Draft season starts the speculation season in the NBA


Draft season starts the speculation season in the NBA

The unofficial start of the NBA’s offseason has begun, with the draft being days away and teams gearing up for extreme makeovers, giving way to the best part of fantasy basketball.

The imagination phase, speculation season.

Whether it’s DeMarcus Cousins having his name thrown about in trade rumors because his coach doesn’t want to deal with him or a few teams tired of hoarding draft picks that takes years to develop as opposed to contending, it’s only the beginning.

Over the next 48 hours, teams will try to position themselves by sending out false draft information to willing media participants, hoping to execute the best end-around this side of Devin Hester. Some hot name will emerge in the draft, a top-12 player who’ll somehow earn the love of a top team like his game film changed since March.

By contrast, there’s almost always a player who’ll drop on everybody’s draft boards after spending months atop it, like some magical attribute has suddenly made the prospect of drafting him all the more risky.

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This is why some teams stay drafting at the top and why the more stable organizations keep waiting on the diamonds in the rough to slide down while the less intelligent franchises talk themselves out of contention and back to another lottery appearance some 300 days from now.

But the tenor of this draft—and any draft—is uncertainty.

Draft day trades where prospects are dealt for proven players is a common occurrence, although not as common practice as it used to be, given this NBA is a more cost-control league and teams aren’t as gung-ho about adding proven, pricey veterans to a core as opposed to the possibility of having draft picks develop under the tutelage.

It’s why Cousins’ name is so intriguing for many teams, especially the Boston Celtics who’ve been sniffing around the talented big man for years on end, dangling multiple first-round picks in consecutive years just in case the Kings are foolish enough to give away a player who averages 24 points and 12 rebounds.

Phoenix Suns point guard Eric Bledsoe has heard his name lightly tossed out in the rumor mill, as a potential target for the always-rebuilding but never succeeding (and always comical) New York Knicks, a player who signed a max contract less than 10 months ago.

Let it be said it’s unlikely Bledsoe or to a lesser degree, Cousins, is actually moved on Thursday but it does illustrate the growing impatience for some franchises to get better, to make change for change sake or to abandon a plan that had plenty of holes in it from Day One.

[MORE DRAFT: Four players who the Bulls should consider at No. 22]

With the salary cap rising at a rapid rate over the next two offseasons (not this one), teams will be more likely to take on existing bad contracts to fill needs as opposed to going into free agency and truly overpaying for a player just because the market says so.

Eyes will be wide come July 1, and the uncertainty of the draft is only matched by the uncertainty of free agency. Missing on a draft pick, for some, is a forgivable offense. Missing on a free agency signing with a hefty price tag could be a death knell to some front office executives, and they’d rather take their chances with the trade market.

So ideas will be bandied about in boardrooms and some will even make its way to the twitterverse before NBA commissioner Adam Silver makes his way to the podium to announce draft selections five minutes apart Thursday night.

Some may even come to fruition but most of all, you’ll likely hear a lot of smoke—as the fire plans to be quite unexpected and rarely speculated before it happens.

Welcome to the NBA’s offseason.

Draft night highlighted the unfulfilling feeling of this past Bulls season

Draft night highlighted the unfulfilling feeling of this past Bulls season

The door has officially been closed on the 2017-18 season for the Chicago Bulls, and the word that most comes to mind is “unfulfilling.”

Or maybe even “indistinguishable.”

Draft night was supposed to be a culmination of a painful seven-month stretch that only had occasional yet costly moments of light.

Death lineup? Meet Death March. And Death April, while we’re at it.

The Bulls brass sold everyone on a full rebuild after trading Jimmy Butler one year ago, with an unspoken promise that this draft would bear franchise-changing fruit—hence the general feeling of angst or even indifference with the solid selection of Wendell Carter Jr. and their not-so-secret affection of Chandler Hutchison.

It was why fans believe the Bulls got cold feet about trading to move up, and why they believe the Bulls weren’t being pragmatic in staying away from Michael Porter Jr.

Porter, some believe, has star written all over him given his prep ranking this time last year and the Bulls were in position to speed up this process without having to go into a painful Process.

They were desperate for a star, believing the tankathon had produced so much suffering it had to be something on the back end.

There was the fight (or the punch).

The aftermath.

The miserable 3-20 start.

The 14-7 streak that produced the audacity of hope.

The reality that 14-7 was damaging enough to the lottery chances that a 3-11 finish couldn’t rectify.

And finally, the coin flip that cost them five spots in the lottery one month ago.

So that empty feeling has less to do with Carter and Hutchison, who’ve done nothing to earn the “blah” reaction from the fan base and some media. It has everything to do with the unanswered questions over the last 82 games and lack of clarity over the three hauls from draft night last year.

It’s not that Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn underperformed individually last season, but the lack of cohesiveness due to injuries and circumstances has led to the varying thoughts.

LaVine is approaching restricted free agency and by all accounts is taking his continuing rehab in Washington very seriously.  Markkanen has added plenty of muscle since the offseason began, appearing as if he can play Michael B. Jordan’s in-ring foil in the next installation of “Creed” as Ivan Drago’s long lost son.

And despite the report about Dunn not working as hard on the floor this offseason, that would be more of a concern if this were late August, not June.

The last time they were seen together on the floor, they looked no closer to a pecking order than the day they arrived.

What we know is that they’re productive NBA players, capable of putting an individual tattoo on a game at a moment’s notice, skillful enough to take your breath away.

And for whatever reason, the expectations changed once the three displayed they could be dynamic on their own—a star needed to be anointed and groomed to go with the star they believed was coming their way after the season.

Management is fully behind Markkanen, but Paxson’s strong words about LaVine at the season-ending news conference illustrated how much it feels LaVine has to prove next season.

With his restricted free agency status looming, the Bulls’ initial offer will show how much they value him until and if he gets a better deal on the market.

And the fact the Bulls weren’t afraid to draft Trae Young while having a healthy debate about Collin Sexton on draft night has to show they have at least some skepticism about the future at point guard.

But stars—developing stars, acquired stars, drafted stars—have to do it on their own. No amount of promotion or prodding from management will validate their faith, if that’s the route the Bulls choose to go.

This has to be a meritocracy or it won’t work and, honestly, it’s time for a reality check.

All the worry about the Bulls getting back to title contention sooner rather than later seems like folks getting ahead of themselves.

The front office has taken its share of shots from media and fans, so some questioning is earned but they’re right about one thing. Rebuilds aren’t completed in a day or 12 months.

Expecting some magic potion to arrive in the form of a top draft pick isn’t going to cure what ills this roster, and it doesn’t seem likely all the cap space will result in a free agent choosing the Bulls over the usual suspects.

However, methodical building can look like complacency if not done with a sense of urgency.

And with urgency in mind, this past season was unsatisfying to say the least—heading into the next phase with two more young pieces to develop while the first three are still in the evaluation stage.

Loyola's March Madness hero Donte Ingram will play with Bulls' Summer League team

Loyola's March Madness hero Donte Ingram will play with Bulls' Summer League team

Donte Ingram's 2018 keeps getting better and better.

The March Madness hero, who buried a game-winning 3-pointer in the first round of Loyola's win over Miami, will play on the Bulls' Summer League team.

Ingram, a Simeon Academy graduate, had himself an incredible senior season with the Ramblers, who advanced all the way to the Final Four as a No. 11 seed.

In five NCAA Tournament games Ingram averaged 7.0 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.6 assists for the Ramblers. He also had 18 points in the MVC Conference Championship Game to secure the Ramblers' March Madness berth.

He'll join first-round draft picks Wendell Carter Jr. and Chandler Hutchison on the Las Vegas Summer League team, which will begin play early next month.