Bulls

NBA Buzz: The Bulls may have found a keeper in Cristiano Felicio

NBA Buzz: The Bulls may have found a keeper in Cristiano Felicio

We're taking a break from the breathless NBA trade rumor mill to write about an unqualified success story for the Bulls' front office and coaching staff.

Second-year center Cristiano Felicio just keeps getting better, and it's exciting to think about what his ceiling might be. You've probably heard the story by now: Felicio grew up in Brazil playing soccer like most young athletes in that country. But as Felicio kept growing, it was suggested he might want to switch to basketball.

After limited exposure to professional basketball in Brazil, Felicio found out he wasn't eligible to pursue a college scholarship in the U.S., so he focused on finding an opportunity to try out at an NBA training camp. The Bulls saw enough potential in the raw, 6-foot-9 athlete to bring him to camp in September 2015, and he impressed enough in preseason games to earn a spot on the 15-man roster.

Felicio didn't play much early in the season behind veterans Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah, but once Noah went down with a season-ending shoulder injury Felicio got his chance and impressed with his active play on both ends.

Year 2 began with Felicio in the rotation as the back-up center, but then he disappeared in November, barely playing over a stretch of 13 games. Now he's back as the second-team center and often is on the court in the Bulls' fourth-quarter lineup. Felicio is averaging 4.8 points and 4.9 rebounds in 15.7 minutes, but you can see the potential is there for so much more.

Felicio's ability to run the court and fly in for put-backs and tip dunks energizes the entire team, and he's already built a nice chemistry with Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo on alley-oop passes at the rim.

So, what's the ceiling for the 24-year-old Brazilian? I asked Fred Hoiberg after practice on Wednesday.

"I think the sky's the limit for Cris. He's a guy that, just the way he moves his feet for a guy that size, allows us to change our ball-screen coverages," Hoiberg said. "He's getting more comfortable on the offensive end, I think he's built nice chemistry with Dwyane and Rajon in that second group, picking and choosing his times to roll to the rim and also finding guys on the perimeter. He's also built a nice chemistry with Doug (McDermott) as well, trying to find him with screens coming down in transition. The big thing is, you can see he's getting more comfortable every time he's out there. He's a big part of this team."

Starting center Robin Lopez added: "I've seen nothing but great things from him, honestly. Every time he's inserted into the lineup he does really good things for us."

So, give credit to the Bulls' scouting staff for discovering an unpolished diamond like Felicio. He's still raw offensively, and tends to rush his jump hooks and floaters in the lane, but the potential for improvement is there. Felicio has a nice touch at the free throw line, and with time and repetition, should be able to develop a consistent mid-range shot.

The danger for the Bulls is what might happen in free agency this summer. Teams around the league have taken notice of the agile and springy big man, and he could be in high demand in a new NBA that emphasizes small lineups and versatile bigs. 

Since the Bulls signed Felicio originally as an undrafted free agent, they'll be limited in what kind of contract they can offer him under the little known "Arenas provision" in the league's collective bargaining agreement. That's the same provision that allowed Houston to swoop in and steal Omer Asik from the Bulls after the 2011-12 season. While the "poison pill" option has been removed in the current CBA, if a team wants Felicio badly enough they could come in with an offer that the Bulls are unable to match.

Still, after all the disappointments the Bulls have had with their recent first-round draft picks, turning an unknown free agent like Felicio into a productive rotation player is a big positive for the front office.

Trade chatter continues around the league

Speaking of the center position, the Bulls have been linked in trade talks involving Philadelphia's second-year big man Jahlil Okafor, but that interest may have been overblown.

The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor writes the 76ers may have held Okafor out of their road game in Charlotte earlier this week just to try to flush out better offers, adding the only serious trade proposal came from the Pelicans, offering back-up center Alexis Ajinca and a first-round draft pick. O'Connor writes the Bulls likely aren't interested in trading for the Chicago native, who is an old fashioned back-to-the-basket center that doesn't defend, rebound or pass very well.

Okafor returned to the Sixers for Wednesday night's game in Boston, and unless general manager Bryan Colangelo gets some better offers, he might wind up finishing the year in Philadelphia.

So, which players could be on the move before the February 23 deadline? The Lakers, Magic and Nuggets look like motivated sellers right now. The Lakers have to turn over their first-round pick to Philadelphia if it falls outside the top 3, and also would have to send a 2019 first-rounder to Orlando. But, if the Lakers tank the rest of the season and slide into the bottom of the three, they keep a premier pick in this year's loaded draft, and they would only owe the Magic a pair of second-rounders in the future.

That means embattled Lakers' general manager Mitch Kupchak is open for business, willing to sell off any and all of his veteran players. No one is touching the long-term deals Kupchak mistakenly handed out to Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov, but the Lakers should draw interest on perimeter shooters Lou Williams and Nick Young. Don't be surprised if the Cavaliers come calling for Williams, who's been on a scoring tear lately, averaging 21 points over his last 10 games. Williams just might be the dynamic playmaker LeBron James has been asking for. 

After trading Serge Ibaka on Tuesday, the Magic still have the for-sale sign out with Rob Hennigan trying to save his job as general manager. Orlando was expected to contend for a playoff spot in the East after acquiring Ibaka from Oklahoma City for Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova and lottery pick Domantas Sabonis, but the trade hasn't gone well for the Magic. 

Head coach Frank Vogel hasn't been able to get his team to play consistent defense, and now Hennigan is trying to shake things up to save the season. Elfrid Payton, Mario Hezonja, Jeff Green C.J. Watson and Nikola Vucevic are all available for the right price.

A different story in Denver, where the Nuggets currently hold the 8th seed in the West, and would love to add a veteran star to their young mix. Denver just acquired center Mason Plumlee from Portland to back-up emerging star Nikola Jokic, and they're willing to deal Danilo Gallinari, Kenneth Faried, Will Barton, Jameer Nelson and former DePaul star Wilson Chandler to get the right player.

Carmelo Anthony told reporters on Wednesday he expects to be with the Knicks after the trade deadline, but that doesn't mean other teams will stop calling. Anthony grew up in Baltimore and would be a great fit on a Wizards team that has a 27-9 record since December 4. Not sure if Washington has the assets to pull off that kind of a deal, but it's definitely worth a try with Cleveland suddenly looking a little more vulnerable in the East. 

Similar story with Boston, where Danny Ainge is still sitting on that treasure trove of draft picks from the Kevin Garnett-Paul Pierce trade with Brooklyn. With Kevin Love now out six weeks following arthroscopic knee surgery, Washington playing great basketball and Toronto just acquiring Serge Ibaka, will Ainge step forward with his best offer to try to pry Jimmy Butler loose from the Bulls?

Unless Ainge is willing to offer both of the Brooklyn picks he holds (1st rounders in 2017 & '18), plus a pair of players to match salaries, there likely isn't any chance of a deal getting done between the two teams before the deadline. But you can bet those talks will be revisited once we get closer to the draft in June.

As for the Bulls, don't expect much in the next week. There's a chance they'll find a new home for Nikola Mirotic, and Gibson could go if a contending team offers a late first-round pick, but don't expect any blockbuster deals. With the front office still looking to get younger and more athletic players in the mix, first-round picks will be at a premium, and those types of trades normally get done just before the draft.

Stats of the Week

With the Bulls running their current winning streak over Toronto to 11 games on Tuesday, our stats "cruncher", Chris Kamka came up with these interesting notes.

The last time Bulls lost to Raptors (December 31st, 2013)

- Luol Deng was Bulls leading scorer (16).  He played 2 more games with Bulls then was traded
- Jimmy Butler's career PPG was 7.3 at the time

Jimmy Butler's unique game
- Tuesday's game is the only time (1983-84 to present) a Bulls player had 15+ FT made and 12+ Assists in a game   (Butler finished with 19 pts. & 12 assists, making 15-19 FT's)

And, when the Bulls are good, they can be VERY good.

Most 25+ point wins through first 50 games of a season in Bulls history

8       1971-72
5       2016-17   --->  5 of 25 wins this season have been by 25+ points
5       2006-07
5       1996-97
5       1990-91

Those five wins:
                                              Score                   Margin of Victory
Oct 31        at Brooklyn          118-88                 30
Nov 7         vs Orlando          112-80                 32
Nov 15       at Portland          113-88                 25
Dec 19       vs Detroit             113-82                 31
Feb 1         at Oklahoma City 128-100             28

Quote of the Week

Finally back to the quirky Robin Lopez, who had this response to my question about whether he ever discusses trade rumors with his twin brother Brook: "No, he once told me he would trade me to a high school team for a bag of Cheetos, but that's about it."

Which led me to the obvious follow-up question of what would it be like if he was ever traded FOR his brother, a Lopez twin swap, "I think whoever got Brook would be sorely disappointed. That's quite the presence to have to follow."

Robin then dropped the mike and walked away, interview session over.
 

In expected move, Bulls name Tomas Satoransky starter over Kris Dunn

In expected move, Bulls name Tomas Satoransky starter over Kris Dunn

In quite the clever move, the Bulls solved their so-called point guard controversy by renaming the position “lead guard.” This is a nod to Jim Boylen’s multi-ballhandler system.

Whatever it’s called, Tomas Satoransky will start in it for Thursday’s preseason finale and the Oct. 23 regular-season opener in Charlotte.

In an expected move, Boylen made that news official following Wednesday’s practice. Satoransky will start alongside Zach LaVine, Otto Porter Jr., Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. Kris Dunn and Coby White will come off the bench.

“I’ve been happy with both of them. They’re both in good places. I think this is what’s best for our team, and I think it will be great for both of them individually,” Boylen said of Satoransky and Dunn. “Kris has to be kind of our defensive force in that second group. He can impact the game coming off the bench. He’s embraced it, I’ve spoken with him, and we had a good conversation about it. He’s all about winning, and I’m really proud of him.’’

Boylen cited Satoransky’s shooting ability to space the floor and quick and accurate decision-making as primary factors behind the decision. He reiterated the organization’s belief in Dunn, who had six steals and 11 deflections in last Friday’s preseason game in Indiana and can be a defensive force with the second unit.

“You know I’ve always said he’s a terrific kid. I’ve always said he’s for the team. I’ve always said he’s very coachable,” Boylen said of Dunn. “Those things haven’t changed how I feel about him and what he’s done. But I do think that he’s in a really good place. I do think he had some introspection and got some time away, and it was good for him. He said it, we’ve said it, he’s prepared to help the team win, and that’s his mindset. That’s what we need. We talked earlier in the year, it’s going to be about sharing and sacrifice, and he’s going to come off that bench and help us win.”

Barring foul trouble, Satoransky likely will play in the range of 30 to 32 minutes, while Dunn could be in the 18 to 22 minutes range. Boylen consistently has talked about the need for sacrifice for the Bulls to make the jump to a contending team.

The Bulls aggressively pursued Satoransky during July free agency, acquiring him in a sign-and-trade transaction with the Wizards and agreeing to a three-year, $30 million deal whose final season isn’t fully guaranteed. He quickly endeared himself to Boylen by not asking about starting during the recruiting period, merely saying he wanted to be a part of what the Bulls are building.

“I love the way he throws the ball ahead,” Boylen said. “I love his command of our offense already. He’s obviously a terrific shooter. He can play off those guys, he can play on the ball and off those guys and create space. Him and I have a real good connection and he’s got a really good feel. And I feel confident in him running that first group.”

Satoransky averaged 11.2 points and 6.6 assists in 46 starts at point guard for the Wizards last season after John Wall went down with a season-ending injury. He also started eight games at small forward. It’s this versatility that Boylen envisions using in a backcourt rotation that includes LaVine, Dunn and White.

“I’ve felt really good with them on the floor,” Satoransky said of minutes with the starters. “For me, it was getting used to every player, not only with certain lineups. But I felt really good, especially last game. I think we have a lot of shooters on the floor. That gives us an advantage and spacing to attack, especially for Zach. Hopefully we can continue to get better and have options there.

“I try to run the team, put them in the best position where they can succeed. Run with pace. Keep the spacing. Try to organize the team. That’s what I’ve been trying to do for my whole career. And do the little things. I think it’s expected for me to come up with energy on the defensive side. I’m trying to do that and compete for every ball.”

Boylen favorites Ryan Arcidiacono and Shaq Harrison also are available, as are Denzel Valentine and Chandler Hutchison, who has yet to play with a hamstring injury.

Dunn remains the team’s best on-ball perimeter defender and has returned to the Bulls saying and doing all the right things after an offseason of reflection that briefly involved him wanting a change of address. In fact, sources said in July that the Bulls held substantial trade talks centered on Dunn, at one point trying to re-acquire Justin Holiday from the Grizzlies in a sign-and-trade transaction.

Instead, Dunn reported to September voluntary workouts with a strong work ethic and clear mind. He has drawn raves from coaches and teammates alike for his team-first attitude.

“We’re developing Coby White as a basketball player,” Boylen said. “We’re not going to put him in this situation where he’s a 1, he’s a 2 or he’s a 3, he’s a this, he’s a that. He’s a basketball player; he’s a baller. He plays well off other people. He plays well with the ball in his hands. He plays well off a live catch. He can run pick-and-roll. He has positional size, toughness, physicality. Not concerned about somebody saying he needs to be this or that, he just needs to play.”

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Jason Goff to join NBC Sports Chicago's Bulls coverage team

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USA Today

Jason Goff to join NBC Sports Chicago's Bulls coverage team

Chicago, IL (October 16, 2019) – NBC Sports Chicago - THE NEW, EXCLUSIVE HOME FOR EVERY BULLS GAME - has announced Chicago sports media personality/NBA expert JASON GOFF will be joining the network as host of Bulls Pregame Live/Bulls Postgame Live beginning this season.  The announcement was made by Kevin Cross, Senior Vice President/General Manager, NBC Sports Chicago.

Goff’s first official appearance on NBC Sports Chicago takes place on Wednesday, October 23 for the network’s multi-platform coverage of the 2019-20 NBA SEASON OPENER, as the Bulls travel to face the Eastern Conference rival Charlotte Hornets (an expanded, one-hour Opening Night edition of Bulls Pregame Live presented by Coors Light begins at 5:00 PM CT, Bulls-Hornets tip-off at 6:00 PM, Bulls Postgame Live presented by BlueCross BlueShield of Illinois immediately follows the game).  NOTE: Every Bulls game will also stream live on NBCSportsChicago.com and the “MyTeams by NBC Sports” app.  

In addition to his Bulls Pre/Postgame Live hosting duties, Goff will also make additional appearances throughout the season on a variety of NBC Sports Chicago’s programs and cross-platform portals, including SportsTalk Live and the network’s “Bulls Talk” podcast.  

“Jason is an impact player who joins our already outstanding Bulls content team,” said Cross.  “His deep knowledge and lifelong passion for the NBA, especially the Bulls, will benefit all of our fans on all of our platforms.  We couldn’t be more excited for the upcoming NBA season as the only home for Bulls basketball.”

“I’m looking forward to joining the NBC Sports Chicago team and the exceptional Bulls coverage we provide to Bulls fans all year round,” added Goff. “I was that kid watching Bulls games in his basement on SportsChannel and now I have a chance to help cultivate that same energy to Bulls fans old and new on NBC Sports Chicago, it’s just a dream come true.”

Goff, a native of Evanston, Ill., has been a fixture on the Chicago sports media scene for close to two decades.  After attending Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, Goff began his sports broadcasting career at WSCR AM 670 “The Score” in 2000 and quickly escalated to become one of the station’s top producers.  In 2007, Goff was named producer of WSCR’s “The Boers and Bernstein Show,” a role he held through 2012 before leaving Chicago for Atlanta to become the WZGC-FM 92.3 “The Game” new full-time evening host, along with handling pre/postgame hosting duties on the Atlanta Hawks Radio Network.  Also, while in Atlanta, Goff was an integral part of SiriusXM NBA Radio’s national relaunch, as he hosted the station’s popular midday show featuring former NBA greats Sam Mitchell, Malik Rose, and Kenny Smith.

Goff returned to Chicago in 2014 as a primary host for national NBA shows on both SiriusXM NBA Radio and Bleacher Report on SiriusXM.  In 2015, Goff returned to WSCR and was named midday co-host with Matt Spiegel on “The Spiegel and Goff Show” and later moved to afternoons joining Dan Bernstein on “The Bernstein and Goff Show.”  Most recently, Goff continued hosting stints with SiriusXM NBA Radio, along with SiriusXM Big Ten Radio, and also with ESPN Radio’s “The Spain and Company Show” featuring host Sarah Spain, and the “GTL Show” featuring Goff, Taylor Twellman and Rachel Lindsay.  In addition, Goff has made numerous appearances local television appearances on WFLD-TV’s (Fox 32 Chicago) “The Final Word with Lou Canellis,” along with “Windy City Live” on WLS-TV (ABC 7 Chicago).

NBC Sports Chicago, a partnership between the Chicago Blackhawks (NHL), Chicago Bulls (NBA), Chicago White Sox (MLB) and the NBC Sports Group, features over 275 live pro games in high definition each year.  In addition, NBC Sports Chicago delivers extensive pre/post-game coverage for its core pro team partners, as well as Chicago Bears and Chicago Cubs multi-platform coverage, plus - local sports discussion programs that includes SportsTalk Live, and massive cross-platform coverage provided by the network’s growing digital platform, NBCSportsChicago.com, the “MyTeams by NBC Sports” app, and its variety of fan-focused social media outlets. Fans can follow the network on Twitter via @NBCSChicago.  

NBC Sports Regional Networks is NBC Sports Group’s portfolio of nine regional networks that delivers more than 2,200 live sporting events and original content to more than 35 million homes. Aligned within Eastern and Western Divisions, the NBC Sports Regional Networks are: NBC Sports Boston, NBC Sports Philadelphia, NBC Sports Philadelphia +, NBC Sports Washington, NBC Sports Washington + and SNY; and NBC Sports Bay Area, NBC Sports California, NBC Sports Chicago/NBC Sports Chicago+, and NBC Sports Northwest. For more information on NBC Sports Group properties, including press releases, photos, talent and executive bios, headshots and logos, please visit www.NBCSportsGroupPressBox.com.

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