NBA Buzz: No easy answers for Bulls rotation issues

NBA Buzz: No easy answers for Bulls rotation issues

The Rajon Rondo situation is one of many issues Fred Hoiberg faces in trying to put together a consistent rotation for the second half of the season. Outside of Paul Zipser and Isaiah Canaan, the other 12 players on the roster are competing for playing time, but the reality is any NBA rotation that contains more than 9 or 10 players is too difficult to manage.

Rondo played well in his first game back, scoring 12 points while dishing out six assists in a close loss to the Wizards. With key rotation players Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade and Niko Mirotic sidelined, Hoiberg decided it was the right time to end Rondo's 5 1/2 game banishment for ineffective play. But what happens when everyone's healthy again?

For now, it looks like Rondo will displace second-year man Jerian Grant as Michael Carter-Williams' backup at point guard. The coaches like Carter-Williams' defensive length at 6-foot-6 and his ability to finish at the rim, but Grant has been inconsistent. Taj Gibson made it clear how he felt about the situation, saying after the Wizards' game the Bulls are a better team with Rondo on the floor. Gibson is one of the team's most respected vets, so if he's saying the offense works better with Rondo at the point, that opinion will be hard for the coaching staff to ignore.

Hoiberg also has to figure out how to get some playing time for the Bulls' last two first round draft picks, Bobby Portis and Denzel Valentine. Portis put up 13 points and seven rebounds against the Wizards, showing the shooting range at 6-foot-11 that had NBA scouts so intrigued before the 2015 draft. Meanwhile, Valentine scored a career-high 19 points, hitting 5 of 11 shots from 3-point range, while showing the court vision that made him such an exceptional college player at Michigan State.

I would expect we'll be seeing a lot more of Valentine in the second half of the season, especially when Wade is resting on the second leg of back-to-back games. It's no secret the Bulls are looking to get more outside shooting on the court, and if Valentine proves he can shoot the NBA three consistently, he'll get minutes. 

Still, the rookie should probably forget about doing that little celebration dance we saw after making a big shot in the fourth quarter. John Wall told reporters after the game he had a message for Valentine when the teams took the court after a timeout, "You just woke up a monster."

[MORE BULLS: Rajon Rondo addresses benching]

The Portis situation is a little more difficult, since he lost out to fellow second-year player Cristiano Felicio for the backup center role. Portis is best suited to play the power forward spot, but unless the Bulls decide to trade Gibson before the February 23rd deadline, his prospects for playing time are a little murky right now. 

Once the flu-bug is finished making its way through the Bulls' locker room, the second unit figures to be Rondo and Valentine in the backcourt, with Doug McDermott, Mirotic and Felicio up front. And, as we saw in the come-from-behind win over Toronto, look for Doug and Niko to be on the floor late in close games as floor spacing shooting threats to open up driving lanes for Butler and Wade.

Around the Association

Boogie nights continuing in Sacramento? If the eternally petulant DeMarcus Cousins is contemplating taking the extra money to stay with the dysfunctional Kings' franchise, will ANY impact free agent change teams again in the NBA? Under the designated veteran provision in the new CBA, Cousins can command 35 percent of the team's salary cap and reports out of Sacramento suggest it's only a matter of time before he agrees to a long-term contract extension worth more than $200 million. Not bad for a guy who's never led his team to the playoffs, and is constantly bickering with teammates, coaches, officials and the media. Cousins was scheduled to become a free agent in the summer of 2018 when the Bulls are among a small group of teams expected to have enough salary cap room to offer a max deal. Instead, Cousins now will join superstars Russell Westbrook and James Harden in accepting early extensions and pass on a chance for free agency. Looks like getting lucky in the draft lottery or trades are now the only way to acquire a franchise-changing talent.  

The rich get richer. Speaking of trades, how about the deal pulled off by Cavs' general manager David Griffin, acquiring one of the league's best 3-point shooters, Kyle Korver, from Atlanta in exchange for Mike Dunleavy, Jr., Mo Williams and a 2019 first round draft pick. The 35-year-old Korver might not be the same player he was a few years ago, but he's still shooting 40 percent from 3-point range, giving the Cavs another long range option for the inevitable third straight finals match-up against Golden State in June. De facto GM LeBron James told Griffin it's time for the team to add a veteran point guard to replace the departed Matthew Dellavedova, so can Mario Chalmers, Norris Cole or Jarret Jack be far behind?

Hawks calling off the rebuild? The Korver trade sent the impression the Hawks' front office was ready to go into rebuild mode and trade off other veterans with expiring deals like Paul Millsap and Thabo Sefolosha. But with Atlanta riding a seven-game winning streak to move into fourth place in the East, Millsap has been taken off the trade market and it appears the Hawks are going to try to make another playoff run with the current cast. Atlanta added Dwight Howard in free agency this past summer, and fourth-year shooting guard Tim Hardaway, Jr., is playing the best basketball of his career. The reality is, no team in the East is equipped to take down the Cavs as long as LeBron James stays healthy, but the Hawks aren't ready to tear things down just yet.

Uneasy alliance by the Bay? Did you catch the heated "discussion" between Draymond Green and Kevin Durant last Friday after KD broke off a play in the closing seconds of a tie game against Memphis? Durant tossed up a low percentage 3-pointer that missed badly, and Green immediately confronted his superstar teammate to tell him that's not the way things are done with the Warriors. Durant is putting up good numbers in his first season, averaging 26 points a game, while shooting 53 percent from the field, but the marriage with fellow All-Stars Green, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson hasn't gone as smoothly as some people predicted. Remember, Durant can opt out of his contract after this season, and Curry is an unrestricted free agent this summer. Odds are Warriors management will be able to keep the band together, but it will be interesting to watch what happens if the All-Star quartet falls short of the championship everyone predicted. 

Stat of the week

The Bulls get their second look at Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah playing for the Knicks Thursday night. By now, I'm sure you're up to date on the Rose drama, who left the team without explanation to be with his family in Chicago on Monday. Rose returned to the Knicks the next day, and was fined for his absence, but the larger question involves his fit playing with Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis.

Which leads us to our stat of the week: when Rose takes 17 or more shots from the field, the Knicks have a 1-12 record. Not exactly a glowing endorsement for the free agent-to-be, who's still looking for a max contract this summer. 

Quote of the week

Of course, the Bulls have their own point guard soap opera going. Rajon Rondo had this to say about getting benched by Fred Hoiberg: "Playing for the Bulls, playing for big organizations, like Boston, you’re going to be judged from Day One. It’s part of it. You signed up for it. I don’t mind being judged or pressure being put on myself. People have been counting me out since Day One. That doesn’t matter about being in a box. It’s not a great feeling as a player to play like that. You're only as good as your coach thinks you are. That's a big part of each individual's success in the NBA.

"You look at James Harden and the year he's having. Mike D’Antoni turned over the keys to him and he’s having his best year ever with the right personnel around him. Certain guys got an opportunity to shine and play without restraint and certain guys will rise to the occasion. And some won’t."

Rondo is back in the Bulls' rotation for now, but it sounds like his unhappiness about his role with the team won't be ending anytime soon.

Thibodeau doesn't want to trade Jimmy Butler, owner Glen Taylor getting involved


Thibodeau doesn't want to trade Jimmy Butler, owner Glen Taylor getting involved

The Jimmy Butler saga continued on Friday, taking an interesting turn when ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Minnesota's front office had not been trying hard to trade Butler, but that in fact, they were doing quite the opposite:  

It is quite easy to believe that President of Basketball Operations and head coach Tom Thibodeau would be reluctant to move him.

They have an extensive history together, and Butler was the driving force behind Minnesota ending the NBA's longest playoff drought. But the thought of holding on to Butler past Monday's media day seems outrageous given the amount of negative attention already surrounding the franchise. 

Thibodeau is the decision-maker in this matter, but Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor could step in should this situation drag on longer, as he has in the past. Taylor gave the final OK when the franchise traded past stars Kevin Garnett and Kevin Love, and he will certainly get involved if Thibodeau is turning down quality trade offers. And reports state that Taylor is getting involved, as they likely try to get a deal done soon.

Thibodeau has multiple years left on his contract, so it is unlikely Minnesota lets him go, even if he takes a decidedly anti-trade stance on Butler.

Butler has made his list of preferred teams known, but as we saw in the Kyrie Irving deal, those list rarely are a factor. No matter what, it will be tough for Minnesota to get a deal comparable to what Chicago received for Butler, seeing as he is now older, and still somewhat injury-prone. But making sure to wait for the best trade available will heavily impact the long-term outlook of the Timberwolves.

Denying that you have interest in trading a player who has publicly demanded a trade is perhaps the most on-brand thing Thibodeau has ever done. But for once, he may be thinking about the future, as this lack of interest in trading Butler could just be a tactic to further drive up the asking price. 

Either way, stay Thibs, Thibs. 

27 Days to Opening Night: Lauri Markkanen's best rookie Game Score

27 Days to Opening Night: Lauri Markkanen's best rookie Game Score

The performance matched the venue.

Lauri Markkanen made quite the impression in his first game at Madison Square Garden, tallying 33 points (a career-best), 10 rebounds, eight 3-pointers and a pair of steals.

Markkanen made 10 of 22 from the field and went 8-for-15 from beyond the arc. He also made all five of his free throws and threw a hammer down on Enes Kanter.

It was arguably his best game of the year, and Basketball Reference’s Game Score agreed. We’ll safely assume he tops that at some time this season.

Previous Countdown to Opening Night posts:

38. Bobby Portis' career-high in points

37. Michael Jordan's career-best PPG in 1987

36. Lauri Markkanen's 3-point FG% as a rookie

35. Michael Jordan's PPG in 1988, his first MVP season

34. Wendell Carter

33. Scottie Pippen

32. Kris Dunn

31. Michael Jordan's 50-point games

30. Michael Jordan's career scoring average

29. Teams afraid of Zach LaVine putting them on a poster

28. Bulls' over-under win total in Las Vegas