Bulls

Draft season starts the speculation season in the NBA

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Draft season starts the speculation season in the NBA

The unofficial start of the NBA’s offseason has begun, with the draft being days away and teams gearing up for extreme makeovers, giving way to the best part of fantasy basketball.

The imagination phase, speculation season.

Whether it’s DeMarcus Cousins having his name thrown about in trade rumors because his coach doesn’t want to deal with him or a few teams tired of hoarding draft picks that takes years to develop as opposed to contending, it’s only the beginning.

Over the next 48 hours, teams will try to position themselves by sending out false draft information to willing media participants, hoping to execute the best end-around this side of Devin Hester. Some hot name will emerge in the draft, a top-12 player who’ll somehow earn the love of a top team like his game film changed since March.

By contrast, there’s almost always a player who’ll drop on everybody’s draft boards after spending months atop it, like some magical attribute has suddenly made the prospect of drafting him all the more risky.

[SHOP: Buy a Bulls NBA Draft hat]

This is why some teams stay drafting at the top and why the more stable organizations keep waiting on the diamonds in the rough to slide down while the less intelligent franchises talk themselves out of contention and back to another lottery appearance some 300 days from now.

But the tenor of this draft—and any draft—is uncertainty.

Draft day trades where prospects are dealt for proven players is a common occurrence, although not as common practice as it used to be, given this NBA is a more cost-control league and teams aren’t as gung-ho about adding proven, pricey veterans to a core as opposed to the possibility of having draft picks develop under the tutelage.

It’s why Cousins’ name is so intriguing for many teams, especially the Boston Celtics who’ve been sniffing around the talented big man for years on end, dangling multiple first-round picks in consecutive years just in case the Kings are foolish enough to give away a player who averages 24 points and 12 rebounds.

Phoenix Suns point guard Eric Bledsoe has heard his name lightly tossed out in the rumor mill, as a potential target for the always-rebuilding but never succeeding (and always comical) New York Knicks, a player who signed a max contract less than 10 months ago.

Let it be said it’s unlikely Bledsoe or to a lesser degree, Cousins, is actually moved on Thursday but it does illustrate the growing impatience for some franchises to get better, to make change for change sake or to abandon a plan that had plenty of holes in it from Day One.

[MORE DRAFT: Four players who the Bulls should consider at No. 22]

With the salary cap rising at a rapid rate over the next two offseasons (not this one), teams will be more likely to take on existing bad contracts to fill needs as opposed to going into free agency and truly overpaying for a player just because the market says so.

Eyes will be wide come July 1, and the uncertainty of the draft is only matched by the uncertainty of free agency. Missing on a draft pick, for some, is a forgivable offense. Missing on a free agency signing with a hefty price tag could be a death knell to some front office executives, and they’d rather take their chances with the trade market.

So ideas will be bandied about in boardrooms and some will even make its way to the twitterverse before NBA commissioner Adam Silver makes his way to the podium to announce draft selections five minutes apart Thursday night.

Some may even come to fruition but most of all, you’ll likely hear a lot of smoke—as the fire plans to be quite unexpected and rarely speculated before it happens.

Welcome to the NBA’s offseason.

Lauri Markkanen nearly 'Finnishes' in Skills Challenge against former Bull Spencer Dinwiddie

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USA TODAY

Lauri Markkanen nearly 'Finnishes' in Skills Challenge against former Bull Spencer Dinwiddie

Los Angeles—Lauri Markkanen called himself “The Finnisher” when asked what the movie of his life would be called.

Apparently, that moniker didn’t apply to the All-Star Skills challenge as he took down the best big men but couldn’t close against a former Bull, Spencer Dinwiddie, in the final.

The contest highlights players’ ability to dribble around cones shaped like NBA logos, throwing a chest pass into a net while having to complete a layup and then 3-pointer before their opponent does.

Markkanen took down Detroit’s Andre Drummond and Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid before facing off with Dinwiddie. He held a pose after hitting a triple to beat the uber confident Embiid, in what will likely be used as a memorable gif following the weekend.

His confidence doesn’t come across as blatantly as Embiid’s, but that snapshot shows he’s no humble star in the making. He didn’t even practice for the contest, by his own admission.

“I heard some of the guys did,” Markkanen said. “I didn’t do much, just before the competition, I did a little warm-up.”

Missing on the first pass attempt into the circular net in the final, it gave Dinwiddie the advantage he wouldn’t relinquish, hitting on his second 3-point attempt before Markkanen could make it downcourt to contest.

“It’s a lot harder than I’ve seen,” Markkanen said. “I thought it was gonna be super easy but it was kind of tough. Maybe I need to hold my follow through (on the pass).”

“I saw he missed (the first shot) and I started going. I thought he would’ve missed it too. I think I would’ve gotten it on the third shot.”

Being one of the multi-dimensional big men in today’s game who can be adept on the perimeter as well as the interior, it almost seems like the contest was made for Markkanen. Although he doesn’t do much handling in Fred Hoiberg’s offense, it’s clearly a skill he will develop as time goes on.

The last two winners of the skills challenge were Karl-Anthony Towns and Kristaps Porzingis, and Markkanen was well aware of the recent trend.

“The last two years the bigs have won,” Markkanen said. “I’m kind of pissed that I couldn’t keep the streak going after (those two). I think there’s a lot of guys who can do that now, it’s why they changed the format to bigs versus smalls.”

For Dinwiddie, who was discarded by the Bulls last season after a promising start in the preseason so they could pick up R.J. Hunter, he’s taken advantage of an opportunity with Brooklyn.

“I think for Chicago it was just another series of unfortunate events,” he said. “They were in win-now mode. I was an unproven guard on a non-guaranteed contract and they felt Michael Carter-Williams gave them a better shot to win.”

Michael Jordan's Greatest Moments: 5-1

Michael Jordan's Greatest Moments: 5-1

This is part of a four-part series looking back at the historic career of Michael Jordan and the legacy he left on the game of basketball. It all leads up to Saturday when we unveil his top 5 moments on his 55th birthday. Here are 55-4544-23, and 22-6.

5. Jordan wins fourth title and finishes greatest individual season ever, June 16, 1996

It’s hard to comprehend just how much Jordan accomplished during the 1995-96 season. We’ll try:He won his fourth championship, was named NBA Finals MVP for a record fourth time, won All-Star Game MVP, won a record 72 games, was named to the NBA All-Defensive First Team, was the league’s leading scorer and became the Bulls’ all-time leader in games played. So when he dropped a casual 22 points in Game 6, it marked the end of one of the greatest seasons in NBA history. Oh, and Space Jam came out a few months later.
 
4. Jordan hits six triples, scores 35 points in first half against Blazers, June 3, 1992

During the 1991-92 regular season, Jordan never made more than three 3-pointers in a single game. In fact, the most 3-pointers he had in any two-game stretch that year was four. So when he began burying triple after triple in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, even Jordan couldn’t believe it, giving a shrug toward the NBC announcers as if to say, “I don’t know, either.” Jordan finished the first half with six triples and scored an NBA-record 35 points. The Bulls cruised in the second half, so Jordan finished with only 39, but his shrug remains one of the most iconic NBA Finals moments in history.
 
3. Jordan battles the flu, scores 38 in Game 5 on his way to fifth title, June 11, 1997

The Flu Game. Jordan was battling a nasty illness in the lead-up to a pivotal Game 5 in Utah, and there were concerns about whether he would even suit up. Hours before tip Jordan got out of bed and made his way to the arena, looking to halt Utah’s momentum after it had taken Games 3 and 4 to tie the series. The Jazz came out red-hot while Jordan looked sluggish, but he responded with 17 points in the second quarter alone to give the Bulls a halftime lead. Jordan then keyed a 10-0 run in the fourth quarter to erase a Jazz lead, and he hit a 3-pointer with 25 seconds left to give the Bulls a three-point lead. The Bulls hung on, and Jordan collapsed into Scottie Pippen’s arms walking off the floor. His final line? 38 points, 13 of 27 shooting, 7 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals. Two days later the Bulls won the title in front of a sellout Chicago crowd.

2. Jordan scores 63 points against Celtics in playoff loss, April 20, 1986

Jordan had just turned 23 years old when he took to the Boston Garden floor to face Larry Bird in his prime and the Celtics. These Celtics had gone 40-1 at home, led the NBA in field goal percentage defense, started FOUR future Hall of Famers and had a fifth come off the bench. They would ultimately go down as one of the all-time greatest teams, and Jordan made them look absolutely silly. He played 50 minutes in the double-overtime thriller, shooting 22 of 41 from the field and making 19 of 21 free throws, including the last two with no time on the clock and the Bulls trailing by two at the end of regulation. He scored 54 in regulation, added five in the first overtime and four in the second. He also led the Bulls with six assists. It still stands as the NBA record for most points in any playoff game. Twenty-three years old. Twenty. Three.

1. Jordan scores 45 in final game with the Bulls, securing sixth championship, June 14, 1998

Jordan’s final game with the Bulls was iconic. Like so many of these moments, die hards know exactly where they were. The 45 points were majestic, and while he only had one rebound and one assist he affected just about every possession on both ends. But what we’ll remember most is the final 37 seconds. Jordan drove to the basket for layup that cut Utah’s lead to one, then stripped Karl Malone from behind on the next trip down. That gave the ball back to the Bulls with 20 seconds left. Jordan let the clock tick down to around 9 seconds before making his move from the left wing, driving right on Bryon Russell, (maybe pushing off) and pulling up for a jumper at the foul line. The shot was good with 5.2 seconds remaining, and John Stockton’s ensuing 3-pointer was off the mark. It gave Jordan and the Bulls their sixth NBA title, and marked the perfect ending to his Bulls career: getting it done on both ends, in the clutch, and finishing with a victory. Because it encapsulated so much of his 14-year career in Chicago, it’s our top Michael Jordan moment.