Mutual respect tug of war between Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn shows conflict is coming


Mutual respect tug of war between Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn shows conflict is coming

Things are very polite in the Chicago Bulls locker room, but conflict is coming.

No matter whether Marvin Bagley or DeAndre Ayton walks through that door to help this ailing team, Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn are due for some uncomfortable moments.

They both know it, too.

Someone will have to take the lead for the Bulls and a pecking order must be established. This isn't conflict that will lead to fisticuffs but competitiveness will overflow.

“It's gonna be a tug of war, a tug and pull between somebody,” LaVine said to NBCSportsChicago.com Monday night. “That's for us to figure out. It's either with somebody's play or mentality-wise; we have to be better with that.”

LaVine wants to take the reins.

"Can't be friends with everybody," LaVine said. "That's just the way it is sometimes."

He says he's ready.

"If you put anybody in that right mindset they can turn into that dude," LaVine said.

Even with a disaster like Monday where the Bulls were run out of the United Center by the Boston Celtics, down by as many as 37 points, everyone is still getting by under the cover of being a young team trying to find itself.

Friday’s win against Dallas, where LaVine, Dunn and Lauri Markkanen all made big shots late, is the outlier.

Expectations for all will rise next season, and with them some natural friction will develop. Right now, everybody’s being nice.

“We're young. Right now, nobody wants to step on each other's toes,” Dunn told NBCSportsChicago.com. “We're still learning how to win. Each and every game you gotta bring it.”

LaVine agreed, and said nobody has said a cross word to a teammate yet.

“We all take responsibility. We're in the huddles talking and encouraging each other,” LaVine told NBCSportsChicago.com. “It's gotta be more than that. It's gotta come from each person to police themselves and push themselves and hold themselves accountable.”

The usually affable LaVine was highly irritated by his own performance against Boston, when he went one-for-11, even airballing a wide-open corner three in the second half. Being unable to stop the Celtics from embarrassing the Bulls early was his biggest annoyance, but he said if this is March of 2019 and he's the established figure he expects to be.

"You have to be more vocal,” LaVine said. “You have to be more assertive. You have to be in that role. Whether I'm 1-12 or 10-12, I gotta be that dude to do that. Or somebody has to do that. There's no way you can be a contender or winning team without that type of personality.”

LaVine, Dunn and Markkanen have all surpassed the modest individual expectations coming into the season. None has intersected with the other.

LaVine wanted to get back on the floor, fully recovered from his ACL injury. Check.

Dunn wanted to wash away his dreadful rookie season and reclaim his pedigree as a top-five draft pick. Check.

Markkanen is a rookie who's still figuring out the NBA game but has surprised with his skill level and acclimation, particular amongst the team's early drama. Check.

Hence, the honeymoon period of the young team.

“I'm pretty sure you can't show me too many teams that have so much high talent that don't go through growing pains. It's tough,” Dunn said. “Trying to figure out how many touches people are gonna get, who's gonna be aggressive."

“I'm not worried about it. We have to keep bringing it every day. The harder you go, it settles itself out.”

While that’s true, it’s where head coach Fred Hoiberg’s job becomes a lot more difficult next season. He’ll have three guys, along with two first-round draft picks, looking to establish themselves further. Or in LaVine, Dunn and Markkanen’s case, looking for their place in the hierarchy of the franchise and the league.

“I don't worry about that. I don't get into that — who's the best player and all that,” Dunn said. “We all have to be leaders for this team. We have to be leaders in different ways. It's a matter of time to see how we jell out. Right now we just keep playing.”

The talent level between the three is obvious. The Bulls got it right on the Jimmy Butler trade, and Dunn and LaVine each have had a moment as the go-to guy late in games.

But remember, Dunn’s run in December — illustrated by his big game against the Utah Jazz where he lit up anybody defending him, yelling “(bleep) him! (bleep) him!” to nobody in particular after hitting a clinching jumper — occurred when LaVine was weeks away from his season debut.

And in LaVine’s signature moment — outdueling Butler in Chicago for a 35-point performance in early February—he was caught by cameras yelling, “This is my (bleep). This is my (bleep)” to a raucous crowd at the United Center — Dunn was out recovering from a concussion.

So while Hoiberg’s belief that playing together is important, what’s more critical is a level of mutual respect that won’t truly be established unless those uncomfortable moments happen.

“We're all grown men at the end of the day,” Dunn said. “If you can't take criticism for the better then this is not the sport for you. It's gonna come. I'm not worried about it. The coaches are doing a good job; they're gonna figure it out for us too.”

It feels as though the Bulls offense is equal-opportunity, which can lead to confusion and a general lack of internal accountability.

“It takes time,” Dunn said. “It's tough when there's so many talented players . … A lot of high talent who can score at any given moment. Get 20 at any given moment."

"You gotta find the balance."

Dunn plays the position most would define as one of leadership, and Hoiberg wants him to be more vocal.

Markkanen has the higher ceiling but is less likely to be vocal given his personality, and down the line will have the greatest mismatch for Hoiberg’s offense to exploit.

LaVine is the most accomplished of the three and will be rewarded with a long-term contract this summer, while also having an offseason when he won’t have to rehab.

He's also been waiting for his voice to carry considerable weight. Having played with No. 1 picks Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, he admitted to being vocal but stopping himself given his lack of pedigree.

“In Minnesota I was a vocal guy, but I was just in a different role,” LaVine said. "But coming into this situation, I didn't play half the year. It's tough to do that. I'm not the type of dude to come in and control things. So I gotta let my play and my work speak for itself.”

Each player will eventually have the opportunity to make his case — on the court and off — to lead the Bulls.

“The season's too far ahead,” LaVine said. “We'll figure this (stuff) out in the summer. It comes out. I'm a very likable guy, but you can change your entire personality on the court.”

Conflict is coming, but hopefully it'll be constructive.

“It's gonna come,” Dunn said. “It comes. I've been on plenty of teams like this. It comes. We're young. We're not trying to step on each other's toes but eventually it will come.”

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SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should the Bulls trade up or down in the draft?


SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should the Bulls trade up or down in the draft?

Mark Carman, Hub Arkush, Phil Rogers and Will Perdue join Kap on the SportsTalk Live Podcast.

The guys start by discussing Brandon Morrow's injury that he sustained while taking off his pants... what's the craziest cause for an injury the guys can remember?

Plus, should the Bulls move up or down in Thursday's NBA Draft? Does it make sense to take on a bad contract in a potential deal?

Listen to the full SportsTalk Live Podcast right here:

Chandler Hutchison's unusual basketball background makes him an intriguing target for the Bulls


Chandler Hutchison's unusual basketball background makes him an intriguing target for the Bulls

Over the past several weeks, the Bulls have been heavily rumored to be selecting Boise State small forward Chandler Hutchison with the No. 22 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft.

Although the 6-foot-7 Hutchison had a stellar four-year career with the Broncos, and was regarded as a top-100 national prospect coming out of high school, his background is relatively unknown compared to many of his first-round counterparts. Not many recruiting gurus watched Hutchison in-depth in high school. The same could be said about draft analysts watching Hutchison's career unfold at Boise State.

Part of the reason Hutchison has flown under the radar for so long, despite being a first-round talent, is his unique basketball upbringing. Many elite high school players opt to transfer to big-time basketball schools while playing in high-exposure shoe-company leagues during the spring and summer. Instead of the normal path, Hutchison chose to stick with the people that he trusted.

Playing for a small, independent grassroots program in high school known as Team Eastbay, Hutchison started showing special gifts as a sophomore in before blossoming into a top-100 national prospect towards the end of high school. Hutchison's trainer and coach with Team Eastbay, Perry Webster, saw that Chandler had the ability to be a big-time player.

"I walked into the gym and saw this 15-year-old kind of gangly kid. And he just moved different than anybody else. I thought he had a chance to be a pretty good player," Webster said of Hutchison.

As Hutchison developed more of a reputation in the Southern California basketball scene, becoming a starter at Mission Viejo High School his junior season, he started to draw more attention from local and national recruiting analysts — including former ESPN recruiting insider Joel Francisco, Scout.com's Josh Gershon and SoCal recruiting analyst Devin Ugland.

"You saw during his junior year that he was a legitimate Division I prospect. During the spring he started blossoming," Francisco said. "He had the ball skills and the prototypical length and things like that. And he was finishing plays. He had a good IQ for the game. It was a matter of strength and he had to fill out to become a more complete player."

By the end of summer going into his senior season, Hutchison had established himself as a potential Pac-12 recruit, as schools like Oregon and USC started to show heavy interest. But it was mid-major programs like Boise State, Saint Mary's and UC-Irvine who had long been involved in Hutchison's recruitment.

Knowing that Hutchison was a unique wing with a high IQ and passing skills, Webster, a former Division I player at Cal State Fullerton himself, advised that his star player take a close look at the programs that would put him in position to succeed right away.

"Every AAU program in Southern California was trying to get him for their team. Free ride this, free shoes. The kid stayed really loyal to me. I was very hard on him," Webster said. "I demanded a lot of him. I screamed at him, I yelled at him. And he looked me in the eye and took it. I realized, this kid is pretty special because he's not running away from what he is. He knows what his limitations are. That's not something he's afraid to address.

"Not everybody was sold on him. Joel [Francisco] was. Joel was one of the proponents of him. But being that he burst on the scene late, and that he didn't play for the big shoe companies, we kind of came to the decision that we wouldn't be so enamored by the Pac-12. He realized he had ability but he still had a long way to go." 

Hutchison eventually decided to sign his National Letter of Intent with Boise State before his senior season started as assistant coach Jeff Linder acted as his lead recruiter. Even though his collegiate future had been decided, Hutchison continued to evolve into a major prospect during senior year as he flourished at Mission Viejo.

Even with his strong senior season, skepticism remained about Hutchison since he hadn't played with and against many of the major names in Southern California. Ranked as the No. 83 overall prospect in ESPN's final Class of 2014 national recruiting rankings, Hutchison was viewed as the seventh best player in his own state. While Francisco pushed for Hutchison to be ranked in the top 50, he had to settle for him being a back-end top-100 talent.

"They're like, hey, he's going to Boise State, he's not on a major shoe company team. How good can he be? But if he can play, he can play. It doesn't matter if he's not on the adidas circuit, he's not in the EYBL," Francisco said.

Francisco wasn't the only major recruiting analyst to take notice of Hutchison's play. Rivals.com's Eric Bossi also labeled Hutchison as a potential breakout player at Boise State. Hutchison was even placed in the Rivals national recruiting rankings, ending up at No. 98 overall, after his senior season. Bossi was on vacation with his family during spring break and he happened to see Hutchison play during his senior season. But Hutchison's strong effort, along with some research, convinced Bossi that he was worthy of a top-100 ranking, even with only one serious viewing. 

"I decided to go watch some regional California high school playoff stuff. And it just so happened to be that Chandler's high school team was one of the teams I was seeing," Bossi said. "I knew he was on the team and committed to Boise State. But then when I watched him play I was like, 'Holy cow, what an incredible get for Boise State. Like, this dude's legit.' He had great size for a wing. He could handle the ball, he could really pass and I thought he could defend multiple positions at the next level when it was all said and done. I thought he was a versatile, well-skilled, well-rounded basketball player. So, based on that, I thought he was top-100. I wish I had seen him more."

Even as a former top-100 national prospect, it took some time for Hutchison to gain traction at Boise State as he didn't put up big numbers during his first two seasons. Although Hutchison played plenty of minutes and started a healthy amount of games, he often took a back seat to talented all-conference players like Anthony Drmic and James Webb III.

When those players eventually moved on from the Broncos, Hutchison was given his chance to shine, as his ascension into all-conference player and future first-round pick came with an intense work ethic that continually developed during workouts in college.

Hutchison also became a consistent three-point threat — something he had been lacking during his development — as he became a hot name in the 2018 NBA Draft despite his unorthodox basketball background.

"He's always been competitive. I think the big thing is reps. And it still will be as he continues to play in the league," Webster said. "He wasn't a bad shooter in high school, but I think the big adjustment for him getting to college, it's hard to put up good percentages in college. I think some of it is mental. But I think he's a good shooter and I think that he'll prove that." 

It's hard to predict if the Bulls will end up with Hutchison with the No. 22 overall pick on Thursday night — especially given all of the chaos that can occur on draft night. But if Hutchison does end up in Chicago, he won't be fazed by having to prove himself after already doing so at the high school and college level.