NBA Buzz: Forget overpaying for Kawhi Leonard and focus on the rebuild

NBA Buzz: Forget overpaying for Kawhi Leonard and focus on the rebuild

It seems like every time John Paxson takes questions from the media, he's quick to remind reporters and the fan base that the Bulls' front office will be patient and methodical in executing their rebuilding plan. Sure, if LeBron James, Kevin Durant or Paul George decide they want to come to Chicago this summer, the Bulls would welcome them with open arms. But other than that type of unforeseen development, the Bulls plan to stay the course and build through the draft while continuing to develop their own young players.

Which brings us to the curious case of Kawhi Leonard, who continues to work out on his own in New York while his Spurs team is about to get drummed out of the playoffs in Round 1 by Golden State. Leonard only played in nine games this season because of a mysterious quad injury, and even though it appeared the two-time Defensive Player of the Year would be healthy enough to return for the stretch run, he decided (with the advice of his own hand-picked medical team) he simply wasn't ready.

Leonard's disconnect with the Spurs organization has led to speculation he might be available on the trade market this offseason. Leonard has one year remaining on his contract at just over $20 million, with a player option for $21.3 million in 2019-20. He's also eligible for a “supermax” contract extension from the Spurs this summer: five years for up to $219 million.

But if Leonard has strained his relationship with the normally drama-free Spurs beyond repair, will Gregg Popovich and R.C. Buford look to cash in their top-10 talent for a package of young players and draft picks rather than risk losing him as a free agent next summer?

And if Leonard does become available, what would it cost for the Bulls to get involved? Well, you can bet the asking price will start with Lauri Markkanen, the No. 6 draft pick this summer and the Bulls' first-round pick in 2019. And even that might not be enough, considering the Celtics and Lakers can probably put together a better package of young players and picks.

Considering the Bulls still wouldn't be in position to contend for an Eastern Conference title next season with Leonard in the lineup, it makes no sense to trade at least three prime assets for only one guaranteed season of Leonard's services. And given the way Leonard has gone rogue on the Spurs, how could the Bulls front office count on any type of verbal commitment that the two-time All Star would be willing to re-sign long term after the 2018-19 season? The Bulls would be much better served to continue to build their young team with the addition of two first round draft picks and keep their cap space free should Leonard, Klay Thompson or Kyrie Irving enter the free-agent market in 2019.

Sure, Leonard is an amazing talent who is only 26 years old, but at this point in the rebuild the Bulls are better served to wait and see how things shake out before overpaying on a trade they might come to regret very quickly.

Mock draft 3.0

Now that the tiebreakers have been conducted by the league office, we know what the draft order looks like until the lottery is held May 15 in Chicago. And for all of you Bulls fans hoping to see the team add Missouri forward Michael Porter Jr., I think there's a good chance he'll be available at No. 6.

Here's a look at how the top 22 picks could fall on June 21.

1. Phoenix: Deandre Ayton, C, Arizona. Perfect fit for a Suns franchise that's been wandering in the desert for most of the last decade. Adding an athletic, soft-shooting big man is exactly what Phoenix needs to support all the young talent on the roster, led by sweet-shooting guard Devin Booker.

2. Memphis: Luka Doncic, G-F, Slovenia. The Grizzlies have highly paid veterans Marc Gasol and Mike Conley and not much else. The versatile Doncic gives them another playmaker and an exciting gate attraction to bring the fans back.

3. Dallas: Marvin Bagley, F-C, Duke. Things got so bad in Dallas this season they had to play 39-year-old Dirk Nowitzki at center. Bagley gives them some much-needed low-post scoring and rebounding.

4. Atlanta: Jaren Jackson Jr., F-C, Michigan State. The Hawks are desperate for a big man who can score and block shots. Jackson should help on both counts. He led the Big Ten in blocked shots and has excellent shooting range out to the 3-point line.

5. Orlando: Collin Sexton, PG, Alabama. The Magic front office cleaned house after a year of observing the team built by the previous regime. They need a franchise point guard to run the show, and Sexton is a unique talent with toughness and playmaking ability.

6. Bulls: Michael Porter Jr., F, Missouri. Forget about what you saw in the SEC and NCAA tournaments, Porter said he was only about 65-percent healthy after early season back surgery. Assuming the medical exams check out, the sweet-shooting forward would be a tremendous value with the sixth overall pick.

7. Sacramento: Mohamed Bamba, C, Texas. The Kings drafted a similar player with the sixth overall pick in 2015, Kentucky center Willie Cauley-Stein, but he's been a disappointment. That means Vlade Divac rolls the dice again on another project big man.

8. Cleveland (from Brooklyn): Mikal Bridges, F-G, Villanova. With the Cavs uncertain about LeBron James’ future, it might be a good idea to add a two-time NCAA champion who can provide defense and 3-point shooting from the small forward position.

9. New York: Wendell Carter, F-C, Duke. With Kristaps Porzingis rehabbing from ACL surgery and Enes Kanter holding a player option for next season, the Knicks need to add some size and strength to their frontcourt, and Carter definitely fits the bill.

10. Philadelphia (from L.A. Lakers): Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, G, Kentucky. The Sixers are already loaded with young talent, so they can go for the best player available. Gilgeous-Alexander can play both guard spots and run the offense when Ben Simmons needs a rest.

11. Charlotte: Miles Bridges, F, Michigan State. New general manager Mitch Kupchak will be looking to improve a middling class of forwards that includes former No. 2 overall picks Marvin Williams and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Bridges is a tremendous athlete who needs to prove he can create his own shot on the NBA level.

12. L.A. Clippers (from Detroit): Trae Young, PG, Oklahoma. Doc Rivers will be thrilled to get the Steph Curry wannabe at this point in the draft. The Clippers could use a dose of star power after trading away both Chris Paul and Blake Griffin.

13. L.A. Clippers: Robert Williams, PF-C, Texas A&M. Speaking of losing stars, veteran center DeAndre Jordan could also be leaving L.A. this summer in free agency, and Williams looks like the perfect replacement since his No. 1 skill is throwing down alley-oop dunks.

14. Denver: Kevin Knox, F, Kentucky. The Nuggets could potentially lose small forwards Will Barton and Wilson Chandler in free agency, so Knox would be a solid pick to fill that void. Knox could develop into a bully-ball three like former Nuggets star Carmelo Anthony (just not as good).

15. Washington: Aaron Holiday, PG, UCLA. The youngest of the basketball-playing Holiday brothers (Jrue with the Pelicans, Justin with the Bulls) could stop the revolving door in the nation's capital at the point guard spot behind John Wall.

16. Phoenix (from Miami): Troy Brown, G-F, Oregon. Don't be surprised if the Suns look to trade this pick, because the last thing they need is another young player. Still, Brown is a raw athlete who intrigues a number of NBA teams.

17. Milwaukee: Lonnie Walker, SG, Miami. The Bucks are another team that's overloaded with young players, but they wouldn't mind adding another shooter to open up driving lanes for Giannis Antetokounmpo.

18. San Antonio: Dzanan Musa, SF, Bosnia & Herzegovina. If any team can mine the international market, it's the Spurs. Musa could stay overseas to work on his game while he matures physically and come to the NBA in a year or two.

19. Atlanta (from Minnesota): Khyri Thomas, G, Creighton. After taking Jaren Jackson Jr. with their 1st pick, the Hawks could add a versatile combo guard to back up Dennis Schroder and Kent Bazemore.

20. Minnesota (from Oklahoma City): Jacob Evans, SG-SF, Cincinnati. We know Tom Thibodeau loves tough-minded players, and Evans helped lead Cincinnati to a top 10 ranking and No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament.

21. Utah: Jontay Porter, PF, Missouri. The Jazz are expected to lose veteran forward Derrick Favors in free agency, so the younger brother of Michael Porter makes sense here. Jontay Porter showed a lot of improvement during his one season at Mizzou, with shooting range out to the 3-point line.

22. Bulls (from New Orleans): Mitchell Robinson, C. Robinson is the ultimate project, sitting out this season after backing out of a commitment to Western Kentucky. Still, NBA scouts love his size and potential, and the Bulls could let him watch Robin Lopez play next season while getting reps with the Windy City Bulls. At this point in the draft, the Bulls could go in a number of directions including athletic wing players like Zhaire Smith, DeAnthony Melton, Tyus Battle and Anfernee Simons; Big Ten Player of the Year Keita Bates-Diop; Duke guards Gary Trent Jr., Trevon Duval and Grayson Allen; USC big man Chimezie Metu; or Michigan's NCAA tournament star Moe Wagner.

Rose blooms for Timberwolves

Finally, it sure was fun watching Derrick Rose show off his athletic ability in Game 1 of the Timberwolves' playoff series against the Rockets. Tom Thibodeau turned to Rose over young point guard Tyus Jones as the primary backup to Jeff Teague, and the former league MVP responded with 16 points in 24 minutes, shooting 7-for-14 with four assists in a hard-fought 104-101 loss.

"I've been telling everybody since he's been on our team what he's capable of," Jimmy Butler told reporters after the game. "He plays with a lot of energy, plays ball the right way and he can still score, get to the rim at will. He was a big burst for us off the bench (Sunday)."

Rose added, "I'm just trying to be a professional, whenever I'm in. I'm just trying to get better every game, try to make winning plays and play as hard as I can. That's what my job is being here."

Obviously, the Timberwolves face an uphill battle against the team that finished with the NBA's best record during the regular season. But it would be nice to see the 29-year-old Rose find a long-term home in the Twin Cities, playing for his longtime coach and alongside former Bulls teammates Butler, Taj Gibson and Aaron Brooks.

The Bulls aren't trading for Kawhi Leonard, but what would a potential deal look like?


The Bulls aren't trading for Kawhi Leonard, but what would a potential deal look like?

The Bulls aren't trading for Kawhi Leonard.

Let's get that out of the way before continuing on.

At this stage in their rebuild the Bulls are interested in acquiring pieces - they dealt a Kawhi-like Jimmy Butler 12 months ago for three core parts - and have two picks in next week's NBA Draft.

The Spurs will have myriad options on where to send Leonard, the two-time All-Star and 2014 Finals MVP, and offers will pour in from everywhere. Leonard could also dictate where he plays next season, as he has one year remaining on his deal and will be a free agent after the 2019 season. Certainly a team giving up the assets required to get Leonard would want to know their All-Pro intends on staying.

So that's why. Whichever team deals for Leonard (assuming he is dealt) will be able to put together a more enticing package than the Bulls could (think Boston, the Lakers, Philadelphia). Leonard also reportedly prefers to play in Los Angeles or New York. No mention of Chicago.

But! It's Friday afternoon and we can only churn out so much draft content before our own heads begin spinning. So we figured we would put together the best deal the Bulls could offer for Leonard.

First off, the Bulls would need a gaurantee from Leonard that he intended to re-sign. Like Butler, Leonard wouldn't be able for the supermax extension if he leaves the Spurs. Instead, Leonard could sign a five-year, $188 million max deal with the Bulls, averaging $37.6 million per year.

The Bulls would get a 26-year-old All-Pro just about to enter the prime of his career. Make no mistake about it: Kawhi Leonard is a superstar. It's easy to forget because he played in just nine games last year, but Leonard is just a year removed from a season in which he averaged 25.5 points on 48 percent shooting, 5.8 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.8 steals in 33.4 minutes. Oh, and he's won two Defensive Player of the Year awards in 2015 and 2016.

The Bulls would have Leonard through his age 31 season and would give the Bulls a souped-up version of Jimmy Butler, and perhaps one that could get them closer to contention in an Eastern Conference that may be without LeBron James.

The price would be steep. All-Rookie Lauri Markkanen would be the centerpiece of any deal. The Spurs have utilized versatile, small-ball lineups well in the past and adding Markkanen would be like a cheat code for Gregg Popovich. He'd slot in well next to LaMarcus Aldridge, who played 62 percent of his minutes at center last year, according to Basketball Reference. That was the most minutes he had played at center since his rookie season.

The Bulls would also have to include the 7th and 22nd picks in next week's draft, which only makes the deal more unlikely (from 0.01 percent to 0.005 percent). San Antonio could pursue a wing like Mikal Bridges or Kevin Knox and add him to a core that would include Dejounte Murray, Markkanen and Aldridge. The Spurs also have the 18th pick, so they could conceivably have five core players (Markkanen, Murray, 7, 18, 22) 21 years or younger to complement the 32-year-old Aldridge, who bounced back in a big way last season (ironically without Leonard).

Adding Justin Holiday's $4.615 million salary to the deal makes the money work and gives the Spurs another perimeter shooter.

What would the Bulls look like? Well, needless to say they would have found their wing.

Building around Leonard would include Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine and Bobby Portis. With Markkanen gone, Portis would be in line for a significant contract extension and a much larger role in the offense; his per-36 numbers were on par with Kevin Love's and Joel Embiid's a year ago.

PG: Kris Dunn
SG: Zach LaVine
SF: Kawhi Leonard
PF: Bobby Portis
C: Robin Lopez

Alas, this deal is not happening. We can only hope to have angered some of you at this hypothetical, fun mock trade.

A history of teams moving in to the top 5 of the NBA Draft and what it might cost the Bulls


A history of teams moving in to the top 5 of the NBA Draft and what it might cost the Bulls

It’s difficult to move up in the NBA Draft. Like, really difficult. More often than not it costs more than it should – like free agency – because teams are aware you’re moving up to go after a specific player. Few, if any, teams move up in the draft to position themselves better on draft night. So, you want Player X and don’t think he’ll be around when you pick? Ante up. Show us how much Player X means to your franchise.

Moving up in the top 5 is even more difficult and expensive (duh). The most recent examples are Philadelphia dealing with Boston last year, going from No. 3 to No. 1. The cost was Sacramento’s 2019 first-round pick, which will likely be in the first half of the lottery. In 2009 the Timberwolves dealt two key rotation pieces – Randy Foye and Mike Miller – to the Wizards for the No. 5 pick. In retrospect that doesn’t seem like much, but Foye was three years removed from being the No. 7 pick and had just averaged 16.3 points in 70 games; Miller was 28 and one of the better 3-point shooters in the league.

And when trying to move inside the top 5, you have to go all the way back to 2005. And that’s where Bulls fans should start paying attention.

The Utah Jazz were in desperate need of a point guard after cycling through the likes of Carlos Arroyo, Raul Lopez, Howard Eisley and Keith McLeod (who?) in the two years after John Stockton’s 2002 retirement. Utah had the fifth best odds in the Lottery after a 26-win season and, like the 2018 Bulls, were bumped back a spot after Milwaukee jumped from sixth to first.

Moving back one spot didn’t seem like much on the surface, but it was significant; there were three point guards near the top of the class – Illinois’ Deron Williams, Wake Forest’s Chris Paul and North Carolina’s Raymond Felton – who all had the chance to go in the top 5, along with the consensus top pick Andrew Bogut and the potential-oozing freshman Marvin Williams. Utah GM XXXXXX said the team was interested in Paul or Williams.

So here the Jazz were, sitting at No. 6 with the potential to see the three point guards go ahead of them. In hindsight, the next point guard wouldn’t be taken until Nate Robinson at No. 21. There were three clear-cut top point guards in the class, and Utah needed one of them.

So they found a trade partner. The Portland Trail Blazers had selected high school phenom Sebastian Telfair with the No. 13 pick the previous season, and were ready to hand him the keys to the offense with Damon Stoudamire set for free agency. Not necessarily needing a point guard, Portland became the perfect trading partner for a team looking to move up. Enter the Jazz.

In addition to the No. 6 pick, Utah also had the 27th pick thanks to a draft-night deal the previous season with Dallas.

Armed with assets, hours before the start of the 2005 draft the Jazz sent No. 6, No. 27 and a future first-round pick to the Blazers for the No. 3 pick. The caveat here – as it will later pertain to the Bulls – is that the future first was actually Detroit’s first-round pick in 2006; the Jazz had traded point guard Carlos Arroyo to the Pistons for a first-round pick, which was widely expected to be near the end of the first round. Detroit went 64-18 in ’05-06 and the pick wound up being No. 30; Utah kept its own pick in 2006, which wound up being No. 14.

That was the cost. Three first-round picks, though admittedly No. 27 and the contending Pistons’ pick weren’t oozing with value. Utah selected Williams over Paul, Portland got Martell Webster at No. 6 and used the other two picks on Linas Kleiza and a year later Joel Freeland.

How does this affect the Bulls? They’re in a similar situation as Utah…kind of. The Jazz had missed the playoffs each of the previous two seasons post-Stockton but felt they were turning a corner with 23-year-olds Carlos Boozer and Andrei Kirilenko leading the way. In fact, their eight leading scorers from the previous season were 28 or younger. They were on the right path if they could find a point guard to play with Boozer, Kirilenko, Matt Harpring, Mehmet Okur and Raja Bell.

The Bulls aren’t exactly one specific piece away like Utah clearly was – they’d miss the playoffs the following year but then win between 48 and 54 games each of the next four seasons after. But they could be targeting someone specific in the top 4 of the draft. And they just so happen to have assets, and just so happen to have two teams reportedly willing to move back in a deep class.

Memphis reportedly would like to move back, and if possible add Chandler Parsons’ absurd contract to a deal. This seems like a plausible idea at face value, but the Grizzlies are going to want something substantial in return. They tanked hard – Marc Gasol “rested” eight games after the All-Star break, with Memphis losing all eight of those – for a reason, and they aren’t going to attach their main asset to a deal just to get rid of Parsons’ remaining $49 million. Freeing up cap space is nice, but at what cost? Memphis isn’t in a positon to win now. True, they’d like to try and contend with Gasol (two years left) and Mike Conley (three years left) but attaching the 4th pick to Parsons is different from the Raptors attaching two picks to DeMarre Carroll in a trade with Brooklyn last year; that Raptors pick wound up being No. 29, as the Raptors knew they’d be contending.

The Bulls might entertain a deal of the Nos. 7 and 22 picks for No. 4 and Parsons. If Parsons weren’t included in the deal, it could still get done if Bobby Portis were added. The Bulls love Portis, but he’ll need a significant contract extension in 13 months and Lauri Markkanen has the power forward position on lockdown.

The Hawks are also a potential trade option. They reportedly are looking to move down and still be able to draft Trae Young, who could supplant a disgruntled Dennis Schroder at the point. Again, a package of the Nos. 7 and 22 picks plus Portis could be enough to get the deal done; Atlanta drafted forward John Collins a year ago but he doesn’t offer much as a pick-and-pop power forward. Portis would give them a solid complement. Then again, Atlanta couldn’t be sure Young would be available at 7, especially considering Orlando is picking No. 6 and has a serious need at the point.

Who would the Bulls be targeting at No. 3 or No. 4? Rumors are everywhere so it’s difficult to pinpoint. Michael Porter Jr. could now go as high as No. 2 to the Sacramento. That would mean international sensation Luka Doncic falls. Marvin Bagley’s name has been quiet for a while, while Jaren Jackson Jr. is having “monster workouts” that have him flying up draft boards. We won’t speculate.

For now just know that trading in to the top 5 is difficult. You need the assets to do it (check), a team with enough talent that moving up will push the franchise forward (check), a willing trade partner (check) and a player you really want (check?). The pieces are there for a potential move-up, but actually pulling the trigger is far more difficult than just writing about it.