David Nwaba

Five Things to Watch: Bulls open preseason play against Pelicans

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USA TODAY

Five Things to Watch: Bulls open preseason play against Pelicans

1. All the new faces: The Bulls have 12 players in training camp who were not on the team a year ago. The headliners are there in Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, Kris Dunn and Nikola Mirotic, but with what should be one of the youngest rosters in the league there are plenty of roster spots up for grabs. Former five-star recruit Diamond Stone, Summer League standout Antonio Blakeney and athletic combo guard David Nwaba are a few names to watch as preseason begins and decisions are made.

2. The return on Jimmy: The Bulls’ rebuild will be clearer after next year’s draft, but fans will always go back to the one trade that sent them into this phase. Trading a top-15 talent in Jimmy Butler must yield a return, and though Zach LaVine won’t play until the leaves change colors the progress of Kris Dunn and Lauri Markkanen will loom large. Dunn has a pretty clear path to the starting point guard position, while Markkanen could fight for minutes in a sixth man role behind newly paid Nikola Mirotic.

3. Big payday for Big Cris: The Bulls’ first move in free agency this summer was handing Cris Felicio a four-year, $32 million deal.  He’s just 25 years old and has shown steady improvement in each of his first two seasons. At the very least he’s a formidable backup moving forward in the rebuild. But if the Bulls move on from Robin Lopez (potentially sooner than later) it would thrust Felicio into a starting role. If he continues to progress he could be the center of the future. How he fits into Fred Hoiberg’s style is another question, but the Bulls continue to like what they see from him.

4. Feel-good story in Quincy Pondexter: The Bulls traded for Pondexter earlier this month, and it’s going to be difficult not to root for this guy. Multiple knee surgeries cost Pondexter each of the last two seasons. He now appears to be healthy and should see game action in the preseason. When healthy he was a formidable wing, averaging 5.3 points on 42 percent shooting and 2.0 rebounds in 279 career games for New Orleans and Memphis. He’s not going to make fans forget about Jimmy Butler, but it would be a great story if he can make the team and, more importantly, stay healthy.

5. Welcome back, Rajon! The Bulls are going to see more than a few old faces from last year’s team, and they’ll get one on Opening (preseason) Night. After the Bulls bought him out over the summer, Rajon Rondo signed a one-year, $3.3 million deal with the Pelicans. Rondo was a superb teammate and excellent mentor to some of the young Bulls he’ll face on Tuesday, so it’ll be fun to watch him interact with some of those players, including Jerian Grant, Denzel Valentine and Cris Felicio.

Cameron Payne could be out longer than expected following successful foot surgery

Cameron Payne could be out longer than expected following successful foot surgery

The Bulls announced point guard Cameron Payne underwent successul surgery on his right food on Friday. That was expected.

The news coming from that announcement is that Payne "is expected to make a full return in 3-4 months," according to the release, which is longer than initially expected.

The Vertical's Shams Charania first reported the news on Aug. 30 that Payne would be sidelined until late November after the surgery.

ESPN's Nick Friedell confirmed the report, saying Payne would miss "at least a couple months."

A "full return" would put Payne back on the floor with the Bulls during the second week of December, with the backend of that timeframe coming in early January, almost halfway through the regular season. He'll be in a spint the next 7 to 10 days, followed by a boot for 6 to 8 weeks, per the release.

The Bulls could also work back Payne slowly given the current state of the franchise, where losing games could benefit them in the long-term more than short-term wins. Payne also broke the foot twice last season, and a screw was inserted into the foot the second time.

Zach LaVine, the key piece of the Jimmy Butler trade in June, is battling back from ACL surgery. There's no timetable for his return to the floor, but it's certainly possible that the Bulls hold him out a little longer to make sure there's no chance of a re-injury.

Kris Dunn, another piece in the Butler deal, is expected to start at point guard. Jerian Grant will back him up, while David Nwaba could see more time in Payne's absence as the third point guard.

Bulls take another shot at a player with upside

Bulls take another shot at a player with upside

The Bulls continue to add young players to the team's backcourt.

After signing Antonio Blakeney to a two-way contract as a result of his strong play with the Bulls summer league team, the Bulls have added former Lakers guard David Nwaba.

Nwaba was waived by the Lakers two days ago, but the Bulls have swooped in to add the 24-year-old guard.

Nwaba's didn't take a traditional path to the NBA. The Los Angeles native intially headed to Division II Hawaii Pacific, but redshirted and then transferred to Santa Monica College. After a standout year in JuCo ball, Nwaba wound up at Cal Poly, where he averaged double figure scoring for three years.

He went undrafted after that, but found a spot in the D-League. The Lakers gave him a 10-day contract in February and he stuck for the rest of the season. Nwaba averaged six points per game in just under 20 minutes per game. He played 20 games with the Lakers.

In his report on the move, The Vertical's Shams Charania said the Lakers waived him to free salary space in order to sign Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.

Nwaba is known as an athletic guard who is a good defender. He has upside and the Bulls may be in a position to give him a chance to play while the team moves to rebuilding mode this year.