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Bulls' draft pick will need to be a contributor

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Bulls' draft pick will need to be a contributor

For the first time since Taj Gibson was selected, the Bulls' draft pick this June will be expected to step in and make an immediate impact as a rookie, let alone be present at the start of the season. Unlike swingman Jimmy Butler, who was brought along slowly and mostly played spot minutes, or forward Nikola Mirotic, who continues to star in Spain's highly-competitive ACB league -- a dark-horse candidate to make the 2012 Spanish Olympic team, Mirotic won the coveted EuroLeague Rising Star award for the second consecutive season -- but won't make his NBA debut for at least a couple more seasons, whomever the Bulls pick this June will likely be thrown right into the fire.

With Derrick Rose set to miss a large portion of next season and the possibility that fellow All-Star Luol Deng is on the shelf for the beginning of the campaign if he opts to have left-wrist surgery following the Olympics, the Bulls won't enter October as a projected title contender and with some roster turnover bound to occur with the team holding options on free agents C.J. Watson, Ronnie Brewer and Kyle Korver, backup center Omer Asik a restricted free agent and their reserve peers John Lucas III, Brian Scalabrine and Mike James not under guaranteed contracts, simply put, the team will have some holes to fill. While it's likely that some of those players will be back and the front office will look to add some minimum-salary veterans due to the organization's lack of financial flexibility -- Rose, Deng, center Joakim Noah and power forward Carlos Boozer all have eight-figure contracts -- the Bulls' first-round draft pick can't just be a prospect for the future, like Butler was this season, or stashed overseas, like Asik was and now, Mirotic.

Granted, picking at the bottom of the first round because of their stellar regular-season record, the Bulls won't have the opportunity to pick a franchise-changing talent, such as Chicago native Anthony Davis, the University of Kentucky big man and consensus top prospect. But this is considered to be a deep draft and the selection of Gibson at No. 26 back in 2009 shows the Bulls have the aptitude to find a diamond in the rough.

Even assuming they won't trade up for a higher pick, there should be plenty of talent on the board that can help the team immediately and fill a need, but more importantly, be a major part of the Bulls' future championship push two seasons from now, when Rose will be a year removed from ACL surgery and contention for a title can fully resume. Butler was a safe pick last year, but with Brewer's potential departure, he also fills a need as a replacement backup swingman, one with the same defense-first mindset, as well as less expensive.

This time around, the Bulls would be wise to take more of a chance on a player whose current skill set fits an immediate need, countering head coach Tom Thibodeau's apparent preference to bring rookies along slowly, as evidenced by his use of Butler and Asik, as he only started giving the backup center more minutes the season before when injuries felled Noah. Though Korver's 5 million option for next season could cause the Bulls to blink at the price tag, his unique shooting ability on a team lacking outside marksmanship could mean his return, but pure shooters who are counted upon as rookies are rare, so that probably won't be the direction the team chooses in the draft.

Adding a rookie big man is an option, as you can never have enough size, but with Noah, Boozer and Gibson all returning, the post-player rotation won't have much available playing time, especially if the team matches potential mid-level exception offers for Asik from other teams, unless the Bulls prepare for his departure or Gibson's the following season The wings are another position of strength, as Deng would only miss a month or two if he has surgery, Rip Hamilton will be back as the starting shooting guard, Butler will back up both players and as stated, Korver and even Brewer could return, but even if neither or both is back, swingman is another position where the team will have a plethora of serviceable minimum-salary options in free agency.

This is a draft weak on point guards, the Bulls will likely either bring back Watson or look to sign a veteran floor general via free agency and it's a fair assumption that Thibodeau wouldn't trust his offense in the hands of a rookie anyway, so a true point guard wouldn't be necessary. Also, Lucas proved capable of playing second-string minutes this season and if he doesn't return, then another veteran with a similar contract will simply take his place.

One area the Bulls do need to address is finding another playmaking shot-creator, especially in Rose's absence, but also when he returns, though not a true point guard who would have to sit behind him or a slashing small forward who could cause a potential logjam at that position or duplicates Butler's abilities. Ideally, a combo guard with strong scoring instincts, solid passing ability, a reliable outside shooting stroke and a good defensive base to work with would be that player, but with the Bulls picking so late in the first round, the likes of Syracuse's Dion Waiters, Duke's Austin Rivers, Washington's Terrence Ross and Weber State's Damien Lillard, all prospects who have possess some of those qualities, will be off the board.

Instead, some of the more likely candidates to fill that duty include: Ross' Washington teammate Tony Wroten, a point guard with size, but who has garnered some concern about his shooting and decision-making ability that could cause his stock to drop enough that he could be available, though he has great explosiveness, passing and could be paired with Rose in the future; Kansas' Tyshawn Taylor, who never quite mastered being a floor general in college, but has good athleticism, can get in the lane and could defend both backcourt positions, a la Clippers second-year backup Eric Bledsoe; Kentucky's Doron Lamb, a tough and heady player, if not a mind-blowing athlete, but an excellent shooter with range; Vanderbilt's John Jenkins, like Lamb an underwhelming athlete and a tad undersized for an NBA shooting guard, but one of the draft's best pure shooters; Lamb's Kentucky backcourt partner Marquis Teague, the younger brother of Atlanta point guard Jeff Teague, not a pure point, but a quick driver with finishing ability and decent size; Oregon State's Jared Cunningham, a sleeper, but a big-time athlete and defensive pest with the ability to create on offense; Iona's Scott Machado, a pure point, but one with the maturity to potentially step into a backup role immediately, despite his lack of size; Memphis' Will Barton, a long, athletic and versatile wing who needs to add strengths, but has a nose for the ball and a variety of skills; Missouri sharpshooter Marcus Denmon, who played off the ball in college, is undersized for shooting guard, but has some intangibles to go with his scoring prowess; and Tennessee Tech's Kevin Murphy, one of the nation's leading scorers last season and an athletic wing who raised his stock with his play at the annual Portsmouth Invitational Tournament.

Clearly, there are a variety of options for the Bulls, including names not listed here and many who will be at the Berto Center for workouts in the coming weeks or back in Chicago for next month's NBA Pre-Draft Camp, but only one of whom will be selected by the organization, though others could play for the team's summer-league squad in Las Vegas in July. Thus, when league commissioner David Stern announces, "With the 29th pick, the Chicago Bulls select...," the player he names will have to be a contributor.

Why Cubs core's desire to sign extensions might not matter anymore

Why Cubs core's desire to sign extensions might not matter anymore

The day after Kris Bryant suggested that first-time fatherhood and the dramatic reality of world events have changed how he looks at his future with the Cubs, general manager Jed Hoyer outlined why it might be all but moot.

Setting aside the fact that the Cubs aren’t focusing on contract extensions with anyone at this time of health and economic turmoil, the volatility and unpredictability of a raging COVID-19 pandemic in this country and its economic fallout have thrown even mid-range and long-term roster plans into chaos.

“This is without question the most difficult time we’ve ever had as far as projecting those things,” Hoyer said. “All season in projecting this year, you weren’t sure how many games we were going to get in. Projecting next season obviously has challenges, and who knows where the country’s going to be and the economy’s going to be.”

Bryant, a three-time All-Star and former MVP, is eligible for free agency after next season. He and the club have not engaged in extension talks for three years. And those gained little traction while it has looked increasingly likely since then that Bryant’s agent, Scott Boras, would eventually take his star client to market — making Bryant a widely circulated name in trade talks all winter.

MORE: Scott Boras: Why Kris Bryant's free agency won't be impacted by economic crisis

The Cubs instead focused last winter on talks with All-Star shortstop Javy Báez, making “good” or little progress depending on which side you talked to on a given day — until the pandemic shut down everything in March.

Báez, Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber are both also eligible for free agency after next season, with All-Star catcher Willson Contreras right behind them a year later.

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None has a multiyear contract, and exactly what the Cubs are willing to do about that even if MLB pulls off its 60-game plan this year is hard for even the team’s front office executives to know without knowing how hard the pandemic will continue to hammer America’s health and financial well-being into the winter and next year.

Even with a vaccine and treatments by then, what will job markets look like? The economy at large? The economy of sports? Will anyone want to gather with 40,000 others in a stadium to watch a game anytime soon?

And even if anyone could answer all those questions, who can be sure how the domino effect will impact salary markets for athletes?

“There’s no doubt that forecasting going forward is now much more challenging from a financial standpoint,” Hoyer said. “But that’s league-wide. Anyone that says they have a feel for where the nation’s economy and where the pandemic is come next April is lying.”

The Cubs front office already was in a tenuous place financially, its payroll budget stretched past its limit and a threat to exceed MLB’s luxury tax threshold for a second consecutive season.

And after a quick playoff exit in 2018 followed by the disappointment of missing the playoffs in 2019, every player on the roster was in play for a possible trade over the winter — and even more so at this season’s trade deadline without a strong start to the season.

Now what?

For starters, forget about dumping short-term assets or big contracts for anything of value from somebody’s farm system. Even if baseball can get to this year’s Aug. 31 trade deadline with a league intact and playing, nobody is predicting more than small level trades at that point — certainly not anything close to a blockbuster.

After that, it may not get any clearer for the sport in general, much less the Cubs with their roster and contract dilemmas.

“We have a lot of conversations about it internally, both within the baseball side and then with the business side as well,” Hoyer said. “But it’s going to take a long time and probably some sort of macro things happening for us to really have a good feel for where we’re going to be in ’21 and beyond.”

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Cubs' GM Jed Hoyer: Everyone in MLB has to take COVID-19 'equally' serious

Cubs' GM Jed Hoyer: Everyone in MLB has to take COVID-19 'equally' serious

Veteran umpire Joe West made waves Tuesday downplaying the severity of COVID-19 in an interview with The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal. 

“I don’t believe in my heart that all these deaths have been from the coronavirus," West said. "I believe it may have contributed to some of the deaths.”

As far as the Cubs are concerned, those comments don’t represent how to treat the virus. In fact, they’ve gone out of their way to ensure everyone treats it with equal severity.

“That’s one of the things we've really tried internally to instill in our players and our coaches,” Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said Tuesday, “[that] everyone here has to take it equally [serious].”

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Hoyer noted like the world, MLB isn’t immune to people having different viewpoints on the virus — those who show concern and those who don’t. This echoes comments made by manager David Ross earlier on Tuesday, and Hoyer said those he’s talked to with the Cubs don’t feel the same way as West.

The Cubs had an up close and personal look at pitching coach Tommy Hottovy’s battle with COVID-19 during baseball’s shutdown. It took the 38-year-old former big leaguer 30 harrowing days to test negative, and in the past week many Cubs have said watching him go through that hit home. 

“When you get a 38-year-old guy in wonderful health and he talks about his challenges with it,” Hoyer said, “I think that it takes away some of those different viewpoints.”

To ensure everyone stays safe and puts the league in the best position to complete a season, MLB needs strict adherence to its protocols.

“I think that's one of our goals and one of the things that we feel is vital is that we have to make sure everyone views this the same way, because we can't have a subset of people within our group that don't view it with the same severity,” Hoyer said.

“That’s not gonna work. We're not gonna be successful."

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