Bulls

Son of Bulls' assistant Brunson already making noise

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Son of Bulls' assistant Brunson already making noise

Like many freshmen starting on varsity, Stevenson High School point guard Jalen Brunson has created a buzz. Unlike most, however, one-third of the Bulls' potential roster attended his game Tuesday night.

The presence of Joakim Noah, Luol Deng, Ronnie Brewer and Keith Bogans in the stands may have partially diverted the focus of the crowd's attention, but by the end of the contest, all eyes were trained on the contest itself. Unheralded Stevenson knocked off the the preseason No. 2 team in the state, conference rival Warren, 44-43, in what was the still-young Illinois high school basketball season's biggest upset thus far.

While senior sharpshooter Michael Fleming -- an elite student in the classroom, reportedly considering attending academically-oriented Colgate -- was Stevenson's high scorer and made what would eventually be the game-winning shot, the Bulls players present to see "Little Rick," as well as the rest of the audience, came away extremely impressed with Brunson. One former Bull, Dickey Simpkins, was also in attendance and as his AAU coach, offered a unique perspective on the budding star.

"I really didn't have any expectations for Stevenson's ability to make that a close game or win it, but I did know that Jalen was going to be fine out there because of his poise and composure. Obviously he knows a lot of those guys because he plays in our program and he sees those guys all the time, and the fact that Jalen has worked out with those guys -- he plays up in our program -- I knew his confidence level and his poise would kick in," said Simpkins, who also coaches Division I-bound Warren seniors Darius Paul (the 6-foot-8 younger brother of Illinois guard Brandon Paul is headed for Western Michigan) and Nathan Boothe (the younger brother of Stanford women's player Sarah Boothe is a 6-foot-9 center who will attend Toledo next fall) in his NLP (Next Level Performance) program. "You're not going to rattle Jalen and that's pretty impressive for a kid as a freshman playing against the No. 2 team in the state, a team that lost in the state championship last year. Playing against them as a freshman in this early part of the season and him being as poised as he was, I pretty much expected that he was going to play at that level."

Brunson scored 14 points on the evening, an impressive total for a freshman. However, the way he played was more impactful than anything recorded in the final statistics. The 5-foot-11 southpaw ran his team flawlessly, played extremely unselfishly, picked his spots to score -- showcasing a savvy mid-range game, a deft shooting touch and range on his jumper -- and displayed some eye-popping dribble moves to excite the crowd.

More significantly, as Simpkins emphasized, he seemed unnaturally calm throughout the whole contest. It was a bit like watching a flashback.

"He does a little bit of everything that his dad did," said Simpkins, whose NBA career overlapped with Jalen's father's, Rick, now a Bulls assistant coach. "He resembles his dad to the fullest -- the left hand, the great control of the game, the craftiness and the skill set to be able to shoot the mid-range, being able to see the court and deliver it, distribute the ball -- he plays just like his dad."

For even the most ardent NBA fans, that might not seem like glowing praise initially, as the elder Brunson was considered the prototypical journeyman throughout his nine-team, eight-year career, which included two stints with the Bulls and crossing paths with head coach Tom Thibodeau in New York and Houston. But Brunson garnered tremendous respect among his peers for his determination and ability to adapt and knowledge of the game. Something developed in an accomplished amateur career that included being the co-MVP of the McDonald's All-American Game (with Chris Webber, the college teammate of another Jalen, Jalen Rose) before playing for Hall of Fame coach John Chaney at Temple University with two fellow future longtime pros, Eddie Jones and Aaron McKie, now a Philadelphia 76ers assistant.

"I'll just tell you this," said the usually loquacious Brunson. "I'm trying to teach him how to be self-motivated and work hard."

While he's refreshingly modest about his son's potential, it's obvious that Jalen has a bright future. It's too early to predict the future, but Simpkins is cautiously optimistic about his prospects.

"I think Jalen's got a lot of upside because I can imagine him getting a little bit taller. He's got good body structure, where if he continues to develop natural strength and then if he starts to to do physical strength training, he's going to become stronger. As he gets older, his athleticism should keep improving and he should develop more quickness, so I see a lot of upside for him once those things start kicking in and add to his ability, knowing the game, his basketball I.Q., feel for the game and his skill set, he has a tremendous quickness," opined Simpkins. "I think Jalen is going to be a really sought-after player for his class when he gets ready to graduate. I kind of look at Jalen right now like the kid at North Carolina sophomore point guard Kendall Marshall, a preseason All-American, according to several media outlets. He's a young version of Marshall. I think Jalen can be like him, but even better because I think Jalen can really shoot the ball better than he can. But I visualize Jalen being that kind of player and every Division I coach wanting a player like that."

Still, the Brunson -- whose mother played volleyball at Temple, where she met Rick, her eventual husband -- is likely to stay grounded, as he gets basketball advice not only from former pros like his father and Simpkins, but from current players, such as Noah. The elder Brunson appreciates the wisdom passed down from Noah -- the son of a former professional athlete himself -- and cites one piece of knowledge as "the best advice" anyone has given Jalen: "Humble yourself or the game will humble you."

"I think that he has a chance to be a hell of a player, but when you're in ninth grade and you're getting a lot of attention, I always tell young players that it really doesn't mean anything. It's all about your character at the end of the day, how hard you're willing to work because you see it all the time," said Noah, who wasn't considered an elite-level prospect coming out of high school. "Guys start off top players in the country from a young age, get all this attention and they're not focused on getting better. If your mindset is about getting better, then it's hard to make it at this level."

Brunson is a long way from the professional ranks -- let alone college, as he'll matriculate to college in the fall of 2015 -- but with the extended network of legitimate advisers surrounding him, good genes and precocious ability, he's in excellent hands, especially if it's assumed that his father's determination was inherited. For now, however, the next four years of basketball at Stevenson should see plenty of special moments like the one witnessed Tuesday night.

The Pecking Order: A Bulls Outsider's perspective on Mark Giangreco's diss

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NBC Sports Chicago

The Pecking Order: A Bulls Outsider's perspective on Mark Giangreco's diss

Bulls fans, I thought I’d change things up this time. Honestly, it’s hard to come up with new thoughts on the Bulls as they’re stuck in a rut of beating bad teams and losing to good ones.

Remember the scene in The Lion King when Mufasa gets trampled by a herd of wildebeest? And later, much like the ghost of Hamlet’s father appears to his son, Mufasa emerges from the clouds and shows himself to a now older Simba. Unlike the Ghost in Hamlet, Mufasa doesn’t return to instruct his son to seek revenge. (Although he probably should have, Scar was an a**hole. Scar is Claudius, by the way. Shakespeare essentially wrote The Lion King.) No. Mufasa returned simply to remind Simba of who he was. “You have forgotten who you are, and so forgotten me.”

I bring this up because it’s where my mind wandered after experiencing a frustrating and enlightening day in my life as an “outsider” who’s both excitedly and warily becoming more of an “insider” in the world of Chicago sports media.

Stick with me. It’s the Pecking Order.

During one of his regular appearances on the Waddle & Silvy radio show, Chicago broadcasting legend Mark Giangreco mentioned Bulls Outsiders in a less than flattering light. He questioned if NBC Sports Chicago even pays us to do the show (they do), adding that the network green-lit the show “…in lieu of hiring people with actual talent.”

The following day, after Big Dave, John and myself gave Giangreco some friendly comebacks and due respect on Outsiders, he went back on Waddle & Silvy to accept our olive branch and explain why he didn’t originally love our show.

“Just the concept pissed me off because I’m the old guard,” he said. “I’m trying to protect people who’ve been in the business for a long time.”

I completely understand why Mark was pissed. A trio of random fans were given their own show on a sports network when real broadcasting talents – his friends – who deserve jobs were out of work. In a very real way, that may come across to those dedicated to the business as obtuse and disrespectful.

But you know what? Even though I haven’t yet earned respect from Mark directly, his disrespect of me and my team pissed me off, too.

I know that as I type this, I’m nowhere close to significant in this city’s unparalleled sports media landscape. We’re a tiny blip on the radar. But just becoming the tiniest blip on that radar took six long years of hard work, often for little or no pay to without even a sliver of hope that it would lead to something real.

But I stuck with it. I kept working. And I earned my way onto Outsiders. None of it was given to me. Nor was it given to my co-hosts.

Does Mark Giangreco have the extensive comedy training and experience that John Sabine has? In any duel of sports-related humor and quick wit, my money’s on Sabine every time. Go see him perform with his sketch group at Second City, or Improv Shakespeare at iO. He slays, and he makes something very difficult look easy. That’s called talent. It’s the same talent that makes him perfect for our show. As a Chicago transplant, he also brings a true outsider’s perspective to a sports city that can sometimes swallow itself.

Does Mark Giangreco, or anyone else in the Chicago sports media world for that matter, have what Big Dave has? He’s from a family of multi-generational Chicago sports fans that’s uniquely his. The most positive person I’ve ever met, who comes to any conversation – sports or otherwise – with a smile and an appreciation for you being you, before you complain to him about whatever you think warrants complaining. When you think about the often-overpowering negativity of sports fandom, especially in today’s hateful and filter-free Twitterverse, Dave is so refreshingly original. He’s also been producing and hosting multiple podcasts about Chicago sports for years, showcasing his passion and knowledge for the subjects. That’s called talent.

When they brought the three of us together during screen tests, it clicked. We had concept, chemistry and unbridled enthusiasm. We couldn’t wait to share it with our fellow fans.

So yeah, it bugged me to hear Mark say that we didn’t deserve this show. Does he watch every minute of every Bulls game like we do? Has he been co-hosting a Bulls podcast that does five episodes a week for the past three years, including offseason months? Did his Bulls podcast get well over a million downloads last year? Or was that the work of me and my dedicated Locked On Bulls co-host Jordan Maly? Jordan’s incredible production work on that podcast landed him a job as a producer at 670 The Score. That podcast is what got NBC’s attention to bring me in for Outsiders.

We all started as fans, yes. Now we’re more than that.

Does that piss certain people off? Do younger, eager-to-work professionals getting opportunities in a rapidly changing but always competitive sports media world piss people off? Are we upsetting some pre-existing balance that required the proper broadcasting or journalism degrees to walk the one and only path to working in this in industry? Are we changing the definition of “professional” with our blogs and podcasts and Twitter threads? Is the old way of sports reporting being aggressively phased out?

The answer to all those questions is yes. But here’s the rub: change doesn’t mean forgetting the past. It just means a new way of doing things.

Outsiders is a fresh idea, but also an obvious one. Give “fans” who are also somewhat “professionals” a platform to interact with other fans and, most importantly, give fans at home the opportunity to voice their opinions in real time via social media. That’s the world we live in now. That’s what sports fans want. Connectivity.

When I was a child of the ‘90s, I watched my Bulls every night in standard definition on a 30-inch tube TV, and then watched the best 20 highlights of the day on SportsCenter hosted by Robin Roberts and Bob Ley. I’d read the newspaper columns by Sam Smith and Melissa Isaacson analyzing yesterday’s games every morning before school. Because that’s what we had.

We have access to more now. A lot more. Shouldn’t a sports fan’s desires, and the media system that feeds them those desires, change accordingly? I think it should.

But I don’t think it should erase the history of how we got here. I’ve read countless books about the evolution of sports reporting and broadcasting from the people who dedicated their lives to the craft. I watch film of broadcasters I admire and read every column of the journalists who motivate me to write. I have the utmost respect for those who laid the foundation for the complex world of sports media, and those who followed in their footsteps.

Many of the men and women I watched and read covering my favorite teams as a kid are still working today, some still here in Chicago. The storytellers. And they are my heroes. They’re a huge part of the reason I fell in love with sports. It took me a while to figure it out, but that’s what I wanted to be a part of and I couldn’t possibly have achieved any of the meager things I have thus far without the endless inspiration of their stories.

Some may be nearing the latter chapters of their storied careers finding it bitterly hard to believe how much their industry has changed in just the last few years. Just maybe, they might think about what it looked like when they first started or when they were the kids reading and watching. Typewriters in newsrooms, sports fans huddled around radios, athletes smoking cigarettes in dugouts and locker rooms. Times change. The ways change. It’s natural. But every generation creates and influences the next. The circle of life, if you will.

The changing of the media guard in a great sports city like ours has absolutely nothing derisive about it. Us younger folks are not Scars, guiltlessly throwing Mufasas into the gorge while meticulously planning our takeover of a kingdom with hyena lackeys in tow. We’re just the wildebeest stampeding through the gorge. We don’t know where we’re going, or who’s leading the charge. Some casualties may occur. Because like a stampede of wildebeest, today’s fresh faces of sports media are occasionally confused but always aggressive and eager to get somewhere. Blame us if you want to, we’re just trying to keep our momentum to not be trampled ourselves.

But perhaps more fittingly, there’s a part of us that is more Simba than wildebeest. Lost in the wilderness, lacking direction. Carelessly tweeting “Hakuna Matata” to our warthog and meerkat friends, but secretly yearning for the leadership and guidance of the all-knowing figures who explain the universe to us in a way that makes sense. Crying out to a slowly disappearing ghost, “No, please, don’t leave me!”

I’m not trying to kill Mufasa. I’m just a young wildebeest who might inadvertently trample him. Maybe I’m Simba, too. Scared as hell to take the mantle of the predecessors who created, explained and ruled the world in which I grew.

If someone takes a shot at me or my people, I’m going to stand my ground and fight for my tribe. And if somebody takes that shot from a position of ignorance, opting to learn nothing about me and my tribe before firing it, you better believe I’m throwing some salt on the ground that lies between my tribe and theirs.. But I understand that that instinct of mine is the instinct that lives within all of us: to protect what we hold dear. It’s the same instinct that caused somebody older and much more accomplished than me to say what they said. That instinct never goes away, it only grows and intensifies. The longer and harder you’ve worked for something, the farther you’re willing to go to protect it. I understand that too. And I’m not that far along compared to many.

All I can do is promise to try my best with every opportunity I’m given. I can wait to be king. I don’t even know if I want to be king. But if I ever get there, it won’t be without remembering the lessons of the sports media royalty who came before me.

If I get there, it will be because of everything they taught me, and everything they did for me, along with my own hard work. And I’ll pay it forward to those who are ready to take my place someday. I’ll try to appreciate the passion behind their hard work instead of resisting the stampeding change.

I’m sure it won’t be easy for me either. Nonetheless, the circle keeps spinning. A steady but always evolving group of storytellers for a kingdom that appreciates its rich history. That’s what we must always provide. Because that’s what Chicago sports fans deserve.

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How the Lauri Markkanen injury sets back the Bulls' season and rebuild

How the Lauri Markkanen injury sets back the Bulls' season and rebuild

Lauri Markkanen badly wanted to play all 82 games this season.

He stated that goal publicly at last September’s media day. He told many people privately how much it would mean to him after missing a combined 44 games over his first two seasons. It’s a big reason why he played through oblique and left ankle issues this season.

With everything else crumbling around him — the Bulls’ playoff chances, his All-Star chances — it represented a noble pursuit that could help the franchise.

That goal came crashing down with Friday’s bombshell news that Markkanen will miss four to six weeks after an MRI exam revealed an early stress reaction of his right pelvis.

This latest injury falls on top of promising rookie Daniel Gafford sitting with a dislocated right thumb, Wendell Carter Jr. still weeks away from returning after a severely sprained right ankle and Otto Porter Jr. not playing since Nov. 6 with a foot fracture.

There are so many ramifications to Markkanen’s latest setback that it’s hard to know where to begin. But this is a start: Since management plunged into a full rebuild with the June 2017 trade of Jimmy Butler, Markkanen and Zach LaVine have played just 106 of 210 games together.

Extrapolating the missed games angle further, LaVine, Carter, Porter and Markkanen have played just nine of 74 games together since the Bulls acquired Porter via trade last February.

To be clear: This is no way to judge a rebuild.

Thad Young will start at power forward in Markkanen’s absence. Forgotten man Denzel Valentine could rejoin the rotation.

But make no mistake: Even with Porter hoping to play after the All-Star break and Markkanen hopeful to return after missing 10 to 17 games, this is a massive setback. It further clouds how to judge the core pieces the Bulls counted on to return them to relevancy as soon as this season.

Players will return out of rhythm and out of sync. There is limited practice time down the stretch of the season, particularly when the Bulls’ brutal close to the schedule is considered. It may not even really matter what the Bulls do in the short-term — how the rotation shakes out, how much LaVine can still carry the offense — because this season is headed to lost cause status.

Again.

The Bulls absolutely need to still listen to any trade interest involving Young, even though his role will increase. He’s a valuable piece, added to bring leadership, durability, solid play and veteran savvy to help the current core.

But he won’t be here in three years if Markkanen and LaVine reach the ceilings the Bulls need them to for this rebuild to work.

"We take this opportunity to develop our roster," coach Jim Boylen said. "Some next man has to step up. We keep trying to play hard and play the right way. This happens in our league. It's part of the business."

Boylen wouldn't bite on long-term ramifications for the state of the rebuild. He said he wouldn't "go there" when asked if this season is another lost opportunity.

"We're building something. I want our defense to be good, I want our shot profile to be what it is — very good," Boylen said. "I want us to improve our defensive rebounding and defend without fouling. I'm not deterred one bit. I'm disappointed for him. But I'm not deterred in the least bit. As painful as it is, this is an opportunity for somebody else to establish themself. I like that part of the league.

"I'd be dishonest if I didn't say it's frustrating, for all of us. For John [Paxson], for Jerry and Michael [Reinsdorf], it's frustrating. But it's spilled milk, man. We gotta move on and make the guys we can better and hope the guys get back soon. We're not going to wallow in this. We have to move forward. And we will."

Markkanen, whose ankle also will get a chance to heal, vowed to return stronger. But another ramification to the injury: This makes Markkanen's looming negotiations for an extension of his rookie contract this summer even more difficult. He remains under Bulls' rights even if one isn't reached.

"I really wanted to play," he said. "But at the same time, I had to take a step back and think what's actually smart. I think they made a good decision. I agree it could get worse."

Markkanen was speaking about his situation, not the rebuild. We think.

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