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NBA Buzz: Former Bulls will be a big part of 2019 free agency madness

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USA TODAY

NBA Buzz: Former Bulls will be a big part of 2019 free agency madness

With over half of the league’s players heading into free agency come July 1, it’s not surprising to hear a number of ex-Bulls will be waiting to see what they’re worth on the open market.

Let’s start with the biggest name, four-time All-Star Jimmy Butler, who will be looking for a max contract, preferably a five-year offer from his current team, the Philadelphia 76ers.

Problem is, Butler will turn 30 before the 2019-20 season begins with a lot of mileage on his body playing for Tom Thibodeau in both Chicago and Minnesota. Watching him play for the 76ers lately, it appears Butler is now the fourth option in the offense behind Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and newly-acquired Tobias Harris.

Butler is averaging 13.7 field goal attempts with Philadelphia, the lowest total since his third season with the Bulls in 2013-14. He often goes for long stretches without being a primary option in half-court sets. Will Butler be happy to continue taking a back seat to three other players in Philly for the rest of his career? That will be one of the interesting story lines around the league this summer.

Sixers’ general manager Elton Brand, the former Bulls’ Rookie of the Year, told reporters after completing the Harris trade with the Clippers that he hopes to sign both Harris and Butler to long-term contracts this summer. But Harris is younger (26) and is enjoying his best season, while committing five years to Butler would take him through his age 34 season.

Ultimately, how the 76ers fare in the upcoming playoffs could play a big part in helping Brand decide whether to offer max contracts to both Butler and Harris. Don’t forget Simmons is also eligible to an extension of his rookie deal. It’s very possible the 76ers will have to make a hard choice on which free agent they want to invest in.

We know Butler spends a lot of time in California during the offseason, and both the Lakers and Clippers have cap space to offer max deals, as do the two New York teams, the Knicks and Nets. Is Jimmy still interested in partnering with Kyrie Irving? Would he be willing to be LeBron’s co-star with the Lakers? Safe to say Butler will be a big part of the free agency intrigue come July 1.

So will his former backcourt mate with the Bulls, Derrick Rose. After rejuvenating his career with a tremendous season as a sixth man for the Timberwolves, Rose hits the open market again after playing on veteran’s minimum contracts the last two seasons.

What is Rose worth on the open market after averaging 18 points and 4.5 assists in his age 30 season? Given the fact Eric Bledsoe just signed a four-year, $70 million extension in Milwaukee, you would have to think Rose will be looking for at least a $10 million average on a multi-year deal. He could stay with the Timberwolves, but after outplaying starter Jeff Teague all season, it’s hard to imagine Rose would be comfortable taking another smaller contract with Teague staring at a $19 million player option.

The Bulls are in the market for a veteran point guard to either compete with Kris Dunn or mentor a young draft pick like Ja Morant or Darius Garland, and the door appears to be open to a Rose return on both sides. But given Rose’s injury history and drama-filled first run with the Bulls, the front office might decide to go a safer route in looking for a veteran point guard.

Rose could seek a bigger contract with a team in need of a starting point guard like the Magic or Suns, or he could try to find a back-up role with a legitimate championship contender. Still, don’t be surprised if you hear reports of Rose being interested in coming back to the Bulls this summer.

Former Bulls big men Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, Niko Mirotic and Pau Gasol all hit free agency this summer. Gasol is near the end of the line at age 38, and will probably stay in Milwaukee if the Bucks are interested in keeping him around next season.

Similar story for Noah, who has played well in a reserve role for Memphis. Noah just turned 34 and worked hard during the offseason to get his body ready to compete again. The former NBA Defensive Player of the Year is beloved in Chicago, and if the Bulls decide they can’t afford to bring back Robin Lopez, it’s possible they could ask Noah if he’s interested in a mentor role with one of the league’s youngest teams.

Actually, Taj Gibson might be a better option as a veteran backup big. Gibson is quietly having another solid season in Minneapolis, averaging 10.7 points and 6.6 rebounds while shooting .567 from the field. Gibson’s lack of 3-point range will probably limit the interest he receives on the open market since he turns 34 in June, but the Bulls need a backup for Lauri Markkanen and bringing Taj back on a team-friendly two-year deal can’t be counted out.

Mirotic will also be a free agent, but I don’t think the Bulls will show any serious interest. Mirotic has been saddled with a backup role everywhere he’s been, and he’ll be looking for more minutes and a long-term contract at around $15 million per season. The Bulls weren’t going to pay Bobby Portis that kind of money to be a backup, and they won’t offer that to Mirotic either. Still, as the prototypical “stretch four” that teams covet, Niko should find plenty of interest this summer.

Veteran swingman Justin Holiday will also be an unrestricted free agent this summer, but he could be looking at a contract similar to the $4.4 million he made this season after struggling with his shooting after the trade to Memphis in January. The Bulls are set at the small forward spot, so don’t look for a third tour of duty in Chicago for Holiday.

Around the Association

According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Lakers have decided to put contract talks with Carmelo Anthony on hold while they wait to see if they’re still viable playoff contenders in the West. The Lakers stumbled out of the All-Star break with bad losses to the Pelicans, Grizzlies and Suns and it’s looking more and more like LeBron James will miss the playoffs for the first time since the 2004-05 season.

All kinds of speculation on who will replace Luke Walton on the bench as soon as the season ends, but you can be sure James and his agent Rich Paul will have a big say in what changes are made this summer. The Lakers will try to re-engage the Pelicans on a possible Anthony Davis trade, and they do have cap space to add an elite free agent, but recruiting players to join one of the league’s glamour franchises hasn’t been easy for most of the last decade.

Magic Johnson and GM Rob Pelinka will have their work cut out for them convincing free agents the Lakers can be title contenders, even with King James on the roster.

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Yahoo Sports is reporting the Golden State Warriors plan to sign veteran free agent center Andrew Bogut, now that he’s finished his season in Australia. The Warriors had been waiting to see what developed with Bulls’ big man Robin Lopez, but neither Lopez nor the Bulls were interested in pursuing a buyout.

Lopez is hoping to stay in Chicago after this season, but as mentioned earlier, the fact that seldom used backup Cristiano Felicio makes $8 million per season will probably end any chance the Bulls have at negotiating a team-friendly contract with RoLo. It’s hard to project the Bulls paying Lopez somewhere around $10 million to play 15-18 minutes a night behind Wendell Carter Jr.

As for Bogut, he was a part of the Warriors’ 2015 championship team and is popular with the coaching staff and some of the key players. He won’t be asked to play significant minutes for Golden State with DeMarcus Cousins, Kevon Looney and Jordan Bell already on the roster. Basically, it’s just a low risk insurance policy as the Warriors get ready to compete for a third straight NBA title, and their fourth in the last five seasons.

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Is Ryan Arcidiacono trying to become the fourth Jonas Brother?

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Is Ryan Arcidiacono trying to become the fourth Jonas Brother?

The Jonas Brothers are in Chicago for concerts that are taking place on Thursday and Friday night, and they have enjoyed quite a week. This week the trio has enjoyed a nice golf outing at Village Links in Glen Ellyn, had some quality BBQ at Bub City and even got the amazing opportunity to play a touch football game at Soldier Field. But one particular Bulls guard is looking to add another fun experience to their Chicago trip.

The Bulls organization welcomed the Jonas Brothers to the city with a set of custom jerseys for the trio and their significant others and that's when Ryan Arcidiacono chimed in with his offer. 

Since the Jonas Brothers have already got to play some football on the actual Soldier Field grass, Arci figured they might as well keep the Chicago sports-themed fun going and shoot some hoops with him. 

Now, Arcidiacono didn't make it clear whether or not he was offering for the Jonas Brother to get some shots up with him at the United Center, where their shows take place on Thursday and Friday night. But, either way, his time is running out as they will be moving on to Jackson County, MO for their next stop on tour on September 21.

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Bulls player preview: What can a healthy Denzel Valentine provide?

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Bulls player preview: What can a healthy Denzel Valentine provide?

NBC Sports Chicago will preview a different Bulls player every weekday leading up to the start of training camp in late September.

Previous reviews: Lauri Markkanen | Ryan Arcidiacono | Antonio Blakeney | Coby White | Daniel Gafford | Wendell Carter Jr. | Luke Kornet | Cristiano Felicio | Tomas Satoransky | Chandler Hutchison | Otto Porter

How last year went

Well, Valentine didn't play. Instead, he underwent ankle stabilization surgery that kept him on the sidelines the entire season. What was initially ruled a day-to-day injury wound up costing Valentine upwards of 8 months. It was an obvious setback to a player who would have logged minutes in a backcourt that allowed Antonio Blakeney 14.5 minutes per game.

The last time we saw Valentine healthy, he averaged a modest 10.2 points on 42% shooting and 38.6% from deep for a tanking Bulls team. He added 5.1 rebounds and 3.2 assists, solid counting numbers for the former first-round pick. He's expected to be ready for training camp.

Expectations for this year's role

Whatever he can give the Bulls. The front office addressed the point guard and power forward depth this summer but did very little on the wing. Perhaps it was because they couldn't improve every aspect of the roster, or perhaps they're expecting to get production from Valentine after he missed all of last season. With Chandler Hutchison nursing a hamstring injury, Valentine could have a path to early minutes behind Otto Porter at small forward. More realistic is Valentine seeing minutes at shooting guard, where he'll be taxed less defensively and can focus as a perimeter shooter. In that regard, he should fight with Ryan Arcidiacono and Shaq Harrison for minutes behind Zach LaVine. His expectations are tough to peg because we just don't know how healthy he is or how he'll respond to missing so much time. He hasn't played an NBA game since April 1, 2018.

Where he excels

Assuming he's healthy, Valentine is the Bulls' second best 3-point shooter behind Otto Porter. Consider that in his last 20 healthy games after the 2018 All-Star break, Valentine shot 43.0% on 5.0 3-point attempts, seventh best in the NBA among players who attempted that many per game. Included in that stretch were 3-point shooting nights in which he went 4-for-6, 5-for-7, 8-for-11, 4-for-7 and 4-for-7. He certainly had the green light on a Bulls team playing for Lottery balls and a chance at Deandre Ayton, Luka Doncic or Marvin Bagley, but the numbers were nonetheless impressive. Valentine also shot 39.1% on above-the-break 3-pointers. Why is that important? The Bulls were 26th in FG% on those triples last season, and Valentine's mark would have ranked second behind Porter (Markkanen and LaVine were both 36% on above-the-break 3-pointers).

He's also got sneaky playmaking skills. The belief that Valentine could play point guard in the NBA was nixed quickly, but he's been an above-average passer on the wing. In 2017-18, Valentine averaged 3.2 assists on just 27.9 passes per game. Even if he can simply keep the ball moving on the second unit, he'll give the Bulls something they lacked a season ago off the bench. An offense can never have enough good passers, and Valentine is a good one on the wing.

Where he struggles

Valentine isn't going to provide much defensively. It wasn't his calling card at Michigan State and hasn't been his calling card in the NBA, especially not after ankle reconstruction surgery.

And maybe he'll continue getting that floater to go down, but Valentine isn't going to provide much inside the 3-point line. He'll turn 26 during the season's first month, so there's not much optimism he'll improve in either facet of the game. His value will come from beyond the arc, as both a shooter and passer.

Best case/worst case

It all comes down to health. Valentine missed 25 games his rookie season and all 82 last season. Ankle reconstruction is a major surgery and, while there's precedent of players coming back stronger, Valentine is the roster's biggest unknown. His best-case scenario is he's able to give the Bulls 70+ games as a second unit sharpshooter. He probably isn't going to give the Bulls much on the defensive end, but perhaps he'll play minutes with Shaq Harrison or Chandler Hutchison to help cover some of his deficiencies. Any playmaking on the wing would be a bonus, and it'd be a major positive if he can get anywhere close to the 3.2 assists he averaged on the tanking Bulls in 2018.

Worst case is pretty simple: Valentine, who wasn't athletic to begin with, is really hampered by the ankle. It'll be apparent early in the preseason and regular season what Valentine is going to provide. Sure, he'll be rusty, but you'll be able to see his limitations if he has any.

One key stat

Over the last three Bulls seasons, just four players have an individual Game Score, per Basketball Reference, of 31 or better. Jimmy Butler accomplished the feat on 10 different occasions. Lauri Markkanen accomplished it against the Celtics last year. Otto Porter did it against the Grizzlies a week into his Bulls career. The fourth Game Score of 31? Denzel Valentine, when he scored 34 points on 13 of 20 shooting, and added 7 rebounds and 6 assists in 39 minutes against the Cavs in March 2018. The performances are few and far between, but he's capable of really going off. He made 8 3-pointers in that game, which is still the most for a Bulls player since Nikola Mirotic had nine triples against the Knicks in March 2016.

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