Bulls

Point guard heads the list of Bulls offseason needs

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USA TODAY

Point guard heads the list of Bulls offseason needs

Now that we know Jim Boylen will be the Bulls head coach for the foreseeable future, it’s time for the front office to structure a roster that fits the style of play Boylen prefers.

Here’s the roster breakdown by position, with predictions on which players are likely to return and where the front office will be looking to add help.

Point guard: Kris Dunn, Ryan Arcidiacono, Shaquille Harrison, Walter Lemon Jr.

Only Dunn is under contract for next season, but judging by John Paxson’s comments at his season-ending news conference, the front office will be looking to upgrade the position this summer.

“We have not given up on Kris. I think he has defensive abilities," Paxson told reporters. "But we have to get better at that position, there’s absolutely no question in my mind.

“Kris is going to have opportunity because he’s under contract, but we understand as an organization that’s a position that if we’re to make a step in the right direction, that we’re going to have to address. No beating around the bush on that one.”

At the very least Dunn will face competition from a high draft pick or free agent addition. If the Bulls are fortunate enough to land the No. 2 pick in the upcoming draft, you can expect them to select Murray St. point guard Ja Morant. If they pick in the 4-8 range, Vanderbilt’s Darius Garland and North Carolina’s Coby White will be among the players they consider.

Free agent possibilities include Derrick Rose, Patrick Beverley, Ricky Rubio, Darren Collison and Cory Joseph. The Bulls will have roughly $20 million of cap space this summer, but a player like Rubio or Collison would eat up the majority of that space. Rose would be an intriguing addition coming off an excellent season in Minnesota, but it’s unclear whether the front office would be willing to deal with some of the off the court drama his presence on the roster would create.

Beverley is another Chicago native who would offer the tough-minded, veteran leadership Paxson wants to add and could be an ideal mentor for a player like Morant, Garland or White.

Look for the Bulls to bring Harrison back as a combo guard who can play the role of defensive stopper, much like the Celtics’ Marcus Smart. Arcidiacono also could be back as a third point guard option, depending on what other moves the Bulls make. Lemon Jr. did a good job in his late season stint, but will probably have to look elsewhere for an NBA job next season.

Shooting guard: Zach LaVine, Denzel Valentine, Antonio Blakeney, Brandon Sampson (2-way player), Rawle Alkins (2-way player)

LaVine, Valentine and Blakeney are all under contract for next season, so don’t expect major changes at this position. The Bulls definitely missed Valentine’s court vision and three-point shooting on their second unit and are hoping reconstructive surgery will alleviate the ankle issues that have plagued him in his NBA career. Blakeney fell out of favor with the coaching staff late in the season, and his small guarantee for next season wouldn’t stop the Bulls from releasing him.

Depending on what other moves the Bulls make in free agency, they could look to add a veteran three-point shooter at a value price to supplement their reserve group. There’s also a chance the Bulls could draft a player like Jarrett Culver, Romeo Langford or Kevin Porter Jr. if they fall in the lottery.

Small forward: Otto Porter Jr., Chandler Hutchison, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, Wayne Selden Jr.

Another position that is basically set for next season. The Bulls love what they have in Porter Jr., and the front office is hoping Hutchison will improve his outside shooting this summer to take the next step in his development. Both Luwawu-Cabarrot and Selden Jr. head into free agency and are unlikely to return with the numbers crunch at their position.

The Bulls look at Porter Jr. as their major addition for the 2019-20 season and are pleased with what they saw from Hutchison in his rookie year. It’s possible they could look at Duke’s Cam Reddish, Virginia’s De’Andre Hunter or North Carolina’s Nassir Little in the draft, but they have greater needs at other positions.

Power forward: Lauri Markkanen

Yes, the depth chart at the four spot is awfully thin, thanks to the trade for Porter Jr. that sent Bobby Portis and Jabari Parker to Washington. Look for Porter Jr. to get some minutes at power forward next season when the Bulls utilize smaller line-ups.

Boylen indicated the Bulls would like to have late-season hardship addition JaKarr Sampson play with their summer league team. Sampson surprised everyone with his scoring ability during his 10 days with the team, but it’s hard to project whether he can offer that kind of production in limited minutes over an 82 game season. Still, he could be a low-cost option for a back-up role.

The Bulls might look to add a young backup for Markkanen in the draft with players like Gonzaga’s Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke, Oregon’s Bol Bol or Kentucky’s P.J. Washington, but it seems more likely the team will bring in a veteran like former Bull Taj Gibson to offer toughness and locker room leadership.

Center: Wendell Carter Jr., Robin Lopez, Cristiano Felicio

The Bulls are excited about the possibilities for improvement with the 19-year-old Carter Jr. He showed excellent defensive instincts, combining rim protection with the ability to guard smaller players on the perimeter in pick and roll situations. Carter Jr. was a reluctant shooter as a rookie, normally deferring to veteran players at the offensive end. Still, he has a nice touch on his mid-range jumper and can shoot jump hooks with either hand. There’s no reason why Carter Jr. can’t become a significant contributor at both ends of the court as he gains more confidence and experience.

Lopez emerged as a Kevin McHale-like low-post scorer over the final two months of the season, increasing his value as he heads into free agency this summer. The Bulls face a difficult decision with RoLo, who has told reporters he’s okay with returning as Carter Jr.’s backup as long as he plays a meaningful role. The negotiation process could get tricky, since the Bulls would probably want to cut Lopez’s $14.3 million salary in half. They also might want their backup center to be a three-point shooting threat, similar to what Portis offered over the last couple seasons.

The front office places a lot of value on what Lopez brings as a veteran leader; we’ll just have to wait until July 1 to see if other free agent options force the Bulls to say goodbye.

One other option for creating more cap space would be using the “stretch” provision on the contract of the seldom-used Felicio, basically extending the money owed to him for the final two years of his contract over the next five years. The disadvantage would be adding “dead money” to their cap in future years when they might be in position to add a high quality free agent.

We’ll have a better idea of how the roster tweaking will unfold after the draft lottery on May 14. If the Bulls are fortunate enough to land the first or second pick, they’ll be able to add a potential franchise-changer in Zion Williamson or their point guard of the future in Morant. That would lessen their need to make a major move in free agency and allow Paxson to pursue the tough-minded veteran leaders he talked about in his news conference.

Despite finishing with five less wins than they did in the 2017-18 season, the Bulls made some significant progress in Year 2 of the rebuild, identifying four long-term starters who are all 25 years old or younger. With a little lottery luck and the right free agent additions, the Bulls are in position to make a jump like the Nets and Magic, who each went from the lottery to the playoffs this season.

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Wendell Carter Jr. is now 6 feet, 9 inches---and other Bulls' height adjustments

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USA Today

Wendell Carter Jr. is now 6 feet, 9 inches---and other Bulls' height adjustments

With player heights long a topic of question and debate, the NBA informed teams that all players must be measured by a team physician this training camp.

It’s all part of the league’s push towards transparency, which includes detailed reports on officiating and other initiatives.

So who grew and who shrank among the Bulls?

Wendell Carter Jr. dropped from 6 feet, 10 inches to 6-foot-9, which will do nothing to change the narrative that he's an undersized big man. Kris Dunn moved from 6-4 to 6-3. Daniel Gafford isn’t 6-11, as first advertised when drafted, but 6-10. And Denzel Valentine is no longer 6-6 but 6-4.

The Bulls even pushed down Coby White’s flamboyant hairstyle and discovered he’s 6-4, not 6-5.

As for those who grew, well, Zach LaVine’s All-Star candidacy now features him as a 6-6 guard, not 6-5. New big man Luke Kornet is really big; he’s 7-2, not 7-1. And Shaq Harrison somehow grew from 6-4 to 6-7.

That’s the official Bulls’ roster. 

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Insider K.C. Johnson calls Bulls the 'sexy pick' to make the postseason but tempers expectations

Insider K.C. Johnson calls Bulls the 'sexy pick' to make the postseason but tempers expectations

On the 2019 NBA Preview Show, NBC Sports Chicago Bulls insider K.C. Johnson broke down what it would truly take for the Bulls to make the jump into playoff contention following a particularly tough 22-win season. 

Johnson, like most of the national NBA landscape, is optimistic about the prospects of the 2019-20 Bulls. He stated that it is "widely accepted that they had a pretty strong offseason," but cautioned us against simply penciling in the Bulls for a playoff spot this season. 

Despite the additions of savvy veterans like Tomas Satoransky and Thaddeus Young, the Bulls still enter the 2019-20 NBA regular season as the second-youngest team in the NBA, as good of a reason as any to temper expectations.

That being said, the Bulls, from a simple talent standpoint, are much better than last year's squad that featured a ton of injuries and many Windy City Bulls/NBA G League call-ups. 

With a new coaching staff around head coach Jim Boylen and a new offensive philosophy, things will be very different in Chicago this season.

But as Johnson stated in Tuesday's 2019 NBA Preview Show, for the Bulls to achieve their ultimate goal of reaching the postseason, "basically, all of those [free agent] additions need to hit.

"You need to see Tomas Satoransky prove that he can be a full-time starter at that point guard position, you need to see Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen take a step towards stardom, you need to see Otto Porter Jr. stay healthy enough to contribute at that small forward position and you need to see Wendell Carter Jr. hit the two-way potential that the organization believes he has... and Coby White... needs to bring you something off the bench."

If that sounds like a lot, that's because it is and it appropriately represents the amount of work needed to make the leap from 22-wins to a playoff spot. 

What the Bulls have working on their side as of now is that everything we have seen and heard from the team throughout preseason has indicated that there is good shot that every one of the things K.C. Johnson named happens. 

Carter was limited to just 44 games due to injury last season and while he has looked rusty in the preseason, he has also had some explosive finishes and shown his trademark appetite for help defense and blocked shots. Carter blocked 2.0 shots per game over two preseason games but was abysmal in terms of his offensive efficiency (26.7% from the field), something to keep an eye on throughout the first week of regular-season games. 

Boylen recently made comments about managing Porter's workload, so clearly keeping Porter healthy amid the backdrop of the Bulls questionable wing depth is already something the organization has discussed and seems to have a concrete plan for. 

Satoransky has shown that he can comfortably handle the starting duties at the one as Johnson suggested, averaging 7.5 points, 4.8 assists, 4.2 rebounds, and 2.2 steals per game while being lights-out from 3-point range (80% on 1.2 attempts per game). And while Sato represents the steady hand, Coby White represents the true "boom-or-bust" option in the backcourt, capable of going off for 25+ points or fading into the background while playing more of an off-ball role. 

The factor that Johnson mentioned that will have the greatest impact on the 2019-20 Bulls season is if Markkanen and LaVine can take a step towards superstardom.

LaVine looks clearly poised to do so, finishing the preseason third in the league in scoring at 23.2 points per game on 59.3/56.0/ 83.3 shooting splits. Markkanen, on the other hand, struggled to find his shot and despite being one of the top-three scoring options on the team, struggled to get his scoring average just over 11.0 points per game (11.2). 

It is only preseason action, so all results are to be taken with a grain of salt. But as we gear up for the start of the Bulls games that count on Wednesday, it is clear that the national outlook on the Bulls is much rosier than it has been in the past.

Johnson stated that the Bulls are indeed shaping up as a "sexy pick" to make the playoffs and that alone is a monumental step in the right direction as the franchise looks to put last season's disappointment further in the rearview mirror. 

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