Denzel Valentine

This is not a punchline: Bulls pick up Bobby Portis’ option

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USA TODAY

This is not a punchline: Bulls pick up Bobby Portis’ option

What happens when you punch a teammate and send him to the hospital?

Beyond the eight-game suspension Bobby Portis received, apparently it's getting your option renewed.

Portis, Cameron Payne and Jerian Grant had their fourth-year contract options picked up by the Bulls. The team also picked up third-year options on Kris Dunn and Denzel Valentine.

There are multiple ways to look at these moves. Portis getting his contract renewed may come as a surprise because of the recent drama with Nikola Mirotic. Maybe if Mirotic gets traded the Portis-Mirotic situation will become easier.

Grant has started all four games to start the season in his second year with the team. The point guard and is averaging 10.8 points and 7.3 assists per game, but is shooting 39.5 percent from the field and is 1-for-10 on 3-point attempts.

Valentine has seen an increase in minutes in his second year in the NBA. He is averaging 10 points in 26.3 minutes per game while shooting 39.5 percent from 3.

The other two players whose options were picked up haven't yet distinguished themselves in a Bulls uniform. Dunn, one of the key pieces acquired in the Jimmy Butler trade, hasn't played for the team while missing the start of the year with a dislocated finger suffered in the preseason. Payne played 11 games with the team last year after arriving in a midseason trade with the Thunder that sent Taj Gibson to Oklahoma City. Payne hasn't played yet this year after undergoing foot surgery in the offseason.

Miscues, miscommunications and missed shots: Bulls offense struggling all around

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USA TODAY

Miscues, miscommunications and missed shots: Bulls offense struggling all around

Denzel Valentine corralled a rebound and casually dribbled up the right side of the floor, unaware of the final 5 seconds ticking off the clock in the third quarter. The second-year shooting guard moved toward the basket as the buzzer sounded, only realizing his gaffe as the red lights behind the backboard lit up. It was that kind of night for the Bulls offense, and one that highlighted carelessness, a lack of talent and obvious growing pains as the rebuild begins.

Fred Hoiberg’s group finished with more turnovers (20) than assists (18), shot 38 percent from the field and were doubled up on points in the paint in an ugly 87-77 loss to the Spurs on Saturday night. Adding to the issues were only nine free-throw attempts and 28 percent shooting from deep on a night where the Bulls played well enough defensively to earn a win.

But they couldn’t take advantage of a Spurs team playing without Kawhi Leonard. The ball stopped for long periods of time in the halfcourt, the fast break was non-existent and miscommunications were frequent, even when they didn’t result in one of those 20 turnovers.

“We had 20 turnovers that led to 23 points…that’s what kills you,” Hoiberg said. “A team goes on a run and they get easy ones, pick-sixes, you’re all of a sudden in a big hole. And obviously did not shoot the ball well today.”

The struggles came from across the board. Only Cris Felicio was turnover-less of the nine Bulls who played. The backcourt tandem of Jerian Grant and Justin Holiday combined for 11 of 32 shooting. Rookie Lauri Markkanen showed flashes with eight first-half points, but finished 5 of 14 and committed three ugly turnovers. Robin Lopez made the first 3-pointer of his career 630 games in, but a 29-year-old leading the way for a young rebuilding group could be deemed bittersweet at best.

It capped off a whirlwind first week for the Bulls, who dealt on the fly with the fallout of the altercation between Nikola Mirotic and Bobby Portis. Losing Mirotic and Portis hurt from a talent standpoint, but it also threw a wrench into Hoiberg’s rotation and scheme. It thrust 20-year-old Markkanen into the starting lineup; Paul Zipser has shifted to playing more power forward (while also starting at small forward); Lopez is being asked to score more than ever, and at times be the primary option.

“With everything we’ve had going on the past week, with playing guys different positions that they haven’t played yet,” Hoiberg said, “we’re still trying to figure out exactly how we’re going to go out there and play. We’re getting stuck at times because guys are in the wrong spots.”

The Bulls opened Saturday night with a solid first quarter, scoring 21 points, assisting on nine of 12 baskets and committing just three turnovers.

The final three quarters couldn’t have been more different. The second unit again struggled like it did in allowing the Raptors a 20-2 second-quarter run on Tuesday. Even without Leonard the Spurs’ defensive length cut off passing and driving lanes, forcing the Bulls to dribble down the shot clock and turn to isolation basketball or contested 3-pointers.

The Spurs couldn’t pull away thanks to an inspired defensive effort by the Bulls, but the offensive stalling rendered it moot; the Bulls took 28 3-pointers and 37 shots in the paint, an ugly ratio when considering the nine free-throw attempts. The bench shot 7-for-19, but most of that came in garbage time.

“One thing we definitely need to work on is attacking the basket,” Lopez said. “I think there are times where we all get a little jumper-happy on the perimeter. I think we need to have a good balance.

We need to be aware of that. We’re a team that doesn’t have a lot of room for error so any time we concede the ball like that, we don’t get up a shot attempt, tat’s going to really hurt us.”

Kris Dunn may be closer than expected to returning to the lineup after dislocating his finger in the preseason. It would give the Bulls help on that dismayed second unit, knocking Kay Felder (3 turnovers in 15 minutes) out of the rotation. Once Mirotic and Portis return in November, Hoiberg will have more flexibility with his rotations as well as some insurance if frontcourt foul trouble arrives.

None are go-to scorers, and not even Zach LaVine's 19.8 points per game last season will save the Bulls once he's healthy. Season-long struggles like Saturday night are on the way for a young team searching for pieces of the future. That's expected, and in the long term it benefits them as more Lottery balls roll toward Chicago.

But in a season in which success will be judged not on wins and losses but improvement from game-to-game, but the Bulls have set the bar low in the season's first week.

No surprise as Bulls, Zach LaVine decide to wait on contract extension

No surprise as Bulls, Zach LaVine decide to wait on contract extension

Only a couple names went off the board of 2014 draftees who reached agreements on extensions with their teams, with Zach LaVine sitting on the sidelines as the midnight deadline came and went.

His debut in a Bulls uniform and contract will have to wait.

Although LaVine’s representatives and the Bulls front office remained in communication, there was never any serious talk of a deal being reached and he’ll hit restricted free agency this summer.

The Bulls will have a better picture of what type of player LaVine is post-surgery on his left knee, and LaVine will have a chance to reconstruct his market value the way he’s done to his knee—as evidenced by his casual stroll down the lane, two dribbles and two-handed dunk while running a dummy offense with the assistant coaches over the weekend at the Advocate Center.

His return isn’t imminent, as he’s still weeks away from being cleared to practice, following the track of his rehab from surgery.

Perhaps in a bit of curious timing, Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg was talking about LaVine, saying his future shooting guard wasn’t going through much in the way of 5-on-0 drills.

“The big focus right now is on his rehab,” Hoiberg said.

But considering how few options Hoiberg has on a team that isn’t expected to win more than 20 games, the thought of how he’ll use LaVine on the floor in this offense isn’t unrealistic.

“He's doing a lot of unpredictable movements, but a lot of that is 1-on-0 workouts. Yeah, absolutely there's things we look at and see actions that other teams might be running for their skilled players or shooters.”

Justin Holiday will be keeping the seat warm for LaVine until LaVine is completely healed from his surgery, and while the Bulls are adhering to the nine-month recovery prognosis after his February surgery, his return will be highly anticipated.

“Some of the things we're running for Justin right now I think will be very good for Zach as well,” Hoiberg said. “Then we're going to get both of those guys on the floor, it's going to give you two really good options as far as shooting and spacing and two athletic wing players.”

With the Bulls in the infancy stages of a rebuild, LaVine’s success is one they’ll be invested in above any other player on the roster considering the financial stakes.

LaVine can command a deal well over $100 million this summer and will join the likes of draftmates Jabari Parker, Julius Randle and Aaron Gordon into the always-tricky world of restricted free agency.

The Bulls have done this dance before, most recently with Jimmy Butler before Butler blossomed into an All-Star. There was a small gulf between Butler’s contract wishes and the Bulls offer before the 2014-15 season began, one that resulted in Butler receiving a max contract when Butler took the biggest single-season leap in his career.

Preserving precious salary cap space has been paramount for the Bulls, who originally signed Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo to short-term deals with an eye on the summer of 2018, believing many teams will have overspent with the salary cap boom.

In that instance, they’re correct and are in position to have among the most cap space in the NBA next summer when Wade’s contract buyout runs off the books being close to $40 million under the cap. As of now, only Robin Lopez is guaranteed over $10 million for next season and Nikola Mirotic’s deal is a team option.

For LaVine, he began to blossom playing as a third wheel behind Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins in Minnesota before tearing his ACL. If he’s a reasonable facsimile physically, he will produce at a higher clip than scoring 18.9 points as a No. 1 option in Chicago.

As the centerpiece in the Butler trade, the Bulls have no intentions on letting him walk and LaVine is even more incentivized to perform for a potential max contract.

“I'm very excited about Zach. You can tell how much he wants to be out there with our guys. Every day he comes in and says, 'Coach, I'm ready to go out there',” Hoiberg said. “It's a process. We have to make sure he 100 percent healthy, even though he feels no symptoms right now at all. He's got no soreness in that leg. But he can't wait, his teammates can't wait and the staff obviously is very excited to get him back out there.”