Bulls

Will Bulls join NBA's arms race?

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Will Bulls join NBA's arms race?

Just when it looked like the league's claims of competitive balance and altering the system seemed like a joke -- with a reported deal that would have sent All-Star point guard Chris Paul from the NBA-owned Hornets to the Lakers, in exchange for Pau Gasol (who would have been dealt to Houston) and Lamar Odom -- things took an even stranger turn Friday evening.

Instead of Paul joining forces in a star-studded backcourt with Kobe Bryant, Gasol suiting up for new Rockets coach and Hall of Fame big man Kevin McHale (a match made in heaven, even if the rest of Houston's roster -- starters Kevin Martin and Luis Scola, as well as reserve Goran Dragic were New Orleans-bound -- would have been gutted) and the Hornets remaining competitive, even in the wake of their franchise player departing, NBA owners cried foul and lobbied league commissioner David Stern to cancel the three-team trade.

On the same day the NBA's new collective-bargaining agreement was ratified -- meaning training camps and the official start of free agency will simultaneously begin Friday afternoon -- that news was overshadowed by widespread reports of the proposed blockbuster deal and subsequent reports that it won't happen. In all, a whirlwind day for the league in general, which was looking forward to a Paul-Derrick Rose matchup to open the NBA season on Christmas Day.

As it relates to the Bulls and other upper-echelon teams, there has to be a big sigh of relief, just as small-market franchises must also be breathing easy with the knowledge that a nearly five-month labor standoff wasn't all for naught, something that would have been exposed if Paul went to the Lakers, especially so soon after the work stoppage ended.

However, that hasn't stopped the free-agency floodgates from opening, as other signings being reported as imminent include Bulls target Caron Butler signing with the Clippers and former Bulls draft pick Tyson Chandler heading to the Knicks, providing New York with the true center they've long coveted to play alongside All-Star Amar'e Stoudemire, bolstering their sieve-like defense.

Quietly, the Heat have also been active, reportedly agreeing to terms with Chandler's former teammate, Eddy Curry, to help plug their hole in the middle, as well as veteran small forward Shane Battier, who tweeted the news himself.

The Bulls haven't been completely idle in the hours prior to the official start of free agency, as a source confirmed to CSNChicago.com the Chicago Tribune's report that Chicago native and veteran shooting guard Luther Head has been invited to Bulls training camp.

Head, who spent time in Houston when Tom Thibodeau was a Rockets assistant coach under Jeff Van Gundy, isn't exactly the big name fans are looking for and it's likely the Bulls will make further additions, but at the very least, he provides them with an experienced player capable of knocking down outside shots. Additionally, the same source told CSNChicago.com that veteran reserve forward Brian Scalabrine is expected to be present for the first day of camp Friday and eventually be re-signed, as is backup point guard John Lucas III.

However, with fellow contenders like the Knicks, Heat and Lakers making moves (or at least attempting to do so; with or without Paul, it's suspected that a potential deal for Dwight Howard is looming) and potential options like Butler coming off the board -- meaning other candidates, such as Jason Richardson and Jamal Crawford, have a baseline for their market value -- the pressure to keep up with Joneses is increasing.

Furthermore, last season's shooting guard Keith Bogans may not yet be a done deal, according to a source. Bringing back big man Kurt Thomas -- a move made more significant if young reserve center Omer Asik further aggravated the leg injury suffered in the Eastern Conference finals by playing in the summer's FIBA EuroBasket tournament for Turkey, as well as the possibility that backup power forward Taj Gibson could be dealt -- isn't a foregone conclusion.

A person with knowledge of the situation told CSNChicago.com that the Trail Blazers, his hometown Mavericks and the Heat, the team that drafted him, are among the teams interested in the league's oldest player.

Clearly there's a need for a perimeter scoring boost in the Windy City, but if indications that the organization isn't willing to spend the money necessary to sign an impactful wing player are correct, the big splash many Bulls fans both hope for and expect might not happen.

Or will the Bulls, equipped with roster stability, tremendous team chemistry and coming off a 62-win season, join the NBA's arms race and make an addition that garners major headlines of their own?

Lauri Markkanen, Lonzo Ball making rookie history as they prepare to face each other

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USA TODAY

Lauri Markkanen, Lonzo Ball making rookie history as they prepare to face each other

It'd be a stretch to say that any rookie is having a better or more impactful season than Philadelphia's Ben Simmons. The Sixers are 9-7, and Simmons looks like a 10-year veteran with his decision making, athleticism and all-around feel for the game. He's the frontrunner for MVP, but there are two other rookies vying to catch Simmons and win that title. And they'll face each other tomorrow night in Los Angeles.

Lonzo Ball was the second pick in June's NBA Draft, and fellow Pac-12 freshman standout Lauri Markkanen went five picks later to the Bulls, who had traded up as part of the Jimmy Butler trade. Both players were drafted to rebuilding franchises - the Lakers still working out the kinks in the post-Kobe era, and the Bulls beginning their rebuild after dealing Butler - and were expected to make immediate impacts on their franchises.

Ball's was more pronounced, as the Lakers dealt D'Angelo Russell to the Nets on draft night to free up space at the point for their prized No. 2 pick. Markkanen's came more abruptly, as the 20-year-old was thrust into the starting lineup after Bobby Portis and Nikola Mirotic's fight put Mirotic in the hospital and Portis on paid leave. However they got there, both players have been impressive in their early NBA careers.

Starting with Markkanen, the Bulls knew the 7-foot stretch forward was a perfect build for the modern NBA. He set freshman 3-point and rebounding records that, since 1992, only some guy named Kevin Durant had reached. After a successful summer in Eurobasket he was set for a large role with the Bulls, and he's succeeded in just about every aspect. His 15.6 points per game are third only to Simmons and the other Lakers rookie Kyle Kuzma, and his 8.1 rebounds are second to Simmons. And his 2.6 made 3-pointers per game are most among rookies, and well past No. 2 on the list (Utah's Donovan Mitchell, 1.9 per game).

In fact, Markkanen would become the only rookie in NBA history to average at least 8.0 rebounds and 2.5 3-pointers per game. The 2.5 3-pointers would break a rookie record currently held by Damian Lillard (2.3 per game). The closest a rookie has ever come to reaching those marks was Stephen Curry, who averaged 4.5 rebounds and 2.1 3-pointers per game as a rookie. Allen Iverson also met the 4/2 threshold, but that's a far cry from Markkanen's 8/2.5 mark. Paul Pierce's rookie season saw him average 6.4 rebounds and 1.8 3-pointers.

But that's not all. If he kept those averages up he would be just the fifth player EVER to accomplish those thresholds. The others are James Harden, Kevin Durant, DeMarcus Cousins and Antonie Walker, who naturally did it twice.

So, yeah, Markkanen is having quite a rookie year.

So, too, is Ball. While he's had some real issues with efficiency, slashing .313/.228/.462 and has committed 2.6 turnovers per game, his counting stats have been outstanding. Ball is averaging 8.9 points, 7.1 rebounds and 7.1 assists, and that puts him in equally impressive company.

Simmons has reached those numbers this season, too, averaging 18.1 points, 9.1 rebounds and 8.0 assists. You may have heard of the other two players, named Oscar Robertson and Magic Johnson.

The two future Hall of Famers averaged these numbers:

Robertson: 30.5 points, 10.1 rebounds, 9.7 assists (missing averaging a triple-double for the season by 20 assists)

Johnson: 18.0 points, 7.7 rebounds, 7.3 assists

Ball is also averaging 0.9 blocks, and no other rookie guard has ever accomplished that. It might not always look pretty for Markkanen and Ball as they feel their way out in the NBA, but just remember watching these two that they're in the midst of making history in the new era of the NBA.

Lauri Markkanen has career-high 26 points in loss to Suns

Lauri Markkanen has career-high 26 points in loss to Suns

Lauri Markkanen continues to impress.

The 20-year-old rookie had a career-high 26 points in the Bulls' 113-105 loss to the Phoenix Suns on Sunday night. He also picked up 13 rebounds.

After the game, in which the Bulls fell to 3-11 on the season, coach Fred Hoiberg had high praise for the Finnish.

"I thought Lauri was phenomenal," Hoiberg said. "But when he is open, we gotta get him the ball. When he's got it rolling like he did tonight, guys were switching and we had him a couple of times with the point guard buried in his back and we didn't get him the ball."

Watch what Hoiberg had to say about the Bulls' tight loss in the video above.