Bulls

Beauty in eye of beholder for Bulls' free-agent moves

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Beauty in eye of beholder for Bulls' free-agent moves

As other teams around the league are beginning to slow down their pursuit of free agents after a flurry of signings to begin the month, it appears that the Bulls are finally getting into the swing of things. Such is the nature of the organization's approach this offseason. An unwillingness to spend as freely as many of their peers can be interpreted as either the expected "step back" team general manager Gar Forman referred to earlier this summer, or exhibiting wise fiscal sense in the face of the league's punitive rules in the new CBA, as well as having an eye toward the future.
Veteran center Nazr Mohammed will be on board next season, as first reported by Peter Vecsey early Sunday morning and confirmed by a person privy to the negotiations. The addition of the Chicago native, who attended Kenwood Academy in Hyde Park, was confirmed by an individual with knowledge of the situation, and indeed signals that the Bulls are unlikely to match Houston's 25.1-million offer sheet to restricted free agent Omer Asik, which was attempted to be delivered by the Rockets in Las Vegas on Saturday, giving the Bulls until Tuesday evening to make a decision.
Mohammed is regarded as a solid defender and while not an offensive juggernaut, is a more reliable option than Asik as a scorer. And while he doesn't possess the same upside in the latter stages of his career, he should help the Bulls' case to remain one of the league's elite defensive units. However, Mohammed's signing, confirmed to be at the league's veteran minimum, doesn't mean the Bulls are done adding post depth.
Summer-league revelation Malcolm Thomas is being wooed with a one-year-contract, according to a source, though the active 6-foot-8 power forward is also garnering interest multiple other NBA teams. Thomas notched double-doubles and led all competition in rebounding through his first four games in Las Vegas, prior to playing fewer minutes in the Bulls' blowout loss to Milwaukee in their finale Sunday. Thomas and swingman Jimmy Butler were named to the summer league's all-star team Sunday, despite the team only winning one game.
Bringing a backup shooting guard to Chicago also remains a priority and Marco Bellinelli, a sharpshooter who suited up for the Hornets last season, looks like he'll fill that role, combining with forward acquisition Vladimir Radmanovic to replace the outside shooting of the departed Kyle Korver. According to a source, Bellinelli's deal, likely at the league's bi-annual exception, is done, but that apparently isn't precluding the Bulls from continuing to pursue another free-agent: shooting guard Randy Foye. Compared to Belinelli, Foye is more of a slasher, better on-ball defender and has the ability to slide over to point guard, something that must be considered in the wake of first-round draft pick Marquis Teague's uneven summer-league play. Former Celtic E'Twaun Moore, a native of nearby East Chicago, Ind., and Patrick Beverley, who starred at Marshall High School and participated in the Bulls' mini-camp prior to Las Vegas, are also more remote possibilities.
Evaluated individually, none of these moves can be considered earth-shattering. Following Korver's trade to Atlanta, Asik's signing with Houston and fellow reserves C.J. Watson, John Lucas and Ronnie Brewer being waived, the tremendous depth the Bulls have enjoyed over the last two seasons has taken a hit, if not in talent, then certainly in chemistry and on the defensive end (Watson and Lucas will play for the Nets and Raptors, respectively; Brewer is the only member of the "Bench Mob" yet to find a new home). The front office's approach to free agency of waiting out the market for low-priced veterans -- with the relative exception of veteran guard Kirk Hinrich, whose two-year contract became official Monday - -might not sit well with fans, or even jibe with the Bulls' coaching staff win-now philosophy, but it is part of a long-term plan.
Although the chemistry of the erstwhile second unit won't be immediately duplicated, Bellinelli's relative youth and shooting prowess has the potential to provide a reasonable match for what Korver brought to the table. Hinrich can be considered an upgrade from Watson when he moves to the bench after Derrick Rose's eventual return, Mohammed should be effective in the same limited minutes Asik played last season, and Radmanovic, as a deep reserve, is a more feasible on-court option than fan favorite Brian Scalabrine. Butler's Vegas production also justifies giving him a shot to replace Brewer.
For all of the talk about the Bulls pinching pennies, from an on-court and financial perspective, consider the following: They did bring in serviceable talent to fill in for what they lost, it's now unavoidable that the franchise will pay the luxury tax for the first time in its history, even if it's less of a penalty than other, more free-spending teams, and looking ahead, they did gain some flexibility for the future.
While priorities remain signing both head coach Tom Thibodeau and Taj Gibson, the last remaining member of the "Bench Mob," to long-term contract extensions in the near future, as well as finishing off free agency with likely one backcourt and frontcourt acquisition, the upcoming season isn't one in which the Bulls can be considered a true contender, at least not based on present personnel. They should, however, at least be able to tread water. In an Eastern Conference that's improved, but still not strong from top to bottom, the Bulls' projected roster still appears to be a playoff team, even without Rose to begin the season in a pack that includes the Knicks, Nets, Pacers and 76ers, but below the defending-champion Heat and conference-finalist Celtics.
What the Bulls need is, based on Thibodeau's defensive schemes, the hope that a rejuvenated Hamilton remains healthy, Boozer can carry more of the scoring load early on, Hinrich proves that he's still capable of being a starting-caliber point guard for a long stretch, the increasing possibility of Deng not having wrist surgery after the Olympics, Gibson using his stint with the USA Select Team as a springboard to a stellar campaign and the new additions to the rotation, from Butler to the free-agent acquisitions, forming a cohesive second unit.
But moving forward, after Hamilton comes off the books next summer -- the team holds an option for him in the 2013-14 season; the incumbent starting shooting guard is presently working with the team's strength and conditioning coach in an effort to not repeat his injury-plagued debut campaign in Chicago, and get back to his previous form -- the Bulls will have an opportunity to make a push in free agency, when the likes of Oklahoma City's James Harden and others are free agents, especially if the amnesty provision is used on Carlos Boozer, something they could postpone until the following offseason, but are extremely likely to use at some point before his contract expires. Of course, they could wait until 2014 to amnesty Boozer -- something that's extremely likely to occur before his contract expires.
2014 is also when the contract of All-Star Luol Deng, who scored 25 points, albeit in a blowout defeat, in Great Britain's exhibition game against Team USA last week, expires -- dovetailing nicely to the expected arrival of 2011 first-round pick Nikola Mirotic from Spain and also making another major asset, the future draft pick from Charlotte acquired in the Tyrus Thomas trade, even more appealing.
So yes, in 2014, when the likes of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony can exercise early-termination options in their contracts to become free agents -- aging stars such as Kobe Bryant, Dirk Nowitzki, Paul Pierce and long-rumored Bulls target Pau Gasol will also hit the market that summer -- the Bulls will have an opportunity to make a major splash.
Several factors, including Rose's health, Gibson's impending free agency, whether or not Deng will be part of the team's future, Mirotic's potential, maximizing the value of the Bobcats' pick and the belief that the spending of rival teams this summer will prohibit them from competing as effectively from a financial standpoint down the road, will impact how successful the Bulls' vision will be, but it's time to come to grips with the blue-collar team that the Windy City identified with morphing into a new group, still with the talent to win, yet one that can only be judged on the success of the franchise in the future, based on a strategic gamble in the present.

Reflective Jimmy Butler looks back on time in Chicago during All-Star weekend

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USA TODAY

Reflective Jimmy Butler looks back on time in Chicago during All-Star weekend

LOS ANGELES — Jimmy Butler was absent from the scoresheet of the All-Star Game, unless you count a “DNP-Coaches’ Decision” as activity. Whether due to the All-Star festivities of the weekend or even the grinding minutes he plays under Tom Thibodeau, it wasn’t truly surprising to see him want to have a night off of sorts.

But what was mildly surprising was the reflection he displayed on Saturday at All-Star Media Day in reference to his time with the Chicago Bulls. Usually, Butler’s armor is up because of his feelings surrounding his draft-night departure.

“I learned a lot in Chicago,” Butler said. “Just all through the season and life in general. What to do, what not to do and how to adapt to any situation that you’ve been in. I’ve done that to the best of my abilities. I have a ways to go in that.”

It’s clear he’s still grasping the weight of his words as the best player on a team, or at least, the player whose words impact everything around him.

“A people pleaser? No, I just didn’t say much,” Butler said. “Now I just don’t care. I never talked whenever I was in the league at an early age. It really didn’t matter, nothing I did was gonna make or break us when it comes to losing a game. Now it does and I have a lot to say. Half the time it’s not the right time or right way to say it but it’s okay.”

Whether it was the battles with Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg or the internal struggles in the Bulls’ locker room through his ascension from bench warmer to rotation player to impact player to now, a legitimate star, he’s modifying his approach—just a tad.

“I’ve never been the best player on my own team. I was in Tomball,” he joked, in reference to his beginnings in small town Texas. “I wasn’t in junior college. At Marquette I wasn’t. I’m probably not now. In Chicago I wasn’t. You just pick up on it, watch others and learn.”

He admitted to writing in a journal and reading self-help books now that he’s in Minnesota. The novel he’s reading now, “Faith, Forward, Future” is authored by Chad Veach, a Los Angeles pastor and the subtitle of the book says “Moving past your disappointments, delays and destructive thinking.”

Whether he started the book following a slow start with the Timberwolves in November, where his nightly numbers looked like one of a high-level role player, he took some self-evaluation before leading the charge since, playing like an MVP candidate with 25.2 points, 5.5 rebounds and 5.3 assists on 49 percent shooting since the start of December.

“It’s relatively new. Yeah, basketball is still basketball but it’s hard when somebody else is coming in and roles change overnight,” Butler said. “You gotta see where you fit in with the group. At the end of the day you gotta win. I didn’t feel the way I was playing was our best opportunity to win games.”

Bringing along the likes of Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns, with Towns being a fellow All-Star for the first time, has been a process.

“I’ve never actually had to be a leader,” Butler said. “I just always done what I was supposed to do, didn’t say much and played hard. Now you know, everybody wants to call someone a leader.”

He disputes taking a softer hand, especially as Towns and Wiggins seem to struggle with sustaining concentration at critical moments. The Timberwolves won’t be able to make those mistakes during the playoffs, but he’s being more selective with his words.

“I’m not soft,” he said. “If I see something wrong, I speak on it. If you don’t like it, oh well. You’ll get over it.”

One thing he could take a bird’s eye view of was the aftermath of LeBron James and Kevin Durant’s comments to the “Uninterrupted”, where they were criticized by cable news hosts for speaking out against President Donald Trump.

No stranger to criticism, Butler would likely have the same approach if he dipped his toes into that arena.

“I like it. You got the right to say what you want and you speak on what you think is right,” Butler said. “Good for them. And they are magnified in a very big way. They embrace it and they’re doing the right thing, I’m all for it.”

And if the day comes where he doesn’t stick to sports, Butler’s directness and lack of diplomacy would certainly cause an interesting reaction.

“I don’t care. Whatever I believe in, I believe in,” Butler said. “Everybody else does it. You see everybody on Twitter and the Internet doing it and saying what they want to say. We just have a different job than the person to our left and right.”

Well, not quite a warm and fuzzy Jimmy Butler.

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.”