Bulls

Do you remember when Michael Jordan ‘almost’ joined the New York Knicks?

Do you remember when Michael Jordan ‘almost’ joined the New York Knicks?

The Bulls dynasty of the 1990s came to an end ahead of the 1998-99 season. After winning a whopping six NBA Championships in the decade, Michael Jordan retired, Scottie Pippen was traded to the Houston Rockets and Phil Jackson stepped away from basketball altogether. But what if I told you the great run of championships almost ended at four rather than six because in the summer of 1996  this was almost a reality. 

Michael Jordan was a free agent in the 1996 NBA offseason, looking to negotiate a new-one year “ballon” payment deal similar to that of his friend and New York Knicks center Patrick Ewing. For the 1995-96 season, the Knicks had Ewing on a balloon payment deal worth $18 million, which was the largest single-season deal in the NBA prior to Jordan. 

The ‘96 season ended in heartbreak for the Knicks as they lost to the Bulls in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, marking the second straight year they lost in the second round. Looking to finally get over the hump, the Knicks knew that signing Jordan would help them on two major fronts. First, it would've (obviously) benefitted the Knicks from an overall roster talent perspective since they would’ve been adding the reigning MVP. And on top of that, they would’ve been severely weakening their primary rival, a Bulls team that had already eliminated them from the postseason four times before 1996.

The Knicks were confident they could snag “His Airness” for a few reasons. Ewing and Jordan had a strong friendship, dating back to their college years. Ewing even had taken a recruiting visit to North Carolina as a rising freshman, in which he and Jordan got into an intense one-on-one pickup game that Ewing and Tar Heels coach Roy Williams remembers well. Their relationship strengthened over the years as they would become rivals throughout almost the entirety of their NCAA and NBA careers. 

Jordan was confident that he and Ewing could win an NBA title simply adding him to the roster the Knicks had, fitted with tough players like Allan Houston, Larry Johnson and Charles Oakley, another good friend of MJ. Longtime Chicago Tribune beat writer Sam Smith was all over the story that offseason and reported that the key to the Knicks efforts to sign Jordan was their deal with ITT-Sheraton and Cablevision Inc.

Cablevision had just extended their ownership of the Knicks and Madison Square Garden to 90 percent and Jordan’s agent David Falk was looking to find a way to get Jordan as much as he could from the Knicks and then make even more money on top of that through a series of lucrative sponsorship deals with the Sheraton Hotel chain, which was owned by ITT. It was reported by Smith that the structure of the deal may have been about $12 million from the Knicks and another $15 million or so from ITT/Sheraton Hotels. 

The story goes that David Falk had a now-infamous conversation with Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf in which the Bulls organization was given “one hour, maybe the rest of the day” to beat a significant, $25 million offer from the Knicks. 

And the Bulls did just that. 

Knowing that New York was serious and that Ewing and Jordan were friends, the Bulls went all-in, giving Jordan a one-year $30 million dollar contract, the largest balloon payment in NBA history, eclipsing the previous mark by $12 million. 

Was it all a bluff? Did Jordan really think he and Ewing could win a title? Just how close was MJ to becoming the main attraction at Madison Square Garden? The world may never know. 

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.

Zach LaVine is “tired of people talking sh*t about my defense” and working towards becoming an NBA All-Star

lavine-1014.jpg
USA Today

Zach LaVine is “tired of people talking sh*t about my defense” and working towards becoming an NBA All-Star

Zach LaVine is fed up with being underestimated and he’s going to do something about it. The Bulls guard has been having a strong pre-season so far but is looking to improve his skills as a two-way player.

“I’m just tired of people talking shit about my defense,” LaVine said. “I’ve always been a good on-ball defender. But there’s no reason I can be this good offensively and not be that on the defensive end.”

“I’m taking more pride in it,” he continued. “I’m pretty sure it’ll show. I’ll make sure of that.”

If you think LaVine sounds confident, he has good reason to be. Last season LaVine was one of only ten players to average at least 23 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 4.5 assists, making him stand out as an elite player in the company of MVPs and All-Stars. LaVine’s personal triumphs, however, were overshadowed by the Bulls abysmal 22-60 record last season.

So far, this preseason LaVine has been looking better on defense, averaging 1.3 steals per game through three preseason games. Any improvements on defense will greatly help LaVine’s All-Star case.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.

3 takeaways from the Bulls' win over a limited Raptors squad in Toronto

3 takeaways from the Bulls' win over a limited Raptors squad in Toronto

The Bulls recorded their first win of the preseason with Sunday night’s 105-91 win over the Raptors. Here are three takeaways:

We got a peek at Jim Boylen's regular-season rotation

We had a clue that Boylen was going to go with Tomas Satoransky as his starter after he chose to sit him with the starters in the Bulls third preseason game against the Indiana Pacers. Sunday confirmed this idea. Boylen stated before the game that he would be starting to roll out his regular season rotations, and we saw "Sato" start next to the regular Bulls starting group of Zach LaVine, Otto Porter Jr., Lauri Markkanen and the returning Wendell Carter Jr.

On top of seeing the starting group, we got to see Thaddeus Young in his probable role as the sixth man, coming in for Carter to provide the Bulls with more of a small look where Markkanen acts as the center.

Markkanen was particularly effective on the glass against the smaller Raptors frontline sans Marc Gasol and Pascal Siakam. Lauri collected a double-double, finishing with 15 points and 13 rebounds, including four offensive rebounds. 

Giving an even greater effort on the glass will push Markkanen closer to All-Star status and it is not out of the question as we have seen him raise his rebounding average every season. Games like Sunday night's show that all of the muscle Markkanen added this offseason is going to pay dividends in the 2019-20 NBA regular season and beyond, which will allow the Bulls to play smaller more often to get dynamic scorers like Coby White on the floor.

White came in as a substitute for Porter, giving the Bulls another small-ball lineup in which LaVine acts as the small forward next to him and Satoransky.

Satoransky was great, finishing with 12 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 turnovers in 21 minutes. Sato pushed the pace but also could sense the right time to pull the ball back out and run a play in the halfcourt.

In general, the Bulls trotted out more three-guard lineups in this game, and the size of big guards like Satoransky and Kris Dunn help the Bulls blur the lines between wing and guard, mitigating some of the risks involved with not having a traditional wing on the floor.

On the flip side, the perimeter skills of a big man like Young allow the Bulls to play bigger lineups in which Young plays small forward next to two big men. In Sunday night's win over the Raptors, Young finished the game second on the Bulls in rebounds (7) and assists (3), while being in the right spot more times than not on D. 

With stretch-five Luke Kornet (2-of-7 from 3-point line vs Raptors), the gritty, playmaking Ryan Arcidiacono (3 assists, no turnovers), and rookie Daniel Gafford rounding out the rest of the new Bulls' Bench Mob," Boylen will have the ability to play many different ways, affording us a fair chance to see what he is made of as an NBA head coach. He is already passing his first test of showing that he is open to change, with the Bulls shooting 49 3-pointers on Sunday night, keeping their promise of being more aggressive from deep.

The Zach LaVine All-Star push starts now 

Overall, Zach LaVine has not been shy about already being at an All-Star level of play, you just have to ask him.

LaVine came into Sunday night's game sixth in the league in preseason scoring, averaging 22.0 points per game through two contests, and he kept up that scoring onslaught in a big way. He finished Sunday's win over the Raptors with 26 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 steals in just 24 minutes of action. He finished the night with four turnovers as well, and while you would like to see the assist-to-turnover ratio improve, high turnover totals are just the name of the game for high-usage stars.

Besides, Boylen and Co. likely would rather see LaVine collect some turnovers trying to make the extra pass—something the Bulls have committed to hard this preseason—rather than trying to iso and make a play for himself.

Notably, the LaVine-Markkanen pick-and-roll that figures to be a staple of the Bulls offense for a long time again made an appearance in this game, looking crisp at moments as defenses struggle with scrambling to Markkanen at the 3-point line or worrying more about LaVine's oftentimes dominant drives to the rim.

While it is encouraging to see LaVine score effortlessly, that is not a new development for Bulls fans. The true mark of improvement for LaVine will be his defense and playmaking, both of which looked good on Sunday night.

LaVine racked up two steals and showed an improved awareness and aggressiveness when prowling the passing lanes. What makes defense so huge for LaVine, besides the fact that his effort-level sets the tone for the team, is that he so often turns opponent turnovers into points in transition for Chicago.

The Bulls had 14 fastbreak points and 17 points off of turnovers in their win over the Raptors, with LaVine's efforts playing a large hand in the win. 

Coby White continues to score in bunches 

It has been stated many times how Coby White was more of a shooting guard in high school and only transitioned into being more a lead guard at North Carolina. And those natural scoring instincts have shown up time and time again in the NBA preseason, especially in transition. 

If you get White going towards the rim with a head of steam in transition, he will make it to the basket before the 24-second shot clock hits the 19-second mark, a remarkable display of his blazing speed.

Of course, everything is to be taken with a grain of salt in the NBA preseason, as we are often seeing White (and others) face off against a team's backups or even worse, players that won't even make an NBA roster. But what White has done well should play in the regular season, too. He scored 18 points on 37.5% shooting from the field, including hitting 4 of his 12 attempts from 3-point range. White was 2-2 from the free throw line and finished with one assist and no turnovers. 

It looks like it will be a while before we see Coby White look like an NBA-level floor general but he is already playing like an uber-confident, spark plug shooting guard.

The Bulls can utilize White's scoring in the regular season knowing that even if his court vision isn't where they want it to be, his shoot-first mentality and propensity to keep the ball moving should result in lower turnover totals than your usual score-first point guard.