Bulls' inconsistent ways return in loss to Mavericks


Bulls' inconsistent ways return in loss to Mavericks

Observations from the Bulls’ 118-111 loss to the Dallas Mavericks 

Execution, where are you?: The games are adding up where the late-game execution, or lack thereof, has been glaringly absent for a veteran Bulls’ team. The most shocking was a five-second call on an inbound play with 11 seconds left and the Bulls trying to tie the game with a 3-pointer. Whether it was a slow-developing play or the Mavericks jumped every conceivable option to leave Derrick Rose without a lane to pass, it falls on the ledger as another failure for all involved.

Rose had another jump-pass turnover, a no-no under traditional standards, with 59 seconds left and the Bulls trailing by two. It’s a habit the Bulls will have to live with considering it’s a staple for Rose, and he’s had varying degrees of success with it.

But the breakdowns for a team that’s been together for so long and a coach who’s been noted for offensive creativity leaves many to shake their heads in amazement.

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

Backup’s paradise: Perhaps the Bulls would’ve been better off playing against starter Deron Williams, who was out with a hamstring injury, as opposed to backup J.J. Barea burning the Bulls all night.

The generously-listed 6-foot guard made a career-high seven triples against the Bulls, giving them fits on the pick and roll with his herky-jerky play and ability to negotiate whatever coverages the Bulls threw his way, finishing with 26 points in 33 minutes.

The Mavericks kept the game plan simple for Barea, which was a heavy dose of pick and roll basketball. He only committed one turnover and had a team-high tying five assists as the Mavs went to three guards in the starting lineup, putting Barea alongside Raymond Felton and Wesley Matthews.

Resurgence: Before Rose’s jump-pass turnover, one could argue he played his most efficient game of the season, scoring 25 points with five rebounds and four assists.

One could also argue the official went from “four” to “five” seconds rather quickly on Rose’s inbound pass with 11 seconds left, but they will be attached to his name nonetheless.

In 37 minutes, though, Rose went to the basket under control and finished that way, not throwing up wild and awkward attempts at the basket that indicated he didn’t have leg strength, confidence or balance.

He took only one triple in his 20 shots, and although he didn’t get to the foul line, Rose has had four games that should be characterized as “positive” in the last six, with the two middle stinkers being against the Knicks and Nets—as one could attribute those performances to a hangover after the four-overtime affair against the Pistons a week before Christmas.

[MORE: Poise the word as Bulls pull out win over Thunder]

And let’s not forget Nikola Mirotic, who had his best game in over a month with 23 points, seven rebounds and three blocks. It was his first double-figure scoring game since Dec. 14 against the 76ers, which considering the opponent has a demerit attached.

Mirotic has improved defensively and is a good rebounder, but his bread and butter is his shooting, as he’s yet to put together any form of consistent stretch in that department this season.

Hitting four triples for the third time this season illustrates he’s capable of being a streak shooter but the numbers say the inconsistency is maddening. With Jimmy Butler struggling with his shot, they needed every bit of Mirotic’s production and his offense is no longer a luxury, if it ever was.

Bench disappearance: With Joakim Noah on the floor, the bench has been at times a game-changing unit. But without him anchoring things on both ends, it fell apart Saturday, and Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg had little patience for the group as a whole with their struggles.

Bobby Portis looked like…a rookie with four turnovers in 10 minutes and while Doug McDermott went 3-4, he’s again become a target for opposing offenses who want to take him out the game. Aaron Brooks missed six of his nine shots and Hoiberg kept Tony Snell on the bench for the entire night.

With a quick turnaround after Friday’s inspiring win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Christmas Day, an emotional letdown was predictable. But with the jumble of teams in the East not looking to have any separation, games and finishes like this will have to disappear if the Bulls want to sit in the top-four come playoff time.

How Jabari Parker impacts Bulls’ salary cap in 2019

How Jabari Parker impacts Bulls’ salary cap in 2019

The Bulls ‘rebuild’ seems to be just a one-year experiment after the team signed Chicago native Jabari Parker to a two-year, $40-million dollar deal on Saturday. Although on first look Parker’s contract would seem to restrict what they can do in free agency next summer, the reality is that the 2nd year team option gives the Bulls plenty of flexibility with—or without- Parker next year.  

If the Bulls pick up the option on Parker, they will still be able to sign a max free agent next July if they make the right moves between now and July 1, 2019.

The NBA projects the 2019-20 cap will rise to $109 million, up from $101.9 million for the upcoming season. The league bases a ‘max’ salary on years of service. A 10-year vet like Kevin Durant is eligible for more ($38.2 million) than his teammate Klay Thompson ($32.7 million), an 8-year vet. If the Bulls keep Parker, they’ll enter free agency with approximately $15.4 million next summer—far short of the cap space needed for a player like Durant or Thompson, but that number is misleading. The $15.4 million also includes cap holds (salary slots assigned to a player based on several factors including previous year’s salary). The cap hold is designed to prevent teams from completely circumventing the soft cap model the league uses. The cap holds for Bobby Portis ($7.5 million) and Cameron Payne ($9.8 million) are just theoretical if the Bulls don’t sign either to a contract extension before the October 31, 2018 deadline. 

Let’s say the Bulls are in line to sign a star free agent like Thompson; all they would need to do is rescind any qualifying offer to Payne or Portis, and then renounce them as free agents. This would effectively take the cap holds off the Bulls’ cap sheet and give them approximately $32.7 million in cap space. Coincidently (or perhaps it’s no coincidence), that’s the exact salary a 7-9 year free agent like Thompson would command.

In order to create enough space for Durant and his increased ‘max’ slot, they would need to waive and stretch a player like Cristiano Felicio or incentivize a trade involving a player by attaching another asset in the deal, like a future 1st round pick.

If the Bulls decline the team option on Parker, then they will enter free agency with anywhere between $35 million and $53 million. 

Gar Forman finally comes through on promise


Gar Forman finally comes through on promise

"We felt we needed to start getting younger and more athletic..."

It was 2016 when Bulls general manager Gar Forman made this statement, drawing ire from many Bulls fans for what felt like—at the time—a disingenuous statement. A swap of Derrick Rose for Robin Lopez, Jose Calderon and Jerian Grant making you younger and athletic? No one was buying it.

But fast forward to July, 2018, and it is clear that at the very least, Forman has finally made good on his promise. The signing of Jabari Parker has been met with mostly positivity, as a short-term commitment to a former No. 2 overall pick is something that is difficult to hate. But when you factor in the rest of the pieces currently on the roster, it is OK for Bulls fans to be downright giddy over the future.

Lauri Markkanen is 21 years old, Wendell Carter Jr. is 19, Zach LaVine is 23, Jabari Parker is 23 and Kris Dunn is the elder statesmen of the group at 24 years old. If these five become the starting group moving forward, as expected, it would represent one of the youngest starting groups in the league with an average age of 22. 

And athleticism can be checked off the list as well. We know Markkanen has hopsLaVine showed off the explosiveness he was known for last season and Dunn had some dunks last year that legitimately gave fans a Rose flashback

Markkanen and Carter Jr. have both flashed the ability to switch onto guards for a limited amount of time and guard in space, a huge component of any defense that wants to switch a lot. And it also is the type of athleticism that is much more important at their position.

At this stage, Parker represents the biggest question mark athletically speaking. Despite his young age, the two ACL injuries make you wonder if there is any room for him to improve his agility. But at the least, Parker can drive to the basket and finish over the top with authority, even if his defense doesn't catch up.

So, Bulls fans are starting to become intrigued with this roster.

Fred Hoiberg wants his teams to play an up-tempo game, and last season was the first year during Hoiberg's Bulls tenure where the team actually ranked in the top 10 in pace. So if you have followed the Bulls carefully since Thibodeau's departure, you see a front-office that supports their new head coach, yet wasted a couple years to commit fully to his vision, and to a direction for the franchise.

But the point is Forman finally chose a direction.

The Bulls have a young core, and financial flexibility moving forward. And for all the jokes the "GarPax" regime have endured over the years, they have put the team in a position to have sustained success if they hit on all the young players they have acquired. 

And if they are wrong in their assessment of their young talent? 

The Bulls would be able to let Parker go, now that we know the second year of his contract is a team option. LaVine's offensive skill set will allow him to still have trade value years from now, as his contract won't look nearly as bad over time. 

And if the Bulls flurry of moves make the team significantly worse in a year where many expect them to take a step forward, all it would mean is being equipped with a high lottery pick in what is shaping up to be a top-heavy 2019 NBA Draft.

So Gar Forman wanted the team to get younger and more athletic, and though it took longer than it should've, the front-office made good on their promise. That is something that Bulls fans can believe in.