Bulls

NBA Buzz: Don't expect a roster overhaul from the Bulls this summer

NBA Buzz: Don't expect a roster overhaul from the Bulls this summer

Bulls executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson and general manager Gar Forman didn't provide a whole lot of clarity on the team's future during their 40-minute end-of-the-season meeting with reporters on Wednesday.
  
We learned Fred Hoiberg will definitely be back for a third season as head coach, and Paxson said there's a "really good chance" the Bulls will pick up their $13.4 million team option on Rajon Rondo's services for next season. Forman also indicated the Bulls would like to keep restricted free agent Nikola Mirotic.

But beyond that, there's a lot of unknowns, starting with Dwyane Wade's $23.8 million player option for next season. Wade has already met once with the front office, and Paxson said they'll meet again in the coming weeks to talk about the direction of the roster and the franchise. But given Wade's recent history of taking his time to make decisions about his future, the Bulls might not have anything concrete until the June 30 deadline.

Both Paxson and Forman talked about the importance of player development this summer, saying the Bulls are counting on all of their young players to spend meaningful time at the Advocate Center working with the coaching and training staffs. Forman said the Bulls still have high hopes for a number of their under-25 crew, including Bobby Portis, Denzel Valentine, Cris Felicio, Paul Zipser and Cameron Payne. 

With the expected return of Rondo next season, look for Payne to be the back-up at point guard, with Jerian Grant a possible trade candidate. Grant fell completely out of the rotation at the end of the playoff series against Boston, and it's unlikely the Bulls would want to bring him back as the third string point guard, with little hope of consistent playing time. Don't expect to see restricted free agent Michael Carter-Williams return either. MCW will probably be joining his fourth team when the new season opens in October.

Obviously, the biggest decision for the front office involves the future of All-Star Jimmy Butler. While conceding Butler is the best player on the team and an All-NBA talent, Paxson stopped short of saying Butler was untouchable in trade talks. Like Wade, Butler is also planning to have a no-holds barred sit-down with the front office in the coming weeks, seeking some assurance about whether the team has a plan in place to become a contender in the Eastern Conference again. 

Paxson said the Bulls aren't shopping Butler, and that's something Jimmy will appreciate hearing in person when their meeting takes place. He'll also want to hear what the Bulls plan to do with their available cap room (roughly $20 million if Wade and Rondo return) to add a consistent shooter off the bench. 

At this point, it looks like the plan for the summer is to bring back the "Three Alphas", make the 2 draft picks on June 22nd, and possibly add a solid veteran bench player in free agency. But the upcoming meetings with Butler and Wade could force the front office to pivot to a completely new direction. Stay tuned.

AROUND THE ASSOCIATION

The Bulls aren't the only team contemplating an uncertain future this summer. L.A. Clippers coach and president of basketball operations Doc Rivers has to decide whether to take the franchise into unprecedented luxury tax territory by resigning upcoming free agents Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, J.J. Redick and Luc Mbah a Moute.

Resigning Paul and Griffin alone could cost the Clippers around $375 million over the next five years. Rivers has indicated he'd like to have everyone back, and to this point he hasn't been given any payroll limitations by deep-pockets owner Steve Ballmer.

Still, you have to wonder if bringing back the same crew is the best strategy for a team that routinely wins 50+ games during the regular season, then flames out early in the playoffs. Since the Clippers will be capped out by retaining Paul alone, their best strategy is probably to also bring Griffin back to preserve trade options down the line. They could explore sign-and-trade scenarios, including a previously discussed deal with the Knicks for Carmelo Anthony. But again, Rivers will have to get the green light from his owner to take the payroll to a level we haven't seen before in the NBA.

Are there roster changes coming in Atlanta? Head coach Mike Budenholzer relinquished his front office role after a first round playoff exit, and the Hawks best player, Paul Millsap, will be looking for a max deal in free agency. Are the Hawks willing to commit five years, and over $150 million to a very good, but not great 32-year-old power forward? Especially considering their core group of Millsap, Dwight Howard, Kent Bazemore and Dennis Schroder really isn't good enough to challenge Cleveland for Eastern Conference supremacy. Don't be surprised if the next head of basketball operations decides to take a different approach with the roster.

And, what might happen in Toronto if the Cavaliers complete a semifinals demolition of the Raptors? The Cavs' trapping defense has taken All-Star guards Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan out of their comfort zones, and the addition of frontline defenders Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker has done nothing to slow down LeBron James and Kevin Love. Lowry, Ibaka and Tucker are all headed to free agency at season's end, and it seems unlikely the Raptors will be able to afford to keep all three players. 

Ibaka would look good as a starting power forward in the Bulls' lineup with his ability to defend and knock down shots from 3-point range. Problem is, the Bulls probably won't have the cap room to add a max player, and the 27-year-old Ibaka will be looking to break the bank this summer. 

Other power forward options in free agency include Danilo Gallinari, Rudy Gay, James Johnson, Ersan Ilyasova, Derrick Williams, Marreese Speights, Donatas Motiejunas and Patrick Patterson. But if Mirotic is brought back along with Bobby Portis and Paul Zipser, the Bulls won't have a major need at that positon.

If Mirotic does not return to the Bulls, finding a consistent shooter at the stretch-4 positon could jump to the top of the list of offseason priorities. The Bulls should be able to pick from a large number of college and international power forwards in the June 22 draft with their 16th and 38th selections.

Included among that group are Cal's Ivan Rabb, UCLA's TJ Leaf, Wake Forest's John Collins, Duke's Harry Giles, Kentucky's Bam Adebayo, Syracuse's Tyler Lydon, Baylor's Johnathan Motley, Purdue's Caleb Swanigan, Utah's Kyle Kuzma, Oregon's Jordan Bell Valpo's Alec Peters and SMU's Semi Ojeleye.  

Based on what we heard from Paxson and Forman on Wednesday, as many as 11 of the 15 players on the roster for the Celtics playoff series could be back in Bulls' uniforms when training camp starts in September.

It looks like the marketing department already has it's slogan for the 2017-'18 season, "Let's Run It Back."

NBA Buzz: NBA rookie class impressed with Bulls' Carter Jr.

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USA TODAY

NBA Buzz: NBA rookie class impressed with Bulls' Carter Jr.

 
NBA ROOKIE CLASS IMPRESSED WITH BULLS' CARTER JR.
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NBA coaches, executives and scouts weren't the only people impressed with the play of Wendell Carter Jr. during the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas. Turns out his fellow rookies also took notice of his all-around excellence.
 
In a survey of the 2018 rookie class done by NBA.com, the former Duke center was the most popular response to the question "Which rookie will have the best career?" Carter Jr. received 13% of the votes, compared to 10% for runners-up Kevin Knox and Jerome Robinson. No. 1 overall pick Deandre Ayton tied for 3rd at 7%, along with Mo Bamba, Mikal Bridges, Collin Sexton and Lonnie Walker IV.
 
Meanwhile, Ayton and Sexton tied for the most votes to the question "Who will be the Rookie of the Year?", and that's not surprising considering both can expect a high usage rate in starting roles. Carter Jr. figures to split time at center with Robin Lopez and Bobby Portis this season, so his raw numbers probably won't be impressive enough to put him in the running for the ROY award.
 
Still, the rookie class obviously took notice of Carter Jr.'s versatile skill-set in Vegas. At 6’10’’ , with a 7’4’’ wingspan, Carter Jr. showed the ability to block shots at the rim, as well as the lateral quickness necessary to switch on to smaller players in pick and roll situations. Carter Jr.'s offensive game is also more versatile than what we saw at Duke, with polished post-moves and the ability to finish with either hand, an excellent face-up jumper and the ability to shoot with accuracy from the 3-point line.
 
Carter Jr.'s skill-set should fit seamlessly with last year's rookie sensation, Lauri Markkanen, giving the Bulls a frontline duo they can build around for the next decade. Looks like that No. 7 draft position turned out to be very lucky in the Bulls' rebuild.
 
CENTRAL DIVISION SCRAMBLE
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With the addition of Carter Jr., fellow 1st round draft pick Chandler Hutchison and free agent forward Jabari Parker, the Bulls could be poised for a double digit increase from their 27 wins of a year ago. Question is, where does that put them in the new-look, LeBron-less Central Division?
 
Right now, you'd have to expect the Pacers and Bucks to battle it out for the division title in the upcoming season. Indiana won 48 games last season led by All-Star guard Victor Oladipo and almost took out the Cavs in the opening round of the playoffs. Oladipo figures to be even better this season and the Pacers return their starting line-up intact. In addition, GM Kevin Pritchard went the free agent route to strengthen the team's bench, adding scorers Tyreke Evans and Doug McDermott and physical big man Kyle O'Quinn. The Pacers also drafted the NBA's 3rd Holiday brother, UCLA point guard Aaron Holiday. Indiana should make a run at 50 wins this season and probably edge out the Bucks by virtue of their superior depth.
 
Milwaukee figures to benefit from new head coach Mike Budenholzer's share-the-wealth offense that helped the Atlanta Hawks win 60 games during the 2014-15 season. You can count on Budenholzer to come up with more creative ways to feature top 10 talent Giannis Antetokounmpo, and find open shots for the likes of Brook Lopez, Eric Bledsoe, Khris Middleton, Ersan Ilyasova, rookie Donte DiVincenzo and former Bull Tony Snell. The Bucks are also counting on improvement from young bigs Thon Maker and 2017 1st round pick D.J. Wilson. Pencil in Milwaukee for around 48 wins and a 5-seed in the playoffs.
 
Now things get really interesting. The Pistons, Cavs and Bulls all figure to be in the 35 to 40 win range, possibly competing for the last playoff spot in the East.
 
Detroit should be improved this season if Blake Griffin can somehow figure out a way to stay healthy for an entire season. Griffin consistently put up big scoring and rebounding numbers with the Clippers when healthy, but at this point you have to wonder if we've already seen the best from the high-flying power forward.
 
The Pistons should benefit from adding 2017-18 NBA Coach of the Year Dwane Casey, but they didn't do much to improve the roster this summer after trading their 1st round pick to the Clippers in the Griffin deal. Casey worked wonders with building the NBA's most productive 2nd unit in Toronto around unheralded young players Fred VanVleet, Delon Wright, Pascal Siakam and Jakob Poeltl. Now, he'll try to do the same with Stanley Johnson, Henry Ellenson, Luke Kennard and rookie Khyri Thomas. The key for Detroit will be good health, particularly with their "Big 3" of Griffin, point guard Reggie Jackson and All-Star center Andre Drummond.
 
No one really knows what to expect from the Cavs in the post-LeBron era (part 2). GM Koby Altman and owner Dan Gilbert decided to stay the course with LeBron's flawed supporting cast instead of going into total rebuild mode. Collin Sexton should provide new energy and shot creating ability at the point guard position, and Kevin Love is still an All-Star talent at the power forward spot. But can Ty Lue get enough from young players Jordan Clarkson, Rodney Hood and Larry Nance Jr., along with returning vets Tristan Thompson, Kyle Korver, George Hill and J.R. Smith to make a run at a playoff spot? It will be interesting to see what kind of start the Cavs get off to, and how that might impact a change of direction at the trade deadline.
 
That leaves the Bulls, who figure to be good for 35 wins with the addition of new weapons on the offensive end. If Markkanen continues his progression in Year 2, and the backcourt duo of Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn develop better chemistry with a full season together, the Bulls should be playing meaningful games in March and April. And, whichever team finishes 3rd in the Central Division is probably going to earn that 8th playoff spot in the East. 
 
AROUND THE ASSOCIATION
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Back to the Cavs, Love revealed frightening details of a panic attack he suffered during a game on November 5th of last season in an interview with Carson Daly on NBC's Today show.
 
"I had a moment where I thought I was going to die," Love said. "I had never experienced something like that. I thought I was having a heart attack. Heart racing and I was running around looking for something that I couldn't find. I just wanted to get air. And so I ended up basically unconscious on the floor and putting my hand down my throat and trying to get something out of there, but there was nothing there."
 
Love also said during the interview that the Cavs trainer had no idea what was going on at the time, and could only stay with him until his breathing stabilized in the locker room.
 
Since that life-changing night, Love decided to go public about his struggles with anxiety attacks with the hope of encouraging young people to seek out the help they need. Fellow NBA players DeMar DeRozan, Kelly Oubre and Steven Adams have also spoken out on their issues with anxiety and depression to try to increase mental health awareness worldwide.
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It's no secret the Toronto Raptors are going all-in for the 2018-19 season, hoping a run to the Finals might convince free agent-to-be Kawhi Leonard to sign with the league's only Canadian franchise long-term next summer.
 
With that in mind, the Raptors hired Leonard's long-time friend Jeremy Castleberry to a position with their coaching staff. Castleberry was a teammate of Leonard's in high school and at San Diego St. and he worked on the Spurs' staff as an assistant video coordinator.
 
While most NBA analysts expect Leonard to bolt for Los Angeles next summer, the Raptors are the only team that can offer him a five-year, $191 million dollar contract. If Leonard chooses a new team, the most he can sign for is four years and $141 million. And, given what happened with Paul George deciding to re-sign with Oklahoma City in July after saying he wanted to play for the Lakers, the possibility of Leonard becoming comfortable in Toronto can't be ruled out.
 
That puts a ton of pressure on 1st year head coach Nick Nurse to try to mold a contending team while making sure Leonard and his entourage are happy. It will be one of the most interesting storylines to follow this season.
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NBA scouts figure to be spending a lot of time following the Duke basketball team during the upcoming college campaign. The Blue Devils showed off their high-flying freshman class during a tour of Canada last week. 6'7", 285 pound forward Zion Williamson defies gravity with his alley-oop finishes, even though he's already heavier than LeBron James. It will be interesting to see if Williamson's body will hold up jumping that high at that weight. Williamson is projected as a top 5 pick in the 2019 draft even though he hasn't needed to worry about developing a consistent jump shot so far in his career.
 
Meanwhile, native Canadian R.J. Barrett is the projected number one pick with advanced scoring skills for an 18 year old shooting guard. Barrett and Williamson thrived against the weak competition they faced in Canada, and it will be interesting to see if they can score that easily against the top college programs in the U.S. The 3rd member of Duke's superstar freshman group, forward Cameron Reddish, didn't take part in the Canadian tour because of a minor injury, but he's also projected to be a top 5 pick next June.
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Finally, it's been a productive summer for Bulls' guard Zach LaVine. Not only did LaVine sign a new four-year, $78 million dollar free agent contract, but he's been dominating games on the pro-am circuit. By all appearances, LaVine is back to the form that helped him average almost 19 points a game with Minnesota before suffering the ACL tear in February of 2017. He's been throwing down contest-worthy dunks during games while racking up huge point totals in the wide-open summer runs.
 
Probably the highlight of LaVine's summer was this shout-out from the winningest player in NBA history, Hall of Fame center Bill Russell, who posted on his Twitter account:

Jimmy Butler may have gotten uninvited to the Wade's BBQ again

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USA TODAY

Jimmy Butler may have gotten uninvited to the Wade's BBQ again

Jimmy Butler is in hot water with the Wades ... again.

Maybe not really, but the two former Bulls teammates exchanged pleasantries on Instagram after Butler commented on a photo Dwyane Wade's wife Gabrielle Union posted poolside, saying: "WELL DAMN!!"

Wade, a three-time all-defensive second team, came to his wife's defense when Butler posted a video the next day with the caption: "The good, the bad, and the ugly...", prompting Wade to respond: "Put well damn in caps on my wife photo again and you're gonna see what the good, the bad and the ugly is like."

*Mic drop*

It appears this won't affect Butler getting an invite to the next get together. Or so he hopes...

"Well that escalated quickly," Butler responded to Wade. "Point noted.. I'm still coming to the bbq tho 😂😂😂"