Bulls

On the other end of the Michael Carter-Williams trade, Tony Snell is about to get paid

On the other end of the Michael Carter-Williams trade, Tony Snell is about to get paid

Tony Snell never figured it out during his time with the Bulls, averaging 5.3 points on 40 percent shooting (and just 35 percent from deep) in three seasons.

He showed some promise on the defensive end as a lengthy 6-foot-7 wing, but eventually fell out of the rotation under first year head coach Fred Hoiberg.

So when the Bulls traded Snell to the Milwaukee Bucks less than two weeks before the regular season started, there was little surprise.

The Bulls had drafted wings Doug McDermott and Denzel Valentine in the previous two drafts, and it was clear Snell wouldn't be part of the rotation. In return they received Michael Carter-Williams, presumably to compete with Jerian Grant for the backup spot behind Rajon Rondo and act as a defensive presence on a team that desparately needed one at the position.

Fast forward eight months and it's clear that the Bulls took a massive loss on the trade, and now the Bucks are poised to lock up Snell long-term.

ESPN's Zach Lowe wrote Friday to expect the Bucks "to re-sign Tony Snell for something in the $10-12 million range" when free agency begins Friday night.

The money might seem steep, but Snell has warranted it. In Milwaukee, Snell averaged 8.5 points, provided superb defense and made 40.6 percent of his 3-pointers in 80 starts for the Bucks. Ironically he would have been a great piece for the Bulls to have as the rebuilding project began, seeing as they lost their best perimeter defender in Jimmy Butler. Snell will turn 26 in November.

Carter-Williams? He appeared in just 46 games, averaging 6.6 points on 36.6 percent shooting and 2.5 assists. He started 19 games but never carved out a real role. Earlier in the month the Bulls declined to give Carter-Williams a qualifying offer, making him an unrestricted free agent. He actually became the first former Rookie of the Year to not receive a qualifying offer.

The Bulls will move forward at the point with Dunn, Grant, and Cameron Payne.

Just the right fit: Steve Kerr sees the Bulls finally meshing into Fred Hoiberg's system

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USA TODAY

Just the right fit: Steve Kerr sees the Bulls finally meshing into Fred Hoiberg's system

Thirteen days after Fred Hoiberg was hired as the 19th head coach in Bulls history, Steve Kerr and the Warriors were crowned NBA champions. Part of Kerr’s offseason included meeting for lunch with the newest member of the 30-man head coaching fraternity. It was an important sitdown for Hoiberg, getting to speak with both a man who had followed a similar path to his now-current position, and one he was trying to emulate from a stylistic perspective.

“I think the world of Steve. He’s been great to me since I’ve been in the league,” Hoiberg said Wednesday. “He’s just done an unbelievable job and I feel fortunate to be able to talk to him about situations. And I’ve done that through good times and bad.”

Conversation between the two has been far more good than bad these days. Golden State remains the golden standard of the NBA. Wednesday's win over the Bulls was their 14th consecutive on the road, third longest in NBA history. They have the league's best record (37-9), its most efficient offense and fourth most efficient defense. 

They're far and away the favorites to hoist a third Larry O'Brien trophy in June, and even without Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala on Wednesday they pulled away with ease and cruised to a ninth win in their last 10 games. But the Bulls team they beat competed for 48 minutes - just as they've done the last six weeks - and looked far different from the one that suffered a 49-point loss in Oakland in late November.

Hoiberg admitted that the Bulls, like every team in the league, attempts “to pattern their style after this team.” And at times the Bulls looked the part of the up-tempo, step-on-your-throat offensive juggernaut the Warriors have been the last three seasons under Kerr. They scored 40 in the first, and inexplicably put together a 17-0 run spanning the first and second quarters to take a seven-point lead. It wasn't quite as pretty as Golden State's perfection looks, but the Bulls had 15 assists and scored 17 points off Warriors turnovers.

“They go in spurts, they have little streaks and runs, especially at home because they’re a talented team,” Kevin Durant said after the game.

The Warriors were just fine getting into a shooting contest with the Bulls, knowing their core containing three of the world’s best shooters would ultimately outlast their opponent. And it did. In the third quarter the Warriors’ Splash Brothers took over, with Steph Curry and Klay Thompson combining for 22 points on 6-for-10 shooting from deep. Their league-best defense, even without Green, stifled the Bulls, who scored just 11 points in the quarter.

The Bulls, as they've done in this six-week span that's included a 12-8 record, fought down the stretch, inching the deficit down to nine early in the fourth quarter and as close as five in the final minute. But the Warriors closed - same as they always do - and despite a narrow win as far as they're concerned, managed to shoot 50 percent from the field, make 13 3-pointers and hand out 24 assists. Kerr's philosophies, combined with an unprecedented roster in terms of talent, added another tally to its record-breaking win total.

And it's that combination that Kerr believes can propel the Bulls. He admitted being "flattered" that Hoiberg models much of his offense around what the Warriors have done, and said that he's followed Hoiberg since his Iowa State days (when Kerr was an NBA commentator for TNT) and sees the talent not only improving, but meshing with Hoiberg's philosophies in Year 3.

“We’re winning because we have some of the best players in the world. The only way you can truly replicate what we’ve done is to amass a ton of talent,” Kerr said. “Bulls are on the right track. They drafted Markkanen, they got some good players back in the Butler trade, and got some nice young pieces and are playing really well.”

The Jimmy Butler trade return struggled on Wednesday, going 13-for-41, but has proven to be perfect fits with Hoiberg's offense. Dunn will only improve having a creator like LaVine alongside him, and Lauri Markkanen added two more triples to his record-breaking rookie campaign. Nikola Mirotic scored 24 points with four triples, and Bobby Portis stayed efficient with 12 points on 6-for-10 shooting. Even David Nwaba, whose roster spot would have been filled by a second-round pick, played stifling defense on Curry down the stretch and even added eight points in 27 minutes.

The Bulls hit 10 3-pointers, extending their franchise record of double-digit makes to nine straight games. Their offensive rating since Dec. 7 is 12th in the league, just a tick below the Cleveland Cavaliers. Perhaps because of the offensive improvements the defense, too, has shown improvement: they're 16th in the league in efficiency since the 3-20 start. And for what it's worth, they held Golden State to seven fast-break points, more than 14 below their league-leading average.

"We have a group this year that has bought in, especially the past six weeks to getting up the floor and trying to play with pace and get shots up before the defense gets set," Hoiberg said.

So while the Bulls wait for their talent to simmer and improve, they'll go along with and continue to mesh with Hoiberg's philosophies. Golden State's 73-win record won't be in reach, and the Bulls shouldn't wait for two Hall of Famers and four All-Stars in one lineup. But Kerr and the Warriors started somewhere, and while Hoiberg needed to sift through players to find the right fits the last three years, the start of their rebuild is now in focus.

"I think we share a lot of the same vision for the game: spacing and ball movement and everybody touching the ball, feeling part of it. He knows his stuff," Kerr said of Hoiberg. "In this league it takes talent and it takes the right fit and I feel like it’s happening for them now. I know it’s taken a couple of years to get to this point, but in this league fit is everything."

Steve Kerr thinks he could have shut down Steph Curry in his prime

Steve Kerr thinks he could have shut down Steph Curry in his prime

If Steve Kerr owned a time machine, he knows exactly who he would have taken down if the Jordan-era Bulls had the chance to play the present-day Golden State Warriors.

“I would probably shut down Curry pretty well because I would have been matched up with him. I know his game so well as a coach now that it would have been easy for me to just lock him up,” the former Bulls guard told reporters with a wink.

But what Kerr is saying may have some merit. 

We ran simultion NBA Finals on What If Sports and if the 1995-1996 Chicago Bulls and the 2016-2017 Golden State Warriors faced off, things got interesting.  The series went seven games, but the Warriors come out superior. Curry averaged 17 points per game with a 42.9 percent shooting. 

But Kerr is still confident in his defensive history.

“Me? I can stay in front of anybody, that kind of speed and lightning quickness.”

A reporter reaffirmed these skills, calling out how noticeable they were in action.

“Thank you. Somebody recognizes it,” Kerr said.