Wendell Carter Jr.'s extended absence will impact the Bulls in every phase

USA Today

Wendell Carter Jr.'s extended absence will impact the Bulls in every phase

During a season-high, five-game losing streak, the Bulls’ defensive rating has slipped from fifth to eighth. That included allowing 123 points in Wednesday’s loss to the Pelicans, the Bulls’ first full game without Wendell Carter Jr.

“Our best defensive player didn’t play [Wednesday] night,” coach Jim Boylen said late Wednesday in New Orleans. “So that makes it hard on us.”

It’s going to be hard for awhile.

An MRI exam on the sprained right ankle that knocked Carter out of Monday’s loss in Dallas to the Mavericks revealed a serious ankle sprain that eliminated a quick return that both Carter and the Bulls initially hoped for. The timeline for Carter, who had started every game until Wednesday, is four-to-six weeks.

Carter’s loss is significant beyond the fact he leads the Bulls with 17 double-doubles. He has arguably been the team’s steadiest presence, averaging 11.7 points and 9.9 rebounds per game while shooting 53.7 percent from the field.

Boylen consistently cites Carter’s communication skills and a defensive IQ that belies his tender age of 20 as critical for the aggressive, trapping style that he wants to play. Boylen also has talked about wanting a roster filled with duplicity so that, if someone is injured, he doesn’t have to change his style of play.

But Daniel Gafford, while athletic and mobile, isn’t as advanced as Carter is defensively. He’s more raw, with sublime shotblocking skills, but is a player still learning pick-and-roll coverages.

Thad Young is a savvy defender adept at deflections and rotations. But when he starts, as he did against the Pelicans, that pushes Lauri Markkanen to center.

Thus, Carter’s extended absence could force Boylen to tweak his defensive system.

It also could thaw any ideas the Bulls might have of moving Young in advance of the Feb. 6 trade deadline. That is, if management is still focused on trying to right this spiraling season and not writing it off.

Young has played more since his camp conveyed to management that he didn’t sign a three-year deal as a free agent to play the roughly 18-22 minutes that he had been averaging. That led to speculation that the Bulls might listen to offers for the 13-year veteran. A league source said the Clippers are at least one team that has eyed Young, though they also have designs on larger plans.

Whatever happens, Carter’s injury is the latest blow in a season that began with such promise and has devolved into one of the league’s bigger underachieving stories.

Just last week, Carter had expressed hope to play all 82 games after having his rookie season cut short after 44 games due to thumb surgery. Even in the direct aftermath of the injury, Carter spoke in Dallas about wanting to return after missing only a couple games. He later changed that to no later than the end of this month.

That scenario is still in play. But the Bulls are going to endure some defensive pains until then.

“It’s probably the worst pain I’ve endured playing basketball,” Carter said that night. “While I was laying down on the ground, I’m like, ‘Man, this is the exact time I was hurt last year and it affected a lot of stuff for myself and my team at this point.’ That’s why I want to come back sooner rather than later, so I can help my team.”

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John Beilein reassigned to a different role within Cleveland Cavaliers organization


John Beilein reassigned to a different role within Cleveland Cavaliers organization

Coaching in the NBA is hard, even if you are one of the best college basketball coaches in the nation. It is something that basketball fans—especially those in Chicago—are reminded of time and time again, and John Beilein is the latest in the line of NCAA-to-NBA head coaches to make a failed transition. Shams Charania of The Athletic reported on Wednesday that the Cleveland Cavaliers and Beilein were parting ways after he resigned as head coach of the team. Charania later added that for the time being, Cleveland will be reassigning Beilein to an alternate role within the franchise. 

Beilein's NBA coaching career lasted 54 games, 216 games less than current Nebraska head coach Fred Hoiberg, who lasted 270 games with the Bulls after leaving the Iowa State program in 2015. Beilen's struggles were similar to Hoiberg in the fact that they both struggled to transfer their college coaching styles to the NBA, where they would be dealing with grown men rather than young college students. During Hoiberg's tenure with the Bulls, Jimmy Butler infamously called him out, stating that the Bulls needed to be "coached a lot harder at times," and that incident looks a lot like the dispute between Cavs center Tristan Thompson and Beilein, which boiled over during a game this season. 

There was also an incident this season in which Beilein mistakenly referred to his Cavaliers players as "thugs" in a film session, reportedly leading to the team intentionally playing songs with the word "thug" in it, further exacerbating an already difficult situation.

The big takeaway here is that there is a lot more than the X's and O's that goes into NBA coaching, and with player movement at an all-time high, college coaches are finding NBA roles more challenging than ever.

Beilein was one of the hottest coaching names in the business in 2019, coming off yet another successful season at the helm of the Michigan Wolverines, who were coming off of an Elite 8 appearance after making the National Title game the year before. Now Beilein is back out of NBA coaching, and the Bulls' rivals in Cleveland are now even more firmly entrenched in the rebuilding phase than they were before with relatively young (40 years old) J.B. Bickerstaff taking over. 

Beilein has three years and $12 million left on his Cavaliers contract, and sources have told ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski previously that the Cavaliers and Beilein have agreed on a deal to pay him a portion of his 2019-20 salary. It has not yet publicly been stated what Beilein's new title within the Cavaliers organization will be. 

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NBA Mock Draft 4.0: Top of the 2020 NBA Draft still a mystery


NBA Mock Draft 4.0: Top of the 2020 NBA Draft still a mystery

One thing we know for sure about the 2020 NBA Draft: no team executives will be losing sleep on the eve of the lottery hoping to land the first or second pick like a year ago when the top prizes where generational power forward Zion Williamson and point guard extraordinaire Ja Morant.

Matter of fact, teams might prefer not to land one of the top three picks so they can pay less guaranteed money to a player who may not have a huge impact,

As we get closer to the start of conference tournaments around the country, no player has really distinguished himself as the clear cut No. 1 choice. Georgia’s Anthony Edwards gets credit for being available to play all season, but his poor shooting percentages from the field and the 3-point line for a bad college team hardly scream top overall pick.

Injuries and eligibility questions have kept a few of the top prospects off the court, so NBA executives will put more emphasis than ever on the information they gather during the draft combine and individual workouts.

Here’s a snapshot at where things stand in late February with our fourth mock draft.