Bulls

2016-17 NBA Preseason Primer: Offseason winners

2016-17 NBA Preseason Primer: Offseason winners

Leading up to Bulls' preseason opener and beyond, Bulls Insider Vincent Goodwill and Mark Strotman will preview the upcoming NBA season with daily features on everything related to the Association. Today the pair analyze which team had the most impressive offseasons.

Mark Strotman: So we're not beginning our nine-day NBA primer with the most difficult discussion, but we'll delve deeper than the top of the class to go over the league's offseason winners. Still, it's not difficult to peg the Golden State Warriors at the top of the class. All Steve Kerr's group did a year ago was rewrite the NBA history books with an offensive onslaught, win 73 games in the regular season and tout the sport's first unanimous MVP. They had a near-perfect season before LeBron James became Optimus Prime and kept them from back-to-back titles.

So what did they do in July? They went and signed this generation's greatest scorer, Kevin Durant, to a max deal (not to mention they replaced Harrison Barnes with him). It's not as simple as plugging Durant and his numbers from a year ago into the Warriors' system, as there will clearly be some sacrificing in the form of touches and shot attempts (looking at you, Klay Thompson). But Kerr and his coaching staff will figure it all out and turn an already all-time great offense into an unimaginable force.

Past Durant, they swapped out Andrew Bogut with Zaza Pachulia. It's an upgrade in talent but I'm not sure it's an upgrade in fit. The Warriors needed to deal Bogut to make room for the Durant signing, and taking a hit at center was well worth it. Adding David West will help a second unit that lost Mo Buckets, and it adds another veteran presence who's chasing a ring a year after signing with the Spurs. I also loved their draft selection of UNLV shooting guard Patrick McCaw, a potential 3-and-D guy down the road who will get ample time to learn behind one of the league's best two-way players in Thompson.

OK, Vinnie. I took the softball toss and chose the Warriors as the offseason winner. Take the brunt on this one and give me a team whose offseason will propel them to a significant difference in 2016-17.

Vinnie Goodwill: Yes, you definitely took the easy road and I won’t disagree with you on the Warriors being most improved. Anytime you have the last three regular-season MVP’s on your roster, you win the offseason. Do they have questions, serious questions? Yes. No more Andrew Bogut is big. See the freeway down the lane in Games 6 and 7 of the NBA Finals without him there, and he won’t easily be replaced.

But since the Warriors were taken, I’ll take an under the radar team that should challenge for a playoff spot this season, the Orlando Magic. For the last three years they’ve been slowly building with pieces and draft picks in the wake of Dwight Howard’s departure and they’ve cashed a few in for some veterans to grow up and speed up the rebuild.

Serge Ibaka seemed like the odd man out in Oklahoma City and although his play has plateaued, he doesn’t seem like the type that will suffer a precipitous fall in the near future. Adding Bismack Biyombo means they’ll have a long, shot-blocking group on the backside of the defense that can cover baseline to baseline. Trading Victor Oladipo, as painful as it probably was, frees things up for Evan Fournier and Mario Hezonja on the perimeter. Expecting Aaron Gordon to take another step in his development, while sliding to small forward, can be a slight concern but he’s got star potential.

More than anything, though, they got rid of the toxic presence known as Scott Skiles and replaced him with a real coach who has a history of developing young talent while not simultaneously spontaneously combusting in Frank Vogel, who was let go in Indiana. Vogel earned the trust of his young guys as they went through being have-nots to contenders until Paul George’s devastating injury before the 2014-15 season.

They have a good combination of youth, scoring and although it could take 30 games to mesh, I’m pretty confident the Magic will be a force in the East this season.

MS: I'm also interested to see what Vogel can do with Elfrid Payton. Skiles never seemed to fully give him the keys to the offense, and his minutes per game last season somehow went down from his rookie campaign. I see a bright future for Payton, and Vogel should help move that along.

I began the discussion with the Warriors, so naturally I'm going to shift gears and throw out the Sixers as another team that made significant strides. Wait, what? Seriously. The Process finally yielded a first overall pick, and they wisely used it on a player in Ben Simmons who I believe can be transcendent for the franchise. He's that talented. Forget concerns about his lack of a killer instinct or jumper. I'm not worried about his attitude. There's not another player like him in the league with a combination of interior moves, transition ability and passing acumen. I'm giddy to watch him.

But Philadelphia didn't stop with Simmons. Grabbing Timothe Luwawu (24th overall) and Furkan Korkmaz (26th) are both wings with plenty of upside; Luwawu showed flashes in Summer League. They'll also finally get to see what their 2014 draft class can do when a (fingers crossed) healthy Joel Embiid takes the floor for the first time. And Dario Saric, who went No. 10 that year, is finally coming over. In 24 Euroleague games last season he went 50/40/90 and was his team's second-leading scorer.

With so many youngsters in the fold it was great to see them (relatively) active in free agency by signing Jerryd Bayless and Gerald Henderson. They also added Elton Brand, who should act more as a mentor for their trio of talented bigs in Embiid, Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel -- while we're on that topic, they'll have to deal one of them at some point. Robert Covington is also one of the more underrated players in the East.

Brett Brown is the right man for the job, and while they're still a few years away from thinking playoffs you can finally see the pieces starting to come together. They've got their face of the franchise in Simmons, and if Embiid can get past his severe injury troubles the Sixers might also have a dominant big down the road.

The bar was set pretty low for the Sixers to improve on what they've done the last four years, but this was a massive offseason. If only Sam Hinkie were still around to see it through...

VG: Did you just say Philly? I might've forgotten the 76ers as the biggest offseason winners of all! Do we know if Ben Simmons will be the next LeBron James, or even the next Lamar Odom? No. Do we know if Joel Embiid will stay healthy enough to show what made him the object of affection before the draft a couple years ago? No.

But what we do know is the ill-fated "Process", no matter how it's framed by defenders (not pointing any fingers in your direction, Mr. Deerfield), was an abject embarrassment to the league and one of its flagship franchises. Getting rid of Sam Hinkie makes the 76ers a winner in every way that counts, before they even win a game. We won't see if his residue will trickle down to other teams that want to try a hand at this "tanking for years" strategy but the pain the 76ers have felt won't automatically turn around.

But they do have a plan, and it's something that revolves around being a respectable franchise compared to rigging the system in a way that felt Ponzi-esque. Just having mere competence is a step up, and some of the actual pieces can play so they'll start moving in the right direction.

Another offseason winner? The Minnesota Timberwolves. No, they didn't pull off a trade for Jimmy Butler (and good for the Bulls on resisting the less-than offers), but in getting Tom Thibodeau to coach and mold those young pieces could be considered a coup. And it's more about the maturity of the pieces than Thibs himself, as Karl-Anthony Towns is a top-25 player in his second season, Andrew Wiggins is getting closer to realizing his vast potential and Kris Dunn has Rookie of the Year written all over him.

Nobody's saying they'll make the postseason this time around, and the way things were done with Thibs at the helm of basketball operations doesn't leave the best of tastes, as it'll be an adjustment for a coach who craved having total control, actually getting total control.

The best part? The pieces are so young, there's no danger of the "Thibs miles" effect on Towns and Wiggins. What are "Thibs miles"? Think of city miles on your car, running over and hitting every pothole, every morning on the way to work and back home. Thibs miles don't affect young guys, right Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose?

Wait, can we start this over?

Draft night highlighted the unfulfilling feeling of this past Bulls season

Draft night highlighted the unfulfilling feeling of this past Bulls season

The door has officially been closed on the 2017-18 season for the Chicago Bulls, and the word that most comes to mind is “unfulfilling.”

Or maybe even “indistinguishable.”

Draft night was supposed to be a culmination of a painful seven-month stretch that only had occasional yet costly moments of light.

Death lineup? Meet Death March. And Death April, while we’re at it.

The Bulls brass sold everyone on a full rebuild after trading Jimmy Butler one year ago, with an unspoken promise that this draft would bear franchise-changing fruit—hence the general feeling of angst or even indifference with the solid selection of Wendell Carter Jr. and their not-so-secret affection of Chandler Hutchison.

It was why fans believe the Bulls got cold feet about trading to move up, and why they believe the Bulls weren’t being pragmatic in staying away from Michael Porter Jr.

Porter, some believe, has star written all over him given his prep ranking this time last year and the Bulls were in position to speed up this process without having to go into a painful Process.

They were desperate for a star, believing the tankathon had produced so much suffering it had to be something on the back end.

There was the fight (or the punch).

The aftermath.

The miserable 3-20 start.

The 14-7 streak that produced the audacity of hope.

The reality that 14-7 was damaging enough to the lottery chances that a 3-11 finish couldn’t rectify.

And finally, the coin flip that cost them five spots in the lottery one month ago.

So that empty feeling has less to do with Carter and Hutchison, who’ve done nothing to earn the “blah” reaction from the fan base and some media. It has everything to do with the unanswered questions over the last 82 games and lack of clarity over the three hauls from draft night last year.

It’s not that Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn underperformed individually last season, but the lack of cohesiveness due to injuries and circumstances has led to the varying thoughts.

LaVine is approaching restricted free agency and by all accounts is taking his continuing rehab in Washington very seriously.  Markkanen has added plenty of muscle since the offseason began, appearing as if he can play Michael B. Jordan’s in-ring foil in the next installation of “Creed” as Ivan Drago’s long lost son.

And despite the report about Dunn not working as hard on the floor this offseason, that would be more of a concern if this were late August, not June.

The last time they were seen together on the floor, they looked no closer to a pecking order than the day they arrived.

What we know is that they’re productive NBA players, capable of putting an individual tattoo on a game at a moment’s notice, skillful enough to take your breath away.

And for whatever reason, the expectations changed once the three displayed they could be dynamic on their own—a star needed to be anointed and groomed to go with the star they believed was coming their way after the season.

Management is fully behind Markkanen, but Paxson’s strong words about LaVine at the season-ending news conference illustrated how much it feels LaVine has to prove next season.

With his restricted free agency status looming, the Bulls’ initial offer will show how much they value him until and if he gets a better deal on the market.

And the fact the Bulls weren’t afraid to draft Trae Young while having a healthy debate about Collin Sexton on draft night has to show they have at least some skepticism about the future at point guard.

But stars—developing stars, acquired stars, drafted stars—have to do it on their own. No amount of promotion or prodding from management will validate their faith, if that’s the route the Bulls choose to go.

This has to be a meritocracy or it won’t work and, honestly, it’s time for a reality check.

All the worry about the Bulls getting back to title contention sooner rather than later seems like folks getting ahead of themselves.

The front office has taken its share of shots from media and fans, so some questioning is earned but they’re right about one thing. Rebuilds aren’t completed in a day or 12 months.

Expecting some magic potion to arrive in the form of a top draft pick isn’t going to cure what ills this roster, and it doesn’t seem likely all the cap space will result in a free agent choosing the Bulls over the usual suspects.

However, methodical building can look like complacency if not done with a sense of urgency.

And with urgency in mind, this past season was unsatisfying to say the least—heading into the next phase with two more young pieces to develop while the first three are still in the evaluation stage.

Loyola's March Madness hero Donte Ingram will play with Bulls' Summer League team

Loyola's March Madness hero Donte Ingram will play with Bulls' Summer League team

Donte Ingram's 2018 keeps getting better and better.

The March Madness hero, who buried a game-winning 3-pointer in the first round of Loyola's win over Miami, will play on the Bulls' Summer League team.

Ingram, a Simeon Academy graduate, had himself an incredible senior season with the Ramblers, who advanced all the way to the Final Four as a No. 11 seed.

In five NCAA Tournament games Ingram averaged 7.0 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.6 assists for the Ramblers. He also had 18 points in the MVC Conference Championship Game to secure the Ramblers' March Madness berth.

He'll join first-round draft picks Wendell Carter Jr. and Chandler Hutchison on the Las Vegas Summer League team, which will begin play early next month.