Bulls

Scottie Pippen's injury history sheds light on what could be ahead for Michael Porter Jr.

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USA TODAY

Scottie Pippen's injury history sheds light on what could be ahead for Michael Porter Jr.

By now you probably know the story of Michael Porter Jr.'s back. Right as his college basketball career was starting—two minutes in to be exact—he had to sit out with back pain, which eventually developed into Porter undergoing a microdiscectomy of the L3-L4 spinal discs. The general consensus has been simple: if Porter's medicals are clean then he is a potential top-five pick, but if there is a lack of medical information or any indication that lingering issues persist, he will be available at picks six through the late lottery. Regardless of how his medical records look, what we do know is that Porter was the top-ranked player in his high school class before the eventual re-classification of Marvin Bagley. With this in mind, any team in need of serious star power—hello Bulls!—should have no problems spending a high pick on Porter, and Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen is a big reason why.

In July of 1988, Pippen has disc surgery following a rookie season that was plagued by constant back pain. During that rookie season Pippen played just over 20 minutes a night and played in a total of 79 games.

While the late 80's didn't have the help of NBA Twitter to breathe doubt into fans, there was still a running sentiment that Pippen may not be effective as he was during his initial NBA season. But in his sophomore NBA year, he almost doubled his scoring total while raising his free throw percentage from 57.6 percent to 66.8 percent. On top of this, Pippen also increased his workload by playing 33.1 minutes per game. Altogether he increased his field goal and free throw percentage each of his first four seasons in the league, all following his rookie year back surgery.

This however, should not come as a shock. In an interview with SB Nation, Dr. Charla Fischer, a spine surgeon at NYU Langone Health, stated: "Most patients tell me they feel at least 50 to 80 percent better immediately after the surgery." 

Players typically take two seasons to return to form following herniated disc surgery, and that is right in line with Pippen's first All-Star appearance in 1990, about one and a half seasons following his procedure. When you relate this back to Porter, a clearer picture of what to expect forms. Because Porter has already missed an entire season of basketball (at Missouri), it figures to take about a year for him to totally regain the explosivness that he showcased at the high school level. 

Pippen averaged 14.4 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 2.1 apg, along with a combined 1.9 stl/blks per game in the season following his back procedure. Now it would be unreasonable to expect Porter to come into the NBA performing at that level, but more so because of his lack of all-around polish more than anything else. And that is what makes Porter such a conundrum. He is a player whose game—as of now—is totally based on scoring, and his scoring is directly tied to how close he is to 100 percent. So again, developing the rest of his game in terms of passing and defense will take on everlasting importance, regardless of if he ends up with Chicago or another team. 

And while it is true that Pippen's injury history eventually caught up with him, leading to another back surgery in 1998, this was six NBA championships later. Pip went on to play six more seasons following his 1998 procedure. This included four seasons with Portland where the team routinely won around 50 games, and had a legendary battle with the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2000 Western Conference Finals.

So no matter what, Porter's first year should be looked at as one very, very long training camp. He will be in the best position to succeed if he is selected by a team willing to look at him as a long-term piece, rather than a 6-foot, 11-inch savior.

 

The 3 trades involving Jabari Parker that make the most sense for the Bulls

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USA TODAY

The 3 trades involving Jabari Parker that make the most sense for the Bulls

On the heels of Thursday’s report by ESPN’s Malika Andrews that the Bulls are taking Jabari Parker out of the rotation that caused most of us (especially Horace Grant) to react in disbelief, the Tribune’s KC Johnson reported Friday that the Bulls are actively engaged in trade talks involving the former Simeon star.

Parker’s $20 million in salary this season makes it difficult for the Bulls to trade him. League rules state that a team trading for Parker would have to either absorb that salary into cap space or send back salary that closely matches what Parker is owed. Basically, the Bulls need to take on a salary of $16 million or greater if they trade just Parker away to a team over the cap. It gets more complicated if you try to package a deal involving multiple teams or other players like Justin Holiday.

With that said, here are my top 3 trades (and one wild one) that make the most sense for the Bulls.

Trade 1: Bulls trade Parker to the Knicks for Courtney Lee, Lance Thomas, and the Knicks 2019 1st round pick (top 8 protected).

Positives

The Bulls get a good asset in the Knicks 1st rounder and the Knicks clear Lee’s salary off the books to help in their pursuit of Kevin Durant. We know the Knicks desperately want to land a superstar next summer and Lee is owed $12.8 million in 2019-20. Thomas is a solid defensive player who can play small forward but he’s currently dealing with a knee injury that has sidelined him since early November. Thomas is essentially playing on an expiring deal with a non-guarantee for next season.

Negatives

Lee is under contract through the 2019-20 season and is owed $12.8 million next season. That money will eat directly into the Bulls cap space but it also gives them an expiring deal heading into Anthony Davis’ free agency summer.

Trade 2: Bulls trade Parker to the Heat for Tyler Johnson and the Heat 2019 1st round pick (top 8 protected)

Positives

Like New York, Pat Riley and Miami would love to clear more cap space to land a star next summer. Johnson has a player option of $19.2 million for next season that he almost certainly will pick up.  This move alone won’t clear enough space for the Heat to land a max player, but it puts them on the right path. Johnson can play either guard position and would serve as a solid backup for Dunn.

Negatives

Just like with the Knicks potential trade, the Bulls would take on salary for next season. Again, this isn’t the worst idea. If the Bulls feel they will be unable to attract a max free agent next summer, Johnson still gives you flexibility for the summer of 2020.

Trade 3: Bulls trade Parker to the Hawks for Kent Bazemore and the Hawks 2019 1st round pick (top 8 protected)

Positives

Let’s be honest, they won’t be getting the Hawks pick next summer. Like the Bulls, the Hawks are almost a lock to be drafting in the top 5, but they could end up getting a lottery pick from the Hawks in 2020 or 2021 when the protections lessen. Bazemore, who has a player option of $19.3 million for next season, is a very good defensive player. Although he’s struggled with his perimeter shot this year, the Bulls could insert him into the starting lineup immediately. This move would also give the Hawks close to $70 million in cap space next July.

Negatives

The Bulls won’t be seeing the Hawks 1st round pick for at least one more season. They’re also taking on Bazemore’s salary for the 2019-20 season.

The common theme with the three trades above is that the Bulls get an asset while taking on more salary. This is the right move to make for an organization that’s rebuilding and that is unlikely to contend for a star player next July. Of course, all three of these trades carry some risk, but they are much safer than the ‘let’s get nuts’ trade I would consider.

The Wild One: Bulls trade Jabari Parker and Cristiano Felicio to the Wizards for Otto Porter

Positives

The Bulls find a home for Felicio and his contract that pays a back-end-of-the-bench player an average of $8 million a year over the next three years.The Bulls also get a player in Porter that fits perfectly with this roster. He’s a 3-and-D small forward that’s only 25 years old. He fills a huge position of need for the Bulls and he’s under contract through the 2019-20 season with a player option for 2020-21. This will allow him to grow with the already excellent young core of LaVine, Markkanen and Carter Jr.

Negative

Yeah, about that contract.

Porter is owed an average of $27.2 million over the next three years. That is A LOT of money for a player averaging 10.7 points per game in his career. There is no question he is one of the most overpaid players in the league, but his contract also expires the same summer a certain superstar in Milwaukee is due to hit free agency. However, free agency has long been thought of as ‘fool's gold’ when it comes to building a championship team. Why not trade for a solid player like Porter that you can build around?

Bulls pack more drama on team flight to San Antonio

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Bulls pack more drama on team flight to San Antonio

As the Bulls said goodbye to Mexico City Friday afternoon, the beleaguered front office duo of John Paxson and Gar Forman found themselves the subject of more national media criticism.

Turns out their puzzling signing of Chicago native Jabari Parker to a two-year, $40 million dollar contract back in July has already been deemed a failure, and the team is exploring trade options to find Parker a new home.

Head Coach Jim Boylen told reporters following the Bulls’ loss to Orlando Thursday night that it’s not possible to play 3 power forwards and Parker didn’t match up well in his 4 minute stint off the bench at the small forward position. So, at least for now, Parker will watch from the sideline while rookie Chandler Hutchison gets the back-p minutes behind Justin Holiday.

Of course, like with everything else in this ill-fated 2nd year of the Bulls’ rebuild, Parker’s status is subject to change.The Trib’s KC Johnson reports leading scorer Zach LaVine is doubtful for Saturday’s game in San Antonio after injuring his left ankle in the closing seconds of Thursday’s loss to Orlando. Johnson reports LaVine is likely to sit out at least the final 2 games of the road trip. So, with Zach out, Boylen might decide he needs to have Parker’s scoring ability on the court despite the defensive issues.

Boylen continues to demand full commitment to his insistence on tough-minded, physical play at both ends and according to media reports, he hasn’t been satisfied with Parker’s effort on defense and has been thinking about taking the former No. 2 overall pick out of the rotation ever since he took over as head coach on December 3rd.

The problem is the Bulls should have known about Parker’s defensive issues when they signed him back in July, especially since the Bucks quickly found out he wouldn’t be able to defend playing at the small forward position during his 4 year run in Milwaukee. Fred Hoiberg came to the same conclusion early in training camp, and now Boylen has decided he can’t find a place for Parker either.

The Bulls did protect themselves in the Parker signing by making the 2nd year of the deal a team option, but the problem is, they still have 53 games left this season, and unless they can find another team to take Parker off their hands they’re sitting on another potential locker room powder keg at a time when the team desperately needs to steer clear of more controversy.

You can bet any team considering a trade for Parker will try to unload an equally bad contract with multiple years remaining, so this drama could continue well into the new year. And, even if the front office is successful in finding a taker for Parker, another failure in the free agent market with a hometown player could damage their chances of adding a big-time difference maker when they go back into the marketplace next July.

Meanwhile, the NBA schedule demands the Bulls keep playing their scheduled games, and after leaving the 7,000 foot altitude of Mexico City, they’ll head to San Antonio, where the Spurs are suddenly playing their best basketball of the season, winning four games in a row by double digits.

Rudy Gay is suddenly playing like the guy we saw back in Memphis, taking advantage of bigger players at the power forward position to drive to the basket or get off his deadly baseline jumper. DeMar DeRozan continues to give San Antonio a little bit of everything at the small forward spot, while fellow All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge keeps putting up double-doubles even though he’s slowed noticeably as he reaches the later stage of his career.

Gregg Popovich has been forced to juggle his backcourt rotation after losing Tony Parker, Danny Green and Manu Ginobili in the offseason, but former Michigan State standout Bryn Forbes is starting to play more consistently, and the Spurs are also getting quality minutes from veteran Patty Mills and 2nd year guard Derrick White.

Plus, former Bull Marco Belinelli is back for a 2nd tour of duty in San Antonio to give Pop some pop off the bench.

So, what can the Bulls do to have a chance in San Antonio on Saturday?

1. REBOUND, REBOUND, REBOUND.  We mention this one three times for the sake of emphasis.The Bulls got outrebounded 43-33 in the loss to Orlando, and their failure to control the defensive boards has been one of main factors in their dismal record to this point.

2. DEFEND THE 3 POINT LINE. Even though Popovich insists the 3-point shot has ruined the game of basketball, he still features that weapon as a big part of his offense. All of his backcourt players are threats from beyond the arc, as are Gay and back-up bigs Dante Cunningham and Davis Bertans.

3. CUT DOWN TURNOVERS. Boylen was very candid Thursday night in telling reporters how poor the Bulls have been with late-game execution. So many of the turnovers have been of the careless variety, with the Bulls giving the ball away 27 times in their 2nd half collapse against Sacramento on Monday. Turning the ball over against a smart, veteran team like San Antonio is a recipe for another blowout loss.

It will be a 7:30 start in San Antonio tomorrow night, so we invite you to join Kendall Gill, Will Perdue and me for Bulls Pregame Live at 7 pm on NBC Sports Chicago and the My Teams by NBC Sports app. Then, after the final buzzer, flip back to NBC Sports Chicago for reaction and analysis on Bulls Postgame Live, followed by Bulls Outsiders.