Denzel Valentine

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.”

Dwyane Wade's strong words last season were necessary for young Bulls, who hold no hard feelings

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USA TODAY

Dwyane Wade's strong words last season were necessary for young Bulls, who hold no hard feelings

A frustrated Dwyane Wade had seen enough after a regular season loss to Atlanta in January and questioned his team’s commitment to winning, jumpstarting a few uncomfortable days on Madison Street.

Feelings were hurt after Wade and Jimmy Butler went scorched earth, followed by Rajon Rondo’s Instagram post questioning their leadership in return.

It seems like so long ago considering the direction the Bulls have gone since, but the players insist there’s no hard feelings toward Wade, as the Bulls will see Wade in a Cleveland Cavaliers jersey tomorrow night in Cleveland for the first time since his buyout two weeks ago.

“We never had any conflict with Dwyane. Just after that game, they had some tough declaration, Jimmy and D-Wade,” said Nikola Mirotic, a player who one could argue was a target of Wade’s ire that night. “But that was all. It’s a part of the game. They were hot. There was disappointment about the game.”

The players were fined by the Bulls for making their feelings public, but it pulled behind a necessary curtain and revealed some warts the franchise tried to conceal—even though it was clear for all the observers to see Wade and Butler’s urgency didn’t mesh as well with an underdeveloped and inexperienced group, along with Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg trying to corral differing factions.

“It forced everyone to get in a room and be honest with each other,” Hoiberg said. “Really, it got us in my opinion playing better. It happened, it got us in that room for a long session, we hashed a lot of things out, and we were better because of it.”

Hoiberg’s leadership was questioned for the second time in two seasons as head coach, especially having to coach a player in Wade who still desperately wanted to be in a contending situation.

It took a while, especially after the Bulls traded veteran Taj Gibson to Oklahoma City in what amounted to a salary dump, but they rebounded and could have advanced to the second round if not for Rondo’s wrist injury in Boston.

But then again, the Bulls made their decision to change direction after the season so perhaps the fireworks were more for entertainment than true long-term effect.

“Sometimes those things have to happen,” Hoiberg said. “I talked to a couple of coaches about it that said, at least your guys are in there talking about it. Our guys won't say anything to each other. Maybe it needed to happen, and again, I thought we were better because of it and finished the season playing our best basketball of the year.”

Wade, up until 24 hours before media day, was still a member of the Bulls and whatever feelings from that evening in January had long dissipated. After he and the Bulls reached an agreement on a buyout, he sent young players like Denzel Valentine and Bobby Portis text messages of encouragement.

Portis chalked the incident up to things that happen during the course of a basketball season.

“I don’t feel like we had a problem with him,” Portis said. “We just had a little mishap during the season last year. I feel like all the teams have a little trouble during the season, but ours was boosted a little more. But we don’t have any problems with him.

“He was a great leader for us. He came in every day, came into work. When I came in at nighttime, I’d see him here at nighttime, he and Jimmy, so I feel like he was a great leader. He showed us hard work and things like that, especially in the playoffs. He even revved it up even more, and when our team gets back to playoff mode that’s something I will take from him and it will help some of the other guys.”

Pace, bouncing back, Holiday shines: Observations from Bulls-Bucks

Pace, bouncing back, Holiday shines: Observations from Bulls-Bucks

 

The Bulls picked up their second win of the preseason, topping Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks 114-101 Friday night at the United Center.

Here are three observations from the victory:

Pace, pace, pace: Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg wouldn’t definitively say whether he wanted this team to lead the league in pace in terms of the advanced stats, but it wouldn’t be a stretch to say being a top-five team is a micro goal.

With that said, they got up shots early and often, not allowing the shot clock to get in the danger zone many times.

Eight of their 10 first-quarter field goals were assisted and they finished with 30 assists on the night.

“We want to play with pace and draw two to the ball. Our bigs were much better, our space was much better,” Hoiberg said. “When you can collapse the defense, generally good things happened. We had a lot of good to great plays, where we had a good shot and turned it to a great shot.”

The great equalizer? Denzel Valentine hit four triples in the first half, and Nikola Mirotic hit three of his own. Over half the Bulls’ 23 field goals came from behind the 3-point line in the first two quarters, enabling them to score 60 points. They only hit three in the second half but the tone was set.

Valentine was perfect with his first five 3-point looks before missing his final attempt. He scored 15 off the bench. Mirotic matched him and added seven rebounds.

“Playing unselfish and open shots came,” Valentine said. “I shot confidently and made my open looks. The trust factor, we’ll keep gaining that.

“We all believe in ourselves and trust ourselves. If we have an open shot, take it. Sometimes we’re almost too unselfish.”

Bouncing back from a bad loss: No matter if it’s preseason, regular season or CYO ball, getting outscored 44-11 like the Bulls were in the fourth quarter Wednesday to Dallas is bound to shake a team’s confidence, especially one as young as the Bulls.

Seeing them play with a consistent and confident effort bodes well for a season that’s sure to have more than its share of lumps.

“I give our guys a lot of credit for coming in with a great mentality this morning with practice. Our guys went out there and got better,” Fred Hoiberg said. “I think it really bothered them the way the game ended the other night. They came in focused and had a great teaching moment and carried that over to a good session on the floor.”

The Bulls played with energy and competed, two things they’ll need in full supply this season to keep the fans engaged and hopeful this rebuild is going in a position direction. 

“We know we played uncharacteristic (Wednesday),” Valentine said. “We were taking shots that weren’t good shots. On the defensive end, they were doing whatever they wanted. It was right there for us, we gotta keep playing hard, keep playing together.”

Holiday: With Zach LaVine out until at least December, Justin Holiday is admirably filling in, being aggressive without being too thirsty with his shots and getting them into the flow of the offense.

Scoring 21 and looking for his offense, there will be shots to take and he’ll be glad to do so, which will be a necessity from the shooting guard and small forward spots no matter if LaVine is on the floor or not.

“The way Fred has been with us, play your game and take what the defense gives you,” Holiday said. “So we’re moving the ball to get a situation where we can attack or have an open shot. If you have it, you have to go.

“You don’t have to, but pick and choose your times. I’m the type of person where I’ll go. In attacking those slots, the ball will still move.”

Holiday recalled an instance where he caught the ball and swung it, then looked around to realize every player on the floor was a threat to hit an outside shot—not something that will happen all the time, but enough of an instance to see nights where the Bulls can be effective.

Being in this type of offense will certainly allow him to improve on that 5.7 career scoring average. No one should be surprised if it doubles this season.

“That’s something I’ve tried to work on, something I try to do, improving my game, moving forward in my career,” Holiday said. “This offense allows you to do that. It’s so many spots I can shoot, drive and open up things for other people.”