Bulls

Bulls not alone in race to bottom of the East

Bulls not alone in race to bottom of the East

The Eastern Conference used to be a running joke, or at best, called the “LeBron James Invitational” for the cakewalk James used to have through the playoffs on his way to the Finals.

It used to be just funny fodder.

Now, it really is a joke and the Bulls aren’t in on it—although they’re sure to be part of some laughers next season in the first year of a rebuild. They won’t be alone as the Indiana Pacers and Atlanta Hawks will likely follow the Bulls on the yellow brick road to the NBA Draft lottery after the 2017-18 season.

So that makes three of the eight playoff teams who have punted on next season, with All-Stars Jimmy Butler, Paul George and Paul Millsap changing their addresses to go west, weakening an already-weak conference.

Of course, one could make the argument the Bulls could’ve kept Butler and climbed up through osmosis, positioning themselves to be prime players in free agency and the trade market but they refused to take advantage of a more murky road in front of them, choosing to be bad for the foreseeable future.

The view from here says the Bulls should’ve tried building around Butler as opposed to just having him as a piece to a puzzle, then seeing where things could grow from there.

Watching him continue to develop while putting adequate and fitting help around Butler would’ve been curious to watch and the Bulls could’ve achieved their desired goal of making themselves relevant when James’ Eastern Conference run ends soon—as early as the 2018 offseason, where he’s rumored to be taking his talents to the Western Conference to finish his career.

With salary cap space and an attractive market, the Bulls could’ve reformed themselves in the NBA marketplace with Butler as a main attraction, and one wonders if they should’ve made the same decision knowing what was coming in the East.

But facing the thought of giving him another large contract in two years scared them off, and the economics of the NBA has played a big part in how free agency has been handled for the first day or so, as the money has dried up quick—leading to more second-guesses as the Bulls believed teams would overspend and have to trade away good players in the near future, with the Bulls being contestant number one with that key word: Flexibility.

But now, they face the prospect of being one of many in the East trying to win the Michael Porter Jr. (incoming forward to Missouri) sweepstakes next season.

Someone has to win the round robin games between the likes of the Bulls, Pacers, Hawks, Brooklyn Nets, Orlando Magic and New York Knicks. The race to the bottom won’t be as easy as the Bulls might think, because there’s no guarantee the Detroit Pistons, Charlotte Hornets and Philadelphia 76ers will take leaps past them.

Heck, it’ll be hard to find 12 Eastern Conference players worthy of being an All-Star next year, let alone eight true playoff teams. The Bulls had to scrap and claw to finish 41-41, and the fifth-seeded Hawks were 43-39, so it’s not hard to envision a team or two making the playoffs with losing records nowhere near the .500 mark—as well as teams who’d rather not make the playoffs qualifying for a first-round series.

Boston will be consistent and Cleveland will cruise through 82 games before James turns it up. Milwaukee, Washington and Toronto will be good enough, assuming they don’t have unexpected freefalls due to inconsistency, but the rest is a crapshoot.

So while the Bulls’ plan to be bad seems smart on the surface, lowering expectations while allowing some of the youth to develop in the meantime without the specter of a prime Butler hanging over them, it’s turned into a tricky proposition very quickly.

At some point, the Eastern Conference will rise again, but will be the Bulls be part of that resurgence, or questioning their not-so-subtle tanking strategy—because they're not the only ones with this bright idea.

Lauri Markkanen celebrates 21st birthday with a spot on the NBA's All-Rookie First Team

Lauri Markkanen celebrates 21st birthday with a spot on the NBA's All-Rookie First Team

Lauri Markkanen’s celebration for his 21st birthday coincided with another major honor, being selected to the All-Rookie First team.

Markkanen received 76 of 100 possible first-team votes to join Utah’s Donovan Mitchell, Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons, Boston’s Jayson Tatum and the Los Angeles Lakers’ Kyle Kuzma on the first team. Mitchell and Simmons were unanimous selections and Tatum was one vote short of joining Mitchell and Simmons.

Markkanen, acquired on draft night in the package of players for Jimmy Butler, showed he was far more advanced than many expected. His 15.2 points per game ranked third among rookies and his 7.5 rebounds were first.

Markkanen was a constant in a topsy-turvy season for the Bulls, scoring 30-plus twice and hitting the 25-point plateau another three times. As a perfect fit in Fred Hoiberg’s offensive system, Markkanen had eight games where he hit four triples or more, including a game in New York where he drilled eight 3-pointers against the Knicks.

Only 15 rookies have hit more than 140 triples in NBA history, with Markkanen accomplishing the feat in 68 games—he was joined by Mitchell and Kuzma from this year’s star-studded class.

As the season progressed and Markkanen took hold of the power forward position, the Bulls began maneuvering personnel around him, trading disgruntled forward Nikola Mirotic and making a concerted effort to put Bobby Portis at center to pair Portis with Markkanen as a spread-shooting duo.

As the most impressive rookie the Bulls have employed since Derrick Rose, he’s also the first rookie since Taj Gibson in 2010 to make All-Rookie First Team.

ESPN ranks Derrick Rose No. 36 in its World Fame 100 list

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AP

ESPN ranks Derrick Rose No. 36 in its World Fame 100 list

Yes, Derrick Rose Stans. Your boy still has plenty of relevance in the sports world.

ESPN released its third annual ranking of "the biggest names in sports," and the Timberwolves point guard ranked No. 36 on the list. ESPN formed the list based on a formula that took three factors into account:

1. Search score, "which measures how often a name is searched"

2. Endorsement dollars, with sources using ranging from Forbes to ESPN contributors

3. Social media followers, with ESPN taking only the platform in which the player had his or her most followers into account.

Rose's search score wasn't all that impressive, ranking 15 - the average on the top 100 list had a score of 35. But with Bulls fans, NBA fans and now of course Timberwolves fans chiming in on his game, Rose's name came across plenty of timelines and search engines.

Rose's $14 million in endorsements - primarily from that massive Adidas deal - was better than the average $12.6 million of the top 100 athletes.

Rose's top social media page is on Facebook, where he currently has more than 10.7 million likes. This, as ESPN notes, is largely due to the international following Rose and so many other NBA athletes have built up over the years.

In 2016, Rose ranked No. 30 on the list. In 2017 he was No. 33 on the list, so while he isn't trending in the right direction there's no denying his presence in the sports landscape. Love him or hate him, Derrick Rose still matters.

The only NBA players above Rose on the list were LeBron James (No. 2), Kevin Durant (No. 7), Stephen Curry (No. 9), James Harden (No. 24), Kyrie Irving (No. 27), Dwyane Wade (No. 31) and Russell Westbrook (No. 34). NBA players below Rose included Carmelo Anthony, Damian Lillard, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, Isaiah Thomas, and Cameron Payne.

OK, not Cameron Payne. He must have been No. 101.