Gar Forman

Michael Reinsdorf pleased with first phase of Bulls' rebuilding process

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AP

Michael Reinsdorf pleased with first phase of Bulls' rebuilding process

Bulls COO and team president Michael Reinsdorf is rarely one to make public statements, but Friday afternoon he stated he’s pleased with the state of the Bulls rebuild to date.

With a 2-8 record following Friday’s loss to the Indiana Pacers, the Bulls own the third-worst mark in the NBA behind Atlanta and Dallas—which some would argue is right where the franchise wants itself to be.

Reinsdorf spoke at the United Center earlier in the afternoon, part of the NBA’s announcement that Chicago would be hosting NBA All-Star Weekend in 2020.

“The rebuild so far, I’m not normally the spokesperson on basketball stuff like that,” he cautioned. “We’re only a few weeks in. Lauri’s (Markkanen) playing really well. So far we’re happy. When Zach (LaVine) comes back, that’s going to be a big indication. Kris (Dunn) just came back from an injury.”

Of course, Markkanen and LaVine were the big pieces from the draft-night trade of Jimmy Butler to the Minnesota Timberwolves that jump-started this process. LaVine is a couple weeks away from practicing with contact after his ACL surgery last February.

Dunn is attempting to find his way after a preseason injury cost him two weeks of playing time and development.

Markkanen, especially in the aftermath of the Nikola Mirotic-Bobby Portis altercation last month, has stepped forward and established himself as one of the NBA’s top rookies.

“We have to see, but right now, we’re happy. The team is playing really hard. Fred’s got them playing really hard,” Reinsdorf said.

It was a public endorsement of sorts of Hoiberg, who’s had to endure questions seemingly every week since being named head coach two years ago, and then had to deal with the Portis-Mirotic mess.

The Bulls have only been blown out of one game this season, a home date against the Oklahoma City Thunder, and one would think Reinsdorf is pleased with at least the effort the team is putting out.

“It’s not going unnoticed,” Reinsdorf said. “There’s certain sports writers in this city that have written actually positive articles about the way the team is playing right now. I can look to the Chicago Tribune and the Sun-Times, hopefully the fans will start to take notice.”

Hoiberg said he keeps in regular contact with Reinsdorf but seemed to take the compliment in stride.

“The one thing our staff is focused on is playing better,” he said.

Reinsdorf pointed to the rebuilds of other franchises in town in the hopes fans will be more accepting of what the Bulls are embarking on.

“Because we know this isn’t necessarily about wins and losses this year, but we do want to make sure the team and the players are trying their hardest to win games and giving their best effort,” Reinsdorf said. “Because that’s kind of the mentality the city of Chicago has and the fans – work hard and let’s see what happens. As far as the rebuild, the Cubs did a great job with their rebuild, the White Sox are in the midst of their rebuild, and I think the fans understand that’s kind of the nature of sports.”

David Nwaba is having a block party and the whole NBA is invited

David Nwaba is having a block party and the whole NBA is invited

David Nwaba probably isn't the Bulls' longterm option at guard, but he's certainly making the most of his starting opportunity. 

Signed this offseason in a move framed as Gar Forman and John Paxson taking a low-risk flyer on an athletic defender, the 24-year-old Cal Poly alumnus has impacted games with his high energy and all-around floor game. 

Case and point: Friday's feel-good, 105-83 road win over a surprisingly solid Orlando Magic squad, where Nwaba finished with 16 points, five boards, two steals while posting a game-high plus-21. 

Maybe the most eye-opening moment of the Bulls' second victory of the season, though, was the block party invitation Nwaba hand-delivered to Magic forward Wesley Iwundu:

It caps a solid road trip for the second-year pro, who's played in only 27 career NBA games. In the Bulls' loss to Miami on Wednesday -- Nwaba's first start of the season -- he snagged 11 rebounds and rejected two shots. 

And while there are clear limitations to Nwaba's offensive game (see: outside shooting), his high motor, pressure defense and, you guessed it, ridiculous blocks have been welcoming sights for a team with a penchant to miss assignments and allow the more-than-occasional blow by. 

"I don’t expect you to know who I am," Nwaba wrote in a Player's Tribune essay just after being claimed by the Bulls. "I’m just thankful to have the chance to tell you."

It looks like he's done telling us now, opting instead to just show us: 

Nwaba will lose minutes to Zach LaVine once the Bulls' top talent recovers from ACL injury, but as of now, he's played himself into a future rotation. 

Nikola Mirotic returns to Bulls facility but status quo remains for him and organization

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USA TODAY

Nikola Mirotic returns to Bulls facility but status quo remains for him and organization

In what Fred Hoiberg called a “big step,” Nikola Mirotic was slated to return to the Bulls practice facility ON Tuesday afternoon to get some light supervised activity in for the first time since being punched by Bobby Portis.

The glitch in that step is Mirotic was going to the Advocate Center after the team departed for Miami to start its two-game road trip, so he wouldn’t actually have to encounter the coaching staff or his teammates.

“I think it’s a big step. Niko will be in here this afternoon,” Hoiberg said. “We’re going to leave a trainer back to supervise his workouts. But it’s a good first step to get him feeling better. He’ll hopefully have good workouts; be able to do a little more every day. It’d be good to see him when we get back.”

But his intentions of wanting out of Chicago haven’t changed, as reported by NBCSportsChicago.com and other media outlets. He’s still willing to give up his no-trade clause to be traded if Portis is still around.

The Bulls picked up Portis’ option for next season a few days ago, so it’s not known if the Bulls are committed to making a deal one way or the other. Executive Vice President John Paxson said Mirotic won’t have facial surgery to repair his broken bones, so his 4-to-6-week recovery period will begin when he’s out of concussion protocol.

As for wanting to be in a Bulls uniform after that period passes, it appears to be a wait-and-see proposition as he can’t be traded until January 15 at the earliest. Either way, it leaves Hoiberg in yet another awkward position to answer questions he’s ill-equipped to answer—or questions he doesn’t have an answer for.

“Again, the important thing is Niko’s going to get back in here for the first time to get active again,” Hoiberg said. “And then that’s the next step is to get the group back together and then hopefully move on from it.”

That was an answer to a question about Portis and Mirotic being in the same room, so Hoiberg has been deflecting and will continue to deflect or defer to Paxson, especially since Paxson is much more visible publicly than he’s been in seasons past.

With things being the status quo, the same appears to be the case headed into Wednesday’s game against the Miami Heat. Jerian Grant will start at point guard, holding off Kris Dunn for the time being.

“I think the big thing is they have to bring us a defensive presence out there. They have to be able to get us into an offense,” Hoiberg said. “We try to get those guys reading situations on how teams are playing us. Every team has played us differently with different switching, with different pressure, and we have to read better the pressure releases we have out there, the switch attacks that we have and get into it quicker.”

Grant, who’s shooting 1-for-16 from 3-point range, knows Dunn is breathing down his neck, figuratively, so he’s taking the open competition personally. Miami’s Goran Dragic will provide much more of a challenge than what he sees in practice, though.

“I gotta play better, I'm not playing the way I need to play,” Grant said. “At the same time I wanna show these guys I am the guy that can hold down this spot.”

When asked to evaluate his play, Grant was pretty direct and also said Hoiberg doesn’t have to have any talks with him. He knows his numbers and the expectations.

“Just not making shots. As far as getting guys involved, defense and trying to rebound a little bit more,” he said. “But other than making shots I think I've been alright. Getting guys involved and making plays but, at the end of the day it's a shot making league and that's what I gotta do.”