Bulls' roster - not just Thibs - a question for future, too


Bulls' roster - not just Thibs - a question for future, too

The ugly way the Bulls were dispatched in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Cleveland Cavaliers unearthed some harsh truths and stripped away a facade many believed all season long.

That presently constructed and fully healthy, the Bulls were a championship team.

Losing to LeBron James in a series that featured his third-worst field-goal percentage in a storied 12-year career, where his support didn’t feature Kevin Love at all or a full-strength Kyrie Irving erased the visions of grandeur.

The revelation of the reality is the easy part.

The process of going about turning the fantasy of having a championship team into a reality is an entirely different one.

Head coach Tom Thibodeau and the franchise will likely part ways, as the clashes seemed to pile up as the season wore on, the so-called “noise” began to add up the closer things got to playoff time—whether it played a part in the team’s performance can be debated from now until the start of next season, but there’s a chance the Bulls will look moderately different than the outfit that walked off the floor of the United Center in disappointment.

If the Bulls are convinced coaching or friction between the front office and head coach is the only problem, only one change needs to be made, although you’ll be hard-pressed to find many coaches better than Thibodeau.

But considering the way the Bulls under-performed, it seems more plausible to believe that this roster isn’t ready for June basketball and internal improvement is necessary to get this team in form for true contention.

Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler will both likely be working under max deals next season, as Butler is entering restricted free agency and getting a max offer sheet from another franchise or the Bulls appears to be a certainty.

Two ball-dominant guards who haven’t played a lot together will spend a lot of time doing that next year, and the teams who win championships with starting guards who command so much attention are scarce in the modern NBA, but it can happen.

[MORE: Nikola Mirotic named to NBA's All-Rookie team]

While Butler’s game is still evolving and it doesn’t seem quite like a stretch to say Rose will come back next season closer to form than in any of his previous comebacks, there are questions about the existing roster—warts that showed up in the playoff series against the Cavaliers.

Will Joakim Noah, a year removed from knee surgery that took a very long time to recover from, regain the form that had him finish fourth in the 2014 MVP voting? He’s entering the last year of his deal next year and of course there will likely be concerns about his play this season, but considering he’s such a huge part of this team’s identity, will management take the risk of even shopping him this summer?

Rose, Noah and presumably Butler could take up $48.7 million of a $67 million salary cap, which doesn’t leave a lot of room for free agency additions, especially if they bring Mike Dunleavy back on a similar deal to this season ($3.3 million).

Taj Gibson is another part of the Bulls’ culture of toughness, and he doesn’t have a cap crippling deal ($8.5 million in 2015-16, $8.95 million in 2016-17).

He’s slightly off last year’s career-high showing of 13 points and 6.8 rebounds, and his offensive rating rose to a career-high 112 points per possession, so he could be attractive to other teams if the Bulls look to shop him. But his teammates love him and a trade likely wouldn’t be received well in the locker room.

Pau Gasol was a godsend, with his best and most consistent season in years, but he’ll be 35 by the time training camp convenes in October, and his hamstring injury severely hampered his participation in the second round—and players his age don’t get healthier as they cross that age.

The list of players who have averaged 18 points and 11 rebounds at 35 or older: Robert Parish in 1989 for a Celtics team that crept into the eighth playoff spot before getting swept.

[RELATED: Weight of previous years came crashing down on Bulls in loss to Cavs]

The Bulls have higher goals than that, and if they’re going to lessen their dependency on Gasol’s usage, it means Nikola Mirotic must take a more prominent role and Doug McDermott must have a role.

McDermott couldn’t crack the veteran-laden rotation and Mirotic was only trusted when player availability got really thin, so one would have to assume they’ll make jumps next season.

But if nobody takes a leap, will Gar Forman and John Paxson feel comfortable heading into a season where the East will markedly improve, a veteran roster is a little older and with the strong possibility integrating a new coach will take time?

Either way, there appears to be a lot of questions, more questions than answers as the Bulls head toward an interesting offseason.

Jersey from LeBron James' first-ever SI cover sells for over $180K


Jersey from LeBron James' first-ever SI cover sells for over $180K

LeBron James is arguably the second-greatest basketball player of all time, with a claim to being the true GOAT depending on who you talk to. But one thing we can all agree on, with James entering his 17th season in the NBA, is that we don't know how much longer we will get to see him grace the NBA hardwood. With the final stages of James' illustrious NBA career in sight, fans have started to buy up all of the LBJ merchandise they can find and as of Sunday night, one of the rarest pieces of James memorabilia is off of the market. 

The St. Vincent-St. Mary's Irish jersey that James wore on his first-ever Sports Illustrated cover went for a whopping $187,500 in a Goldin Auctions event. The SI cover that James wore the jersey on in 2002 featured the title "The Chosen One", detailing how NBA franchises were already lining up for their shot at drafting James despite him just being a high school junior at the time. 

The $187,500 paid for the jersey is (somewhat shockingly) more than the amount paid for Michael Jordan's final Bulls regular season jersey, which sold for $173,240 back in 2015, then the highest price paid for a Jordan collectible ever at any auction

Only time will tell if another piece of James (or Jordan) memorabilia will eclipse the $200k mark but with a decent chunk of James' career still left, one would think that is a strong possibility.

Though Goldin Auctions founder Ken Goldin was off a bit, projecting that the jersey would sell for somewhere in the ballpark of $300k or more, the now-legendary jersey still ended up breaking the record for the highest price paid for a LeBron James jersey. 

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Even with unproven wing depth, Bulls will monitor Otto Porter Jr.'s workload

Even with unproven wing depth, Bulls will monitor Otto Porter Jr.'s workload

As the Bulls played out the string last season, fielding glorified G League lineups, meaningful days still existed.

April 3 was one of them.

Not only did the Bulls scratch out a fun, one-point road victory over the Wizards, executive vice president John Paxson, coach Jim Boylen and general manager Gar Forman met with Otto Porter Jr. and his longtime strength coach from his alma mater of Georgetown.

That meeting mapped out Porter’s offseason plan and began the strong communication that continued Friday when Boylen and Porter met to discuss the organization’s approach for a proper workload for the crucial veteran. Following Sunday’s practice at the Advocate Center, Boylen for the first time publicly disclosed the Bulls’ plan to play Porter in the neighborhood of 30 minutes and approach back-to-back games on a case-by-case basis.

“We will manage him appropriately,” Boylen said. “He will not play over 30 minutes in anything we do to get going here. We’ll manage him on the off days in a real respectful way. Obviously, he’s a big piece. He’s our starting 3, a big wing. And we need him.”

The Bulls have a set of back-to-back games in this first week of the regular season, with their home opener against the defending NBA champion Raptors coming Saturday following a game at the Grizzlies Friday.

“We’ll see how he feels,” Boylen said. “It might be a situation where we manage him the first night in order to play him the second night. Or manage him the first night and the second night he feels maybe a night he doesn’t play. But we have a plan. It’s rough because it’s depending on how he feels.”

Right now, Porter feels good.

“Preseason has been great, making sure my body is healthy, making sure I get my reps in, making sure as a team we’re ready to go,” Porter said following practice. “I’ll hold it down for us until we get Chandler (Hutchison) back. That’s going to be always my job.

“But we got a lot of guards that can play the three too. We got a lot of guys that can play multiple positions. If somebody goes down, the next man always got to step up and replace – not replace but do more – and I feel like everybody is going to do more.”

Hutchison has yet to play with a hamstring injury. Shaq Harrison missed all five preseason games but is available for Wednesday’s opener in Charlotte, N.C.

Boylen said there are many options to keep Porter fresh even with Hutchison injured and Denzel Valentine currently out of the rotation, including Harrison or Tomas Satoransky at backup small forward and three-guard lineups. The Bulls also utilize big lineups with Thad Young at small forward.

“You’ve seen what we’ve done. We’ve had Coby (White), Arch (Ryan Arcidiacono) and (Kris) Dunn out there together. Playing small and fast is good. You can also put ‘Sato’ out there with that group,” Boylen said. “There may be opportunities where we go big depending on the situation of the game. We’ve practiced those lineups and scenarios.”

Porter played a huge role in the Bulls’ brief surge last February after arriving from the Wizards in a trade. He has battled nagging injuries in the past, including knee, shoulder and neck issues. Porter also underwent minor surgery on his left leg that knocked him out of the April 2018 playoffs to address a blood buildup around a contusion.

“Every season, there are ups and downs and teams go through it,” Porter said. “Right now, it’s a matter of depth and we want to start out fresh. You start out fresh, you’re already ahead of the game.”

Porter is encouraged by the Bulls’ offense during the preseason, including an increased emphasis on 3-point attempts.

“Right now, we might not be shooting a high percentage. But in the regular season, that number is definitely going to increase drastically because we’re practicing hard, making our open shots and just getting open looks,” Porter said. “We know what this offense can do for us.”