Bulls

NBA Buzz: Who will the Bulls take with their second pick? LeBron and the Cavs are in trouble

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USA TODAY

NBA Buzz: Who will the Bulls take with their second pick? LeBron and the Cavs are in trouble

The Bulls now own two picks in the 1st round of the top-heavy 2018 NBA Draft, which players figure to be on the board when the front office is on the clock for their 2nd selection, somewhere in the 15 to 20 range.

Of course, there's always a chance the Bulls decide to package their two selections to move up a couple of spots to get a player they really covet in the top-5. And there's a chance the Pelicans slide out of the playoffs and the choice moves into the late lottery. (I don't even want to consider the possibility the Pelicans win a top-3 pick in the lottery, delaying the conveyance of the draft choice to 2019!)

If you're a fan of the University of Kentucky, there's a decent chance the Bulls will use that mid-1st round pick on a Wildcat player. Four Wildcats are projected to go in the 12 to 25 range: point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, wing Hamidou Diallo and forwards P.J. Washington and Jarred Vanderbilt.

Out of that group, Gilgeous-Alexander is the most interesting prospect. He's a tall point guard at 6-foot-6 with the ability to drive into the paint and shoot over smaller defenders. Gilgeous-Alexander needs to improve his outside shot, but he recently poured in 30 points in an overtime win over Vanderbilt. Sure, point guard isn't a major need for the Bulls, but in the middle of the first round, the idea is to get an athletic prospect with the biggest upside, and Gilgeous-Alexander certainly qualifies. Plus, at 6-foot-6 he can also play shooting guard alongside Kris Dunn at times, and has the athletic make-up to be an excellent defender.

Diallo is a freakish athlete who might earn a spot in an NBA Slam Dunk Contest one day. He's only averaging 12 points a game on 43 percent shooting, but with Kentucky still trying find a pecking order on an inconsistent young team it's been difficult for any player to stand out this season other than forward Kevin Knox, who figures to be a top 10 pick.

Washington is a decent power forward prospect who gets most of his points inside or by attacking the offensive boards, while Vanderbilt has been limited to just six games because of injury.

Another name to keep an eye on in the middle of round one is 6-foot-3 guard Anfernee Simons, currently playing on the prep level at IMG Academy. Simmons is still considering his college options, but he's eligible for the draft since he'll turn 19 in June, and scouts are attracted to his athleticism and ability to create shots off the dribble. Simons scored 36 points and made seven 3-pointers in a game last weekend, and he could wind up being this year's Terrance Ferguson, who played professionally overseas in Australia for one season and wound up going 21st in the 2017 draft to Oklahoma City.

Two Duke freshmen figure to be available in the middle of Round 1. Scouts are excited about the potential of 6-foot-3 point guard Trevon Duval, while Gary Trent Jr. has an NBA pedigree. His dad Gary Sr. was nicknamed the "Shaq of the MAC" and had a long NBA career, but Gary Jr. is a 6-foot-6 shooting guard who should emerge as a solid scorer at the pro level after playing in the shadow of Marvin Bagley, Grayson Allen and Wendell Carter at Duke. (By the way, Carter, a 6-foot-10 power forward, could slip into the late lottery, and the Bulls have always liked Allen!)

Young wing players Troy Brown of Oregon and the Miami duo of Bruce Brown and Lonnie Walker also could fit somewhere in the late teens to early 20s.

If the Pelicans miss the playoffs and their pick winds up at 13 or 14, the Bulls might have a shot at a couple of guys whose stock has dropped a bit this season, Michigan St. small forward Miles Bridges and Texas A&M big man Robert Williams.

As you can see, the possibilities are all over the map, and I didn't even list some of the true centers that are expected to go in the back half of Round 1 since the Bulls are overloaded at that position (for now) with Robin Lopez, Omer Asik and Cristiano Felicio.

AROUND THE ASSOCIATION

- I'm sure many of you are tired of reading about the Cavaliers' on-going struggles, figuring we've seen this story in recent years, and LeBron James always gets his team to play its basketball going into the playoffs.

But this season just feels different. The Cavaliers have an old, unathletic roster and it looks like there's some genuine dissension in the ranks. Isaiah Thomas has only been playing for a few weeks after a long rehab from a hip injury, but the All-Star point guard who came over from Boston in the Kyrie Irving deal has been brutally honest about the team's defensive deficiencies; "Another embarrassing loss," Thomas told reporters after Saturday's 120-88 home-court blowout at the hands of the Rockets. "Something gotta change. I don't know. It was bad from the jump. I don't want to comment too much on it. I need to watch film to see what really went down. It wasn't a good one for us on both ends."

Thomas has made a porous Cleveland defense even worse, and his shot-happy style hasn't exactly endeared him to teammates. Kevin Love had been the Cavs' punching bag whenever things went wrong in the past, but now the All-Star forward is out 6 to 8 weeks because of a broken left hand, so much of the negative media attention has shifted to Thomas, who just doesn't look like the same player who finished 3rd in the NBA in scoring last season with the Celtics.

Even more significant to the Cavs' hopes of turning their season around is a report by LeBron James' confidante Brian Windhorst of ESPN, who says James is completely dispirited by the team's struggles (1-7 record vs. Top 8 teams). Windhorst writes James is upset with the front office's inability to acquire any of the top players who changed teams since the end of last season (Jimmy Butler, Paul George, Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony, Blake Griffin) and is waiting for owner Dan Gilbert and first year general manager Koby Altman to do something to improve the roster.

Windhorst wrote LeBron’s play over the last month has been one of the worst stretches of his 15-year career and questions whether there's enough talent on the current roster for James to lead his team to the Finals for an 8th straight season.

The onus is now on Gilbert and Altman to do something, anything, to turn around the fortunes of a Cavs team that has lost eight of their last 12 games. Cleveland has been linked to a ton of trade rumors involving players like DeAndre Jordan, George Hill, Kent Bazemore and Tyreke Evans, but so far, nothing has happened.

And, if Cleveland falls short of the Finals, you can almost guarantee James will be leaving for a better situation when he hits free agency on July 1.

- Great to see Chicago native Jabari Parker back in action for Milwaukee following a second ACL tear in his left knee. Parker has looked good in his first two games back playing on a 15-minute limit. He's scored 23 points combined and looks as athletic as ever following a second long rehab.

The Bucks face a similar situation this summer as the Bulls do with Zach LaVine. Both Parker and LaVine are restricted free agents who projected as future All-Stars before their knee injuries. The Bulls are prepared to pay LaVine whatever the market bears as the headliner in last summer's Butler trade, but Milwaukee's situation is a little more complicated given their current payroll and small market status.

Will Milwaukee be willing to sign Parker to a long-term contract at $20 million or more per season, given Giannis Antetokounmpo is already on a max deal, and Eric Bledsoe, Khris Middleton John Henson and Mirza Teletovic are all making in excess of $10 million annually, with Tony Snell and Matthew Dellavedova just under 10 million?

The Bucks are moving into a new downtown arena next season, but will ownership be willing to go deep into luxury tax territory to retain Parker? That figures to be one of the most fascinating questions of the off-season, especially since only a handful of teams (including the Bulls) have the cap space available to make a max contract offer to Parker. John Paxson said the front office will be patient and methodical in executing the rebuild so it seems pretty unlikely the Bulls would extend an offer sheet to Parker, especially while they wait to see what the final price tag will be on extending LaVine. Still, the thought of a healthy Parker playing alongside Lauri Markkanen, LaVine and Kris Dunn is pretty exciting.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

- Finally, back to the mess in Cleveland, where the normally media-friendly LeBron James had a tough time putting the Cavs' current situation into words. The 3-time defending Eastern Conference champions are now 0-8 in nationally televised games since Christmas after getting blown out by Houston last Saturday.

"They should take us off every nationally televised game for the rest of the season," said James. "We haven't played good at all and we get our butts kicked every time we play on national television, so I'm at a loss for words."

Someone give Jim Gray a call. It could be time for The Decision, Part 2 in July.

Steve Kerr told a Michael Jordan Bulls story to give advice to Kevin Durant

Steve Kerr told a Michael Jordan Bulls story to give advice to Kevin Durant

Anyone who lived through the Michael Jordan Bulls remembers those games when he was putting up tons of points, but the Bulls were still struggling overall.

Steve Kerr referenced one of those games to give advice to Kevin Durant during Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals. The TNT broadcast caught the conversation and aired it late in the third quarter.

"When MJ was with the Bulls, we had a playoff game," Kerr began the story. "He kept trying to score and he was scoring, but we weren't getting anything going. Phil Jackson said 'Who's open?' He said, 'John Paxson.'"

Paxson famously hit the game-winning shot in Game 6 of the 1993 NBA Finals to clinch the series. Kerr, who later hit his own championship-winning shot on an assist from Jordan in 1997, was trying to get to get his teammates involved.

"I want to trust your teammates early," Kerr said. "What you're doing is you're getting to the rim and then you're trying to hit him. I want you to trust the first guy and then move. Still attack, still look to score, but trust these guys, OK?"

Watch the video above to see the interaction.

Durant scored 29 points in Game 5 to lead the Warriors, but Houston took a 3-2 series lead with a 98-94 win.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander stock is on the rise; just how high will he climb?

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USA TODAY

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander stock is on the rise; just how high will he climb?

John Calipari's 2017 recruiting class featured five McDonald's All-Americans and Hamidou Diallo, a former five-star recruit who nearly jumped to the NBA the previous year. It also included a lanky 6-foot-6 point guard named Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. And for the first part of the 2017-18 season, the Toronto native who played his final two high school years in Tennessee, appeared to be a nice fit off the bench for Calipari.

But something flipped. Gilgeous-Alexander was inserted into the starting lineup for good on January 9 and never looked back. He played his best basketball beginning in late February to the end of the season, a span of 10 games against eight NCAA Tournament opponents. In those games Gilgeous-Alexander averaged 19.0 points, 6.3 rebounds and 6.7 assists. He shot 51 percent from the field, 50 percent from deep and 84 percent from the free throw line, and added 1.4 steals in nearly 38 minutes per game for good measure. He was one of the best players in the country, and on a team with five McDonald's All-Americans, he was Calipari's best freshman.

"I knew with how hard I worked that anything was possible," SGA said at last week's NBA Draft Combine in Chicago. "It was just a matter of time before it started clicking and I started to get it rolling."

That stretch included a 17-point, 10-assist double-double against Ole Miss, a 29-point showing against Tennessee in the SEC Tournament, and 27 more points in the second round of the NCAA Tournament against Buffalo. Even in his worst game of the stretch, a 15-point effort against Kansas State in the Tournament, he made up for 2 of 10 shooting by getting to the free throw line 12, converting 11 of them.

It made his decision to make the jump to the NBA an easy one - that, and another loaded Calipari recruiting class incoming. He stands taller than just about any other point guard in the class and might have as good a jump shot as any. He's adept at getting to the rim, averaging 4.7 free throw attempts per game (that number jumped to 5.6 after he became a starter, and 7.5 in those final 10 games of the season. He isn't the quickest guard in the class, but he uses his feet well, is able to find open shooters due to his height and improved on making mistakes on drive-and-kicks as the season went on.

"I think I translate really well to the next level with there being so much more space on the floor and the open court stretched out," he said. "It only benefits me and my ability to get in the lane and make plays."

There's something to be said for him being the next in line of the Calipari point guards. The ever-growing list includes players like Derrick Rose, John Wall, Tyreke Evans, Eric Bledsoe, Jamal Murray and DeAaron Fox. It's the NBA's version of Penn State linebackers or Alabama defensive linemen. The success rate is nearly 100 percent when it comes to Calipari's freshmen point guards; even Brandon Knight averaged 18.1 points over a three-year span in the NBA.

"That’s why guys go to Kentucky," Gilgeous-Alexander said. "It prepares them for the next level. Coach (Calipari) does a really good job, especially with point guards, getting them ready for that next level in a short amount of time."

Gilgeous-Alexander didn't test or play in the 5-on-5 scrimmages, but he still came out of Chicago a winner. He measured 6-foot-6 in shoes with a ridiculous 6-foot-11 1/2 wingspan, a full three inches longer than any other point guard at the Combine. He also added, rather uniquely, that he watches of film Kawhi Leonard playing defense. Most players don't mention watching film on different-position players; most players aren't 6-foot-6 point guards.

"(It's) obviously a more versatile league and playing small ball. And with me being able to guard multiple positions, a lot of teams are switching things like the pick and roll off ball screens, so me being able to switch and guard multiple positions can help an organization."

Gilgeous-Alexander's arrow is pointing way up. He appears to be teetering near Lottery pick status, though that could go one way or the other in private team workouts, especially if he's pitted against fellow top point guards like Trae Young and Collin Sexton. But if his rise at Kentucky is any indication, he'll only continue to improve his game, his stock and eventually his draft position.