Bulls

Bulls fall out of playoffs in embarrassing loss to Heat

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Bulls fall out of playoffs in embarrassing loss to Heat

MIAMI, FL—Uncontested dunks.

Easy Sunday strolls to the basket.

Little resistance on the smallest of offensive plays.

That described the Bulls’ defense against the surging Miami Heat, as they let the arguably the conference’s best contender to LeBron James’ decade-long dominance put on a show for a 129-111 win at American Airlines Arena Tuesday night.

At 9:29 p.m. Eastern time, after the Bulls’ ninth turnover led to a corner triple from Miami’s No. 9, Luol Deng, the Heat went up 103-84, with nine minutes remaining—the final nine minutes they spent officially in the playoff standings to date.

“A lot of that was them making shots but it had to do with our lack of toughness, our lack to make them feeling us out there,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “We had one turn that cut that thing back to six after getting down 19. We have to find a way to get some grit, toughness, determination, nastiness.”

Those words sound more like lip service than any attribute this team is capable of, because giving up over 90 points in the first 30 minutes produced a deserving result, leaving the Bulls in the ninth seed, with 23 games left and not much optimism for answers to come in enough time to fulfill preseason promise.

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“We’ve been talking about this for the last couple weeks, knowing we’d be in this position if we continued to lose,” Derrick Rose said. “I’m just wondering when we’re gonna say it’s enough.”

Clearly it wasn’t Tuesday, they put forth arguably their worst defensive showing in a season full of forgettable nights. The Heat had one glaring weakness—three-point shooting—and the Bulls didn’t even force anything there.

The Heat shot 68 percent and despite playing only eight guys, had four players with 18 points or more, starting with Hassan Whiteside, who dominated off the bench with 26 points, 14 rebounds and four blocks.

Johnson scored 24, Dwyane Wade 18 with seven assists and former Bull Luol Deng put up 20 as a stretch four against his former team.

“It’s the thing, we talked about it. We seem to play harder defensively in practices,” Hoiberg said.

Pau Gasol seemed to downplay any carryover, being as blunt as ever.

“We had a good practice before we came here,” he said. “Segmented drills, where we can play with a lot of intensity. (But) we didn’t execute the gameplan, we knew this team is a high scoring team in the paint, and they pretty much picked us apart.”

Seventy-four points in the paint seemed to be a talking point of frustration in the locker room, although the Bulls didn’t seem concerned enough on the floor to deliver a hard foul, or any foul for that matter.

“Got to start hitting bodies and being a little bit more physical,” Gasol said. “A team shooting 68 percent from the field, that’s pretty outrageous.”

The Bulls’ reserves tried gamely for a stretch, bringing the Heat lead to just 108-102 with 5:14 left after a solid run brought a scare into the American Airlines Arena crowd. But upon checking back in, Rose was put in an impossible position—guarding Joe Johnson, who dazzled in his Heat home debut.

Johnson’s fadeaway from the baseline settled things for the Heat, along with signaling a couple uncomfortable truths for the Bulls.

Rose, in normal circumstances wouldn’t be guarding Johnson, just like the poor souls tagged with containing massive big man Hassan Whiteside had very little chance at being effective, as he took the majority of minutes over starter Amar'e Stoudemire.

[MORE: Derrick Rose describes his recovery process]

Jimmy Butler would be doing that, and Taj Gibson or Joakim Noah would have to keep Whiteside off the glass. But Gibson joined Butler and Noah on the list of the wounded with a right hamstring injury he suffered in the second half, leaving rookie Bobby Portis as the only able-bodied athlete with any semblance of a shot against Whiteside.

“No excuses,” Rose said. “We’re still out there trying to play. Gotta figure it out pretty soon.”

“When a team scores 129 points on you, you can’t expect to win playing like that.”

And as for Johnson’s mere presence, it represents a Heat organization sparing no effort or expense in the effort to stay relevant for a shot in the finals, even with Chris Bosh’s injury still a question mark for the long term.

The Bulls simply didn’t have their best defensive personnel to combat the Heat, but this showing should be considered unacceptable.

As for Rose’s return, he was effective enough on offense, scoring 17 in 24 minutes with three assists, hitting his only triple attempt and getting to the line seven times.

The offense wasn’t a problem early, as Rose was clicking, getting to basket at will and finishing over Whiteside.

Doug McDermott hit a couple jumpers and Mike Dunleavy scored in double figures, but if you’re gonna play run and gun with a team that has a seemingly unlimited supply of versatile, shot-creating wings, you’re better off being at full strength.

And now the Bulls are sent scrambling for answers after an embarrassing showing, with as much doubt as ever.

The Bulls aren't trading for Kawhi Leonard, but what would a potential deal look like?

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USA TODAY

The Bulls aren't trading for Kawhi Leonard, but what would a potential deal look like?

The Bulls aren't trading for Kawhi Leonard.

Let's get that out of the way before continuing on.

At this stage in their rebuild the Bulls are interested in acquiring pieces - they dealt a Kawhi-like Jimmy Butler 12 months ago for three core parts - and have two picks in next week's NBA Draft.

The Spurs will have myriad options on where to send Leonard, the two-time All-Star and 2014 Finals MVP, and offers will pour in from everywhere. Leonard could also dictate where he plays next season, as he has one year remaining on his deal and will be a free agent after the 2019 season. Certainly a team giving up the assets required to get Leonard would want to know their All-Pro intends on staying.

So that's why. Whichever team deals for Leonard (assuming he is dealt) will be able to put together a more enticing package than the Bulls could (think Boston, the Lakers, Philadelphia). Leonard also reportedly prefers to play in Los Angeles or New York. No mention of Chicago.

But! It's Friday afternoon and we can only churn out so much draft content before our own heads begin spinning. So we figured we would put together the best deal the Bulls could offer for Leonard.

First off, the Bulls would need a gaurantee from Leonard that he intended to re-sign. Like Butler, Leonard wouldn't be able for the supermax extension if he leaves the Spurs. Instead, Leonard could sign a five-year, $188 million max deal with the Bulls, averaging $37.6 million per year.

The Bulls would get a 26-year-old All-Pro just about to enter the prime of his career. Make no mistake about it: Kawhi Leonard is a superstar. It's easy to forget because he played in just nine games last year, but Leonard is just a year removed from a season in which he averaged 25.5 points on 48 percent shooting, 5.8 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.8 steals in 33.4 minutes. Oh, and he's won two Defensive Player of the Year awards in 2015 and 2016.

The Bulls would have Leonard through his age 31 season and would give the Bulls a souped-up version of Jimmy Butler, and perhaps one that could get them closer to contention in an Eastern Conference that may be without LeBron James.

The price would be steep. All-Rookie Lauri Markkanen would be the centerpiece of any deal. The Spurs have utilized versatile, small-ball lineups well in the past and adding Markkanen would be like a cheat code for Gregg Popovich. He'd slot in well next to LaMarcus Aldridge, who played 62 percent of his minutes at center last year, according to Basketball Reference. That was the most minutes he had played at center since his rookie season.

The Bulls would also have to include the 7th and 22nd picks in next week's draft, which only makes the deal more unlikely (from 0.01 percent to 0.005 percent). San Antonio could pursue a wing like Mikal Bridges or Kevin Knox and add him to a core that would include Dejounte Murray, Markkanen and Aldridge. The Spurs also have the 18th pick, so they could conceivably have five core players (Markkanen, Murray, 7, 18, 22) 21 years or younger to complement the 32-year-old Aldridge, who bounced back in a big way last season (ironically without Leonard).

Adding Justin Holiday's $4.615 million salary to the deal makes the money work and gives the Spurs another perimeter shooter.

What would the Bulls look like? Well, needless to say they would have found their wing.

Building around Leonard would include Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine and Bobby Portis. With Markkanen gone, Portis would be in line for a significant contract extension and a much larger role in the offense; his per-36 numbers were on par with Kevin Love's and Joel Embiid's a year ago.

PG: Kris Dunn
SG: Zach LaVine
SF: Kawhi Leonard
PF: Bobby Portis
C: Robin Lopez

Alas, this deal is not happening. We can only hope to have angered some of you at this hypothetical, fun mock trade.

A history of teams moving in to the top 5 of the NBA Draft and what it might cost the Bulls

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USA TODAY

A history of teams moving in to the top 5 of the NBA Draft and what it might cost the Bulls

It’s difficult to move up in the NBA Draft. Like, really difficult. More often than not it costs more than it should – like free agency – because teams are aware you’re moving up to go after a specific player. Few, if any, teams move up in the draft to position themselves better on draft night. So, you want Player X and don’t think he’ll be around when you pick? Ante up. Show us how much Player X means to your franchise.

Moving up in the top 5 is even more difficult and expensive (duh). The most recent examples are Philadelphia dealing with Boston last year, going from No. 3 to No. 1. The cost was Sacramento’s 2019 first-round pick, which will likely be in the first half of the lottery. In 2009 the Timberwolves dealt two key rotation pieces – Randy Foye and Mike Miller – to the Wizards for the No. 5 pick. In retrospect that doesn’t seem like much, but Foye was three years removed from being the No. 7 pick and had just averaged 16.3 points in 70 games; Miller was 28 and one of the better 3-point shooters in the league.

And when trying to move inside the top 5, you have to go all the way back to 2005. And that’s where Bulls fans should start paying attention.

The Utah Jazz were in desperate need of a point guard after cycling through the likes of Carlos Arroyo, Raul Lopez, Howard Eisley and Keith McLeod (who?) in the two years after John Stockton’s 2002 retirement. Utah had the fifth best odds in the Lottery after a 26-win season and, like the 2018 Bulls, were bumped back a spot after Milwaukee jumped from sixth to first.

Moving back one spot didn’t seem like much on the surface, but it was significant; there were three point guards near the top of the class – Illinois’ Deron Williams, Wake Forest’s Chris Paul and North Carolina’s Raymond Felton – who all had the chance to go in the top 5, along with the consensus top pick Andrew Bogut and the potential-oozing freshman Marvin Williams. Utah GM XXXXXX said the team was interested in Paul or Williams.

So here the Jazz were, sitting at No. 6 with the potential to see the three point guards go ahead of them. In hindsight, the next point guard wouldn’t be taken until Nate Robinson at No. 21. There were three clear-cut top point guards in the class, and Utah needed one of them.

So they found a trade partner. The Portland Trail Blazers had selected high school phenom Sebastian Telfair with the No. 13 pick the previous season, and were ready to hand him the keys to the offense with Damon Stoudamire set for free agency. Not necessarily needing a point guard, Portland became the perfect trading partner for a team looking to move up. Enter the Jazz.

In addition to the No. 6 pick, Utah also had the 27th pick thanks to a draft-night deal the previous season with Dallas.

Armed with assets, hours before the start of the 2005 draft the Jazz sent No. 6, No. 27 and a future first-round pick to the Blazers for the No. 3 pick. The caveat here – as it will later pertain to the Bulls – is that the future first was actually Detroit’s first-round pick in 2006; the Jazz had traded point guard Carlos Arroyo to the Pistons for a first-round pick, which was widely expected to be near the end of the first round. Detroit went 64-18 in ’05-06 and the pick wound up being No. 30; Utah kept its own pick in 2006, which wound up being No. 14.

That was the cost. Three first-round picks, though admittedly No. 27 and the contending Pistons’ pick weren’t oozing with value. Utah selected Williams over Paul, Portland got Martell Webster at No. 6 and used the other two picks on Linas Kleiza and a year later Joel Freeland.

How does this affect the Bulls? They’re in a similar situation as Utah…kind of. The Jazz had missed the playoffs each of the previous two seasons post-Stockton but felt they were turning a corner with 23-year-olds Carlos Boozer and Andrei Kirilenko leading the way. In fact, their eight leading scorers from the previous season were 28 or younger. They were on the right path if they could find a point guard to play with Boozer, Kirilenko, Matt Harpring, Mehmet Okur and Raja Bell.

The Bulls aren’t exactly one specific piece away like Utah clearly was – they’d miss the playoffs the following year but then win between 48 and 54 games each of the next four seasons after. But they could be targeting someone specific in the top 4 of the draft. And they just so happen to have assets, and just so happen to have two teams reportedly willing to move back in a deep class.

Memphis reportedly would like to move back, and if possible add Chandler Parsons’ absurd contract to a deal. This seems like a plausible idea at face value, but the Grizzlies are going to want something substantial in return. They tanked hard – Marc Gasol “rested” eight games after the All-Star break, with Memphis losing all eight of those – for a reason, and they aren’t going to attach their main asset to a deal just to get rid of Parsons’ remaining $49 million. Freeing up cap space is nice, but at what cost? Memphis isn’t in a positon to win now. True, they’d like to try and contend with Gasol (two years left) and Mike Conley (three years left) but attaching the 4th pick to Parsons is different from the Raptors attaching two picks to DeMarre Carroll in a trade with Brooklyn last year; that Raptors pick wound up being No. 29, as the Raptors knew they’d be contending.

The Bulls might entertain a deal of the Nos. 7 and 22 picks for No. 4 and Parsons. If Parsons weren’t included in the deal, it could still get done if Bobby Portis were added. The Bulls love Portis, but he’ll need a significant contract extension in 13 months and Lauri Markkanen has the power forward position on lockdown.

The Hawks are also a potential trade option. They reportedly are looking to move down and still be able to draft Trae Young, who could supplant a disgruntled Dennis Schroder at the point. Again, a package of the Nos. 7 and 22 picks plus Portis could be enough to get the deal done; Atlanta drafted forward John Collins a year ago but he doesn’t offer much as a pick-and-pop power forward. Portis would give them a solid complement. Then again, Atlanta couldn’t be sure Young would be available at 7, especially considering Orlando is picking No. 6 and has a serious need at the point.

Who would the Bulls be targeting at No. 3 or No. 4? Rumors are everywhere so it’s difficult to pinpoint. Michael Porter Jr. could now go as high as No. 2 to the Sacramento. That would mean international sensation Luka Doncic falls. Marvin Bagley’s name has been quiet for a while, while Jaren Jackson Jr. is having “monster workouts” that have him flying up draft boards. We won’t speculate.

For now just know that trading in to the top 5 is difficult. You need the assets to do it (check), a team with enough talent that moving up will push the franchise forward (check), a willing trade partner (check) and a player you really want (check?). The pieces are there for a potential move-up, but actually pulling the trigger is far more difficult than just writing about it.