Bulls

Which teams have the best odds to sign Kevin Durant?

Which teams have the best odds to sign Kevin Durant?

Now that Oklahoma City has become the 10th team to blow a 3-1 lead in a playoff series, the clock has officially started on Kevin Durant’s upcoming free agency. With the salary cap jumping to about $92 million this summer, almost half the league will be able to offer Durant a maximum contract at 11 p.m. on June 30th.

So, which teams have the best chance to sign one of the league’s top-three players? Here’s a look at the early odds.

Oklahoma City Thunder: 2-1. For financial and competitive reasons, Durant’s best move is to stay in Oklahoma City. With the cap jumping $20 million this summer and another $15 million in 2017, Durant can make an extra $40 million by signing a one-and-one contract with the Thunder in July, then opt out and sign a long-term deal in 2017. Plus, after taking the defending-champion Warriors to seven games in the Western Conference Finals, Durant has an excellent chance to win a championship with the Thunder next season. And, by signing for one year, he can align his free agency with Russell Westbrook’s in 2017. That way, if Westbrook decides to abandon Oklahoma City for a big-market team in Los Angeles or New York, Durant can bail from a sinking ship at the same time.

San Antonio Spurs: 10-1. Durant has a world of respect for the dynasty Gregg Popovich has built, and he would make the Spurs an instant title favorite if he made the move to San Antonio. The Spurs would have to jettison some contracts and nudge Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili into retirement to create cap room, but the thought of Durant joining Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge in San Antonio is pretty intriguing.

Miami Heat: 15-1. Never underestimate Pat Riley’s ability to sell a free agent on the ability to win championships by joining the franchise he runs. Riley worked his salary-cap magic to add LeBron James and Chris Bosh in 2010, and he even got a meeting with Aldridge last summer even though the Heat didn’t have the cap room to sign him. If Durant wants to get away from the top-heavy Western Conference for a better chance to get to the Finals, what better place to go than South Beach? The biggest problem in this scenario is Miami doesn’t have a lot of cap flexibility and would probably have to sacrifice the chance to re-sign free agent center Hassan Whiteside to make a run at Durant.

Golden State Warriors: 25-1. We’ve read the media speculation about the Warriors being the biggest threat to take Durant away from Oklahoma City, but if Golden State is able to win a second straight championship, do they really want to mess up team chemistry by adding a star player who would expect to get 20 to 25 shots a game? Sure, the triumvirate of Durant, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson would be something to behold, but would it make the Warriors a better all-around team or just a nightly All-Star exhibition? The Warriors would have to let restricted free agents Harrison Barnes and Festus Ezeli go plus make some other roster moves to create the cap room for a competitive offer.

Los Angeles Clippers: 30-1. The Clippers won’t have the cap room to sign Durant, but Doc Rivers could propose an intriguing sign-and-trade deal sending Blake Griffin back to Oklahoma, where he starred as a collegian. The trio of Durant, Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan could do some serious damage in the West, and Griffin might be a popular addition in Oklahoma City, though not quite the same franchise-altering talent as Durant.

Los Angeles Lakers: 40-1. Would Durant be willing to leave a championship contender in Oklahoma City and give up an extra $40 million to join a rebuilding Lakers team? Probably not, though the lure of Tinseltown can be appealing for a lot of athletes. Magic Johnson and Kobe Bryant would give their best recruiting pitches, but the answer is most likely no.

Boston Celtics/Washington Wizards: 50-1. Danny Ainge is still searching for that elusive superstar to elevate the Celtics to contending status, and Durant grew up in the Washington, D.C. area, but neither franchise is exactly what Durant is looking for. As we mentioned with Miami, moving to the East would give Durant an easier path to the Finals, but he’s already gone on record saying he doesn’t want the pressure of playing in his hometown, so the Wizards are probably out. Boston might be a long-shot team to watch if Ainge can make a trade to bring in another star to pair with Durant.

Chicago Bulls: 500-1. Given the current state of the franchise, it’s hard to imagine Durant agreeing to a meeting with the Bulls, much less choosing to sign here. Sure, he knows Derrick Rose from playing together on a couple of U.S. national teams, and the Bulls could probably create the cap room by trading off the contracts of Mike Dunleavy or Taj Gibson. But Durant and the other top free agents will have better options to choose from when the market opens for business.

If the Bulls don’t re-sign Joakim Noah, look for the front office to shop for a center and wing shooter from the second tier: names like Zaza Pachulia, Timofey Mozgov, Festus Ezeli, Marreese Speights, Courtney Lee, Arron Afflalo, Gerald Henderson, Jerryd Bayless — you know, the usual suspects. And, if they don’t draft a point guard, backup options in free agency include Shaun Livingston, Brandon Jennings, D.J. Augustin, Jeremy Lin, Mario Chalmers, Ty Lawson and Norris Cole.

The Bulls will also be impacted in free agency by the fact that unless they renounce their rights to Pau Gasol and Noah, they’ll have to wait until those players make their decisions before going out into the marketplace, since the cap holds based on last year’s salaries put them over the cap. That makes a serious run at one of the top-tier free agents even more unlikely.

So, unless the front office is able to pull off a major trade, it’s hard to imagine the Bulls significantly upgrading the roster for Year 2 under Fred Hoiberg. The Bulls will be banking on fewer injuries and internal improvement from the likes of Nikola Mirotic, Doug McDermott, Justin Holiday, Bobby Portis and Cristiano Felicio. A return to the playoffs is possible, but the championship window for this core group is closed.

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.