Bulls

Lifeless Bulls fall to Cavaliers in series-clincher

lifeless-bulls-eliminated-by-cavs.png

Lifeless Bulls fall to Cavaliers in series-clincher

Whether it was surprising or shocking, the Bulls’ season ended with a dud in a manner nobody expected, allowing the Cleveland Cavaliers to dance over their home floor for the better part of the second half in a desperation game.

After telling anyone who would listen they were one possession away in the last two losses, the Bulls left no doubt in their season-ending 94-73 loss at the United Center Thursday night, in perhaps their worst home showing of the season.

Now the speculation begins about everybody’s future, starting with coach Tom Thibodeau, as many expect he and the Bulls to part ways this offseason—and the season ended with the Cavaliers exercising tenets that used to be a hallmark of vintage Thibodeau squads.

It wasn’t a LeBron James classic game or classic finish, nor did Kyrie Irving hobble around after hitting kill shot after kill shot. It was “the others” who led the way for the Cavaliers, the players who did all the little things many believed Bulls would be better at.

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

Like effort, which produces extra possessions or unknown heroes like Matthew Dellavedova, whose 19 points was good enough to outscore every Chicago Bull except Jimmy Butler—and Butler had to take 22 shots to get that.

Dellavedova, who was nothing more than a nuisance after Game 5 due to his scrum with Taj Gibson, became a Cavaliers folk hero as he helped put the Bulls away.

Dellavedova, J.R. Smith and James Jones hit three triples each, while the Bulls mustered just four as a team.

“I thought their bench played really well,” Thibodeau said. “When you couple the bench with LeBron, he’s going to make you pay.”

They barely had enough life to produce more than a spark, but nobody expected their most lopsided effort when they needed it most. They scored 31 in the first quarter, but only combined for 29 in the next two quarters, shooting 32 percent while the Cavs ran away with it.

The turnovers and missed opportunities added up, coupled with the mistakes of allowing standstill shooters to beat them doing the only thing that makes them useful on a patchwork Cavaliers roster.

The game-turning fouls at the most inopportune times, illustrated by Nikola Mirotic unnecessarily clotheslining Cavaliers forward Iman Shumpert with 5:19 left in the first half and the Bulls trailing by one.

[MORE: LeBron lauds Dellavedova's, Thompson's effort in Game 6 win]

It riled up Shumpert, who scored the next two possessions after his flagrant foul free throw, and led to the Cavaliers rushing the Bulls for a 20-2 run to end the half. All with Irving on the bench after injuring his left knee early in the second quarter and James returning to Earth after his superhuman effort in Game 5.

“The 2nd quarter has been a problem for us the whole series,” Thibodeau said. “That (sequence) took a lot out of us, but I thought the fight was in there in the third.”

When your opposition scores five points in the first seven minutes of a quarter you have to win, yet extend their lead, it’s no wonder the Bulls are going home. Same goes for allowing Tristan Thompson to muscle his way up, around and through Bulls defenders for 17 rebounds, including six on the offensive end.

Derrick Rose started out fast, as he did in game 5 but sputtered afterwards, finishing with 14 points and six assists. Pau Gasol gave the Bulls a temporary boost by his presence, but it was nothing more than ceremonial as his teammates didn’t show up.

“I want to say this about Derrick: This was a long year for Derrick,” Thibodeau said. “The good thing is, I think he has regained his confidence. You have to remember, he hasn’t played in three post-seasons. Getting this experience is really good for him.”

[ALSO: Shumpert hitting his stride in unexpected role for Cavs]

James, a fixture in not only the postseason but is becoming the face of June, orchestrated things to the tune of 15 points, 11 assists and nine rebounds, while Irving only played 12 minutes before injuring his left knee.

He wasn’t needed, and the Bulls enter into an offseason with a meek effort that saw them get outrebounded by 21, shoot 37 percent from the field while allowing 12 3-pointers from the visitors.

With no doubt being left by both the Cavaliers and Bulls, they can enter into an offseason with nothing else but clear directives on what’s to come—starting with the man on the sidelines.

“Until they tell me I’m not, I expect to be here,” Thibodeau 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

gar.jpg
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.