Bulls: Michael Carter-Williams, relishing opportunity to prove himself, sprains left knee

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Bulls: Michael Carter-Williams, relishing opportunity to prove himself, sprains left knee

There’s a certain kinship developed on draft night, when 19 and 20-year olds convene for a night of uncertainty and excitement upon their entrance into the NBA, embarking on a whole new world when shaking commissioner Adam Silver’s hand.

Little do they know but the clock starts ticking on their career right then and there, as the first three years for first-round draft picks is a proving ground to prepare for their first big contract through restricted free agency.

As Michael Carter-Williams lay writhing in pain on the floor early in the second quarter with a left knee injury that ruled him out of Monday’s game against the Brooklyn Nets, one has to wonder if the names of his draftmates ran through his brain.

Guys like Gorgui Dieng, Rudy Gobert, Steven Adams and Victor Oladipo.

They were a few of the 2013 first-round guys who beat the Oct. 31 midnight buzzer with contract extensions with their respective teams, preventing a season of nervousness and likely cementing wealth for their families for generations to come.

Carter-Williams watched reports of the deals come down like everyone else, even though he knows he won’t be one of the recipients and will have to play this season out, heading to restricted free agency next summer.

“You can play the what-if game your whole life,” Carter-Williams said to CSNChicago.com. “But it’s not gonna help me get to where I want to be. The ultimate goal is to be the best player I can be. It takes effort.”

Before the left knee sprain he suffered on Monday - he'll get an MRI on Tuesday - he spoke optimistically of the contracts he saw guys agreeing to, hours before his unfortunate circumstance came into focus.

“It’s great to see people signing deals,” Carter-Williams told CSNChicago.com. “I’m happy for all of them. It’s awesome, everybody reaching their dreams. I’m sure they’re helping their families and friends. It’s nothing better than that.”

Carter-Williams isn’t alone, although every situation is different.

The 2013-14 Rookie of the Year joins the likes of Detroit’s Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Washington’s Otto Porter as lottery picks who didn’t come to agreements, heading into a summer where the salary structure could change drastically due to the expected changes in the Collective Bargaining Agreement. A new CBA could be finalized in the coming weeks, if not sooner.

Carter-Williams doesn’t deny the importance of that type of security, but insists it’s not clouding his mind.

“It’s real important. It’s super important. Your first real big contract,” Carter-Williams said. “Not to say our rookie contracts aren’t big money, but relatively speaking, it’s your first big contract. It’s great.”

If executives would’ve been polled after Carter-Williams’ award-winning rookie campaign, he would’ve been at the top of the list of guys expected to sign a big deal at the first chance.

Given the topsy-turvy nature of his career to date, it’s easy to see if Carter-Williams wonders if people have forgotten the type of production he’s capable of on a nightly basis.

Playing behind Rajon Rondo gives the Bulls insurance and depth at the position, while giving Carter-Williams a chance to slow down and play without the feeling of having to carry a team on his shoulders.

If he’s healthy and able to get back on the floor and produce, his day will come as well.

“I think the biggest thing for me is I’ve done some pretty good things in this league,” Carter-Williams said. “I’ve shown what I can do tin this league. I’ve had some unlucky bumps in the road, traded after winning rookie of the year, going to Milwaukee, which wasn’t the best situation for me.”

Had he been able to truly connect with Bucks coach Jason Kidd, a player many compared Carter-Williams to for their similar abilities as passers and all-around players, he probably would still be in Milwaukee and enjoying some of the fruits of his early labor.

“Yeah for sure. It definitely does sting,” said Carter-Williams of falling out of favor in Milwaukee. “I think when a coach has confidence in you, giving me the ball and letting me play my game, I think I’ve proven that I’m pretty good. I think of different scenarios, if I stayed in Philly would I be signing an extension like a lot of other people are. But that wasn’t the situation for me. God has a plan for me and I gotta stay position. God will provide for me.”

Chandler Hutchison's unusual basketball background makes him an intriguing target for the Bulls


Chandler Hutchison's unusual basketball background makes him an intriguing target for the Bulls

Over the past several weeks, the Bulls have been heavily rumored to be selecting Boise State small forward Chandler Hutchison with the No. 22 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft.

Although the 6-foot-7 Hutchison had a stellar four-year career with the Broncos, and was regarded as a top-100 national prospect coming out of high school, his background is relatively unknown compared to many of his first-round counterparts. Not many recruiting gurus watched Hutchison in-depth in high school. The same could be said about draft analysts watching Hutchison's career unfold at Boise State.

Part of the reason Hutchison has flown under the radar for so long, despite being a first-round talent, is his unique basketball upbringing. Many elite high school players opt to transfer to big-time basketball schools while playing in high-exposure shoe-company leagues during the spring and summer. Instead of the normal path, Hutchison chose to stick with the people that he trusted.

Playing for a small, independent grassroots program in high school known as Team Eastbay, Hutchison started showing special gifts as a sophomore in before blossoming into a top-100 national prospect towards the end of high school. Hutchison's trainer and coach with Team Eastbay, Perry Webster, saw that Chandler had the ability to be a big-time player.

"I walked into the gym and saw this 15-year-old kind of gangly kid. And he just moved different than anybody else. I thought he had a chance to be a pretty good player," Webster said of Hutchison.

As Hutchison developed more of a reputation in the Southern California basketball scene, becoming a starter at Mission Viejo High School his junior season, he started to draw more attention from local and national recruiting analysts — including former ESPN recruiting insider Joel Francisco, Scout.com's Josh Gershon and SoCal recruiting analyst Devin Ugland.

"You saw during his junior year that he was a legitimate Division I prospect. During the spring he started blossoming," Francisco said. "He had the ball skills and the prototypical length and things like that. And he was finishing plays. He had a good IQ for the game. It was a matter of strength and he had to fill out to become a more complete player."

By the end of summer going into his senior season, Hutchison had established himself as a potential Pac-12 recruit, as schools like Oregon and USC started to show heavy interest. But it was mid-major programs like Boise State, Saint Mary's and UC-Irvine who had long been involved in Hutchison's recruitment.

Knowing that Hutchison was a unique wing with a high IQ and passing skills, Webster, a former Division I player at Cal State Fullerton himself, advised that his star player take a close look at the programs that would put him in position to succeed right away.

"Every AAU program in Southern California was trying to get him for their team. Free ride this, free shoes. The kid stayed really loyal to me. I was very hard on him," Webster said. "I demanded a lot of him. I screamed at him, I yelled at him. And he looked me in the eye and took it. I realized, this kid is pretty special because he's not running away from what he is. He knows what his limitations are. That's not something he's afraid to address.

"Not everybody was sold on him. Joel [Francisco] was. Joel was one of the proponents of him. But being that he burst on the scene late, and that he didn't play for the big shoe companies, we kind of came to the decision that we wouldn't be so enamored by the Pac-12. He realized he had ability but he still had a long way to go." 

Hutchison eventually decided to sign his National Letter of Intent with Boise State before his senior season started as assistant coach Jeff Linder acted as his lead recruiter. Even though his collegiate future had been decided, Hutchison continued to evolve into a major prospect during senior year as he flourished at Mission Viejo.

Even with his strong senior season, skepticism remained about Hutchison since he hadn't played with and against many of the major names in Southern California. Ranked as the No. 83 overall prospect in ESPN's final Class of 2014 national recruiting rankings, Hutchison was viewed as the seventh best player in his own state. While Francisco pushed for Hutchison to be ranked in the top 50, he had to settle for him being a back-end top-100 talent.

"They're like, hey, he's going to Boise State, he's not on a major shoe company team. How good can he be? But if he can play, he can play. It doesn't matter if he's not on the adidas circuit, he's not in the EYBL," Francisco said.

Francisco wasn't the only major recruiting analyst to take notice of Hutchison's play. Rivals.com's Eric Bossi also labeled Hutchison as a potential breakout player at Boise State. Hutchison was even placed in the Rivals national recruiting rankings, ending up at No. 98 overall, after his senior season. Bossi was on vacation with his family during spring break and he happened to see Hutchison play during his senior season. But Hutchison's strong effort, along with some research, convinced Bossi that he was worthy of a top-100 ranking, even with only one serious viewing. 

"I decided to go watch some regional California high school playoff stuff. And it just so happened to be that Chandler's high school team was one of the teams I was seeing," Bossi said. "I knew he was on the team and committed to Boise State. But then when I watched him play I was like, 'Holy cow, what an incredible get for Boise State. Like, this dude's legit.' He had great size for a wing. He could handle the ball, he could really pass and I thought he could defend multiple positions at the next level when it was all said and done. I thought he was a versatile, well-skilled, well-rounded basketball player. So, based on that, I thought he was top-100. I wish I had seen him more."

Even as a former top-100 national prospect, it took some time for Hutchison to gain traction at Boise State as he didn't put up big numbers during his first two seasons. Although Hutchison played plenty of minutes and started a healthy amount of games, he often took a back seat to talented all-conference players like Anthony Drmic and James Webb III.

When those players eventually moved on from the Broncos, Hutchison was given his chance to shine, as his ascension into all-conference player and future first-round pick came with an intense work ethic that continually developed during workouts in college.

Hutchison also became a consistent three-point threat — something he had been lacking during his development — as he became a hot name in the 2018 NBA Draft despite his unorthodox basketball background.

"He's always been competitive. I think the big thing is reps. And it still will be as he continues to play in the league," Webster said. "He wasn't a bad shooter in high school, but I think the big adjustment for him getting to college, it's hard to put up good percentages in college. I think some of it is mental. But I think he's a good shooter and I think that he'll prove that." 

It's hard to predict if the Bulls will end up with Hutchison with the No. 22 overall pick on Thursday night — especially given all of the chaos that can occur on draft night. But if Hutchison does end up in Chicago, he won't be fazed by having to prove himself after already doing so at the high school and college level.

Dwight Howard trade shows the importance of considering character on draft night


Dwight Howard trade shows the importance of considering character on draft night

Earlier Wednesday, ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the Charlotte Hornets had traded Dwight Howard to the Brooklyn Nets for center Timofey Mozgov, two second-round picks and cash. The trade is another in a long list of moves for Howard, who was officially a part of his sixth trade in seven years. They have been many interesting tidbits coming from the pre-draft interview process from both players and team officials. Prospects like Mo Bamba have helped their draft stock through interviews, while players like Michael Porter Jr. have only brought about more questions. 

The Chicago Bulls hold the No. 7 and No. 22 picks on Thursday night's draft, and the players selected figure to be long-term fixtures in the Bulls future. And that is exactly why Howard's career serves as a sort of precautionary tale. 

Dwight Howard was drafted No. 1 overall in the 2004 NBA Draft, two years before high school players were no longer allowed to enter the draft. There were of course huge success stories such as Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett and LeBron James. But there was also a much longer list of high school prospects who did not pan out in the league. Howard was different, a man-child who was widely viewed as the top prospect in a somewhat weak draft class. But there had always been whispers that despite being such a dominant force on the court, his goofy, fun-loving nature may not lend itself well to long-term stability. 

And sure enough, following eight successful years in Orlando, Howard decided he wanted out....badly. In 2012 Howard demanded that he get traded to the Nets. This is fairly normal for a disgruntled star player. The unique part of his case was that he went on to claim that the Orlando Magic front-office blackmailed him into signing his opt-in clause, disallowing him from becoming a free agent the upcoming summer. Howard eventually got his way and ended up a part of a four-team trade that shipped him off to the Los Angeles Lakers. Many expected him to thrive in the city that has had their share of Hall of Fame bigs.

But during his tenure with the Lakers he drew some very critical criticism from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Abdul-Jabbar went on to say: "Dwight Howard is a perfect example of the fact that ‘potential has a shelf life.’ "

This all relates back to the Bulls because they (and Gar Forman specifically) have a long history of drafting high-character players. This is a strategy that many not be of much concern now, with Chicago hoping to land a steal at No. 7. But if the Bulls have any character concerns with their top-rated prospect at No. 7, I would heavily encourage them to trade down rather than shoehorn a prospect into a locker room with a lot of mouths to feed. 

Lauri Markkanen is a burgeoning star who will needs more shots as he matures his post-game. Kris Dunn was handed the keys to the offense last season, and finally started to show off the potential that made him a top-five draft pick. And Zach LaVine—often looked at as the central piece of the Jimmy Butler trade—is due for a new contract. And he will surely be looking to have a big year after an abbreviated 2017-18 season that saw him finish the year with a dreadful 49.9 true shooting percentage. 

This is all to say that character should be amongst the chief concerns of the Bulls front office Thursday night. Wendell Carter Jr. has been impressive during his interviews, sounding like a player who is looking to simply fit in. Bamba and Trae Young both spoke at length about how well they would fit in with this current Bulls roster. And Porter Jr.—perhaps the fan favorite for No. 7 at the time—has spoke quite a bit about how confident he is in his abilities, as well as making some lofty comparisons to some of the NBA's best wing players. He is not doubt a talented player, but the possibility of him affecting the locker room negatively is a real concern with Fred Hoiberg having such a young and impressionable group.

Howard was clearly the top prospect in 2004. And even if he had forecasted the flaws that have led to him being traded so much during his career, the Magic still would've taken him No. 1 overall. And that is not a good thing. A "boring" draft pick would be sure to infuriate Bulls fans everywhere on draft night, but a boring pick may be essential for a team that needs to exercise patience in building up what could be a formidable roster down the road.