Bulls

NBA Buzz: In wake of trade deadline, Bulls again caught in the middle

NBA Buzz: In wake of trade deadline, Bulls again caught in the middle

Thursday's trade with Oklahoma City points out the problem with trying to stay in playoff contention while also rebuilding the roster with more young and athletic players.

The Bulls obviously hurt their postseason chances by dealing locker-room leader and rock-solid pro Taj Gibson and their best 3-point shooter in Doug McDermott. And, at first glance, the players they got back don't look very impressive.

Bulls executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson made it clear that one of the objectives in Thursday's deal was to free up playing time for his last two first-round draft picks, Denzel Valentine and Bobby Portis. He also made it clear that newly acquired point guard Cameron Payne would play a lot over the final 25 games of the season.

So, how does Fred Hoiberg now deal with an unwieldy number of players expecting to get minutes? If Payne is going to play, that probably means Rajon Rondo is out of the rotation. But will Rondo sit by quietly so the Bulls can preserve his $14 million salary slot for possible trades this summer? Or will the front office be forced to offer him a contract buyout?

And what about the other two players acquired in the Oklahoma City deal? Long-range specialist Anthony Morrow is suffering through one of the worst seasons of his career, hitting just 29 percent of his attempts from 3-point range. Will he get the minutes previously given to McDermott, or is he a candidate for a buyout? Paxson cryptically said Morrow's role is "still to be defined."

Joffrey Lauvergne, a 6-foot-11 center, has some ability, but he's a restricted free agent at season's end and it's hard to project him getting any meaningful playing time behind Robin Lopez and Cristiano Felicio.

So let's add it all up. Hoiberg now has four point guards — five if you count Isaiah Canaan — and three centers to juggle, plus he'll have to find minutes for Valentine, Morrow and Paul Zipser at the wing spots behind Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade.

How will Portis fare as the new starting power forward? And what to do with Nikola Mirotic? His fading confidence is probably at a new low after the team's failed efforts to find him a new home before the deadline.

It will be fascinating to see if this team can manage to hold onto a playoff spot after losing Gibson and McDermott, to say nothing of the maddening inconsistency we've witnessed over the first 57 games of the season.

Good health will be critical, with the team's two best players, Butler and Wade, each enduring some bumps and bruises in the final weeks leading up to the All-Star break. We've seen what the Bulls look like without Butler, and it's not pretty. They're 1-5 in the games Butler missed because of illness and a right heel contusion.

The story is different when Wade has been out. The Bulls are 5-4 in the games he's missed because of illness, injury or just plain rest. Still, the 12-time All Star has shown the ability to raise the level of his play when the games matter most, and you can expect he'll be a big factor for the Bulls down the stretch. Don't forget, Wade almost single-handedly took an undermanned Miami team to within a win of the Eastern Conference Finals last season with a turn-back-the-clock playoff performance.

Hard to gain much from looking at the remaining schedule. Only 11 of the remaining 25 opponents have winning records, but we've all seen how that's gone in the past. If the Bulls can head into April around .500, they should be in position to make a strong closing run with a pair of matchups against the NBA's worst team, Brooklyn, along with games against the Pelicans, Knicks, 76ers and Magic to close out the regular season.

Of course, since Hoiberg has been told to give significant minutes to Portis, Valentine and Payne the rest of the way, it's possible making the playoffs isn't quite as important as it was at the start of the season. Questions about Butler's future will start up again as we approach the NBA Draft in June since Paxson wouldn't commit to trying to build around the three-time All Star, and if Butler goes, it's a pretty safe bet that Wade follows him out the door.

Life's never easy in the NBA when you're stuck in the middle. Maybe the trade with Oklahoma City is the signal we've been waiting for that a full rebuild is on the horizon.

[MORE BULLS: What the Bulls are getting in point guard Cameron Payne]

Here are a few stories from around the Association that have caught my attention.

Off to see the Wizards

The Wizards have been on fire since Dec. 12, putting together a 25-12 record. In case you haven't noticed, fourth-year forward Otto Porter is among the league leaders in 3-point percentage, shooting 46.5 percent to go along with 14.6 points and 6.7 rebounds per game. It's going to cost the Wizards a small fortune to sign the restricted free agent this summer.

Washington's backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal is finally starting to reach the potential everyone saw when the Wizards upset the Bulls in the first round of the 2014 playoffs. The two are combining for an average of 45 points and 14 assists per game, with Wall now a perennial All Star capable of taking over games with his scoring and playmaking. Beal probably should have made the Eastern Conference All-Star team as well with his 22.2 points per game scoring average, shooting 47.3 percent from the field and 40.2 percent from behind the 3-point line.

The Wizards also made an under-the-radar pick-up, getting Bojan Bogdanovic from Brooklyn for a first-round pick in this summer's draft. You probably haven't watched a lot of Brooklyn Nets basketball over the last couple years, but Bogdanovic is a good 3-point shooter who can also score off the dribble, averaging 14 points a game this season, while shooting 44 percent from the field and 35.7 percent from 3-point range. Bogdanovic will be a major upgrade for a Wizards bench that's struggled this season.

Moving to Canada

Toronto made two good moves before the deadline, acquiring a starting power forward in Serge Ibaka and a backup small forward in P.J. Tucker. Ibaka's ability to block shots and stretch the floor from the 3-point line should help the Raptors on both ends, while Tucker gives them another strong perimeter defender to go along with DeMarre Carroll in a possible playoff series against LeBron James and the Cavs.

LeBron loading up

Speaking of the Cavs, they're expected to add former Illini star Deron Williams to their bench once he clears waivers and completes a buyout with Dallas. Williams gives Cleveland the additional playmaker James has been demanding for the last couple months and sets up a potentially epic Finals matchup against Golden State. Williams gets a chance to compete for a championship late in his career, and he's still capable of being a difference maker in big games, averaging 13 points and seven assists per game. Cleveland is now loaded in the backcourt with Kyrie Irving, Williams, J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert and swingman Kyle Korver.

No luck for the Celtics

The one contending team that didn't make a move at the deadline is Boston. Danny Ainge talked trade with the Bulls about Butler and with Indiana about Paul George, but in the end he wasn't willing to give up those precious Brooklyn first-round draft picks he's been hoarding for years. Keep in mind the Celtics reportedly love University of Washington guard Markelle Fultz, who's expected to be the No. 1 pick in this year's draft, and they'll have enough cap room to make a run at free-agent swingman Gordon Hayward, who played for Brad Stevens at Butler.

Even with the addition of Butler or George, the Celtics might not have been able to take down King James and the Cavs in this year's playoffs, but they are still lurking as the rising power in the East. Now, we'll all have to wait to see what Ainge does in the days leading up to the draft.

Quote of the week

Gibson gave the Chicago media one last lengthy session before boarding a private jet with McDermott to their new home in Oklahoma City.

On his time in Chicago: "Every day I came to the locker room just seeing my name on the back of a Bulls jersey was a dream come true."

So what will it be like to join a new team after eight and a half seasons in Chicago? "I'm like a kid going to a new school. I don't know where to sit on the bus."

Something tells me Russell Westbrook and the Thunder will let Gibson have any seat he wants.

Good luck in Oklahoma City, Taj (and Doug). You will be missed by Bulls fans and media.

Windy City Bulls roundup: JaKarr Sampson

Windy City Bulls roundup: JaKarr Sampson

In this edition of the Windy City roundup we look at JaKarr Sampson, who has been playing well in an intriguing role with the Windy City Bulls.

Sampson, a two-year player at St. John’s University, averaged 13 PPG and 6 RPG on 46 percent in his college career. However, the most impressive part of his college resume were the hustle stats. Over his two seasons in college, Sampson averaged just over two offensive rebounds per game and racked up 125 combined steals/blocks.

That mentality has followed him to the pros, where he has been great at getting to the rim, drawing fouls and blocking shots.

But Sampson hasn’t been spectacular with his finishing in the NBA. And on top of that, the lack of (any) noticeable progress with his shooting stroke makes it hard to find a spot for him, even in the increasingly position-less NBA.

But the Windy City Bulls and head coach Charlie Henry have been using Sampson as a small-ball center, with intriguing results.


Through 6 games in the 2018-19 NBA G League season, Sampson is averaging 21 points, 6 rebounds and shooting 55 percent from the field.

He is one of the tallest players on the team as, Windy City has no players taller than 6-foot 8 on the roster. Despite starting a 6-foot 8 player at center, Windy City has the 2nd best defensive rating in the league (100.6) over the last five games.

And while he has helped the Bulls have a great NBA G League defense, his offensive value also offers upside. Sampson has been able to use his quickness to beat lumbering bigs off the dribble. He has also gotten slightly better at timing his rolls to the basket to receive dump off passes from his guards.

For pretty much the first time in Sampson’s basketball career (even dating back to high school) he is starting to make an earnest attempt to stretch his range out to the 3-point line. He is taking just over two 3-point attempts per game. While he is shooting a poor 28 percent from deep, those couple 3-point attempts per night help Windy City’s offense by dragging opposing bigs out of the paint to contest shots.

Sampson’s aggressiveness is at an all-time high with the Bulls. He has a gargantuan usage rate that is north of 30 percent, impressive considering that he hasn’t had to shoulder a heavy load on offense in quite some time. He is turning the ball over a considerable amount and that is perhaps the one thing knocking down his offensive value.

He has an impressive assist rate from the center spot, so the skill is there and simply needs to be raised a level. That obviously becomes much easier when you play with better teammates.

If Sampson was to play with the Chicago Bulls, he obviously would be a low-usage player. This in turn could make his solid passing ability a huge plus, since the Bulls have some interesting offensive pieces with Kris Dunn, Bobby Portis and Lauri Markkanen all returning to join Zach LaVine in the rotation.

And with Sampson showing that he can be effective against centers who are non-scoring threats, he would be a nice player to give spot minutes to when Wendell Carter Jr. is in foul trouble (especially early in games).

Succeeding at the highest levels in today’s NBA is all about the 3-point shot, lineup versatility and a commitment to the defensive side of the ball. And Sampson checks off two of the three boxes with certainty, making him a solid bet to be one of the next Windy City Bulls players to receive a call up.

Kris Dunn and Lauri Markkanen show the potential of the Bulls core in win over Spurs

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USA TODAY

Kris Dunn and Lauri Markkanen show the potential of the Bulls core in win over Spurs

The Bulls have struggled to close out games in the 2018-19 season and a big part of that was the absence of point guard Kris Dunn. Despite being a limited shooter throughout his young NBA career, he was actually a pivotal offensive player for the Bulls in clutch situations last season. Dunn (again) showed off just how valuable he can be in late-game situations on Saturday night.

In a game where the Spurs held a 21-point lead, the Bulls rode the offense of Lauri Markkanen and Dunn to a comeback victory. Dunn and Markkanen combined for 47 points, 14 rebounds and 4 assists in the win.

Guard play was the key in this win though, as Dunn and Ryan Arcidiacono were the few players determined to take smart shots while also getting to the ball to Markkanen when he had a mismatch. Everyone on the roster needs to work more on post-entry passes to Markkanen, as we have seen how awesome the results can be for an offense short on shot-makers.

But Dunn can become one of those shot-makers. We all know that to reach his absolute ceiling, his 3-point jump shot will need to develop. However, if he focuses heavily on getting to his “sweet spots” on the floor, he will ultimately mitigate any concerns about his shot.

Against the Spurs Dunn was 0-2 from the 3-point line but finished 4-7 on shots inside the paint, which contributed to the Bulls outscoring San Antonio 42-32 on points in the paint.

The Bulls are still struggling to score inside and were mostly helped by playing a Spurs team that is similarly awful at the 3-point shot, and not great at generating free throws. But a road win over the Spurs is impressive considering the turmoil surrounding this Bulls team.

Chicago was burned by a 3-point flurry from Marco Belinelli, Davis Bertans and Patty Mills in the second quarter. But the Bulls settled down and really locked-in defensively in the 2nd half. The Bulls collected 12 steals and 8 blocks in San Antonio, including a big-time double swat from the frontcourt of the future.


The team seems to be adjusting (relatively) well to the hyper-active coaching style of Boylen.


Since Boylen’s 1st game as Bulls’ head coach on December 4, the Bulls have ranked 15th in the league in defensive rating and have had noticeably better rotations on defense. But the offense has posted a historically terrible 95.1 points per 100 possessions in that same timeframe under Boylen.

But wins like Saturday night’s show that the Bulls can play with some mental toughness down the stretch of close games.

Bulls fans finally got to see a glimpse of the Dunn-Markkanen combination thriving at the same time. If they can consistently play with that same type of aggressiveness when LaVine returns to the lineup, Boylen and the Bulls can truly put what was a tough week behind them and focus on building a positive team-first culture.