Bulls

Bulls' draft pick will need to be a contributor

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Bulls' draft pick will need to be a contributor

For the first time since Taj Gibson was selected, the Bulls' draft pick this June will be expected to step in and make an immediate impact as a rookie, let alone be present at the start of the season. Unlike swingman Jimmy Butler, who was brought along slowly and mostly played spot minutes, or forward Nikola Mirotic, who continues to star in Spain's highly-competitive ACB league -- a dark-horse candidate to make the 2012 Spanish Olympic team, Mirotic won the coveted EuroLeague Rising Star award for the second consecutive season -- but won't make his NBA debut for at least a couple more seasons, whomever the Bulls pick this June will likely be thrown right into the fire.

With Derrick Rose set to miss a large portion of next season and the possibility that fellow All-Star Luol Deng is on the shelf for the beginning of the campaign if he opts to have left-wrist surgery following the Olympics, the Bulls won't enter October as a projected title contender and with some roster turnover bound to occur with the team holding options on free agents C.J. Watson, Ronnie Brewer and Kyle Korver, backup center Omer Asik a restricted free agent and their reserve peers John Lucas III, Brian Scalabrine and Mike James not under guaranteed contracts, simply put, the team will have some holes to fill. While it's likely that some of those players will be back and the front office will look to add some minimum-salary veterans due to the organization's lack of financial flexibility -- Rose, Deng, center Joakim Noah and power forward Carlos Boozer all have eight-figure contracts -- the Bulls' first-round draft pick can't just be a prospect for the future, like Butler was this season, or stashed overseas, like Asik was and now, Mirotic.

Granted, picking at the bottom of the first round because of their stellar regular-season record, the Bulls won't have the opportunity to pick a franchise-changing talent, such as Chicago native Anthony Davis, the University of Kentucky big man and consensus top prospect. But this is considered to be a deep draft and the selection of Gibson at No. 26 back in 2009 shows the Bulls have the aptitude to find a diamond in the rough.

Even assuming they won't trade up for a higher pick, there should be plenty of talent on the board that can help the team immediately and fill a need, but more importantly, be a major part of the Bulls' future championship push two seasons from now, when Rose will be a year removed from ACL surgery and contention for a title can fully resume. Butler was a safe pick last year, but with Brewer's potential departure, he also fills a need as a replacement backup swingman, one with the same defense-first mindset, as well as less expensive.

This time around, the Bulls would be wise to take more of a chance on a player whose current skill set fits an immediate need, countering head coach Tom Thibodeau's apparent preference to bring rookies along slowly, as evidenced by his use of Butler and Asik, as he only started giving the backup center more minutes the season before when injuries felled Noah. Though Korver's 5 million option for next season could cause the Bulls to blink at the price tag, his unique shooting ability on a team lacking outside marksmanship could mean his return, but pure shooters who are counted upon as rookies are rare, so that probably won't be the direction the team chooses in the draft.

Adding a rookie big man is an option, as you can never have enough size, but with Noah, Boozer and Gibson all returning, the post-player rotation won't have much available playing time, especially if the team matches potential mid-level exception offers for Asik from other teams, unless the Bulls prepare for his departure or Gibson's the following season The wings are another position of strength, as Deng would only miss a month or two if he has surgery, Rip Hamilton will be back as the starting shooting guard, Butler will back up both players and as stated, Korver and even Brewer could return, but even if neither or both is back, swingman is another position where the team will have a plethora of serviceable minimum-salary options in free agency.

This is a draft weak on point guards, the Bulls will likely either bring back Watson or look to sign a veteran floor general via free agency and it's a fair assumption that Thibodeau wouldn't trust his offense in the hands of a rookie anyway, so a true point guard wouldn't be necessary. Also, Lucas proved capable of playing second-string minutes this season and if he doesn't return, then another veteran with a similar contract will simply take his place.

One area the Bulls do need to address is finding another playmaking shot-creator, especially in Rose's absence, but also when he returns, though not a true point guard who would have to sit behind him or a slashing small forward who could cause a potential logjam at that position or duplicates Butler's abilities. Ideally, a combo guard with strong scoring instincts, solid passing ability, a reliable outside shooting stroke and a good defensive base to work with would be that player, but with the Bulls picking so late in the first round, the likes of Syracuse's Dion Waiters, Duke's Austin Rivers, Washington's Terrence Ross and Weber State's Damien Lillard, all prospects who have possess some of those qualities, will be off the board.

Instead, some of the more likely candidates to fill that duty include: Ross' Washington teammate Tony Wroten, a point guard with size, but who has garnered some concern about his shooting and decision-making ability that could cause his stock to drop enough that he could be available, though he has great explosiveness, passing and could be paired with Rose in the future; Kansas' Tyshawn Taylor, who never quite mastered being a floor general in college, but has good athleticism, can get in the lane and could defend both backcourt positions, a la Clippers second-year backup Eric Bledsoe; Kentucky's Doron Lamb, a tough and heady player, if not a mind-blowing athlete, but an excellent shooter with range; Vanderbilt's John Jenkins, like Lamb an underwhelming athlete and a tad undersized for an NBA shooting guard, but one of the draft's best pure shooters; Lamb's Kentucky backcourt partner Marquis Teague, the younger brother of Atlanta point guard Jeff Teague, not a pure point, but a quick driver with finishing ability and decent size; Oregon State's Jared Cunningham, a sleeper, but a big-time athlete and defensive pest with the ability to create on offense; Iona's Scott Machado, a pure point, but one with the maturity to potentially step into a backup role immediately, despite his lack of size; Memphis' Will Barton, a long, athletic and versatile wing who needs to add strengths, but has a nose for the ball and a variety of skills; Missouri sharpshooter Marcus Denmon, who played off the ball in college, is undersized for shooting guard, but has some intangibles to go with his scoring prowess; and Tennessee Tech's Kevin Murphy, one of the nation's leading scorers last season and an athletic wing who raised his stock with his play at the annual Portsmouth Invitational Tournament.

Clearly, there are a variety of options for the Bulls, including names not listed here and many who will be at the Berto Center for workouts in the coming weeks or back in Chicago for next month's NBA Pre-Draft Camp, but only one of whom will be selected by the organization, though others could play for the team's summer-league squad in Las Vegas in July. Thus, when league commissioner David Stern announces, "With the 29th pick, the Chicago Bulls select...," the player he names will have to be a contributor.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Are the playoffs in sight for the Bulls?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Are the playoffs in sight for the Bulls?

On this episode of the SportsTalk Live Podcast, David Haugh (Chicago Tribune), Seth Gruen and Ben Finfer join Chuck Garfien on the panel.

The Bulls win again. Do they dare think playoffs? Vincent Goodwill joins the guys to discuss.

Plus, they debate where the “Minneapolis Miracle” ranks amongst the greatest plays in NFL playoff history and if Tom Ricketts is right to say that Sammy Sosa needs to put everything on the table to rejoin the Cubs family.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below:

Humorous things we learned at Cubs Convention

Humorous things we learned at Cubs Convention

One of the best things about Cubs Convention is the access fans and media have to the team and the state of mind the players possess in mid-January.

At this point, they’ve had time away from the field to rest and relax with their family and friends and as Anthony Rizzo says “no one is oh for four yet.” While workouts are in full swing, few have started hitting or pitching at this point in their off-season schedule, so “baseball talk” is not always priority. Instead, this is when we get to hear fun stories and entertaining tidbits about these players.

It’s no secret this team genuinely enjoys being around one and other and that the camaraderie is on full display for fans as they interact and poke fun at one and other during the question and answer panels. So, for those that may have missed the weekend’s festivities here are a few humorous things we learned about the Cubs:

  • When asked about a celebrity crushes, Anthony Rizzo coaxed Javier Baez into a J-Lo response while Kyle Schwarber weighed out his options before coming up with Katy Perry. That was “until she shaved her hair off and now looks like Eleven from Stranger Things!”
  • Schwarber’s name has consumed the recent headlines following his physical transformation this winter, but he isn’t the only Cub who dropped some weight this off-season. Those that got a picture or autograph from Ian Happ over the weekend should have noticed a slimmer physique as well. Happ told me “you have to look and feel your best for your first full season.” And when it comes to all the trade rumors involving his name, he said he’s been too busy golfing and working out this offseason to pay any attention.
  • During a one-on-one interview with new Cubs starter Tyler Chatwood, he gave us his best scouting report on himself, “four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, I’ll throw my curveball a lot more. That’s always been my best pitch and I kind of got away from it a little bit, but I’m going to be throwing that a lot more. Cutter and a changeup, too. So, you know, try to trick them with something.” And when asked which Cubs player he’s most interested in meeting, his response was Kris Bryant. “Just watching him it seems like he does everything cool.”
  • Addison Russell recalled his favorite memory or most funny moment of 2017 as the exchange with Nacho Man. Bringing Cubs and Cardinals fans together over nacho cheese and selfies. The All-Star shortstop also informed us that if he weren’t playing major league baseball, his fallback would be, a dart player. That’s right.
  • After being left off the panel of last year’s Kids Only Press Conference, Anthony Rizzo asked to be the host this year. “It’s my favorite event of the weekend,” Rizzo said. The Cubs first baseman did a tremendous job, toeing the line between appropriate parent/child humor. And after a few minutes of trash talking with Kris Bryant, Rizzo conceded that the younger Bryzzo partner would likely beat him in a one-on-one pickup game. Something I’m sure we’ll see a few weeks from now in Mesa at Spring Training.
  • And last, but certainly not least, Willson Contreras stole the weekend as he recalled the best defensive play of 2017 being Jon Lester’s pickoff of Tommy Pham. “I went out there and said hey motherfu**** throw the ball to first.” A moment that left his teammates on stage shaking their heads in disbelief. But our takeaway: the young, fiery catcher is not intimidated working with the veteran lefty, and he’s just the guy you want behind the plate for this experienced rotation.

After an easy going weekend full of laughs and selfies, the players now buckle in and turn their attention to spring training, with pitchers and catchers reporting to Mesa in less than a month.