Bulls' D-League team will further develop franchise's 'culture'


Bulls' D-League team will further develop franchise's 'culture'

When the Bulls ceased ties with the Developmental League's Iowa Energy in 2014, hardly anyone took notice.

The Bulls hadn't assigned or recalled a player from the team since 2011, when second-year forward James Johnson was reassigned to the team. The closest general manager Gar Forman and the Bulls came in 2013, when first-round bust Marquis Teague was scheduled to be sent to Iowa before an injury to Mike James necessitated the Bulls keeping an additional point guard on the roster.

Cutting ties with Iowa marked a seven-year stretch in which the Bulls assigned just five players to Iowa a total of seven times, including draft picks in Johnson and JamesOn Curry, the latter twice during the 2007-08 season. Much of the Bulls' inactivity in using the D-League option was due in large part to the organization not having full control over the Energy.

[MORE: Bulls to announce D-League franchise on Wednesday]

They shared the team, owned and operated by Iowa Basketball, LLC, with the Miami Heat in 2007 and the Phoenix Suns in 2008 to 2011. From 2011 to 2014, they shared the team at various times with the then-New Orleans Hornets, Washington Wizards, Denver Nuggets and Minnesota Timberwolves. The Bulls then shared the Fort Wayne Mad Ants with 12 other teams in 2014-15.

It's why the Bulls worked so diligently the past 14 months with the NBA to earn the right to own and operate its own D-League team, which they announced Wednesday afternoon at the United Center. The organization will begin play in 2016-17 and will play 24 home games in Hoffman Estates, Ill., at the Sears Centre Arena, where the basketball and business operations will be housed.

"We haven’t used the D-League a lot in the past, the biggest reason being that we wanted our players in our culture and within our system," said general manager Gar Forman. "But now that we have control of a D-League team, and especially a proximity so close to where we’re at, we see it where we’re going to have the best of both worlds. We’ll have players in our building learning our culture, learning the game from our veterans, from our coaches. And yet we’ll have the opportunity to send those players to the D-League to get valuable minutes on the floor."

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Forman and VP of basketball operations John Paxson said Wednesday that owning and operating a D-League team was a logical step for a franchise that values the NBA Draft and development of young players so highly. Of the 15 players on the roster, nine were drafted by the team and have never played for another team: Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler, Nikola Mirotic, Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, Doug McDermott, Tony Snell, Bobby Portis and Cameron Bairstow. A 10th, rookie Cristian Felicio, signed in July as an undrafted free agent and made the final roster.

Forman gave an example where a rookie such as Portis or Felicio could practice with the team in Chicago in the morning, take the 35-mile trip to Hoffman Estates and play 35 minutes of "great quality basketball" before returning to the NBA team the following day.

"We think it is a key ingredient to sustaining success over a long period of time," Forman said of the Bulls' draft philosophy. "This will be another important tool for us to help our young players develop and grow."

The timing is also significant as the Bulls begin a new era and philosophy under first-year head coach Fred Hoiberg. Whereas the core of the Bulls' veteran roster had played under Tom Thibodeau for six seasons, adjusting and acclimating to Hoiberg's up-tempo offense has been a work in progress for the 5-3 Bulls. The addition of a D-League team, said Paxson, will allow younger players to expedite their growth process by seeing the floor in Hoffman Estates rather than sitting on the bench behind one of the deepest rosters in the NBA.

The Bulls will be in charge of staffing the D-League team, and Paxson said the culture will mirror that of the NBA team, allowing for young players to learn the same system Hoiberg is teaching in Chicago while also getting valuable experience with live game action.

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"We have to keep it seamless. So everybody’s talking the same language, players know when they go from our practice to a D-League game, the terminology’s going to be the same," Paxson said. "It has to be that way. And the other thing is expectations. Our expectations of players aren’t going to change from being here or when we do send them to the D-League."

The Bulls are the 13th NBA team to fully own and operate a D-League team. The Brooklyn Nets and Charlotte Hornets also will begin operations with their respective teams in the 2016-17 season, giving the D-League a record 22 franchises. Per the Bulls' press release, an all-time high 30 percent of current NBA players have at one point played in the D-League.

It's Bobby's World in Bulls' lottery-improving loss to 76ers

It's Bobby's World in Bulls' lottery-improving loss to 76ers

The final 25 games was supposed to be all about the development of the Bulls’ recent acquisitions and securing a record worthy of one of the last three envelopes at the NBA Draft Lottery.

Only Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn seemed to matter, with Cameron Payne and Cristiano Felicio being the perfect window dressing for development as opposed to just saying a team is tanking.

But Bobby Portis is making a case that he isn’t to be forgotten in the big picture, that his worth is more than just being a punchline to the jokes that followed his incident with Nikola Mirotic.

The only thing Portis didn’t do right in the Bulls’ 116-115 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers was missing a point blank shot that would’ve given the Bulls an improbable and unwanted win, and it would’ve given him 40 points.

Instead he had to settle for a career-high 38 as Joel Embiid was bearing down on Portis when he caught a diagonal pass from Dunn with 1.1 seconds left, having the shorter T.J. McConnell on him and taking a power dribble to gather himself.

“If I could go back I would’ve just went up the first time off the glass like I always do,” Portis said. “We just have to try to close out games better.”

Embiid showed he’s worth all the trouble with his health problems, scoring 30 with 13 rebounds and five rebounds while Ben Simmons put up 32 with 11 assists and seven rebounds as the 76ers improved to 31-25, good enough for seventh place in the East.

In a game that featured remarkable resolve from a purposely undermanned Bulls team as they sat Robin Lopez and Justin Holiday, they put themselves in position to win after trailing by 18 early. After leading by five courtesy of a LaVine walk-down triple with 1:02 left, they made a couple critical errors that allowed the 76ers to steal a game the Bulls won’t mind them taking at the end of 82.

Denzel Valentine’s inbounds pass with 5.9 seconds left was intended for LaVine, but Embiid stepped in front for a steal as they were in position to make it a free-throw game the rest of the way.

Similar to the Bulls’ unlikely win over the Orlando Magic before the All-Star break, they returned the favor as 76ers rookie Ben Simmons made free throws after the steal to give the visitors a one-point lead, setting the stage for the final play.

If learning lessons is what the last 100 quarters of basketball is supposed to be about, the Bulls got a big-time lesson in a game that ultimately means nothing.

“These are learning opportunities for our team,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “I couldn’t be happier, the way we went out and competed. We dug ourselves an 18-point hold and (fought) our way back—have complete control of the game.”

Control was wrestled from the 76ers by Portis’ able and quick hands. Taking more of a scoring posture since Mirotic’s departure, Portis has never been shy about being aggressive.

But now he’s being encouraged in that department, playing a big part in the Bulls’ tying their franchise record of 18 triples with six of his own, scoring 21 in the first half and not backing down one step from the massive Embiid.

“I kind of struggled from (three) in the last six, seven games,” said Portis, who didn’t take much time off during the All-Star break. “I think I’ve shown this entire year, trying to stay consistent and be a spark off the bench.”

Counting the last two games before the break, Portis has been on the best scoring binge of his career—cementing his place in the league when just a few months ago, many were questioning if the Bulls should’ve actually picked up his player option following the Mirotic incident.

His 25.0 points in the last three, along with scoring in double figures for seven straight games are career-bests. With every flex, every energetic plea to the crowd and resourceful score underneath the rim, Portis is becoming a player the Bulls can’t afford to plan without.

The stage was set for a Portis breakout shortly after the incident, when he was serving his suspension to start the season. When the Bulls traveled to Miami and Orlando, he flew on his own to Orlando for dinner with his mentor, former NBA veteran and Magic assistant coach Corliss Williamson.

Williamson, a player who was not to be trifled with during his career, told Portis essentially, “this too shall pass”.

“Just play your game,” Williamson told NBCSportsChicago.com recently. “Don’t put any pressure on yourself about what’s gonna happen after this year. What’s got him here is hard work, how hard he plays in the game. He continues to do that, he’ll be successful.”

Portis recalled the dinner where he was finally able to confide and unleash after weeks of frustration. Calling Williamson a father figure dating back to their Arkansas roots, where Portis played on Williamson’s AAU teams in middle school, Portis put his trust in him and came back reinvigorated.

“We talked for hours about the whole situation,” Portis told NBCSportsChicago.com “He told me when I come back to come 10 times harder. When people play this game and play the right way, they forget about the other stuff. That’s what I’m trying to do.”

Scoring 38 tends to remake a narrative.

“Bobby just continues to improve,” Hoiberg said. “He’s a confident kid that goes out and plays with a ton of swagger and toughness. You need that, to go out and play with that type of effort. He’s tenacious on the glass. He’s getting the crowd into the game.”

When speaking of Portis, Hoiberg’s face went from flush to beaming, knowing how far Portis has come in his three years—being a player who wouldn’t take 3-pointers with confidence to now unleashing them whenever a defender’s feet shows the slightest hint of leaning back.

No hesitation.

“Regardless if I’m making shots, I try to leave it all out on the floor,” Portis said. “It felt good making shots, being able to help the team. I wanted the win tonight.”

Portis helped make up for the Bulls not getting their usual production from Dunn, who struggled guarding the bigger Simmons and Lauri Markkanen, who missed all five of his 3-pointers and made just one field goal in 32 minutes.

“You can put he and Lauri together,” Hoiberg said. “It gives you two guys that can stretch the floor and space it, two guys that can rebound, two that can put it on the floor. It’s exciting to think about when Kris gets his rhythm back.”

And now, Williamson’s words have proven to be prophetic for his pupil, because if the Bulls aren’t seeing Portis as a key part of their future, there’s about 25 other teams who’ll be lining up for his services this summer.

“I told him don’t even worry about it,” Williamson said. “Let your game speak for itself. People who really know you, know what type of person you are. You start producing people will forget about it and love you for what you do on the court.”

His game is talking, even if the Bulls’ loss was one they’d rather have taken in silence.

Bulls Talk Podcast: Projecting the Bulls’ future


Bulls Talk Podcast: Projecting the Bulls’ future

In the latest edition of the Bulls Talk Podcast, Mark Schanowski, Will Perdue and Kendall Gill recap the Bulls’ 116-115 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, look at the continued growth of Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn, and discuss if Bobby Portis is part of the Bulls’ long term future.

They also check in on LeBron James and the new-look Cleveland Cavaliers, discuss whether or not the Golden State Warriors can make another title run and the latest on the status of San Antonio Spurs guard Kawhi Leonard. The guys also discuss how Oklahoma guard Trae Young could look in a Bulls uniform if he’s available for them in the draft.

Listen to the full episode at this link (iOS users can go here) or in the embedded player below. Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts.