The NBA trade deadline hit at 2 p.m. on Thursday with the Bulls standing pat, outside of the salary dump of Kirk Hinrich to Atlanta for seldom-used bench player Justin Holiday and a 2018 second round draft pick from Utah.
According to multiple national reports, including a detailed story from the well-connected Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, the Sacramento Kings aggressively pursued a deal for Bulls’ All-Star Pau Gasol, and made a generous offer that included promising young shooting guard Ben McLemore, back-up center Kosta Koufos, and reduction of the protection on the first round pick they owe to the Bulls (currently top 10 for this year and next).
The Bulls front office ultimately decided to pass on the deal, mostly because they didn’t want to be saddled with the contract of Koufos, a serviceable career back-up who’s owed over $8 million in each of the next three seasons. Now, I understand the perils of taking on a long-term contract for a player you don’t really love, but with the salary cap expected to grow by about $20 million in each of the next two summers, that contract might not look so bad.
Plus, the front office knows they need to add more shot creators and athletes to the roster, and that’s where McLemore comes in. When he arrived at the University of Kansas, McLemore was considered one of the top freshmen and NBA prospects in the country. To this point, McLemore has failed to live up to that enormous potential in his two and a half professional seasons, averaging just under 10 points a game on .415 shooting from the field, and .345 from 3-point range. But you can certainly blame some of that lack of development on playing for such a dysfunctional franchise like Sacramento, and you have to like McLemore’s odds of improving dramatically in his next NBA stop. He certainly has youth on his side after just turning 23 earlier this month.
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The opportunity to add a 6-foot-5 shooting guard with athleticism and upside sure looked like the perfect opportunity for the Bulls front office to start re-shaping the roster for the style of play their hand-picked young coach prefers. Especially when you consider the possibility Gasol can walk away in free agency this summer and the Bulls would get nothing in return.
General manager Gar Forman says he considers Gasol (who turns 36 in July) part of the team’s core group, adding that the Bulls would try to re-sign both Gasol and Joakim Noah this summer. Doing that would cancel any opportunity to improve the team in the free agent market, where the Bulls could create approximately $20-21 million of cap room by letting their two veteran big men walk. Plus, there are no assurances Gasol is interested in re-signing, saying what happens during the rest of the regular season and playoffs will determine whether he believes the Bulls are still a championship contender.
Why the Bulls front office wanted to pass up an offer of McLemore and Koufos to jump-start their plans to get younger and more athletic for a 36-year-old player who may or may not be interested in staying in Chicago, plus throw-in Tony Snell, is a mystery to me. We can only hope the summer strategy involves a lot more than just adding another draft pick of two to an aging and underachieving roster.
Second year forward Niko Mirotic returned to the Advocate Center following the All-Star break and met with local reporters last Wednesday. Mirotic looked noticeably thinner after dropping 18 pounds after an appendectomy, followed by a second emergency surgery to remove a hematoma.
Mirotic told the harrowing story of how the follow-up surgery came about, saying the surgeon told him in all his years of doing appendectomies he had never seen such a serious complication. “It was maybe bad luck," said Mirotic. "It was no one's mistake. It just could happen. I'm trying to forget that and focus on my recovery. Last year, I just missed one game. The good thing is I know my body is young and I can recover soon. Maybe two, three weeks. I don't know what the time is. The one thing I know that I will do the best job I can to get on the floor soon and help my teammates. Now I'm just walking; so I'm trying to move around a little bit. Let's see when I can do that. After that, try to get some shots. It's all about days. We'll see. I don't know. I know I'm going to be back before playoffs."
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So, Mirotic is weeks away from returning to the court, with Fred Hoiberg telling reporters Mirotic will start with low-impact conditioning work in the pool.
The reality is the Bulls probably won’t get a good read on what they have in Mirotic, given his erratic play earlier in the season, then all of the health issues. And since Niko only signed a three-year contract when he came over from Spain, he’ll be a free agent in the summer of 2017. Just another element of uncertainty as the Bulls try to decide which players will remain part of the team’s core group going forward.
Around the Association
No blockbuster deals on trade deadline day after all the rumors involving Dwight Howard, Blake Griffin and Kevin Love. Detroit picked up 23-year-old forward Tobias Harris from Orlando for two players that were not going to be part of their future, Brandon Jennings and Ersan Ilyasova. And later, the Pistons strengthened their bench by acquiring Donatas Motiejunas and Marcus Thornton from Houston for a first round draft pick.
Cleveland also picked up a potentially valuable bench piece, getting veteran stretch four Channing Frye from the Magic, and the Cavs are considered the front-runners to sign Joe Johnson if he agrees to a buyout with Brooklyn.
All told, there were 12 deals made during deadline week involving 26 players. Here’s a look at how that compares to the last five years.
2015: 46 players traded (22 still with team), 12 draft picks. Notable: Isaiah Thomas (Suns to Celtics), Arron Afflalo (Nuggets to Blazers), Reggie Jackson (OKC to Pistons), Goran Dragic (Suns to Heat).
2014: 26 players traded (1 still with team), 6 draft picks. Notable: Aaron Brooks (Rockets to Nuggets), Evan Turner (76'ers to Pacers)
2013: 29 players traded (1 still with team), 2 draft picks. Notable: JJ Redick (Magic to Bucks), Tobias Harris (Bucks to Magic), Josh McRoberts (Magic to Bobcats).
2012: 28 players traded (2 still with team), 8 draft picks. Notable: Andrew Bogut (Bucks to Warriors), Monta Ellis (Warriors to Bucks), Nene Hilario (Nuggets to Wizards), Gerald Wallace (Blazers to Nets).
2011: 50 players traded (4 still with team), 16 draft picks. Notable: Carmelo Anthony (Nuggets to Knicks), Deron Williams (Jazz to Nets), Danilo Gallinari (Knicks to Nuggets), Derrick Favors (Nets to Jazz), Wilson Chandler (Knicks to Nuggets).
A number of players coming with some big number out of the All-Star break. Chicago native Anthony Davis set a New Orleans Pelicans franchise record with his 59-point performance Sunday against the Pistons, it’s also the highest scoring game in the history of the Palace. Davis also pulled down 20 rebounds.
And, another Chicago native, Jabari Parker, appears to be fully recovered from ACL surgery in December of 2014. Parker has been dunking on players with regularity in recent weeks, and he scored a career-high 28 points in the Milwaukee Bucks’ win in Atlanta last Saturday.
Warriors pursuit of 72 wins
Golden State came out of the break with an embarrassing 32-point loss at Portland, but then bounced back with a good road win over the Los Angeles Clippers. At 49-5, the Warriors are one game ahead of the pace set by the 1995-96 Bulls when they won 72 games, and they’re also trying to become the first NBA team to go through an entire season without losing back-to-back games. The schedule is tough for Golden State over the next few weeks, but I’m still giving them a 55 percent chance to get to 72 wins.
Stats of the Week
Courtesy of CSN’s stats whiz Chris Kamka:
Derrick Rose 20+ point games this season:
Nine in last 15 games
Six in first 33 games
20+ point trios vs. Bulls (this season)
Feb. 19 (TOR): DeMar DeRozan, Jonas Valanciunas and Kyle Lowry
Feb. 6 (MIN): Andrew Wiggins (21), Karl-Anthony Towns (26) and Gorgui Dieng (24)
Jan. 3 (TOR): Luis Scola (22), DeRozan (24) and Lowry (22)
Dec. 18 (DET): Andre Drummond (33), Reggie Jackson (31) and Marcus Morris (20)
Nov. 18 (PHX): Brandon Knight (23), Eric Bledsoe (21) and P.J. Tucker (20)
Oct. 30 (DET): Morris (26), Jackson (22) and Drummond (20)
Bulls longest losing streak by season under Tom Thibodeau (regular season)
2010-11: two games (four times)
2011-12: two games
2012-13: three games
2013-14: four games (twice)
2014-15: three games (twice)
Under Fred Hoiberg
2015-16: five games (longest by Bulls since 10-game losing streak Feb. 27-March 19, 2010 under Vinnie Del Negro).
Quotes of the Week
Hoiberg used to work in the Timberwolves’ front office as an assistant to the GM, so he has some personal experience on what goes on at the trade deadline: "People like to lie to each other all the way up to those last 48 hours.”
And here are the thoughts of Taj Gibson on whether the Bulls disappointing season is the most challenging of his seven-year career. “I think, yeah. Just because we got a lot of young guys too. In previous years we [were] able to muster up because we had guys that had been together for a while, we had a good belief system. But it's a little different, we got different guys, and it's different. You're a veteran now. It's not like you're the young guys on the curb anymore so it's frustrating but I believe in this team…"
Gibson has definitely emerged as a team leader. We’re all waiting to see if this Bulls team is capable of sustaining a run of winning basketball once Jimmy Butler returns from his knee injury in a couple weeks.