Bulls

Running with the Bulls: Draft buzz and goings-on

Running with the Bulls: Draft buzz and goings-on

Thursday, June 24, 20102:49 PM

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

July 1 is marked on the calendars of NBA fans as the day everything unfolds around the league, but with tonight's NBA Draft, the real intrigue begins in advance. In fact, a week away from the official beginning to free agency, moves that could potentially alter the landscape of next season and beyond have already threatened to occur.

All of the hoopla surrounding the future of LeBron James and other top free agents perhaps have obscured observers to the ever-real possibility that other superstars in the league could also have new destinations -- via trade. A reminder of this reality was recently in effect when news broke that New Orleans Hornets were reportedly open to overtures for All-Star point guard Chris Paul, most notably from the Portland Trailblazers. The Hornets, whose sale from George Shinn to potential new owner Gary Chouest is still incomplete, would be making the move for financial considerations, but yet another wrinkle in the situation is that the team that potentially gets Paul would potentially receive better odds in the sweepstakes for his good friend James. New Orleans has attempted to shoot down the swirling rumors and a more likely scenario would involve the team trading Paul's speedy backup, Darren Collison -- who enjoyed an NBA all-rookie team campaign in Paul's extended absence -- along with one of their larger contracts, such as veteran center Emeka Okafor.

Although no other trade rumors thus far involve a star of Paul's magnitude, there are some other impact players reportedly on the block. Reports that the Minnesota Timberwolves are shopping talented power forward Al Jefferson (the organization has finally come to the conclusion that the pairing of similarly ground-bound power forward Kevin Love with Jefferson won't work) have persisted since the regular season and there have been recent indications that the Detroit Pistons (for veteran small forward Tayshaun Prince) and Memphis Grizzlies (for power forward Zach Randolph, fresh off what was a redemption year before off-court issues after the season) are two interested parties, with draft picks also being part of the proposed packages.

Another non-secret around the league is the mutual desire between the Toronto Raptors and Hedo Turkoglu to part ways. Sources tell CSNChicago.com that a three-way deal between the Raptors, Houston Rockets and Orlando Magic could happen sooner than later. While details still have to be worked out, Toronto would potentially receive center backup Marcin Gortat and defensive-minded swingman Mickael Pietrus, Orlando would get rugged power forward Luis Scola, a restricted free agent, and Turkoglu would head to Houston.

While those scenarios haven't occurred to this point, a handful of NBA swaps have already taken place. It began last week, when the Philadelphia 76ers dealt shot-blocking center Samuel Dalembert to the Sacramento Kings for grizzled small forward (and former Bull) Andres Nocioni and young finesse big man Spencer Hawes. The trade added a defensive presence for the Kings and with the departure of Dalembert, who was long-rumored to be on the trading block, the Sixers have an opportunity to start fresh under the new regime of head coach Doug Collins and the expected draft choice of Ohio State star and Chicago native Evan Turner with the second overall pick.

One of the busiest teams has been the Milwaukee Bucks. With former Bulls swingman John Salmons expected to opt out of the final year of his contract and hit the free-agent market after a strong second half to the season following his trade from Chicago, Milwaukee was proactive in acquiring a pair of small forwards. The Bucks picked up scorer Corey Maggette from the Golden State Warriors in exchange for veterans Dan Gadzuric and Charlie Bell, then traded a 2012 second-round pick to the New Jersey Nets for young talent Chris Douglas-Roberts.

A move involving both the draft and free agency took place when the Miami Heat sent backup shooting guard Daequan Cook and the 18th pick to the Oklahoma City Thunder for a second-round pick (32nd overall) in the draft. The deal gives Oklahoma City three first-round selections in the draft, as well as a reserve sharpshooter, but Miami may reap more benefits from the exchange. Shedding Cook's 2.2 million contract and the draft pick increases the Heat's salary-cap space and makes them even more of a force come July 1.

Another deal with a financial impact was Portland's 2 million purchase of a second-round pick from Golden State as compensation for their exchange of draft choices. The two teams swapped picks -- Portland receives the 34th overall pick from the Warriors, while Golden State acquired the 44th selection from the Warriors -- but more significant is the high value placed on moving up a mere 10 spots in the draft.

As far as the draft itself, one storyline to watch is how the stock of some of the crop of highly touted big men is dropping. Georgia Tech power forward Derrick Favors, once considered an option for Philadelphia with the second pick, now may not be a lock for New Jersey's third pick, as Syracuse swingman Wesley Johnson is now reportedly being given heavy consideration by the Nets, which makes sense in light of the Douglas-Roberts trade.

After a bad workout for the Warriors, Georgetown's Greg Monroe is now reportedly behind Baylor's Ekpe Udoh on Golden State's board. However, the Warriors, who have the sixth pick in the draft, went out of their way to deny he performed poorly and are reportedly higher on Kentucky center DeMarcus Cousins than either of the aforementioned pair.

Speaking of Cousins, the big man is now reportedly a lock for Sacramento, but his college teammate, center Daniel Orton could be in the midst of a massive freefall, due to underwhelming statistics in his lone college season and reports of being out of shape, concerns with his knees and speculated conflict within his camp. Marshall's Hassan Whiteside -- once considered a lock for the lottery -- is in a similar boat, as the prolific shot-blocker's reputation as immature has hurt him, along with reported poor workouts.

Three prospects seem to be headed in the opposite direction are talented swingman Paul George of Fresno State, rugged forward Damion James of Texas and Final Four hero Gordon Hayward of Butler. Some observers predict that the ever-rising trio is now destined for lottery picks, with Hayward having a chance to crack the draft's top 10.

With all of the action occurring around the league, Bulls fans shouldn't think Chicago is being left out. However, despite reports that the organization initiated talks with the Los Angeles Clippers to send the team's 17th pick and small forward Luol Deng to L.A. for the Clippers' No. 8 pick, a team source tells CSNChicago.com that the move has "zero chance" of taking form.

Still, with persistent trade rumors, teams shopping picks and draft-day deals that could impact free agency, don't be shocked if Chicago makes a move tonight, especially with players such as Deng, veteran guard Kirk Hinrich and surprising forward Taj Gibson being heavily coveted by certain teams. But as a prelude to the draft, enjoy CSNChicago.com's first-round mock draft (pending trades) below and don't forget to visit CSNChicago.com tonight for a live draft chat with yours truly.

1. Washington Wizards: John Wall, 6-foot-4 point guard, Kentucky
2. Philadelphia 76ers: Evan Turner, 6-foot-7 shooting guard, Ohio State
3. New Jersey Nets: Wesley Johnson, 6-foot-7 small forward, Syracuse
4. Minnesota Timberwolves: Derrick Favors, 6-foot-9 power forward, Georgia Tech
5. Sacramento Kings: DeMarcus Cousins, 6-foot-11 center, Kentucky
6. Golden State Warriors: Ekpe Udoh, 6-foot-11 power forward, Baylor
7. Detroit Pistons: Greg Monroe, 6-foot-11 center, Georgetown
8. Los Angeles Clippers: Al-Farouq Aminu, 6-foot-9 small forward, Wake Forest
9. Utah Jazz: Luke Babbitt, 6-foot-8 small forward, Nevada
10. Indiana Pacers: Ed Davis, 6-foot-9 power forward, North Carolina
11. New Orleans Hornets: Gordon Hayward, 6-foot-8 small forward, Butler
12. Memphis Grizzlies: Paul George, 6-foot-8 small forward, Fresno State
13. Toronto Raptors: Patrick Patterson, 6-foot-8 power forward, Kentucky
14. Houston Rockets: Cole Aldrich, 6-foot-11 center, Kansas
15. Milwaukee Bucks: Larry Sanders, 6-foot-10 power forward, Virginia Commonwealth
16. Minnesota Timberwolves: Xavier Henry, 6-foot-6 shooting guard, Kansas
17. Chicago Bulls: James Anderson, 6-foot-6 shooting guard, Oklahoma State
18. Oklahoma City Thunder: Damion James, 6-foot-8 small forward, Texas
19. Boston Celtics: Avery Bradley, 6-foot-3 shooting guard, Texas
20. San Antonio Spurs: Eric Bledsoe, 6-foot-1 point guard, Kentucky
21. Oklahoma City Thunder: Solomon Alabi, 7-foot-1 center, Florida State
22. Portland Trailblazers: Kevin Seraphin, 6-foot-9 power forward, France
23. Minnesota Timberwolves: Hassan Whiteside, 7-foot center, Marshall
24. Atlanta Hawks: Daniel Orton, 6-foot-10 center, Kentucky
25. Memphis Grizzlies: Elliot Williams, 6-foot-5 shooting guard, Memphis
26. Oklahoma City Thunder: Dominique Jones, 6-foot-4 shooting guard, South Florida
27. New Jersey Nets: Quincy Pondexter, 6-foot-7 small forward, Washington
28. Memphis Grizzlies: Craig Brackins, 6-foot-9 power forward, Iowa State
29. Orlando Magic: Jordan Crawford, 6-foot-4 shooting guard, Xavier
30. Washington Wizards: Darrington Hobson, 6-foot-7 small forward, New Mexico

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.coms Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

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.