Bulls

Owners should push for franchise player concept

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Owners should push for franchise player concept

Monday, Feb. 7, 2011
4:52 p.m.

By Mark Schanowski
CSNChicago.com

When NBA players and owners get together for collective bargaining sessions this summer, one of the biggest concerns has to be the viability of smaller market teams. We already witnessed LeBron James and Chris Bosh bolting their franchises to form a superstar trio in Miami. And, dont look now, but the Knicks might be the next super-team with Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul and possibly even Dwight Howard talking about teaming up with Amare Stoudemire in New York.

So, how can the NBA avoid becoming a top-heavy league, with 5 or 6 powerhouse teams, a few middle class squads and 15-20 punching bags? The answer might lie in the franchise-player concept currently used by the N.F.L. Teams are able to keep one player out of free agency by guaranteeing to pay him the average salary of the top 5 players at that position. The idea could work well for NBA teams who focus so much of their game plans and marketing around one of two star players.

Imagine the Bulls without Derrick Rose, Oklahoma City without Kevin Durant, Orlando without Howard or the Clippers without emerging star Blake Griffin. One player truly can change the direction of a franchise, and the NBA needs to make sure they have enough competitive teams to keep the regular season interesting. By guaranteeing every franchise can keep its best player by paying a competitive salary, the league will have more continuity and fan identification in every market.

The other issue going forward is the idea of a hard salary cap, similar to what exists in the N.H.L. right now. We all saw what happens when a team brings in too many high salaried players. The Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup last year, then had to unload almost half of their roster to get in line with the leagues hard cap. If the NBA is able to sell the concept of a hard cap to the Players Association (which doesnt seem likely), a number of teams with bloated payrolls like the Lakers, Mavericks and Magic might be forced to sell off players for pennies on the dollar to meet league guidelines. Thats why the Bulls dont want to take on any long-term, high-priced contracts right now, given the fact they still need to sign their franchise player, Rose, to a long-term extension.

Looking at the Bulls payroll for next season, theyll have 3 players making over 10 million dollars in Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah and Luol Deng. When Rose signs his extension, that group will grow to 4. So, thats why the Bulls would have zero interest in bringing in a high-salaried veteran like Richard Hamilton or Stephen Jackson as an upgrade at the shooting guard position. Since both of those guys have 2 years remaining on their contracts, adding their salaries to a rapidly growing payroll might prevent the Bulls from signing Rose to an extension if the league goes to a hard cap, or a new system with fewer loopholes for a team to re-sign its own players.

Any way you look at it, were staring at a new economic reality in the NBA. When the dust finally settles after an expected lockout, some teams may find themselves needing to sell off some high-salaried players, and the franchises that have their payrolls in order will be ready to swoop in and reap the benefits.

Nuggets could be facing worst-case scenario

With just over two weeks until the NBAs trade deadline (February 24th), it appears Denvers inexperienced front office team of Josh Kroenke (the owners son) and General Manager Masai Ujiri may have over-played their hand in negotiations on a possible Carmelo Anthony deal. The Nuggets should have moved quickly to close a 3-team deal that would have brought Derrick Favors, Devin Harris, Anthony Morrow and a couple of 1st round draft picks to the Mile High City.

Instead, the Nuggets got greedy and tried to force New Jersey to take on Al Harringtons bad contract in addition to everything else they were giving up in terms of players and draft picks. Understandably, the Nets refused, ultimately leading to the announcement from team owner Mikhail Prokhorov that his franchise was ending trade talks with the Nuggets.

Now, Denver is involved in 3-team discussions with the Knicks and Timberwolves that as of now would only bring restricted free agents Wilson Chandler and Corey Brewer, plus just one first round draft pick to the Nuggets for Anthony. Clearly, the Nuggets management team messed up in not getting the earlier deal done with New Jersey. They know that Carmelo has always wanted to go to the Knicks, and now New York management doesnt even have to make a competitive offer since theyll be able to sign Anthony as a free agent if they just wait until the off-season.

Any way you look at it, the Knicks are going to wind up with Anthony, and Denvers front office will have a tough time convincing their fan base they did the best they could in trading an unhappy star. Going back to the super-team concept I mentioned earlier, the Knicks will have 23 of the job done with Anthony and Stoudemire, and depending on the new cap rules well see if theyll have the room to add a third star.

As for the Bulls, they continue to explore lower-priced options for an upgrade at shooting guard, including Courtney Lee, Anthony Parker, Shannon Brown, Rudy Fernandez and O.J. Mayo. Are you in favor or the Bulls making a trade, or should they stick with the current cast, and wait until the labor situation is settled before making any roster moves?

Please post your comments in the section below. Ill be talking to you from Salt Lake City Wednesday night. Our pre-game coverage on Comcast SportsNet Plus begins at 7:30 p.m.

Mark Schanowski hosts our Bulls pre- and postgame studio coverage with 15-year NBA veteran Kendall Gill. You can also watch Mark on SportsNet Central, Sunday through Thursday at 6:30 and 10 p.m.

NBA Draft: Cam Reddish out to prove doubters, show he's a total package

NBA Draft: Cam Reddish out to prove doubters, show he's a total package

It's never easy being the third wheel. Ask Chris Bosh and Kevin Love, or more currently Klay Thompson. When Cam Reddish signed his Letter of Intent to play for Coach K at Duke, he was joined by a class that included RJ. Barrett and Cam Reddish. He and Barrett were expected to take on the scoring load and lead a freshman-driven Blue Devils team.

But two months after Reddish, Barrett and Jones signed on officially, Zion Williamson committed to Duke and turned everything on its head. On paper, it made the Blue Devils the No. 1 team in the country. It gave them a fourth five-star prospect and arguably the best player in the country. We all know what happened with Williamson; he turned in one of the greatest seasons in college basketball history and will be selected first overall by the Pelicans in a month. Barrett was excellent, too. The oft-criticized wing was an All-American, led the Blue Devils in scoring and cemented his status as a top-3 pick.

Reddish's freshman campaign couldn't have gone more differently. He was inconsistent throughout, finishing his lone season in Durham averaging 13.5 points on 35.6% shooting and just 33.3% from beyond the arc. Even his 3.7 rebounds and 1.9 assists were a far cry from what was expected of a recruit many had ranked ahead of Williamson when the season began. He showed flashes, to be sure, like his 22-point effort against Kentucky, his game-winner at Florida State and his 27-point outing against North Carolina in the infamous Zion-shoe-blowout game. But those flashes weren't enough to save a subpar season that saw his draft stock tumble throughout the fall and winter.

Then again, Reddish was the third option behind two of the most profilic scorers in the country. Barrett had a 32.2% usage rate - 25th highest in the country - and Williamson was a focal point every night he stepped on the floor. In a sense that should have created more open looks for Reddish as defenses keyed in on those two, but in reality it limited his opportunities and made it difficult for him to project at how he would be used on game-by-game basis.

Reddit wasn't making any excuses for his poor season when he spoke to the media on Thursday at the NBA Draft Combine. But he did say he's looking forward to opportunities in the pre-draft process to show off his entire arsenal that made him a top-5 prospect and a potential top NBA pick coming out of high school.

"I feel like I can do everything. I feel like I was more of a shooter this year (at Duke). I don’t really want to think of myself as a shooter," he said. "So I feel like if I just go out there and play my game, I can do a variety of things."

Two key statistics back up Reddish's claim. First, he was excellent on off-the-dribble jump shots, averaging 0.903 points per possession on 62 attempts. That ranked in the 71st percentile nationally. He also dominated in the small sample size of pick-and-roll actions he induced, averaging 1.114 points per possession (91st percentile nationally). It lends credibility to the notion that Reddish is capable with the ball in his hands. Reddish's usage rate was 15th in the ACC, so it's not as though he never touched the ball. But between the Williamson/Barrett combination and the lead point guard in Jones, he was rarely the main (or second) option.

Playing off the ball was certainly new to Reddish, who like so many NBA prospects deal with a new role in not being the go-to scorer once they arrive in the Association. Reddish got a dose of that as a college freshman and struggled to adjust. He was unguarded on 45 percent of his catch-and-shoot attempts and yet ranked in just the 27th percentile nationally at 0.847 points per possession. Worse, he was in the 33rd percentile on spot-up jumpers on 193 possessions. The looks were there. He rarely knocked them down. He also shot just 51 percent at the rim, a troubling number, and that statistic includes freebies in transition that Duke thrived on during the season.

On talent and potential alone, Reddish is still a top-10 pick. He told reporters Thursday that he's hearing he'll fall somewhere in the 3 to 10 range, which sounds about right (though it'd be a shock to see him go before Barrett at No. 3). He still has prototypical NBA wing size - he measured 6-foot-8 with a 7-foot-0.5 wingspan - and is an above average ball handler. But there's no denying his good traits combined with his poor showing at Duke make him a swing-for-the-fences, boom-or-bust pick.

For the Bulls, it might be time to pull the trigger on that kind of player. Both Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. fell into their laps at No. 7 the previous two seasons - that's not to say they shouldn't be applauded for the picks, just that they were expected. But in this year's draft class, players in the 4-14 range all fall into a similar tier. In the Lottery, there will be safe routes to take (De'Andre Hunter, Rui Hachimura), selections for need (Darius Garland, Coby White) and there will be high-risk, high-reward options (Reddish, Sekou Doumbouya, Jarrett Culver).

But the Bulls could do worse than coming out of this year's draft with a player who 7 shorts months ago was a potential pick to go No. 1. He'd have lower expectations playing on a second unit and could spread his wings a little behind Zach LaVine and Otto Porter. Having that freedom on a second unit could be what unlocks that untapped potential that was missing at Duke a year ago.

Is this the year for Bulls to think outside the box at No. 7?

Is this the year for Bulls to think outside the box at No. 7?

With the majority of mock drafts coming out after Tuesday’s lottery having the Bulls selecting North Carolina point guard Coby White with the seventh overall pick in the June 20 NBA Draft, it had me thinking about whether this might be the year to take a chance on a high risk/high reward pick.

Yes, Bulls executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson has made it clear he plans to bring in a point guard to challenge incumbent starter Kris Dunn, but with so many options in free agency, are the Bulls still inclined to go in that direction with their first round pick?

Before the lottery, the odds of the Bulls being in position to select either Ja Morant or Darius Garland looked pretty favorable if they stayed in the top-5. But after dropping all the way to No. 7, it’s almost a certainty that Morant and Garland will be gone, leaving White as the highest rated point guard available. White showed tremendous speed and scoring potential in his one season at North Carolina, but he has a lot to learn about directing an offense at the NBA level and will need to get stronger.

If Dunn returns for the final season of his rookie contract, there’s a good chance he moves into a backup role behind a veteran free agent, so maybe this isn’t the year to draft a developmental point guard.

So then, what do the Bulls do at No. 7?

Maybe it’s time to take a flier on a high upside athlete, something they really haven’t done since the infamous LaMarcus Aldridge-Tyrus Thomas draft night deal in 2006. This year’s draft contains a number of players who didn’t live up to expectations in their one collegiate season, but rank high on the athletic testing charts.

I had a chance to talk with a number of players at the draft combine in Chicago, and one who impressed me is USC guard Kevin Porter Jr. Scouts love the athleticism of the 6-foot-4 Porter Jr., but he underperformed in his one collegiate season, averaging just 9.5 points on 47 percent shooting from the field in a mostly reserve role.

Porter Jr. missed seven games because of a thigh injury and also had to serve a team suspension for “personal conduct issues.” But he’s not lacking in confidence, telling me he was a top-5 prospect at the start of the season and will be able to work his way up draft boards after teams get a chance to interview him and put him through individual workouts. Porter Jr. also mentioned comparisons to last year’s NBA MVP James Harden, mostly because they’re both 6-foot-4, played at PAC 12 universities and are left-handed.

No one is predicting Porter Jr. will ever come close to the unique scoring talent Harden displays on a nightly basis, but he definitely looks the part of an NBA player with a strong upper body and impressive leaping ability. Don’t be surprised if he winds up being a top-10 pick on draft night.

Other players projected for the late lottery include Indiana shooting guard Romeo Langford, Kentucky SG/SF Keldon Johnson, North Carolina small forward Nassir Little, French forward Sekou Doumbouya and Oregon 7-foot-2 center Bol Bol.

Much like Porter Jr., Little was considered a top-5 pick at the start of the college season, but never earned Roy Williams’ complete confidence at North Carolina, and struggled to find consistent minutes and shot attempts. He shot the ball well at the combine and projects as an elite defender at the NBA level. The Bulls really aren’t in the market for another small forward with Otto Porter Jr. and 2018 first round pick Chandler Hutchison already on the roster, but the wing positions offer the most talent in this draft.

Bol is a fascinating prospect with many scouts saying he’s one of the best pure shooters in this draft as a 7-footer. Problem is Bol suffered a foot fracture early in his freshman season at Oregon, the same type of injury that cost Joel Embiid his first two NBA seasons. Any team that drafts Bol will have to understand the risk of further injury, and the likelihood he won’t be able to contribute much in the 2019-2020 season.

If the Bulls stay at No. 7, White is the most logical pick, but they could go with a player that drops unexpectedly, like Duke forward Cam Reddish or Texas Tech shooting guard Jarrett Culver. The Bulls have always been aggressive in scheduling personal workouts and interviews with all the prospects in their draft range, and this year that process will take on more importance than ever.

Remember, Donovan Mitchell was one of the most impressive athletes at the combine two years ago, but stayed on the board until the Utah Jazz worked a trade with Denver to get him at No. 13. Now Mitchell is one of the best young guards in the NBA. Kyle Kuzma also moved into the first round in 2017 with a strong combine showing and is thriving as a productive two-way player with the Lakers.

It’s up to Paxson and his staff to find which player has the most long term upside and maybe come up with their own version of Mitchell or Kuzma next month.

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