Bulls

Bulls turn to Cam Payne as they take on Sixers

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USA TODAY

Bulls turn to Cam Payne as they take on Sixers

PHILADELPHIA -- The Bulls’ starting point guard missing the team’s season opener is less than ideal, but that is the dilemma Fred Hoiberg and company are faced with.

Hoiberg made the announcement during shoot around that Kris Dunn would miss the first game of his third NBA season for personal reasons, but noted that his absence is “excused.”

The Bulls will turn to Cameron Payne as they get set to play the Sixers in Philadelphia Thursday night. The 24-year-old guard out of Murray State will be tasked with running the offense against one of the better defensive teams in the league.

Because of injuries and the numbers game at guard, Payne hasn’t had a chance to show Bulls fans much since he came over from Oklahoma City in a trade that sent Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott to the Thunder.

“I feel like I can be way better,” Payne said when asked about the opportunity to show what he can do. “I know I didn’t make a lot of shots but it’s really not about that. It’s about getting my team involved and make sure everyone gets the ball in their spots to contribute.”

Payne showed flashes over the last 22 games of the 2017-18 season (14 starts), shooting 42 percent from three and averaging 4.6 assists per game in that stretch. The shooting stroke didn’t show up early in the preseason for Payne.

He was better in the team’s final exhibition against Denver and has shown enough to Hoiberg to earn the starting nod. He’ll have his work cut out for him tonight.

“Obviously we’ve been working on different coverages based on having a full roster, but things like this happen,” Hoiberg said when asked what this does to his game prep. “It’s going to be electric in here. They’re going to come out and play extremely hard and extremely physical. That’s who they are and we have to be ready for that. It’s a little bit of shock and awe with (the Sixers). You have to weather that first storm and hopefully give ourselves a chance with great effort.”

After Payne, the Bulls will have Ryan Arcidiacono as the first point guard off the bench. They’ll also have the services of newcomer Tyler Ulis, who will be in uniform tonight. Hoiberg mentioned that he feels comfortable with Zach Lavine bringing the ball up as well. He also mentioned that Jabari Parker will have his hands on the ball an awful lot with the team’s second unit.

The season hasn’t even started yet and the Bulls are already missing several key players. After an impressive rookie season, Lauri Markkanen will start the season on the shelf with a high grade lateral elbow sprain. Denzel Valentine will also miss tonight’s game with an ankle injury. The team may have Cristiano Felicio, also dealing with an ankle injury, depending on his pregame workout goes.

“It’s not ideal but it is what it is,” Hoiberg said. “It happens at this level. You just have to go out and do the best job you can. It’s an opportunity for our guys to step up with two of our better players out of the lineup – really three with Denzel as a guy that can make plays in that second unit.”   

NBA Buzz: Bulls will be in evaluation mode over final 2 1/2 months

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USA TODAY

NBA Buzz: Bulls will be in evaluation mode over final 2 1/2 months

Outside of maximizing their draft lottery odds, what exactly are the Bulls playing for over the final 35 games of the NBA season?

Wendell Carter Jr.’s rookie season is most likely over after going through surgery to repair ligament damage to his left thumb, so the 19-year old center won’t be able to continue to develop his offensive game. Carter did show enough in his 44 games to convince the front office he will be an important part of the team’s future.

Before we hit the trade deadline on February 7th the Bulls could ship out two of their veteran players in Robin Lopez and Jabari Parker which would move largely unproven players into backup roles.

Still, with almost half of the schedule left to be played there are several important things for the front office to learn about the roster and the coaching staff.

1. Should Jim Boylen be brought back next season? Bulls Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations John Paxson told reporters the plan is for Boylen to be the coach next season, but as we all know, plans can change. Zach LaVine’s comments last weekend about the team getting blown out too often after playing competitively early in the season had to resonate with the front office. If the Bulls limp to the finish line and fall short of the 20 victory mark, Paxson and general manager Gar Forman will have to take a long, hard look on whether they can start Year 3 of the rebuild with the same coaching staff in place.

2. Is Kris Dunn the PG of the future? The Bulls were high on Dunn dating back to the 2016 draft when he was selected 5th overall by Minnesota. They thought about swinging a deal for the Providence All-American that year, and eventually did acquire him on draft night 2017 in the Jimmy Butler trade. Dunn has shown flashes of being a solid NBA starter, especially on the defensive end, but his lack of consistency and availability (due to injuries) will probably bring considerable debate in the Advocate Center offices on whether to offer the 3rd year guard a big money extension of his rookie contract this summer. Forman has already been seen in college arenas twice over the past week scouting Murray St. PG Ja Morant, who could wind up being the 3rd pick in the 2019 draft. Dunn needs to have a strong finish to the season to convince the Bulls’ decision makers that he’s the right man to direct the offense long term.

3. Can Dunn, LaVine & Lauri Markkanen co-exist? The three players acquired in the Jimmy Butler trade with Minnesota haven’t had much time to play together because of injuries, but the analytics show they aren’t very successful over the minutes they have shared the court. Both Dunn and LaVine are at their best when playing on the ball, which means all too often Markkanen has a tough time getting consistent touches. The Bulls’ coaching staff and front office will be watching closely over the final two and a half months to see if the threesome can co-exist or if a trade might be necessary to improve offensive efficiency.

4. Is Bobby Portis still worth a lucrative contract extension? The Bulls worked with Portis’ agent right up to the opening night deadline with hopes of extending the 4th year forward-center. Reportedly, the Bulls made a very competitive offer on a 4-year contract, but Portis and his agent decided to roll the dice and see if he might do better as a restricted free agent this summer. Problem is, Portis has already missed two long stretches of the season because of knee and ankle injuries, which could hurt his value in a crowded 2019 free agent market. The Bulls will have to evaluate his play over the final 35 games and decide if a good shooting 6th man is worth a 4 year contract that could fall anywhere from 48 to 64 million dollars.

5. Is Chandler Hutchison a starting caliber SF? The Bulls are happy with Hutchison’s growth over the first half of the season, but questions remain about his ability to shoot consistently from the outside. On a team lacking consistent 3 point shooting, can the Bulls afford to start a non-shooter at a position that normally features a primary scoring threat? With the Bulls hoping to land Zion Williamson or R.J. Barrett in the draft and possibly making a run at free agent SF Tobias Harris, they’ll want to have a better idea of where Hutchison fits in the rebuilding puzzle by season’s end.

So, when you’re watching the final 35 games and our pre and post-game coverage on NBC Sports Chicago and the My Teams by NBC Sports app, these are some of the areas to focus on that go far beyond winning or losing that night’s game.

AROUND THE ASSOCIATION

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When training camp began in late September, Paxson told the assembled media the Bulls were healthy and 2 deep at every position. As we all know, that blew up almost immediately with Markkanen suffering a serious elbow injury in one of the first practices, Denzel Valentine being lost for the season to ankle reconstruction surgery and Dunn and Portis going out in the opening weeks of the regular season with knee sprains.

The Bulls were hoping to show the kind of progress we’ve seen in Sacramento and Brooklyn this season. Both of those teams have gone through long stretches of losing basketball, but they’re finally coming out on the other side. Sacramento is over the .500 mark for the season with 2nd year PG De’Aaron Fox looking like a future star, Buddy Hield and Bogdan Bogdanovic scoring on the wing, and young forwards Marvin Bagley III and Justin Jackson still in development mode. Kings’ coach Dave Joerger has done a terrific job getting his young squad to play with pace and believe in each other. Plus, Sacramento will have significant cap space this summer to try to add a veteran star to a team on the rise.

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The situation looks even brighter in Brooklyn, where the Nets currently hold the 6th playoff spot in the East, own two 1st round picks in the upcoming draft and have the potential to offer two max contracts in free agency,

In case you didn’t know, the Nets have won 17 of their last 22 games and their improvement hasn’t been lost on the rest of the league. Head coach Kenny Atkinson told Newsday’s Barbara Baker, “Hopefully, there’s really talk among players in the league, like ‘hey that’s a neat place to go to.’ “They care for their players. It’s a positive culture, a collaborative culture. You really want players to talk about that, to say that’s a place I’d love to go.”

Baker wrote dramatic improvement engineered by Atkinson in his 3 seasons in Brooklyn could outweigh the lure of Madison Square Garden when the Nets and Knicks compete for the elite free agents available this summer. If Kevin Durant would seriously consider signing with the Knicks, why wouldn’t he jump at the chance to bring another elite free agent with him to a team on the rise in nearby Brooklyn?

The progress made by organizations like the Kings and Nets will only make things more difficult for the Bulls when they try to recruit free agents in July.

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Klay Thompson was at it again Monday night in Los Angeles, making his first 10 three point attempts against the Lakers to tie an NBA record and finishing with 44 points in just 27 minutes.

Bulls’ fans witnessed another Thompson explosion back in October when he knocked down an NBA record 14 threes and didn’t play in the 4th quarter. Surprisingly, Thompson hasn’t shot the ball exceptionally well for the season, but it looks like he and Draymond Green are back in peak form after slow starts.

The Warriors have won 8 in a row, Steph Curry and Kevin Durant are playing at MVP level, they’ve got another former All-Star in the line-up with DeMarcus Cousins at center and they’ve taken over 1st place in the West.

Barring injury, it’s hard to imagine any team beating Golden State in a best of 7 series come playoff time.

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Finally, January 22nd holds special significance for a couple of recent events. Back in 2006, Kobe Bryant exploded for 81 points against the Raptors, which ranks as the 2nd highest single game total in NBA history, trailing only Wilt Chamberlain’s incomprehensible 100 point performance.

Closer to home, January 22nd, 2010 is the night Derrick Rose unleashed that iconic two hand thunder dunk on top of Suns’ guard Goran Dragic. It definitely ranks as one of the signature moments in Rose’s career and the classic call by Stacey King has been replayed locally and nationally hundreds of times. Check it out on our website when you get a chance. I guarantee it will still bring a smile to your face.

Wendell Carter's begins rehab with positive outlook: 'I'm just looking at the long-term now'

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USA TODAY

Wendell Carter's begins rehab with positive outlook: 'I'm just looking at the long-term now'

When Wendell Carter Jr. tripped over Tyson Chandler early in the Bulls’ loss to the Los Angeles Lakers last week, he didn’t think much of his jammed left thumb. He had some soreness but wasn’t in much pain despite the thumb swelling. In fact, he was planning on playing Saturday after sitting out Thursday’s game as a precaution.

That’s when the roller coaster began. The Bulls reportedly had internal fear that Carter’s injury was significant, but a second scan showed that the ligament in his thumb was actually intact. But Carter saw a hand specialist back in Chicago and it was revealed that surgery was the best scenario. Both Joakim Noah (2010) and Kirk Hinrich (2008) had the same surgery.

“So many people have had this injury and they don’t get it taken care of and bones are coming out of their socket very easily,” Carter said. “I just wanted to eliminate all that. If I was to get in a cast and come back and the tendon didn’t come back out, then I’d have to wait another eight weeks and get the surgery. So I just went ahead and knocked it out to get it out of the way.

"It's all good. I'm just looking at the long-term now."

Carter underwent the season-ending surgery on Monday. He’ll be in a cast for 10 days and begin rehab on the thumb while wearing a splint. Though Carter never explicitly stated his rookie season is over, the Bulls have 11 weeks remaining in the regular season and will be in no rush to bring back their 19-year-old foundation piece.

Carter’s rookie season was typical but one that featured more good than bad. It took him just a few days to supplant Robin Lopez as the team’s starting center, a position he didn’t relinquish despite being one of the league’s youngest players. He averaged 10.3 points, 7.0 rebounds and 1.3 blocks in 25.2 minutes.

He played multiple roles in his 44-game rookie season, acting as a third scorer and at times an initiator in the high post while Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn were sidelined early in the season. As the Bulls regained their health Carter was able to focus more defensively and work around the rim.

"That was something I always worked for ever since I was a kid, to be able to get to the NBA. Not just get here but also be a star in this league," Carter said. "Those games show the potential I have in this league."

Jim Boylen applauded Carter’s maturity in his rookie season and how he was able to bounce back from bad quarters by not letting it affect the rest of his game. His hard-nosed defensive principles certainly played to what Boylen looks for in a foundation, and Boylen was pleased with how Carter improved his shooting and decision making in the pain.

“I think he had a great learning curve in those 44 games and he’ll keep learning as he’s watching, things will make more sense to him now while he’s watching. And it’s not ideal but it is what it is.”

Carter will soak in as much as he can the rest of the season while he rehabs the thumb, and it’s Boylen’s hope that he’ll travel with and be around the team during the final weeks of the season.

“I like guys being around. (Denzel) Valentine’s been with us. I love Wendell’s spirit around this group. He’s got a great kind of swag to him and energy level to him, he likes being around the team so yeah I hope so.”