Bulls

Arturas Karnisovas pledges to make bounceback plan with Lauri Markkanen

Arturas Karnisovas pledges to make bounceback plan with Lauri Markkanen

The case of Lauri Markkanen’s third-year regression is multi-pronged.

Across the board, the one-time wunderkin’s production sank, his minutes and opportunity in the offense fluctuated, and his general assertiveness seemed to wane. What’s to blame for the disappointing campaign? Some combination of Markkanen, the Bulls’ coaching staff, teamwide tumult, and, perhaps, too-lofty expectations to begin with. Injuries — respective oblique (soreness) and ankle (sprain) ailments he played through, and a stress reaction in his pelvis that sidelined him 15 games — undoubtedly played a role, as well.

Regardless of the culprit of Markkanen’s woes, if the Bulls’ rebuild is to get back on track, their second cornerstone must rebound in Year 4 and beyond. New general manager Marc Eversley has pledged to “learn more about” the reasons behind Markkanen’s struggles in pursuit of that mission.

Arturas Karnisovas did the same in an end-of-season conference call with reporters Saturday, adding that he’s personally spoken to Markkanen, who remained in the Chicago area throughout the NBA’s hiatus, on multiple occasions. The fruits of those conversations appear to be positive thus far, with hunger to improve a theme.

“We’ve spoken to Lauri numerous times. He’s been very patient, stayed in the market. His family is now with him,” Karnisovas said. “I spoke to him about last year. He’s eager to get back to the gym and improve. He was disappointed by the overall result (last season). Every player wants to win. He’s about winning, as well. Our objective is to get the best version of Lauri next year. We agreed in conversations that this is our objective, and we’re going to try to do it.”

Also worth adding to the to-do list could be hammering out a long-term extension with Markkanen, who is eligible for one when the offseason officially strikes. Karnisovas didn’t address that dynamic with reporters, instead impressing the importance of getting under the same roof and laying the foundation for a strong personal relationship with Markkanen before jumping to any conclusions.

“I’ll look forward to meeting him face-to-face. Before accountability, I have to have a personal relationship with him,” Karnisovas said.

That quality of Karnisovas’ thoughtful leadership style has permeated the decision-making process on head coach Jim Boylen’s future, as well. Karnisovas reiterated what has been widely reported in the call: A decision on Boylen is not imminent, and will wait until Karnisovas (who is “on the way” to Chicago) is able to meet Boylen in person and establish a relationship with him.

As for Markkanen, expectations remain high, even after a down year. And fulfilling that expectation will be a collaborative process, to hear Karnisovas tell it. That and management clearly viewing Markkanen as an asset worth pouring time and resources into are refreshing sentiments.

“We’ll set expectations, which are pretty high,” Karnisovas said. “And it’s about improvement. Each player, from talking to them, they were disappointed with last year’s result.

“We’re going to strive to get better. Same thing with Lauri. We have a lot of time this offseason. We’re going to put a plan together for him. We’re going to schedule and do that.”

Indeed, with the Bulls excluded from the NBA’s 22-team resumption plan, a potential nine-month-plus layoff between games looms. For a team as young as these Bulls, that type of dry spell has the potential to be detrimental to development and continuity. In that vein, Karnisovas said he’d favor “some team-oriented activities… practices and possibly scrimmages” as curriculum for the eight teams not assembling in Orlando as a way to stay loose. 

The bright side to all of the above: The fresh-faced front office has nothing but time to address all that riddled the Bulls in 2019-20. Player development, which begins with relationships, will clearly be a tenet of the new regime. And there’s no better place to begin putting their words on that topic to action than with Markkanen.

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NBA releases scrimmage schedule for 2019-20 season restart in Orlando

NBA releases scrimmage schedule for 2019-20 season restart in Orlando

Before the NBA officially restarts its season on July 30, all 22 of the invited teams will participate in three inter-squad scrimmages, as a means of final preparation.

The league released each squad's schedule for those scrimmages on Saturday. Scrimmages run from July 22 - 28:

Not announced is whether or not the games will be televised, or a broadcast schedule.

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And one other matter of note: As Caitlin Cooper pointed out on Twitter, teams will intermingle between hotel locations for the three scrimmage games. Take the Lakers' scrimmage schedule, for example: They face the Mavericks, Magic and Wizards. While the Lakers will stay at Gran Destino Tower during their stay, the Mavericks and Magic will inhabit the Grand Floridian, and the Wizards the Yacht Club.

According to the league's 113-page health and safety guidelines for the bubble, players will be allowed to socialize with players at different hotels starting with "Phase 5," which begins July 22, but any meals shared with a player or staff member from another team must be eaten outside. Before that, players will only be allowed to socialize with teammates or others staying in the same hotel as them.

Teams are set to travel to Orlando on a staggered schedule from July 7 - 9; from there, regular COVID-19 testing and symptom monitoring will go into effect. After a period of quarantine and producing two negative PCR tests at least 24 hours apart, players and staffers will be allowed to participate in group activities with their teams.

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Does Bulls’ Coby White have All-Star potential? One NBA insider thinks so

Does Bulls’ Coby White have All-Star potential? One NBA insider thinks so

Coby White just turned 20 in February. But already, he’s one of the more electrifying young players in the NBA.

With a head of steam, he’s a blur. With an inch of space — off the dribble or catch — he’s a bucket. At 6-foot-4, he’s of great size at the point guard spot, and flashed rapidly improving ability as a ball-handler, playmaker and finisher through contact at the basket throughout his rookie season.

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All of the above was tangibly and spectacularly on display in a torrid 10-game stretch he ripped after the All-Star break. In that span, White averaged 24.7 points (second among rookies to only Zion Williamson) and 4.3 assists per game on 46.8-40.7-89.5 shooting splits in 33.7 minutes per night, and on 28.1% usage rate (first among rooks). He became the first rookie reserve in league history to record back-to-back 33-point outings. The Bulls’ net rating plunged by 16.2 points per 100 possessions with White off the floor, post-All-Star, with the offense, specifically, transforming from the equivalent of this year’s Clippers to the 2012 Bobcats when White sat. He made his first NBA start in the Bulls’ final game before the NBA went dark.

But before you hang his No. 0 from the United Center rafters, it’s of course important to consider the full picture. The first four months of White’s professional career were tumultuous. Entering the break, his minutes (24.3) and points (11.1) per game averages were pedestrian,  and he ranked 261st in the NBA in true shooting (47.7%) and 257th in effective field goal percentage (45.2%) among players with more than 200 field goal attempts for the season. After logging four 20-point outings — one of which saw him smash the franchise record for 3s in a quarter — in the Bulls’ first 17 games, he notched just one between Nov. 23 and the All-Star break. Even in his deepest doldrums, he was a steady off-ball threat (36.2% on 3.4 catch-and-shoot 3s per game pre-All-Star break) and microwave scoring candidate on a night-to-night basis, but questions surrounding his consistency, defense and facilitating loomed.

Him shattering any rookie wall he may have encountered with expanded opportunity thus resonated all the more, and serves as a testament to White’s discipline and maturity. Throughout the season, head coach Jim Boylen personally sat with White for regular film sessions to pore over tape, sessions that Boylen often lauded White for and eventually credited in part for his breakout. Talk to anyone in the Bulls’ locker room about White and one thing becomes clear: He works.

Unfortunately, the league’s coronavirus-induced hiatus cut short his tenure as a starter after one game, which would have inarguably been the most compelling stretch-run storyline for the Bulls. Now, awaits an offseason to ponder: What is White’s ceiling? His true nature as a player likely lies somewhere between his pre- and post-All-Star self, but which is closer? A Bulls team in dire need of shot creation outside of Zach LaVine will pray the latter.

Here’s what NBC Sports NBA Insider Tom Haberstroh said on when asked what White’s ceiling is on the latest episode of the Bulls Talk Podcast:

“He really came on strong, as a teenager in the NBA, I didn’t think he had that last burst in him. I think he struggled early on just to get his feet wet, I don’t think the player alignments or lineup alignments helped him very much, but man, he was awesome. And I think he looked a lot like De’Aaron Fox, a guy who’s just explosive, a guy who’s fast, up-tempo, plays in a system where you just want to get him the ball and let him run. 

“I’m not so sure if he’s Russell Westbrook-level yet, but I think potential All-Star is what I would say for Coby White. When you have that kind of scoring tact in the league where you just have that instinct, you have the size — and he’s gonna fill out — the speed. He just reminds me a lot of De’Aaron Fox, and he’s not an All-Star yet, but he’s still very young in the league. And when you’re talking about a 19-year-old who’s able to do the things Coby White did, he’s got a very bright future.”

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In Fox and Westbrook lie intriguing comparisons. White projects to be a much more reliable outside shooter than both, and by a fair margin. But even thinking ahead, Fox owns a marked edge on the defensive end, and Westbrook as both an all-around playmaker and explosively athletic marvel capable of being the center of a successful offense. Though White’s finishing improved drastically over the course of the season (his restricted area field goal percentage improved every month from November to February), both Fox and Westbrook are prolific around the basket — like, two of the best five guard finishers in the league prolific.

What all three possess is game-breaking burst, and White’s ability to snatch rebounds and spark the break is especially tantalizing, given his superlative size and quick-twitch shot release. He competes hard defensively, lending credence to the theory he can continue making up ground on that end in time. And as his playmaking progresses, the natural gravity he commands because of all of the above skills could unlock new levels to his individual game and the Bulls’ offense, in general.

Are all of those tools packaged with White’s cool-headed mentality enough to warrant All-Star consideration one day? Maybe it’s too early to say so declaratively. But given what we’ve seen, it’s never too soon to dream.

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