Bulls

The Bulls make one aspect of rebuild clear: They’re constructing the roster around the face of the franchise in Lauri Markkanen

The Bulls make one aspect of rebuild clear: They’re constructing the roster around the face of the franchise in Lauri Markkanen

The Bulls had a decision to make Thursday night at No. 7.

Staring them in the face was Michael Porter Jr., undoubtedly the biggest risk in the draft but also one of the most talented, and a fan favorite to boot. Both Villanova’s Mikal Bridges and Kentucky’s Kevin Knox presented options who would fill needs on the wing for a Bulls team desperate for a perimeter threat. The team was also reportedly interested in Alabama point guard Collin Sexton during the pre-draft process, and the potential to trade up for a Luka Doncic or Mo Bamba at 3 or 4 was on the table.

Instead the Bulls opted against going high upside, high risk. They passed on filling one of their glaring needs. They didn’t mortgage future assets to move up in a draft they felt was already deep enough. What the Bulls did on Thursday night in selecting Duke center Wendell Carter was make clear one aspect of their rebuild: Lauri Markkanen is the face of the franchise and the man they’re constructing this roster around.

Everything that makes the 19-year-old Carter a great prospect is what detractors felt might hold Markkanen back at the next level. Carter was built to thrive in the paint, an energetic center who posted a better offensive rebounding rate (the percentage of rebounds a player grabs while on the floor) than Texas’ Mo Bamba and his 7-foot-10 wingspan. Carter was one of the best players in the country at scoring off those offensive rebounds, and he did all this while playing alongside Marvin Bagley, the No. 2 pick to Sacramento and the ACC’s leading rebounder.

But Carter is more than just a young Tristan Thompson. Though he rarely had to use it on a Duke team littered with perimeter threats, Carter showed a solid touch in making 41 percent of his 46 3-point attempts. He looks comfortable at 15 to 17 feet, and he passed well from those areas, too. That shooting will come as an added bonus; Carter was the anchor a Duke defense that transformed to zone midway through the season, and the Blue Devils defense was nearly 6 points per 100 possessions better with Carter on the floor.

It's not surprising that the Bulls were reportedly interested in moving up with centers Jaren Jackson and Bamba on the table, more defensive-minded complements to Markkanen, and not Doncic or Porter. It felt as though the Bulls were drafting at 7 not only to grab the best player available, but to maximize Markkanen's potential.

What Carter will be asked to do, at least in the early going with this roster’s makeup – is much of what he was asked to do at Duke. He played second fiddle in the frontcourt to Bagley, who led the Blue Devils in all major offensive categories and won ACC Player of the Year. Carter posted modest 13.5-point and 9.0-rebound averages while doing the dirty work on defense. His 7.6 percent block rate (percentage of shot attempts he blocked while on the court) was impressive considering how often Duke played zone.

“The young man sacrificed a lot in order to be a good teammate. A lot of it speaks to who he is,” Gar Forman said. “We think in really studying his game is, if you look long-term, is a guy that can fit with Lauri and obviously Lauri is a huge part of what we’re trying to build here."

The Bulls are rolling the dice that Markkanen can be the face of franchise. A year ago LaVine was far and away the core piece of the Jimmy Butler trade, and that was while he was rehabbing from ACL surgery. Markkanen was a question mark and a project, and Kris Dunn was a 23-year-old rookie who posted awful numbers in Minnesota. Questions about LaVine's future in Chicago with restricted free agency this summer now linger, and Dunn is going on 24 years old with 50 career starts.

It's Markkanen's spotlight, and the Bulls know it. He showed he was for real as a rookie; he was not, however, Donovan Mitchell or Ben Simmons, a can't-miss, sure-fire star. Yes, he joined LeBron James and Dario Saric as the only members of the 1,000-point, 500-rebound, 140-3-pointer club last year. He put up shooting numbers for a 7-footer matched only by Hall of Fame center Dirk Nowitzki. Questions persist on whether he can make a leap to stardom, but adding pieces like Carter to complement him and cover some weaknesses are a step in that direction.

"You hope you draft players that become stars," Paxson said. "We believe that last year, in drafting Lauri, he has that potential. He has a long way to go, but we believe he has that potential."

That could be part of the reason the Bulls opted against moving up in the draft, like Dallas did in dealing No. 5 and a future first-round pick to grab Luka Doncic at No. 3. Paxson and Forman both hinted at the Bulls being in a state of the rebuild where giving up future assets to attain something greater didn't provide a positive net worth. They're happy and comfortable with where they stand at this stage in the rebuild, with Markkanen, Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn, Bobby Portis and an enormous amount of cap space.

Now they can add Carter and No. 22 pick Chandler Hutchison to that list. The 6-foot-7 Boise State forward was yet another complementary piece to the roster. Like Carter, Hutchison projects as a high floor, low(er) ceiling player. Hutchinson is a four-year senior compared to Carter being a year removed from high school, but the two are similar. Hutchison will provide a physical presence on the wing the Bulls have lacked, and he can cover defensive weaknesses of players like Denzel Valentine, LaVine and even Markkanen.

"We feel these two players complement the team and the roster that we have very well," Paxson said. "One year later we feel like we’ve added five really good young core pieces to build and that's important to us. We’re excited about the future, the direction we’re headed."

The Bulls didn’t need to roll the dice with their 7th pick on Thursday night. They rolled the dice with the same selection one year ago and hit on it. Taking Carter midway through the Lottery is a complement and a compliment to what the Bulls believe Markkanen is and what he will be for a franchise looking to get back in contention.

It's a lot to ask for a 21-year-old Finnish stretch forward. But superstars win in the NBA and the Bulls believe they have one budding at the power forward position. Thursday's decision to play it safe and draft a complementary piece in Carter, one who played a role in college he'll be asked to play in Chicago, only cements that belief.

Adam Amin to succeed Neil Funk as Bulls’ television play-by-play announcer

Adam Amin to succeed Neil Funk as Bulls’ television play-by-play announcer

On Dec. 13, 2016, Adam Amin called his first NBA game, working alongside Doris Burke on an ESPN broadcast. The occasion: Tom Thibodeau’s first return to the United Center as a visiting coach.

Thibodeau’s Timberwolves, led by Zach LaVine’s 24 points, wiped out a 21-point deficit to prevail. In other words, storylines overflowed.

Befitting his reputation as a humble, hard-working pro, Amin kept the focus on those rather than his personal story.

Even with Monday’s news that Amin, 33, will succeed Neil Funk as the Bulls’ primary TV play-by-play broadcaster alongside analyst Stacey King on NBC Sports Chicago, the Addison Trail High School product kept the proper perspective.

In a phone interview, he alluded to the conflicting feelings of wanting to celebrate amidst both a global pandemic and widespread national protests stemming from the latest instance of a white police officer killing an unarmed African-American.

Amin’s father immigrated from Pakistan to the United States in 1978. He left his job as a vice president of a bank to work manual labor at a factory. He didn’t see his wife or Amin’s three older brothers for seven years until he made enough money to send for them.

Amin was born in the U.S. a year later in 1986. Just in time to bond with his father — who had been a semi pro cricket player in his homeland — over a budding Bulls dynasty.

“So this connectivity has a lot of branches to it. It runs pretty deep,” Amin said. “He’d be pretty tickled by this. To have an opportunity to be a Chicago voice and for a team like this, he would’ve thought that was pretty cool.”

Mohammed Amin passed away in March 2018 at age 80. He lived long enough to see Amin call that Bulls-Timberwolves game but not for this honor, which, on the heels of Fox Sports signing Amin away from ESPN after nine years, continues Amin’s swift upward trajectory in a competitive business.

But in all the important ways, Amin’s father is still with him.

“I’m flashing back to being the kid in the basement of my parents’ house, sitting on the floor with the TV in front of me and my Dad on the couch behind me,” Amin said. “We watched every Bulls game and watched (Michael) Jordan and (Scottie) Pippen and Stacey and Bill (Wennington) and (Toni) Kukoc and (Steve) Kerr and (John) Paxson and every name you can remember during all those formative years of Bulls fandom for, I imagine, a ton of people. The little kid in me who remembers that team and was connected to it, he’s freaking out in the most positive way possible.

“My Dad and I got to grow our fandom for that together. And we got to celebrate a lot. The ‘96 title was one of my favorite memories. It has a lot more meaning now that my Dad is gone, because that was the first title Michael won after his Dad had passed. I remember sitting on the couch holding my Dad’s hand watching the celebration of them beating the Sonics.”

Funk called that championship, just as the retiring legend did for four other titles. Jim Durham served as the primary play-by-play announcer for the first championship.

“Succeeding is the word I prefer. There’s no replacing Neil,” Amin emphasized. “I love Jim Durham, too. To me, he’s still maybe the greatest radio play-by-play guy in the history of basketball. I grew up on Jim Durham. He kind of shaped how I call games.

“But Neil is the voice of my fandom. He was the one that I was listening to with my Dad. He was the one whose call I went back and listened to over and over again when Jordan hit the last shot in 1998. He shaped a lot of my friends’ styles. His influence is so heavy, not just for me but for so many of us who grew up in Chicago.”

Amin said Funk called him over the weekend to congratulate him.

“He was so gracious and so friendly,” Amin said. “That says volumes about him.”

As Funk scaled back his travel schedule over the last two seasons, Amin served as one of the regular fill-in broadcasters. That allowed him to establish a chemistry with the colorful King.

“Everything we did in those little spurts translates to working together all the time,” Amin said. “It’s being able to laugh. It’s being able to connect. And being able to talk intelligently about the league.

“I was happy I came into the fill-in opportunity with experience in the league. I had been calling NBA games, including a couple conference finals series, by the time I started doing games with the Bulls. I had a good baseline knowledge of the NBA and also had the connectivity of being a Bulls fan growing up. I think Stacey appreciated that.

“Stacey is engaged and intelligent and enthusiastic. I want to be those things. The fact we click on those levels translates when people are listening. I want to believe that. I hope that’s the case. That’s what it feels like.

“I’m an excitable guy. I think I let passion come out during these games. I feel like it’s good for the NBA. It matches the league. It’s at such a great point in terms of starpower and peak athleticism. It’s conducive to being passionate about it.”

This passion stood out to Bulls president and chief operating officer Michael Reinsdorf.

“We knew replacing Neil would not be an easy task, but as we got to know Adam over the last two seasons and became even more familiar with his work, he rose to become our top choice,” Reinsdorf said in a statement. “Adam knows our fans because he grew up a Bulls fan. That was important to us. We wanted to find someone who not only had the talent, but who also understood our history and the role the Bulls play in the lives of our city and our fans.

“When he and Stacey worked together, we received so much positive feedback that I know our fans are going to really enjoy the work of this new broadcast duo. Adam brings strong credentials to this role, as well as an energy, charisma and innate storytelling ability that help him immediately connect with his audience whether he’s behind a microphone, at an event or on social media. He’s a perfect fit.”

Kevin Cross, senior vice president and general manager of NBC Sports Chicago, which is the exclusive home of Bulls basketball, agreed.

“Adam is a rising star in the sports broadcasting industry and, even though he will have big shoes to fill in replacing a legend like Neil, he will be an excellent addition to our Bulls telecasts beginning next season,” Cross said in a statement. “Adam is a proud Chicagoan who has a deep understanding of the team’s history and the enormous impact they have on their local, national and global fan base. We look forward to having Adam on our team.”

Amin, who graduated from Valparaiso University, has come a long way from calling minor-league baseball in Gary, Ind., and Joliet. That’s where he met Joe Davis, another young, rising star who is now the Dodgers’ primary TV play-by-play broadcaster for Spectrum SportsNet in Los Angeles and also works for Fox Sports.

“We met in 2009 in the Independent Northern League. Both of us dreamt of doing what we’re lucky enough to be doing now. We bonded very quickly because of that shared dream,” Davis said by phone from Los Angeles. “We’re also pretty similar people. We value the same things. 

“He’s been as important for me in my career as any person. Just to have that person who you can relate with on every step you’re going on in a very specific field. Just about every experience we’ve gone through, the other one has shared it vicariously.

“I think we would both tell you we think the other one was better. We critiqued each other’s work early on. We’d always give honest feedback. And I’ve told Adam many times that I think he will absolutely love being associated with a team. It’s just completely different from what we do on the national side. Which is parachute in, learn about two teams for a week, have both teams’ fans think we’re rooting against their team and then leave. You miss out on what becomes such an indescribable connection with the fan base.

“Especially for Adam as a Chicago guy. He was born there. He’s taking over a job of a team that he grew up watching. That’s beyond special. I know he’s going to kill it. He’s as talented as anybody in the world. And he’s going to appreciate it as much as anybody in the world.”

That became immediately apparent as Amin talked about the opportunity he never thought he’d have, the one of which his father would be so proud.

“He and his brother chose to come to Chicago from Pakistan for a reason. And they stayed in Chicago for a reason. It’s the diversity of this place. He felt accepted here. He felt like this was home,” Amin said. “There’s such a large community of South Asian people here that I’ve always felt this was going to be my home regardless of where I worked. And now this job is definitely one of those dream-come-true moments.”

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Michael Jordan issues statement of solidarity in wake of George Floyd's death

Michael Jordan issues statement of solidarity in wake of George Floyd's death

Add Michael Jordan to the growing list of powerful voices to address the death of George Floyd, who died in police custody on May 25 in an incident that brought third-degree murder and manslaughter charges for Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin.

The incident, in which Chauvin kneeled on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes despite Floyd’s pleas for help, has led to widespread protests throughout the United States, including in Chicago. Chauvin is white. Floyd was African-American.

In recent years, Jordan, the Charlotte Hornets chairman, has taken a more significant and public role in addressing societal issues after drawing criticism from some during his playing career with the Bulls for not doing and saying more.

“I am deeply saddened, truly pained and plain angry,” Jordan’s statement said. “I see and feel everyone’s pain, outrage and frustration. I stand with those who are calling out the ingrained racism and violence toward people of color in our country. We have had enough.

“I don’t have the answers, but our collective voices show strength and the inability to be divided by others. We must listen to each other, show compassion and empathy and never turn our backs on senseless brutality. We need to continue peaceful expressions against injustice and demand accountability. Our unified voice needs to put pressure on our leaders to change our laws, or else we need to use our vote to create systemic change. Every one of us needs to be part of the solution, and we must work together to ensure justice for all.

“My heart goes out to the family of George Floyd and to the countless others whose lives have been brutally and senselessly taken through acts of racism and injustice.”

 

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