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NBA Buzz: Should Bulls be thinking trade this summer?

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NBA Buzz: Should Bulls be thinking trade this summer?

One of the quickest ways for any NBA team to improve is by identifying and pursuing young players with high upsides who have yet to reach their potential with their current squads.

As I mentioned in my column on fixing the Bulls last week, the front office needs to be proactive in seeking out possible trades for impact players, and based on developments around the league last week, two of the top players from last year's draft class could be available this summer.

Let's start in Philadelphia, where longtime NBA executive and director of USA Basketball Jerry Colangelo has become the most important voice in the 76ers decision-making process, basically usurping the power of general manager Sam Hinkie.

Colangelo knows it's time in the team's rebuilding process to add some high-caliber veteran talent to the Sixers' collection of odd-fitting pieces. Hinkie has been collecting injured big men in recent drafts with Nerlens Noel sitting out his entire rookie season while rehabbing a knee injury and Joel Embiid missing two seasons because of continuing foot problems.

So, when the Sixers' turn came up at No. 3 last June, Hinkie went with another big man, Chicago native Jahlil Okafor. Okafor had a mostly solid rookie season, averaging 17.5 points and seven rebounds, but he's more of an old-school, low-post center, not the 3-point-shooting rim runner most teams are searching for these days.

Meanwhile, the 7-foot-1 Embiid has been tearing it up in team workouts recently, finally looking like the player everyone had scouted leading up to the 2014 draft. Colangelo and the rest of the Sixers' brain trust believe Embiid might be the better long-term option at center, which means Okafor could be available in the days leading up to the June 23 draft.

Could the Bulls pry him loose with an offer of Nikola Mirotic and a first-round pick? Or would it take a pair of No. 1s and either Mirotic or Taj Gibson to get Colangelo's attention?

Yes, we've heard the rumors about Jimmy Butler's possible availability in trade this summer, but if the Bulls really are thinking about trading their best player, a deal needs to be centered around a bigger target than Okafor, like Clippers power forward Blake Griffin. Like all players, Butler has his faults, but he’s still a top-15 or 20 talent in the league and shouldn’t be moved unless the Bulls are able to make a home-run deal.

The big story in the NBA last week involved Lakers rookie D'Angelo Russell recording a conversation with teammate Nick Young about Young's infidelity, which somehow was released for public consumption. The two players met the media before the Lakers' game against Miami last Wednesday, but clearly it will take more than that for Russell's teammates to trust him again.  

Russell told reporters, "Only time can make this really go away. ... If I've lost anybody's trust, I'm gonna work my tail off to get it back. ... I feel as sick as possible. I wish I could make things better right away, but I can't."

Russell added, "That was just an incident of playing too much goes wrong. ... I have no clue how it got out." Did Russell know how it got out? "Honestly, no. It was for my eyes and his eyes only."

Young only spoke for 29 seconds and didn't take any questions, saying simply, "I don't want to get into my personal life right now. Me and D'Angelo handled the situation."

The Lakers obviously have a lot more invested in Russell than they do in Young or any other player with the possible exception of young forward Julius Randle, so their likely course of action is to try to rehabilitate Russell's image and bring him back with a much different looking roster next season. Young has one more guaranteed year on his contract, plus a player option for 2017-18, so look for him to be traded or released this summer.

Still, if Lakers' management decides Russell has done too much damage to bring him back into their locker room, the Bulls might have the unique opportunity to improve the roster on multiple fronts.

We know Derrick Rose spends his summers in Los Angeles and might welcome the challenge of succeeding Kobe Bryant as the featured star in Laker Land. So, would the Bulls consider a 1-for-1 trade of Rose for Russell, which would work since the Lakers could absorb Rose's $21.3 million contract for next season into their ample cap space?

The Bulls would have a 20-year-old combo guard who could push the pace in the manner Hoiberg desires, and an extra $16 million in cap room to pursue free agents this summer (raising their total to close to $40 million without Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah). They would also head off all the drama that's sure to follow Rose as he goes through his lead-up season to free agency in the summer of 2017.

As I said earlier, it's unlikely the Lakers will give up on the guy they selected with the second-overall pick in last year's draft over Okafor and Kristaps Porzingis, but it's a phone call the Bulls' front office needs to make as they formulate their plans to rebuild the roster.

More of E'Twaun?

One free agent the Bulls would like to re-sign this summer is valuable backup guard E'Twaun Moore. The East Chicago, Ind., native and former Purdue Boilermakers star has been rock solid this season playing both guard spots and even a little small forward.

Moore's averages of 7.5 points, 2.3 rebounds and 1.7 assists don't jump off the page, but the Bulls' offense runs more smoothly when he's on the floor. And we know the 6-foot-4, 190-pound guard isn't afraid to battle on the defensive end. Moore is also willing to take big shots, and he's shooting around 48 percent from the field and 45 percent from 3-point range. He makes good decisions with the ball and is a totally unselfish teammate.

Moore's absence was one of the factors that contributed to the Bulls' disappointing losses to the Knicks and Magic, and he played his typically steady role in road wins over Indiana and Houston in his first games back from a hamstring injury.

With the salary cap expected to jump to around $92 million this summer, Moore might find himself in position to earn a sizable raise from his current rate of just over $1 million. But with all the roster turnover expected this offseason, hanging on to a valuable utility player like Moore would be a good idea.

Around the Association

— It looks like Detroit will be able to hang on to one of the final playoff spots in the East, but Stan Van Gundy still has some issues to deal with in trying to build a legitimate contending team. Let's start with Andre Drummond's miserable free-throw shooting. Van Gundy had to bench Drummond for the final five minutes of a close win against the Bulls on Saturday because the All-Star center was only 1-for-10 from the free-throw line, and the Bulls were able to erase Detroit's lead by intentionally fouling Drummond and sending him to the line. Drummond is only shooting 35 percent from the line, which is an embarrassment to him and the entire organization. Yes, the 6-foot-11 center leads the league in rebounding and is a capable low-post scorer, but until he learns to make an unguarded shot from 15 feet, it's hard to consider him a player you can count on in the postseason.

— The Pistons' second-best player, Reggie Jackson, was also in the news last week after his over-the-top celebration of Detroit's home-court win over an Oklahoma City team that was resting both Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka. Jackson received an $80 million contract extension last summer and carries himself on the court like he's one of the top point guards in the league. Jackson used to be Russell Westbrook's backup in Oklahoma City, and he was traded away last season because he chafed at playing a reserve role. So, his celebration last week was directed at Westbrook and Thunder management, and none of the Oklahoma City players were very happy about it, with Westbrook saying he'll look forward to facing Jackson again next season. Circle that one when the 2016-17 NBA schedule is released.

— Veteran NBA coach Terry Stotts hasn't had much luck over his career, taking over weak teams in Atlanta and Milwaukee, then seeing his Portland team lose four starters last summer through free agency and trades. The Trail Blazers were expected to be one of the worst teams in the league, but Stotts and his staff have done a remarkable job building around small scoring guards Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. Portland is currently sixth in the West, with a chance to run down Memphis for the No. 5 spot and a first-round series against the talented but erratic Clippers. Look for Stotts to get plenty of support in the Coach of the Year balloting, and I wouldn't be surprised if he wins it.

— Did you catch the video of Lakers' back-up guard Marcelo Huertas hiding behind Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, then running back into play to steal the ball from behind. Huertas looks like a guy who came out of the stands to put on an NBA uniform, and it's hard to believe the proud Lakers' franchise would give him a roster spot, but at least he provided one of the funniest moments of the regular season.

Warriors' pursuit of 72 wins

Golden State is staggering a bit trying to get to the finish line. They should have lost last Wednesday at Utah, but the Jazz couldn't make their free throws down the stretch and wound up losing in overtime. That was followed the next day by the NBA's official review of officiating in the final two minutes that listed several mistakes that were made in favor of the Warriors. Then on Friday, Golden State lost at home for the first time this season to Brad Stevens' feisty Celtics. So, in a season when the Warriors are likely to set the record for wins, San Antonio could become the first team to go through an entire home schedule without a loss. The Spurs play hosts to Golden State on April 10, trying to go to 40-0 at home, so maybe that will be enough incentive for Gregg Popovich to play all his regulars. Still, the Warriors only need to go 4-1 the rest of the way to break the Bulls' record, so I'm keeping it as a 90-percent likelihood they get the job done.

Stat of the week

Jimmy  Butler recorded the first triple-double of his NBA career Saturday against Detroit with 28 points, 17 rebounds and 12 assists, in the process becoming the first Bulls guard since Michael Jordan in 1997 to pull down as many as 17 boards.

Quotes of the week

Back to the Russell situation in Los Angeles. Head coach Byron Scott has been critical of the rookie for much of the season and cut back his playing time in January and February. Scott had this to say about the No. 2 overall pick recently: "He's such a kid. I told him the other day, 'You're 19, but sometimes I think you're 14.'" If Scott returns as Lakers coach, he certainly won't be trying to block a Russell trade.

Finally, Scottie Pippen has been one of the few players from the 1995-96 Bulls to openly root against Golden State in their pursuit of the Bulls' single-season record of 72 wins. So, when Pippen was asked who would win a series between the two all-time great squads, Pip said simply, "Bulls in four."

You have to like Scottie's confidence, and I agree the defensive skills of Pippen, Jordan and Dennis Rodman would cause all kinds of problems for Steph Curry & Co. But based on Curry's amazing shot-making ability, I'll give the Warriors one win in the series, maybe two.

Reflective Jimmy Butler looks back on time in Chicago during All-Star weekend

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USA TODAY

Reflective Jimmy Butler looks back on time in Chicago during All-Star weekend

LOS ANGELES — Jimmy Butler was absent from the scoresheet of the All-Star Game, unless you count a “DNP-Coaches’ Decision” as activity. Whether due to the All-Star festivities of the weekend or even the grinding minutes he plays under Tom Thibodeau, it wasn’t truly surprising to see him want to have a night off of sorts.

But what was mildly surprising was the reflection he displayed on Saturday at All-Star Media Day in reference to his time with the Chicago Bulls. Usually, Butler’s armor is up because of his feelings surrounding his draft-night departure.

“I learned a lot in Chicago,” Butler said. “Just all through the season and life in general. What to do, what not to do and how to adapt to any situation that you’ve been in. I’ve done that to the best of my abilities. I have a ways to go in that.”

It’s clear he’s still grasping the weight of his words as the best player on a team, or at least, the player whose words impact everything around him.

“A people pleaser? No, I just didn’t say much,” Butler said. “Now I just don’t care. I never talked whenever I was in the league at an early age. It really didn’t matter, nothing I did was gonna make or break us when it comes to losing a game. Now it does and I have a lot to say. Half the time it’s not the right time or right way to say it but it’s okay.”

Whether it was the battles with Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg or the internal struggles in the Bulls’ locker room through his ascension from bench warmer to rotation player to impact player to now, a legitimate star, he’s modifying his approach—just a tad.

“I’ve never been the best player on my own team. I was in Tomball,” he joked, in reference to his beginnings in small town Texas. “I wasn’t in junior college. At Marquette I wasn’t. I’m probably not now. In Chicago I wasn’t. You just pick up on it, watch others and learn.”

He admitted to writing in a journal and reading self-help books now that he’s in Minnesota. The novel he’s reading now, “Faith, Forward, Future” is authored by Chad Veach, a Los Angeles pastor and the subtitle of the book says “Moving past your disappointments, delays and destructive thinking.”

Whether he started the book following a slow start with the Timberwolves in November, where his nightly numbers looked like one of a high-level role player, he took some self-evaluation before leading the charge since, playing like an MVP candidate with 25.2 points, 5.5 rebounds and 5.3 assists on 49 percent shooting since the start of December.

“It’s relatively new. Yeah, basketball is still basketball but it’s hard when somebody else is coming in and roles change overnight,” Butler said. “You gotta see where you fit in with the group. At the end of the day you gotta win. I didn’t feel the way I was playing was our best opportunity to win games.”

Bringing along the likes of Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns, with Towns being a fellow All-Star for the first time, has been a process.

“I’ve never actually had to be a leader,” Butler said. “I just always done what I was supposed to do, didn’t say much and played hard. Now you know, everybody wants to call someone a leader.”

He disputes taking a softer hand, especially as Towns and Wiggins seem to struggle with sustaining concentration at critical moments. The Timberwolves won’t be able to make those mistakes during the playoffs, but he’s being more selective with his words.

“I’m not soft,” he said. “If I see something wrong, I speak on it. If you don’t like it, oh well. You’ll get over it.”

One thing he could take a bird’s eye view of was the aftermath of LeBron James and Kevin Durant’s comments to the “Uninterrupted”, where they were criticized by cable news hosts for speaking out against President Donald Trump.

No stranger to criticism, Butler would likely have the same approach if he dipped his toes into that arena.

“I like it. You got the right to say what you want and you speak on what you think is right,” Butler said. “Good for them. And they are magnified in a very big way. They embrace it and they’re doing the right thing, I’m all for it.”

And if the day comes where he doesn’t stick to sports, Butler’s directness and lack of diplomacy would certainly cause an interesting reaction.

“I don’t care. Whatever I believe in, I believe in,” Butler said. “Everybody else does it. You see everybody on Twitter and the Internet doing it and saying what they want to say. We just have a different job than the person to our left and right.”

Well, not quite a warm and fuzzy Jimmy Butler.

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.”