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.

Jim Boylen takes positive approach to injuries, Bulls' disappointing season

Jim Boylen takes positive approach to injuries, Bulls' disappointing season

One thing that has stood out throughout this disappointing Bulls season is Jim Boylen’s positivity.

Following most every game, he has highlighted in-game moments that he feels are signs of progress, even if they’re as basic as winning a quarter. He has praised players for their care factor and development.

The approach, like many of Boylen’s, has bothered some fans and observers. Perhaps not to the degree that his late-game timeout usage or rotational decisions or systems have, but the trait has caused some angst nonetheless.

It also stands in contrast to when Boylen first took over for the fired Fred Hoiberg. You remember his “shock and awe” campaign, the one where he openly questioned his players’ conditioning, made them do push-ups and in general sounded like a drill sergeant.

But the approach has at least served Boylen well as the Bulls have endured yet another stretch of injuries that has bordered on ridiculous. Wendell Carter Jr. is aiming for a Saturday return, while Otto Porter Jr. and Lauri Markkanen are trending in the right direction.

But the Bulls weren’t expecting to be playing two-way player Adam Mokoka rotational minutes in February, particularly alongside Cristiano Felicio and Shaq Harrison.

“What I’ve learned to do from people I’ve worked for and from being in this business is I take it as it comes,” Boylen said following Thursday’s practice at Advocate Center. “I try to stay in the moment, do the best I can to help this team get better and grow. I do not worry about tomorrow and I try to stay right in where we’re at. And where we’re at right now is banged up.

“I cannot wallow in that negativity or the things I can’t control. Otherwise, I don’t do as good a job on that floor teaching the guys that are practicing and are playing and staying positive and upbeat. And that’s what I get paid to do. I take a lot of pride in my attitude in these moments. That’s what this league is about to me. It’s easy when your team is healthy and you’re playing good and you’re winning games. But a lot of us in the league right now are going through these moments. And that’s part of it.”

So Boylen will continue stressing whatever he sees as positive, trying to set an example for his young team. On Thursday, that featured more talk of the Bulls’ shot profile. The Bulls rank second in shots from 5 feet or less and ninth in 3-point attempts.

“We have areas on the floor that we really value. A rim-2, which is right at the rim in the restricted area, or a corner 3, those are your highest-valued shots. Then you have a mid shot and an above-the-break 3. There are four distinct areas that we talk about,” Boylen said. “You would like more of the rim-twos and the corner 3s because those are the most valuable shots.”

The next step is converting them. The Bulls rank 26th in shots from 5 feet or less and 22nd in 3-point percentage.

“You hope to make those good looks you get. You hope to finish plays at the rim. And we’re working to do that,” Boylen said. “And that’s strength and youth and toughness and all those things we’re developing, You would say Coby White’s finishing has improved dramatically as he’s grown in the system. Our shot profile is very good.”

At 19 games under .500, that’s more positivity from Boylen.

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Bulls Talk Podcast: More injuries for the Bulls & storylines around the NBA


Bulls Talk Podcast: More injuries for the Bulls & storylines around the NBA

Host Jason Goff is joined by those entire NBCS Chicago Bulls beat, including insider KC Johnson, sideline reporter Leila Rahimi, and writer Rob Schaefer. They discuss the mounting injuries the Bulls have and go into the main storylines around the association.

(2:07) - Covering a hurt Bulls team

(9:30) - What do you make of Lauri Markkanen so far?

(21:35) - Rockets small ball is working

(32:50) - The Sixers have issues

(42:42) - Do NBA fans care about the historic regular season the Bucks are having?

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Bulls Talk Podcast