Bulls

Free agency likely to be chaotic for Bulls, NBA

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Free agency likely to be chaotic for Bulls, NBA

Veteran swingman Caron Butler's presence at the Berto Center on Monday might lead observers to believe the Bulls are zeroing in on one their prime target in free agency, but according to league sources, the organization is casting a wide net in their pursuit of an upgrade in perimeter scoring. While the return of incumbent starting shooting guard Keith Bogans hasn't been ruled out -- Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau and Bogans' backcourt mate, league MVP Derrick Rose each advocated for the veteran last week -- Butler, a native of nearby Racine, Wis., who trains in Chicago at Tim Grover's West Side A.T.T.A.C.K. Athletics facility in the offseason, is among several candidates under consideration.

The 6-foot-7 former All-Star's health is a chief concern, as it remains to be seen if he will regain his previous form. Additionally, the potential acquisition of Butler would likely mean small forward Luol Deng would be forced to at least occasionally defend shooting guards, something he's done in the past, but may not be ideal in every matchup.

Furthermore, whether Butler -- or, for that matter, small forwards Grant Hill and Josh Howard (who is set to visit Chicago in the near future, according to the Washington Post), and shooting guards Jason Richardson, Nick Young and former Bull Jamal Crawford -- would be willing to take a mid-level exception starting at 5 million per season, is another matter up for debate. Aside from Young, the aforementioned players are all veterans who have not won championships and are perhaps willing to sacrifice financially, as they have received major paydays in the past, but could see Chicago as the best opportunity to win a title.

Another name that has been linked to the Bulls in the prelude to what's sure to be a chaotic free-agency process -- beginning Friday, the same day NBA training camps open -- is Mike Dunleavy, a league source told CSNChicago.com. Dunleavy, who most recently played for the Pacers, the Bulls' Central Division rival and first-round playoff opponent last season, differs from some of the other names in that he's a proficient long-range threat, but not as much of a slashing type.

Vince Carter, currently of the Suns, is expected to be waived by Phoenix, freeing up 14 million for the team by ridding them of the former All-Star's contract and giving the Bulls yet another option. It also wouldn't be out of the realm of possibility for the Bulls to explore sign-and-trade scenarios -- engaging Atlanta about Crawford and the Nuggets, in regard to shooting guard Arron Afflalo, one of the hottest names on the market as of late, have reportedly been discussed -- or outright trade options, with the likes of Taj Gibson and Ronnie Brewer as bait.

As one veteran free agent told CSNChicago.com via text message, "Teams who wait will pay a premium for guys they could have got early in the process for much cheaper." Such is the price of the NBA's prolonged labor dispute, as well as the waiting game seemingly half the league is playing while anticipating how the bigger dominoes -- such as whether superstars Chris Paul and Dwight Howard are dealt before the season, let alone the destinations of top free agents in the middling class of 2011, like David West, Tyson Chandler and Nene -- will fall.

Lauri Markkanen, Lonzo Ball making rookie history as they prepare to face each other

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USA TODAY

Lauri Markkanen, Lonzo Ball making rookie history as they prepare to face each other

It'd be a stretch to say that any rookie is having a better or more impactful season than Philadelphia's Ben Simmons. The Sixers are 9-7, and Simmons looks like a 10-year veteran with his decision making, athleticism and all-around feel for the game. He's the frontrunner for MVP, but there are two other rookies vying to catch Simmons and win that title. And they'll face each other tomorrow night in Los Angeles.

Lonzo Ball was the second pick in June's NBA Draft, and fellow Pac-12 freshman standout Lauri Markkanen went five picks later to the Bulls, who had traded up as part of the Jimmy Butler trade. Both players were drafted to rebuilding franchises - the Lakers still working out the kinks in the post-Kobe era, and the Bulls beginning their rebuild after dealing Butler - and were expected to make immediate impacts on their franchises.

Ball's was more pronounced, as the Lakers dealt D'Angelo Russell to the Nets on draft night to free up space at the point for their prized No. 2 pick. Markkanen's came more abruptly, as the 20-year-old was thrust into the starting lineup after Bobby Portis and Nikola Mirotic's fight put Mirotic in the hospital and Portis on paid leave. However they got there, both players have been impressive in their early NBA careers.

Starting with Markkanen, the Bulls knew the 7-foot stretch forward was a perfect build for the modern NBA. He set freshman 3-point and rebounding records that, since 1992, only some guy named Kevin Durant had reached. After a successful summer in Eurobasket he was set for a large role with the Bulls, and he's succeeded in just about every aspect. His 15.6 points per game are third only to Simmons and the other Lakers rookie Kyle Kuzma, and his 8.1 rebounds are second to Simmons. And his 2.6 made 3-pointers per game are most among rookies, and well past No. 2 on the list (Utah's Donovan Mitchell, 1.9 per game).

In fact, Markkanen would become the only rookie in NBA history to average at least 8.0 rebounds and 2.5 3-pointers per game. The 2.5 3-pointers would break a rookie record currently held by Damian Lillard (2.3 per game). The closest a rookie has ever come to reaching those marks was Stephen Curry, who averaged 4.5 rebounds and 2.1 3-pointers per game as a rookie. Allen Iverson also met the 4/2 threshold, but that's a far cry from Markkanen's 8/2.5 mark. Paul Pierce's rookie season saw him average 6.4 rebounds and 1.8 3-pointers.

But that's not all. If he kept those averages up he would be just the fifth player EVER to accomplish those thresholds. The others are James Harden, Kevin Durant, DeMarcus Cousins and Antonie Walker, who naturally did it twice.

So, yeah, Markkanen is having quite a rookie year.

So, too, is Ball. While he's had some real issues with efficiency, slashing .313/.228/.462 and has committed 2.6 turnovers per game, his counting stats have been outstanding. Ball is averaging 8.9 points, 7.1 rebounds and 7.1 assists, and that puts him in equally impressive company.

Simmons has reached those numbers this season, too, averaging 18.1 points, 9.1 rebounds and 8.0 assists. You may have heard of the other two players, named Oscar Robertson and Magic Johnson.

The two future Hall of Famers averaged these numbers:

Robertson: 30.5 points, 10.1 rebounds, 9.7 assists (missing averaging a triple-double for the season by 20 assists)

Johnson: 18.0 points, 7.7 rebounds, 7.3 assists

Ball is also averaging 0.9 blocks, and no other rookie guard has ever accomplished that. It might not always look pretty for Markkanen and Ball as they feel their way out in the NBA, but just remember watching these two that they're in the midst of making history in the new era of the NBA.

Lauri Markkanen has career-high 26 points in loss to Suns

Lauri Markkanen has career-high 26 points in loss to Suns

Lauri Markkanen continues to impress.

The 20-year-old rookie had a career-high 26 points in the Bulls' 113-105 loss to the Phoenix Suns on Sunday night. He also picked up 13 rebounds.

After the game, in which the Bulls fell to 3-11 on the season, coach Fred Hoiberg had high praise for the Finnish.

"I thought Lauri was phenomenal," Hoiberg said. "But when he is open, we gotta get him the ball. When he's got it rolling like he did tonight, guys were switching and we had him a couple of times with the point guard buried in his back and we didn't get him the ball."

Watch what Hoiberg had to say about the Bulls' tight loss in the video above.