NBA preseason primer: Offseason winners


NBA preseason primer: Offseason winners

Leading up to Bulls media day on Sept. 28, Bulls Insider Vincent Goodwill and Mark Strotman will preview the upcoming NBA season with daily features on everything related to the Association. Today the pair analyze which teams "won" the offseason with a combination of free-agent signings, trades and/or draft picks.

Mark Strotman: Well, Vinnie, the Tigers completed their fire sale more than a month ago and the Brewers haven't been fewer than 10 games under .500 since May 11. I'd say baseball season has been done for quite awhile - we can get into Packers-Lions later - for the both of us, meaning basketball season is arriving at the perfect time. The Bulls will kick off their annual media day in less than three weeks and in less than a month will take the United Center floor for the first time since Matthew Dellavedova outplayed Derrick Rose in Game 6 (That's the last Delly reference, so just breathe).

But before we discuss Fred Hoiberg's group and its expectations, let's backtrack a bit and discuss this offseason's winners. The consensus is that the Spurs were the clear victors - it's about time something went that franchise's way - signing prized free agent LaMarcus Aldridge while also maxing out Kawhi Leonard and getting David West to sign a one-year, $1.4 million deal. Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili are back for one more run on team-friendly deals, and re-signing Danny Green (4 years, $40 million) was subtly a really important move and great value for a 28-year-old 3-and-D shooting guard.

Given the Warriors didn't lose anything this offseason it's tough to call the Spurs the favorites, but this summer couldn't have gone any better for San Antonio - they even won the Summer League championship led by Becky Hammon, which was all sorts of awesome. Having the game's best coach score the league's best offseason? Well, Pop, in the words of a teary-eyed Terrell Owens, 'It's really unfair.'

Vincent Goodwill: Well considering the Bears only exist in my world as entertainment for Jay Cutler’s underachievement, I can remove my “Lions free” tag for two weeks every fall (which I’m sure endears me more to Chicago sports fans).  And while I don’t disagree with you about the Spurs winning the offseason, heck, they changed not only the makeup of their team but also became much more dynamic by signing Aldridge and keeping Leonard on an expected max extension, I still have my doubts about the backcourt, sans Leonard.

The one team that had to win the offseason for the future of its franchise did so, the Oklahoma City Thunder. Scott Brooks was a good coach for a team in the embryonic stage, but the Thunder have evolved well past the labor pains. They’re ready to have the baby, thus the hiring of former Florida coach Billy Donovan, who was well-regarded in NBA circles before now.

They have the deepest roster in the league, with rotating bigs, shooters and guys waiting to fill a role. Oh, and if Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook come back completely healthy and stay that way? The championship road goes through Oklahoma City and Golden State in the Western Conference. Yes, they overpaid for restricted free agent Enes Kanter (but who doesn’t with the way the cap is rising?), but they can play anywhere between nine and 11(!) guys in a rotation on a given night without losing much.

While the Spurs have just shored up their future by signing Aldridge, the Thunder franchise is doing everything it can to keep Durant happy, as the clock on his free agency is ticking louder and louder. From here, if Durant’s foot problems are behind him, this could be a revenge year from the 2014 MVP. That would make Pop and the Spurs cry.

MS: Speaking of Oklahoma City, another small-market team that’s building toward something in a similar fashion is the Milwaukee Bucks. While one of Tyson Chandler, DeAndre Jordan or Brook Lopez would’ve been ideal, the Greg Monroe signing is a perfect fit; Monroe’s strengths (post scoring) will be magnified in Milwaukee, and his weaknesses (rim protection) will be covered up by a host of long, active defenders. I thought it was the best fit of any player who signed this offseason, schematically. GM John Hammond moved quickly to re-sign Khris Middleton, who is still just 24 years old - or 23 months younger than Jimmy Butler.

The Bucks will “get back” Jabari Parker, the No. 2 pick who was limited to 25 games in his rookie season after tearing his ACL, and though the Bucks will handle him with extreme caution, he’s going to be a contributor on a Bucks team that averaged fewer than 98 points a year ago. Add Chris Copeland to the forward mix, trading for Greivis Vasquez and the simple fact that Giannis Antetokounmpo will be five months older and five months better and you’re looking at a Bucks team that could challenge for a top-4 spot in the East. And while that’s not saying a whole lot, we’re talking about a team that won 15 games two years ago. Jason Kidd and Hammond deserve to be applauded. The Bucks didn’t get the sexy names in free agency. They got the right ones.

VG: I see you’re going with teams with new additions developing new traditions, and I’ve long been a fan of what the Bucks are doing with their youth along with adding Greg Monroe. Them going six games with the Bulls in the playoffs will give them much-needed positive reinforcement, as the Bulls will have to deal with that monster this season.

But I like continuity, so the Miami Heat—yes the LeBron James-less Heat—will be a team to watch this season. They get Chris Bosh back from that mysterious injury that caused him to miss the last half of the year, with a healthy Goran Dragic and a still formidable Dwyane Wade for at least 50 games (assumedly). Hassan Whiteside is a young force whose only vice is consistency but as Bulls fans know, he can swat everything in sight and lock in for an entire game.

They’ve quietly added Amare Stoudemire, who certainly isn’t a difference maker but will help you several nights during the season as a reserve when he turns back the clock on those creaky knees. They signed Gerald Green for the league minimum, a coup for Heat boss Pat Riley, who clearly wants one more shot at LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers for the right to play in the NBA Finals.

If—and it’s a big “if”—the Heat are relatively healthy, they’ll be a team nobody wants to see. They still need perimeter shooting, and one has to worry about the “Thibs” miles Luol Deng has on his body, but in-season upgrades are always available for purchase. Playing in June is still a dream, but they want to make May a nightmare for the Cavs, Bulls and any other conference contender.

Draft night highlighted the unfulfilling feeling of this past Bulls season

Draft night highlighted the unfulfilling feeling of this past Bulls season

The door has officially been closed on the 2017-18 season for the Chicago Bulls, and the word that most comes to mind is “unfulfilling.”

Or maybe even “indistinguishable.”

Draft night was supposed to be a culmination of a painful seven-month stretch that only had occasional yet costly moments of light.

Death lineup? Meet Death March. And Death April, while we’re at it.

The Bulls brass sold everyone on a full rebuild after trading Jimmy Butler one year ago, with an unspoken promise that this draft would bear franchise-changing fruit—hence the general feeling of angst or even indifference with the solid selection of Wendell Carter Jr. and their not-so-secret affection of Chandler Hutchison.

It was why fans believe the Bulls got cold feet about trading to move up, and why they believe the Bulls weren’t being pragmatic in staying away from Michael Porter Jr.

Porter, some believe, has star written all over him given his prep ranking this time last year and the Bulls were in position to speed up this process without having to go into a painful Process.

They were desperate for a star, believing the tankathon had produced so much suffering it had to be something on the back end.

There was the fight (or the punch).

The aftermath.

The miserable 3-20 start.

The 14-7 streak that produced the audacity of hope.

The reality that 14-7 was damaging enough to the lottery chances that a 3-11 finish couldn’t rectify.

And finally, the coin flip that cost them five spots in the lottery one month ago.

So that empty feeling has less to do with Carter and Hutchison, who’ve done nothing to earn the “blah” reaction from the fan base and some media. It has everything to do with the unanswered questions over the last 82 games and lack of clarity over the three hauls from draft night last year.

It’s not that Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn underperformed individually last season, but the lack of cohesiveness due to injuries and circumstances has led to the varying thoughts.

LaVine is approaching restricted free agency and by all accounts is taking his continuing rehab in Washington very seriously.  Markkanen has added plenty of muscle since the offseason began, appearing as if he can play Michael B. Jordan’s in-ring foil in the next installation of “Creed” as Ivan Drago’s long lost son.

And despite the report about Dunn not working as hard on the floor this offseason, that would be more of a concern if this were late August, not June.

The last time they were seen together on the floor, they looked no closer to a pecking order than the day they arrived.

What we know is that they’re productive NBA players, capable of putting an individual tattoo on a game at a moment’s notice, skillful enough to take your breath away.

And for whatever reason, the expectations changed once the three displayed they could be dynamic on their own—a star needed to be anointed and groomed to go with the star they believed was coming their way after the season.

Management is fully behind Markkanen, but Paxson’s strong words about LaVine at the season-ending news conference illustrated how much it feels LaVine has to prove next season.

With his restricted free agency status looming, the Bulls’ initial offer will show how much they value him until and if he gets a better deal on the market.

And the fact the Bulls weren’t afraid to draft Trae Young while having a healthy debate about Collin Sexton on draft night has to show they have at least some skepticism about the future at point guard.

But stars—developing stars, acquired stars, drafted stars—have to do it on their own. No amount of promotion or prodding from management will validate their faith, if that’s the route the Bulls choose to go.

This has to be a meritocracy or it won’t work and, honestly, it’s time for a reality check.

All the worry about the Bulls getting back to title contention sooner rather than later seems like folks getting ahead of themselves.

The front office has taken its share of shots from media and fans, so some questioning is earned but they’re right about one thing. Rebuilds aren’t completed in a day or 12 months.

Expecting some magic potion to arrive in the form of a top draft pick isn’t going to cure what ills this roster, and it doesn’t seem likely all the cap space will result in a free agent choosing the Bulls over the usual suspects.

However, methodical building can look like complacency if not done with a sense of urgency.

And with urgency in mind, this past season was unsatisfying to say the least—heading into the next phase with two more young pieces to develop while the first three are still in the evaluation stage.

Loyola's March Madness hero Donte Ingram will play with Bulls' Summer League team

Loyola's March Madness hero Donte Ingram will play with Bulls' Summer League team

Donte Ingram's 2018 keeps getting better and better.

The March Madness hero, who buried a game-winning 3-pointer in the first round of Loyola's win over Miami, will play on the Bulls' Summer League team.

Ingram, a Simeon Academy graduate, had himself an incredible senior season with the Ramblers, who advanced all the way to the Final Four as a No. 11 seed.

In five NCAA Tournament games Ingram averaged 7.0 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.6 assists for the Ramblers. He also had 18 points in the MVC Conference Championship Game to secure the Ramblers' March Madness berth.

He'll join first-round draft picks Wendell Carter Jr. and Chandler Hutchison on the Las Vegas Summer League team, which will begin play early next month.