Quincy Pondexter

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.

As Bulls figure out lineups, Lauri Markkanen will miss first two preseason games

As Bulls figure out lineups, Lauri Markkanen will miss first two preseason games

Going small has been the recent trend in the NBA, with the Cleveland Cavaliers being the latest to make the trek by starting Kevin Love at center.

The Bulls are a little different in that current space, with five big men who could probably qualify for the position—although they’ll be down to four in their preseason opener as Lauri Markkanen will be out for the first two games with back spasms.

Bulls fans will have to wait to check out their new building block, but it’ll give Fred Hoiberg a chance to mess around with rotations in the meantime with games against New Orleans and Dallas on back-to-back nights starting Tuesday.

Quincy Pondexter will also miss both games with a left hamstring injury, which is about as far as Hoiberg would divulge when asked about a starting lineup, guarding his thoughts with CIA-like privacy.

As for the trend, if Hoiberg was given truth serum he might say having a center who can shoot from long range is a dream of his, but he may have to settle for streaky-shooting Nikola Mirotic at the center spot at times.

“I like the way the league is going. It's why I gained 10 pounds because I might play five. It's a joke,” the dry-witted Mirotic said. “I might play five (center) you never know, we'll see.”

Even with Mirotic at 260 pounds, he’s probably better playing against smaller lineups so he won’t be pushed around as much, and he’s a decent rebounder despite his deficiencies. Putting Mirotic and Markkanen together will be a sight seen often this year, one would think.

“I like the way they're playing it right now because last year we played some together, Bobby (Portis) and me. I think here at some point they'll play Lauri and me. It's a new game right now.”

The new game will have a bit of an old feel against the Pelicans, considering they employ arguably the two best big men in the league in DeMarcus Cousins and Chicago-native Anthony Davis, versatile bigs who can play inside-out.

[MORE: Competition in full force during Bulls training camp

“This preseason will be good for us because we’ll see a lot of different lineups,” Hoiberg said. “Starting tomorrow and playing New Orleans twice in the preseason with two 7-footers on their front line and two of the better, more versatile players in our league at the 4-5 spots.

“And then facing a guy like Love, which will be a tough lineup having to defend with their small players. Hopefully, have some things in your offensive package to counter that on the other end.”

Make no mistake, Hoiberg will throw some funky lineups out there now and when the games count, especially to show off an offensive system he’s been desperate to display in his first two years.

Considering the Bulls are where they are in terms of talent, players like Mirotic will likely be in myriad positions to make plays, whether Mirotic keeps the weight on or not.

It’s why Mirotic’s aim is to “play simple basketball”, something he hasn’t always been successful at during his first three seasons.

“I know that it's gonna be tough matchups tomorrow, having to guard (Cousins). But play good defense, play solid on offense and try to execute,” Mirotic said. “We've been working very hard the last week of camp. For me, offensively if I'm open take my shot. Run the floor, play defense and rebound the ball.”

Bulls make trade for Quincy Pondexter official

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AP

Bulls make trade for Quincy Pondexter official

Quincy Pondexter is officially a Chicago Bull.

After a trade between the Bulls and the New Orleans Pelicans was reported Thursday, the deal was announced Friday. Pondexter comes to Chicago along with New Orleans' second-round pick in next year's draft, while the Bulls sent away the draft rights to Ater Majok.

Pondexter was a first-round pick of the Oklahoma City Thunder back in 2010. The former Washington Husky spent his first five NBA seasons with the New Orleans Hornets, Memphis Grizzlies and Pelicans, averaging 5.3 points and 2.0 rebounds over 279 games.

Pondexter missed the entirety of the past two seasons recovering from knee surgery. He last played in a game on April 25, 2015, a playoff game against the Golden State Warriors.