Bulls

NBA Buzz: Doug McDermott establishing himself as part of Bulls' future

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NBA Buzz: Doug McDermott establishing himself as part of Bulls' future

In case you’ve forgotten, the Bulls paid a stiff price to acquire NCAA scoring champion Doug McDermott back on draft night 2014. They had to send their 16th and 19th picks in round one, along with a second-round pick in order to move up to No. 11 and select McDermott. The Bulls were also saddled with the unwanted contract of NBA journeyman Anthony Randolph in the deal, and it cost them two more second-round picks to unload Randolph on Orlando. That’s a total of five draft picks invested in McDermott.

As we all know, McDermott’s rookie season was one to forget. He began the year receiving limited minutes on a veteran Bulls’ team, then fell out of the rotation before a knee injury in December sidelined him for more than a month. When he returned, Niko Mirotic was firmly established as Tom Thibodeau’s shooting forward off the bench, and McDermott watched the rest of the season from the sideline.

The 2015-16 campaign began with high hopes. Fellow Ames, Iowa high school star Fred Hoiberg had replaced Thibodeau as head coach with a new offense that emphasized pace and 3-point shooting. McDermott got off to a solid start, but then fell into a shooting slump that lasted into the new year. Finally, after a heart-to-heart conversation with Hoiberg, McDermott stopped second-guessing his shot selection and became the scoring force the Bulls thought they were getting in that draft.

Granted, it’s been a small sample size, but McDermott looks like a player with a bright NBA future. The 6-foot-8 forward is once again showing the creative scoring touch that helped make him the National College Player of the Year at Creighton. McDermott is known for his 3-point shooting, but he also is adept at knocking down floaters and getting to the free-throw line off aggressive backdoor cuts to the basket. He recently put together a stretch of three straight games of scoring 20 points or more, showing the confidence the Bulls coaching staff and front office had been waiting to see. We’ve all heard the comparisons to former Bulls’ reserve Kyle Korver, but McDermott is a better athlete who can score in more ways than Korver, who is strictly a 3-point specialist.

So, what is McDermott’s role going forward? Will he eventually move into a starting spot at small forward? Well, a lot of that will depend on what the Bulls are able to do in free agency and the draft over the next two summers. If they are able to sign a wing player like Nic Batum, Arron Afflalo or Kent Bazemore when the 2016 free agent market opens in July, McDermott will remain in a reserve role.

But, if the Bulls decide to pursue centers and a point guard alternative to Derrick Rose with their cap room, McDermott could emerge as the starting small forward of the future, perhaps as soon as next season depending on what the front office decides to do with veteran Mike Dunleavy.

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Going forward, the players most likely to remain on a changing roster include Jimmy Butler, Bobby Portis, Niko Mirotic and McDermott, with Taj Gibson and E’Twaun Moore also possibilities if they’re willing to accept team-friendly deals. Any decision on Rose will probably wait until the summer of 2017, when about a third of the league’s point guards will join Derrick on the free agent market.

With so few “core” players in place, the front office couldn’t afford another first-round bust. That’s why the emergence of McDermott over the last few weeks might turn out to be one of the most important developments of the season.

Lottery prospects struggle in NCAA tournament 

Judging by what we’ve seen in the opening two rounds of the NCAA Tournament, the 2016 Draft could be one of the weakest in years, especially at the top. Projected lottery picks Jaylen Brown and Ivan Rabb of Cal, Kentucky’s Jamal Murray and Utah big man Jakob Poeltl all struggled in the national spotlight, looking far from NBA ready. We know the Draft has been more about potential than proven performance for more than a decade, but scouts and general managers will have to be wary about investing high picks on players who might take a couple years to become rotation contributors. Even Big Ten Player of the Year Denzel Valentine underperformed in the Spartans’ shocking first-round loss to Middle Tennessee, and Valentine is already considered a mid-first round prospect because of a lack of NBA-level athleticism.

Given the success of Knicks’ first-round pick Kristaps Porzingis this season, more teams may look overseas for lottery prospects, with 7-foot teenager Dragan Bender already expected to go in the Top 5. The No. 1 overall pick figures to be 6-foot-10 forward Ben Simmons, a multi-skilled player who couldn’t even get his LSU team to the Big Dance. Duke’s Brandon Ingram is expected to go No. 2, with some scouts comparing him to Kevin Durant. Maybe someday that lofty comparison will be justified, but at this point, the 6-foot-9, 190-pound Ingram is painfully thin and might have trouble getting his shot off against more physical NBA players.

Providence point guard Kris Dunn looks like one of the most NBA-ready prospects at 6-foot-4 with the ability to create his own shot and set up teammates, and Dunn should be selected in the Top 10, along with Oklahoma shot-maker Buddy Hield, who figures to be a good fit in a league that relies on productive 3-point shooting more than ever before.

Around the Assocation

For weeks, I’ve been telling you about what is shaping up as one of the most active summers of player movement around the league. Most of that has to do with a salary cap that’s expected to jump from around $70 million to close to $92 million. And, since there aren’t enough big-name free agents to command all that new money, a number of teams will be offering to absorb the contracts of stars who are unhappy in their current situations.

That’s where Carmelo Anthony comes in. Anthony told reporters in New York on Friday he couldn’t commit to being back with the Knicks next season, saying it depends on the moves Phil Jackson is able to make in the free agent market. "It's in their court. The ball is in their court," Anthony said. "They have an opportunity, we have an opportunity to do something this off-season. We gotta do something. It's there."

The Knicks are projected to have at least $18 million in cap room, but then so will just about every other team in the league. Anthony would like to see his team sign a high quality point guard like Mike Conley or Rajon Rondo, but Jackson doesn't think that position carries as much importance in the triangle offense.

[MORE BULLS: Pau Gasol (knee) likely to return next week]

Anthony had steadfastly insisted he wouldn’t wave his no-trade clause after re-signing with the Knicks in 2014, but after two more losing seasons he might change that stance. Who knows, maybe Melo winds up going to Cleveland to play with his buddy LeBron James in a trade involving Kevin Love? If the Cavs don’t make it back to the Finals, you can almost count on Love being traded somewhere.

  • Or maybe Anthony winds up in Los Angeles playing with another member of the infamous Beijing Olympics “brotherhood”, Chris Paul. With the Clippers apparently destined to a second round elimination in the playoffs, look for coach/head of basketball operations Doc Rivers to explore trade possibilities for star forward Blake Griffin, who’s missed the bulk of this season because of injuries, and still must serve a four-game suspension for his fight with a team employee back in January. Griffin has a world of talent, but hasn’t been able to get the Clippers to the conference finals. Rivers has discussed trading Griffin for Anthony before, so that discussion is likely to be revisited this summer.

  • Boogie Cousins and the Sacramento Kings traveling sideshow makes their annual Chicago visit on Monday. Cousins could be another star player on the move this summer after finally alienating one of his staunchest supporters, GM Vlade Divac, with his boorish on-court behavior and repeated criticism of head coach George Karl. Divac was upset that Cousins put the blame for his recent one game suspension on Karl alone, and is rapidly running out of patience with his petulant star. Karl won’t be back next season, but that won’t solve all of the Kings’ issues with Cousins, who’s never experienced a 30-win season in his six years as a pro. Look for the usual suspects to line up in trade discussions, led by the Lakers and Celtics, but I wouldn’t expect the Bulls to be serious bidders for Cousins. They simply don’t have the structure in place to deal with an immature player who’s fought with just about every coach he’s ever played for on the NBA level.

  • Former Chicago area high school star Dwyane Wade became the 41st NBA player to reach the 20,000-point plateau for his career on Saturday in Miami. Wade reached the milestone in the Heat’s blowout win over LeBron James and the Cavs. James is now 0-3 at American Airlines Arena since turning his back on Miami back in 2014. And, you can bet the Cavs want no part of Miami in the playoffs. Miami is 8-3 since beating out Cleveland for the services of veteran free agent Joe Johnson, and former Bull Luol Deng is thriving at the small forward position with Hassan Whiteside putting up big numbers coming off the bench. The Heat is still hopeful Chris Bosh will be able to return for the playoffs, which could make them the top challenger to Cleveland for the Eastern conference title.

  • The New Orleans Pelicans announced that they are officially shutting down star big man Anthony Davis for the rest of the season. Davis is battling knee and shoulder injuries, and with the Pelicans out of playoff contention, there really isn’t a pressing need for him to play through pain over the final month. The Chicago native is averaging 24 points and 10 rebounds in 61 games this season, but didn’t take the next step in his career after leading New Orleans to a surprising playoff berth a year ago. Another injury-plagued season also cost Davis millions of dollars since he would have been eligible to receive 30 percent of the Pelicans’ salary cap in his new extension under the so-called “Derrick Rose Rule” if he had made any of the three All-NBA teams. Still, Davis will be just fine after agreeing to the largest contract extension in league history last summer.

[RELATED: Bulls' consistency, Derrick Rose leads to win over surging Jazz]

  • Matt Barnes was at it again, trying to get into the Bucks’ locker room to fight John Henson after both players were ejected in the closing seconds of Milwaukee’s win last week. Barnes received a one game suspension from the league while Henson and teammate Greivis Vazquez drew fines. Barnes has played pretty well for the injury-decimated Grizzlies, but you have to wonder about his future in the league after all his disciplinary issues, highlighted by the offseason fight with then Knicks coach Derek Fisher.

  • Spurs coach Gregg Popovich decided to go with a small-ball lineup against Golden State on Saturday, which meant a healthy Tim Duncan came off the bench for only the third time in his Hall of Fame career. Duncan wound up playing only eight minutes, since the Warriors didn’t have either of their top two centers, Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezeli because of injuries. The strategy worked since San Antonio won the game, extending their homecourt winning streak to 44 games, but it will be interesting to see if the Spurs try to match Golden State’s smaller lineups in a best-of-seven playoff series.

  • Duncan’s former teammate, Golden State coach Steve Kerr had the line of the night, telling reporters about Duncan’s limited playing time, “Tim is 62 now. ... He needs his rest.”

Warriors' pursuit of 72 wins

Speaking of that loss to San Antonio, the Warriors are still one game ahead of the 1995-96 Bulls record pace at 62-7. Golden State will have to go 11-2 over their remaining games to break the record, but even though they still have two games remaining against San Antonio, I believe they’ve come too far to take their foot off the gas now. I still have the Warriors odds at 60 percent to get to 73 wins.

Quotes of the Week

I told you earlier about Wade surpassing the 20,000-point plateau last weekend in Miami. An emotional Wade told reporters afterwards, "I've been through a lot of adversity. I've had a lot of injuries in my career that a lot of people would never have come back from — and I have, and I continue to keep going, 13 years later. And I thank my teammates, the ones that are here and the ones that aren't here, because to get 20,000-plus points you've got to shoot a lot of shots."

And finally, this from the enigmatic Dwight Howard, who seems destined to be remembered as a player who never lived up to his enormous potential or “Superman” nickname. Howard’s latest mini-controversy involves using a spray substance to give him a better grip on the basketball, which is against league rules.

Howard told the Houston Chronicle after the game: "I don’t know why people are making a big deal out of it. I do it every game. It’s not a big deal. I ain’t tripping.”

No, Dwight, and you probably won’t have to worry about those championship rings sticking to your fingers, either.

NBC Sports Chicago launches new show Bulls Outsiders

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NBC Sports Chicago

NBC Sports Chicago launches new show Bulls Outsiders

Chicago, IL (October 15, 2018) – NBC Sports Chicago – THE Home of the #AuthenticFan – has announced it will launch Bulls Outsiders, a brand new, live, multi-platform, fan-interactive Bulls program that will provide a fresh take on that evening’s game and much more from three non-conventional sports show hosts.  Bulls Outsiders will make its network debut after the Bulls 2018-19 road/season opener this Thursday, October 18 (approx. 10:00 PM CT) immediately following Bulls Postgame Live presented by BlueCross BlueShield of Illinois on NBC Sports Chicago+, via live stream to authenticated NBC Sports Chicago subscribers at NBCSportsChicago.com/WatchLive, and -- on Facebook Live (Facebook.com/NBCSChicago). NOTE: Bulls Outsiders will also re-air on the main NBC Sports Chicago channel on this night at 11:00 PM; the majority of airings will also air live on the main channel location.

Hosted by three, die-hard Bulls enthusiasts – Matt Peck (@Bulls_Peck), David Watson (@bawlsports), and John Sabine (@jsabine214) – Bulls Outsiders will provide viewers with the hottest takes, insightful analysis, and spirited commentary from the fans' perspective. This new half-hour program will immediately follow the network’s dedicated, season-long presentation of Bulls Postgame Live for all 82 Bulls games this season.  

In addition to the lively post-game discussion with the show’s hosts, Bulls Outsiders will also emphasize heavy viewer interaction via fan engagement on a number of the network’s social media platforms including Twitter (@NBCSBulls; fans urged to utilize the Twitter hashtag #BullsOutsiders in their posts) and Facebook Live (Facebook.com/NBCSChicago), which will enable Bulls fans to directly interact with the show’s hosts via comments and questions pertaining to that particular evening’s game, the key topics presented to them that night, or anything else they want to discuss from a league-wide NBA perspective. 

“Our primary goal at NBC Sports Chicago is to super serve our fans and with the introduction of Bulls Outsiders to our multi-platform programming line-up, we are able to continue that mission with a fresh and fun new program that not only speaks to Bulls fans, but one that directly involves them in the dialogue,” said Kevin Cross, Vice President of Content for NBC Sports Chicago. 

In preparation for the hiring of the program’s three primary hosts, NBC Sports Chicago reached out to a number of notable local (and vocal) die-hard Bulls fans who stood out among the vast Bulls social media community. Candidates who responded back with interest were simply asked to shoot a one-minute video on their phone and offer up their take on Chicago native/Simeon Career Academy H.S. grad Jabari Parker joining the Bulls via free agency.  From there, the initial two dozen candidates were narrowed down to eight, who were then all brought in for in-studio auditions. Following the lengthy on-camera process, Cross, along with Bulls content producer Kevin Anderson, finalized their decision and welcomed Peck, Watson, and Sabine to the NBC Sports Chicago family.  

“It was an intricate process in choosing our hosts, but there’s no doubt Matt, David, and John have a great chemistry and solid individual strengths,” added Cross. “I’m also excited about how Bulls Outsiders will take fan interactivity to a brand new level and I couldn’t be more pleased that we will be able to deliver this show to the passionate and undeniably-dedicated Bulls fan base.”

Please note the following Bulls Outsiders host bios:

Matt Peck - Podcast host/writer for ‘Locked On Bulls’

Age: 31

Hometown: Glen Ellyn, IL

Favorite Bull of all time: “MJ, obviously…but Rodman is a very close second.” 

Favorite Current Bull: Lauri Markkanen 

Favorite Bulls moments: 

1st place – “1997 NBA Finals Game 1. MJ hits the game-winner at the buzzer after Karl Malone misses 2 FTs...Mailman doesn't deliver on Sundays."

2nd place – “2011 Eastern Conference Finals Game 1…Bulls blow out the ‘Heatles.’ Taj destroys Dwyane Wade's soul. And has a FILTHY put back dunk late with the route on. The Madhouse goes insane. We all leave that night thinking we were about to win the title.” 

David Watson - Bulls writer/podcast host for BawlSports.com

Age: 39

Hometown: Chicago, IL                            

Favorite Bulls player of all-time: Michael Jordan

Favorite current Bulls player: Lauri Markkanen

Favorite Bulls moment: “Jordan Flu Game in ‘97…Noah dunk on Paul Pierce in ’09 first round Game 6 Triple OT…oh, and that Pippen dunk on Ewing in the ’94 playoffs.”

John Sabine - Actor, copywriter, and improviser…he has performed with The Second City IO and The Improvised Shakespeare Company.

Age: 34

Hometown: Originally from Dallas, TX…has lived in Chicago for the last 11 years

Favorite Bulls player of all-time: “Pippen or Rodman, it's probably Rodman. Is it weird it's Rodman?”

Favorite current Bulls player: “Lauri Markkanen, but really Bobby Portis. I want to be friends with Bobby Portis.” 

Favorite Bulls moment: “Jordan's return from baseball. As a kid I couldn't understand, I said "wait ...he just decided to not play and now he decided to play, but like he has a new number and he's still awesome...what?!’ or…either 2013 Round 1 Game 4 against the Nets 3OT, Nate Robinson. It was a Marvel Movie.” 

REMINDER: NBC Sports Chicago will carry the 2018-19 Bulls HOME OPENER on Saturday, October 20 (Bulls Pregame Live presented by Coors Light at 6:00 PM; Bulls vs. Pistons tip-off at 7:00 PM; Bulls Postgame Live presented by BlueCross BlueShield of Illinois at approx. 9:30 PM, which will immediately be followed by Bulls Outsiders at approx. 10:00 PM).

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Re-focused Zach LaVine primed to bounce back: ‘I want to prove to myself what all this hard work is for’

Re-focused Zach LaVine primed to bounce back: ‘I want to prove to myself what all this hard work is for’

Healthy in October for the first time in three seasons, Zach LaVine entered training camp as the $78 million man looking to justify one of the summer’s largest deals that many criticized.

And just a few days into camp, the spotlight homed in on him further when the Bulls lost Lauri Markkanen to an elbow injury.

LaVine responded to both challenges, putting together a preseason performance that not even the most optimistic expectations could have included.

In just 22.3 minutes he averaged 17.8 points on 52 percent shooting, made 44 percent of his triples and got to the free throw line a team best 4.8 times per game. In short, he looked much more like the potential franchise-building piece the Bulls believed they were acquiring 19 months ago.

“I’m my hardest critic, so there’s nothing on the outside that I haven’t told myself of where I want to be at. You want to tell the doubters on the outside I told you so, but it’s mostly coming from a place where I want to prove to myself what all this hard work is for.’’

The fifth-year shooting guard was fluid, attacked in a variety of ways and looked like part of the offense, something that at times was non-existent during last year’s injury-riddled comeback season. Taking shots in rhythm, attacking the rim instead of settling for contested jumpers, running the floor. LaVine looked a lot like the player who shot 46 percent from the field and 39 percent from deep before the ACL injury in 2017.

“I think I found a good rhythm and then just keep that going into the regular season. I think last year still, I was trying to catch my rhythm with the games I played,” LaVine said Monday at the Advocate Center. “I’d play two good games and two bad games. I felt like that up and down was a little bit with the consistency of not playing. Now that I’m back fully I think that’s where I should be.”

The offensive uptick is a sight for sore eyes, especially with Markkanen on the mend. But where LaVine can quiet his harshest critics – including himself – is on the defensive end.

It’s just a five-game sample size, but LaVine’s individual defensive rating of 97.3 was better than the team’s overall 100.2 rating. A year ago, LaVine’s defensive rating was 113.9, the worst on the team, and worse than the team’s overall 110.4 mark. They’re baby steps, but steps nonetheless for a player who knows what the book says about him on that end of the floor.

“I think I had a lot better focus on the defensive end,” he said. “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.’’

The preseason is one hurdle cleared, but they get much taller and difficult to get over when Thursday and the Philadelphia 76ers come around. No matter who starts in the frontcourt – Fred Hoiberg isn’t ready to announce Bobby Portis and Wendell Carter Jr. yet – or if the Bulls get good Jabari Parker instead of preseason Jabari Parker, all eyes will be on LaVine.

It’s the contract. It’s being the centerpiece of the Jimmy Butle trade. It’s how well he played before the injury and how dominant he looked in the preseason. He’s off to a good start and knows now is this time to build on it.

“There are a lot of things you want to reach and get better at every year, and I put a lot of work into this offseason,” he said. “I have a lot of things to prove and want to get better at, and yeah, I feel like it’s just motivation for yourself when you want to accomplish things.’’