Could the Bulls bring DeMarcus Cousins to Chicago?


Could the Bulls bring DeMarcus Cousins to Chicago?

One of the best centers in the NBA could be available in trade in the hours leading up to Thursday night’s NBA Draft. Sacramento’s 24-year-old DeMarcus Cousins has been linked to trade rumors involving several teams around the league, and even though Kings’ owner Vivek Ranadive and head of basketball operations Vlade Divac insist Cousins is not available, a chain of events has already begun that might force the organization’s hands.

First, a little history. Cousins was a big fan of former Kings’ coach Mike Malone, who was fired unceremoniously early last season when injuries sent the team into a tailspin after an impressive early start. Former DePaul star Tyrone Corbin was inserted as interim coach, and left to twist in the wind while Ranadive continued to search for big-name options. Ranadive eventually settled on NBA lifer George Karl, who’s been known to feud with his star players in previous stops, and that move immediately drew less than favorable reviews from the Cousins camp.

Karl and "Boogie" were able to co-exist over the final half of last season, but when Karl told reporters in his end of the year review that he didn’t have an untradeable player on the roster, the uneasy alliance already was starting to crumble. Now, after seeing his name bandied about in numerous trade scenarios over the last several weeks, Cousins is ready to bolt Sacramento and would welcome a trade to the division rival Lakers. Y! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski detailed how difficult it would be to bring Cousins back to Sacramento next season, given his relationship with Karl is now beyond repair.

[BULLS: Mark Schanowski's NBA mock draft]

If a trade of Cousins is seen as almost inevitable, is there any chance the Bulls could make a serious bid for a player who made his first All-Star team last season, averaging 24 points and almost 13 rebounds per game? Cousins also was part of the U.S. gold medal winning team at the World Cup, and has had some big games against the Bulls in the past.

The Lakers have reportedly offered the No. 2 pick in Thursday’s draft, along with last year’s lottery pick, Julius Randle. The Celtics are willing to offer multiple first rounders and players to acquire their top trade target. If Ranadive eventually relents to Karl’s pleas to move Cousins off the roster, you’d have to think just about every NBA team will show interest.

So, what could the Bulls offer in a package for Cousins? Any deal would probably involve Jimmy Butler in a sign-and-trade move once he’s agreed to his new max contract. Butler’s max deal would start at just under $16 million, almost exactly what Cousins is scheduled to make next season. The Bulls could sweeten the package by returning the Top-10 protected first round pick for 2016 or 2017 owed to them by the Kings in the Luol Deng trade, while also including a future first rounder of their own.

If that’s not enough to interest Sacramento, would the Bulls consider trading Derrick Rose? The former league MVP has two years left and $41.3 million left on his contract. The Kings could match the money with a deal of Cousins and veteran point guard Darren Collison, while also receiving one or two first rounders back from the Bulls.

[NBA DRAFT: Get ready with more than 60 player profiles]

Granted, trading Butler or Rose in a package for Cousins would leave the Bulls extremely heavy in the front court with Cousins, Pau Gasol, Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson and Nikola Mirotic. But remember, Noah only has one more year left on his contract, Gasol one year plus a player option, and Gibson has two more years. Gibson could also be traded at some point next season after he’s fully healed from his recent ankle surgery.

The harsh reality for the Bulls is they probably missed out on their best chance to beat LeBron James and the Cavs with their current roster. Big changes are coming in the next couple years with just about all of their key players’ contracts due to expire.

Why not accelerate the changeover by acquiring one of the NBA’s top scoring big men at a time when every other team in the league is fascinated by going small after the Warriors’ championship run? Maybe building a team around Cousins, either Butler or Rose, and young shooters like Mirotic, Doug McDermott and Tony Snell will put them in a better position when LeBron inevitably starts to slow down.

It’s a lot easier to find complementary wing players than All-Star bigs, which means the market for Cousins will be extremely competitive. New coach Fred Hoiberg might be inclined to design an offense around a speedy point guard and a collection of wing shooters, but the opportunity to make a bid for a player as talented as Cousins might be too good to pass up.

Hey, at least it’s worth a phone call.

Take a deep breath: The injured, rebuilding Bulls are exactly where they’re supposed to be


Take a deep breath: The injured, rebuilding Bulls are exactly where they’re supposed to be

There wasn’t a snowball’s chance that Saturday night was going to be anything other than abysmal. Already shorthanded, the Bulls were without leading scorer Zach LaVine on the second night of a back-to-back facing the Eastern Conference-leading Toronto Raptors. Even without Kawhi Leonard and on its own tail end of a back-to-back, Toronto’s roster made the end result feel inevitable. And it was.

The Bulls offense was invisible without LaVine, tallying just 55 points through three quarters and finishing with 22 turnovers and 21 assists. They shot 35 percent from the field while the Raptors scored at will; the 122-83 loss was the fourth worst home loss in Bulls history, and the Raptors largest road win in their history. It was even uglier than the final score.

In a vacuum the Bulls are 4-13, the fourth worst record in the NBA, with the league’s third worst offense and seventh worst defense. The season is exactly one month old and the Bulls already have two four-game losing streaks, another three-game skid and only wins against four sub-.500 teams with a combined record of 16-45. Its best win came against a 7-8 Hornets team that was finishing a four-game-in-six-nights road trip. “Let’s go Raptors” chants breaking out at home while trailing by 38 is probably a new low in a season that’s quickly getting away from the Bulls.

"We have to find a way to stick together through this tough stretch that we've had, and we've got to find a way to build on the good things that we do and start to limit the bad stretches that we have, which are way too many right now," Hoiberg said. "Got to find a way."

It’s been ugly. But in context, the 4-13 Bulls are playing exactly like a team that a) is missing three of its top players, including its best, and b) is in Year 2 of a bare bones rebuild. The Bulls are one year removed from a 27-win season, the franchise’s worst in 14 years. They’re the youngest team in the NBA and on Saturday night played seven players with three years of NBA experience or less.

VP John Paxson told reporters after last season that the tanking Bulls “don’t ever want to be in this position again.” It was an uplifting quote at the time, a sign that Year 2 of the rebuild wouldn’t be as bumpy as Year 1. The reality was that, even when healthy, this rebuild is barely in the simmering stages of fully cooking.

Perhaps Paxson meant he didn’t want to be playing Cris Felicio 30 minutes a night and be actively benching healthy veterans (to the point that the NBA stepped in). But it certainly didn’t mean more wins than losses. Trying to win is different than expecting to win. Las Vegas projected a healthy Bulls team to win 28.5 games for a reason, even in a weak Eastern Conference.

The 2018-19 season’s most important goal was assessing five players: To that point, Zach LaVine is averaging 25 points per game and outplaying the contract some believed he didn’t deserve. Wendell Carter Jr. is on pace to be the first rookie since Joel Embiid to average 7.0 rebounds and 2.0 blocks. The other three – Markkanen, Dunn and Portis – are on the shelf and may not be fully up and running until late December or early January.

Only the Denver Nuggets have had more games missed to injury than the Bulls. Denver knew Isaiah Thomas would miss time when they signed him in July as he rehabbed from hip surgery and that rookie Michael Porter Jr. would miss time with a back injury. The Bulls’ four injuries were sprung on them after media day and training camp began.

The result is them changing lineups, rotations, responsibilities and roles on the absolute fly. Cameron Payne hadn’t played significant minutes in 10 days and had 4 points in 22 minutes as a starter on Saturday. Robin Lopez and Felicio remain in a coin flip each night for backup duties behind Carter.

The truth is it’s really not important from a long-term perspective, which is entirely what the Bulls are focused on. Maybe Justin Holiday plays well enough to be traded. That isn’t going to move the needle on the rebuild. Don’t focus on the micro during a macro rebuild.

Markkanen’s magical rookie season, Carter’s impressive start and LaVine hitting everything in sight seems to have increased team expectations. The reality is the roster is still far from competing, even when healthy. The core pieces appear to be there. They’re also 23, 21 and 19 years old.

Rebuilds take time.

The goals will change when Hoiberg’s coaching with a full deck. LaVine and Markkanen must develop a two-man game on the perimeter that punishes defense with a pick-your-poison effect. Dunn and Carter’s pick-and-roll progression will be something to watch, as will Dunn’s perimeter shooting. Bobby Portis is playing for millions of dollars, either on the open market or in Chicago.

The rest is fluff. They’re supposed to look bad right now. The roster wasn’t exactly built to withstand injuries to three major contributors. How many in the league are?

That’s not to say there haven’t been negatives. Jabari Parker has been a bust. There’s no denying the Bulls swung and missed on paying the Chicago native $20 million only to take low-percentage shots, jog back on defense and own up to very little of either. Cameron Payne had an opportunity to showcase his ability as a former Lottery pick and cement his status as the backup behind Dunn. It didn’t happen. Chandler Hutchison to this point has been underwhelming, but like the core pieces he should have a larger role when the calendar flips to 2019.

They’ll have another Lottery pick in a draft class that looks absolutely star-studded. Maybe it won’t be Zion Williamson. But after drafting Markkanen and Carter seventh overall in consecutive drafts, there’s optimism they can find another gem regardless of where they draft. They’ll also have a boatload of money in free agency. Maybe it won’t be Kevin Durant. But Chicago looks liked a much more desired destination than it did 12 months ago.

It certainly can be frustrating to watch given the future seems so far away. But this is what the front office signed up for. The time to evaluate the roster – and even Hoiberg – won’t come for another few months. If you’re truly upset with how the Bulls are playing down three of their top players, you’ve either wagered on them to win 29 games or are Jabari Parker’s agent.

For now, it’s about withstanding the lows and searching for the progression that ultimately will lead to the highs.  Take a deep breath, Bulls fans: the rebuild is where it’s supposed to be.

Lauri, Kris and Bobby are on his way to begin the next chapter.

Justin Holiday continues to string together solid efforts amid tough Bulls losses


Justin Holiday continues to string together solid efforts amid tough Bulls losses

The Bulls came out on fire against the Bucks, putting up 40 points in an explosive first quarter. Unfortunately they followed that up by scoring 41 points in the second half. But the offense of Jabari Parker and Justin Holiday was pretty much the only thing working for Chicago on Friday night.

Holiday’s effectiveness as an aggressive, dependable floor-spacer continues to showcase what makes him such a valuable NBA player. Unfortunately, that value has been mostly squandered on a Bulls team that lacks a diverse offensive attack.

Holiday contributed 9 points on 3-3 shooting from the 3-point line in the first quarter. He kept this momentum rolling in the second, and ended up not missing a single shot in the first half. Holiday ended the first half 6-6 from the 3-point line but went on to only score once more in the second half. He ended the game with 20 points, the second-leading scorer on the night for Chicago.

On a night where Zach LaVine was clearly gassed from the burden of carrying the offense all season (6-20 from the field), only Parker could provide a solid secondary option. Parker’s effectiveness also tapered off dramatically in the second half, as he stopped taking 3-pointers and didn’t get to the free throw line at all. Early season struggles were to be expected from Parker, as he is on a new team with a roster full of young players. But his shot selection is what has been so frustrating to watch. 

Results do not have to be immediate, but seeing as Parker is taking a greater percentage of his shots from long 2-point range than last season, it is clear he hasn’t fully bought in to the idea of getting all the way to the basket or shooting the 3-pointer without hesitation. And that is why players like Holiday—one of Hoiberg’s loyal soldiers from his first year as Bulls coach—are so crucial.

It is clear that Hoiberg’s preferred playing style has stuck with Holiday and hopefully, that it can rub off on the other players.

We have discussed before how his 3-point attempt rate (72 percent) is the perfect indicator of how often he is hunting the 3-point shot. But the problem is that this current Bulls roster needs more players who create 3-point looks for others, rather than knock them down.

Heading into Friday night’s game, Holiday had been assisted on 72 percent of his 2-point shots and 95 percent of his 3-point shots. This season, he has been assisted on 57 percent of his 2-point shots and 90 percent of his 3-point shots. This is an alarming sign for the Holiday, as he has never been a player known for creating his own shot and the decline in assisted baskets means he is being forced outside of his comfort zone on offense.

It is no coincidence that Holiday’s 3-point percentage in November (35 percent) is lower than his 3-point percentage in October (40 percent). He played 34 minutes per game in October before that number got increased to 37 minutes per game in November. Holiday has been in the top 10 in minutes all year and there is no end in sight for his tremendous minutes load with the Bulls being so thin on the wing.

The 2019 NBA offseason for Chicago will likely be about finding players they can comfortably play at the small forward spot. But Bulls fans should appreciate Holiday’s play while he’s here, as he has been one of the team’s more consistent players. Holiday has done a decent amount of leading by example—especially when it comes to playing the way Hoiberg wants to—and continues to show why he can continue to be a valuable piece on this Bulls team.