Bulls

Bulls' interest in Michael Porter Jr. promises to make draft night an eventful one—again

Bulls' interest in Michael Porter Jr. promises to make draft night an eventful one—again

Draft night has been accompanied by much speculation with the Bulls the last two seasons and Thursday is shaping up to fall right in line with recent history, as many believe the franchise has its eyes set on Missouri swingman Michael Porter, Jr.

According to several league sources the Bulls have inquired about moving up from the seventh spot in the draft to either the third or fourth spot, positions currently occupied by the Atlanta Hawks and Memphis Grizzlies, respectively.

Team sources tell NBCSportsChicago.com there’s no truth to the speculation, nor would they entertain the notion of such efforts geared toward selecting Porter Jr., who only played three games this past season at Missouri, sandwiched between back surgery in mid-November.

Things haven’t quite settled with the teams above the Bulls, as most teams have been engaged in some form of trade talk as the draft is a little over 48 hours away. The Bulls were firmly engaged with teams the last two seasons as teams were interested in Jimmy Butler. The Bulls held back on trading him in 2016 before kickstarting their rebuild last June, sending him to Minnesota. 

Depending on who you believe, the Bulls are either engaging in similar conversation to move up for Porter--they were told weeks ago Porter wouldn't last to the seventh spot. But there appears to be a scenario where Porter Jr. could fall to them--a risky but not impossible proposition if Porter Jr. is truly their man. 

Arizona’s DeAndre Ayton appears to be a lock for the Phoenix Suns with the first pick, and Duke big man Marvin Bagley III looks headed for Sacramento, although Bagley isn’t a shoo-in. There’s a segment of the Sacramento front office that’s enamored with Porter Jr, sources tell NBCSportsChicago.com, and things could get tricky over the next couple days.

Dallas, selecting fifth, likes Porter Jr. as well but it seems unlikely it’ll pass on Real Madrid star Luka Doncic if he slips past Atlanta and Memphis. If that happens, there’s a path for the Bulls to stand pat and get a player with star potential without having to sacrifice an asset already on the roster or their second first-round pick, which they acquired in the Nikola Mirotic deal this past season.

Oklahoma point guard Trae Young has been in Chicago for a workout, along with the likes of big men Mohamed Bamba from Texas and Duke’s Wendell Carter Jr. Villanova’s Mikal Bridges also made a visit and each spoke to media following their workouts.

Porter Jr. has been in Chicago preparing for the draft for the last several weeks. His agent, Mark Bartlestein of Priority Sports, is based in Chicago and has a working relationship with the Bulls.

The Bulls medical staff was the lone NBA team to evaluate Porter Jr. before distributing the results to the other teams, ramping up speculation of a potential marriage between Porter Jr. and the Bulls.

Bulls executive-vice president John Paxson has said the team would look for the best player available as opposed to need, but Porter Jr.—if completely healthy—checks off multiple boxes for the franchise should the speculation have truth behind it.

The Bulls, with everything they obviously did with their lineups to finish the season to not-so-subtly position themselves to take a star, could be tempted to take Porter Jr. if he’s there, even with the question marks.

Before the college season began and his subsequent injury took him out of the conversation, Porter Jr. was mentioned as a top pick in a talent-laden draft. A swingman with a smooth stroke, it was believed he would dominate the college season before taking the next step.

The injury understandably splashed cold water on those prognostications and Porter Jr. has been careful in his rehab, even suffering a minor setback with hip spams right before a second “pro day” was to take place in Chicago last week.

“I saw him in the first workout,” a personnel man for a western conference team said. “He moved good but what he didn’t have was balance. He was dunking but didn’t explode off the floor. The second half, he shot the ball really well. Floaters, off the dribble, spot-ups, he was hitting everything. That’s when I saw what everybody was talking about. His athleticism has to come back and they say it will.”

The workout was important for Porter Jr. to establish fluidity of movement following his back injury as well as reminding those who had only seen him against prep competition or at the Adidas Nations showcase in Houston last August about his skill set.

“He’s a natural scorer,” a general manager in attendance for Porter Jr.’s showing in Houston and Chicago. “He’s not a super athlete, more long than anything. He knows how to score. He’s not KD (Kevin Durant), he’s more like (Boston Celtics forward) Jayson Tatum. Tatum got drafted into the right environment. It’s all about fit.”

Ideally, Porter Jr. could fit next to Lauri Markkanen and Zach LaVine as a primary scorer, giving the Bulls dynamic, versatile scorers at the toughest positions to gameplan for in the NBA.

Tatum was thrust into the spotlight for the Celtics due to Gordon Hayward’s season-ending injury on opening night, and had even more responsibility after Kyrie Irving’s late-season injury, performing admirably as the Celtics advanced to the seventh game of the Eastern Conference Finals.

Tatum is one of the finalists for the rookie of the year, which will be announced next Monday. Porter Jr. is three inches taller than Tatum, at 6-foot-11, but he’ll also have to adjust to the physicality of the league relative to his most recent consistent competition.

His back injury is still cause for pause for a few franchises, though, despite the clean bill of health.

“I don’t know if it would deter me from taking him but if anyone says it’s not a factor in your thinking is lying,” the general manager told NBCSportsChicago.com.

The personnel man agrees.

“It does (worry me), a bit,” he said. “But because he’s so big and so freaking talented, I’d consider taking him. If you can go in a situation where it isn’t career threatening, you gotta roll with him. You get a few months to get his strength back, you bring him along slowly to make sure everything’s in working order by the time the season starts.”

That’s a question the Bulls will have to answer if their affection for Porter Jr. is as real as it seems.

“At some point he becomes worth the risk, right? Chicago can’t pass him up, can they?”- the personnel man queried.

That’s the question Chicago has been trying to figure out for weeks now, and the answer will soon be revealed.

Tributes to Kobe Bryant, city of Chicago highlight memorable All-Star Sunday

Tributes to Kobe Bryant, city of Chicago highlight memorable All-Star Sunday

The specter of Kobe Bryant was omnipresent throughout All-Star weekend. Too often, it felt that the city of Chicago was not. 

But both took center stage at the All-Star game itself on Sunday night. The result was poignant, powerful and downright enthralling.

Magic Johnson set the tone early with a eulogy to Bryant that elicited multiple, impassioned ‘Kobe!’ chants from the crowd. That gave way to South Side native Common seamlessly weaving a cadenced monologue dedicated to Chicago, Bryant and daughter Gigi, as images of city legends from Barack Obama to Michael Jordan to Hebru Brantley flashed across the screen. The United Center rippled with emotion from start to finish.

For Bryant, the homage was a culmination. For Chicago, it was an essential re-centering to cap a weekend that saw only one Bull participate in an event — Zach LaVine, who exited after round one of the 3-point shootout. After 32 years since last hosting, this city deserved its moment in the sun. That one delivered.

“Chicago held it down,” Anthony Davis said. “I think they showed the league and everyone around the world about our Chicago history, about the city. I think everyone enjoyed it and respects Chicago a little bit more.”

Of course, there was a game to play, too — and embedded within were moments of pure symbolism.

On the surface: Members of Team Giannis and Team LeBron donned No. 24 and No. 2, respectively, in honor of Bryant and Gigi. The final quarter of the game went untimed, a slog to 157 (24 points more than the 133 Team Giannis entered the period with, per the league’s new Elam-inspired format). 

Chicago charities — Chicago Scholars ($400,000) for Team LeBron, After School Matters ($100,000) for Giannis — also received a cumulative $500,000 over the course of the game. Seventy-nine assists between the two teams means $79,000 will go towards STEM research in the greater Chicago area, too.

But now, let’s get a little nebulous. 

That fourth quarter, after a familiarly lackluster previous three, was electric. The offenses were legitimately running plays, the defenses were scrapping. There was controversial officiating, sweat dripping, and charges and clutch blocks galore. By the end, you could cut the tension with a knife.

“It felt like playing in the league in a playoff game,” Davis said.

Forgive me this contrivance, but how fitting a finish to commemorate both this city and Bryant. A true grind-it-out, scratch-and-claw affair. And as epic a pickup run as you’re like to find.

Most poetic, then, was the winning bucket. Yes, it was a free-throw — an anticlimactic ending to a memorable night — but the man that took it, Davis, was both born and bred in Chicago, and currently reps the same purple and gold Bryant did for 20 seasons as a member of the Lakers. 

“It was a great feeling, to be back home,” Davis said. “And I’m happy I was able to be the one to knock down the free throw to seal the game.

“For our side to get a win, for Kob (Kobe), this whole weekend was honoring him. And I think the league did a great job of doing that.”

Davis went on to congratulate Kawhi Leonard, who tonight took home the first ever Kobe Bryant All-Star game MVP award. His 30 points led all scorers in the game.

“It’s very special,” Leonard said. “I had a relationship with him (Bryant). Words can’t explain how happy I am for it. Able to put that trophy in my room… And just to be able to see Kobe’s name on there. It just means a lot to me. He’s a big inspiration in my life. He did a lot for me.”

On Thursday, normalcy will return to the United Center in the form of the Bulls and Hornets. But this was a night no one will soon forget. Thank you, Chicago. Thank you, basketball.

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New All-Star game format brings competitiveness that does NBA, city of Chicago proud

New All-Star game format brings competitiveness that does NBA, city of Chicago proud

Team LeBron defeated Team Giannis 157-155.

Team LeBron’s charity, Chicago Scholars, won $400,000. Team Giannis’ charity, After School Matters, took home $100,000.

Kawhi Leonard won the first Kobe Bryant All-Star game MVP award.

Another winner? How about the sport of basketball, the NBA and critics of All-Star games everywhere?

Thanks to a new format that featured charities benefitting by whichever team won each quarter, plus the first usage of an Elam Ending, the United Center featured a fourth quarter whose intensity might make Michael Jordan smile.

Man, that was fun. They fixed the NBA All-Star game. It still seems surreal.

Anthony Davis sank the second of two free throws after Team Giannis coach Nick Nurse used a second coach’s challenge — and third of the fourth quarter overall — to finalize matters.

But not until — deep breath here — Giannis Antetokounmpo dived for a loose ball; Kyle Lowry took two charges; Antetokounmpo blocked Davis twice and LeBron James once at the rim; officials called back-to-back offensive fouls, one of which felt like a makeup call; and players argued with officials like the NBA Finals, or maybe playground bragging rights, were at stake.

“Throughout the whole fourth quarter and at the end of the game, everybody was like, ‘That was pretty damn fun,’” James said.

That it was.

In an interview with NBC Sports Chicago last month, NBA commissioner Adam Silver credited Chris Paul for bringing him the idea to incorporate the Elam ending, which establishes a target score rather than using a clock to discourage late-game fouling. Paul returned the compliment.

“The good thing about our league is we’re always adding new things and trying to figure out from our fans what they like,” Paul said.

Silver and the league introduced their own twist by making the target score 24 points more than the leading team after three quarters — a nod to Kobe Bryant’s number — and having the quarter-by-quarter charity winners.

Actually, nobody won the third quarter. It ended tied despite Nurse and Team LeBron coach Frank Vogel trading timeouts in the waning seconds to try to win the quarter.

“Every quarter from a coaching standpoint was really fun,” Nurse said.

Several players likened the ending intensity to that of a playoff game. How much did the Elam Ending benefit the ramp up in effort?

After three quarters of lob dunks, behind-the-back passes and uncontested 3-point shots that featured 55.5 percent shooting, the teams combined for 35.5 percent shooting in the fourth quarter.

“The end was amazing,” Nurse said. “Offensively, it was hard to get anything started. Even first passes were being denied. It felt like the end of a playoff game, which was really cool.”

Fans greeted it as such, standing down the stretch. What better way to honor Bryant’s legendary competitiveness than the way this one played out in the waning minutes?

That it was Davis who sank the winning free throw seemed a fitting end to honor the legacy of Chicago basketball that had been on display all week and then intensified with a beautiful pregame tribute to the city narrated by the rapper Common.

Davis, who attended Perspectives Charter High School, is the latest in a long line of stars this city has produced.

“Listen man, Chicago is right up there with one of the top cities in the world with producing some of the greatest basketball players to ever play this game,” James said. “You’ve even got Ben Wilson, who was on his way to being a star and obviously we know the story about that. So you got it all the way from grade school-era through high school through college and then so many pros and so many Hall of Famers.

“KG (Kevin Garnett) is about to go into the Hall of Fame soon. The great Isiah Thomas. DWade (Dwyane Wade) at some point will go into the Hall of Fame.”

That James cited Wilson, the late Simeon star gunned down on the eve of his senior season, showed the ultimate respect to this city’s rich heritage. A heritage that was honored by a competitive ending that would make anyone playing on playgrounds from Margate Park to Murray Park proud.

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