Bulls

The 4 biggest takeaways from the Bulls' season-ending press conference

The 4 biggest takeaways from the Bulls' season-ending press conference

The four biggest takeaways from the Bulls’ season-ending news conference where Executive Vice President John Paxson and General Manager Gar Forman addressed the media:

Run it back

The inconsistency with the playing rotation and the young players on the roster hasn’t dissuaded the Bulls’ brain trust from the path they began last season — sort of. The “10 players with three years or fewer experience” we’ve heard repeatedly from General Manager Gar Forman wasn’t spoken but it was in the air. They’re still very high on Cameron Payne, the centerpiece of the midseason trade that sent Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott to Oklahoma City. And with Bobby Portis, Nikola Mirotic, Denzel Valentine and more on the roster, they’re not ready to cut bait on inexpensive talent in the near future.

“We know change is a part of this, but we don’t want to change without knowing exactly what we have,” Paxson said. “And I don’t feel that we’ve given our young kids a chance to see. Again, we know we’re on the line for that. Players develop, don’t develop. We scout them. We drafted them. We traded for them. That’s part of the job. But we have to give them an opportunity.”

Some would say they’ve seen enough for the Bulls to decide who can play and who won’t, but it’s clear they don’t feel like the young players have been given enough of an opportunity to show how they fit going into the future. Internal improvement seems to be the biggest factor for the summer as opposed to wholesale roster turnover.

“They've each committed to being in here all summer and putting in the work,” Forman said. “Being with our strength and conditioning coaches, being with our coaches on skill development and those are decisions we have to make.

“We certainly feel we have a young core of players that have a chance to get better and we're gonna need to add to it. Are we good enough, are we where we want to be? Obviously not. We're 41-41, a 500 team.”

With Nikola Mirotic, they sound like a front office ready to commit to a restricted free agent who’s only showed small glimpses but nothing sustainable. Before his usual March bloom, the Bulls couldn’t get as much as a future second-round pick for Mirotic on the trade market.

Perhaps that’s why they feel it would be best to hold onto him in the meantime, giving him yet another chance to prove himself. Dwyane Wade has a player option for $23.8 million, and the Bulls sounded like they’re expecting him to take it going into next season, where he’ll turn 36 in the middle of the 2017-18 campaign.

They’d probably be better served bringing in another veteran to lessen the dependency on Wade, but that doesn’t seem to be a main focus with the cap space they hope to maintain for the future.

Non-committal about Jimmy Butler, again 

Butler completed another season where he made massive improvements statistically and with his skill set, becoming more of a playmaker with the ball in his hands.

He’s entering the third year of a five-year, $92 million deal and he’ll soon be eligible for a much larger payday if the Bulls would want to commit to him after his contract expires following the 2019-20 season, but the trade rumors have dogged Butler and the Bulls since the middle of last season.

Given the chance to firmly commit to Butler as a franchise player they’ll build around, Paxson and Forman again hedged their bets, as a loaded draft is around the corner and they know Butler will be sought after by more than a few teams.

“Jimmy is far and away our best player. He’s an all-NBA type guy,” Paxson said. “We talked about last year, look our job, you always have to keep things open.”

The Bulls resisted trade offers for Butler at the trade deadline last season and then last June on draft night, the day after they traded Derrick Rose to the Knicks. The longer it goes on with Butler, especially if the Bulls are focusing less on bringing in proven talent and more on the current course, one wonders if this is a frustrating situation waiting to blow as Butler doesn’t want to waste his prime years on a team that isn’t anywhere near ready to truly compete in the Eastern Conference — a conference that aside from LeBron James, doesn’t have many teams that would scare a player like Butler if he had sufficient talent around him.

“We’re going to sit down with Jimmy again. It’s going to happen,” Paxson said. “We’re going to talk to him and we’re going to define to him, with him our thoughts, those types of things. That’s not for today. But we respect Jimmy, we respect his opinion and we will sit down and talk with him.”

Same with Fred Hoiberg, kinda

The boos and chants of “Fire Hoiberg” from a disapproving United Center fan base was the last image in anyone’s head of the Bulls’ second-year coach as they were unceremoniously wiped out of the first round against the Boston Celtics.

Paxson and Forman have said Hoiberg has improved but still left the impression they’re expecting more from him as time goes on. He’s entering the third year of a five-year contract where he’s making $5 million annually, but there’s still questions about his command of the locker room and his ability to make the best of whatever roster he’s given.

“I think Fred’s challenge this offseason is to find ways to be a better leader,” Paxson said. “I think he showed progress in that area. The team did rally around him at times. But again, that’s part of the process, too. We made the commitment to him. We support him.”

Wade said he felt Hoiberg showed improvement through the year, but one wonders if that was Wade throwing Hoiberg a life preserver after a finish to a season where he clearly wasn’t the only problem or question mark headed into the offseason.

“Dwyane said some positive things about Fred, that he saw growth in Fred. I mentioned to you last year that I view young coaches in this league as like young players,” Paxson said. “They have to develop and grow, too. I’m not gonna get into the specifics about things we’ve seen. We have a lot of discussions throughout the year about issues we have, things with him, but that’s for us internally to have and to talk about.”

Endorsement of Rondo

If it was one thing that was crystal clear about the front office, it was their wholesale support of Rajon Rondo and the likelihood he’ll be back next season for the second year of a team option, as Paxson said “there’s a good chance or a really good chance that we bring Rajon back”, citing his influence in the locker room as a main factor.

In fact, it seems almost as if they were a bigger fan of Rondo as a voice and guiding force than Hoiberg.

The biggest event of the season was clearly following a January loss to the Hawks, where Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler called out the young players, followed by Rondo unleashing on Instagram the next afternoon in defense of the young players, criticizing the leadership of Wade and Butler.

“To be candid with you, when we had that incident where Dwyane and Jimmy spoke up in January, when he stood up for our young guys, that empowered them a little bit,” Paxson said. “It might be small but there was some growth with our young guys. Because they felt they had a voice as a young player and for us that was important.”

Considering the Bulls nearly exiled Rondo in January to him becoming the most important player as the Bulls looked ready to upset the Celtics in the first round just two weeks ago, it’s a turn of events not many saw coming.

“To a man, our young people loved Rajon. He was great in the locker room,” Paxson said. “He was great off the court with these guys. He took them under his wing in a lot of ways, and he was responsible for a lot of the good things that came from them. We have a lot of respect for Rajon, especially how he believes in the game. He used to drag guys into the weight room, and he held them accountable in a lot of ways.”

How former Bull C.J. Watson is working to inspire children through books

How former Bull C.J. Watson is working to inspire children through books

C.J. Watson carved out a 10-year NBA career with not just talent but also an ability to overcome odds and tune out doubters.

So whenever the former Bulls guard encountered skepticism for his latest dream, he’d answer every "Why” with a "Why not?”

That dream? To create children's books. Watson, 36, has now published two titles: "CJ’s Big Dream" and "CJ’s Big Project." The first came out last November, the second in March.

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“It was just a random idea I had to challenge myself and try to push myself,” Watson said in a phone conversation. “I want to try to continue to be an inspiration. Playing in the NBA is an inspiration to kids. But I wanted to continue to offer kids knowledge and tell my story through books.

“Kids are the next generation of leaders. They’re the next entrepreneurs, doctors, lawyers. Some kid will grow up to be President. I just wanted to try to share some gems and drops of knowledge. I want to try to propel little boys and girls and let them know it’s OK to shoot for their dreams and to dream big.”

The books were written by author Tamika Newhouse and illustrated by Cameron Wilson based on stories shared by Watson. Watson spent hours on the phone over a six-month period with Newhouse, sharing his stories and his vision for the project, which is scheduled to include at least one more title.

They are based on Watson’s upbringing in Las Vegas, where he first experienced doubts for his NBA dream.

“These are true stories,” Watson said. “I made it to the NBA after growing up in the inner city and not having the same resources or same chances as some. Growing up, seeing graffiti, abandoned houses, drugs, gangs, it can be discouraging. But I had a great support system that kept me focused on my goal.”

The second book focuses on the time Watson received an F on a science project in school. But the teacher offered him a chance to re-do it, which taught him a valuable lesson.

“The second book talks about working hard and the importance of getting good grades to be able to play sports,” he said. “That was the important thing in my household. If we didn’t have good grades, my brother and I couldn’t play sports.”

Watson is the father of two children with one on the way. His parents, Cathy and Charles, stressed education and reading as they raised him and his brother. He majored in psychology at Tennessee, which is in his parents’ hometown of Nashville, Tenn.

“My parents came from an area more poverty-stricken than I did,” Watson said. “You always want better for your kid, right? We might not have lived in the best area, but they always put my brother and me in the best schools to give us the best chance to succeed.

“They also were big on me and my brother doing community service. We’d go feed the homeless. We’d go visit nursing homes to care for the elderly. When I was younger, I always said if I made it that I wanted to give back.”

Watson and his family established his Quiet Storm Foundation in 2009. That foundation established an active presence in Chicago during his two seasons with the Bulls.

Watson is eight years removed from that stint, where he played an important role for a reserve unit so potent that it achieved its own nickname. “The Bench Mob” proved a significant reason the Bulls led the NBA in regular-season victories in consecutive seasons in 2010-11 and 2011-12.

“It was definitely fun. It goes by fast. Chicago was probably some of the best years I had in the NBA,” Watson said. “We could’ve achieved more. We weren’t picked to do much that first year and surprised everybody. Then that second year, D-Rose got hurt.

“I felt like they should’ve kept the team together maybe a couple more years to try to see what could’ve happened. But it’s a business at the end of the day.”

Watson isn’t surprised Rose, who he backed up, is thriving again after a series of knee injuries, surgeries and rehabilitations.

“Definitely a great teammate, probably one of my favorites,” Watson said. “Injuries take a toll on you. He was held up to the MVP standard and some people judged him unfairly. But he has worked so hard. I’m definitely rooting for him and I’m always watching.”

Watson played for Charles Oakley’s team in the Big3 last summer, a 3-on-3 pro league that was canceled this summer because of COVID-19. He isn’t sure if he’ll play again if the league resumes next summer.

“It was fun. But it’s a different league. It’s pretty brutal. They don’t call any fouls. It’s kind of an old man’s game,” Watson said. “My body may have had enough.”

No matter his decision, Watson’s mind remains sharp.

“These books definitely are not a money maker. It’s a passion project,” Watson said. “Unless you’re a big-time children’s author, you probably won’t make a living at this. But I just did it to inspire kids and challenge myself. It’s kind of like the NBA. I never thought I’d make the NBA.  But lo and behold, I worked hard enough and got there.”

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Windy City Bulls standout PJ Dozier secures multi-year deal with Nuggets

Windy City Bulls standout PJ Dozier secures multi-year deal with Nuggets

Since going unselected in the 2017 NBA Draft, PJ Dozier has had his fair share of stops, from brief stints signed to the Los Angeles Lakers and Dallas Mavericks, to successive one-year pacts with the Oklahoma City Thunder (2017-18) and Boston Celtics (2018-19). He spent most of the latter two tenures in the G League.

Dozier began the 2019-20 season signed to the Denver Nuggets on a two-way deal, but assigned to the Windy City Bulls, the Bulls' G League affiliate, along with 2019 second-round draftee of the Nuggets Bol Bol. 

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On Tuesday, the Nuggets officially announced they are converting Dozier's two-way deal into a multi-year contract with the team.

It's great news for Dozier, who enjoyed a dominating campaign for Windy City. In 18 games with the team, he averaged 21.4 points, 7.7 rebounds, 7.7 assists and 1.7 steals on 43.8-32.6-74.1 shooting splits. A 6-foot-6 playmaking wing, Dozier flashed plus ball-handling, scoring and facilitating ability at a position of supreme value in the modern game.

He parlayed all of the above into a midseason All-NBA G League selection, but was recently left off the end-of-season all-league teams, presumably due to a limited sample size. He was called up to the Nuggets in mid-January and made an immediate impact, scoring 12 points on 5-for-7 shooting (2-for-4 from 3) in his debut, a win over the Charlotte Hornets. He reset his NBA career high one week later with a 15-point outing against the Houston Rockets.

In the run-up to the NBA pausing its season, Dozier appeared in 21 of 26 games for the Nuggets, averaging 4.1 points, 1.4 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game. He'd appeared in just eight career NBA games before that stretch. 

How much of an imprint will he make on the Nuggets' rotation when the NBA season restarts? It's too soon to say. But it seems the longtime G League standout's breakthrough at the next level could be coming.

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