Bulls

Howard trade impacts entire NBA

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Howard trade impacts entire NBA

One does not have to be the most astute observer of the NBA to understand that after trading for Dwight Howard, the Lakers are once again expected to compete for a championship. Even with a weak bench -- though free-agent acquisition Antawn Jamison helps its cause -- and having to find a way to keep Howard, Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash happy, apparently within the Princeton offense, one of the league's perennial glamour teams is once again in the spotlight.
While some have already penciled them into the NBA Finals, the Lakers still have to unseat the Thunder as the best in the West. They'll also have to get past the other rugged teams in the conference such as their Staples Center co-tenant Clippers, the new-look Mavericks, physical Grizzlies, run-and-gun Nuggets and the Spurs, who tied the Bulls for the most regular-season wins last season.
But as much as the new-look Lakers brings memories of the failed Bryant-Shaquille O'Neal-Karl Malone-Gary Payton quartet of the past, with Howard playing with arguably the game's best passer and no longer miscast as his team's primary scoring option --along with Bryant benefiting from playing with an elite playmaker for the first time in his career, as well as Gasol's pick-and-roll strengths likely being highlighted -- the Lakers' formidable starting lineup is impressive.
When it comes to evaluating the trade from Orlando's perspective, it's obvious that they wanted to be done with Howard prior to the start of training camp, especially with a general manager and head coach both in their first year. However, it's hard not to criticize the Magic for not getting more in the deal, particularly when reported offers from the Nets and Rockets seemed so much more beneficial to the organization.
In any event, it appears that the franchise will start from the bottom to rebuild -- shooting guard Arron Afflalo is a legitimate starting-caliber shooting guard, big man Nikola Vucevic had serviceable stretches as a rookie last season, swingman Maurice Harkless is regarded as having one of the higher ceilings in the incoming rookie class and veteran Al Harrington, whose contract is only partially guaranteed in its remaining years, is a trade asset.
On the other hand, the draft choices Orlando acquired are protected picks and don't have as much value as what they would have received from either Brooklyn or Houston, a process that will take time. That strategy worked in both Oklahoma City and San Antonio, where general manager Rob Hennigan and head coach Jacque Vaughn have roots, but in a city weary of the "Dwightmare," with arguably the most impressive arena in the NBA, Magic fans can't be blamed if they're not patient.
For the two other teams involved in the deal, the blockbuster swap should pay major dividends instantly. Philadelphia and Denver were nice young playoff teams last season, but lacked the star power that All-Stars Andrew Bynum and Andre Iguodala, respectively, bring to their new workplaces.
The 76ers had good luck in beating the Bulls in the first round and showed a lot of spunk against the Celtics in the conference semifinals, but they looked to be a team that was a go-to scorer and dominant low-post player away from being taken seriously, weaknesses the organization only addressed in terms of depth in free agency. Although Bynum, a native of nearby New Jersey, isn't guaranteed to sign a long-term contract extension in Philadelphia, the Sixers didn't have to mortgage their future to acquire him.
Iguodala was seemingly on the trading block forever and it was whispered that Chicago native Evan Turner's game wouldn't have a chance to blossom with the All-Star swingman also in the lineup. And with their legion of long, athletic wings (Turner, trade acquisition Dorell Wright, free-agent gunner Nick Young), additional inside help (holdover Thaddeus Young, free agent Kwame Brown, draft pick Arnett Moultrie and re-signed big men Lavoy Allen and Spencer Hawes) and emerging point guard Jrue Holiday, having the second-best center in the league and an impact player on both ends of the floor makes the young squad a force to be reckoned with.
And that's not even taking into account the expected boost in perimeter shooting that veteran Jason Richardson, also acquired in the deal, should provide.
Iguodala is the perfect fit for Denver's run-and-gun style, and while the Nuggets still don't have a true primary scorer, at the very least the USA Basketball defensive stopper is a player familiar with having the ball in his hands in clutch situations (as evidenced by his coast-to-coast drive that ousted the Bulls from the postseason in the spring).
Joining the likes of sharpshooter Danilo Gallinari, former DePaul standout Wilson Chandler and defensive-oriented Corey Brewer on the wing, along with the superb point-guard tandem of speedster Ty Lawson and crafty Andre Miller, the Nuggets' back court has plenty of options. And re-signed center JaVale McGee, rebounding monster Kenneth Faried and backup Timofey Mozgov make the Nuggets once again a scary potential opponent for one of the West's supposed contenders.
More transactions can certainly occur between now and the NBA's opening night, let alone the February trade deadline, but assuming the Howard deal is the last major trade of any significant impact, why not hazard a guess at how the playoffs could shake out?
In order, the Eastern Conference's postseason qualifiers should be the Heat, Celtics, Knicks, Sixers, Pacers, Nets, Bulls and in eighth, either the Bucks, Hawks or Wizards.
The Western Conference playoffs should feature the Thunder, Lakers, Clippers, Spurs, Mavericks, Nuggets, Grizzlies and in a battle for the final spot, either the Timberwolves, Warriors or Jazz.

It's Bobby's World in Bulls' lottery-improving loss to 76ers

It's Bobby's World in Bulls' lottery-improving loss to 76ers

The final 25 games was supposed to be all about the development of the Bulls’ recent acquisitions and securing a record worthy of one of the last three envelopes at the NBA Draft Lottery.

Only Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn seemed to matter, with Cameron Payne and Cristiano Felicio being the perfect window dressing for development as opposed to just saying a team is tanking.

But Bobby Portis is making a case that he isn’t to be forgotten in the big picture, that his worth is more than just being a punchline to the jokes that followed his incident with Nikola Mirotic.

The only thing Portis didn’t do right in the Bulls’ 116-115 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers was missing a point blank shot that would’ve given the Bulls an improbable and unwanted win, and it would’ve given him 40 points.

Instead he had to settle for a career-high 38 as Joel Embiid was bearing down on Portis when he caught a diagonal pass from Dunn with 1.1 seconds left, having the shorter T.J. McConnell on him and taking a power dribble to gather himself.

“If I could go back I would’ve just went up the first time off the glass like I always do,” Portis said. “We just have to try to close out games better.”

Embiid showed he’s worth all the trouble with his health problems, scoring 30 with 13 rebounds and five rebounds while Ben Simmons put up 32 with 11 assists and seven rebounds as the 76ers improved to 31-25, good enough for seventh place in the East.

In a game that featured remarkable resolve from a purposely undermanned Bulls team as they sat Robin Lopez and Justin Holiday, they put themselves in position to win after trailing by 18 early. After leading by five courtesy of a LaVine walk-down triple with 1:02 left, they made a couple critical errors that allowed the 76ers to steal a game the Bulls won’t mind them taking at the end of 82.

Denzel Valentine’s inbounds pass with 5.9 seconds left was intended for LaVine, but Embiid stepped in front for a steal as they were in position to make it a free-throw game the rest of the way.

Similar to the Bulls’ unlikely win over the Orlando Magic before the All-Star break, they returned the favor as 76ers rookie Ben Simmons made free throws after the steal to give the visitors a one-point lead, setting the stage for the final play.

If learning lessons is what the last 100 quarters of basketball is supposed to be about, the Bulls got a big-time lesson in a game that ultimately means nothing.

“These are learning opportunities for our team,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “I couldn’t be happier, the way we went out and competed. We dug ourselves an 18-point hold and (fought) our way back—have complete control of the game.”

Control was wrestled from the 76ers by Portis’ able and quick hands. Taking more of a scoring posture since Mirotic’s departure, Portis has never been shy about being aggressive.

But now he’s being encouraged in that department, playing a big part in the Bulls’ tying their franchise record of 18 triples with six of his own, scoring 21 in the first half and not backing down one step from the massive Embiid.

“I kind of struggled from (three) in the last six, seven games,” said Portis, who didn’t take much time off during the All-Star break. “I think I’ve shown this entire year, trying to stay consistent and be a spark off the bench.”

Counting the last two games before the break, Portis has been on the best scoring binge of his career—cementing his place in the league when just a few months ago, many were questioning if the Bulls should’ve actually picked up his player option following the Mirotic incident.

His 25.0 points in the last three, along with scoring in double figures for seven straight games are career-bests. With every flex, every energetic plea to the crowd and resourceful score underneath the rim, Portis is becoming a player the Bulls can’t afford to plan without.

The stage was set for a Portis breakout shortly after the incident, when he was serving his suspension to start the season. When the Bulls traveled to Miami and Orlando, he flew on his own to Orlando for dinner with his mentor, former NBA veteran and Magic assistant coach Corliss Williamson.

Williamson, a player who was not to be trifled with during his career, told Portis essentially, “this too shall pass”.

“Just play your game,” Williamson told NBCSportsChicago.com recently. “Don’t put any pressure on yourself about what’s gonna happen after this year. What’s got him here is hard work, how hard he plays in the game. He continues to do that, he’ll be successful.”

Portis recalled the dinner where he was finally able to confide and unleash after weeks of frustration. Calling Williamson a father figure dating back to their Arkansas roots, where Portis played on Williamson’s AAU teams in middle school, Portis put his trust in him and came back reinvigorated.

“We talked for hours about the whole situation,” Portis told NBCSportsChicago.com “He told me when I come back to come 10 times harder. When people play this game and play the right way, they forget about the other stuff. That’s what I’m trying to do.”

Scoring 38 tends to remake a narrative.

“Bobby just continues to improve,” Hoiberg said. “He’s a confident kid that goes out and plays with a ton of swagger and toughness. You need that, to go out and play with that type of effort. He’s tenacious on the glass. He’s getting the crowd into the game.”

When speaking of Portis, Hoiberg’s face went from flush to beaming, knowing how far Portis has come in his three years—being a player who wouldn’t take 3-pointers with confidence to now unleashing them whenever a defender’s feet shows the slightest hint of leaning back.

No hesitation.

“Regardless if I’m making shots, I try to leave it all out on the floor,” Portis said. “It felt good making shots, being able to help the team. I wanted the win tonight.”

Portis helped make up for the Bulls not getting their usual production from Dunn, who struggled guarding the bigger Simmons and Lauri Markkanen, who missed all five of his 3-pointers and made just one field goal in 32 minutes.

“You can put he and Lauri together,” Hoiberg said. “It gives you two guys that can stretch the floor and space it, two guys that can rebound, two that can put it on the floor. It’s exciting to think about when Kris gets his rhythm back.”

And now, Williamson’s words have proven to be prophetic for his pupil, because if the Bulls aren’t seeing Portis as a key part of their future, there’s about 25 other teams who’ll be lining up for his services this summer.

“I told him don’t even worry about it,” Williamson said. “Let your game speak for itself. People who really know you, know what type of person you are. You start producing people will forget about it and love you for what you do on the court.”

His game is talking, even if the Bulls’ loss was one they’d rather have taken in silence.

Bulls Talk Podcast: Projecting the Bulls’ future

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USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: Projecting the Bulls’ future

In the latest edition of the Bulls Talk Podcast, Mark Schanowski, Will Perdue and Kendall Gill recap the Bulls’ 116-115 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, look at the continued growth of Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn, and discuss if Bobby Portis is part of the Bulls’ long term future.

They also check in on LeBron James and the new-look Cleveland Cavaliers, discuss whether or not the Golden State Warriors can make another title run and the latest on the status of San Antonio Spurs guard Kawhi Leonard. The guys also discuss how Oklahoma guard Trae Young could look in a Bulls uniform if he’s available for them in the draft.

Listen to the full episode at this link (iOS users can go here) or in the embedded player below. Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts.