Bulls

Goodwill: Bulls roster at a crossroads, in need of real change

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Goodwill: Bulls roster at a crossroads, in need of real change

On paper, it appears the Bulls are in the midst of a somewhat usual three-game losing streak that occurs in the throes of an 82-game season.

But things could be much more critical, and the front office must consider the crossroads the franchise is in.

Last year is over, and when the Bulls failed to show up for the second half of Game 6 in the Eastern Conference semifinals at home against the Cleveland Cavaliers, their best chance with the core being constructed as such likely went up in smoke with it.

The theories and finger-pointing has been entertaining, if not fruitless in the time since, as the same participants have deflected attention or tacitly stated the issue lies in other directions.

But none of that matters now, as the Bulls are in the one space teams aspire to get to, but hate staying in beyond a short period of time: the no-man’s land of contention.

Good enough to be better than the also-rans, talented enough to be ensured of a playoff spot in an improved Eastern Conference but not good enough to be feared by the true championship contenders.

Many have asked if the Bulls are the scintillating bunch that can win six straight, showing offensive efficiency to Fred Hoiberg’s intended desire or if they’re the seemingly lifeless bunch that doesn’t look very happy to play with each other consistently, and can’t sustain the proper mental concentration over a 48-minute game.

The uncomfortable answer: They’re both, which makes things that much more difficult for Gar Forman and John Paxson leading to the trade deadline a little over a month away.

When you’re good enough to pull off wins against the best of the best, it’s seduces many into believing this momentum can be carried into June because when called upon, championship-style teams have fallen to your talent and continuity.

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But there’s fewer games against the Spurs or the Cavaliers in the regular season and more against the likes of the Wizards or the Pistons or Bucks or Hawks, where consistency is formed.

Where a championship is forged, along with championship habits, which the Bulls don’t appear to have 37 games into the season.

Aside from Jimmy Butler and on occasion, a healthy Derrick Rose, there aren’t any other impact players on the roster, someone who can have a tangible effect on games consistently from a ball-handling position.

And how comfortable will the Bulls be with their swingmen headed into the playoffs being Tony Snell, Doug McDermott and presumably, Mike Dunleavy coming back off a back injury at his age, after the all-star break, which by proxy is after the trade deadline.

The team is built around Rose and Butler being stars for the Bulls to have a chance to overtake Cleveland, as long as LeBron James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving don’t get hurt.

James, Love and Irving are three impact players, with Tristan Thompson capable of winning a playoff game of his own with his offensive rebounding, and J.R. Smith capable of doing the same with a hot streak of shooting (although he can give one away, too).

By this count, that’s five potential impact players with your biggest rival, to one and a possible for the Bulls, assuming the two parties actually meet in the conference finals as-is.

And if you’ve played a game of spades, a guarantee of one book doesn’t leave you feeling very confident.

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Which leaves the Bulls in a spot where change is necessary and seems likely to happen, deemed by the contract situations of Joakim Noah, Pau Gasol and even Taj Gibson.

Noah will be an unrestricted free agent and Gasol has already told CSNChicago.com a few weeks ago that opting out is likely, even though one would say it’s a near certainty Gasol goes for his last payday approaching at age 36 come July.

Their contracts just so happened to be up at the same time, so it wasn’t some oversight from the front office that the two centers could very well leave Chicago for another city after the season.

And they have acquired a surplus of bigs, particularly with Bobby Portis having earned more minutes with his play—except there aren’t any minutes to have, and one can see him rushing to produce because he knows there’s likely one stint in the game plan for him with things laid out as such.

If they can acquire a decent swingman or at worst a shot creator, maybe Trevor Ariza away from Houston, or even take a chance on the likes of Phoenix's Markieff Morris or even Memphis' Jeff Green, maybe things can tilt a bit toward the Bulls’ favor.

Identifying the need for change is the easy part. Knowing what parts to change is where the curiosity about the remainder of this Bulls season begins.

Winning is fragile, so for all the Bulls’ inconsistencies, there’s a belief the players will get it together and continuity and familiarity will win the day, especially over the course of an 82-game season.

Making personnel changes requires the acknowledgement that the assembled roster isn’t good enough for compete for a title, and that taking a temporary step backward for the greater good is best.

Anybody with a set of eyes can tell this roster isn’t tailor fit to Hoiberg’s preferences, but it likely will be over the next couple of years where the front office brings in players to switch gears of a different kind of roster, and a different kind of philosophy.

The change will likely happen sooner than later, but to what extent?

Scottie Pippen's injury history sheds light on what could be ahead for Michael Porter Jr.

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USA TODAY

Scottie Pippen's injury history sheds light on what could be ahead for Michael Porter Jr.

By now you probably know the story of Michael Porter Jr.'s back. Right as his college basketball career was starting—two minutes in to be exact—he had to sit out with back pain, which eventually developed into Porter undergoing a microdiscectomy of the L3-L4 spinal discs. The general consensus has been simple: if Porter's medicals are clean then he is a potential top-five pick, but if there is a lack of medical information or any indication that lingering issues persist, he will be available at picks six through the late lottery. Regardless of how his medical records look, what we do know is that Porter was the top-ranked player in his high school class before the eventual re-classification of Marvin Bagley. With this in mind, any team in need of serious star power—hello Bulls!—should have no problems spending a high pick on Porter, and Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen is a big reason why.

In July of 1988, Pippen has disc surgery following a rookie season that was plagued by constant back pain. During that rookie season Pippen played just over 20 minutes a night and played in a total of 79 games.

While the late 80's didn't have the help of NBA Twitter to breathe doubt into fans, there was still a running sentiment that Pippen may not be effective as he was during his initial NBA season. But in his sophomore NBA year, he almost doubled his scoring total while raising his free throw percentage from 57.6 percent to 66.8 percent. On top of this, Pippen also increased his workload by playing 33.1 minutes per game. Altogether he increased his field goal and free throw percentage each of his first four seasons in the league, all following his rookie year back surgery.

This however, should not come as a shock. In an interview with SB Nation, Dr. Charla Fischer, a spine surgeon at NYU Langone Health, stated: "Most patients tell me they feel at least 50 to 80 percent better immediately after the surgery." 

Players typically take two seasons to return to form following herniated disc surgery, and that is right in line with Pippen's first All-Star appearance in 1990, about one and a half seasons following his procedure. When you relate this back to Porter, a clearer picture of what to expect forms. Because Porter has already missed an entire season of basketball (at Missouri), it figures to take about a year for him to totally regain the explosivness that he showcased at the high school level. 

Pippen averaged 14.4 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 2.1 apg, along with a combined 1.9 stl/blks per game in the season following his back procedure. Now it would be unreasonable to expect Porter to come into the NBA performing at that level, but more so because of his lack of all-around polish more than anything else. And that is what makes Porter such a conundrum. He is a player whose game—as of now—is totally based on scoring, and his scoring is directly tied to how close he is to 100 percent. So again, developing the rest of his game in terms of passing and defense will take on everlasting importance, regardless of if he ends up with Chicago or another team. 

And while it is true that Pippen's injury history eventually caught up with him, leading to another back surgery in 1998, this was six NBA championships later. Pip went on to play six more seasons following his 1998 procedure. This included four seasons with Portland where the team routinely won around 50 games, and had a legendary battle with the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2000 Western Conference Finals.

So no matter what, Porter's first year should be looked at as one very, very long training camp. He will be in the best position to succeed if he is selected by a team willing to look at him as a long-term piece, rather than a 6-foot, 11-inch savior.

 

NBA Buzz: Draft night is almost here

NBA Buzz: Draft night is almost here

With a number of national writers and broadcasters forecasting an active trade market in the hours leading up to Thursday's NBA Draft, the whole idea of a mock draft might just be an exercise in futility at this point. Still, we have learned quite a bit about which players are coveted by teams drafting in the top five after sorting through the smokescreens of the individual workouts.

So, with that in mind, here's my final stab at how Thursday's lottery  picks could play out.

1. Suns: Deandre Ayton, C, Arizona.  An absolute no-brainer here. Ayton combines the size and power of an old school center with the athleticism and shooting touch of a new-age "stretch five".

2. Kings: Marvin Bagley III, PF, Duke.  Vlade Divac shouldn't risk his good fortune at moving up to the No. 2 slot by taking a risk on Michael Porter Jr.'s health. Remember the Kings already have a rehabbing teenager in one of their first round picks from last season, Duke F Harry Giles. Bagley should be a 20-10 guy in the NBA for the next decade.

3. Hawks: Jaren Jackson Jr., PF-C, Michigan St.  This will be the first spot to look for a possible trade. The Hawks reportedly like Trae Young and might consider offers to move down and draft him later in the top 10. If they stay at No. 3, Jackson offers the rim protection and 3-point shooting ability Atlanta desperately needs.

4. Grizzlies: Luka Doncic, G-SF, Slovenia.  The Grizzlies should run to the podium if Doncic is still on the board at No. 4. The 19-year old wunderkind gives Memphis a secondary shot creator to go along with Mike Conley.

5. Mavericks: Michael Porter Jr., F, Missouri.  Mark Cuban is looking for his next big star with Dirk Nowitzki entering what is most likely his final season. The Mavs reportedly are also high on Mo Bamba, but Porter's potential as a 20 ppg scorer will probably win the discussion in the war room.

6. Magic: Trae Young, PG, Oklahoma.  Good chance of another trade at this spot involving a team that really likes Bamba. Orlando could move down a few spots and still get one of the three top-rated PG's, Young, Collin Sexton and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. If the Magic stay at No. 6, Young's quick-strike scoring and box office potential are likely to win the day.

7. BULLS: Mo Bamba, C, Texas.  Yes, John Paxson said the Bulls’ biggest need is a defensive-minded wing, but Bamba's ability to dominate at that end of the court is too great to pass up. Bamba is incredibly raw offensively, but he's been working on his low post skills and shooting form since the college season ended. The Bulls were not a good defensive team last season, and adding a shot-blocking threat like Bamba should improve them immediately.

8. Cavs: Kevin Knox, F, Kentucky.  Knox is one of the big risers after the individual workout season, impressing teams with his combination of athleticism and shooting ability. Knox can play both forward spots and could develop into a big-time scorer, replacing you-know-who as the Cavs start to build for an uncertain future.

9. Knicks: Wendell Carter Jr., PF-C, Duke.  The Knicks will be thrilled to add a versatile big like Carter, especially considering Kristaps Porzingis could miss most or all of next season rehabbing an ACL tear. Eventually, Porzingis and Carter could form a nice inside-outside tandem as the Knicks try to build toward playoff contention.

10. 76ers: Mikal Bridges, F, Villanova.  Another perfect fit for a team on the rise. Bridges' defense-first mentality and improving offensive game should blend in well on a Sixers team that's looking to take the next step after losing to Boston in the conference semi-finals. And, his mom already works for the franchise in the human relations department!

11. Hornets: Miles Bridges, F, Michigan St.  Charlotte whiffed on Michael Kidd-Gilchrist with the 2nd overall pick a few years ago, and Nic Batum has battled injuries since coming over from Portland. Miles Bridges is another combo forward who should thrive in the pro game with his ability to run the court and finish with authority at the rim.

12. Clippers: Collin Sexton, PG, Alabama.  The Clippers will be thrilled if Sexton falls this far, giving them a dynamic young option at point guard to go along with veterans Patrick Beverley and Milos Teodosic. Sexton could go as high as No. 6 to Orlando or No. 8 to the Cavs. He'll be one of the interesting names to watch on draft night.

13. Clippers: Robert Williams, PF-C, Texas A&M.  The Clippers are still waiting to see if DeAndre Jordan exercises his player option for next season, but if he decides to test the free agent market, Williams would be a perfect replacement. The athletic 6-foot 10-inch big man is a classic rim runner who should be able to finish off alley-oop passes just like Jordan.

14. Nuggets: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, G, Kentucky.  Don't be surprised if Gilgeous-Alexander goes even higher than this after a strong finish to his freshman season. Scouts love his 6-foot 6-inch frame and ability to get to the basket. In Denver, he could come off the bench initially behind young guards Jamal Murray and Gary Harris.

22. BULLS: Chandler Hutchison, SF, Boise St.  So, the Bulls may or may not have made a "promise" to select Hutchison with the No. 22 pick they acquired in the Niko Mirotic trade with New Orleans. Either way, if the Bulls get Bamba at No. 7, Hutchison would be a great addition as the "3-and-D" small forward Paxson talked about in his end of the season news conference. The 6-foot 7-inch swingman improved his 3-point shooting during his senior season at Boise St., and is considered to be an excellent wing defender. Personally, I'd love to see to Bulls draft NCAA tournament hero Donte DiVincenzo of Villanova if he's still on the board at No. 22. 

Around the Association:

While we wait for the draft drama to unfold, NBA Twitter has already been taken over by speculation over where the next super team will be formed. Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka have been plotting for over a year on how to restore the Lakers' franchise to its past glory, and it looks like they'll be swinging for the fences this summer.

If the Lakers are able to find a taker for Luol Deng's contract or renounce the rights to restricted free agent Julius Randle, they should be able to create two max contract slots once the free agent market opens for business on July 1st. The obvious targets are LeBron James and Paul George, but Magic doesn't plan on stopping there. He's hoping to find a way to convince the Spurs to trade unhappy All-Star forward Kawhi Leonard to the Lakers as well, giving L.A. a super-team that will rival what James put together in Miami.

The Lakers have the assets to get a Leonard trade done with draft picks and young players on rookie contracts (Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart), but would Gregg Popovich actually make a deal with one of his long-time rivals? 

You can bet Pop will do everything he can to convince Leonard to accept a five-year, $219 million super max contract extension this summer and spend his prime years in San Antonio. But if that face-to-face meeting goes sour, Pop will make the deal that's best for the Spurs, preferably to an Eastern conference team he'll only have to face twice a season.

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Initial reports out of Houston indicate that free agent point guard Chris Paul plans to re-sign with the Rockets and will do everything in his power to recruit good friend LeBron James. Problem is, Houston has no cap space, so they would have to get the Cavaliers to agree to a trade. And in order to make the money work, the Rockets would want to include high-salaried players like Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon, neither of which would hold much interest for Cleveland with the team in rebuild mode.

Rockets' general manager Daryl Morey is one of the league's most creative executives, but trying to find a way to fit James into his bloated payroll will be the biggest challenge he's ever faced. Morey also has to deal with the restricted free agency of breakout center Clint Capela, who could draw a big offer sheet from another team.

Chris Paul and LeBron might be good friends, but the logistics could make it next to impossible to join forces in Houston.