Observations from Bulls-Cavs: Lauri Markkanen shows he belongs

Observations from Bulls-Cavs: Lauri Markkanen shows he belongs

The game was pretty simple for Bulls rookie Lauri Markkanen.

Catch.

Shoot.

Rinse, repeat.

After struggling a bit in his preseason opener Sunday night, Markkanen showed he belonged, at least to this point, in a smooth performance against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Guarding LeBron James is a herculean task for just about anybody, so being overwhelmed wasn’t news. But his well-talked about ability to shoot was finally on display and not just urban legend from Fred Hoiberg.

He got to the open spots in the offense and unleashed four triples on his way to 18 points, and even ran the floor to finish a fast break with a one-handed dunk in the second half as the Bulls pulled away.

Markkanen’s shooting is why the Bulls drafted him seventh, as they believe he’ll be a matchup problem for years to come in Hoiberg’s movement-based system. His jumper was fluid, confident, smooth and most importantly, high—as in his release point.

There were times he had a matchup advantage against a smaller guard and the Bulls didn’t track him to take advantage, which can be as much of a function of what he can’t yet do as much as his teammates not giving him the ball.

But as his game evolves and the Bulls will wait on him through the years, being a deadeye shooter will keep him on the floor in the meantime.

Justin Holiday: Holiday continues to impress, solidifying a place in the rotation even when Zach LaVine returns and nailing down the shooting guard spot in the meantime.

With a nose for the ball on both ends, Holiday brings an element of movement that is necessary for this offense to work. On defense, he’s aggressive and handsy without getting himself into too much trouble with fouls or being out of position.

You’ll take the six turnovers as long as he can have nights where he’ll score 28, matching Markkanen’s four-for-seven mark from 3-point range. He added 11 rebounds and played with a gear of speed consistently through the night.

Taking nearly half of the Bulls’ 17 free-throws, Holiday had one against the Eastern Conference champs, looking far more confident than the player the Bulls acquired at the trade deadline in 2016.

He can thank a more consistent jumper for that.

Derrick Rose: Who knows where things stood with the Bulls and Derrick Rose concerning his so-called reluctance to recruit free agents LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in the summer of 2010.

But he cleared the air with reporters in the morning shootaround, claiming he did make a video to the top free agents at the time and that the Bulls made sure it got to James, Wade and Bosh.

“Like people always said I didn’t recruit. I tried to recruit. I put out a video but it wasn’t for me to say that,” Rose said. “I felt like the organization was supposed to say that and they didn’t. I put out a video for him [Wade], Chris Bosh and LeBron.”

“(The Bulls organization) they didn’t say anything about it. They sent it. I don’t know if they really actually looked at it or played the video, but I made a video. At the time it wasn’t for me to say that.”

One could say the belief Rose wouldn’t welcome James, Wade or Bosh, or some combination of the trio was a factor in some of the negative perceptions about Rose, even though he won MVP in 2011.

But the fact it took this long should give folks pause about how easy it is to take a negative viewpoint of Rose, who said he never spoke up for himself in the talk about him recruiting or not recruiting, “to see who had my back”.

Pause, indeed.

Wash this one away: Although the Cavaliers were as close to full strength as they’ll be until Isaiah Thomas gets back from his hip injury, take nothing from the 14-point spread as far as the Bulls being better than you think, or that they’ll be better than a bottom-feeder in the Eastern Conference.

Why?

Because they don’t wanna be. We’re one preseason game away from an 82-game march to the Porter-Bagler-Doncic sweepstakes.

Five predictions: How Bulls could've looked with Rose, LeBron, Wade

Five predictions: How Bulls could've looked with Rose, LeBron, Wade

What would a Bulls team featuring Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James — all in their primes — look like? To the opposition, probably pretty damn frightening.

The tormenting 'what if' is again pertinent after Derrick Rose told the Chicago Tribune's K.C. Johnson that he indeed tried to recruit the two stars in 2010 free agency, dispelling the notion that Rose wouldn't participate in building a superteam. 

"People always said I didn't recruit. I tried to recruit. I put out a video," Rose said to the Tribune. "But it wasn't for me to say that. I felt like the organization was supposed to say that. And they didn't."

Obviously, the video Rose apparently sent to big-name free agents didn't sway any decisions, as Wade, James and Chris Bosh joined forces in South Beach. But it's OK to dream. 

Nobody could say for certain how the three stars would have meshed or how the Bulls' young core at the time would have developed, but there are a few assumptions we're ready to make: 

  • The Bulls would have won multiple championships. We're not going to say how many, but the Bulls would have been a favorite to win the NBA Championship every season the trio played together. With three guys who can pretty much score at will and Tom Thibodeau's defensive gameplanning, the Bulls would be an absolute monster in the playoffs. Another factor going for them would be the Eastern Conference. Barring anything extremely ridiculous, they would have — at the very least — made the NBA Finals each year. 
  • D-Rose would not have won the 2011 MVP. You think Rose would get nearly the amount of touches he did with Wade and James in the midst of their primes? We don't. It's hard to envision a scenario where Rose would have had the offensive freedom to put up numbers good enough for the NBA's top individual award. On many possessions that season, Rose was given free reign on offense because of the lack of viable scorers. He and Luol Deng were the two that could create their own shot. If anyone on the fictional superteam were to win MVP, it would have been James. 
  • Tom Thibodeau would still be the head coach. How could you get rid of a championship winning coach? You couldn't. We're willing to gamble that the relationship between Thibs and the front office wouldn't have turned sour with Larry O'Brien trophies in the equation. 
  • The LeBron James-Michael Jordan debate would be... interesting. Many Chicagoans aren't willing to recognize the true greatness of James because of hometown bias. With James and Jordan both having suited up for the Bulls, the never-ending debate may have at least been entertained in the Windy City. 
  • The team would not still be intact. Home is where the heart is. We're going to guess that LeBron still would have returned to Cleveland. 

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.”