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NBA Buzz: Derrick Rose revitalized with stretch of strong play

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NBA Buzz: Derrick Rose revitalized with stretch of strong play

It's been a frustrating watch through the season's first 50 games, but there's at least one overriding positive as the Bulls get ready for the stretch run: Derrick Rose's game is coming back.

Rose has been a consistent offensive force since Christmas Day, when the Bulls knocked off the Thunder in Oklahoma City, with Rose scoring 19 points in 30 minutes.

And, he's picked up his offensive production over the last few weeks, scoring at least 20 points in six of his last 10 games (averaging 19.3) compared to reaching that plateau just six times in the first 33 games of the season.

Rose played one of his best games since suffering the original ACL injury in the 2012 playoffs Friday night against Denver. He showed off that extra gear that helped make him the youngest MVP in league history, blazing past the Nuggets' defenders for 30 points, nine rebounds and eight assists. Rose took over the game in the third quarter, showing the full arsenal of offensive moves with hesitation, shake-and-bake crossovers, step-back mid-range jumpers and warp-speed attacks on the rim.

Unfortunately, Rose and his teammates ran out of gas in the fourth, with the Nuggets scoring 42 points on 71-percent shooting to erase an 89-73 deficit and post a 115-110 win. But with five of their top seven players unavailable because of injury or illness (Jimmy Butler, Pau Gasol, Mike Dunleavy, Nikola Mirotic and Joakim Noah), the Bulls did show a lot of resolve in battling a hot-shooting team down the stretch.

Back to Rose, his recent revival is great news for a Bulls team trying to build some momentum for the playoffs, but it also creates more questions for the front office as they look ahead to a summer roster makeover.

Can Rose be counted on as the point guard of the future? Or does his lengthy injury history make exploring trade options this summer a better course of action? Remember, with the explosion of the salary cap over the next two seasons, a max contract for Rose would start at approximately $30 million when he hits the free-agent market in the summer of 2017.

Rose recently made a guest appearance on SportsTalk Live and told the panel he wants to finish his career in Chicago, but would he or his brand-conscious representatives be willing to give the Bulls a hometown discount? These are all questions John Paxson and Gar Forman will have to consider as they try to project what the roster might look like going forward.

Don't get me wrong, I'm loving the new attack-the-basket Rose, and my hope is he can continue to ramp up his game as the Bulls move closer to the playoffs. But I also cringed when he got up very gingerly after being knocked to the court in Denver, and you'd have to be incredibly naive not to have concerns about his durability.

With so many teams having cap space this summer, and so few quality free agents available, Rose's $21.3 million salary for next season suddenly doesn't look so untradeable. You can bet teams like the Nets, Knicks and Lakers will be asking about Rose if they don't hit on their top free-agent targets.

It promises to be a fascinating offseason of player movement in the league, and with the Bulls front office determined to give Fred Hoiberg a roster more in line with the system he wants to run, all options have to be on the table.

[MORE BULLS: Bulls once again can't finish, fall to young Timberwolves]

Around the Association

As we move closer to the Feb. 18 trade deadline, a lot of the same names are being thrown around in the rumor mill. Phoenix is desperate to shake up a team that's flat-lined since losing leading scorer Eric Bledsoe to a season-ending knee injury, resulting in the recent firing of head coach Jeff Hornacek.

The Suns have been active in trade discussions regarding forwards Markieff Morris and P.J. Tucker, and they would love to get rid of the remaining years on the free-agent contract former Bulls center Tyson Chandler signed last summer. You can count on Morris being traded somewhere before the deadline after feuding with the coaching staff and management since his brother Marcus was traded to Detroit. Markieff has been re-inserted into the Suns' starting lineup in order to showcase him for a possible deal. He exploded for 30 points, 11 rebounds and six assists against Toronto last week, which is even more interesting considering the Raptors are one of the teams interested in upgrading at the forward position. Many teams are concerned about Morris' attitude and his ability to function without his twin brother, but he's a talented combo forward at 6-foot-10 who averaged 15 points and six rebounds last season.

New Orleans is also a team to watch before the deadline. The Pelicans have been one of the league's biggest disappointments after making the playoffs last season, and the front office is looking to reshape the talent surrounding Chicago native Anthony Davis, who committed to New Orleans by signing a huge extension last summer.

The Pelicans will definitely listen to calls on Eric Gordon, Tyreke Evans, Ryan Anderson and another former Bulls center, Omer Asik. Would the Bulls be interested in adding another shot creator in Evans, who has one year remaining on his contract at $10.2 million? They probably could get him in a deal for Taj Gibson and Tony Snell, but a trade like that would leave the Bulls painfully thin up front.

Probably the biggest surprise of this trade season involves the report from the Racine Journal Times stating the Bucks are interested in making a major trade and are listening to offers for starters Greg Monroe and Michael Carter-Williams. The Carter-Williams news isn't all that surprising, considering he's been a disappointment since coming over in a three-way trade that cost the Bucks Brandon Knight last February.

But the Monroe rumor is shocking, considering the Bucks just signed him as a free agent this past summer, beating out the Knicks and Lakers. Monroe is putting up solid numbers, averaging 16 points and 10 rebounds a game, but he provides very little rim protection. The Bucks' defensive rating has fallen from second a year ago to 27th this season, and it sounds like the volatile Jason Kidd wants to shake things up again. Remember, he was the one in favor of trading Knight, who was having a borderline All-Star season a year ago, to get Carter-Williams, a taller point guard Kidd thought he could mold in his image. You have to wonder if Kidd is committed to coaching in Milwaukee long term or if he's already plotting his exit strategy.

With the Golden State Warriors stampeding through the regular-season schedule at a record pace, the last thing league general managers wanted to see was the report by Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports suggesting the Warriors are the "significant front-runners" to sign Kevin Durant this summer if the former league MVP decides to leave Oklahoma City in free agency.

Can you imagine a starting lineup that includes Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Durant?

Not sure exactly how the finances would work with the Warriors having a guaranteed payroll of just under $75 million for 2016-17, according to Basketball Insiders, not including qualifying offers for restricted free agents Harrison Barnes and Festus Ezeli, and the salary cap projected to be around $90 million.

But if Durant is serious about joining forces with Curry & Co. next season, you know the Warriors will be willing to sacrifice Barnes, Ezeli and a couple other bench players to bring him on board.

Hall of Famer and former Warriors' star Rick Barry told CSN Bay Area that Durant would have to to take on a "subservient" role if he signed on, but I'm pretty confident Steve Kerr's system is flexible enough to accommodate the four-time NBA scoring champ.

Trying to create All-Star teams isn't always the best path to winning championships, but given the "share the wealth" style the Warriors have embraced, the idea of Durant going to the Bay Area has to strike fear in front offices around the league.

A very cool night last Tuesday in Los Angeles with Kobe Bryant turning back the clock to make sure the Lakers wouldn't break the all-time franchise record for consecutive losses. Bryant scored 38 points against the visiting Timberwolves, almost singlehandedly carrying the team down the stretch, hitting seven of 11 attempts from 3-point range and six straight free throws to ice the game in the closing minute.

But what really stood out was his interaction with young T-Wolves star Andrew Wiggins throughout the game. Bryant had some animated discussions with Wiggins as they went back and forth against each other, and he told reporters after the game that Wiggins admitted he stole one of Kobe's post moves.

Bryant said he couldn't have been more flattered that one of the league's up-and-coming stars took the time to study tape of his game and was successful in utilizing one of his favorite moves. Kobe said he thought he was watching himself when Wiggins scored on a baseline drive on the way to a 30-point night.

Bryant went on to tell the story of his matchups with Michael Jordan late in MJ's career and how he relished the chance to go up against his idol. Kobe relayed how Jordan was always very encouraging in helping him with his development and now it's his turn as one of the league's elder statesmen to help young players with their games.

It was great theater to watch the Bryant-Wiggins matchup, and I'm sure it's something Wiggins will always remember as he continues on the path to All-Star status in the very near future.

[MORE BULLS: Bulls breathe sigh of relief with Jimmy Butler's knee strain]

Warriors' pursuit of 72 wins

Another perfect week for the defending champs, which included a visit to the White House — and the President's funny comment about Steve Kerr.

The Warriors dominated early and survived for the win in another nationally televised statement game against Oklahoma City on Saturday, keeping their record perfect at Oracle Arena. I'm keeping their chances of matching or breaking the Bulls' record at 55 percent.

[MORE BULLS: Jimmy Butler diagnosed with left knee strain]

Future stars meet in Baton Rouge

Did you see the game recently between top-ranked Oklahoma and LSU? The Tigers feature 6-foot-10 freshman forward Ben Simmons, who's expected to be the No. 1 pick in June's NBA Draft, while the Sooners were led by 6-foot-4 guard Buddy Hield, who also figures to go in the top 10.

Simmons is a native of Austrailia and is considered one of the best prospects to come into the league since LeBron James. He's a silky smooth lefty with a well-rounded game, including exceptional ball-handling ability at 6-foot-10. Some scouts have compared him to a young Magic Johnson, but at this point, I'd say Lamar Odom in his prime is a better comp. Simmons finished with 14 points, nine rebounds and five assists against Oklahoma, but he needs to be more aggressive on the offensive end. The Sooners' defense basically shut him down in the closing minutes as they rallied for a 77-75 road win.

Meanwhile, Hield stole the show, scoring 32 points while hitting eight of 15 3-point attempts. The senior looks like a lock for first-team All-America status, and he's a testament to the value of staying in school for four years, improving his scoring average from 7.8 points as a freshman to 25.8 this season. Given the current trend of "pace and space" offenses in the NBA, Hield figures to be a very valuable addition to some team holding a top-10 pick this summer.

Stats of the week

With the All-Star Game coming up next Sunday in Toronto, here are some interesting Bulls-related factoids, courtesy of CSN's stats guru, Chris Kamka.

Bulls All-Star game appearances (17 different players)

  Games Starts Points Points per game
Michael Jordan 11 (was selected to 12 but injured in 1986) 11 234 21.3
Scottie Pippen 7 6 85 12.1
Artis Gilmore 4 2 36 9.0
Chet Walker 4 1 30 7.5
Derrick Rose 3 2 33 11.0
Bob Love 3 1 30 10.0
Norm Van Lier 3 1 5 1.7
Joakim Noah 2 0 16 8.0
Jerry Sloan 2 1 12 6.0
Luol Deng 2 0 10 5.0
Reggie Theus 2 1 8 4.0
B.J. Armstrong 1 1 11 11.0
Pau Gasol 1 1 10 10.0
Jimmy Butler 1 0 6 6.0
Bob Boozer 1 1 4 4.0
Horace Grant 1 0 4 4.0
Guy Rodgers 1 1 1 1.0

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Bulls single-game All-Star Game highs

Most points in a game: 40, Michael Jordan (1988 at Chicago Stadium); third most in All-Star Game history — Wilt Chamberlain (42, 1962), Russell Westbrook (41, 2015)

Most rebounds in a game: 12, Pau Gasol (2015)

Most assists in a game: 11, Michael Jordan (1997)

More Bulls All-Star notes

First Bulls player to start in All-Star Game: Guy Rodgers, 1967 (first season in franchise history)

First time Bulls had two starters in All-Star Game: Artis Gilmore and Reggie Theus, 1981

Only time Bulls had three All-Stars in a season: B.J. Armstrong, Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant, 1994

First Bulls player to score 10-plus points in All-Star Game: Bob Love (16) and Chet Walker (10), 1971

First Bulls player with double-double in All-Star Game: Scottie Pippen, 29 points, 11 rebounds, 1994

First Bulls player with triple-double in All-Star Game: Michael Jordan, 14 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists, 1997; first in All-Star history,  LeBron James (2011) and Dwyane Wade (2012) have done it since

Bulls to win All-Star Game MVP: Michael Jordan (1988, 1996, 1998), Scottie Pippen (1994) 

Michael Jordan All-Star Game career with Bulls

Games 11
Minutes per game 29.5
Points per game 21.3
Field-goal percentage .503
3-point shooting 3-for-9
Free-throw percentage .740
Rebounds per game 4.7
Assists per game 4.5
Steals per game 3.0

Quotes of the week

Back to Bryant's 38-point game against Minnesota, here's Kobe's response when asked if he was surprised he could still come up with an offensive game like that: "You've seen it for 20 damn years," Bryant said. "What do you expect?"

That brought the following response from Timberwolves' coach Sam Mitchell: "I hate him. If I don't ever see him again, it won't be too soon. He doesn't score too many points now, so everybody thinks he's done and all that. He's not the same Kobe, and he'll tell you that. But there are nights when he's feeling good."

And to Bryant, the comment from Mitchell was the ultimate compliment.

"Thank you for the hate, truly, I love that."

Something tells me Kobe is gearing up to put on a show in his final All-Star Game.

Anthony Davis could be the lone torch-bearer for Chicago at All-Star weekend in 2020, and object of recruitment

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AP

Anthony Davis could be the lone torch-bearer for Chicago at All-Star weekend in 2020, and object of recruitment

There were no Lakers or Clippers in the 2018 All-Star Game, but Los Angeles was well-represented with plenty of homegrown talent, plenty of historians with Los Angeles ties and all the pageantry L.A. can provide.

Russell Westbrook, Paul George and James Harden are among the All-Stars who came home to put on the biggest show of entertainment the league has to offer, and the new format featuring captains LeBron James and Stephen Curry produced one of the most competitive finishes in recent All-Star history as the spectacle wasn’t lost on DeRozan, who plays for the conference-leading Toronto Raptors.

“It was a dream come true,” DeRozan said. “I’ll forever be a part of this, and to come out and be a starter in my hometown, it was a dream come true.”

With Chicago hosting the event in 2020, one wonders if the city or the Bulls will be as represented.

“What better time to do it than in Chicago?” Bulls rookie Lauri Markkanen said about his aspirations of being an All-Star sooner rather than later.

New Orleans’ Anthony Davis, to this point, is the only Chicagoan carrying the torch as an All-Star. For years, Chicago could claim their homegrown talent rivaled the likes of Los Angeles and New York, the self-proclaimed “Mecca”.

But now they’ve fallen behind in the way of star power, as Derrick Rose has gone from MVP to one of the biggest “what if” stories in modern-day sports. Jabari Parker was expected to be next in line but his future as a star is murky due to the same dreaded injury bug.

“I didn’t know that. But there’s a lot of great players (from Chicago),” Davis said Saturday during media availability. “Jabari is just coming back, Derrick is going through what he’s going through. That’s fine. D-Wade is getting older. We have a lot of great guys. Guys have been hurt, in D-Wade’s case he’s just getting up there in age now (laughs).”

Davis is arguably the league’s most versatile big man, keeping the New Orleans Pelicans afloat while DeMarcus Cousins is out with an Achilles injury. He’s had to watch the likes of George deal with free agent questions about the prospect of coming home to L.A., even after he was traded from Indiana to Oklahoma City in the offseason.

It still hasn’t stopped the chants from Lakers fans, panting after George in the hope he’ll be a savior of sorts. And even though his contract isn’t up for another few seasons, teams are lining up in the hope they can acquire him through free agency or trade.

It could very well be him getting the chants when the All-Star party comes to Chicago and he could be joined by the likes of Markkanen and Zach LaVine in the big game.

LaVine was in Los Angeles for the weekend and Markkanen opened eyes around the league with his showing in the rising stars game as well as the skills challenge.

Davis could wind up being the object of everyone’s affection and could find himself being recruited by the likes of LaVine.

Even though 2021 is a long way away, a guy can dream, right?

“I mean, I’m cool with a lot of dudes in the NBA. I feel like I’m a likeable guy,” LaVine told NBCSportsChicago.com about recruiting star players to the Bulls franchise. “I can talk about situations like that, it would be my first time being put in a position. It would be a little bit different but I think I can handle it.”

LaVine has his own contract situation to take care of this summer, being a restricted free agent but understands the Bulls’ salary cap position and their long-term goals.

“Yeah I think once the offseason comes and everybody settles down, and I’m comfortable, and I know the position I’ll be in,” LaVine said to NBCSportsChicago.com.

“I think we’ll start having those conversations because we want to get the franchise back to where it was, on that high plateau. That’s what it’s supposed to be.”

“I’m trying to solidify myself in the league to a certain degree. Once you start reaching those points you can talk to anybody to get to where you want to get to.”

LaVine attended several events over the weekend and shared the same space as several All-Stars in non-media settings. It’s easy to see why he would think he could have that affect with his peers.

Being careful about the rules on tampering, he said about a potential sit-down with Davis, “I would bring some Harold’s chicken to the meeting and we’ll be all good.”

Lauri Markkanen nearly 'Finnishes' in Skills Challenge against former Bull Spencer Dinwiddie

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USA TODAY

Lauri Markkanen nearly 'Finnishes' in Skills Challenge against former Bull Spencer Dinwiddie

Los Angeles—Lauri Markkanen called himself “The Finnisher” when asked what the movie of his life would be called.

Apparently, that moniker didn’t apply to the All-Star Skills challenge as he took down the best big men but couldn’t close against a former Bull, Spencer Dinwiddie, in the final.

The contest highlights players’ ability to dribble around cones shaped like NBA logos, throwing a chest pass into a net while having to complete a layup and then 3-pointer before their opponent does.

Markkanen took down Detroit’s Andre Drummond and Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid before facing off with Dinwiddie. He held a pose after hitting a triple to beat the uber confident Embiid, in what will likely be used as a memorable gif following the weekend.

His confidence doesn’t come across as blatantly as Embiid’s, but that snapshot shows he’s no humble star in the making. He didn’t even practice for the contest, by his own admission.

“I heard some of the guys did,” Markkanen said. “I didn’t do much, just before the competition, I did a little warm-up.”

Missing on the first pass attempt into the circular net in the final, it gave Dinwiddie the advantage he wouldn’t relinquish, hitting on his second 3-point attempt before Markkanen could make it downcourt to contest.

“It’s a lot harder than I’ve seen,” Markkanen said. “I thought it was gonna be super easy but it was kind of tough. Maybe I need to hold my follow through (on the pass).”

“I saw he missed (the first shot) and I started going. I thought he would’ve missed it too. I think I would’ve gotten it on the third shot.”

Being one of the multi-dimensional big men in today’s game who can be adept on the perimeter as well as the interior, it almost seems like the contest was made for Markkanen. Although he doesn’t do much handling in Fred Hoiberg’s offense, it’s clearly a skill he will develop as time goes on.

The last two winners of the skills challenge were Karl-Anthony Towns and Kristaps Porzingis, and Markkanen was well aware of the recent trend.

“The last two years the bigs have won,” Markkanen said. “I’m kind of pissed that I couldn’t keep the streak going after (those two). I think there’s a lot of guys who can do that now, it’s why they changed the format to bigs versus smalls.”

For Dinwiddie, who was discarded by the Bulls last season after a promising start in the preseason so they could pick up R.J. Hunter, he’s taken advantage of an opportunity with Brooklyn.

“I think for Chicago it was just another series of unfortunate events,” he said. “They were in win-now mode. I was an unproven guard on a non-guaranteed contract and they felt Michael Carter-Williams gave them a better shot to win.”