NBA Buzz: Mock Draft 2.0 and news on potential future Bulls free-agent targets


NBA Buzz: Mock Draft 2.0 and news on potential future Bulls free-agent targets

As we head into March Madness, NBA general managers and scouts will be criss-crossing the country to further evaluate the top college players under the high-pressure microscope of conference and postseason tournaments.

With that in mind, here's my second mock draft, looking at how the lottery selections might fall. Keep in mind only two games separate the team with the worst record from the eighth-place Bulls, so a lot could change over the final month and a half of the NBA regular season.

Mock Draft 2.0 (order as of Feb. 28)

1. Phoenix Suns: Deandre Ayton, C, Arizona. Even though his name has popped up at the center of the FBI's investigation into college basketball corruption, Ayton continues to play on at a high level. Ayton is probably just a cut below Philadelphia's Joel Embiid in his ability to impact a game on both ends of the court. He might be the one true franchise changer in this year's draft.

2. Atlanta Hawks: Marvin Bagley, PF, Duke. Bagley missed four games recently because of a minor knee strain, but his ability to score inside and outside, plus control the defensive glass and block shots, should make him an instant impact player on the pro level. Based on what I’ve seen, Bagley and Ayton are a cut above the rest of the field. Both project as perennial All Stars.

3. Sacramento Kings: Jaren Jackson Jr., PF-C, Michigan State. The Kings could go for international star Luka Doncic, but given their glut of perimeter players, Jackson could be a bit of a surprise pick here. The 6-foot-11 freshman's shot-blocking ability and athleticism remind some scouts of a young Kevin Garnett, but he could wind up being the next Bobby Portis (solid rotation player, not a star).

4. Orlando Magic: Luka Doncic, SG-SF, Slovenia. The rebuilding Magic have needs at just about every position, and they might be tempted to reach for Oklahoma long-range shooting sensation Trae Young. But NBA scouts love the potential of Doncic, who's grown to almost 6-foot-8 with the passing and ball-handling skills of a point guard. Orlando could try Doncic at the point after trading disappointing former first-round pick Elfrid Payton to Phoenix.

5. Memphis Grizzlies: Michael Porter Jr., SF, Missouri. NBA executives are hoping Porter will play a few games before the end of the season to make sure he's fully recovered from back surgery in November. Sure, it might be a risk to take Porter this high, but remember he was projected to be the No. 1 overall pick before the injury with small forward skills at 6-foot-10.

6. Dallas Mavericks: Mo Bamba, C, Texas. Another team that needs an influx of talent everywhere. Mark Cuban might be intrigued by the star power of Young, especially with Dirk Nowitzki retiring soon. But the Mavericks need a big man to anchor their defense, and the 7-foot Bamba (with a 7-foot-9 wingspan) definitely fits the bill.

7. Cleveland Cavaliers (from the Brooklyn Nets): Trae Young, PG, Oklahoma. We know LeBron James is a big fan after watching Young play at James' annual summer camp in Akron, and that's probably a good enough reason for Cleveland to make this pick. Young can ease into his NBA career as a low-minutes shooting specialist off the bench in the mold of former Bull Kyle Korver.

8. Bulls: Mikal Bridges, SG-SF, Villanova. Watch Bridges play during the postseason tournaments, and you're likely to come away with an appreciation for his all-around skill set. Bridges is a knock-down 3-point shooter with a quick first step on drives, and he's strong enough to finish at the rim. Maybe a little undersized at the small forward spot in the NBA, but his athleticism makes him special.

9. New York Knicks: Kevin Knox, SF, Kentucky. The 6-foot-9 Knox will remind New Yorkers of Carmelo Anthony with his strong build for a college freshman. Problem is, Knox can't score like Melo. Still, he'll give the Knicks another frontcourt option with Kristaps Porzingis on the mend from ACL surgery.

10. Philadelphia 76ers (from the Los Angeles Lakers): Wendell Carter, PF, Duke. Carter hasn't received a ton of media attention with so much focus on the more versatile Bagley. But the 6-foot-10 banger could provide some needed muscle off the bench for a young team on the rise. Carter showed off his low-post scoring ability in the games Bagley missed recently, improving his draft stock.

11. Charlotte Hornets: Collin Sexton, PG, Alabama. Sexton is a top-10 talent, but not many teams in the lottery are looking for point guards this year. The Hornets have All Star Kemba Walker at the point, but Steve Clifford could probably play the two together, given Sexton's talent on the defensive end. Similar skill set to last year’s No. 5 overall pick De’Aaron Fox.

12. Detroit Pistons: Miles Bridges, SF, Michigan State. Bridges can stay in the state of Michigan to start his pro career. The Pistons have been disappointed with the development of young forward Stanley Johnson and could be ready to move him in a trade this summer. That could open the door for Bridges, who improved his 3-point shooting during his sophomore season in East Lansing.

13. Utah Jazz: Robert Williams, PF-C, Texas A&M. The 6-foot-9 jumping jack was expected to be a top 10 pick entering this season but has dropped back because of his limited offensive skill. Williams could step right into the Jazz frontcourt rotation with the expected loss of free agent Derrick Favors.

14. Denver Nuggets: Lonnie Walker, SG, Miami. The athletic shooting guard has been at his best late in the ACC season with an ability to create his own shot off the dribble. At this point in the draft, it's best player available, and Walker has the potential to be a big-time scorer.

In case you haven't noticed, the New Orleans Pelicans keep winning despite the season-ending injury suffered by DeMarcus Cousins. They're now tied for sixth place in the West, which means the first-round pick the Bulls acquired in the Nikola Mirotic trade has dropped to No. 21 overall.

Who will be available in that range? Well, if the Bulls take Mikal Bridges with their first pick in Round 1, they might want to take a chance on a young center like UNLV's Brandon McCoy or high school eligible big man Mitchell Robinson. Several athletic guards could also drop to that spot including Kentucky's Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Hamidou Diallo, Syracuse's Tyus Battle, Miami's Bruce Brown, Duke's Gary Trent Jr. and Trevon Duval and high school eligible Anfernee Simmons.

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Chicago native Anthony Davis has just put together one of the most remarkable months we've seen in some time. The All-Star big man averaged right around 36 points, 13 rebounds, 2.5 steals and 2.5 blocks in February, carrying the Pelicans' offense in the absence of Cousins.

Davis is signed for two more seasons, with a player option for 2020-21, and it's safe to say he's the most coveted player around the league by contending teams looking to poach a small-market star. Problem is, Davis has consistently stated he's happy in New Orleans and enjoys playing with Cousins. If the Pelicans are able to re-sign Cousins this summer, the two All Stars might be content to play the prime years of their careers together in New Orleans.

So, if the Bulls don't have a shot at Davis, what about Kawhi Leonard? We've all read the reports out of San Antonio talking about a disconnect between Leonard and the organization. Leonard has resumed basketball workouts at the team facility, and there's hope he'll be playing in games again sometime in March. But given the age factor on the Spurs roster (Pau Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Rudy Gay and Danny Green are all over 30), will Leonard be willing to commit long term when he's eligible to hit the free-agent market in the summer of 2019?

Teams will be lining up to bid on the 26-year-old Leonard, who was considered a top-10 player before the mysterious quad injury that's limited him to only nine games this season. Leonard hates media attention, so you have to wonder if he'd even consider a big market like Chicago. But the Bulls are trying to maintain salary cap flexibility with the hope of being able to strike when an All-Star player unexpectedly becomes available.

Jimmy Butler can also be a member of the 2019 free-agent class, and the hope is he can make a quick recovery from the meniscus injury he suffered last week. Butler is the latest player coached by Tom Thibodeau to fall victim to a serious injury.

Bulls fans know all too well what's happened to Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Luol Deng through the years. Rose's injuries weren't directly related to overuse, but Noah and Deng have seen their careers effectively ended by years of ranking among the league leaders in minutes played. Butler was second in the NBA at 37.1 minutes per game at the time of his injury.

Coincidence? I think not.

Butler is determined to return to the Timberwolves' lineup in time for the playoffs, but there's no guarantee Minnesota will even get there with eight teams currently battling for the final six spots out West. At this point, the four-time All Star has to be thinking about how he can stay in one piece to land that next big contract, whether it’s in Minnesota or someplace else.

NBA Buzz: Big summer ahead for Bulls' young foundation players


NBA Buzz: Big summer ahead for Bulls' young foundation players

Even though the Bulls front office is hoping for the best possible draft position in June, the last thing John Paxson, Gar Forman and the coaching staff wanted to see was a prolonged absence for young foundation players Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and Lauri Markkanen.

Because of injuries and LaVine's ACL rehab, they had only played four games together before the All-Star break. So, when Paxson met the media after the break, he said the primary goal for the remainder of the season would be to try to build chemistry between the three, and all of them could expect to play 30-35 minutes a game to start that process.

I had a chance to sit down with LaVine, Dunn and Markkanen last week at the Advocate Center to do a feature interview for Bulls Pre-Game Live, and the players conceded their on-court chemistry is still a work in progress.

LaVine told me, "We're getting better day to day with it. Rome wasn't built in a day, that's what I keep saying. It's going to be tough getting everything down perfect, just like, championship teams weren't built in one day, one season, so we're building towards that, but each and every game we're getting more comfortable with each other."

Second year point guard Dunn added, "It's slowly going to come, like I said before we're all competitors so we're going to find a way to make it happen, but at the same time we're young, we're trying to find our way individually, and then, we've got to try to figure out how we can do it collectively. Once we do that, we'll get this thing rolling."

Unfortunately, all three are currently sidelined. Dunn suffered a sprained toe in last week's game in Memphis, while Markkanen is dealing with another bout of back spasms, and LaVine is experiencing some soreness in his surgically repaired knee. None of the injuries are considered serious, and the hope is they'll be able to resume their on-court chemistry project very soon.

Still, the summer ahead will be crucial for all three players as they try to take the next step from intriguing prospects to potential NBA All-Stars. LaVine can't wait to get back to work after missing 11 months of game competition following his ACL surgery.

"You've got to work to improve your game each summer" LaVine told me. "I think that's where NBA players make the biggest jump is in the off-season. You get your experience through the season, you build on what you want, and you go back and evaluate it. Me personally, that's where I put a lot of my work in. Obviously, last year, I didn't get a summer so I'm really looking forward to it. Me and Kris talk all the time, this is going to be a big summer, we're going to make a big jump, there's not going to be any messin' around. We're going to go to work."

Markkanen says he's hoping the Bulls three young stars can continue to develop their chemistry over the final three weeks of the regular season, but he knows the importance of continuing to put in the work over the summer.

"I think it's going to be a good summer for all of us. Personally for me, just the first summer in quite a while not having too many national team games and actually having time to work on my craft, so I'm look forward to it."

The players know expectations will rise next season with Bulls fans looking for the emerging "Big 3" to lead their favorite team back to the playoffs. It's a challenge all three men embrace. Dunn sees the championship banners hanging at the United Center, and hopes it won't be long before the Bulls are contending again. 

"We all showed flashes of what we can do individually and what we can do collectively. As far as chasing banners, we know how much hard work it is, it's definitely not going to be easy. There are so many good teams out there that you gotta be on your "A" game, and right now we're just trying to take steps. Next year, we're going to chase the playoffs, after that we keep going and going."

LaVine is also confident this young Bulls team can eventually contend for titles.

"It's going to be very special. We're building towards that. We have high expectations because this is one of the best franchises in NBA history. The fans got spoiled in the '90s, so we got to live up to the expectations of chasing those banners up there. We're building toward that, and I think we're going to get there sooner or later."

But leave it to the 20-year-old Markkanen to take a page out of LeBron James' infamous Miami Heat welcome rally when he talked about his hopes for the new Big 3.

"Of course, that's the goal of ours, not just one, but actually get multiple championships. Like Zach said in the beginning, it's not going to be an overnight thing. We're building towards it, and like I said, a big summer ahead of us. We just gotta get better and go from there."

Not one.... not two.... No, Markkanen wasn't trying to channel James with that quote, matter of fact he couldn't have said it in a more humble understated way. You can hear it for yourself when we bring you Part 2 of my interview with Markkanen, LaVine and Dunn Wednesday night on Bulls Pre-Game Live at 6:30 p.m. on NBC Sports Chicago.

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The season-long soap opera continues in Cleveland, where head coach Ty Lue is stepping away from the team for at least the next week while he deals with ongoing health issues. Lue told reporters, "I have had chest pains and other troubling symptoms, compounded by a loss of sleep, throughout the year. Despite a battery of tests, there have been no conclusions as to what the exact issue is."

Lue was unable to coach the Cavs in the second half of Saturday's win at the United Center. It was the third time this season he had to leave a game early because of health issues. Assistant coach Larry Drew will run the team in Lue's absence. Drew has previous NBA head coaching experience in Atlanta.


Meanwhile, the Cavs did receive some good news with the return of All-Star forward Kevin Love. Love had been sidelined since fracturing his left hand January 30 in Detroit. He missed 21 games because of the injury.

Love's return gives the Cavs a second reliable scoring option behind LeBron James, who's averaging almost a triple double in the games Love has missed. Love is averaging almost 18 points and 9 and a half rebounds while shooting 40 percent from three-point range. Now the question is, can the Cavs get him integrated into the rotation in the remaining games along with the four players acquired at the trade deadline? (George Hill, Jordan Clarkson, Rodney Hood and Larry Nance Jr.) Something tells me Cleveland still is the team to beat in the East despite Toronto’s impressive regular season record.


Out west, no team is hotter right now than the Portland Trail Blazers, winners of 13 straight games heading into action on Tuesday. All-star guard Damian Lillard has taken his game to a whole new level, averaging 29 points during the month of March. Lillard's running mate C.J. McCollum is also averaging over 20 points a game for the season, and Portland is now getting more consistent production from 23-year-old center Jusuf Nurkic, who's shown a lot more toughness inside than what we saw in previous years.

The Trail Blazers winning streak has lifted them to the No. 3 seed in the West, and NBA fans are already looking ahead to a potential second round series between Portland and Golden State which could provide some of the most wide open post-season offense we've seen in years. Blazers coach Terry Stotts doesn't have the deepest roster to work with, but the firepower of Lillard and McCollum should make for quite a shootout against the Warriors' "splash brothers", Steph Curry and Klay Thompson.


And finally, Houston still owns the best record in the West and should be a lock to nail down the No. 1 seed with all the injuries facing the Warriors right now. Chris Paul has fit in perfectly with NBA scoring leader James Harden, and the three-point happy Rockets have also benefitted from the improvement of young center Clint Capela.

Paul has never been one to back away from a fight, and Sunday night he was pushed to the floor by Timberwolves big man Gorgui Dieng after a foul in the fourth quarter. Paul's teammate Gerald Green came charging in to push Dieng from behind, bringing players from both sides together for a little shoving match before order was restored.

Paul said afterwards he would pay any fine that Green receives, and that sort of one-for-all mentality should serve the Rockets well as they attempt to dethrone the champion Warriors in the playoffs.

Bulls Bracket Madness: The best individual seasons in franchise history


Bulls Bracket Madness: The best individual seasons in franchise history

We're trying to figure out the best season in Bulls franchise history, and we want your help in deciding.

Because the Bulls tout the greatest player in basketball history, who could have made up this list by himself, we're giving Michael Jordan his own side of the bracket. But the other side of the bracket is also filled with some pretty memorable and remarkable campaigns.

So read up on each matchup and then have your voice heard by voting on our Twitter page here. Check out the entire bracket in the graphic above.

The Jordan Region

No. 1 Michael Jordan (1995-96) vs. No. 8 Michael Jordan (1997-98)

No. 1 Michael Jordan (1995-96): Jordan was on a mission in his first full season back from retirement. He led the Bulls to a then-record 72 wins with a regular-season MVP award, All-Star MVP and romp through the NBA playoffs, where the Bulls went 15-3 en route to their fourth NBA title. Jordan won his eighth straight scoring title at 30.4 points a game, with nine games where he put up 40 or more. He saved his best for Detroit, scoring 53 with 11 rebounds and six steals in early March. To prove Jordan was getting better as he aged, he shot a career-high 43 percent from 3-point range at age 33.

No. 5 Michael Jordan (1997-98): The "last dance" featured a 35-year old Jordan capturing his fifth MVP while leading the Bulls to their sixth title. It wasn't the best statistical Jordan season but he willed the Bulls to a 62-win season while being without Scottie Pippen for nearly half the year after Pippen underwent back surgery. Jordan won his 10th straight scoring title at 28.7 points per game and had 12 games of 40 points or more, including a 42-point showing at Madison Square Garden in New York in his last visit as a Bull. Later that June, he played his last game as a Bull, a 45-point performance in Game 6 of the NBA Finals against the Utah Jazz, hitting the winning jumper with five seconds remaining.

No. 3 Michael Jordan (1987-88) vs. No. 2 Michael Jordan (1990-91)

No. 3 Michael Jordan (1987-88): 1987-88: Jordan went from phenom to icon in 1988, picking up his first MVP award and leading the Bulls out of the first round for the first time in his career. In addition to his league-leading 35 points per game, Jordan recorded the only season in NBA history of 250 steals and 125 blocks, earning his only Defensive Player of the Year award. Jordan dominated All-Star Weekend in Chicago, winning the slam dunk contest and scoring 40 in the All-Star game for his first MVP. It was the season where Jordan put the league on notice: He was coming for the crown.

No. 2 Michael Jordan (1990-91): 1990-91: Jordan's second MVP came with his first NBA title, as he was at the peak of his powers physically combined with the ultimate team success, with the Bulls finally getting past Detroit before defeating the Lakers in the Finals. He shot a career-high 54 percent from the field while averaging 31.5 points, six rebounds and 5.5 assists as he began to fully embrace the triangle offense in Phil Jackson's second season. Jordan had 57 games where he shot better than 50 percent from the field, and was among the league leaders in steals at 2.7 per game while earning his fourth straight All-Defensive First Team honor.

The Field Region

No. 1 Derrick Rose (2010-11) vs. No. 4 Scottie Pippen (1991-92)

No. 1 Derrick Rose (2010-11): Where to begin? The youngest MVP in league history took the league by storm, averaging 25.0 points and 7.7 assists while leading the Bulls to a league-best 62 wins. Rose had been named an All-Star the previous season but took his game to new heights in Year 3, appearing in 81 games, making 128 3-pointers (after making a combined 32 his first two seasons) while helping the Bulls rank first in defensive efficiency under first year head coach Tom Thibodeau. Rose and the Bulls lost in five games to LeBron James and the Miami Heat, with Rose shooting a paltry 35 percent on 24 attempts per game. But his historic season will always go down as one of the franchise’s best, and the only non-Jordan MVP.

No. 4 Scottie Pippen (1991-92): It was evident early in his career that Scottie Pippen was going to be a star. But his 1991-92 season really put him in the national spotlight. He averaged 21.0 points, 7.7 rebounds and 7.0 assists – the only player in the league to average 20/7/7 – was named All-NBA Second Team and All-NBA Defensive First Team. Pippen didn’t have as strong a postseason as he did during the Bulls’ championship run the previous year, but he did help close out the Blazers in the Finals with a near triple-double in Game 5 (24/11/9) and 26 points in the clincher back home.

No. 3 Joakim Noah (2013-14) vs. No. 2 Scottie Pippen (1993-94)

No. 3 Joakim Noah (2013-14): If Noah was ‘just’ Defensive Player of the Year and ‘just’ an All-Star, this would still be worthy of one of the top seasons in Bulls history. He finished 4th in MVP voting, was 1st team All- NBA (one of four Bulls players in last 50 years to accomplish that), and put together one of the best offensive seasons of any big man in league history. Seriously, only five centers have ever averaged 12 points, 11 rebounds, and 5 assists per game for an entire season: Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Russell, Bill Walton, and Noah. Heart, hustle, and muscle indeed.

No. 2 Scottie Pippen (1993-94): Yeah, well what would Scottie be without MJ? We found out that answer in 1993-94, when Pippen took the reins of the franchise as Jordan rode the Birmingham bus as a minor-league baseball player. Pippen responded with a sensational season, averaging 22.0 points, 8.7 rebounds and 5.6 assists. He averaged 2.9 steals, shot 49 percent from the field and became a 3-point threat for the first time in his career. He was named First Team All-NBA and All-NBA Defensive First Team, and finished third to Hakeem and The Admiral in MVP voting. He averaged 22.8/8.3/4.6 in the postseason but ultimately proved it was easier to win in the spring with MJ by his side. Still, this individual season was one of the franchise’s best, if not the best. Hardware isn’t everything.