Bulls

Howard to Bulls a real possibility or just speculation?

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Howard to Bulls a real possibility or just speculation?

The idea that Magic center Dwight Howard could end up in Chicago, once a far-fetched notion, is picking up steam in some circles these days. Orlando, seeking to avoid a situation similar to the one Denver endured through the first half of last season with Carmelo Anthony, before he was traded to New York -- or worse, the fate Cleveland suffered when LeBron James left town, let alone when Shaquille O'Neal departed the Magic Kingdom and the team received nothing in exchange -- is starting to show signs that the perennial All-Star and reigning two-time Defensive Player of the Year could be traded prior to this season's Christmas Day start date, if not sometime prior to the anticipated February trade deadline.

Regardless of when it happens, the fact that the organization is even considering the move means it's likely to happen, for when it comes to NBA trade rumors, where there's smoke, there's usually fire, even if the inferno is coming from the house down the street instead of the one neighbors say is a tinderbox. That's why talk of the Bulls being a potential suitor for Howard can't be ignored.

Now, it's much more likely that the best center in today's game ends up in Los Angeles, where he can pursue his off-court entertainment exploits, reside in his preferred warm climate (remember, the Atlanta native was drafted by the Magic straight out of high school) and either look to start a Clippers revival -- with or without Blake Griffin, although one would think Orlando general manager Otis Smith would insist on the Rookie of the Year being included in the deal, at least for leverage purposes -- or pair up with Kobe Bryant and try to win a title before the future Hall of Fame shooting guard walks off into the sunset.

Even the Nets, with their scant real assets -- Brook Lopez was a lot more intriguing after his rookie season -- impending move to Brooklyn and a long shot at holding on to All-Star point guard Deron Williams (a player in the same boat and who has issued contradictory statements about his desire to remain in the Big Apple region, further complicated by talk of Mavericks owner Mark Cuban plotting to repatriate the floor general to his hometown of Dallas), can't be counted out in the sweepstakes.

But neither can the Bulls. As Bulls.com's Sam Smith first suggested and Yahoo! reported, the Bulls are capable of putting an offer on the table that could seem more appealing to the Magic than other candidates to land Howard.

Chicago could send Orlando a more than adequate replacement center in Joakim Noah, whose popularity in central Florida remains high in the wake of his two college national championships ("Gator Nation" maintains a strong presence at Bulls games in the Sunshine State, even in Miami), while Luol Deng would fill a team need for a strong wing scorer and defender and Taj Gibson would bring a promising young power forward they could either lock up for the future or let walk in free agency to keep financial flexibility. A starting lineup of point guard Jameer Nelson, a re-signed Jason Richardson at shooting guard (holding onto cap space for Howard would be less of a concern, presumably giving the Magic room to offer the veteran more than the mid-level exception many of his current suitors reportedly plan to start negotiations with) and a frontcourt of Deng, Gibson and Noah smells like a playoff team in the East, complete with youth, balance, scoring and defense, if not a superstar.

If necessary, the Bulls would probably be open to taking on Hedo Turkoglu's contract, including a player like Ronnie Brewer as a throw-in or any other little tweak Orlando needed to make it happen. Of course, it's all a pipe dream.

Sorry to be a tease if you actually believe Howard's relocation to the Windy City is imminent, but not only would Orlando be reluctant to trade the superstar center -- one of the few legit players at the position, historically the spot considered most important to title contention, these days -- within the Eastern Conference, but as in the case of the aforementioned Anthony and the simultaneous saga of Chris Paul, Howard would likely have to decide in advance that he'd be willing to sign a long-term extension with the Bulls after this season. With players having increasing control of their destinies -- something unchanged by the reported terms of the tenative settlement agreement -- Howard would have to be willing to be Derrick Rose's sidekick in a city, not just a team, that's all about Rose, all the time.

The Bulls, only a series away from reaching the Finals last season, has a mostly selfless nucleus intact and wouldn't be inclined to gut it without a guarantee the team would be markedly better. As alluring as the idea of Rose and Howard -- and Carlos Boozer, assuming the Magic preferred him to Deng in a deal -- together would be, the new financial restrictions imposed on teams might make it difficult for Chicago to fill in the gaps effectively.

Meanwhile, Howard's West Coast possibilities make a lot more sense, as the Lakers have reportedly finally agreed to make Andrew Bynum -- like Noah, an instant replacement -- available and Lamar Odom is a versatile veteran, although they could need to enlist another team for Orlando to acquire draft considerations. There, Howard could immediately contend for a championship, but after Bryant retires, he'd be poised to be the Lakers' alpha-dog, as well as follow in the footsteps of the franchise's legendary centers like the recently retired Shaquille O'Neal, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain and George Mikan.

The other Staples Center tenants, the Clippers, also could have some appeal, although with longtime owner Donald Sterling's spendthrift ways, the team's level of financial commitment to players is always in doubt. But equipped with a budding star in Griffin, underrated young shooting guard Eric Gordon, two centers in veteran Chris Kaman and a coveted young free agent DeAndre Jordan, not to mention other talented young pieces, the assets at their disposal could tempt Orlando, Howard could still feed his spotlight jones -- whether the Clippers are the city's glamor team or not -- and he wouldn't have to take a back seat to anybody.

Even making a deal with the Nets -- while also in the East, the franchise is a non-contender for the time being -- would be better for Orlando's competitive hopes and still give Howard, depending on his belief that they'd be able to retain Williams, what he wants. In short, Howard coming to Chicago is about as feasible as LeBron James wearing a Bulls uniform, and we all know how that turned out.

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.”