Bulls

Examining Bulls' options with free agency starting

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Examining Bulls' options with free agency starting

Much is still up in the air when it comes to the NBA's delayed, truncated and almost-guaranteed-to-be-hectic free-agency period, which officially begins Friday afternoon, but that hasn't stopped speculation from abounding.

While the majority of the focus continues to be on two members of the 2012 free-agent class--superstars Dwight Howard and Chris Paul--behind the scenes, several of the NBA's middle class are being ardently pursued by teams around the league.

With reports of the Spurs' planning to amnesty Richard Jefferson and Tracy McGrady's next destination being Atlanta, as well as the Heat adding small forward Shane Battier (at least per the player's own Twitter feed Thursday), moves are already being made.

The Bulls have been no exception, as they continue to do their due diligence by contacting candidates in their search for a shooting guard. Only one free agent, Caron Butler, has visited Chicago, and incumbent starter Keith Bogans has been working out at the Berto Center--it would be no surprise if the veteran, popular among teammates and coaches (if not fans), returns to the Bulls--but on the eve of the madness beginning, here's a look at some of the organization's options:

--Arron Afflalo: A strong defender and capable outside shooter, Afflalo would be a great fit in a Bulls uniform, especially when it's considered that he's much younger than most of the other options. However, as a restricted free agent, the Nuggets would be able to match any offer for him--and likely will, given that J.R. Smith, no lock to be back in Denver anyway, is currently stuck in China--and in a shallow market, there's a chance he could command more than the mid-level exception the Bulls are poised to offer a free agent.

--Keith Bogans: While a faction of Bulls fans considered Bogans the weak link in last season's starting lineup, it should be noted that his minutes reflected those of a reserve, as he split playing time with Ronnie Brewer and Kyle Korver, and very rarely finished games. Although he's not a big scorer, Bogans is a solid outside shooter and tough defender who was a big part of the on and off-court chemistry that was a major reason the Bulls won 62 games a year ago, making it likely that he returns to Chicago, but perhaps in a reserve role this time around.
--Caron Butler: It's been reported that Butler privately considers the Bulls his front-runner (though sources say he was also very positive about meeting with the Clippers and Spurs, who jettisoned Richard Jefferson, possibly to add a natural small forward of Butler's caliber) and if the Racine, Wis., native did end up in Chicago, his toughness, offensive versatility, experience and hunger for a title would pay major dividends. Conversely, his surgically-repaired knees are a major concern, particularly if he needs the lateral quickness to defend shooting guards, and could also pose a problem if he's expected to beat opponents off the dribble as he did earlier in his career.

--Vince Carter: Carter isn't technically a free agent (the Suns are expected to waive him), but being that he's likely to be available, it's worth examining how he'd fit in Chicago. One thing he's always been able to do is score, though his shot selection, ongoing health issues, less-than-stellar defense and perceived selfishness have seemingly run their course, making him frequent trade bait (New Jersey, Orlando and Phoenix in the span of three years) as of late, and at least on paper, a player whose cons outweigh his pros for the Bulls.

--Jamal Crawford: The former Bulls draft pick is obviously familiar with the franchise and vice versa, and has built on his early-career potential by becoming one of the league's best instant-offense scorers, if somewhat of a hired gun. Crawford's ballhandling and playmaking abilities set him apart from most of the other prospective additions, but it comes at the cost of occasional ball-stopping offense and sometimes indifferent defense, not to mention his price tag could be beyond Chicago's desired range, although there's been talk of a sign-and-trade scenario with Atlanta involving Taj Gibson, a high premium to pay.

--Grant Hill: Alternately rumored to be either re-signing with the Suns or on the verge of taking his talents to the Big Apple, the league's second-oldest player (after veteran big man Kurt Thomas, another free agent the Bulls are in discussions with), Hill is now seen as a bit of long shot to relocate to the Windy City. His time spent at Phoenix's fountain of youth has rejuvenated his game in recent years, as he's morphed from one of the game's best all-around players, elite scorers and high-flying athletes into a defensive standout capable of guarding multiple positions, a reliable outside threat and solid secondary ballhandler.

--Josh Howard: Like the aforementioned Butler--ironically one of the players included in the trade that sent him to the Wizards from the Mavericks--Howard has also had knee problems and hasn't regained the form he showed as a promising young player. When healthy, however, Howard offers a nice slashing game, good defensive acumen, the ability to score without needing a lot of offensive touches and some versatility, though he was never known as knockdown three-point shooter.

--Tayshaun Prince: The longtime Pistons veteran is probably in need of a change of scenery after a few tumultuous years in Motown, and his versatility on both ends of the court--the ability to guard a variety of players, an effective post-up game, spot duty as a primary ballhandler, long-range shooting--would be an intriguing addition to the Bulls. Prince, however, has suffered a multitude of injuries as of late after being extremely durable earlier in his career, the stink of last year's mutiny of ousted Detroit head coach John Kuester clings to him and other veterans (such as Rip Hamilton, though Prince's "buffoonery" comment was the highlight of that saga) and he isn't a natural shooting guard.

--Jason Richardson: When it comes to pure shooting guards, Richardson might be the best fit on paper who's actually available, as the veteran has hinted at being willing to take less money (like Chicago's mid-level exception) in exchange for an opportunity to compete for a championship. His perimeter shooting and athleticism would seem to be a good match for the Bulls' roster and style of play, and while he can't be considered an elite defender, he's at least adequate and could thrive under Tom Thibodeau.

--Nick Young: In terms of scorers, Young has the most potential going forward on anyone on the market, and with his youth and athleticism, he could surpass even optimistic expectations. Problem is, he has the classic "good scorer on a bad team" syndrome, where he put up big numbers in a losing situation and neglected other parts of his game, such as defense and passing, although comments he's made indicate he's ready to mature as a player and do what it takes to round out his game, if in a winning environment.

Bobby Portis apologizes to teammates as Bulls continue to deal with all-around complicated situation

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AP

Bobby Portis apologizes to teammates as Bulls continue to deal with all-around complicated situation

The mending hasn’t yet begun for the Bulls, but perhaps a good sign in moving forward from the Bobby Portis punch that delivered a concussion and broken facial bones to Nikola Mirotic is that it isn’t being ignored.

Fred Hoiberg is being tight-lipped about where matters stand, but he did at least say Portis returned to practice and apologized to the team Friday afternoon. Hoiberg wouldn’t reveal the contents of Portis’ apology and Portis didn’t address the media, but it’s clear things aren’t business-as-usual at the Advocate Center.

“Bobby was back at practice. It was good to have him back in here,” Hoiberg said. “Obviously, everybody’s looking forward to having Niko back in here, as well, hopefully soon.”

When asked about Portis’ spirit, Hoiberg deflected and preferred to talk about what adjustments the team will have to make in the immediate future, especially with rookie Lauri Markkanen having to go against Spurs power forward LaMarcus Aldridge in the home opener Saturday night.

“That’s the biggest thing we have to do as far as preparing until we get our guys back, is throwing different lineups out there and hopefully getting better with our execution,” Hoiberg said.

Justin Holiday admitted that things aren’t normal, saying the actual games to start the season won’t serve as a welcome distraction because this isn’t something that can just be treated trivially.

He wouldn’t venture into getting into his teammates’ head, saying “Bobby came into today like Bobby. We’re not quite sure what he’s thinking mentally. We can’t assume that.”

But one thing that can’t be assumed is a sweeping under or pretending.

“I mean I don’t necessarily think this is a situation for us to get past,” Holiday said. “I think it’s a situation that obviously (needs) to be brought to the forefront. It’s a situation that needs to be taken care of for those two to be able to come together and be brothers again. I don’t think we’re trying to get past it.”

Holiday has been a leader during this early time, so his words and definitive tone were noticeable.

“They say sometimes you need time to heal,” Holiday said. “Again, we have to think about both situations in this. One guy is trying to get back healthy. And again, I don’t know. I wish I did. I wish we could just fix this the right way, but that’s not the case.”

It’s complicated all around, with no real precedent.

For Hoiberg, his handling has two faces. Since Portis is able to practice but has to sit out seven more games on a team-mandated suspension, he has to walk the line of incorporating Portis in daily drills and activities but also has to prepare a team that wasn’t prepared for two power forwards being out for an extended period.

That was on display Thursday as Quincy Pondexter likely played that position for the first time in his career, and it’s highly unlikely Paul Zipser practiced there at all with the depth the Bulls had until now.

“We have to get our guys ready to play positions that they haven’t played,” Hoiberg said. “We’re getting them in here early. We’re getting a group in to work on our execution. Quincy not only hasn’t played in two and a half years but I don’t know if he has ever played the 4.

“You just have to do the best with what you have.”

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.”