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NBA Insiders Notebook: More trade talk as All-Star break nears

NBA Insiders Notebook: More trade talk as All-Star break nears

AN ARENA NEAR YOU – Welcome NBA fans to another edition of the CSN Insiders notebook which as you can imagine this time of year, is full of trade talk.

While the next blockbuster move this season in the NBA will be the first, there’s still lots of activity that’s bubbling over into what should be some interesting deals cemented between now and the Feb. 23 trade deadline.

The first deal of this trading season went down over the weekend involving the Portland Trail Blazers sending Mason Plumlee, a second-round pick and cash to Denver for disgruntled big man Jusuf Nurkic (we wrote about him being one of the first to be traded a couple weeks ago), a future first-round pick (it will be Memphis’ 2017 pick) and cash.

This is one of those both-teams-win kind of deals.

The Nuggets are currently in the eighth and final playoff spot out West. The addition of Plumlee who is having a career season, strengthens their chances of sticking where they are or potentially moving up a spot or two as far as playoff seeding.  

Portland (24-30) ranks 20th in rebounding which is an area that Nurkic (16.0 points, 11.6 rebounds per 36 minutes) could help. And he gets a chance to play his way into a meaningful role, something he failed to do with the Nuggets in part because of the emergence of Nikola Jokic whose play has been one of the main reasons Denver is thinking how much their young team would benefit from getting to the postseason now even if the NBA’s most powerful team, Golden State, awaits them. Portland was also motivated to unload Plumlee due to his restricted free agent status this summer, and the unlikelihood that they would re-sign him due to luxury tax concerns.

Meanwhile, the Blazers now have the potential to have three, first-round picks in a relatively solid draft class.

As much as we’re all about trade talk, the story that has the league buzzing is the incident involving ex-New York Knick Charles Oakley and Knicks owner James Dolan which involved Oakley being arrested.

CSN Philly Insider Jessica Camerato details how Dolan who clearly screwed this up (just like he screwed up in hiring Phil Jackson which is another story for another time), tried to change the narrative just days after the incident which Oakley has made pretty clear that it isn’t over.

ATLANTIC DIVISION

Can't we all get along?

Days after Charles Oakley was escorted out of Madison Square Garden and arrested following an incident with team owner James Dolan, a familiar face was in the arena in an unexpected setting.

Latrell Sprewell sat with Dolan during Sunday’s game against the Spurs. Sprewell and Dolan have a rocky past, so the pairing was surprising especially after what happened with Oakley.

Former Knicks Bernard King and Larry Johnson were also sitting with them.

"I can't tell you why I haven't been back here, but I'll tell you when I left, I was not happy," Sprewell told ABC, per ESPN.com. "New York is like a second home for me. I love the fans here. The fans have embraced me. There's no place like the Garden to play in. I mean, who wouldn't want to play in the Garden?"

Sprewell played five seasons for the Knicks from 1999-2003. – by Jessica Camerato

Bradley's return remains a mystery

Avery Bradley remains out of commission due to a right Achillles strain injury with the timetable for his return becoming murkier with each passing day. The Celtics maintain that he’s making progress and getting better, but there are growing concerns that Bradley’s injury may render a similar result to what happened with Kevin Garnett in 2009 when he was unable to play in the postseason for the Celtics.

While the two have very different injuries – Garnett was dealing with a knee injury – there is a parallel between the injury taking significantly more time to return from than expected.

Garnett missed 25 games with the knee injury, and was supposed to return near the end of the season. But on the eve of the playoffs, then-head coach Doc Rivers declared that the knee was sound enough to where Garnett could play in the postseason.

“It's not official that he's out for the entire playoffs, but it's official as far as I'm concerned," Rivers told reporters at the time. "I just don't see how. I hope I'm wrong, but I just don't see it."

While the mood isn’t anywhere close to being that ominous regarding Bradley, the longer it takes for him to return the more concern there will be among fans that his injury may be more serious than it’s being portrayed as currently.

Prior to Boston’s game at Dallas on Monday night, head coach Brad Stevens was asked about Bradley’s return which has now been set for some time after the all-star break.

“We met as a staff (Sunday) and every indication is he’s feeling as good as he’s felt, right now,” Stevens told reporters in Dallas. “What that means, I don’t want to speculate nor do I know.”

In other words, nobody knows when he’ll return which has to be troubling for Celtics fans who know a deep playoff run, barring a blockbuster trade, has to involve Bradley in some capacity beyond cheering from the bench. – by A. Sherrod Blakely

Okafor trade coming soon?

Trade talks surrounding Jahlil Okafor have progressed to the point head coach Brett Brown has decided not to play him while they are ongoing. Brown sat Okafor against the Heat on Saturday. That night, a deal was not imminent but talks were progressing, according to a source. 

“There were trade rumors that were happening before the game,” Brown said. “I was aware of those. In those situations, I felt that it was best to not complicate things and not play Jahlil. We talked about it together before the game and I explained to him that this was going to happen for this reason. That’s why I made the decision.” 

Okafor did not travel with the Sixers to Charlotte for Monday's game against the Hornets. They only have one more game after that (Wednesday in Boston) before the All-Star break and trade deadline. 

The Sixers had been involved in previous discussions surrounding Okafor, including with the Bulls and Pelicans. The talks on Saturday were more advanced than those, per a source. – by Jessica Camerato

CENTRAL DIVISION

Milwaukee can't buck bad luck trend

For the Milwaukee Bucks, they can't seem to get it right, through no fault of their own.

One big piece comes back, one goes down--indefinitely.

The day swingman Khris Middleton debuted after a hamstring injury this summer prevented him from starting the year, they lose up and coming star Jabari Parker to an ACL injury--the same ACL he tore his rookie year and threatened to derail his promising career.

Now, he's out for the year and the Bucks have to think long-term about where they go from here.

But now, they have to replace Parker and it could be with the mercurial Michael Beasley in the meantime--as adjusting is something they're used to this year.

"Just going through the process of playing without Khris, we understand how to play without someone," head coach Jason Kidd said to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "Now we've got to learn how to play without Jabari. We don't have training camp or time to waste. We've got Friday and Saturday with games. We've just got to be pros.” – by Vincent Goodwill

Korver: 'Who wouldn't want to play with the best players in the world?'

When finding ones rhythm happening to coincide with wanting to stay put, it's no such thing as a coincidence, right?

In the case of Cavaliers' new acquisition Kyle Korver, it's been a few weeks in the making but he's finally located his groove and indicated he wanted to stay with the franchise as he becomes a free agent this summer. It's the same week he connects on 12 of 14 3-pointers in his last three games, including an 8-for-9 masterpiece against the Pacers, scoring a season-high 29 points.

"I mean, who wouldn't want to play with the best players in the world?" Korver told Cleveland.com. 

Or more specifically, who doesn't want to play with the best passer in the world, one LeBron James?

Keep cashing those checks, Korver. – by Vincent Goodwill

Pistons (finally) motoring in the right direction

The Detroit Pistons seem intent on this stop-start process where they can't figure out what they're doing. 

But what if they've finally found their groove?

Sunday night's 16-point fourth-quarter comeback win over the Toronto Raptors was their biggest such comeback win in regulation since moving from Fort Wayne in 1957-58, and more importantly, gives them five wins in their last seven games as they tied the Bulls for the seventh playoff spot in the East.

Stanley Johnson has struggled in his second year but if he and Tobias Harris can find their rhythm off the bench, one wonders if they can do more than take up the rear in the playoff race. Johnson scored 11 and played critical minutes in the win over the Raptors.

“I just have to figure out a way to play my game within the system. Offensively, it’s a little tougher for me,” Johnson told the Detroit News. “Even last year, I feel like I found more shots within the system.”

If the system can find a way to make Johnson more effective, Detroit can be dangerous down the stretch. – by Vincent Goodwill

Pacers remain inconsistent, time for LB to make a trade?

If anybody can get a handle on the Indiana Pacers, call Vegas because not even the experts have a good enough feel for them. 

One week ago, they were on the rise and Paul George had been reasserting himself as a bona fide swingman in the league, on a seven-game winning streak and being downright scary as a playoff opponent.

But since then, they've lost three straight, including a thrashing from the Cleveland Cavaliers and what's probably a little worse, they were beat up on the boards late by the Washington Wizards, causing George to call his teammates out for a lack of toughness--the worst thing a team can be called as a whole short of quitting.

“We got stops. Made them miss shots, but we couldn’t secure the rebounds. We’re not tough enough," George said after a 112-107 loss to the Wizards Friday night. "This has been an issue for us all season long. We’re really struggling and we’re just not tough enough. We’ve got to get grittier. We’ve got to get nasty on these boards. We’re just not tough enough.”

If the answer isn't on the roster, one wonders if it'll cause Larry Bird to hit the phones before the trade deadline. – by Vincent Goodwill

D-Wade: 'You know I got an Oak story'

No matter the walk of life or a person’s status, coming across Charles Oakley means there’s an experience, an “Oak story” that’s embedded in your brain.

As long as you’re not the topic of an Oak story, it’s probably pleasant in some ways.

“Do I got an Oak story? You know I got an Oak story,” a wide-eyed and smiling Dwyane Wade said to CSNChicago.com Friday afternoon.

Wade was a soon-to-be-rookie in the summer of 2003 when he was working out at famed trainer Tim Grover’s gym in Chicago.

“Oak just randomly came in and played. Open gym,” Wade said.

The directives were clear from the regulars to the novices who hadn’t experienced Oakley in his glory in an open gym with no television cameras, no coaches and most importantly, no referees.

“And everybody was like, "Oak is in here today, you shoot jumpers". I'm like, man (screw) that,” Wade said.  “You know me, I'm an aggressive guy, go to the basket.”

“First time I get the ball, I go to the basket.”

From there, Wade’s education on the scrappy big man who didn’t take kindly to high-flying young players coming to his territory began.

“Oak picked me up. I jumped in the air to finish and he grabbed me out the air and said, "don't come in here. Respect.’”

As for the unfortunate situation at Madison Square Garden, Wade stands firmly behind Oakley.

"From an organization standpoint, I thought it was handled poorly,” Wade said. “And I don't condone violence either. I thought it could've been handled better." -by Vincent Goodwill

SOUTHEAST DIVISION

Wizards' need for backup big man not as great now

With Ian Mahinmi back playing after a couple of setbacks with his knees, the Wizards have a clearer path ahead going into the Feb. 23 trade deadline.

That is they don’t require a big man to stabilize the frontcourt behind 32-year-old starter Marcin Gortat.

Defensively, the second unit has been stable. Before Friday’s game vs. the Pacers, the Wizards’ bench had a plus-9.3 points net rating per 100 possessions in the previous 10 games.

The key decision to be made is whether or not they can rely on rookie Sheldon McClellan or veteran Marcus Thornton for scoring from the shooting guard spot behind Bradley Beal – by J. Michael

Zeller, Hornets suffer yet another setback

Even with Cody Zeller, the Hornets were struggling. He returned from a right thigh contusion after missing seven games, played against the Rockets and had another setback and sat out vs. the Clippers.

His injury occurred against the Wizards, and it appears to be similar to one that Washington forward Otto Porter had a season ago.

Zeller said his entire leg had bruising, according to a report from the Charlotte Observer, “from my knee to my hip.”

Porter took a knee in his quad and there was the actual injury that he played through and then bruising and blood pooling in other areas that didn’t knock him out of action until a few games later.

The Hornets already made a trade to acquire Miles Plumlee for Roy Hibbert and Spencer Hawes. They’ll need Plumlee’s skill set more than ever with Zeller’s situation because he fills the voids that Hibbert and Hawes could not.

“Miles’ strengths fit into what we need,” coach Steve Clifford said. “He can bring physicality, rim protection and versatility in pick-and-roll coverages at the defensive end. I also think that he plays in a very similar fashion to Cody at the offensive end where I think he has a roll game that will allow him to play well with most of the perimeter players on our team.”

Johnson's versatility, Spoelstra's coaching keys to red-hot play by Miami

At $4 million for this season, James Johnson has been one of the NBA’s best bargains and has keyed a 13-game winning streak for the Heat going into Saturday’s game vs. the Sixers.

“I don’t know if there’s another guy in the league — maybe LeBron (James) and him — who can play the position one to five,” point guard Goran Dragic said.

Johnson is on his fifth NBA team. His overall averages are modest but represent career-highs: 12.0 points, 5.0 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 35.6% three-point shooting.

Using him at the five spot has been a matchup problem for everyone, but Heat coach Erik Spoelstra deserves a chunk of the credit, too. The Big Three of James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are gone (technically, Bosh hasn’t been released yet), D-Leaguers have been major contributors and Spoelstra still has them in the playoff picture after an 11-30 start.

“I’ve said it for years, but because I worked with him I'm biased and nobody writes it: but there’s not a better coach in the league than Erik,” Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy, who used to coach the Heat, told reporters recently.

“People discounted him because he had LeBron and Wade and Bosh. Gregg Popovich is one of the best ever, Phil Jackson. But nobody goes to four straight finals. Nobody. He did. Those other great teams have not. But even before he had those guys, he had them in the playoffs. And now look what he’s doing in Miami.” – by J. Michael

PACIFIC DIVISION

Kings remain hard team to figure out

Break up the Kings. Sacramento has won two straight and three out of four this week, including victories over the elite of the Eastern Conference in the Cavs, Celtics and Hawks. Now if they could only beat teams like the Phoenix Suns and Chicago Bulls, they might be onto something. … All-Star big man DeMarcus Cousins sat out in the win over Boston due to league suspension after picked up his 15th and 16th technical fouls of the season against the Bulls. He wound up picking up technical foul No. 17 on Sunday in Sacramento’s 105-99 win against New Orleans. If (when) he picks up No. 18, he will have to serve another one-game suspension. … Ty Lawson strained an adductor muscle against the Celtics and missed Friday’s win over the Hawks. He joins Garrett Temple (torn hamstring), Omri Casspi (calf strain) and Rudy Gay (ruptured Achilles) on the injury list. – by James Ham

D-Leaguer Jones set to star in Slam Dunk Contest

PHOENIX - Rookie Derrick Jones Jr. is set to participate in the Verizon Slam Dunk Contest during All-Star weekend. He’s played in just five games with the Suns this season, but shown a flare for the dramatic in the D-League.  … Alex Len missed the Suns win over the Bulls on Friday after being suspended for leaving the bench during an altercation in Phoenix’ loss to the Grizzlies. Rookies Tyler Ulis and Marquese Chriss were each fined $15K for their part in the altercation. … Rookie Dragan Bender is out 4-6 weeks after undergoing ankle surgery this week.

SOUTHWEST DIVISION

Where do the Spurs find these guys?

SPURS - Winners of five out of their last six, the Spurs are once again rolling and they are getting a big boost from an unlikely source.

DeWayne Dedmon appears to be getting his sea legs as a starter. The fourth-year big dropped in 17 points, 17 rebounds and two blocks Friday night against Andre Drummond and the Pistons. Since taking over the starting job six games ago, Demon has posted three double-doubles.   

In need of more depth up front with Pau Gasol out of action, San Antonio inked veteran center Joel Anthony for the remainder of the season. – by James Ham

Help on the way for Davis?

Anthony Davis has been New Orleans’ lone hope when it comes to making an impact among frontcourt players, but that may not be the case for much longer. Philadelphia’s Jahlil Okafor is on his way out with New Orleans appearing to be the front-runner.

The Sixers have been negotiating with a number of teams, but the Pelicans appeared to have jumped to the front of the line after the Denver Nuggets – another team the Sixers were discussing a possible trade with – moved on to engineer a deal that netted them Mason Plumlee from Portland in exchange for Jusuf Nurkic.

If an Okafor trade falls through, look for the Pelicans to make a hard push for Brooklyn’s Brook Lopez. The Nets have the worst record in the NBA, but they won’t benefit from having a high pick in this year’s draft courtesy of the 2013 trade they made with Boston that included, among other things, Boston having the right to swap first-round picks in this year’s draft. They may be inclined to move Lopez now and get a lottery pick in return either from New Orleans or potentially from a third party if the potential trade is expanded.

Regardless, the Pelicans have made it clear that they are searching far and wide for ways to give their franchise player, Anthony Davis, some assistance right now. – by A. Sherrod Blakely

NORTHWEST DIVISION

Jazz to have jersey patch with charitable twist

The Utah Jazz have always been seen as one of the classier organizations in the NBA, and their latest endeavors will only enhance that image.

Qualtrics, a Utah-based data and analytics research firm will have a patch on the Jazz uniforms for the next three seasons, joining other NBA teams such as the Boston Celtics, Brooklyn Nets and Sacramento Kings.

But the Jazz and Qualtrics are doing something radically different.

Qualtrics will not put its brand logo on the jersey.

Instead, it’ll be a 5 For The Fight logo for at least the first season of the three-year pact.

5 For The Fight is a charitable organization focused on eliminating cancer with $5 donations with the goal being to raise at least $50 million.

“This is the right thing to do,” Qualtrics CEO Ryan Smith told USA Today. “As much as I would love to put Qualtrics on it, this idea of raising $50 million for cancer research was something we couldn’t stop thinking about it. The Jazz were open to our ideas and how we wanted to use the patch.” – by A. Sherrod Blakely

Parsons rounding into shape

Other than some Twitter beef earlier with Portland’s C.J. McCollum, we haven’t really heard much from Chandler Parsons this season. Injuries once again limited his impact for long stretches. But the 6-foot-10 wing is relatively healthy now, which could make the Grizzlies a much tougher out once the playoffs roll around.

Memphis signed him to a four-year, $94.4 million contract in part because of his versatility at both ends of the floor. The Grizzlies have been a grind-it-out type of team for years that lacked the kind of firepower in the postseason needed.

Parsons gives them that, while not being a major detriment to what Memphis is about defensively.

Of course the key with him as is the case all the time, is his health.

Injuries have limited him to just 25 games this year while averaging just career-low 6.6 points per game with a minutes restriction of 24 minutes or less.

With 20-plus games left to shake off the rust and improve his conditioning from sitting out most of this season, you can count on the Grizzlies to be one of those teams few want to see in the postseason with the play of Parsons being a factor. – by A. Sherrod Blakely

Durant gets lots of boos and the win in return to OKC

OKC - Kevin Durant stopped by on Saturday night for his first game back in OKC since leaving over the summer. The Warriors throttled the Thunder 130-114 with Durant dropping 34 points and nine rebounds on his former teammates.

Durant’s return was the focus, but Russell Westbrook put on a show as well, scoring 47 points, handing out eight assists and grabbing 11 rebounds in the loss. He also turned the ball over 11 times in an emotional game at Chesapeake Energy Arena. – by James Ham

Luol Deng opens up on 2014 trade from Bulls: ‘I remember I felt betrayed’

Luol Deng opens up on 2014 trade from Bulls: ‘I remember I felt betrayed’

In a recent Instagram Live interview with Carol Tshabalala, Bulls great Luol Deng opened up about his trade from the team to the Cleveland Cavaliers in January 2014.

Deng stressed his gratitude for the 10-year tenure he carved out in Chicago multiple times in the conversation, and the role Tom Thibodeau played in him establishing himself as a do-it-all star in the NBA. But he was clear that he felt betrayed by the way contract negotiations and eventual trade talks played out from the management side, in part because of how much playing for the Bulls, a lifelong dream of his, meant to him in the first place.

“When I got traded, I remember I felt betrayed,” Deng told Tshabalala. “Because the guy who traded me obviously ruined the team — and I don’t mind saying that now, I would never speak about him as a person — but just the decisions that he’s made. Because it changed the whole course of what we were trying to do. When Derrick got hurt, we really felt that we were going to win a championship, but when he broke up the team, you just feel hurt because we became so close as a team. But we had a mission. And that was to wait for Derrick to get healthy and go at it again, but he decided to just break up the team.”

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Deng didn’t directly say who he was referring to over the course of the above comments, but when Tshabalala followed up to ask exactly what happened during his breakup with the Bulls, he recalled Gar Forman leading the contract deliberations that ultimately culminated in him being dealt.

“I gave up a lot of money to stay with the Bulls,” Deng said to Tshabalala, alluding to a past contract (presumably, a six-year, $71 million extension he inked as a 23-year-old in 2008) he said he signed with the team against the wishes of some in his camp, who wanted him to explore more lucrative options elsewhere. “So when they came back again for my next contract, the year before the contract, me and Thibs went in and we talked to Gar Forman, (who) at the time was the GM, and we said, I want to sign right now before the free agency comes up and other people offer money. And at the time, he said — I was 27? 28? — he told me to take another team discount.

“And I remember saying, ‘Why would I take another team discount? Why is there a discount again?’ You know, because this is when I was an All-Star. So he said, ‘We want you to take a team discount.’ So I was like, ‘OK, what’s a team discount?’ and he didn’t discuss anything. And at the time, it didn’t make sense for where I’m at, at the best of my career.”

Deng was eventually traded to the Cavaliers on Jan. 7, 2014, midway through the expiring year of that aforementioned six-year contract. And indeed, he entered the 2013-14 campaign fresh off two consecutive All-Star selections in seasons he combined to average 16 points, 6.4 rebounds and an NBA-leading 39 minutes per game. In 23 games with the Bulls in 2013-14 before the trade, Deng averaged 19 points and 6.9 rebounds per game on a career high 25.1% usage rate.

According to reports at the time, ownership had mandated the Bulls get under the luxury tax line after Rose tore the medial meniscus in his right knee in November 2013, effectively quashing the team’s title hopes for that year. In line with that order, reports indicate that the Bulls offered Deng an extension that averaged a roughly $10 million annual salary over “three or four years,” which Deng declined.

To hear Deng tell it, Thibodeau fiercely advocated for him throughout.

“Thibs was upset, and Thibs kept telling them (the front office), ‘Sign Lu, I need you to sign Lu,’” Deng told Tshabalala. “So when the [2013-14 season] started, I wasn’t signed for the Bulls, and Thibs decided he was going to make them know how important I am for the team, and ran everything through me — and this is why I love Thibs still today...  I was averaging 20 (points per game) at the time when I got traded. When the front office saw that I was averaging 20, obviously now, everybody wanted to pay me more money. So they decided that it was better to trade me before they lose me for nothing.

“So I was called into the office and I was given two days to take $30 million for three years, or else. I decided to go with ‘or else.’”

The Bulls netted Andrew Bynum, who they immediately waived, and three conditional draft picks, which eventually became Jordan Bell (flipped to the Golden State Warriors for cash considerations), Sir’Dominic Pointer and Paul Zipser, in the transaction. Deng finished out the 2013-14 season in Cleveland, then signed a two-year, $20 million contract with the Miami Heat that summer, with a player option on the second year that he eventually exercised. A $72 million payout from the Los Angeles Lakers and a stop with the Minnesota Timberwolves followed before he officially retired in October 2019 after signing a one-day contract with the Bulls.

Deng remains the fourth-leading scorer in Bulls franchise history, top five steals and minutes played, and is one of just five players (along with Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Jerry Sloan and Tom Boerwinkle) to begin a 10th season with the team. His legacy was honored in a ceremony attended by many from the Baby Bull and Thibodeau eras during a game against the Detroit Pistons on Nov. 20 at the United Center.

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Bulls mailbag: NBA bubble considerations, draft needs and Jim Boylen talk

Bulls mailbag: NBA bubble considerations, draft needs and Jim Boylen talk

Typically, at this time of year, questions about free agents would flow. Instead, it’s questions about bubbles.

How does the Bulls front office, coaches, players feel about the second bubble idea? And what, if any, impact has this had on the Jim Boylen decision timeline? — @ryanborja, via Twitter

Like most teams that weren't invited to the league's restart in Orlando, Arturas Karnisovas is on record as saying he hopes the league allows some formal group activities. It wouldn’t necessarily have to be a bubble, although Michele Roberts, executive director of the players association, is on record as saying she’d only sign off on group activities if they meet the same safety protocols as those in Orlando. That means daily testing, quarantining for a period of time before playing and a plan to handle any positive tests, among other things.

This stance would seem to rule out teams gathering in their own practice facilities for group activities and perhaps regional scrimmages that would feature, for instance, the Bulls and Pistons or Cavaliers. Some of the eight teams not invited to Orlando prefer this model.

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I actually think the Bulls would have pretty strong representation if a second bubble occurs. They’re a young team and players miss playing. Zach LaVine even traveled to Chicago this week for some workouts at the Advocate Center. It would certainly make for some interesting decisions, though. For instance, Lauri Markkanen is eligible for a contract extension. Would he risk injury for what, essentially, would be glorified summer league scrimmages?

As for Boylen, it’s been reported several times that it’s more likely than not he and his staff would have presided over any possible conclusion to the 2019-20 season. Only Karnisovas and general manager Marc Eversley know if such activities would qualify, although they certainly would represent an opportunity for Karnisovas to see Boylen in action. That’s a stance Karnisovas also has stated publicly.

If by chance the second bubble materializes in Chicago, can the NBA incentivize these games by having teams play for upcoming draft positions? If they are truly against seeing teams tank for draft position, make these teams play for something. — Kenneth H.

The draft lottery odds are finalized. Your scenario raises this unlikely outcome: Veteran players busting their butts in meaningless games to better their teams’ odds to draft their replacement. That’s not happening.

Will the Chicago Bulls front office be able to travel to Orlando to scout players? — @chisportupdates, via Twitter

The last time I checked on this with the league, I was told no. It’s why this is such an unprecedented and difficult time for these eight teams. It’s such a competitive disadvantage to essentially not be part of the league as it resumes play.

What position do you think they will focus on in the draft? Or do you think they’ll just take best player available? — @tannermartello, via Twitter

For what it’s worth, Karnisovas disputed the notion this is a weak draft. Here’s what he said on June 6:

“I like a lot of players that are in our range. I think we’ve done a lot of work studying. That’s why the excitement is coming from studying those players and interviewing them and looking at the video. So I think we’ll add a good player to our roster next year.”

The biggest needs to me are wing depth and a true point guard. Otto Porter Jr. and Chandler Hutchison each have displayed an ability to make an impact when healthy, but neither has been able to stay on the floor. And while Coby White displayed growth in terms of his decision-making and ball security, he remains more of a scoring guard to me. Tomas Satoransky is a rotation player for any team in the league, but he’s not going to be here long-term.

A lot obviously will depend on the draft lottery. The Bulls own 7.5 percent odds to win the No. 1 overall pick and a 32 percent chance to move from their current No. 7 slot into the top-four. Let’s say the Bulls get lucky. You’ll learn about how the new management team views the current roster with what they do then.

When talking about the Bulls draft position, I see a lot of mention about the need for a point guard and a true center with the names Killian Hayes, LaMelo Ball and James Wiseman possible targets depending on draft position. However, I feel our biggest need is at small forward where all we have is Otto Porter Jr., whose contract will thankfully be over after next season, and Chandler Hutchinson, who is more frail than my roof during the last storm. We need some wings badly on this team. What are your thoughts on Isaac Okoro and the Deni Avdija kid? — Nick P.

My first thoughts are you need to be a writer with that flourish on Hutchison.

My thoughts on wing depth were addressed in the previous question. As for those specific prospects, Okoro’s athleticism and defensive instincts stand out the most to the scouts I’ve talked to. Both Karnisovas and Eversley said they like players with defensive versatility, a trend in today’s NBA. Okoro projects to be able to guard point guard to power forward. Questions exist about his shooting ability, but he’s also got an improve-at-all-costs mindset.

Avdija is drawing notice for his willingness to make the right play and read screen-and-roll, which is essential in today’s NBA. His shooting has improved, and he’s one of those players who is tall and long enough to play power forward and also slide down to small forward.

RELATED: NBC Sports Chicago NBA Mock Draft 6.0

There’s this thought that Wendell isn’t an NBA center and more of a power forward like the player he gets compared to in Al Horford. Do you see his position moved? Should we wait to see him and Lauri Markkanen play side by side under a more capable NBA head coach? — @jermaine611, via Twitter

At 6-foot-9, Carter may be an undersized center and, yes, he has struggled at times against traditional big men like Joel Embiid and Andre Drummond. But how many of those centers are left in the league? I actually think the skill sets of Markkanen and Carter can mesh very well, particularly in today’s NBA.

Both are high-IQ players and willing, underrated passers. Both possess ball skills, so you could run offense through them or initiate actions with them. Horford has played plenty of center in small-ball lineups over the years. The way I see it, Carter and Markkanen can be interchangeable on offense at times, although Markkanen obviously possesses more shooting range. On defense, Carter can play center. He does own a 7-5 wingspan after all.

I think keeping Jim Boylen would be a big risk, don’t you? Maybe he's not the worst coach in the league, but this is not only about him being good or not. It's about perception, franchise reputation around the league, fan base enthusiasm. It's about the ability to attract good players and stay away from all the internet memes and jokes. And those things matter too. I think there's a lot of excitement right now because of the new management, but some fans are already starting to question if the overhaul was real, if Karnisovas really has full power. Change has to be real, or at least perceived as real.

One more thing: In a normal situation, Boylen could silence the critics winning some games early next season. Now he can't. If they keep him, they're facing months and months of critics. It's a tough decision and maybe Boylen really deserves another chance. But I think they should move on. What's your opinion? Thanks and stay safe. — Michele from Italy

My opinion is this is the best question I’ve received from an endless supply of questions about Boylen’s future. I understand the theory, but it's clear that Karnisovas isn't going to be swayed by public opinion. He's going to go through the evaluation process on Boylen. He does have full autonomy to make the decision. And as he has stated consistently, he’s getting to know Boylen and his staff before making such a critical decision.

All the Bulls have is time. There are no formal group activities occurring right now. Individual players can do voluntary workouts at the Advocate Center with an assistant coach. That’s it.

I understand the sentiment that firing Boylen now would please a certain segment of the fan base. I read and received all the feedback when Karnisovas moved quickly on firing Gar Forman. But Karnisovas also knows Boylen has ownership support. So of course he has to thoroughly go through the evaluation process if he's going to bring a plan for change to that ownership.

This is just a reading of the tea leaves, but I found how Karnisovas opened his end-of-season teleconference with reporters telling: “Our objective is to use this time in innovative ways to create opportunities for our players and coaches to encourage development. I know that you are anxious for me to comment definitively on our future of the Chicago Bulls. I understand that anticipation. That said, I take pride in being deliberate and thoughtful in my decision-making, and take the weight of my decisions seriously. I’m not inclined to make evaluations prematurely to satisfy our excitement to move this team forward.”

Read that last sentence again. Translated: He’s going to use the time he has at his disposal before making a decision on Boylen’s future. He's not going to be swayed by public opinion.

I’ve written this before, but one thing Boylen has struggled with since becoming head coach is trying to be all things to all people rather than just focusing on coaching. Karnisovas and Eversley have talked to Boylen and his staff about just focusing on coaching. They’ll handle all the organizational brush fires that always arise over the course of a season.

I'm taking Karnisovas' public words on the situation at face value. He has said he wants to see Boylen in action and get to know him and his staff before deciding upon his future. He's going through that process now. They spent time together a couple weeks back when Karnisovas first came to Chicago and again when he and Marc Eversley returned this week after the holiday weekend. As previously mentioned in this mailbag, Karnisovas has empowered Boylen since he landed the job. Karnisovas has asked Boylen for input on player development strategy, watched film with him and talked about draft and free agency plans. Boylen planned his normal offseason visits of players, although COVID-19 has impacted those for now.

Also, I’d dispute your point that Boylen wouldn’t silence critics if the Bulls started winning games. Winning cures all. Yes, there’d be some angst and anger over the time between the official announcement of Boylen’s return and the start of next season. And perhaps more importantly, winning consistently is a speculative stretch. But if it happened, people would start talking about Boylen’s care factor and ability to adapt. Stay tuned.

What are the basketball reasons you think would justify keeping Boylen? — Shannon R.

The fact the Bulls were a top-10 defense as a young team before widespread injuries hit. His staff. His ability to take direction and work collaboratively with a front office. LaVine's growth as a decision-maker and scorer. The signs of life when Otto Porter Jr. has played, which has been a mere 29 games due to injuries.

To be clear, I’m answering your question, not advocating for his return for those reasons. But I do think one thing being lost in talk about Boylen being one of the league’s lowest-paid coaches is that he also just hired a new staff. Chris Fleming and Roy Rogers just finished the first season of their three-year deals.

I’m not saying such contracts and considerations are deal breakers in the big picture, particularly for a franchise that prints money. But Karnisovas has a comfort level with Fleming, with whom he worked in Denver. He has also crossed paths with assistant coach Dean Cooper, who was in Houston when Karnisovas arrived there. And don’t forget that Karnisovas picked up the option of assistant coach Nate Loenser.

The decision is a multi-layered one, which is why Karnisovas, as mentioned in the last answer, is using the luxury of time that he has at his disposal to make it. Boylen and his staff are working as if they're going to return, which is how they should approach the situation.

Do you think Joakim Noah plays much for the Clippers? — Matt A.

Their bench is pretty stacked. But he’s a great signing, and I’ll be watching Clippers games to find out. If nothing else, seeing him clap from the bench while LeBron James is at the free-throw line will be entertaining.

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