Bulls

NBA preseason primer: Offseason winners

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NBA preseason primer: Offseason winners

Leading up to Bulls media day on Sept. 28, Bulls Insider Vincent Goodwill and Mark Strotman will preview the upcoming NBA season with daily features on everything related to the Association. Today the pair analyze which teams "won" the offseason with a combination of free-agent signings, trades and/or draft picks.

Mark Strotman: Well, Vinnie, the Tigers completed their fire sale more than a month ago and the Brewers haven't been fewer than 10 games under .500 since May 11. I'd say baseball season has been done for quite awhile - we can get into Packers-Lions later - for the both of us, meaning basketball season is arriving at the perfect time. The Bulls will kick off their annual media day in less than three weeks and in less than a month will take the United Center floor for the first time since Matthew Dellavedova outplayed Derrick Rose in Game 6 (That's the last Delly reference, so just breathe).

But before we discuss Fred Hoiberg's group and its expectations, let's backtrack a bit and discuss this offseason's winners. The consensus is that the Spurs were the clear victors - it's about time something went that franchise's way - signing prized free agent LaMarcus Aldridge while also maxing out Kawhi Leonard and getting David West to sign a one-year, $1.4 million deal. Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili are back for one more run on team-friendly deals, and re-signing Danny Green (4 years, $40 million) was subtly a really important move and great value for a 28-year-old 3-and-D shooting guard.

Given the Warriors didn't lose anything this offseason it's tough to call the Spurs the favorites, but this summer couldn't have gone any better for San Antonio - they even won the Summer League championship led by Becky Hammon, which was all sorts of awesome. Having the game's best coach score the league's best offseason? Well, Pop, in the words of a teary-eyed Terrell Owens, 'It's really unfair.'

Vincent Goodwill: Well considering the Bears only exist in my world as entertainment for Jay Cutler’s underachievement, I can remove my “Lions free” tag for two weeks every fall (which I’m sure endears me more to Chicago sports fans).  And while I don’t disagree with you about the Spurs winning the offseason, heck, they changed not only the makeup of their team but also became much more dynamic by signing Aldridge and keeping Leonard on an expected max extension, I still have my doubts about the backcourt, sans Leonard.

The one team that had to win the offseason for the future of its franchise did so, the Oklahoma City Thunder. Scott Brooks was a good coach for a team in the embryonic stage, but the Thunder have evolved well past the labor pains. They’re ready to have the baby, thus the hiring of former Florida coach Billy Donovan, who was well-regarded in NBA circles before now.

They have the deepest roster in the league, with rotating bigs, shooters and guys waiting to fill a role. Oh, and if Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook come back completely healthy and stay that way? The championship road goes through Oklahoma City and Golden State in the Western Conference. Yes, they overpaid for restricted free agent Enes Kanter (but who doesn’t with the way the cap is rising?), but they can play anywhere between nine and 11(!) guys in a rotation on a given night without losing much.

While the Spurs have just shored up their future by signing Aldridge, the Thunder franchise is doing everything it can to keep Durant happy, as the clock on his free agency is ticking louder and louder. From here, if Durant’s foot problems are behind him, this could be a revenge year from the 2014 MVP. That would make Pop and the Spurs cry.

MS: Speaking of Oklahoma City, another small-market team that’s building toward something in a similar fashion is the Milwaukee Bucks. While one of Tyson Chandler, DeAndre Jordan or Brook Lopez would’ve been ideal, the Greg Monroe signing is a perfect fit; Monroe’s strengths (post scoring) will be magnified in Milwaukee, and his weaknesses (rim protection) will be covered up by a host of long, active defenders. I thought it was the best fit of any player who signed this offseason, schematically. GM John Hammond moved quickly to re-sign Khris Middleton, who is still just 24 years old - or 23 months younger than Jimmy Butler.

The Bucks will “get back” Jabari Parker, the No. 2 pick who was limited to 25 games in his rookie season after tearing his ACL, and though the Bucks will handle him with extreme caution, he’s going to be a contributor on a Bucks team that averaged fewer than 98 points a year ago. Add Chris Copeland to the forward mix, trading for Greivis Vasquez and the simple fact that Giannis Antetokounmpo will be five months older and five months better and you’re looking at a Bucks team that could challenge for a top-4 spot in the East. And while that’s not saying a whole lot, we’re talking about a team that won 15 games two years ago. Jason Kidd and Hammond deserve to be applauded. The Bucks didn’t get the sexy names in free agency. They got the right ones.

VG: I see you’re going with teams with new additions developing new traditions, and I’ve long been a fan of what the Bucks are doing with their youth along with adding Greg Monroe. Them going six games with the Bulls in the playoffs will give them much-needed positive reinforcement, as the Bulls will have to deal with that monster this season.

But I like continuity, so the Miami Heat—yes the LeBron James-less Heat—will be a team to watch this season. They get Chris Bosh back from that mysterious injury that caused him to miss the last half of the year, with a healthy Goran Dragic and a still formidable Dwyane Wade for at least 50 games (assumedly). Hassan Whiteside is a young force whose only vice is consistency but as Bulls fans know, he can swat everything in sight and lock in for an entire game.

They’ve quietly added Amare Stoudemire, who certainly isn’t a difference maker but will help you several nights during the season as a reserve when he turns back the clock on those creaky knees. They signed Gerald Green for the league minimum, a coup for Heat boss Pat Riley, who clearly wants one more shot at LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers for the right to play in the NBA Finals.

If—and it’s a big “if”—the Heat are relatively healthy, they’ll be a team nobody wants to see. They still need perimeter shooting, and one has to worry about the “Thibs” miles Luol Deng has on his body, but in-season upgrades are always available for purchase. Playing in June is still a dream, but they want to make May a nightmare for the Cavs, Bulls and any other conference contender.

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.”

Michael Jordan's Greatest Moments: 5-1

Michael Jordan's Greatest Moments: 5-1

This is part of a four-part series looking back at the historic career of Michael Jordan and the legacy he left on the game of basketball. It all leads up to Saturday when we unveil his top 5 moments on his 55th birthday. Here are 55-4544-23, and 22-6.

5. Jordan wins fourth title and finishes greatest individual season ever, June 16, 1996

It’s hard to comprehend just how much Jordan accomplished during the 1995-96 season. We’ll try:He won his fourth championship, was named NBA Finals MVP for a record fourth time, won All-Star Game MVP, won a record 72 games, was named to the NBA All-Defensive First Team, was the league’s leading scorer and became the Bulls’ all-time leader in games played. So when he dropped a casual 22 points in Game 6, it marked the end of one of the greatest seasons in NBA history. Oh, and Space Jam came out a few months later.
 
4. Jordan hits six triples, scores 35 points in first half against Blazers, June 3, 1992

During the 1991-92 regular season, Jordan never made more than three 3-pointers in a single game. In fact, the most 3-pointers he had in any two-game stretch that year was four. So when he began burying triple after triple in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, even Jordan couldn’t believe it, giving a shrug toward the NBC announcers as if to say, “I don’t know, either.” Jordan finished the first half with six triples and scored an NBA-record 35 points. The Bulls cruised in the second half, so Jordan finished with only 39, but his shrug remains one of the most iconic NBA Finals moments in history.
 
3. Jordan battles the flu, scores 38 in Game 5 on his way to fifth title, June 11, 1997

The Flu Game. Jordan was battling a nasty illness in the lead-up to a pivotal Game 5 in Utah, and there were concerns about whether he would even suit up. Hours before tip Jordan got out of bed and made his way to the arena, looking to halt Utah’s momentum after it had taken Games 3 and 4 to tie the series. The Jazz came out red-hot while Jordan looked sluggish, but he responded with 17 points in the second quarter alone to give the Bulls a halftime lead. Jordan then keyed a 10-0 run in the fourth quarter to erase a Jazz lead, and he hit a 3-pointer with 25 seconds left to give the Bulls a three-point lead. The Bulls hung on, and Jordan collapsed into Scottie Pippen’s arms walking off the floor. His final line? 38 points, 13 of 27 shooting, 7 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals. Two days later the Bulls won the title in front of a sellout Chicago crowd.

2. Jordan scores 63 points against Celtics in playoff loss, April 20, 1986

Jordan had just turned 23 years old when he took to the Boston Garden floor to face Larry Bird in his prime and the Celtics. These Celtics had gone 40-1 at home, led the NBA in field goal percentage defense, started FOUR future Hall of Famers and had a fifth come off the bench. They would ultimately go down as one of the all-time greatest teams, and Jordan made them look absolutely silly. He played 50 minutes in the double-overtime thriller, shooting 22 of 41 from the field and making 19 of 21 free throws, including the last two with no time on the clock and the Bulls trailing by two at the end of regulation. He scored 54 in regulation, added five in the first overtime and four in the second. He also led the Bulls with six assists. It still stands as the NBA record for most points in any playoff game. Twenty-three years old. Twenty. Three.

1. Jordan scores 45 in final game with the Bulls, securing sixth championship, June 14, 1998

Jordan’s final game with the Bulls was iconic. Like so many of these moments, die hards know exactly where they were. The 45 points were majestic, and while he only had one rebound and one assist he affected just about every possession on both ends. But what we’ll remember most is the final 37 seconds. Jordan drove to the basket for layup that cut Utah’s lead to one, then stripped Karl Malone from behind on the next trip down. That gave the ball back to the Bulls with 20 seconds left. Jordan let the clock tick down to around 9 seconds before making his move from the left wing, driving right on Bryon Russell, (maybe pushing off) and pulling up for a jumper at the foul line. The shot was good with 5.2 seconds remaining, and John Stockton’s ensuing 3-pointer was off the mark. It gave Jordan and the Bulls their sixth NBA title, and marked the perfect ending to his Bulls career: getting it done on both ends, in the clutch, and finishing with a victory. Because it encapsulated so much of his 14-year career in Chicago, it’s our top Michael Jordan moment.