Bulls

Pau Gasol's return to Bulls lineup a success in win over Kings

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Pau Gasol's return to Bulls lineup a success in win over Kings

Pau Gasol’s return to the lineup was a success, as he played 24 minutes and scored 14 points with 14 boards in the Bulls’ 109-102 win over the Sacramento Kings.

Gasol had to share duties of bumping and banging with Kings center DeMarcus Cousins, and Cousins certainly had his pound of flesh in Gasol’s first game back after his right knee swelled up.

“Felt good, energized. Moved pretty well,” Gasol said. “Not too much out of shape or out of rhythm. I was effective and helped the team win.”

Cousins left Gasol alone on an inbounds pass with 1:05 left for a corner 3 — well actually, Gasol’s right toe was on the line, but he nailed it either way, giving the Bulls a 107-99 lead, effectively closing the door on the Kings after the Kings took a surprising five-point lead in the middle of the fourth.

Gasol left his right hand in the air after his standstill shot swished, soaking in the approval from a grateful United Center crowd and showing no signs of a limp as he lumbered down the court to the Bulls’ huddle.

Personal and team-wide test, passed.

[MORE BULLS: Rose, Butler show up late to save Bulls in win over Kings]

“Hard to say. We’ll see how the knee reacts, but so far so good,” Gasol said. “Felt pretty well out there. We just gotta monitor it. One game at a time.”

In the morning, Gasol was termed a game-time decision by Hoiberg, being officially listed as “questionable” on the Bulls’ injury report.

“Pau’s good to go,” Hoiberg said. “We’ve got a plan to control his minutes, we’ll see how he responds to it. Everybody’s comfortable having him back out there.”

It flowed with what he said in the morning’s shootaround.

“He got a really good workout in yesterday, played some live two-on-two,” Hoiberg said. “And he responded well, didn’t have any swelling or pain in his knee. So we’ll make a decision on tonight and see how he responded to shootaround.”

For the first time this season, the Bulls had a somewhat-desired starting five on the floor together, as Hoiberg planned to have Nikola Mirotic as starting power forward, but Taj Gibson fits better in most combinations. With Mike Dunleavy missing time early in the season, then Jimmy Butler going out right before the All-Star break, it’s been a revolving door of starters — and in Game 69, the Bulls are somewhat close to full strength, as Joakim Noah is out for the season.

“It’s a good feeling to have your guys back and have options,” Hoiberg said. “We still have a couple of them with plans in place with their minutes. To have Pau back out there, he’s had a lot of energy the last few days, he’s chomping at the bit to get back on the floor. And obviously we flow better with him out there.”

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Gasol agreed, as the Bulls depended on him more statistically when Butler and Rose were in and out of the lineup. It slides him to a natural spot in the hierarchy, where he can likely be most effective.

“It’s good when we’re all out there and our best players are on the floor,” Gasol said.

Even with Gasol back, Cristiano Felicio will see more time in prime time. He made his first start Saturday night and was more than competent against Jazz center Rudy Gobert, being active enough on both ends to prevent Gobert from dominating early and helping set a tone as the Bulls led wire to wire for their second straight win.

“The big thing for Cris is just getting the experience,” Hoiberg said. “Getting out there in the starting lineup, and he showed no fear. He stepped out and hit a jump shot, he had a great drive to the rim in the second half. People see potential in Cris with the way he moves, his defensive abilities because of his feet. He has good instincts.”

“I think with Pau out the lineup, we needed somebody with size to give us good minutes, and Cris gave us critical time on the floor in the last two games.”

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.