Bulls

Fred Hoiberg likes Doug McDermott coming off the Bulls' bench

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Fred Hoiberg likes Doug McDermott coming off the Bulls' bench

When Mike Dunleavy’s injury was announced a few weeks ago, it was assumed Doug McDermott would take his place at small forward and begin fulfilling the promise expected of a lottery pick.

But Fred Hoiberg hasn’t started McDermott in one preseason game to date, and with the regular season opener looming, one would think Hoiberg, tabbed with the responsibility of coaxing the most production from a talented player, would start familiarizing McDermott with being on the first unit.

McDermott will start Thursday in the Bulls’ final preseason game, against the Dallas Mavericks in Lincoln, Neb., but it won’t be a continuing trend when the games really count. Hoiberg likes that scoring punch off the bench, so McDermott will anchor the second unit.

“That's the role I've anticipate for Doug is coming off the bench. I'll start him in Lincoln (Nebraska),” Hoiberg said. “It'll be a fun game for him with his family and everybody that supported him. I know a lot of people will come from Ames. I'll start him that game for sure, but I like Doug coming off the bench. I think it's been a good role for him.”

McDermott would certainly love to start—all NBA players worth their salt do, no matter what they say—but he understands and is fine with Hoiberg’s decision.

“Yeah, I’m completely fine with that,” said McDermott, who’s scored in double figures in every preseason game. “Either way. I think it’s been good for me, just kind of see the game develop a little bit. I think they need scoring off the bench, too, so I feel like I can bring that and I’m fine with whatever.”

[SCHANOWSKI: Frontcourt minutes could be Hoiberg's biggest challenge]

It’s clear Hoiberg isn’t happy with the Bulls’ defense as a whole, and wants the most balanced unit on the floor. McDermott is no defensive stopper and has had trouble staying in front of drivers from the top of the key or the wings.

If McDermott was to be a part of the starting lineup, it would force Jimmy Butler to certainly defend an opponents’ best perimeter scorer or playmaker, and there seems to be an emphasis on conserving Butler’s energy with the heavy minutes he’ll have to play this season.

So there’s a possibility of starting Tony Snell, who injured his ankle in a game this week, or Nikola Mirotic (also not the most inclined defender) or even Kirk Hinrich, which would slide Butler over to small forward and out of the backcourt.

McDermott knows defensively he’s a work in progress because being a perimeter player is new to him.

“It’s tough for me, especially played a lot of four in college so I wasn’t the guy getting into the ball-handler and force him one way,” McDermott said. “I’ve worked on that a lot. I’ve tried to pull guys aside after practice even if it’s a guy like Jordan Crawford where I can just, you know, try and get into a guy that’s quick and athletic. It’s been tough. Part of it’s on me. Part of it’s on all of us communicating and we’ll all get better.”

[NBC SHOP: Gear up for the upcoming season, Bulls fans!]

With McDermott in the starting lineup, there’s a chance he would get lost among primary scorers Butler, Derrick Rose and Pau Gasol. Coming off the bench allows him to anchor the scoring from the second unit while also minimizing his defensive deficiencies, pitting him against lesser offensive players.

He sees both sides of the argument.

“I think it goes both ways. I think, more of an opportunity for shots and scoring off the bench,” McDermott said. “You see guys like that in the league all the time, coming off the bench and just kind of fire away. I feel like that’s something I can do, but at the same time if I was out there with Derrick and Jimmy and Pau, I feel like I’d really space the floor for them. I think Derrick would get a lot of driving lanes, along with Jimmy. So, either way, I think I can help out wherever they ask.”

When Dunleavy comes back, one can assume the veteran will come back as the starting small forward, barring an unforeseen change from the head coach. Having McDermott establish a rhythm as a primary scorer as opposed to jerking him in and out as a starter could be Hoiberg’s goal, or part of it.

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

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USA TODAY

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.