Bulls

Bulls player preview: Cristiano Felicio gives center depth

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USA TODAY

Bulls player preview: Cristiano Felicio gives center depth

NBC Sports Chicago will preview a different Bulls player every weekday leading up to the start of training camp in late September.

Previous reviews: Lauri Markkanen | Ryan Arcidiacono | Antonio Blakeney | Coby White | Daniel Gafford | Wendell Carter Jr. | Luke Kornet

How last year went

There might have been a path to significant minutes for Cristiano Felicio, but the Bulls wound up drafting Wendell Carter with the seventh pick and keeping Robin Lopez through the duration of his contract. Felicio saw an uptick in minutes after Carter suffered a season-ending thumb injury in January, but he didn’t do much with it.

His best stretch came over the final 11 games of the season when Felicio averaged a modest 7.0 points on 51.7% shooting, 6.5 rebounds and 1.4 assists in 21.9 minutes. He’s still a liability defensively, doesn’t have great hands, and 89 of his 95 made field goals were inside 10 feet.

Expectations for this year's role

Something has gone very wrong if Felicio logs any minutes this season. The Bulls quietly overhauled the position, departing with Lopez, drafting Daniel Gafford in the second round and signing Luke Kornet. It’s suddenly one of the Bulls’ deepest positions – with Wendell Carter Jr. in line for 30+ minutes a night – meaning Felicio is fourth on the depth chart with no real ability to contribute at power forward.

Where he excels

Felicio doesn’t have the surest of hands, but he has always looked comfortable rolling to the rim. It began with lobs from Dwyane Wade and has continued the last two seasons with guards like Ryan Arcidiacono finding him around the rim. Last year Felicio averaged 1.10 points per possession on pick-and-roll possessions, third on the Bulls behind Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter. He also scored on 56.5% of those possessions (made field goal or free throws), which edged out Carter for the team lead. Of course, he was limited in not having a perimeter shot to pop out for 3-pointers, but he was a surprisingly nice roll man in his limited minutes.

Where he needs work

Felicio had a Defensive RPM of -1.63 last season, which was the second-worst mark among centers (only Willy Hernangomez was worse). The Bulls were 2.4 points per 100 possessions better defensively with Felicio off the floor, and the Brazilian big had just 11 steals and seven blocks in 746 minutes. It’s not a stretch to say he’s the team’s worst defender. It’s tough to see him improving in that area after four seasons.

Best case/worst case

In a best-case scenario, Felicio shows an improvement on the defensive end and finds some early-season chemistry with Kris Dunn on pick-and-roll action. He’ll be given a chance to compete with Gafford and Kornet for the backup center position. In a worst-case scenario, his deficiencies plague him and he continues to be an $8 million benchwarmer. Most likely, the Bulls continue counting down the days until his salary is off the books.

One key stat

Cristiano Felicio had 7 blocks in 746 minutes last season. How rare is that for a 6-foot-10 player? He’s the only NBA player the last two seasons that tall (or taller) to block seven or fewer shots in at least 740 minutes. The last player to do it was Joffrey Lauvergne in 2017, who blocked just six shots in 980 minutes (he incredibly blocked zero shots for the Bulls in 241 minutes; if you thought the OKC trade couldn’t get worse, you were wrong).

Jordan gets emotional at opening of 'The Novant Health Michael Jordan Family Medical Clinic'

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USA TODAY

Jordan gets emotional at opening of 'The Novant Health Michael Jordan Family Medical Clinic'

Michael Jordan is by no means new to philanthropic work, as the NBA Hall of Famer and owner of the Charlotte Hornets has long donated to many different causes, including rather recently, a $1 million donation to the relief efforts for Hurricane Dorian. In a new charitable effort, Jordan has gone and made a huge difference in the Charlotte community, helping to open up a  brand new Novant Health Medical Clinic.

“It’s not the financials but ... from the heart — a passion from what this city, this state has given back to me ... I can never repay what you have given to me. But this is a start.”

Jordan donated $7.2 million in order to help open up the two new Novant Health Clinics in Charlotte. He acknowledged that while he will always have his connections to "Illinois and other places", he knows "where it all begins", referring to North Carolina, as MJ grew up Wilmington. 

The Novant Health Michael Jordan Family Clinic features aluminum strips on the outside of the building that form an image of Jordan slam-dunking, but despite the Jordan branding on the building, he made it clear that the great day was not about him. 

“You see my name, but yet you see a lot of people behind me and the commitment, especially from my mom, about caring for other people and being a part of a community that matters.”

We saw the oft-reserved MJ start to tear up while discussing how important the cause was to him, “I can only give in gratitude for what I can never repay.”

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2-time All-Star Luol Deng signs 1-day contract to retire as a Bull

2-time All-Star Luol Deng signs 1-day contract to retire as a Bull

Luol Deng experienced plenty of highs and lows throughout his nine-plus seasons with the Bulls.

But his love for the organization that acquired him in a 2004 draft-day trade never wavered, even after it traded him to the Cavaliers in January 2014 in a move to exit the luxury tax.

That’s why Deng signed a ceremonial, one-day contract Thursday so that he could retire as a Bull.

“From the moment we made Luol Deng the seventh overall pick of the 2004 NBA Draft, the Chicago Bulls became a better team,” Bulls executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson said. “Luol carried himself with first-class professionalism and leadership, helping lead his Bulls team to eight playoff appearances during his time in Chicago. We’ll always remember his All-Star career and the fierce competitiveness he brought to both ends of the floor every night.”

The Bulls said they plan to honor Deng at a game later this season.

“We’re very fortunate and humbled that Luol has chosen to retire as a Chicago Bull,” Bulls COO Michael Reinsdorf said. “He was a role model on and off the court during his nine-plus years in Chicago, and he gave everything he had to help us win. I want to thank Luol for not only what he accomplished on the court for the team, but also for the leadership he demonstrated through his philanthropic efforts.”

Deng, a two-time All-Star, is all over the franchise leaderboard. He’s tied for fourth by playing in parts of 10 seasons with the Bulls. He’s sixth in games played, fifth in minutes, fourth in points, fifth in field goals, ninth in rebounds, fifth in steals, seventh in 3-pointers and eighth in free throws.

But Deng’s impact with the Bulls moved past numbers. When he arrived with Ben Gordon, one season after the Bulls drafted Kirk Hinrich, Deng helped pull the Bulls from their post-dynasty funk and transform them into a perennial playoff team. He chose to play through a torn wrist ligament so that he could represent his adopted homeland of Great Britain at the 2014 Summer Olympics.

He became a two-time All-Star as Tom Thibodeau’s indispensable, two-way forward, consistently ranking near the top of the NBA in minutes played. And his community service through his Luol Deng Foundation featured Chicago and global reach.

"He was a great teammate on the court," Hinrich said by phone in a rare interview. "But I look back and think about all the things he did in the community. As time goes on and you mature, you realize how important that was. He had a huge impact on and off the floor.

"It's cool he was able to retire as a Bull. That's where myself and him and BG (Ben Gordon) and Noce (Andres Nocioni) grew up as players together and had some fun times."

The day after the trade to the Cavaliers, Deng talked to this reporter at length while standing inside the Cavaliers practice facility.

"I had an opportunity to play for a great organization. I've been very lucky to play 10 years for the only team that I ever knew as a kid," Deng said that January 2014 day. "I only knew Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and the Bulls when I was 7 years old and in Egypt. For me to be the fourth-leading scorer on that team, did I ever think a refugee kid in Egypt would even play for the Bulls? There's a lot of amazing things that have happened."

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