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NBA Buzz: Could the Bulls make a run at Mike Conley this summer?

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NBA Buzz: Could the Bulls make a run at Mike Conley this summer?

Just happened to flip over to the 4th quarter of the Grizzlies-Lakers game Friday night when the broadcast team of Dave Pasch and Jon Barry decided to spend some time during a blowout game discussing the future of Memphis point guard Mike Conley, who will become a free agent this summer.

Barry revealed he talked with Conley before the game, who said he “plans to look around" once the free agent market opens on July 1. Interesting tidbit about a guy who had been expected to re-sign with the only NBA team he's ever played for.

Barry went on to say how much Conley enjoys playing a fast-pace style now that starting center Marc Gasol is out for the season because of a broken foot. Well, the Grizzlies signed Gasol to a max deal last summer, and he will most certainly be back next year, so what does that mean for Conley's future with the team?

That's where the Bulls come in. Would they be willing to consider a sign-and-trade or a straight free agent signing to acquire the 28-year-old Conley, who has averaged 13.5 points and 5.6 assists over his nine-year career, shooting 44 percent from the field and 37 percent from deep?

The Bulls could free up $20-21 million in cap room this summer by saying goodbye to veteran big men Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah, which should be right in the range of where a long-term deal for Conley would start. Or, they could propose a sign-and-trade for Derrick Rose, who will be entering the final year of a contract that will pay him just over $21 million next season.

Remember, Rose played his one season of college basketball in Memphis and could be an attractive player for the Grizzlies' marketing team. Plus, we're already hearing rumors that Pau Gasol might be interested in going to back to Memphis to finish his career in the city where it all began, with the added incentive of playing alongside his younger brother. Rose has developed a good relationship with Pau, both on the court and off, during their two seasons together with the Bulls. Playing together in Memphis might hold some appeal for both players.

[SHOP: Gear up for the stretch run, Bulls fans!]

If you think there's been a lot of drama involving Rose this year, just imagine what it will be like next season, with Rose playing out his contract and being asked about his future in every city the Bulls visit. Plus, the Bulls' front office might jump at the chance to have their point guard position locked down for the next five years with the durable and productive Conley, who's just below All-Star level but would be a good fit running Fred Hoiberg's up-tempo offense.

Yes, I know Rose has been playing some of his best basketball the last two months since the original ACL injury, but the constant questions about his health and availability have taken a mental toll on the team. My studio partner, Kendall Gill, a 15-year-NBA veteran, talked about it after the Bulls' loss to the Hawks last Friday, saying how Rose's teammates are definitely affected every time he decides he can't go because of leg and general body soreness.

Why would Memphis consider a Rose for Conley sign-and-trade? Well, if it becomes apparent Conley is going to leave the team in free agency, they might decide it's worth the risk to make a trade for a one-year look at Rose, who should be highly motivated in his free agent lead-up season. And, since Marc Gasol has a game similar to his older brother's, the fit with Rose at point guard should be a good one.

A couple of final points. With Rose already talking last fall's media day about the money that's going to be handed out in free agency, don't expect him to give the Bulls a hometown discount when he hits the open market. Considering a max deal for Rose would start at around $27 million, is that really a path the Bulls' front office wants to take to try to re-establish the franchise as a legitimate championship contender? Why not eliminate all the craziness and city-wide debate by making a preemptive strike this summer?

And, Conley has strong Chicago ties. His dad, Mike Sr., an Olympic gold medalist in the triple jump, grew up in Chicago, played basketball at Luther South H.S., and is an accredited NBA agent. Bringing his son back to Chicago might be an idea that sounds appealing to the entire Conley family.

Of course, Mike Jr. might just decide to take the path of least resistance and stay in Memphis. But given all the uncertainty about Rose's future in Chicago, Mike Conley will be a name to watch this summer.

Around the Association

-- While fans and media in Chicago have been focused on the Bulls’ erratic play, it's safe to say the Bulls aren't the league's biggest disappointment.

Things are getting ugly in Houston, where the Rockets are battling with Portland and Utah just to quality for the Western Conference playoffs. Veteran NBA writer Ken Berger of CBS Sports.com detailed the tension inside the Rockets’ locker room last week, reporting that according to multiple sources, All-Star guard James Harden pushed management to fire Kevin McHale just 7 games into the season, and also pushed hard for the Rockets to trade franchise center Dwight Howard. Rockets’ G.M. Daryl Morey was unable to find a deal for Howard at the trade deadline, but not for lack of effort.

"It's really bad for the locker room dynamic", a person familiar with the situation told CBS sports. "If everybody knows that James Harden can fire you or trade you, are you going to pass the ball to Dwight, or are you going to pass the ball to James Harden?"

Rockets CEO Tad Brown strongly denied the claims, but it's clear the locker room has become totally dysfunctional. Howard is expected to opt out of the final year of his contract for another shot at free agency this summer, and you have to wonder if any major free agents will be interested in joining the ball-dominating Harden.

-- Back in the Eastern Conference, the Wizards and Bucks are running neck-and-neck for the title of biggest disappointment. Washington is 10th in the East, despite a talented starting line-up that's had some past success in the playoffs. Injury problems have slowed the development of 4th year guard Bradley Beal, and one-time match-up nightmare Nene isn't anywhere close to the guy who played a starring role in the Wizards' 1st round upset of the Bulls in 2014.The leadership void is so acute in D.C. that journeyman Jared Dudley had to be the guy to call the players together to iron out some of their chemistry issues, even though Dudley is in his 1st season with the team. If the Wizards miss the playoffs this season, it's a pretty safe bet head coach Randy Wittman will be fired, and general manager Ernie Grunfeld might not be too far behind.

-- Meanwhile, what's going on in Milwaukee? After the surprise signing of free agent center Greg Monroe this summer, the Bucks were supposed to challenge for a top 4 seed in the East. Instead, they got off to terrible start and are all but out of playoff contention with 6 weeks left in the season.

Things are so bad with the Bucks that they explored trades for Monroe and point guard Michael Carter-Williams at the deadline. Monroe still could wind up going to his hometown of New Orleans this summer to pair with Chicago native Anthony Davis.

Carter-Williams has been a huge disappointment after head coach Jason Kidd helped engineer the trade that brought him to Milwaukee in a three-way deal that cost the Bucks their leading scorer, Brandon Knight. Kidd’s future is also a big topic of conversation in Milwaukee. The 2nd year head coach missed about a month earlier this season following hip surgery, and people around the league are starting to question whether he's committed to coaching the team long-term, or looking for a move to the front office.

-- One of the year's positive stories comes from Portland, where the Trail Blazers were expected to be one of the NBA's worst teams after losing 4 starters from last season: LaMarcus Aldridge, Nic Batum, Wes Matthews and Robin Lopez. Instead, head coach Terry Stotts built a brand new offense around the talents of undersized scoring guards Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, and the Blazers have been one of the league's best teams over the last 3 weeks to move into a playoff position in the West.

[RELATED: Bulls come up short in loss to Lillard, Blazers]

Lillard took out his anger over being snubbed from the coaches’ selections for All-Star reserves by scoring 51 points in a blowout win over Golden State coming out of the break. Lillard and McCollum are averaging a combined 46 points per game, lifting up a team of role players and cast-offs into playoff contention.

-- Maybe LeBron James is finally starting to lose his touch as the NBA's pied-piper. Everyone assumed Joe Johnson would jump on the James' band-wagon after negotiating a contract buyout with Brooklyn, but instead the 15 year veteran decided to join a Miami team that doesn't have a realistic shot at making the Finals. Johnson will get more playing time with the Heat than he could have expected in Cleveland. He moved into Miami’s starting line-up immediately as part of a small-ball attack, including Luol Deng at power forward. Heat management still doesn’t know if Chris Bosh will be able to return to action this season after a re-occurrence of blood clot issues.

-- Other players changing teams before the March 1st deadline for playoff eligibility include Anderson Varejao jumping on the Warriors' title express, Kris Humphries signing with Atlanta, J.J. Hickson joining the Wizards, Andre Miller going to San Antonio and Steve Novak returning to his hometown of Milwaukee. Veteran sharp-shooter Kevin Martin is also expected to sign on with a contender in the coming days after negotiating a buyout with the Timberwolves.

Warriors' pursuit of 72 wins

Did you watch the finish of Saturday's game in Oklahoma City? Thunder blow a 12 point 4th quarter lead, and the game goes to overtime only because one of the best players in the world (Kevin Durant) makes 2 bonehead mistakes in the final 12 seconds. Then Durant fouls out early in OT, Russell Westbrook misses a potential winning shot, and Steph Curry pulls up from just inside the half-court line and nails a 3 for the win.

Golden State also came from behind to win in Atlanta, Miami and Orlando earlier in the week, and now they've got 17 of their final 24 games at home, where they haven't lost all season. Make no mistake about it, the Warriors are GREAT, but they've also had EVERYTHING break their way this season. Curry went out early in the 2nd half of the win over Oklahoma City with what looked like a scary ankle sprain, but he just re-taped it and came back to single-handedly destroy the Thunder (kind of like Jordan used to do it back in the day.)

[#SPORTSBIZ: Endorsement deals piling up for Steph Curry]

Barring any kind of long-term injury to Curry, the Warriors will easily beat the Bulls’ record and might finish with 75 wins. I've got their odds of reaching 72 all the way up to 90%.

Stats of the Week

-- Sticking with the Warriors/Curry theme, the reigning league MVP had the stats department working overtime after his 51 point performance against Orlando last Thursday.

-- Curry broke Kyle Korver's record for consecutive games (127) with at least one made 3-pointer.

-- Curry scored 51 points while shooting only one free throw. (20-27 FG, 10-15 3FG). That's the highest total with one free throw or less in NBA history. (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Hakeem Olajuwon scored 48).

-- Seven times in NBA history a player has scored 50 points and made 10 3-pointers in a single game. Curry has four of the seven instances.

-- There have been 28 games in NBA history in which a player hit 10 3-pointers. Curry has five of them, the most ever.

-- Curry is the first Warriors' player with three 50-point games in a single season since Rick Barry in 1973-74. Curry also had 10 triples against the Magic.

-- And then on Saturday, Curry broke his own record for 3-pointers made in a season (288), and he also tied the NBA record for 3-pointers made in a game (12), along with Kobe Bryant and Donyell Marshall.

-- The Warriors became the fastest team to clinch a playoff spot, beating the 1986 Celtics by one day (Feb. 27 vs Feb. 28).

-- The Warriors also became the fastest team to win 50 games in NBA history.

Quotes of the Week

Finally, this gem from Curry after his winning shot against Oklahoma City Saturday night. Officially, the shot came from 38 feet, 4 inches away.

"Honestly, I don't know exactly where I am, so it's not like I'm calibrating in my head, all right, 38 feet, 37, 36," he said. "Just literally, you've got a sense of -- I've shot the shot plenty of times, you're coming across half court and timing up your dribbles, and you want to shoot before the defense goes in. And that was pretty much my only thought."

Curry's teammate, Draymond Green, just shook his head, saying, "What was that, 40 feet? That's absurd."

Yes, Curry had a couple more seconds to get closer to the basket before launching his game-winning attempt, but when you're having the type of dream season he and the Warriors are enjoying, why bother?

Kris Dunn thinks Zach LaVine could be 'a good defender in this league'

Kris Dunn thinks Zach LaVine could be 'a good defender in this league'

We all know what Zach LaVine is capable of doing on the offensive side of things. But what about his defense?

It's no secret that LaVine has had his fair share of struggles on defense, but Kris Dunn thinks highly of his 23-year-old teammate and what his potential is at the other end.

"On the defensive end I just told him, 'You're as fast as me. You're more athletic than me. There's no way you shouldn't be a good defender in this league. You could be one of those guys who could be dynamic in the passing lanes because you're so athletic and fast.'" Dunn said of LaVine. "And personally, I like to score. If you get in a passing lane, that's a dunk for yourself and because you've got so much bounce that's when you get the crowd on their feet — maybe do a windmill, a 360, something.

"But I think he's been going a good job on the defensive end. It's not going to be easy. We all got to learn and I think we're all trying."

Improving his defense would obviously be a big step forward for LaVine (and the Bulls), and he knows it. 

“I think I had a lot better focus on the defensive end,” LaVine said when assessing his preseason. “I had some mistakes too, but I wanted to go out there and just really hone in on being more focused down there. I felt like I did OK with that. Still some areas I want to get better at, definitely off-the-ball I think I did a lot better than I had before.’’

LaVine and the Bulls travel to Philadelphia to face the 76ers on Thursday night in their season opener. You can watch Bulls Pre- and Postgame Live on NBC Sports Chicago before and after the game for highlights and analysis.

Trust the Rookie: Wendell Carter Jr. draws Opening Night start against Joel Embiid, Sixers

Trust the Rookie: Wendell Carter Jr. draws Opening Night start against Joel Embiid, Sixers

In a five-game span Wendell Carter Jr. saw preseason action against Anthony Davis, Nikola Jokic and Myles Turner. The 19-year-old rookie had his share of expected ups and downs but performed well enough that Fred Hoiberg officially announced him a starter for the team’s season opener tomorrow night.

His reward for all that hard work? A matchup against All-Pro center Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers.

It’ll be an eye-opening experience for the Duke product, who just a year ago was readying himself for his first season of college basketball and a season-opening matchup against Elon. It’s safe to assume Embiid will pose a few more problems than did Phoenix center Tyler Seibring.

“Joel Embiid was one of my role models growing up,” Embiid said before practice Wednesday. “He was someone I always wanted to pattern my game after. Just to go up against him is a remarkable feeling. He’s a very physical player. He’s a very talented player. I’m going to be able to stack up and see what all I need to work on to last in this league.”

While it’s no easy task against a talent like Embiid, who was named All-NBA Second Team last season, Carter’s most important job will be staying out of foul trouble. Carter piggy-backed an impressive Summer League with a preseason that included averages of 7.0 points and 5.6 rebounds in 21.1 minutes. But those numbers also included 7.7 fouls per 48 minutes. He racked up 17 fouls in five games, and had at least three in each.

Embiid only went to the line five times in Tuesday’s season-opening loss to the Celtics, but that was primarily against Defensive Player of the Year candidate Al Horford. Embiid won’t face as much resistance against Carter, putting the pressure on the rookie to stay on the floor.

“He’s going to have to navigate that without using his hands,” Fred Hoiberg said. “We have to be all five aware. It’s just not a one-man problem with Embiid. We have to have great awareness of him and try and mix up coverages and hopefully make him take tough shots, knowing that he’s going to hit some of those. You just can’t get deflated when he does.’’

The decision was a mere formality – Bobby Portis will start at power forward – after the frontcourt combination played considerably better in the Bulls’ final two preseason games. Though Jabari Parker was initially slotted in at power forward following Lauri Markkanen’s elbow sprain, Portis’ impressive preseason forced Hoiberg’s hand. Portis averaged 17.0 points and 5.8 rebounds and shot 55 percent from the field in just 22.4 minutes.

“It’s all about combinations out there and we felt like Bobby gave us a great start with the way he was playing,” Hoiberg said. “And then we kind of changed things up with that second unit and put the ball in Jabari’s hands, so it was more that in trying to get guys out there with the right combinations.”

Lopez may have an expanded role if Carter gets into foul trouble early, while Parker will be the facilitator on a second unit that doesn’t have much in the way of a point guard. It’s anyone’s guess as to how the frontcourt will play out once Markkanen returns in roughly a month; if Portis and Carter continue playing well, Hoiberg could opt to keep them together on the second unit and put Lopez back in the starting lineup.

But for at least Opening Night – the Bulls also get Andre Drummond and the Pistons on Saturday – it’ll be the seventh overall pick getting his NBA feet wet with a matchup against arguably the best center in basketball. But’s it a role he’s earned, and on a Bulls defense looking for any sort of improvement, Carter is the player who can anchor it.

“His defense is always going to be important for us. He’s the guy that’s the anchor in that starting unit at the rim,” Hoiberg said, “and he’s done a really solid job of making perimeter guys taking contested shots when he gets switched off, or staying vertical at the rim and trying to make a big finish over the top of him, so yeah, again it’s a great challenge, great opportunity for Wendell.”