Bulls

Hoiberg: Bulls 'have yet to find' killer instinct to close out teams

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Hoiberg: Bulls 'have yet to find' killer instinct to close out teams

The Bulls are a veteran team, but apparently they like learning their lessons the hard way and squandered another opportunity to put away a win at home this season, capitalized by Phoenix Suns Mirza Teletovic crashing the glass after a Jon Leuer miss for a soft jumper to give the Suns a 103-101 win at the United Center.

It was the 41st and 42nd points scored by the Suns in the fourth quarter, a shocking development after the Bulls surrendered a season-low 10 in the third quarter, looking reminiscent of a defensive DNA established many moons ago.

And more importantly, it leaves the Bulls searching for answers after blowing a 16-point lead in the fourth quarter.

It left their coach seething and their leaders unable to figure out why putting away teams is so difficult to do.

“We had them where they didn’t want to play anymore,” Bulls guard Derrick Rose said. “That’s what happens in this league if you let teams stay close. They have that confidence where half of their bench was in and they still came back. We have to find ways to close out teams.”

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

Instead of quitting, the Suns felt emboldened to make a comeback, knowing the Bulls would leave the door cracked just enough for them to make a run. It didn’t seem possible in the third when the Bulls swarmed the Suns all around, forcing six turnovers and hitting just four of 20 shots, pleasing everybody on the Bulls’ sideline as if their troubles were behind them.

An easy win seemed likely if they could push a 16-point lead to 20.

“That’s what you have to do,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “You have that have that killer instinct. We have yet to find it this year.”

In this up-and-down season, the highs were followed by extreme lows, as Rose missed a floater that could’ve put the Bulls up with 16 seconds left and the Suns galloped downcourt, eager for a chance to earn a win they probably felt they had no business in anyways.

“This game’s all mental,” Bulls guard Jimmy Butler said. “When you get a double-digit lead you’re supposed to build on it. We don’t do that. Are we strong mentally? I think so. But at times we have lapses.”

Rose tried to quell the Suns’ run in the fourth, scoring six while Brandon Knight played at a speed that seemed dangerous on his way to a 17-point quarter. Knight finished with a team-high 21 points for the Suns.

“He played great,” Rose said. “He knocked down shots, kept shooting. As a leader for a team, that’s what you have to do. He stayed in the game and the shots went in towards the end.”

The Bulls created a fast-moving monster that was relentless in the final minutes, unable to stop whatever the Suns threw at them after keeping them somewhat at arms’ reach for most of the night.

Tony Snell had a spurt to start the first quarter, hitting triples and even driving to the basket for a dunk, while Butler played an efficient game on both ends, scoring 19.

“We tried to let the group that started the fourth stay in there, since they finished the third well,” Hoiberg said. “Our defense wasn’t the same. They got comfortable and in a rhythm. When we did get a stop they got the rebound.”

[WATCH: Mirza Teletovic's wild shot stuns Bulls at the buzzer]

The Suns scored 28 second-chance points, and even though they were outrebounded by eight and committed 19 turnovers, they were desperate for a comeback.

Butler was asked when he felt like things were slipping away and apparently, he saw the storm clouds coming rather early in the final 12.

“Whenever they started digging into our lead, to tell you the truth,” Butler said. “It happens entirely too often. We keep talking about it. Eventually we’ll have to fix it or we’ll keep finding ourselves on the losing end.”

It wasn’t Knight, or Eric Bledsoe, the man who played on speed in the last six minutes to keep the Suns’ intensity high but Teletovic, who scored 20, put the finishing touches on a shocking win that will again leave the Bulls bewildered.

He went over Rose’s back to grab the offensive rebound but the benefit of the doubt is usually given to the aggressor at that point. And the Bulls had that sapped out of them well before the final possession.

“We couldn’t find a way to get a rebound,” Hoiberg said. “We played our best defensive quarter of the year and followed it up with our worst defensive quarter of the year.”

Pau Gasol scored 22 with 10 rebounds and six assists, as his jumper with a little over two minutes remaining pushed what was once at 16-point lead back to five, leaving many to think ordered had been restored.

But the Bulls were outhustled, outmuscled and outplayed when it mattered most, and if its not panic, it’s time for concern with a team that can’t do anything consistently except be inconsistent.

“Just a bad loss. Things like this, with a team as talented as we are, it just shouldn't happen,” Gasol said.

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.