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Why Bulls-Pistons 1991 playoff walkoff remains iconic in Chicago sports history

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USA Today

Why Bulls-Pistons 1991 playoff walkoff remains iconic in Chicago sports history

“Straight up bitches. That’s what they walked off like.”

Talk about a putback slam.

Horace Grant delivered one of the most powerful quotes of “The Last Dance” documentary.

The former Bulls power forward dunked all over the “Bad Boy” Detroit Pistons for walking off the floor in the waning moments of Game 4 of the 1991 Eastern Conference Finals.

Wednesday marks one of the most iconic anniversaries in Chicago sports history. On May 27, 1991, the Bulls beat the Pistons 115-94 en route to an emphatic series sweep. Just over two weeks later, they were NBA champions.

Up until “The Last Dance,” the most memorable takeaway from that Game 4 victory wasn’t necessarily a key play or a postgame quote. It was a number: 7.9.

That’s the amount of seconds that were left on the clock when Isiah Thomas, Bill Laimbeer and company ducked past the Bulls bench—without so much as a handshake— and eventually out of sight at the Palace in Auburn Hills.

It is one of the most iconic images in the Chicago sports canon. One could argue it belongs on a Bulls “Mount Rushmore” of images with, perhaps, Michael Jordan’s free throw line dunk in the 1988 Slam Dunk Content Or MJ weeping while holding the Larry O’Brien trophy after the ’91 Finals win over the Lakers. Or his final shot against the Jazz in 1998.

[MORE: Recounting the most memorable quotes from "The Last Dance"]

What transpired in suburban Detroit on that Memorial Day was more than just a victory or even a series sweep. It was a passing of the torch. Or, maybe, the Pistons’ torch was simply doused a’la the Wicked Witch of the West. Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Phil Jackson and company caused the “Bad Boys” to melt under the lights of a national TV broadcast and ensuing media scrutiny. 

Many Chicago fans remember the brutal, sometimes bloody Bulls-Pistons games in the handful of years up until that Monday in Motown. The Bulls lost three consecutive playoff series against the Pistons, two of which came in the conference finals. The victory was not just a flag-planting in the ground. It was a relief.

And with that win, the Bulls took more of the Chicago sports spotlight. The Ditka-era Bears were fading. The Cubs were mediocre at best. The White Sox were on the rise but were still a few years away. The Blackhawks finished first in the Norris Division that year but were bounced quickly in the playoffs. The Bulls were THE story in town.

Imagine if the Pistons had won that ’91 playoff series. That would have made four consecutive playoff headaches courtesy of the Pistons. Do the Bulls rise up again? Do the Bulls even end up getting to the 1992 NBA Finals?

Be thankful for that day in Detroit.

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Bulls offseason watch: Key dates for 2020 NBA Draft, Free Agency

Bulls offseason watch: Key dates for 2020 NBA Draft, Free Agency

Tuesday begins the staggered, three-day voyage of 21 NBA teams to Walt Disney World Resort near Orlando, Fla. for the 2019-20 season restart (the Raptors have already arrived).

For the Bulls, and Bulls fans, that’s not of direct consequence. Excluded from the bubble, supporters and observers will be limited to loose Bulls ties — enter: Joakim Noah and Jimmy Butler — and draft lottery dreaming as the NBA’s best battle for the 2019-20 crown in Orlando.

But that doesn’t mean the next five months, which will comprise an unprecedented offseason in the league’s history, don’t hold significance for the Bulls. A likely third consecutive top-10 draft choice is on the way for the team, as are key contractual deadlines for players currently on the roster and a decision on the future of head coach Jim Boylen.

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There remains much unknown about the 2020 NBA offseason — chiefly, from the Bulls’ perspective, the salary cap, luxury tax line and status of the predraft process, the last of which has been halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Also now in play is the matter of a possible eight-team bubble being constructed in Chicago for the squads not joining the league in Orlando, though there are hurdles galore on that front.

What we do have is a framework of a reported schedule to track through the remainder of the summer and ensuing autumn. Here are some key dates for Bulls fans to watch for the time being (all of which are, of course, subject to change given the potentially fluid nature of the league’s calendar amid the pandemic):

NBA Draft

Aug. 17: Early entry deadline for prospects

The last day for underclassmen not automatically eligible to declare for the NBA draft to state their intentions. Moved back from its original date of April 26, as reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Scott Phillips has you covered tracking who’s already declared or testing the waters.

Aug. 25: Draft Lottery

Typically, the early entry deadline and draft lottery would be nearly two months apart, with the combine sandwiched in between. But with the pandemic moving predraft interviews to Zoom, and live, remote workouts currently prohibited, it appears the league will squeeze both into an eight-day span, also per Wojnarowski.

The Bulls have selected No. 7 three years in a row, using those picks to draft core pieces in Lauri Markkanen, Wendell Carter Jr. and Coby White. And even as the world erupts into chaos around them, they slot seventh in the lottery ranks once again this season. 

But with the NBA smoothing its lottery odds before the 2019 draft, the Bulls will have a modicum higher of a chance of leaping. They enter the lottery with a 7.5% chance of nabbing the No. 1 pick, 32% shot at vaulting into the top four and 19.7% odds of staying locked at No. 7. They also own mathematical chances at No. 8 (34.1%), No. 9 (12.9%), No. 10 (1.3%) and even 11 (0.03%).

Last nugget of note: This year’s lottery intentionally falls 11 days after the conclusion of the NBA’s eight-game seeding round in Orlando; while the eight teams left out of the bubble are locked into their current slots, the final six teams in the 14-team lottery will be populated by those who fall short of the playoffs. Right now, those six are the New Orleans Pelicans, Portland Trail Blazers, Sacramento Kings, San Antonio Spurs, Phoenix Suns and Washington Wizards. If any of them vault into the postseason during the seeding games and play-in round, they’ll flip places with the team they usurp outside of the lottery. Both the lottery order, and the order of selections 15 - 30 will be determined by team record from when the league suspended play on March 11. 

Oct. 6: Early withdrawal deadline for prospects

Any not automatically eligible prospects that declared for the draft on or before Aug. 17 will have the opportunity to rescind that declaration (and maintain NCAA eligibility) on or before Oct. 6, per Wojnarowski.

Oct. 16: 2020 NBA Draft

The draft this year will fall three days after a potential Game 7 of the NBA Finals (Oct. 13), according to Wojnarowski. Broadcast, location and logistical specifics appear to be undetermined as of yet.

RELATED: 2020 NBA Mock Draft 6.0

Option/Offer Deadlines and Extension Eligibilities

From there, a few key decision days for players already on the Bulls’ roster loom. First and certainly not least...

Oct. 17: Otto Porter Jr.’s player option deadline

As reported by ESPN’s Bobby Marks, Otto Porter Jr. will have until Oct. 17 to decide whether or not to exercise his roughly $28.5 million player option for the 2020-21 season. His opting in appears all but a certainty (especially coming off an injury-riddled season in which he appeared in just 14 games, and amid a potentially tumultuous cap environment), and will essentially seal the Bulls’ fate as an over-the-cap team this offseason. 

Heaping that $28.5 million figure onto the Bulls’ books would bring the team’s guaranteed salaries for the 2020-21 season to $106,027,707 (numbers via Spotrac) before addressing restricted free agents or contracts for any draftees. The latest reputable pre-pandemic cap projection, from Wojnarowski, was $115 million, which could now be subject to change.

Oct. 17: Qualifying offer deadline

Also on Oct. 17 is the last day for teams to extend qualifying offers to restricted free agents, per Marks. The Bulls have three: Kris Dunn, Denzel Valentine and Shaq Harrison. Full breakdown on the considerations at play for each here.

Oct. 18: Lauri Markkanen, Zach LaVine, Porter and Cristiano Felicio become extension eligible

The next day, per Marks, three Bulls starters become extension eligible — Markkanen on a rookie-scale basis, while LaVine and Porter are of the veteran designation.

Markkanen’s case is among the more curious in the league. His third season saw marked regression from his second in usage, opportunity and production, but given his skillset and considerable potential, he still represents a possible building block for the Bulls moving forward. A year ago — assuming expected development — we might have thought we’d be pondering a max for Markkanen at this point. Now, with a new front office regime in place, his market value is anyone’s guess. Maybe Arturas Karnisovas and Markkanen’s representation find an amenable compromise before the start of the 2020-21 season. But perhaps just as likely is Karnisovas wanting to see more from him, and Markkanen taking the opportunity to bet on himself making a leap in a contract year and earning some extra dough, as Jimmy Butler did five years ago.

RELATED: Bulls mailbag: Which free agents fit? Lauri Markkanen extension talks?

LaVine has two years and $39 million remaining on a contract he has become one of the more team-friendly in the league given his production since returning full-time from his ACL tear. Porter and Felicio’s deals enter their final years in 2020-21. Frankly, it’d be surprising to see any of them consummate extensions before Karnisovas and new general manager Marc Eversley get a chance to see the Bulls up close and in action.

Free Agency

Oct. 18: Free Agency opens

According to Wojnarowski, free agency is expected open Oct. 18 at 6 p.m. ET, with the moratorium period running from Oct. 19 - 23, and lifting on Oct. 24.

As mentioned, the Bulls will likely be out of the running for any appreciable cap space when that window opens. But they will have their (as of now) non-taxpayer mid-level exception to work with — possible targets for which you can peruse in K.C. Johnson’s latest mailbag.

And for what it’s worth, that luxury tax line could be worth monitoring. In a tweet Monday, Marks mentioned a previous projection of $139 million for next season’s luxury tax. That projection would have to plunge pretty far for the Bulls to need sweating it out, but in the current climate, who knows what could be on the table? If the Bulls somehow found themselves over that line, the difference in last seasons non-taxpayer and taxpayer MLE was about $3.5 million (~$9.2 million to $5.7 million).

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7 WNBA players test positive for coronavirus, Indiana Fever's travel delayed

7 WNBA players test positive for coronavirus, Indiana Fever's travel delayed

The WNBA announced Monday that seven of 137 (5.1%) tested players were positive for COVID-19, and that 11 of the league's 12 teams will report to IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. for its season start-up by the end of the day.

The one exception in that travel schedule is the Indiana Fever. After sustaining two positive tests in their organization, the Fever's travel will be delayed at least five days "in an abundance of caution due to the CDC’s close contact self-quarantine requirements," according to a statement from the league.

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"Any player who tested positive will remain in self-isolation until she satisfies public health protocols for discontinuing isolation and has been cleared by a physician," the statement said.

That 5.1% positive rate checks in under the NHL (5.8%) and NBA's (7.1%) most recent rounds of testing, and above MLB's (1.2%).

The WNBA's season is expected to tip off at some point in late July in a bubble environment at IMG Academy.

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