Bulls

Boogie and Brow missed chances, help on the way: Observations from Bulls' OT loss to Pelicans

Boogie and Brow missed chances, help on the way: Observations from Bulls' OT loss to Pelicans

The Bulls could've and should've pulled out a win at home against the New Orleans Pelicans but instead fell to 2-6 with a 96-90 overtime loss Saturday night. Here's the biggest observations from that game.

We have stars, you don’t: Sometimes it’s as simple as having DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis doing things that cannot be matched by the opponent. It was more than just the stats—although Davis’ 27-point and 16-rebound performance was as impressive as it was understated—but Davis made the right plays at the most opportune times to seal the win.

He blocked a Justin Holiday jumper and then threw it off him while falling out of bounds to retain possession in overtime, the play of the game considering the stakes.

He also defended Bulls rookie Lauri Markkanen and prevented Markkanen from having clean looks, although Markkanen had two big fourth-quarter 3-pointers to keep the Bulls close when the Pelicans were threatening to pull away.

Markkanen was two of 11 from three and five of 16 overall, in large part due to Davis’ length and attention to detail.

“Our motto is, if we don’t score, they don’t score,” Davis said. “We came up with some big possessions, guys made some big shots and big plays. We wanted to make sure we defended.”

Cousins’ night wasn’t as smooth but he was dominant in terms of his presence, scoring 25 with 11 rebounds, although he hit just six of his 20 shots. He routinely bullied the Bulls and got to the foul line 13 times, as both he and Davis played over 40 minutes.

“I struggled early on,” Cousins said. “That being said, you gotta go out there and find the ways to have an impact on the game. That’s what I tried to do, and we pulled out an ugly, gritty win.”

The effort was there, the execution was not: Nothing epitomized the Bulls’ night better than the close misses Robin Lopez had at the rim, two contested bunnies he should’ve finished but didn’t after a pass from Jerian Grant.

He was battling with Davis and Cousins all night, and usually takes advantage of easy chances near the basket.  With nine seconds left and the game tied, it could’ve won the game for the Bulls.

But he had tough luck and the extra five minutes proved enough for the Pelicans to take control.

“It’s frustrating. It feels bad tonight. They know we had a great effort. I’ll be better. I’ll be better next game,” Lopez said. “He made a good play. I missed two shots. (Grant) made such a fantastic play.”

Here’s the play.

Although the Bulls took 42 3-point shots and shot just 26 percent from long range, Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg was happy with the effort, commending the team in his opening statement to the media following the loss.

“I’m proud of our guys for going out there and competing again when the ball wasn’t going in the hoop, giving ourselves a chance,” he said. “A great chance to win it there again missing a couple at the rim, but they continued to go out there and battle.”

“We’re going to have nights like this on the offensive end, but if we can battle like that defensively, we’re going to have a chance most nights.”

It’s a far cry from their last performance at home against Oklahoma City, where Hoiberg bemoaned the lack of effort in a blowout loss. Cousins complimented the Bulls and their play, having seen them twice in the preseason and once in the regular season.

“I feel like they’re a better team than their record shows,” he said. “They’re probably top-three hardest playing teams in the league at this point. To have a record like that and still come out and play with the tenaciousness and edge that they do, it’s a credit to them.”

Turning a corner/stepping back: Denzel Valentine had a second straight strong performance after Friday night’s showing against Orlando, scoring a season-high 16 points and hitting four of seven from 3-point range.

He was the only efficient scorer the Bulls had and Hoiberg said they ran their offense through Valentine in the fourth quarter, although the Pelicans outscored the Bulls 26-19.

“I like making big time plays, especially when my team is depending on me,” Valentine said. “So whenever my number is called, I just step up to the plate and deliver. I thought we should’ve won.”

Had the Bulls taken better care of the ball, they would’ve given themselves a better chance at a second straight win. But that old bugaboo reappeared, as Kris Dunn committed four turnovers in nearly 17 minutes.

His aggressiveness is in sharp contrast to Grant, as he presses the envelope at every opportunity. But finding the balance will be a season long challenge, as he’s had at least four turnovers in each of his four games this season.

Taking hold of that starting spot doesn’t seem as assured as it did when he was making big plays and showing emotion in Miami, spurring a quality effort on the road.

Hoiberg made note of Dunn’s giveaways, referencing players trying to make passes in tight spaces where a safer play could better apply.

“We need to do better with that, of taking care of that,” Hoiberg said.

Grant put together one of his better statistical performances as a Bull, with 14 points, nine assists and eight rebounds in 36 minutes. He made a critical steal on Cousins in the final minute, leading to Lopez’ missed layup.

He could’ve been the hero Saturday night.

Bobby’s back: It’s been eight games, which means Bobby Portis will return to the Bulls active lineup Tuesday in Toronto after his suspension from punching Nikola Mirotic.

Portis has to leave the arena two hours before every game so he hasn’t been around to watch the games in person, but he’s been practicing through his suspension. And no, he won't start, meaning Markkanen's place at power forward is secure.

“He’s been practicing and that’ll all be discussed here in the next couple days, what we’ll do in the Toronto game,” Hoiberg said. “The biggest thing is try to go out with the guys we have available. We’ll get that figured out in the next few days. He’s working extremely hard. When everything happened we had to put together makeshift lineups, so those guys were getting most of the reps in practices.”

Mirotic is doing more physical activity, going from riding a stationary bike to doing pool work over the past week but he’s still several weeks away from even beginning to think of stepping on the floor.

And then again, there’s that trade request from Mirotic that hasn’t been rescinded.

So even when it’s over, it’s not really over.

How Jabari Parker impacts Bulls’ salary cap in 2019

How Jabari Parker impacts Bulls’ salary cap in 2019

The Bulls ‘rebuild’ seems to be just a one-year experiment after the team signed Chicago native Jabari Parker to a two-year, $40-million dollar deal on Saturday. Although on first look Parker’s contract would seem to restrict what they can do in free agency next summer, the reality is that the 2nd year team option gives the Bulls plenty of flexibility with—or without- Parker next year.  

If the Bulls pick up the option on Parker, they will still be able to sign a max free agent next July if they make the right moves between now and July 1, 2019.

The NBA projects the 2019-20 cap will rise to $109 million, up from $101.9 million for the upcoming season. The league bases a ‘max’ salary on years of service. A 10-year vet like Kevin Durant is eligible for more ($38.2 million) than his teammate Klay Thompson ($32.7 million), an 8-year vet. If the Bulls keep Parker, they’ll enter free agency with approximately $15.4 million next summer—far short of the cap space needed for a player like Durant or Thompson, but that number is misleading. The $15.4 million also includes cap holds (salary slots assigned to a player based on several factors including previous year’s salary). The cap hold is designed to prevent teams from completely circumventing the soft cap model the league uses. The cap holds for Bobby Portis ($7.5 million) and Cameron Payne ($9.8 million) are just theoretical if the Bulls don’t sign either to a contract extension before the October 31, 2018 deadline. 

Let’s say the Bulls are in line to sign a star free agent like Thompson; all they would need to do is rescind any qualifying offer to Payne or Portis, and then renounce them as free agents. This would effectively take the cap holds off the Bulls’ cap sheet and give them approximately $32.7 million in cap space. Coincidently (or perhaps it’s no coincidence), that’s the exact salary a 7-9 year free agent like Thompson would command.

In order to create enough space for Durant and his increased ‘max’ slot, they would need to waive and stretch a player like Cristiano Felicio or incentivize a trade involving a player by attaching another asset in the deal, like a future 1st round pick.

If the Bulls decline the team option on Parker, then they will enter free agency with anywhere between $35 million and $53 million. 

Gar Forman finally comes through on promise

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USA TODAY

Gar Forman finally comes through on promise

"We felt we needed to start getting younger and more athletic..."

It was 2016 when Bulls general manager Gar Forman made this statement, drawing ire from many Bulls fans for what felt like—at the time—a disingenuous statement. A swap of Derrick Rose for Robin Lopez, Jose Calderon and Jerian Grant making you younger and athletic? No one was buying it.

But fast forward to July, 2018, and it is clear that at the very least, Forman has finally made good on his promise. The signing of Jabari Parker has been met with mostly positivity, as a short-term commitment to a former No. 2 overall pick is something that is difficult to hate. But when you factor in the rest of the pieces currently on the roster, it is OK for Bulls fans to be downright giddy over the future.

Lauri Markkanen is 21 years old, Wendell Carter Jr. is 19, Zach LaVine is 23, Jabari Parker is 23 and Kris Dunn is the elder statesmen of the group at 24 years old. If these five become the starting group moving forward, as expected, it would represent one of the youngest starting groups in the league with an average age of 22. 

And athleticism can be checked off the list as well. We know Markkanen has hopsLaVine showed off the explosiveness he was known for last season and Dunn had some dunks last year that legitimately gave fans a Rose flashback

Markkanen and Carter Jr. have both flashed the ability to switch onto guards for a limited amount of time and guard in space, a huge component of any defense that wants to switch a lot. And it also is the type of athleticism that is much more important at their position.

At this stage, Parker represents the biggest question mark athletically speaking. Despite his young age, the two ACL injuries make you wonder if there is any room for him to improve his agility. But at the least, Parker can drive to the basket and finish over the top with authority, even if his defense doesn't catch up.

So, Bulls fans are starting to become intrigued with this roster.

Fred Hoiberg wants his teams to play an up-tempo game, and last season was the first year during Hoiberg's Bulls tenure where the team actually ranked in the top 10 in pace. So if you have followed the Bulls carefully since Thibodeau's departure, you see a front-office that supports their new head coach, yet wasted a couple years to commit fully to his vision, and to a direction for the franchise.

But the point is Forman finally chose a direction.

The Bulls have a young core, and financial flexibility moving forward. And for all the jokes the "GarPax" regime have endured over the years, they have put the team in a position to have sustained success if they hit on all the young players they have acquired. 

And if they are wrong in their assessment of their young talent? 

The Bulls would be able to let Parker go, now that we know the second year of his contract is a team option. LaVine's offensive skill set will allow him to still have trade value years from now, as his contract won't look nearly as bad over time. 

And if the Bulls flurry of moves make the team significantly worse in a year where many expect them to take a step forward, all it would mean is being equipped with a high lottery pick in what is shaping up to be a top-heavy 2019 NBA Draft.

So Gar Forman wanted the team to get younger and more athletic, and though it took longer than it should've, the front-office made good on their promise. That is something that Bulls fans can believe in.