Bulls

Hornets hit jackpot in NBA Draft lottery

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Hornets hit jackpot in NBA Draft lottery

One way to look at Wednesday night's NBA Draft lottery is that the fix was in. Another viewpoint is that the idea of being rewarded for alleged "tanking" died, or at least it should have.

After setting an NBA record for the lowest winning percentage in a season, albeit a lockout-shortened campaign, the Michael Jordan-owned Charlotte Bobcats suffered a mild upset, as the New Orleans Hornets won the luck of the draw, receiving the No. 1 pick in next month's draft. It has to be noted that although the Hornets will soon be owned by Tom Benson, who owns the NFL's New Orleans Saints, that purchase hasn't officially gone through yet, meaning the Hornets are still currently owned by the NBA.

But regardless of whether the Hornets getting the top pick in the draft is a mea culpa by the league for blocking the proposed Chris Paul-to-the-Lakers blockbuster deal prior to the regular season or not, it certainly affects a number of issues. This year's draft, while viewed as a solid group of prospects overall, is considered to possess only one franchise-changing player: Chicago native Anthony Davis.

The mediocrity of Jordan's Bobcats was hard to stomach this season, but with a 25-percent chance to acquire Davis, they had a shot to instantly improve and build a foundation for the future. Now, though they're still far under the cap, allowing them to at least throw a heap of money at the feet at the top free agents in a middling group, as well as the No. 2 pick--while the spot is up for grabs, especially with Charlotte having so many needs throughout the roster, no other prospect is seen as a no-brainer choice--the Bobcats' future isn't quite as bright as before Hornets head coach Monty Williams' face lit up with delight Wednesday evening.

New Orleans, on the other hand, still has a lot of improvement to make, but Williams is regarded as one of the league's top young coaches and despite not having an impressive record, the Hornets were mostly competitive in a lot of their losses this season. Now, the organization still needs to figure out if Eric Gordon, who missed most of the campaign with knee issues, is even interested in returning--the young shooting guard is a restricted free agent, so they can match other teams' offers for him--or if they should attempt to facilitate a trade, as the likes of his hometown Pacers are interested, with Indiana leading scorer Danny Granger, coincidentally a New Orleans native, and his potential departure conveniently clearing room for budding star Paul George to move to his natural small-forward position.

While Davis will have to adjust his mindset to one of patience after coming off a national-championship season at Kentucky, it's not as if he hasn't been on a losing team before. By now, almost everyone knows his story of sprouting from an unknown 6-foot-2 guard to a 6-foot-10 phenom and the nation's top prep prospect before his senior year, but few remember that his Perspectives Charter high-school team wasn't even in the Chicago Public League's top division and still had a losing record.

Obviously the shot-blocking phenom--in addition to winning national Player of the Year and top-freshman awards, Davis was also the top defensive player in college basketball--has improved since then and there are aspects of his game he didn't always get to display on a loaded Kentucky team. But while his overall skills, perimeter ability and underrated scoring will surprise people, it will take a while before Davis, who also needs to add strength to his spindly frame, will experience even close to the success in his future residence as the last time he was in New Orleans, where his University of Kentucky team won the national title last month.

Still, conspiracies and growing pains aside, both the Hornets, who seemingly have got the short end of the stick since their 2008, Paul-propelled playoff run, is finally having a run of good luck, as the All-Star Game will return to the city for the first time since that year, they have local ownership and now, the low-key Davis, whose personality fits the laid-back Crescent City. In the mold of the Bulls' Derrick Rose, a fellow South Sider, Davis is a genuinely nice young man and currently a better person than player, though with a game somewhat reminiscent of a young Kevin Garnett, who ironically played his final season of high school hoops in the Windy City, there's a chance that gap is evened in the future.

Other teams also had enjoyable evenings--Portland made out like bandits in the lottery, getting the sixth pick from the Nets as a result of the mid-season Gerald Wallace trade (if it was in the top three, Brooklyn, which was hoping for Davis, but ended up empty-handed, would have kept the pick); Golden State can breathe a sigh of relief, as they keep the seventh pick (instead of having it go to Utah, which would have occurred if it was eighth or lower); while New Orleans also received the 10th pick via the Paul trade--but although Davis is unlikely to make New Orleans a playoff team immediately by himself, it gives the franchise hope. Just maybe not enough to keep the local Times-Picayune a daily newspaper instead of just three print editions a week.

Just as we all predicted, two rookies stole the show in L.A.

Just as we all predicted, two rookies stole the show in L.A.

There's not often hype surrounding a game between two of the NBA's worst teams, but Tuesday's Bulls-Lakers matchup was intriguing to many because it offered a chance to see a pair of top rookies compete. 

Oh, but you didn't think we meant Lonzo Ball and Lauri Markkanen, did you?

Nah, it was two different, less-touted first-year players that ended up stealing the spotlight at the Staples Center. 

Kyle Kuzma and Antonio Blakeney may not be household names, but they sure played like they were in the Bulls' 103-94 loss. 

Kuzma, the Lakers rook drafted 27th overall, has been a spark for Luke Walton's squad all season long. Boasting a terrific scoring arsenal, the Utah product carried the load for the Lakers' offense in the first half, dropping 18 points on 6-for-9 shooting. He finished the game as L.A.'s leading scorer with 22 in 40 minutes. But if you still need a more in-depth scouting report on Kuzma, just let Lonzo break it down:  

More importantly for Bulls fans, though, was the play of their undrafted guard who's signed to a two-way deal. 

Blakeney, the unofficial Summer League MVP, came off the bench on Tuesday and immediately left his mark on the game. The 21-year-old out of LSU posted 15 in the first half, finishing through contact as well as connecting on outside jumpers. 

Blakeney's shooting isn't reliable quite yet, but his energy has clearly influenced Hoiberg's rotation. The guard went from playing one NBA minute in the Bulls' first 11 games to playing 75 in the last four. Given that his two-way deal allows him to only spend 45 days with the team, it'll be fascinating to see how creative Gar Forman and John Paxson will get with his contract if this type of production continues. 

In a season that's obviously going to have its share of rough moments, an offseason flyer hitting is a huge plus for the rebuild. 

As for the recognized rookies, Lonzo's shooting woes persisted and Markkanen had maybe his worst offensive performance of his young Bulls career. Combined, they finished 7-for-30 with 21 points. Not ideal. 

Zach LaVine cleared for contact practice

Zach LaVine cleared for contact practice

The Zach LaVine comeback is one step closer as the shooting guard was cleared for contact practice after checking with his doctors in California. 

LaVine will go through a step by step process over the next few weeks and the Bulls will gauge his progress to see when the best time for his return will be. 

But, given the nine-month process from his ACL injury he suffered in February, he's right on track and there doesn't appear to be any setbacks. 

"There’s no real timeframe, I guess," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said at practice Monday. "It’s really going to be on how he feels. We’ll try to do a little more every day with him. We did a little bit, got him some light contact today just to get the process started.

"He’ll be able to play a little two-on-two with not a lot of practice time these next 10 days. But we’ll throw him out there and continue to try to get him feeling better. There’s going to be a mental hurdle that he’s going to have to clear as well. I know he’s excited. His teammates are excited and the coaches are obviously excited as well."

LaVine's recovery has gone as planned since his arrival in Chicago from the Jimmy Butler trade on draft night. Targeting a mid-December return seems realistic but of course, the Bulls will take every precaution to make sure he's healthy for the long term, both for LaVine and the franchise, as he's a restricted free agent this summer--and they have no plans on letting him walk. 

LaVine told NBC Sports Chicago recently that he wants to get on the floor immediately but the Bulls know they'll have to protect him from himself in the meantime. 

"He’s going to have to string together a lot of really good days, and he knows that," Hoiberg said. "He understands that. The important thing is he’s right on track from where it was said after the injury. He’s been doing a great job with his rehab. He’s on time. He’s doing everything that’s asked of him. His strength numbers are where they’re supposed to be. I’m confident he’s going to keep making progress. But we’ll absolutely monitor it daily and hopefully it’ll just continue to get better."

The Bulls aren't sure if they'll send LaVine to the G-League but it's certain they have plans on not only how to use him when he steps on the floor but also a regimen they've stuck to, to ensure there are no real setbacks. 

Hoiberg has been salivating over having a true scorer at that position since trading for him, and LaVine has been eager since his arrival to prove to the Bulls and fans that he is a franchise player. 

Prudence in the moment of progression, though, appears to be the approach taken by both sides.