Bulls announce signing of shooting guard R.J. Hunter

Bulls announce signing of shooting guard R.J. Hunter

Minutes before they opened their regular season Thursday against the Celtics, the Bulls announced the signing of shooting guard R.J. Hunter.

Hunter was a first-round pick of the Celtics in 2015 but was waived this preseason. In his lone year with the Celtics he appeared in 38 games. He struggled from the field, shooting just 36.7 percent from the field and 30.2 percent from deep. He ultimately lost out on a roster spot this preseason in a crowded Celtics backcourt.

"Not surprised he got picked up," Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said. "We said the other day, we had more than 15 NBA players (in training camp) and so it was just a matter of time who he was going to get picked up by. It was good that he did."

Fred Hoiberg was asked at Thursday morning's shootaround about the possibility of adding a player like Hunter. And while he couldn't specifically mention Hunter - as the deal was not official - he did discuss the continued need for outside shooting.

"It’s something that obviously we feel that we’ve got some shooting with this team but you can never have enough, so I’ll say that," Hoiberg said. It’s something where if we can get our playmakers in the paint to be able to spray it out to guys that can spread the floor, that’s obviously something that can help our team.

"So again we feel good about where we are with our playmakers and if we can get some guys to knock down shots I think we have a chance to have an effective year."

Hunter was the darling of the 2015 NCAA Tournament playing for his father at Georgia State. Hunter hit a game-winning 3-pointer against Baylor to propel the 14th-seeded Panthers to an opening-round win.

Hunter was a two-time Sun Belt Player of the Year, averaging 19.7 points per game as a junior.

Hunter's first chance to suit up with the Bulls will be Saturday when they host the Indiana Pacers.

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.

Around the Association

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.