Bulls

No surprise as Bulls, Zach LaVine decide to wait on contract extension

No surprise as Bulls, Zach LaVine decide to wait on contract extension

Only a couple names went off the board of 2014 draftees who reached agreements on extensions with their teams, with Zach LaVine sitting on the sidelines as the midnight deadline came and went.

His debut in a Bulls uniform and contract will have to wait.

Although LaVine’s representatives and the Bulls front office remained in communication, there was never any serious talk of a deal being reached and he’ll hit restricted free agency this summer.

The Bulls will have a better picture of what type of player LaVine is post-surgery on his left knee, and LaVine will have a chance to reconstruct his market value the way he’s done to his knee—as evidenced by his casual stroll down the lane, two dribbles and two-handed dunk while running a dummy offense with the assistant coaches over the weekend at the Advocate Center.

His return isn’t imminent, as he’s still weeks away from being cleared to practice, following the track of his rehab from surgery.

Perhaps in a bit of curious timing, Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg was talking about LaVine, saying his future shooting guard wasn’t going through much in the way of 5-on-0 drills.

“The big focus right now is on his rehab,” Hoiberg said.

But considering how few options Hoiberg has on a team that isn’t expected to win more than 20 games, the thought of how he’ll use LaVine on the floor in this offense isn’t unrealistic.

“He's doing a lot of unpredictable movements, but a lot of that is 1-on-0 workouts. Yeah, absolutely there's things we look at and see actions that other teams might be running for their skilled players or shooters.”

Justin Holiday will be keeping the seat warm for LaVine until LaVine is completely healed from his surgery, and while the Bulls are adhering to the nine-month recovery prognosis after his February surgery, his return will be highly anticipated.

“Some of the things we're running for Justin right now I think will be very good for Zach as well,” Hoiberg said. “Then we're going to get both of those guys on the floor, it's going to give you two really good options as far as shooting and spacing and two athletic wing players.”

With the Bulls in the infancy stages of a rebuild, LaVine’s success is one they’ll be invested in above any other player on the roster considering the financial stakes.

LaVine can command a deal well over $100 million this summer and will join the likes of draftmates Jabari Parker, Julius Randle and Aaron Gordon into the always-tricky world of restricted free agency.

The Bulls have done this dance before, most recently with Jimmy Butler before Butler blossomed into an All-Star. There was a small gulf between Butler’s contract wishes and the Bulls offer before the 2014-15 season began, one that resulted in Butler receiving a max contract when Butler took the biggest single-season leap in his career.

Preserving precious salary cap space has been paramount for the Bulls, who originally signed Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo to short-term deals with an eye on the summer of 2018, believing many teams will have overspent with the salary cap boom.

In that instance, they’re correct and are in position to have among the most cap space in the NBA next summer when Wade’s contract buyout runs off the books being close to $40 million under the cap. As of now, only Robin Lopez is guaranteed over $10 million for next season and Nikola Mirotic’s deal is a team option.

For LaVine, he began to blossom playing as a third wheel behind Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins in Minnesota before tearing his ACL. If he’s a reasonable facsimile physically, he will produce at a higher clip than scoring 18.9 points as a No. 1 option in Chicago.

As the centerpiece in the Butler trade, the Bulls have no intentions on letting him walk and LaVine is even more incentivized to perform for a potential max contract.

“I'm very excited about Zach. You can tell how much he wants to be out there with our guys. Every day he comes in and says, 'Coach, I'm ready to go out there',” Hoiberg said. “It's a process. We have to make sure he 100 percent healthy, even though he feels no symptoms right now at all. He's got no soreness in that leg. But he can't wait, his teammates can't wait and the staff obviously is very excited to get him back out there.”

Lauri Markkanen, Lonzo Ball making rookie history as they prepare to face each other

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USA TODAY

Lauri Markkanen, Lonzo Ball making rookie history as they prepare to face each other

It'd be a stretch to say that any rookie is having a better or more impactful season than Philadelphia's Ben Simmons. The Sixers are 9-7, and Simmons looks like a 10-year veteran with his decision making, athleticism and all-around feel for the game. He's the frontrunner for MVP, but there are two other rookies vying to catch Simmons and win that title. And they'll face each other tomorrow night in Los Angeles.

Lonzo Ball was the second pick in June's NBA Draft, and fellow Pac-12 freshman standout Lauri Markkanen went five picks later to the Bulls, who had traded up as part of the Jimmy Butler trade. Both players were drafted to rebuilding franchises - the Lakers still working out the kinks in the post-Kobe era, and the Bulls beginning their rebuild after dealing Butler - and were expected to make immediate impacts on their franchises.

Ball's was more pronounced, as the Lakers dealt D'Angelo Russell to the Nets on draft night to free up space at the point for their prized No. 2 pick. Markkanen's came more abruptly, as the 20-year-old was thrust into the starting lineup after Bobby Portis and Nikola Mirotic's fight put Mirotic in the hospital and Portis on paid leave. However they got there, both players have been impressive in their early NBA careers.

Starting with Markkanen, the Bulls knew the 7-foot stretch forward was a perfect build for the modern NBA. He set freshman 3-point and rebounding records that, since 1992, only some guy named Kevin Durant had reached. After a successful summer in Eurobasket he was set for a large role with the Bulls, and he's succeeded in just about every aspect. His 15.6 points per game are third only to Simmons and the other Lakers rookie Kyle Kuzma, and his 8.1 rebounds are second to Simmons. And his 2.6 made 3-pointers per game are most among rookies, and well past No. 2 on the list (Utah's Donovan Mitchell, 1.9 per game).

In fact, Markkanen would become the only rookie in NBA history to average at least 8.0 rebounds and 2.5 3-pointers per game. The 2.5 3-pointers would break a rookie record currently held by Damian Lillard (2.3 per game). The closest a rookie has ever come to reaching those marks was Stephen Curry, who averaged 4.5 rebounds and 2.1 3-pointers per game as a rookie. Allen Iverson also met the 4/2 threshold, but that's a far cry from Markkanen's 8/2.5 mark. Paul Pierce's rookie season saw him average 6.4 rebounds and 1.8 3-pointers.

But that's not all. If he kept those averages up he would be just the fifth player EVER to accomplish those thresholds. The others are James Harden, Kevin Durant, DeMarcus Cousins and Antonie Walker, who naturally did it twice.

So, yeah, Markkanen is having quite a rookie year.

So, too, is Ball. While he's had some real issues with efficiency, slashing .313/.228/.462 and has committed 2.6 turnovers per game, his counting stats have been outstanding. Ball is averaging 8.9 points, 7.1 rebounds and 7.1 assists, and that puts him in equally impressive company.

Simmons has reached those numbers this season, too, averaging 18.1 points, 9.1 rebounds and 8.0 assists. You may have heard of the other two players, named Oscar Robertson and Magic Johnson.

The two future Hall of Famers averaged these numbers:

Robertson: 30.5 points, 10.1 rebounds, 9.7 assists (missing averaging a triple-double for the season by 20 assists)

Johnson: 18.0 points, 7.7 rebounds, 7.3 assists

Ball is also averaging 0.9 blocks, and no other rookie guard has ever accomplished that. It might not always look pretty for Markkanen and Ball as they feel their way out in the NBA, but just remember watching these two that they're in the midst of making history in the new era of the NBA.

Lauri Markkanen has career-high 26 points in loss to Suns

Lauri Markkanen has career-high 26 points in loss to Suns

Lauri Markkanen continues to impress.

The 20-year-old rookie had a career-high 26 points in the Bulls' 113-105 loss to the Phoenix Suns on Sunday night. He also picked up 13 rebounds.

After the game, in which the Bulls fell to 3-11 on the season, coach Fred Hoiberg had high praise for the Finnish.

"I thought Lauri was phenomenal," Hoiberg said. "But when he is open, we gotta get him the ball. When he's got it rolling like he did tonight, guys were switching and we had him a couple of times with the point guard buried in his back and we didn't get him the ball."

Watch what Hoiberg had to say about the Bulls' tight loss in the video above.