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NBA Buzz: Could the Bulls make a run at Mike Conley this summer?

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NBA Buzz: Could the Bulls make a run at Mike Conley this summer?

Just happened to flip over to the 4th quarter of the Grizzlies-Lakers game Friday night when the broadcast team of Dave Pasch and Jon Barry decided to spend some time during a blowout game discussing the future of Memphis point guard Mike Conley, who will become a free agent this summer.

Barry revealed he talked with Conley before the game, who said he “plans to look around" once the free agent market opens on July 1. Interesting tidbit about a guy who had been expected to re-sign with the only NBA team he's ever played for.

Barry went on to say how much Conley enjoys playing a fast-pace style now that starting center Marc Gasol is out for the season because of a broken foot. Well, the Grizzlies signed Gasol to a max deal last summer, and he will most certainly be back next year, so what does that mean for Conley's future with the team?

That's where the Bulls come in. Would they be willing to consider a sign-and-trade or a straight free agent signing to acquire the 28-year-old Conley, who has averaged 13.5 points and 5.6 assists over his nine-year career, shooting 44 percent from the field and 37 percent from deep?

The Bulls could free up $20-21 million in cap room this summer by saying goodbye to veteran big men Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah, which should be right in the range of where a long-term deal for Conley would start. Or, they could propose a sign-and-trade for Derrick Rose, who will be entering the final year of a contract that will pay him just over $21 million next season.

Remember, Rose played his one season of college basketball in Memphis and could be an attractive player for the Grizzlies' marketing team. Plus, we're already hearing rumors that Pau Gasol might be interested in going to back to Memphis to finish his career in the city where it all began, with the added incentive of playing alongside his younger brother. Rose has developed a good relationship with Pau, both on the court and off, during their two seasons together with the Bulls. Playing together in Memphis might hold some appeal for both players.

[SHOP: Gear up for the stretch run, Bulls fans!]

If you think there's been a lot of drama involving Rose this year, just imagine what it will be like next season, with Rose playing out his contract and being asked about his future in every city the Bulls visit. Plus, the Bulls' front office might jump at the chance to have their point guard position locked down for the next five years with the durable and productive Conley, who's just below All-Star level but would be a good fit running Fred Hoiberg's up-tempo offense.

Yes, I know Rose has been playing some of his best basketball the last two months since the original ACL injury, but the constant questions about his health and availability have taken a mental toll on the team. My studio partner, Kendall Gill, a 15-year-NBA veteran, talked about it after the Bulls' loss to the Hawks last Friday, saying how Rose's teammates are definitely affected every time he decides he can't go because of leg and general body soreness.

Why would Memphis consider a Rose for Conley sign-and-trade? Well, if it becomes apparent Conley is going to leave the team in free agency, they might decide it's worth the risk to make a trade for a one-year look at Rose, who should be highly motivated in his free agent lead-up season. And, since Marc Gasol has a game similar to his older brother's, the fit with Rose at point guard should be a good one.

A couple of final points. With Rose already talking last fall's media day about the money that's going to be handed out in free agency, don't expect him to give the Bulls a hometown discount when he hits the open market. Considering a max deal for Rose would start at around $27 million, is that really a path the Bulls' front office wants to take to try to re-establish the franchise as a legitimate championship contender? Why not eliminate all the craziness and city-wide debate by making a preemptive strike this summer?

And, Conley has strong Chicago ties. His dad, Mike Sr., an Olympic gold medalist in the triple jump, grew up in Chicago, played basketball at Luther South H.S., and is an accredited NBA agent. Bringing his son back to Chicago might be an idea that sounds appealing to the entire Conley family.

Of course, Mike Jr. might just decide to take the path of least resistance and stay in Memphis. But given all the uncertainty about Rose's future in Chicago, Mike Conley will be a name to watch this summer.

Around the Association

-- While fans and media in Chicago have been focused on the Bulls’ erratic play, it's safe to say the Bulls aren't the league's biggest disappointment.

Things are getting ugly in Houston, where the Rockets are battling with Portland and Utah just to quality for the Western Conference playoffs. Veteran NBA writer Ken Berger of CBS Sports.com detailed the tension inside the Rockets’ locker room last week, reporting that according to multiple sources, All-Star guard James Harden pushed management to fire Kevin McHale just 7 games into the season, and also pushed hard for the Rockets to trade franchise center Dwight Howard. Rockets’ G.M. Daryl Morey was unable to find a deal for Howard at the trade deadline, but not for lack of effort.

"It's really bad for the locker room dynamic", a person familiar with the situation told CBS sports. "If everybody knows that James Harden can fire you or trade you, are you going to pass the ball to Dwight, or are you going to pass the ball to James Harden?"

Rockets CEO Tad Brown strongly denied the claims, but it's clear the locker room has become totally dysfunctional. Howard is expected to opt out of the final year of his contract for another shot at free agency this summer, and you have to wonder if any major free agents will be interested in joining the ball-dominating Harden.

-- Back in the Eastern Conference, the Wizards and Bucks are running neck-and-neck for the title of biggest disappointment. Washington is 10th in the East, despite a talented starting line-up that's had some past success in the playoffs. Injury problems have slowed the development of 4th year guard Bradley Beal, and one-time match-up nightmare Nene isn't anywhere close to the guy who played a starring role in the Wizards' 1st round upset of the Bulls in 2014.The leadership void is so acute in D.C. that journeyman Jared Dudley had to be the guy to call the players together to iron out some of their chemistry issues, even though Dudley is in his 1st season with the team. If the Wizards miss the playoffs this season, it's a pretty safe bet head coach Randy Wittman will be fired, and general manager Ernie Grunfeld might not be too far behind.

-- Meanwhile, what's going on in Milwaukee? After the surprise signing of free agent center Greg Monroe this summer, the Bucks were supposed to challenge for a top 4 seed in the East. Instead, they got off to terrible start and are all but out of playoff contention with 6 weeks left in the season.

Things are so bad with the Bucks that they explored trades for Monroe and point guard Michael Carter-Williams at the deadline. Monroe still could wind up going to his hometown of New Orleans this summer to pair with Chicago native Anthony Davis.

Carter-Williams has been a huge disappointment after head coach Jason Kidd helped engineer the trade that brought him to Milwaukee in a three-way deal that cost the Bucks their leading scorer, Brandon Knight. Kidd’s future is also a big topic of conversation in Milwaukee. The 2nd year head coach missed about a month earlier this season following hip surgery, and people around the league are starting to question whether he's committed to coaching the team long-term, or looking for a move to the front office.

-- One of the year's positive stories comes from Portland, where the Trail Blazers were expected to be one of the NBA's worst teams after losing 4 starters from last season: LaMarcus Aldridge, Nic Batum, Wes Matthews and Robin Lopez. Instead, head coach Terry Stotts built a brand new offense around the talents of undersized scoring guards Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, and the Blazers have been one of the league's best teams over the last 3 weeks to move into a playoff position in the West.

[RELATED: Bulls come up short in loss to Lillard, Blazers]

Lillard took out his anger over being snubbed from the coaches’ selections for All-Star reserves by scoring 51 points in a blowout win over Golden State coming out of the break. Lillard and McCollum are averaging a combined 46 points per game, lifting up a team of role players and cast-offs into playoff contention.

-- Maybe LeBron James is finally starting to lose his touch as the NBA's pied-piper. Everyone assumed Joe Johnson would jump on the James' band-wagon after negotiating a contract buyout with Brooklyn, but instead the 15 year veteran decided to join a Miami team that doesn't have a realistic shot at making the Finals. Johnson will get more playing time with the Heat than he could have expected in Cleveland. He moved into Miami’s starting line-up immediately as part of a small-ball attack, including Luol Deng at power forward. Heat management still doesn’t know if Chris Bosh will be able to return to action this season after a re-occurrence of blood clot issues.

-- Other players changing teams before the March 1st deadline for playoff eligibility include Anderson Varejao jumping on the Warriors' title express, Kris Humphries signing with Atlanta, J.J. Hickson joining the Wizards, Andre Miller going to San Antonio and Steve Novak returning to his hometown of Milwaukee. Veteran sharp-shooter Kevin Martin is also expected to sign on with a contender in the coming days after negotiating a buyout with the Timberwolves.

Warriors' pursuit of 72 wins

Did you watch the finish of Saturday's game in Oklahoma City? Thunder blow a 12 point 4th quarter lead, and the game goes to overtime only because one of the best players in the world (Kevin Durant) makes 2 bonehead mistakes in the final 12 seconds. Then Durant fouls out early in OT, Russell Westbrook misses a potential winning shot, and Steph Curry pulls up from just inside the half-court line and nails a 3 for the win.

Golden State also came from behind to win in Atlanta, Miami and Orlando earlier in the week, and now they've got 17 of their final 24 games at home, where they haven't lost all season. Make no mistake about it, the Warriors are GREAT, but they've also had EVERYTHING break their way this season. Curry went out early in the 2nd half of the win over Oklahoma City with what looked like a scary ankle sprain, but he just re-taped it and came back to single-handedly destroy the Thunder (kind of like Jordan used to do it back in the day.)

[#SPORTSBIZ: Endorsement deals piling up for Steph Curry]

Barring any kind of long-term injury to Curry, the Warriors will easily beat the Bulls’ record and might finish with 75 wins. I've got their odds of reaching 72 all the way up to 90%.

Stats of the Week

-- Sticking with the Warriors/Curry theme, the reigning league MVP had the stats department working overtime after his 51 point performance against Orlando last Thursday.

-- Curry broke Kyle Korver's record for consecutive games (127) with at least one made 3-pointer.

-- Curry scored 51 points while shooting only one free throw. (20-27 FG, 10-15 3FG). That's the highest total with one free throw or less in NBA history. (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Hakeem Olajuwon scored 48).

-- Seven times in NBA history a player has scored 50 points and made 10 3-pointers in a single game. Curry has four of the seven instances.

-- There have been 28 games in NBA history in which a player hit 10 3-pointers. Curry has five of them, the most ever.

-- Curry is the first Warriors' player with three 50-point games in a single season since Rick Barry in 1973-74. Curry also had 10 triples against the Magic.

-- And then on Saturday, Curry broke his own record for 3-pointers made in a season (288), and he also tied the NBA record for 3-pointers made in a game (12), along with Kobe Bryant and Donyell Marshall.

-- The Warriors became the fastest team to clinch a playoff spot, beating the 1986 Celtics by one day (Feb. 27 vs Feb. 28).

-- The Warriors also became the fastest team to win 50 games in NBA history.

Quotes of the Week

Finally, this gem from Curry after his winning shot against Oklahoma City Saturday night. Officially, the shot came from 38 feet, 4 inches away.

"Honestly, I don't know exactly where I am, so it's not like I'm calibrating in my head, all right, 38 feet, 37, 36," he said. "Just literally, you've got a sense of -- I've shot the shot plenty of times, you're coming across half court and timing up your dribbles, and you want to shoot before the defense goes in. And that was pretty much my only thought."

Curry's teammate, Draymond Green, just shook his head, saying, "What was that, 40 feet? That's absurd."

Yes, Curry had a couple more seconds to get closer to the basket before launching his game-winning attempt, but when you're having the type of dream season he and the Warriors are enjoying, why bother?

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.