Bulls

NBA Buzz: Should the Bulls pursue Paul George in free agency?

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USA TODAY

NBA Buzz: Should the Bulls pursue Paul George in free agency?

Anyone who watched the Oklahoma City Thunder implode in Game 4 of their first-round series against Utah Monday night probably had the same thought run through their mind. “Paul George is so out of there.”

Speculation about George signing a max free agent deal with his hometown Lakers has been running wild since the All-Star forward forced a trade out of Indiana last summer. And, who can forget the scene of George’s parents sitting in the front row at Staples Center cheering on their son as he played a strong game against the Lakers earlier this season?

But if we’ve learned anything through the years watching top level free agents make decisions on their future, it’s that it’s almost impossible to predict what factors will turn out to be most important.

Take the George free agency for example. Sure, he’s talked openly about his desire to play in southern California and his love of the Lakers and Kobe Bryant through the years. But what if LeBron James decides to take his talents to L.A. this summer? Will George be happy playing secnd fiddle to “the king” in his own hometown (if the Lakers can create cap space for a second max contract), or will he look for a better option to showcase his game and his brand?

That’s where the Bulls could come in.

John Paxson said in his season ending news conference it’s unlikely the Bulls would be major players in free agency this year, but he also said he never wanted to go through another season like the one his team had just endured, and that the front office will always be on the lookout for opportunities to add a star player to the mix.

With Zach LaVine’s cap hold and the salary slots included for the sixtth and 22nd picks in this year’s draft, the Bulls would have around $73 million in salary commitments for next season, leaving them just enough space to fit in the first season of a max contract offer for George. And even if they wind up just a little bit shy of a max slot, they could easily create more space by trading one of their back-up point guards or another reserve player.

Would George be receptive to a Bulls offer? Hard to say. The Lakers are obviously his first option and he might also consider the Clippers and 76ers. Doc Rivers would have to do some salary cap gymnastics to make a run at George, but Philadelphia will be in position to sign a major free agent outright, and the thought of George joining forces with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons would be scary for the other Eastern Conference contenders.

After years of toiling in Indianapolis, it’s hard to imagine George being interested in joining a rebuild in Chicago, but as I mentioned earlier, stranger things have happened in free agency.

The assumption in league circles is the Bulls will wait until 2019 to make their big move when players like Klay Thompson, Kawhi Leonard and Kyrie Irving could be on the market, and might consider signing with the Bulls after watching another year of development from LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn.

But Paxson couldn’t have been more transparent in describing the mental pain he endured watching his team play for the best possible draft position during a 27-55 season, so he’s not going to pass up on a chance to add a franchise player if one suddenly becomes available this summer.

Paul George signing with the Bulls is an extreme long shot, but it’s not totally impossible.

AROUND THE ASSOCIATION

The biggest surprise in round one of the playoffs has to be the Pelicans’ 4-0 sweep of Portland. After losing DeMarcus Cousins to a season-ending injury, not many people expected New Orleans to even make the playoffs, much less win a series.

But Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry designed a new offensive system, utilizing a three-guard offense of Jrue Holiday and former Bulls Rajon Rondo and E’Twaun Moore to get the ball to superstar big man Anthony Davis, with another ex-Bull, Niko Mirotic providing floor spacing as a third scoring option.

Add to that the almost annual transformation of Rondo into an elite playoff performer, and all of a sudden the Pelicans are dangerous. Granted, they’ll probably come up short in the next round against Golden State, but casual basketball fans are finally getting a chance to see just how good Davis is playing on a national stage. He’s a top 5 talent, who has consistently pledged his loyalty to the organization that originally drafted him.

Assuming the Pelicans re-sign Cousins this summer, it will be interesting to find out what the ceiling might be for this team that seemed to be treading water just a few short months ago.

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On the other side of that series, losing four straight playoff games could signal major changes ahead for Portland. The backcourt duo of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum is one of the league’s best, but the Blazers are capped out and have to make a decision on signing restricted free agent center Jusuf Nurkic.

Portland was one of the biggest offenders in the Wild West free agent chase in 2016 after the new tv contracts ushered in a $20 million spike in the salary cap. The Blazers signed Evan Turner, Allen Crabbe and Myers Leonard to ridiculously inflated contracts and then overpaid free agent forward Mo Harkless the following summer.

General Manager Neil Olshey was able to unload Crabbe’s contract in a deal with Brooklyn, but the Blazers are already over next year’s projected salary cap with the contracts already on the books, making it extremely difficult to improve the team’s frontcourt.

So, would Portland consider trading McCollum or Lillard for a package of young players and picks? Lillard just had his best season and is a fixture in Portland, so it’s unlikely he would be moved. But if Olshey decides the current roster has maxed out, he might explore trading McCollum to bring in the reinforcements the Blazers need to contend in the brutally tough West.

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Similarly, what’s next for Tom Thibodeau and the “Timber-Bulls” after they get eliminated by top seeded Houston in round one?

It’s been fun watching Derrick Rose re-kindle memories of his MVP past with his end to end attacks and twisting finishes at the rim. Rose has averaged around 15 points off the bench in the series, probably earning an invitation back to be a rotation player for Minnesota next season.

But what about the uneasy alliance between Jimmy Butler and the TWolves young stars Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins? Butler has one guaranteed season left on his contract, but in an interview with the Sun-Times' Joe Cowley, Butler admitted it’s been tough watching players who don’t share his passion for winning and constantly working to improve their games. Don’t be surprised if Jimmy isn’t already planning his exit strategy with an eye towards Los Angeles.

Butler also said in the Cowley article he has a lot of love for the Reinsdorf family and wouldn’t rule out finishing his career in a Bulls uniform. Now that sounds like an even bigger long shot than my Paul George idea, but after all this is the NBA!

Just visualize Kevin Garnett screaming in his on court interview after the Celtics won the NBA title in 2008. “Anything’s possible!”

Even in victory, Bulls know they can be more consistent

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USA Today

Even in victory, Bulls know they can be more consistent

The Bulls authored their 106-99 victory over the Grizzlies Wednesday night in quintessential 2019-20 Bulls fashion.

They started scalding hot — scoring 13 of the game’s first 15 points. Then, a lull: They led only 24-20 with 1.5 seconds left in the first quarter before a Ryan Arcidiacono three pushed that advantage to seven.

The bench rode that wave to a 16-4 burst to open the second, and the lead soon ballooned to 50-28 — a 22-point advantage. Ahead 50-35 at the half, the Bulls were 19-for-41 (46.3%) from the field and 8-for-18 (44.4%) from 3-point range. The Grizzlies: 14-for-49 (28.6%) shooting and a mind-bending (for 2019, at least) 0-for-15 on 3-pointers.

For a team in the Bulls that’s six games below .500 and still underperforming relative to expectations, these types of spurts aren’t foreign. Nor are extended stretches of sound, swarming defense that drive opponents to stagnation.

Unfortunately, neither is what came next.

It didn’t happen lineally. There was no pinpointable avalanche of jumpshots or careless turnovers that swung the game. The Grizzlies just chipped away, cutting their deficit to as few as six points in the third quarter, then to one point on the heels of a deliberate, nearly-eight minute long 23-9 fourth-quarter run. When Jae Crowder capped that tear with a 3-pointer to pull the Grizzlies within 88-87 with 4 minutes, 29 seconds remaining in the game, the United Center let out a collective sigh — fans and players alike. It was familiar. 

To that point in the second half, the Bulls were shooting 10-for-31 (32.3%) from the field and 2-for-12 (16.7%) from three. The Grizzlies were 18-for-35 (51.4%), 5-for-10 (50%) from distance. In spite of the Bulls never trailing, it felt as though the contest had flipped completely on its head.

“I thought we started the game with the appropriate mindset, got off to a good start,” Jim Boylen said after the game. “What we're hoping to get is more consistency… We at times struggle with that. We play good basketball eight, twelve, fifteen minutes, and then we play five minutes of poor basketball and the game flips. Now, we gotta get back, re-engage, and play good basketball again. We're learning how to do that.”

Of course, the momentum eventually swung back in the Bulls’ favor permanently. Thank Zach LaVine for that. After the timeout that Boylen called following the Crowder three, LaVine was at least partially responsible — via made basket or assist — for the next 13 Bulls points. In the final four-and-a-half minutes of the game, the Bulls canned three triples and missed only one shot.

“We made big plays down the stretch, kept our composure,” LaVine said. “[Early on] we came out and played the right way, and then teams are gonna make their little runs here and there. I think we didn’t do a good job of keeping them down by 20… But we ended the game on a high note and that’s the best thing we can do.”

Forgive a moment of contrivance, but for the Bulls, this game felt microcosmic. The flashes were there of a crisp, movement-based offense and high-intensity, impact defense, but their inability to string 48 consistent minutes together will, to some, sour what was a solid overall performance. LaVine, an offensive revelation of late, rushing to the rescue was befitting, as well. 

It was the same story in Sacramento, where the Bulls led by as many as 19, but needed late-game heroics from LaVine and Lauri Markkanen to cling to a victory over a below-.500 team (missing its two best players). It happened — twice — in Charlotte, the first time resulting in a blown 10-point fourth quarter lead, the second an impossibly infernic comeback win that was as exhilarating as it was unsustainable.

“I don't feel a big-time shift, because I still know that we're in the right place,” LaVine said when asked if he feels the team’s energy or confidence wanes during dry spells, both offensively and defensively. “I just wish we could cut it off sooner. And we could make in-game adjustments better, and I'm not just saying coaching stuff, like, us too.” 

But what’s a team to do, then, when the lid on the basket closes? There are differing schools of thought, though no one in the locker room was resigned to a team-wide fate of perpetual inconsistency. LaVine offered something of a solution.

“I think getting to the foul line has been big, because that'll almost — not bail you out — but you can make an aggressive play,” LaVine, who has attempted 10 or more free throws in his last three games, said. “You still gotta stay aggressive, you still gotta take those shots if they're open. We gotta run our offense because at times it works really well.”

Thad Young was also candid, saying he thinks the Bulls’ current conundrum is in some ways a repercussion of attempting to blend into the break-neck paced, 3-point-happy style of play that’s en vogue in the NBA.

“When you're up 20 it's hard to win games, simply because of the fact that you have certain teams that just don't give up. And then you're trying to control pace as opposed to playing as fast as you were before. And sometimes that hurts you,” Young said. “When you're trying to slow it down, the other team tends to pick it up and gain confidence.

It stands to reason that the Bulls — notorious for generating turnovers and creating offense in transition — would be uniquely impacted by this. Boylen stressed that they’re continuing to learn and grow. 

"Just get back to what we were doing that got us to that point," Young said on the mentality of perservering through those tough stretches. Markkanen, among others, consistently preaches never getting too high or too low, in victory or defeat.

Bigger picture, the offensive metrics haven’t turned around yet (the Bulls remain 29th in offensive rating — 27th since LaVine’s 49-point outing in Charlotte — and a bottom-eight 3-point shooting team), but the win-loss record is beginning to. However, the Bulls are doing it, they’re winning, and that’s worth celebrating, for the time being. It allows the team to hone in on areas of inconsistency from a position of assurance.

“I don't feel a lack of energy or confidence,” LaVine said, on when times get the toughest. 

“We just gotta continue to be aggressive and put the ball in the right players' hands and make plays.”

ttention Dish and Sling customers! You have lost your Bulls games on NBC Sports Chicago. To switch providers, visit mysportschicago.com.

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Bulls Outsiders Podcast: LaVine closes out Bulls win vs Grizzlies Bulls Outsiders

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NBC SPORTS CHICAGO

Bulls Outsiders Podcast: LaVine closes out Bulls win vs Grizzlies Bulls Outsiders

On this edition of the Bulls Outsiders podcast, Matt Peck, David Watson, and John Sabine react to the Bulls 106-99 win over the Grizzlies.

0:45 - On the Bulls first win streak of the season

2:20 - On Zach LaVine taking over as the team’s closer

5:25 - Viewer comment on Lauri Markkanen being on his way back; discussion on Lauri minutes

10:45 - On Denzel Valentine contributing in meaningful minutes

13:05 - Viewer comment with a different Portillos giveaway suggestion

13:50 - Viewer comment on Satoransky

16:20 - Thoughts on Bulls very blue city edition jerseys

18:30 - Our nightly ‘John makes Big Dave laugh really hard’ moment

19:25 - Viewer comment on concerns over Coby White

21:20 - Viewer comment on Matt breaking multiple mics

22:30 - Viewer comment on Dunn’s defense vs LaVine’s offense

24:15 - On Lebron James not getting called for an obvious travel

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

Bulls Outsiders

Subscribe:

Attention Dish and Sling customers! You have lost your Bulls games on NBC Sports Chicago. To switch providers, visit mysportschicago.com.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.