Bulls

Gasol will 'very likely' opt out of Bulls contract this summer, test free agency

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Gasol will 'very likely' opt out of Bulls contract this summer, test free agency

Pau Gasol came to the Bulls on a discount of sorts two summers ago, with some teams wondering how much top-flight game he had left in his veteran body.

But after a stellar first year in Chicago and his ramping it up recently after a busy summer, there appears to be very little doubt he can still produce at a high level.

Gasol told CSNChicago.com Wednesday night after his 26-point, 19-rebound, four-block and three-assist performance against the Denver Nuggets that it’s “very likely” he’ll opt-out of his contract this summer and test the market.

“As long as I keep playing like this,” Gasol said. “I know I’ll have some options.”

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Gasol, 35, signed a three-year, $22.3 million deal with the Bulls in the summer of 2014, spurning the likes of the San Antonio Spurs and to a lesser degree, the Miami Heat.

A two-time champion with the Los Angeles Lakers, Gasol is a sure-fire Hall of Famer due to his exploits both in the NBA and internationally.

Saturday’s game against the Charlotte Hornets will be career game No. 1,000 for Gasol and although he appeared to take things easy at the start of training camp and the preseason due to a busy summer with the Spanish National Team, his production has climbed in recent games.

“I feel pretty good right now physically,” Gasol said in the locker room after Wednesday's game. “I had to take it easier in the preseason so I started a little slower this season than I would’ve liked but because of how I played this summer I had no choice. I had to refuel somehow so I could have enough gas to make it through the entire season and still get to the end with enough and push through so I can play well in the playoffs.”

With the salary cap rising again this summer and assuming Gasol stays in relative good health, it makes sense for him to again hit free agency for a contract with long-term security and more annual money. By today’s financial standards, Gasol is underpaid for his production, ranking 23rd amongst power forwards in the NBA, according to spotrac.com.

If he were to be listed as a center, which he plays when Nikola Mirotic or Taj Gibson is on the floor, his $7.4 million average would rank 20th.

It appears both Gasol and Joakim Noah will be free agents this summer, leaving the Bulls with some choices in the frontline as they’ll try to fit the best pieces around Fred Hoiberg’s offensive system. No one from the Bulls seem to have given the indication they would merely let Gasol and his production walk out of the door without a fight and a source with the front office tells CSNChicago.com they'll make a hard push to retain his services.

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Hoiberg was certainly appreciative of Gasol’s effort Wednesday night, and his presence as a whole.

“I know his teammates don’t underestimate him and that’s the important thing with Pau,” Hoiberg said. “He got us going with the start and finished the game with a couple free throws.”

Gasol is averaging 14.4 points, 10.8 rebounds and 2.0 blocks, the last two being above his career averages. In Hoiberg’s system, his role has differed a bit than the one he played last year where he was featured more, as he averaged 18.5 points and 11.8 rebounds in Tom Thibodeau’s slow-down system.

With Hoiberg wanting to play faster, a style more tailored to the wings and point guards, Gasol hasn’t been exactly marginalized but the team seems to rely on him whenever they need a big bucket.

And more times than not, he’s delivered — on both ends of the floor. He had big defensive stands against the Spurs and Nuggets, as well as thwarting LeBron James’ last-second drive on Opening Night.

“Just trying to play as well as I can for the position I’m in now,” Gasol said. “I understand things are a little different now, but as long as we win and we’re a better team, we all sacrifice a little to do the things the coaching staff wants us to do.”

Why Coby White is the most important Bull to watch down the stretch

Why Coby White is the most important Bull to watch down the stretch

The All-Star break has come and gone, and the Bulls’ rebuild remains in relative disarray. A combination of injuries, individual regression and daunting opponents on the horizon leaves little hope for a playoff push in the short-term, and uncertainty regarding crucial pieces in the long-term.

For those reasons, all eyes will be on Coby White down the final 27-game stretch of the season. Or at least, they should be.

The Bulls, after all, are just eight months removed from investing the No. 7 overall pick in the 2019 draft on White — the same number selection they used on Wendell Carter Jr. and Lauri Markkanen in each of the two years prior. At the time, White profiled as a perfect last addition to a burgeoning core four of Zach LaVine, Markkanen and Carter — a lightning-rod scorer the team could bring along slowly off the bench with veteran Tomas Satoransky in tow. All while straddling dual objectives of winning and developing.

But, to borrow an old quarterback adage: Sometimes if you have two objectives, you really have none. The Bulls haven’t won. And White’s rookie season has been turbulent. In flashes, he’s inspired attention, respect and even awe — his first month in the NBA featured a record-smashing seven 3-pointer (all in the fourth quarter) performance against the Knicks, a six 3-pointer outing his next time on the floor and four 20-point games, overall. Seventeen games in, averages of 13.9 points, 3.6 rebounds and 2.4 assists with 35.6% long-range shooting (on good volume) seemed an exciting base from which to work.

Since the early going, however, those aforementioned outbursts have become fewer and farther between. White has just one 20-point game since Nov. 23 (averaging 9.9 points per game), and his numbers across the board have cumulatively either stagnated or dipped. A perusal of his basic month-to-month offensive splits reveals noticeable choppiness, both in production and opportunity:

Month Games Minutes per game Points per game Assists per game FG% 3P%
Oct. 5 23.3 12.6 2.8 40 30.8
Nov. 15 26.1 13.1 1.9 35.7 33
Dec. 14 22.6 9.4 2.4 37.7 40
Jan. 17 23.3 10.3 1.9 39 33.3
Feb. 4 29.1 11.5 6 30.8 27.6

“I think today's natural point guard — scoring, playmaking, being a leader, and just holding everybody accountable,” White said, when asked what his vision for himself as a lead guard is.White pointed to his on-ball work as the area he most wants to see improvement from himself for the rest of the season. Evolving into a true point guard is a strident aspiration of his. The Bulls, for their part, would gladly sign on for that outcome.Some of that is out of White’s hands. When Kris Dunn was forced into the starting lineup by injuries to Otto Porter Jr. and Chandler Hutchison in November, White was asked to play the part of a lead-guard and facilitator with the second unit to varying success (his most efficient offense comes in spotup scenarios). Coming off the bench all season, his running mates have been in constant flux, which has undoubtedly hurt his severely unflattering on/off splits. Still, White has handled every challenge hurled at him with unflinching professionalism, humility and determination.

“At the beginning it was kind of difficult,” White added of finding the balance between scoring and playmaking for others at the NBA level. “But now I'm starting to get better at it and making the right reads and just making the simple plays. I think ultimately, it's just making the simple plays and reading the defense.”

Here lies an area he has improved recently. Small sample size alert, but in the five games since Dunn sprained his MCL (including the game in which the injury occurred), White is averaging five assists per game — leagues above his season-long average of 2.4 — and his body control, patience in the halfcourt and finishing through contact have all steadily improved over the course of the season. The game is beginning to slow down for him.

 

“I think just playing consistently has been big for me. Being on the floor as a rookie and whatnot,” said White, who is averaging 28.2 minutes since Jan. 31. “I've made a lot of progress from when I was at Summer League until now. I think controlling the game a lot better, putting my teammates in position to succeed. So I feel like I've been doing that a lot better. I still have a long way to go, but I'm continuing to work at it.

That “long way to go” is mainly in shooting efficiency, a point White acknowledged. Of 272 players that have taken 200 field goal attempts this season, White is 261st in true shooting (47.7%) and 257th in effective field goal percentage (45.2%). In his last 11 games, he’s reached 50% shooting from the field only once, when he shot only six times in 19 minutes against the Pacers on Jan. 29. Generally speaking, the Bulls are 8.4 points per 100 possessions worse with him on the floor, per Cleaning the Glass, by far the lowest on the team of those that have logged over 1,000 minutes this season.

So is the song and dance of analyzing White. His virtues are tantalizing, the areas to improve inescapable. But if the Bulls make one thing their priority over the last 27 games of the season, it should be clearing up as much murk as possible around evaluating him. White and Markkanen represent the two players on the team that are simultaneously the most important to the Bulls’ future while also being shrouded in the most uncertainty, at present. They can’t afford to go into year four of this rebuild without clarity on both.

And in terms of White, specifically, the Bulls owe it to themselves to have as much information as possible at their disposal with another top-ten draft pick likely in the cards, and a top-heavy, guard-heavy 2020 class looming.

The opportunity to collect that information is nigh. As of Thursday, Dunn is set to miss at least four to six more weeks with an MCL sprain before being reevaluated; Hutchison will miss the team’s first game back post-All-Star with a flare-up in his shoulder; Carter and Porter are inching closer to returns, but neither have concrete timetables; and Markkanen and Denzel Valentine remain out, ambiguously. White, meanwhile, is one of just three Bulls — along with LaVine and Satoransky — to appear in all 55 games this season, though he has yet to make a start.

For now, Boylen said his development plan for White hasn’t changed in light of that brutal spate of injuries. But one way or another, he’ll get his shot.

“He cares, he wants it,” Boylen said. “Like all young players he's trying to establish himself in the league, and I just keep telling him he's doing that and just keep it simple and keep playing… He's a high character dude, so the future's bright.”

“The rookie experience is definitely humbling. It humbles you. It's up and down,” White said. “Patience – a lot of people just tell me patience, my time is coming.” 

Whenever that time comes, it will be worth watching.

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John Beilein reassigned to a different role within Cleveland Cavaliers organization

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USA TODAY

John Beilein reassigned to a different role within Cleveland Cavaliers organization

Coaching in the NBA is hard, even if you are one of the best college basketball coaches in the nation. It is something that basketball fans—especially those in Chicago—are reminded of time and time again, and John Beilein is the latest in the line of NCAA-to-NBA head coaches to make a failed transition. Shams Charania of The Athletic reported on Wednesday that the Cleveland Cavaliers and Beilein were parting ways after he resigned as head coach of the team. Charania later added that for the time being, Cleveland will be reassigning Beilein to an alternate role within the franchise. 

Beilein's NBA coaching career lasted 54 games, 216 games less than current Nebraska head coach Fred Hoiberg, who lasted 270 games with the Bulls after leaving the Iowa State program in 2015. Beilen's struggles were similar to Hoiberg in the fact that they both struggled to transfer their college coaching styles to the NBA, where they would be dealing with grown men rather than young college students. During Hoiberg's tenure with the Bulls, Jimmy Butler infamously called him out, stating that the Bulls needed to be "coached a lot harder at times," and that incident looks a lot like the dispute between Cavs center Tristan Thompson and Beilein, which boiled over during a game this season. 

There was also an incident this season in which Beilein mistakenly referred to his Cavaliers players as "thugs" in a film session, reportedly leading to the team intentionally playing songs with the word "thug" in it, further exacerbating an already difficult situation.

The big takeaway here is that there is a lot more than the X's and O's that goes into NBA coaching, and with player movement at an all-time high, college coaches are finding NBA roles more challenging than ever.

Beilein was one of the hottest coaching names in the business in 2019, coming off yet another successful season at the helm of the Michigan Wolverines, who were coming off of an Elite 8 appearance after making the National Title game the year before. Now Beilein is back out of NBA coaching, and the Bulls' rivals in Cleveland are now even more firmly entrenched in the rebuilding phase than they were before with relatively young (40 years old) J.B. Bickerstaff taking over. 

Beilein has three years and $12 million left on his Cavaliers contract, and sources have told ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski previously that the Cavaliers and Beilein have agreed on a deal to pay him a portion of his 2019-20 salary. It has not yet publicly been stated what Beilein's new title within the Cavaliers organization will be. 

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