go,” Paxson said. “I think the market has tightened up a little bit the last couple years since the (salary cap) spike. But we obviously value Zach a lot, and we think he’s a part of our future, but he has the opportunity to explore things.”

Speaking of LaVine: Paxson reiterated several times he’s seen how recoveries from ACL injuries go, given the organization’s experience with Derrick Rose and his initial ACL tear in 2012.

So while they understood LaVine’s performance wasn’t going to be indicative of what he can truly develop into, Paxson is expecting more from the centerpiece of the Jimmy Butler trade that jump-started all of this.

“We need---and I mentioned this to our team after Fred spoke to them last night---Zach LaVine to be a better basketball player,” Paxson said. “We need him to have a great summer.”

LaVine played 24 games and Paxson said there were things he liked in that sample. But while he mentioned others in the way of internal improvement like Lauri Markkanen, Kris Dunn and Bobby Portis, it was clear his initial message was aimed at LaVine becoming a more complete player before the start of next season.

“We knew he wasn’t going to play for us right away and we knew we were going to get him back at some point, but I think he answered some questions for us,” Paxson said. “He had some really good moments, but he has a ways to go, but again that’s his responsibility to work and become a better player.”

Pleased with Hoiberg: Fred Hoiberg’s first two years were littered with questions at various times surrounding his job security and aptitude for the high-pressure, high-stress cauldron of NBA coaching. So while it wasn’t a surprise to hear Paxson confirm Hoiberg would return to start his fourth season, he elaborated on the type of team best-suited for Hoiberg’s style.

It wasn’t an intentional shot from Paxson but the inference was clear: Younger teams are better for him.

“I think Fred just kind of got his feet underneath him more this year,” Paxson said. “This group, the way he wants to play, pushing the basketball. Just from my observations watching practices and games, you could see that comfort level.”

Will this experience bode better for Hoiberg when this team’s talent level begins to turn the corner? Paxson wasn’t asked that directly but there’s not many young teams that actually win much—especially if there’s no unicorn capable of lifting all tides.

“I think every year as a coach you gain experience and you learn things,” Paxson said. “So I’m sure you’ve talked to Fred about what he’s learned over this year as opposed to last year. Again, I thought Fred and our staff did a tremendous job of keeping our group together.”

It wasn’t an easy task, especially after the Bobby Portis-Nikola Mirotic incident and subsequent 3-20 start; Some of the roster changes management wanted to see implemented in the last six weeks and the general upheaval of the roster considering there was little continuity with new players coming in and out of the lineup.

“I know Fred enjoyed coaching this group,” Paxson said. “I think this you go back to last summer. Fred and our guys set the tone when our guys came back and they just had the everyday attitude of working. That needs to carry over and it will. Our guys need to continue to buy in which we believe they will.”

Overselling? Not quite: The general thought about the Bulls revolves around a belief that with two first-round draft picks in a deep class, the Bulls should be back in playoff contention in short order.

Whether it was a tacit acknowledgement of the gaffes Gar Forman has made at times or merely wanting to keep expectations at a modest level, Paxson would not get himself caught up hyping the sum of the parts.

Teams like Philadelphia and Boston are set up for the long run if LeBron James leaves Cleveland and heads west. The Bulls have the salary cap space to do some things but Paxson was pragmatic about not being too hasty.

“I don’t know how far away that is. You never know what other teams are going to do but all we can do is worry about ourselves,” Paxson said. “When we went on the path that we did last summer, we’re not just going to go out and try and sign some older players that fill a need. We have to remain patient and discipline in the approach we have.”

The expectation is to play more competitive basketball this time next season and if it results in the playoffs, he won’t turn his nose at it.

“We’re going to be a better basketball team. And we’re going to be young, we’re going to be athletic, we’re going to be more skilled,” he said. “And for coaches and players, their goal has to be every year to be as good as they can be. Be a playoff team, be whatever you can be.”

Three pieces/Markkanen: The timeline of injuries and organizational objectives interfered with the Bulls being able to see Lauri Markkanen, Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn all on the floor at the same time.

He didn’t duck the belief someone would have to emerge among the three, but stated if they all make the expected improvements this offseason, it’ll be a problem he’s glad to have.

“That’s one thing we have to find out,” Paxson said. “That was part of the deal when we made it. We need to find out how those guys play together. That’s why I said this summer is important. We need them all healthy so we can have a good training camp and find a way to get them playing the right way together.”

Paxson would hedge and watch himself on a lot of things, but Markkanen seemed to be the exception. Calling Markkanen a “cornerstone”, he’s excited about the strides Markkanen can make with a summer in Chicago or at least under the guidance of the Bulls’ strength and conditioning coaches.

“We loved him in the draft, obviously, but we didn’t know what we had,” he said. “I’m incredibly impressed with the poise he plays with. He rarely gets outside of himself. But Lauri, like Zach and Kris Dunn and all our guys, he has so much room to grow.”

The expectations for a significant jump next season appear to be as high for Markkanen as it is for LaVine.

“With his size and his ability to shoot the ball, he should be able to get in areas on the floor where he can really dominate a game,” Paxson said. “He’s a young man and just one year in the league, but he at least from my seat, he exceeded expectations. So yeah, we’re lucky. We feel very lucky he was part of that deal we made last summer.”

Lauri Markkanen's rookie season ends the way it began, with wows and yearns for more

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USA TODAY

Lauri Markkanen's rookie season ends the way it began, with wows and yearns for more

It began when an unfortunate punch landed a supporting player into a central role, continuing when Lauri Markkanen elevated himself into being more “pro-ready” than even the people who watched him every day believed.

It continued when Kris Dunn bellowed his name into the microphone at All-Star Weekend, ignoring the calls to anoint Jayson Tatum or Donovan Mitchell or Ben Simmons as the best rookie in a star-studded class.

“Why? Because he hit eight 3s at Madison Square Garden,” Dunn said confidently, almost incredulously at being asked for an explanation—as if everyone in the NBA should have seen the young star coming.

And finally, on the last game of the season when virtually anyone of note was either inactive or on the bench, it was Markkanen clapping at his teammates to play smarter, to keep going, to finish out the 82-game marathon.

Markkanen rounded out his rookie campaign in nearly a similar fashion in which he began—showing you more than expected and leaving you wanting more in a 20-point, eight-rebound performance against the Detroit Pistons, a 119-87 loss at the United Center.

Breaking the team rookie record for 3-pointers set by Kirk Hinrich in 2004 when he hit his third and final triple of the evening, it was the icing on an unexpected cake that saw him cross the 20-point mark 15 times in 68 games.

Resist if you must, but it’s certainly the tip of Markkanen’s potential and all things considered, the most consistent performer in a season where the prevailing feeling could be more incomplete than anything else.

“I think we learned a lot as a team and I learned a lot as an individual,” Markkanen said. “I look back now I don’t know what I was thinking when I was coming in; I know a lot more now even though it’s just one season.”

Not seeing Markkanen, Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine on the floor for more than a handful of games has created more unanswered questions as to how the talent will mesh going forward.

But Markkanen’s talent and growth is the biggest reason for any optimism for this process moving forward.

“That’s something we have to build even better chemistry and start working even better together and get stuff going our way,” Markkanen said. “We didn’t play many games together this year, so I can’t actually wait to get back together and the whole team; looking forward to that.”

The league wasn’t as sure what to make of Markkanen before the draft; if other teams had, he likely wouldn’t have stuck around to the seventh pick. But he came with endorsements from the game’s best coaches, seasoned observers like Dallas’ Rick Carlisle and Boston’s Brad Stevens.

His own coach seemed to gush over him at every turn. You get the feeling Fred Hoiberg is hoping to see all of this through, knowing what’s at the end of a long road but one Markkanen seems to be rapidly approaching.

“Lauri’s been unbelievable the last couple weeks. He’s elevated his game,” Hoiberg said. “He had a stretch where he was out with the back injury and a little bit with the elbow but he’s been awesome.”

In a league where the games come so fast, it’s difficult to gauge in-season development from young players. Hot starts from rookies are often followed by a cooling off period and sometimes, a disappearing act as the film goes around quick and adjustments are made quicker than players in Markkanen’s position can bring it up another notch.

Just adjusting to the speed and pace is enough.

But Markkanen seemed to deliberately feel more comfortable with his gifts as he earned more freedom, being more than the player who was the quickest player in league history to 100 triples.

“He had a special, special season,” Hoiberg said. “It’s fun to be a part of, and it’s gonna be an important offseason for Lauri, but he’s committed to it and I think you’re gonna see a better player next year.”

He knows he’ll have to get stronger, develop quicker and become even more than a viable 3-point threat. Finishing the year averaging 15.2 points and 7.5 rebounds isn’t the least bit satisfying.

You get the sense he’s just waiting for the appropriate time to fully assert himself, even as he’s not one to say much.

“I’m much more excited about next year than this year,” Markkanen said. “(I want to be) more complete; do everything better, rebound, make the right play, get stronger so I can bring new stuff to my game and go from there.”

And if that happens sooner rather than later, beware.