Bulls

Bulls mailbag: Who is getting traded? Does system fit Lauri Markkanen?

Bulls mailbag: Who is getting traded? Does system fit Lauri Markkanen?

Two weeks remain until the NBA’s trade deadline. Yet, according to a majority of your questions, it’s never too early for speculation.

What are Bulls officials saying about areas of need ahead of the trade deadline? Will they be buyers or sellers? – Will G.

Shockingly, they say very little to reporters about their plans. That said, it doesn’t take a genius, or even a reporter, to ascertain that nobody should be untouchable on this roster in this most disappointing of seasons. Do I think Zach LaVine or Lauri Markkanen will be traded? No. Should the Bulls listen to any and all offers for those players if they come? Absolutely.

As for being buyers, you need assets to do that. LaVine’s reasonable contract is one, although, as previously stated, I don’t see him being moved. Beyond that, the only asset I see ⁠— the Bulls historically have frowned upon surrendering first-round picks ⁠— is Thaddeus Young. And that’s mostly because he’s a solid veteran who would help any playoff team.

I see Young and Denzel Valentine as the most likely candidates to be moved. Executives from other teams that I talk to think Young will draw interest, particularly since the third year of his deal isn’t fully guaranteed.

Has the front office considered keeping Kris Dunn beyond this season? Or are they still attempting to move him by the deadline? – Ryan B.

I’ve heard no trade discussions involving Dunn since last offseason. Back then, it was well documented how available he was. And the Bulls had talks with the Grizzlies, at least, to move him there.

But, again, when you’re in a position like the Bulls are, you have to listen to any offers. I personally think there’s a good chance Dunn will be back with the Bulls next season. His role acceptance and ability to defend have made him a valuable rotation piece. As a restricted free agent, Dunn’s offers can be matched by the Bulls. It’s their duty to have a sense of what Dunn’s market will be this summer in restricted free agency. As previously written in this feature, I think a three-year, $30-36M deal is feasible for Dunn. And while that sounds like a lot, remember that the salary cap keeps increasing.

What are your trade ideas/wishes for the February deadline that you think the Bulls should make? – Areeb A.

I have no wishes other than to make deadline. As for ideas, this isn’t really original but a Young-for-Maurice Harkless deal makes plenty of sense for both the Bulls and Clippers. The Clippers get another savvy, strong defender for a player who, while valuable, is somewhat redundant with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. And the Bulls get an expiring contract and look at Harkless, who helps with the uncertainty surrounding Otto Porter Jr.

Count me strongly in the camp against trading LaVine. I’ve said this plenty, but people far too often focus on his weaknesses rather than his strengths. He’s an athletic marvel who can score easily and is still growing as a player while on a reasonable contract. His decision-making has improved. Maybe he’s not a No. 1 piece on a championship team. You traded Jimmy Butler for him and if you’re trading him away, you’re looking for a player like him from the draft lottery to replace him.

Like everyone else, I’ve been very disappointed in Lauri Markkanen’s season thus far. He is being criminally misused as a spot-up shooter in Jim Boylen’s vaunted offense that has a “modern” shot profile and emphasizes 3-pointers and layups. This is mentioned frequently by Boylen in press conferences. But it produces points at a level that the Minneapolis Lakers would recognize. Is there any credence to the recent trade rumors on Lauri, and if so, what type of return would we get? I’m sure he’ll immediately flourish if he’s able to escape the dumpster fire that this team has become this season so I wish him the best of luck. -Nick P.

Tell us how you really feel.

I’ve heard no trade rumors surrounding Markkanen. I do think, whether he’s being misused or not, this season raises legitimate questions on whether his ceiling is as high as the Bulls projected. That said, I completely agree he’s not this ineffective and he’d be better served if he’s on the move more. I know coaches have talked to him about cutting forcefully in halfcourt sets and running the wings hard in transition. But, yes, the fact this offense largely eschews midrange looks or postups has affected Markkanen.

Remember that drag step, one-legged fadeaway off the glass that he sank with regularity during his dominant stretch in February last season? It’s getting hard to since he rarely uses it anymore. Over half of Markkanen’s attempts this season have been from beyond the arc. He has certainly missed his share of open looks, which is on him. But he’s much more than a stationary shooter.

Do you think the front office will step in at some point regarding how Boylen is using Markkanen, especially since Lauri is starting to air some frustration with the system? – Jack S.

John Paxson and Boylen talk basically every day. They have a strong working relationship. Paxson also talks to Markkanen and other players regularly. Paxson’s M.O. with all coaches has been to offer input or suggestions if he sees fit but let the coach do the coaching. So this is Boylen’s system, for better or for worse.

I found it telling that Thad Young, at a recent shootaround in Boston, said how his role of staying more on the perimeter and shooting more 3-pointers wasn’t disclosed during the free agency process. At the same shootaround, Boylen went on to say how that was conveyed to Young during those voluntary September workouts and in October training camp. This seems clear that Boylen arrived at this offensive system late, although Chris Fleming’s hire likely started talks towards this style earlier in the offseason.

A lot has been made about Chris Fleming’s offense in Brooklyn. Why hasn’t that translated to Chicago? How Lauri is being handled in this offense is pathetic! – Derek B.

Speaking of . . .

To clarify, it’s not Fleming’s offense — either here or in Brooklyn. He’s an assistant coach with ideas and input and known for his offensive acumen. But the head coach signs off on the systems.

The Bulls wanted to modernize their offense with a more free-flowing, read-and-react system that emphasizes rim and 3-point attempts. Despite languishing in the bottom five for offensive rating all season, Boylen has touted strengths of the team’s shot profile and an establishment of a system. As of this writing, the Bulls rank second in attempts at the rim with 35.6 per game while converting just 56.7 percent. That’s tied for last with the Knicks. And that’s hard to do.

Can you please tell me why Jim Boylen feels it is more appropriate to build a system on both ends of the floor rather than play to his players strengths? I just don't get it, and the more I try and figure it out the more it baffles me. This equal opportunity offense is just stupid. Surely he can see that? – Matt A.

This isn’t meant to defend Boylen but to provide context. You have to remember management’s charges when he took over for Fred Hoiberg: Raise accountability. Build a culture. Establish a style of play.

Boylen waited over two decades for this opportunity. It’s pretty clear, from his strong relationship to the Reinsdorfs to the fact that he had some input on personnel moves this offseason, that he likes pleasing his bosses. So he is trying to establish a style of play with interchangeable parts so that if one player is injured, another can step in and play the same way.

You can call it whatever you want, but Boylen is doing what he believes is best to build championship habits. I personally would have, say, Luke Kornet playing more at the rim as a shotblocker than blitzing way out on the perimeter or more of a pecking order offensively. But I’m also not coach of the Bulls who waited two decades for his chance.

I hear all these comments about giving Lauri more minutes, but am I the only one that sees little if any production from him when he is playing? Missing wide open shots, going weak to the basket, turnovers, overpowered in rebounds. He looks very disinterested the majority of the time, so I, for one, don’t think giving him more minutes is warranted. Just my frustrated take. – Shawn J.

Frustration is allowed. I think everyone, Markkanen included, would agree he hasn’t played to the level of which he is capable. Any discussion of this season-long issue shouldn’t fully absolve Markkanen of his role in his struggles. I just personally think he has shown an ability to play at a higher level than this, so you also have to look at the system.

Will we get a chance to see Coby White actually run the point? Do the Bulls see him as a primary ball handler long term, or as an off-ball scoring threat? I know he’s valuable to us as a bench scorer this season, but I worry about the kind of habits that he’ll develop in such a scoring focused role for an extended period of time. – Patrick S.

The Bulls view him as a 19-year-old lottery pick who is extremely talented and will grow into whatever his proper role is. This is a byproduct of taking young players in the lottery who aren’t fully formed. Yes, he played point guard in his lone season at North Carolina. But that basically consisted of Roy Williams telling him to dribble up the floor as fast as he possibly could and get the best first available shot for him or others.

When, or if, the Bulls shift fully to player development as opposed to this pipe dream of chasing a playoff berth will be a storyline I’ll be monitoring once the trade deadline and All-Star break pass. It certainly wouldn’t hurt playing him more minutes as a pure point if the Bulls reach that full-on development stage. For now, their lack of pigeonholing or limiting him has been the right move for a young, raw talent.

Why was the Shaq Harrison contract guaranteed? How can you not make a single roster move all season? Will they admit the rebuild needs a rebuild? When will Lauri reject contract extension because he wants away from Boylen and Bulls? Does Doug Collins have any hair left after watching this disaster? – Andrew G.

The best part is this dude sent in two other questions that I trimmed because others asked them. Angst, much?

I assume you mean: Why was the non-guaranteed deal of Harrison allowed to become guaranteed past the guaranteed date? Because Boylen likes defense and toughness.

They’ve moved Cristiano Felicio back and forth between the G League. Does that count?

John Paxson answered that question during his round of media interviews “There is no quick fix,” he said. So I’m going with no.

I wrote that last week: The Markkanen extension talks will be more difficult because of Markkanen’s slow start to his season. His camp almost certainly will point to less opportunity, both in terms of touches and minutes. (Not to mention the system has affected Markkanen.) The Bulls, as always, will try to sign him on a team-friendly deal. Expect difficulty. (The Bulls would still own his rights, obviously, even if they fail to reach an extension.)

Doug has his hands full because he also watches his son, Chris, at Northwestern.

Hypothetical seven-game series. Each team has the exact same players, but the coaches are Boylen vs. Floyd. Who wins? – Andy H.

Not sure. But I know I’d like to interview Charles Oakley afterward.

Thanks for all your questions. Talk to you soon.

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NBA head coaches with NBA experience reminisce on pickup hoops days

scottbrooks.jpg
USA Today

NBA head coaches with NBA experience reminisce on pickup hoops days

Nine current NBA head coaches also played in the league. They range in experience from Billy Donovan’s 44 games with the 1987-88 Knicks to Steve Kerr’s 910 games with six teams.

Staying in the sport they love at the highest level is one thing. Playing it is another.

Retiring as a player is one thing. Giving up pickup basketball is another.

NBC Sports Chicago interviewed seven of the nine coaches about their post-playing career pickup basketball history. Only one of those seven, the Wizards’ Scott Brooks, said they still play fullcourt, pickup basketball regularly.

The wistful tones of those who no longer play — almost always not by their choice — resonated throughout these tales. The love of basketball, whether coaching it or playing it, remains strong.

STEVE KERR, Golden State Warriors coach, 54 years old, 910 games over 15 seasons, retired in 2003

I retired when I was 37. I picked up tennis and I played a lot, like three or four days a week. And I played pickup basketball every Sunday. And I played basketball all the way until I was about 45. And I was grinding. I was going hard on the tennis court and in pickup. When I turned 43, literally in the same month, each knee kind of ran out of cartilage. And I could feel like, ‘Oh my gosh, there’s no cushion in there anymore.’ I had a scope done by our team doctor in Phoenix. I was GM at the time. I remember thinking, ‘All right, I’ll get a scope. And I’ll be fine.’ I wake up and he said, ‘The scope went well. We cleaned it up. But you gotta stop playing basketball.’ And I said, ‘What?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, you gotta stop playing basketball and tennis. You just don’t have any more cartilage.’ I was devastated. My whole life, I played. There was so much wear and tear from my playing days and my post-playing days. Seven years of flying around the tennis court, my body just wore out.

I actually enjoyed the pickup ball more than the NBA because I was finally the most talented player on the floor. I could actually cross somebody up and get to the rim. I’d be like, ‘What just happened?’

But you miss the feeling of the freedom and the flow and the energy. You start making some shots and you’re running and you get this incredible workout and at the end of the games, you’re just exhausted but in an incredibly satisfying way. And then you go home and throw the ice bags on the knee and watch football or something. I miss that. Now it’s all non-impact stuff — yoga, elliptical. I have to avoid any of the pounding.

SCOTT BROOKS, Washington Wizards coach, 54 years old, 680 games over 10 seasons, retired in 1998

We play every gameday on our home floor but the sideways fullcourt. It’s 'old man' full.

In the summertime, I probably play two to three times a week. I love it. Every Saturday morning, I go to my son’s old high school gym, and he calls about 10 of his high school buddies and I beat the crap out of them. I’m an old man game now. I post up. I foul. I set illegal screens. I’m basically Charles Oakley out there.

(Injury could) happen to me. I’m just willing to take the chance. If I don’t do that, I’m going to be pretty heavy. Plus, I like the interaction with other guys on the court. You bond with your coaching staff and your video group.

Nothing replicates a run. I do yoga, elliptical and play pickup. If you can invent a treadmill where you can fall and get up and take charges and set screens, I’ll do that. I just love the physicality of the sport. And I love the competition. I love to do something where I’m going to know if I win or lose and know those results in the short-term.

RICK CARLISLE, Dallas Mavericks coach, 60 years old, 188 games over five seasons, retired in 1990

The last pickup game I played in was in 2000. This was a pretty compelling thing to observe if you’re any kind of historian. It was me, Derrick McKey, Chris Mullin and Larry Bird against Al Harrington, Jonathan Bender, Jeff Foster and Zan Tabak. We played a three-game series. It was tied 1-1. In the third game, Bird came off a screen on the right side, caught and shot a 17-footer high above Jeff Foster’s outreached hand. The ball went straight up in the air and straight through the basket without touching the rim at all. Larry and I looked at each other and basically said, ‘We’re done with this after today.’ The game-winner will probably never be able to be topped. Plus, physically, playing against those guys, Foster was so strong and so dynamic that it was dangerous being out there. Larry and I both realized it. That was the last time I ever did it. And I’m positive that was the last time he did it too. I was 41 at the time.

I still do some stuff where I work with players on the floor. But I don’t play up in pickup games. It’s very dangerous.

You do miss the competition. You miss the creativity of getting on the court and being able to play with like-minded players. You play with experienced guys and the things you can create offensively just off your feel for the game is a lot of fun. But you have to move on from that. Because it is truly very dangerous unless you’re conditioned for that. And if Scott (Brooks) is still playing, that means that he’s playing pretty consistently and he’s in condition for it. He’s in great shape. I’ve seen him. But for my friends in their 40s and 50s, I don’t recommend it. You’re playing with fire. You get on a court with guys who are higher than your level, stuff happens really fast. I’ve seen and heard of too many major injuries happening.

My Dad was a warrior rec player. He was one of the all-time legends of my town growing up as a pickup player. He played into his mid-50s. He’s got two new hips. He has had one revision on a hip replacement. He had one knee replaced. I saw how it tore his body apart. He’s 89 now. And he would probably try to walk out and play in a game today if he could.

This game, and the competitive aspect of it, and the endorphin release you get from playing in a pickup game, it gets in your blood. You have to find things to do to replace that. That’s the challenge. I’ve gone on and I do different workouts. I still work to get a sweat and do things to keep my body feeling good. It’s not the same as playing. But you’ve got to do low-impact things so you have to feel good. I’ve become an avid Peloton person. That’s a great way to get aerobic work in. You just find things.

NATE McMILLAN, Indiana Pacers coach, 55 years old, 796 games over 12 seasons, retired in 1998

I used to play until 2009. I stopped that year because I was practicing with the team and tore my Achilles.

I was with Portland. We had a ton of injuries. We didn’t have enough guys to practice. We needed another body. I told my assistants, ‘I got it. I’m playing.’ We were playing 4-on-4. My team was winning — of course. We played an extra game. I should’ve stopped when I was ahead. I tore my Achilles in that last game. You realize that you should stick to HORSE and not trying to play 4-on-4 fullcourt.

You just love the game. During that time (after retirement), what you think is you still can get out there and do it.  You look at guys like (Vince) Carter and you’re amazed he can still play competitively at the professional level with these young guys. But you come to a point where you realize it’s over. And for me, it was when I tore my Achilles.

I didn’t really miss it. Once I retired, it was over for me. I had given all that I could. My body was at a point where I had a lot of injuries towards the end. One of the worst things is to try to compete when you’re old or injured. When I decided to retire, I was ready. It was time. So I didn’t really miss it.

As I said, we were winning (that last game) before I got hurt.

LUKE WALTON, Sacramento Kings coach, 39 years old, 564 games over 10 seasons, retired in 2013

I played my last game two years ago. And it was fun. And it was worth it. But the next day it was very clear that there was no need for me to ever play fullcourt basketball again. Mentally, I’d still love to play any chance I could. Physically, it’s just not an option.

I miss everything about it — the competitiveness, the game. To me, basketball is the most beautiful, fun, enjoyable game there is. That’s why I played it my whole life. I miss playing. Coaching is the next best thing.

I do beach volleyball in the offseason.

MONTY WILLIAMS, Phoenix Suns coach, 48 years old, 456 games over nine seasons, retired in 2003

I gave up pickup. Actually, I didn’t give it up. My knee forced me to give it up. Every time I played it just kept blowing up. It’s humbling to not be able to get out there anymore, especially when you see (assistant coach) Willie Green dunking the ball and (assistant coach) Steve Blake shooting 3s. I look at myself in the mirror and see this gray goatee and I realize I’m older and I can’t do it. It bothers me. I love playing.

The last time I played fullcourt was last year in Philly. I just remember feeling so great about playing. But then the next day my knee blew up. I remember the physical therapy people in Philly. They were like, ‘Dude, it’s about time you stop doing that with the young guys.’

I still play some 3-on-3. But I’m hopeful I can get into a 48-and-over league here soon and play with some guys. But playing with Willie and Steve is probably not going to happen.

I don’t think it’s any one thing I miss. I just love the game. I like thinking about playing and what I could do. I love making a shot or blocking somebody or physically hitting somebody. I like the anticipation of knowing that I’m going to play. That drove me as a kid. Like on Friday, we’d meet up at the Rec. I was thinking about it all day Friday because I knew I’d have a chance to match up against older and better guys. That’s probably the thing I struggle with, that I don’t have the anticipation of playing anymore. That’s what drove me.

BILLY DONOVAN, Oklahoma City Thunder coach, 54 years old, 44 games, retired in 1988

I would probably say I was 35, 36 years old the last time I played. Getting out of bed and having issues with my lower back kind of ended it for me. I’ve actually thought about playing again. But I would just be a facilitator. Run and pass. No shooting or driving. Get everybody else involved.

I loved playing. It’s the greatest way to get exercise. When you’re playing, it’s something you’ve done your whole life. It was weird when I stopped playing because I had to find alternative ways to exercise. I always exercised, even when I finished playing (in the league), through playing pickup ball. I never went out and jogged. I just played fullcourt pickup ball. It was a great way to maintain a level of conditioning.

Not interviewed: Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni; 68; who played 180 games in the NBA and ABA and Clippers coach Doc Rivers, 58, who played 864 games with four teams and made one All-Star appearance with the Hawks. Carlisle and Williams both said they're fairly certain Rivers no longer plays.

Told that Brooks still plays, Williams smiled.

“I can see that. Scotty’s a gamer,” Williams said. “I can see Scotty knocking somebody out too. He’s as tough as nails.”

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Coby White is making history left and right in absurd three-game stretch

Coby White is making history left and right in absurd three-game stretch

Coby White is enjoying a special stretch of basketball right now. In each of the Bulls’ past two games entering Tuesday night’s matchup with the Thunder, White set and matched career-high scoring totals with consecutive 33 point-games — something no rookie reserve had ever done

But Chris Paul was determined to stop it.

“I told Coby he wasn’t going to score 33 tonight,” said Paul, who coached White at the AAU level and has forged a deep bond with him since

Mission accomplished… Sort of.

White poured in a new career-high of 35 points in a nail-biter of a 124-122 loss to Oklahoma City, shooting 13-for-21 from the field and 6-for-9 from 3-point range. At 20 years old and in his first NBA season, White has now logged three 30-point games in a row, all off the bench. Here are a few reasons that is statistically ridiculous:

  • White is the first reserve in Bulls franchise history to post three consecutive 30-point games (via Bulls Game Notes)

  • White is the first rookie to score 30 points in three consecutive games since starters were first recorded in 1970-71 (via ESPN Stats & Info)

  • He’s also the first rookie to achieve that feat while hitting five or more 3-pointers in each game since the 3-point shot was introduced in 1979-80 (via Elias Sports Bureau)

  • Zach LaVine and White became the second pair of Chicago teammates in franchise history to each score 30-plus points in consecutive games, joining Bob Love and Chet Walker, who did it in 1969 (via Elias Sports Bureau)

  • White is the first Bulls rookie to score 35 points in a game since Ben Gordon in 2005. Other Bulls rookies to score 35 points in a game: Michael Jordan (21 times) and Elton Brand (twice). Solid company (via Bulls Game Notes)

  • In his last three games, White is averaging 33.7 points per on 57.4/58.1/92.9 shooting splits (20.3 FGA/g, 10.3 3PA/g). 

  • In that stretch, the Bulls are scoring at a rate of 120.1 points per 100 possessions (with a +15.6 net rating) with White on the floor, and just 92.2 points per 100 (with a -41.8 net rating) with him off.

  • I don’t have any further historical context for those last two. They’re just absurd.

“That’s what he [does]. He shoots lights out,” Paul said. “I’m glad to see that he’s playing with that confidence, and this summer we’ll get in the gym and we’ll go to work.”

 

“He’s coming into his own, and I’ve said this from day one, he’s special. He can score the ball like no other,” Zach LaVine said. “He’s continuing to get better. He’s 20 years old, I think he’s starting to find his groove right now.”

LaVine and White combined for 76 of the Bulls’ 122 points against Oklahoma City, collectively keeping the team’s offensive afloat in a floundering first half, then vaulting them back into the game with an infernic third quarter. LaVine (with 19 points) and White (with nine) combined for 28 points on collective 12-for-17 shooting (4-for-6 from deep) in the third, a period the Bulls won 38-19.

“It’s been great, especially with both of us on the court,” LaVine said. “There was a couple times in the fourth — that third quarter, when we were down, I spent so much energy trying to get us back into it — and he held onto that lead for us. 

“But it’s been great, man. He’s been putting a lot of hard work in. I go into the gym late or I shoot after practice and he’s right there. He’s gonna be special.”

White played 33 minutes in the game and was a team-high +15. When he’s ‘on’ he makes the Bulls fun, interesting and electric. LaVine went on to sing gratitude for White’s ability to draw defensive attention away from him over the course of games, and shoulder on-ball responsibilities in spot moments.

Just don’t ask Jim Boylen if he’s ready to promote White to the starting lineup.

“I keep getting this question and I'm just going to answer it one more time,” Boylen said. “Coby’s in a good place. We’re going to keep him in a good place. Let’s let Coby keep playing and lets let him keep developing.”

Point taken. And the way things are going, perhaps that’s perfectly OK.

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