Bulls

Bulls send Cameron Payne to D-League

Bulls send Cameron Payne to D-League

When the Bulls traded Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott for Cameron Payne and others at the deadline, it was said that Payne had star potential and he could be a point guard of the future.

With the operative word being, "future", Payne was dispatched to the Bulls’ D-League team in Hoffman Estates for the next couple days as the Bulls head to Toronto for a game against the Raptors.

"He’s going to practice with Windy City this afternoon and then he’ll play in tomorrow’s game," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. "And then the plan is to see how things go with the game, practice with Windy City again on Wednesday and then play in the game on Thursday as well."

Payne has missed time with soreness in his right foot, a foot that’s been operated on twice in his career. Getting acclimated to a new team, along with playing time that wasn’t easy to come by in Oklahoma City, hasn’t been easy.

He’s shown more of an aggressiveness to shoot than playmaking in his nine games as a Bull, jacking up nearly nine triples per 36 minutes and shooting 33 percent from three.

"I'm just trying to float the offense. It's not just about putting up shots for me, but I'm gonna take an open shot if it's there," Payne said last week. "I'm not gonna pass up an open shot at all, because I feel like that would hurt the offense. 

"If it's an extra pass or a shot, you've got to take it. Fortunately, a lot of those shots come to me when I'm wide open so I've got to take them to help the offense."

With Gibson contributing as expected in Oklahoma City and McDermott having a couple breakout games sprinkled into his stint, the Bulls seem to have a lot invested in Payne, so the D-League assignment could be seen as a sign Payne isn’t yet ready for prime-time.

He was another in a point guard rotation that included Michael Carter-Williams, Jerian Grant and veteran Rajon Rondo, who returned to the starting lineup last week in Charlotte after being pulled in late December.

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When the mantra seemed like Hoiberg was going to give everybody a chance, one wondered if the game was moving too fast for Payne. He often turned the ball over in bunches, but he hasn’t had the practice time to acclimate to the offense, either.

Payne has spent time with Hoiberg looking at film to see where he can get his opportunities, but it wasn’t going to be an easy transition.

And being that he was singled out by the front office as a prime reason for trading a veteran like Gibson and McDermott, whom many feel was still developing, he’ll face a lot of pressure when he does get out there.

Luckily for Payne, he carries an easygoing demeanor and gets along well with his teammates as he’s struggled.

"I think I've played alright," Payne said. "It's been hard trying to get adjusted, but I've been playing alright, on and off. I've had a lot of turnovers, which I've got to clean up. But I feel like it's just getting used to playing with the guys I'm playing with. I'll definitely play better."

Emotional return to the court for Quincy Pondexter after missing two seasons: 'The journey is worth it'

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USA TODAY

Emotional return to the court for Quincy Pondexter after missing two seasons: 'The journey is worth it'

Quincy Pondexter’s trade to Chicago makes him a newcomer. His birth certificate makes him a veteran. But it’s his story that makes him worth listening to.

Even in the eye of team chaos, Pondexter’s debut with the Bulls had such a special meaning that when he entered the game to start the second quarter, he thought he would come to tears.

Having been out of basketball the last two years after knee surgeries went bad, Pondexter came close to dying in a New York hospital in January when his organs began to fail after a MRSA infection.

Catching MRSA can often lead to death.

“It wasn’t looking good,” Pondexter said. “It was tough. I prayed. My family was there close to me. Being able to play basketball again in less than a year is crazy. It’s all God. This journey has been amazing.”

His journey took him from being in New Orleans, where his knee troubles started, to being an addition to the Bulls in a trade months ago when the Bulls picked up cash and a second-round pick from the Pelicans.

Pondexter joined high school teammate and close friend Robin Lopez on a team needing some leadership, and due to the punch Bobby Portis threw to Nikola Mirotic Tuesday afternoon, it put Pondexter in position to get on the floor as a backup power forward behind rookie Lauri Markkanen.

If the Bulls were smart, they’d probably put Pondexter in a room to talk to his teammates about his struggles, especially the two teammates who may have to share the same floor in several weeks.

“The competitive nature of our team has been really terrific and we wouldn't want to trade that for anything,” Pondexter said. “It hurts those two guys aren't here right now. But we love them and we love what they brought to this team.

“I think my age on my ID solidifies me as one of the veterans. When you do things the right way, that's what it means to be a veteran. Show up first, last one there. That's what it means to be a veteran. Establishing myself there and doing things that are right, the guys have followed and listened and embraced me and I love it.”

No word on whether Pondexter got teary-eyed when he got a breakaway steal and dunk for his first points since the 2015 playoffs, when the Pelicans were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by the eventual champion Warriors.

“I know I’m going to get emotional on the court later on and probably tear up,” Pondexter said after the morning shootaround. “I told Robin that a thousand times. People don’t know what you’ve been through. There are a lot of times they’re not there besides your close family and friends. I appreciate them carrying me through this whole process.”

Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg can relate to Pondexter, with Hoiberg’s heart ailment cutting his career short. When the Bulls coach speaks about the frailty of the game and how precious things are in the NBA, Pondexter is living, breathing proof.

“I’m really really happy for Quincy. For a time there, his life was in danger with his infection. I know he’s really excited to get his career going again,” Hoiberg said. “I never got that opportunity to get back out there. I tell these guys to cherish it ever day. You never know when it can end. All of a sudden. For Quincy to get this chance, it’s awesome.”

Pondexter, with the straightest of faces, called basketball his “obsession” and he felt happy to get back on the floor, if even for a few minutes.

“I love it to death. It’s my life,” Pondexter said. “Basketball is what got me through it---my family and basketball. It was like, ‘How can I make this story even better? Do I quit?’ No. I watched so many inspirational movies, 'Hacksaw Ridge.' They get you through tough times because you say, ‘That’s going to be me.’ I’m going to be able to inspire someone down the road. That’s really helped me.”

A hamstring injury slowed Pondexter in training camp, which would explain his lack of explosive lift in the season opener.

No one was really sure if the Bulls would hold onto him for the season, but it’s clear he holds value beyond the box score. When he finished his media session, Lopez turned to Pondexter and said, “Now you’re stuck with me”, putting his arm around his teammate.

“Being able to play after two and a half years, it feels like hundreds of surgeries, getting traded to this organization. It's been a lot,” Pondexter said. “I wouldn't trade any of that for this moment right now and how I feel in my heart. I can't wait to get on this floor and play with my teammates and try to do something special. The journey is worth it.”

Bulls Talk Podcast: Trounced by Raptors in season opener

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USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: Trounced by Raptors in season opener

On this edition of the Bulls Talk podcast, Mark Schanowski, Kendall Gill, and Will Perdue break down the Bulls season opener vs the Raptors. They’ll explain why Bulls fans should be very happy with the debut of rookie Lauri Markkanen and Kendall points out why he expects the Markkanen/Lavine combo to be great on the offensive end. They’ll also go over their concerns at point guard, and Will shares his story of how Greg Popovich dealt with a losing Spurs team in 1996-97.