Bulls will keep it basic, but preseason opener a chance to continue jelling

Bulls will keep it basic, but preseason opener a chance to continue jelling

Thirteen NBA teams will begin their respective preseason schedules on Monday night, and none will do so with a more unfamiliar roster than the Bulls. With eight new faces, including three starters, the team that takes the United Center floor against the Milwaukee Bucks will be far from a finished product. It’s why Fred Hoiberg said the Bulls will take Game 1 slow, keep the first unit together for stretches in the first half and hand the reins over to the younger players after halftime.

Still, Hoiberg is looking at tonight’s preseason game – and beyond – as another opportunity for his relatively new team to jell. The Bulls had a live practice Monday morning, a contrast from a regular season shootaround normally seen the day of a game, taking advantage of the minutes that will be spaced out in the game to, in effect, get in another two-a-day session. Jimmy Butler noted that the “different vibe” many of the players have spoken of has come from Hoiberg’s attitude.

“Just how much he’s looking for everybody to be a perfectionist,” Butler said. “Whether it’s catching a rebound with one hand or making a bounce pass here when you’re not supposed to, I think that’s holding everybody accountable to where they’re not going to mess up.”

That continued the theme seen early in training camp. The Bulls have practiced each of seven days since opening camp last Tuesday, all in an effort to form chemistry with a group that returns a little more than half of its minutes from a year ago.

“He’s been working us hard,” Dwyane Wade said of Hoiberg. “He’s been getting us mentally ready and prepared, and he’s done a good job of delegating to his coaches when he needs to.”

[SHOP: Get ready for the new season, Bulls fans!]

Hoiberg spoke briefly with his team about keying in on Milwaukee’s tendencies; the Bulls will focus on transition defense, protecting the paint and rebounding against the Bucks. But their primary focus, which will remain through the preseason slate, is on improving themselves. In addition to young players getting valuable minutes, putting that starting unit on the floor in game situations is something that can’t be replicated in practice.

“This is what you work hard for, to get out here and have these moments,” Wade said. “We’re gonna have some moments where it’s going to look good tonight. We’re going to have some moments where it’s going to look awful. And that’s what the coaches get paid for, to come in and break down the film and tell us what we can get better at, and pat us on the back for the moments that we had good.”

The starters will play between 10-12 minutes in the first half – Taj Gibson will open at power forward, with Hoiberg admitting he will continue rotating starters at that position as the preseason goes along – and take another step in their process of jelling.

“You just can’t simulate that game action in practice, so for a guy like Wade to go out…it’s a start to working his way up to the shape he needs to be in for opening night,” Hoiberg said. “But we’ll get our top guys together, play them a lot of minutes together in the first half, them most likely sit those guys in the second.

“You want to go out there and perform well. Again, we’re going to keep it very basic tonight and we’re going to work on a lot of things…It’s about going out there and worrying about ourselves tonight. And if you ask any coach in the league, these first couple games, that’s what it’s all about.”

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.