NBA Buzz: Kevin Durant injury could change the course of the offseason


NBA Buzz: Kevin Durant injury could change the course of the offseason

Give credit to the NBA for creating the most exciting offseason of all the major professional sports. One week after crowning a champion, the league holds its annual entry draft, featuring exciting prospects that fans have come to know from watching college basketball games. Then on July 1, fans wait with breathless excitement to see which superstars might be changing teams for the season to follow.

That's followed by NBA Summer League games, before the league finally winds down until the opening of training camps in late September. Unless, there's a World Cup or Olympic tournament to be held (like this year) featuring some of the best players in the game. David Stern found a way to keep NBA interest high throughout the year, and that work has been expanded even further by his successor as commissioner, the forward-thinking Adam Silver.

Which leads us to the much-anticipated summer of 2019. Big name stars like Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson, Jimmy Butler and Kemba Walker are potentially hitting the free agent market, with Anthony Davis trying to force a trade out of New Orleans.

We’ve all heard the rumors about Durant and Irving potentially teaming up with the Knicks, Nets or Clippers, while Davis has his eyes on the league's two biggest markets, New York (Knicks) and Los Angeles (Lakers).

But the titanic summer of 2019 changed dramatically when Durant went down with a ruptured Achilles tendon in Game 5 of the NBA Finals. Durant had surgery in New York on Wednesday and now faces a lengthy rehab which could force him to miss most or all of the 2019-20 season. And, while the debate will continue over whether Durant should have tried to play at all with a weakened lower right leg, the business reality will still be there when the free agent market opens at 5 p.m. Central time on June 30.

Durant essentially has three options.

He could opt-in to the player option for the final season of his existing contract at $31.5 million dollars, essentially rehab on the Warriors' dime, and then hit the free agent market completely healthy next summer. Or, he could opt out and sign a five-year max contract with Golden State, essentially committing the rest of his career to the Bay Area. Finally, he could opt out, and sign a four-year max deal with a new team (like the Knicks) that would be willing to let him rehab for the 1st year of his contract and then play a starring role in his age 32, 33 & 34 seasons.

Would the Knicks be willing to pay Durant  $38 million next season, knowing he's not likely to take the court at all? Given the long history of futility with that franchise, it's certainly possible, especially if it means they can also get a commitment from another top player. But if Durant decides to exercise his player option and put everything on hold for another year, what do the Knicks do then? Keep their cap space available for another year or move on to other options like Irving, Butler or Walker?

That didn’t work out so well when they missed out on LeBron in 2010 and settled for Amare Stoudemire. The Knicks would love to trade for Davis, but reportedly the Pelicans aren’t all that enamored by a package that would include the No. 3  pick in next week’s draft, plus some combination of young players Dennis Smith Jr., Kevin Knox and Mitchell Robinson.

Other teams face the same quandary. The Clippers and Nets have cleared the cap space to sign two max free agents, but if Durant is off the board, is it really worth it to bring Irving in as the featured player, considering his track record in Cleveland and Boston? After making unexpected runs to the playoffs this past season, will either the Clippers or Nets be willing to risk disrupting the team chemistry they built by adding a combustible talent like Irving? And in Brooklyn’s case, would adding another point guard disrupt the progress made by D’Angelo Russell, coming off an All-Star appearance in his fourth NBA season?

And what about Leonard? For most of the season, NBA analysts assumed Kawhi was only a one-year rental in Toronto, with a likely return to his southern California roots and a max contract with the Clippers this summer. But with the Raptors on the verge of winning the first championship in franchise history, does Leonard change his mind knowing Toronto could be the Kings of the North and the NBA's Eastern Conference for several years to come? Does Clippers’ coach Doc Rivers move on to Butler, who hasn’t exactly been the poster child for team harmony in recent years?

Leonard says next to nothing to the media, so it's impossible to say which way he could be leaning right now, but if he stays in Toronto and Thompson signs a new max deal with the Warriors, suddenly the epic shift in the balance of power we were expecting may not happen at all. Butler could wind up re-signing in Philadelphia and Walker very well could take the five-year supermax deal to stay in Charlotte.

About the only player who seems destined to have a change of address is Chicago native Anthony Davis. Unfortunately, he won't be coming home to play for the Bulls, but there's a chance John Paxson could get involved in a potential multi-team deal that sends Davis to the Lakers.

The Bulls' front office has a high regard for Lonzo Ball's potential as the ultimate pass-first, defensive-minded point guard. Ball was the 2nd pick in the 2017 draft, and he's looked good in flashes for the Lakers. But his development has been slowed by injuries in each of his first two seasons, and he's a dreadful shooter, including just 43.7 percent from the FREE THROW LINE!

Is Ball a better option than drafting North Carolina point guard Coby White or trying to sign one of the upcoming free agents like Patrick Beverley, Derrick Rose, Ricky Rubio, Cory Joseph or restricted free agent Malcolm Brogdon?

My answer to that is a clear cut NO! The Bulls would be best served by drafting the best player available at No. 7, then making an aggressive offer sheet to sign Brogdon away from the Bucks, who have several free agents to deal with this summer, including All-Star Khris Middleton. With Eric Bledsoe signed to a new long-term extension, maybe the Bucks let Brogdon go if the price tag gets too high. And, if the Bucks match the offer sheet, the Bulls would still be able to move down to one of the other options on their list of free agent point guards. Plus, Kris Dunn and Shaq Harrison are still under contract for next season and the Bulls could always bring back restricted free agent Ryan Arcidiacono, and start looking ahead to a 2020 draft class that’s expected to be loaded with impact point guards.  

The summer of 2019 may not bring a seismic shift to the NBA landscape, but never discount the potential for a series of unexpected trades and signings that keep fans checking their phones throughout the next month.





Bulls will sign player to 2-way contract, but NBA roster is set for now

USA Today

Bulls will sign player to 2-way contract, but NBA roster is set for now

The Bulls waived Milton Doyle, Justin Simon and Simisola Shittu Saturday, which is minor news since they were mostly camp bodies competing for possibly a two-way contract.

The bigger development is that the Bulls’ roster is basically set, pending the signing of one player to the second two-way contract still available. No Iman Shumpert. No Alfonzo McKinnie. And that’s just naming two hometown products recently linked to the Bulls via the rumor mill.

The Bulls still want to see what they have in Chandler Hutchison, who did some individual shooting Saturday but missed all training camp with a hamstring injury. Denzel Valentine, currently out of the rotation, is staying ready.

And Shaq Harrison, who missed all five preseason games with his own hamstring injury but now is fully practicing, remains a Jim Boylen favorite.

And that’s what the roster staying set for now is about as much as anything. The buy-in Boylen has received from players dating to voluntary September workouts and bonds that have formed could be disrupted by the waiving of someone like Harrison, whose contract isn’t fully guaranteed but his commitment is.

While the Bulls recognize proven wing depth is a question mark, they value Harrison’s toughness and defensive ability. If Hutchison or Harrison or Valentine---if he gets an opportunity---don’t produce, perhaps a move could be made at a later date.

But expect only the signing of a second player to a two-way contract to join Adam Mokoka for now.

“We’ve been talking about that,” Boylen said. “We’re working on that. We’ve got our list and have reached out to some people. We’re actively in process.”

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Lauri Markkanen is focused on team, not individual, goals for Bulls

Lauri Markkanen is focused on team, not individual, goals for Bulls

You can’t put Lauri Markkanen in a box.

Just as you can’t pigeonhole one of the faces of the Bulls’ franchise offensively, you won’t get him to bite on any statistical goals for himself. As the outside world clamors for him and Zach LaVine to represent the Bulls at All-Star weekend in Chicago, Markkanen is focused on team goals.

“We haven’t made it to the playoffs and haven’t won many games since we’ve been here,” Markkanen said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago following Saturday’s practice, alluding to himself, Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn. “That really bothers us. So we want to win first.”

In fact, as Markkanen fielded questions about a preseason that featured him playing more as a spot-up shooter than the dynamic, double-double machine that defined his February 2019, he shifted the focus to defense and rebounding.

Ho and hum, indeed.

“You’re trying to get me to say 22 (points) and 12 (rebounds) and 3 assists,” Markkanen said, smiling. “I don’t have those kinds of goals. I want to get our wins from 22 to whatever. And I want to get our home wins from nine to whatever. I’m not putting a number on those either. But I think guys are doing a good job of making unselfish plays and making the extra pass. We’re coming together as a team.”

In fact, Markkanen said, at least for now, his only individual goals are to “stay healthy and be consistent.” He reiterated his stance from media day that his goal is to play all 82 games after averaging 60 games his first two seasons.

“I wanted to focus on defense more this preseason and I was a little disappointed in myself in that regard early in preseason. But I watched a lot of film and I think I had my learning moments and I think I got better as preseason moved on,” Markkanen said. “I’ve talked to Coach. We both expect rebounding from me. I think we’re going to be really good offensively. It’s at a high level now, and we’re deeper. If we rebound and can limit their possessions, we have a chance to be really good.”

Don’t mistake Markkanen’s aversion to setting statistical goals for submissiveness. Early in the interview, he called his preseason “maybe not as great as I wanted to play” and acknowledged he needs to increase his free-throw attempts by getting to the rim more.

Of Markkanen’s 42 shots, 24 came from beyond the arc and he attempted just seven free throws in close to 91 preseason minutes. That average of 1.8 free-throw attempts in his four preseason games pales in comparison to the 3.8 he averaged last season.

“I haven’t got to the rim as much. I’m conscious of that. Those are easy points for us,” Markkanen said. “(Driving) is still available to me. But defenses are loading up on me more and trying not to let me get downhill. And we’re not in the post as much (offensively) as we used to be. We’re shooting a lot of 3s.”

Markkanen smiled again as he said this, so it’s clear he likes the Bulls’ approach. He also remains confident his varied offensive game will be on display at some point.

“I don’t always talk to him about his offense to be honest with you,” coach Jim Boylen said. “I talk to him about defending and rebounding and handling the ball. I’ve shown him some of his decisions in transition where he’s handled the ball.

“I want him to compete at the defensive end, rebound, handle the ball and everything else to me takes care of itself. I know he’s going to make shots. Historically, he’s been better when the lights come on.”

Those lights get flipped on for real Wednesday in Charlotte, N.C. You can’t put Markkanen in a box. But he can put pressure on himself to help the Bulls make the playoffs.

“I have really high expectations of myself,” he said. “That’s what keeps me going. I want to win."