Bulls

State of the Bulls: Stacked 2018 draft class

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USA TODAY

State of the Bulls: Stacked 2018 draft class

2018 draft class is loaded at the top

Quietly, you can bet Bulls' front office executives John Paxson and Gar Forman had a little celebration after hearing that prep star Marvin Bagley III was going to graduate from high school early and enroll at Duke for the 2017-18 season, making him eligible for the 2018 draft.

Bagley, a 6'11 power forward from Los Angeles, is being compared to longtime NBA star Chris Bosh, right down to his smooth left-handed shooting touch. Bagley averaged 24.6 points, 10.1 rebounds and two blocked shots during his junior season for Sierra Canyon H.S. He's also fared well against NBA competition at the highly-regarded Drew League in L.A. this summer. Bagley’s physical tools are off the charts, and you can count on Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski preparing him well for life in the NBA.

Most NBA scouts and execs expect the No. 1 overall pick to come down to either Bagley or Michael Porter Jr., who will play his one season of college basketball at Missouri. The 6'10 Porter averaged an amazing 34.8 points and 13.8 rebounds last season against Seattle high school competition. He's considered a more dynamic scorer than Bagley with more range on his jump shot. Some scouts believe he could quickly develop into one of the league's elite players with Kevin Durant-type length and shooting ability at the small forward position.

International swingman Luka Doncic is also highly coveted by NBA teams. The 6'8 swingman has excellent shooting range, and is also capable of creating his own shot with outstanding ball-handling ability. Forget the stereotype of European players being mechanical and unable to compete athletically, Doncic is capable of being an 18-20 point scorer in the NBA and should go in the top five next June. He's considered one of the best international prospects in the last decade.

Two 7-footers also will hear their names called early on draft night 2018. University of Arizona freshman DeAndre Ayton averaged 19.8 points and 12 rebounds in high school last season, while Texas freshman center Mohamed Bomba has an incredible 7-foot-9 wingspan. Sure, the NBA has moved away from the traditional low post center, but teams are still looking to acquire agile big men like Karl-Anthony Towns, Joel Embiid, DeAndre Jordan, Rudy Gobert and Hassan Whiteside. Depending on how they fare against top level college competition, Ayton and Bomba could round out the top five.

Other names to watch in the lottery portion of next year's draft include Texas A&M power forward Robert Williams, Michigan State's forward duo of Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson Jr., and the latest one-and-dones from John Calipari's Kentucky program, center Nick Richards and small forward Jarred Vanderbilt.

In case you missed it, ESPN released its preseason win total expectations for the Eastern Conference on Wednesday, and the Bulls were dead last with a projected record of 26-56. Now, I'm not sure a team with veterans Dwyane Wade and Robin Lopez and the three young players acquired in the Jimmy Butler trade with Minnesota will be quite that bad, but if you're going to rebuild, the idea is to get the best draft pick possible, and the Bulls appear to be on course for a top-five selection depending on how the lottery falls.

If the Bulls are able to land an elite talent like Porter Jr., Bagley III or Doncic in the draft, then use their $40-50 million in cap space to land a couple of quality free agents, the rebuild might not be as painful as some fans are fearing.

Last dance for LeBron in Cleveland?

Well-connected NBA writer Chris Sheridan dropped this bomb on Twitter Wednesday, quoting an NBA source, "This will be LeBron's final season in Cleveland. He is 100 percent leaving. Relationship with owners beyond repair." Don’t forget, Sheridan was the first national writer to report James was going to leave Miami to go back to Cleveland in 2014, so his reports definitely warrant a little extra attention.

Okay, we've already heard countless rumors about James planning to join the Lakers after next season. He's built a mansion in Brentwood, is close with Magic Johnson and will be able to bring another superstar with him to L.A. like Paul George or Russell Westbrook. Plus, the Lakers have a number of talented young players in place like Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. and a promising coach in Luke Walton.

Add in the likelihood Kyrie Irving will be traded before training camp opens and LeBron's long-standing poor relationship with Cavs' owner Dan Gilbert, and you have the perfect formula for another James' free agent decision next July. Although, I'm not sure why LeBron would want to go West, where Golden State is positioned to dominate the league for another five seasons, with strong challengers like the Rockets and Spurs still in place. 

But if we've learned anything from watching James over the years, he's clearly a man who wants to align the odds in his favor. So don't rule out anything when it comes to James' free agent decision. If the Cavs make a home run trade for Irving, maybe LeBron decided to plays out his career in his home state. If not, look for him to find a team with the cap space to bring in another top star to run with him.

Back in 2010, the Bulls carved out the cap space to add two max contract stars, but lost out to Pat Riley in Miami. This time around they won't be on James' July travel itinerary.

One thing we know for sure. Where LeBron plays in 2018 will be the number one story throughout the NBA season.

Bulls Talk Podcast: Vincent Goodwill previews free agency

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USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: Vincent Goodwill previews free agency

On this edition of the Bulls Talk podcast, Mark Schanowski and Kevin Anderson are joined by Yahoo Sports NBA insider Vincent Goodwill

0:45 - Vinnie on basketball never stopping

1:55 - On Bulls selection of Coby White

2:45 - Dynamic between Kris Dunn and White

5:30 - Are Bulls likely to bring in a veteran point guard to mentor White?

7:30 - What kind of contract is Pat Beverley looking at?

9:40 - Will Bulls have enough cap space to sign three free agents?

11:50 - Vinnie on his vote for Zach LaVine for Most Improved Player

13:25 - On the NBA Awards show and its timing

15:45 - On Giannis and the Bucks, where can he still develop?

18:05 - On Kevin Durant and his options in free agency

21:40 - Why Durant will want to control his own destiny

23:30 - Vinnie on Jimmy Butler and where he may end up

26:10 - Vinnie on why he didn’t play in the media tournament during the NBA Finals

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Bulls Talk Podcast

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The 1995-1998 Bulls belong on the list of 10 greatest lineups in NBA history

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AP

The 1995-1998 Bulls belong on the list of 10 greatest lineups in NBA history

Listen, Tom. We like you. A lot. You do incredible work and you give us shoutouts. But we had to read through your latest piece, “Ranking the 10 greatest lineups in NBA history,” a few times before realizing you had a massive omission.

We present the following: The 1995-1998 Chicago Bulls.


PG: Ron Harper
SG: Michael Jordan
SF: Scottie Pippen
PF: Toni Kukoc
C: Dennis Rodman

Total All-Star appearances: 23
MVP Players: 1
DPOY Players: 2
Finals MVP Players: 1
Titles won together: 3

We thank you for mentioning Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen in your piece. They were pretty good, we agree. We’ll dig a little deeper on those two to begin our argument. From 1995 to 1998, Jordan averaged 29.6 points on 48% shooting, 6.1 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 1.9 steals. He also didn’t miss a game, playing in 304 of a possible 304 games. He was also named league MVP twice and Finals MVP all three years. Pippen wasn’t too shabby a sidekick, averaging 19.7 points, 6.2 rebounds and 5.8 assists in that three-year span.

These guys were all-time greats, but you might have forgotten that they weren’t alone.

All Dennis Rodman did in this three-season span was lead the league in rebounding all three years (15.3 per game). He wasn’t the same All-Star talent that he was in his Detroit days – also a two-time Defensive Player of the Year – and his San Antonio stint but he was still critical to the Bulls’ success. The Worm had a little bit of Draymond Green in him, not afraid to take on any defensive assignment to allow the Bulls a little more versatility. He got assignments of Shawn Kemp and Karl Malone in the Finals.

Kukoc is where we bend the rules a bit, but we hope you’ll allow it (mostly because our argument turns to dust if we need to talk about Luc Longley). Kukoc was the 1996 Sixth Man of the Year (hey, you said they could be closing lineups, too) and was a model of consistency in those three seasons. He averaged 13.2 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 4.0 assists and gave the Bulls another ball handler and distributor, as well as versatile defense. He’s at times the forgotten gem of the Jerry Krause era, and he’s more than just a funny story from the Dream Team era.

The Bulls had their Iguodala, too. Ron Harper averaged a modest 7.7 points and 2.7 assists in these three seasons with the Bulls. But he also did it with a 14.9% usage rate. That was lower than Bill Wennington’s usage rate of 17.0% in that same span! Let’s not forget that Harper had averaged 19.3 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.9 assists in eight seasons with the Cavaliers and Clippers before signing with the Jordan-less Bulls. He would have had a much larger and more effective role had Jordan not returned (we’re glad he did). In 1998, Harper also had the pleasure of guarding Gary Payton and John Stockton in the Bulls’ three Finals victories. Have you had enough of the Iggy comparisons yet?

So there it is. Five incredible players to put together three remarkable championship seasons that included the Greatest Team in the History of Basketball (our capitalization intended). Feel free to update your story as needed.