Bobby Portis

With Trae Young's team workout looming, his trainer clears air on any Bulls rift: 'That's totally false'

With Trae Young's team workout looming, his trainer clears air on any Bulls rift: 'That's totally false'

Trae Young’s intriguing draft status will make a stop in Chicago this week as he’ll work out for the Bulls, who are believed to be enamored with the playmaking point guard.

Young has been trained by Jimmy Butler’s trainer, Travelle Gaines, who had pointed comments about Bulls general manager Gar Forman in the wake of Butler being traded on draft night last year.

In a now-deleted tweet, Gaines said the Bulls have the worst culture in the league, and that he knows drug dealers with better morals than Forman, calling him a liar.

There was a strong belief Butler was misled by the Bulls in his final meeting with the front office before departing for a European vacation days before the draft. Gaines’ tweet only added fuel to that, as Butler was traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn.

There’s been whispers Gaines would try to use his influence with Young against the Bulls, and when reached by NBCSportsChicago.com, Gaines strongly denied the claim.

“I would never discourage Trae or any player from working out or talking to the Bulls,” Gaines said by telephone. “I don’t know where the narrative came from but that’s totally false.”

Young is scheduled to have his workout Thursday in Chicago, and Gaines said the two haven’t even discussed the Bulls in their training sessions. Gaines doesn’t regret his tweet, but he said it wasn’t reflective of his thoughts of the organization en masse.

“What I said a year ago, I was in the moment and those were my feelings at the time,” Gaines said. “But I don’t feel the Bulls are a bad organization or franchise. I love the franchise. I was a huge Michael Jordan fan. The league is better when the Bulls, Knicks and Lakers are great. I want the Bulls to be great again.”

Gaines also trains current Bulls Bobby Portis and Denzel Valentine at his facility in Los Angeles, and noted Portis and Young have run into each other a few times during sessions. Again, Gaines said he operates in the best interests of his clients and not personal agendas.

“(Bobby and Denzel) say they want to get back to the playoffs and I’ll tell them, ‘Get the Bulls back to the playoffs,’” Gaines said.

If Young is the player his greatest supporters believe he is, taking him with the seventh pick would be a step in that direction, even though the Bulls employ Kris Dunn at point guard.

Gaines is a big believer in Young and his potential fit with the Bulls, although he doesn’t believe Young will be around at the No. 7.

“I think Trae would be great for the Bulls,” Gaines said. “Playing alongside Lauri Markkanen and also Zach LaVine, he would be phenomenal for the team and the city of Chicago. He’d be great in that market.”

There’s no doubt Young carries a level of star power that would be attractive to the Bulls, who would love to have someone marketable to their fan base.

“With his work ethic and passion for basketball I think he will be great for the city of Chicago and that great market,” Gaines said.

The main takeaways from John Paxson’s news conference

The main takeaways from John Paxson’s news conference

He hated the tanking but deemed it necessary: The last six weeks of this season was a desperate, ugly slog meant to mitigate the exhilarating 14-7 stretch that revitalized the season.

However, that stretch came at a cost as the Bulls had to stay focused on their long-term objectives; getting the best pick possible in this coming June’s draft, evaluating young players and keeping costs down for the future.

It didn’t mean, though, that the finish was something easy for Bulls Executive-Vice President Paxson to stomach, even if it was for the greater good.

“We did this year what we felt was in the longterm best interests of the Bulls,” Paxson said. “It’s not a situation that any of us want to ever be in again; it goes against everything as a competitive person that you believe in; but it’s the way the system is set up.”

The Bulls are tied for seventh-worst odds with the Sacramento Kings, and the coin flip to determine who gets the upper hand in the lottery will be tomorrow. The system is undergoing minor changes next season, and perhaps full-fledged lottery reform is on the way.

But if it isn’t, one has to wonder if the Bulls will be in a similar position 12 months from now. Paxson doesn’t envision he’ll be addressing this issue, though.

“We feel we went about it the right way; our intentions were to see what we had and develop our young guys,” Paxson said. “But we didn’t ever want to ever be in this position again and honestly I don’t think we will and I think next year if we stay healthy.”

The Zach LaVine situation will be tricky: By the time LaVine heads into restricted free agency this summer, he’ll be 17 months removed from ACL surgery and not a strong sample size since to make teams throw max money at him.

Then again, it only takes one team among the usual suspects with cap space: Sacramento, Dallas, Atlanta and Philadelphia, among others. The Bulls haven’t traditionally thrown money at their restricted free agents so it’s not hard to see a standoff on the horizon.

He’ll want a max contract; The Bulls’ first offer will certainly not be that. But it’s hard to see the Bulls taking a pass on matching a market-based deal, even before it gets to the offer-sheet stage.

“Well, the market dictates a lot and how things go,” Paxson said. “I think the market has tightened up a little bit the last couple years since the (salary cap) spike. But we obviously value Zach a lot, and we think he’s a part of our future, but he has the opportunity to explore things.”

Speaking of LaVine: Paxson reiterated several times he’s seen how recoveries from ACL injuries go, given the organization’s experience with Derrick Rose and his initial ACL tear in 2012.

So while they understood LaVine’s performance wasn’t going to be indicative of what he can truly develop into, Paxson is expecting more from the centerpiece of the Jimmy Butler trade that jump-started all of this.

“We need---and I mentioned this to our team after Fred spoke to them last night---Zach LaVine to be a better basketball player,” Paxson said. “We need him to have a great summer.”

LaVine played 24 games and Paxson said there were things he liked in that sample. But while he mentioned others in the way of internal improvement like Lauri Markkanen, Kris Dunn and Bobby Portis, it was clear his initial message was aimed at LaVine becoming a more complete player before the start of next season.

“We knew he wasn’t going to play for us right away and we knew we were going to get him back at some point, but I think he answered some questions for us,” Paxson said. “He had some really good moments, but he has a ways to go, but again that’s his responsibility to work and become a better player.”

Pleased with Hoiberg: Fred Hoiberg’s first two years were littered with questions at various times surrounding his job security and aptitude for the high-pressure, high-stress cauldron of NBA coaching. So while it wasn’t a surprise to hear Paxson confirm Hoiberg would return to start his fourth season, he elaborated on the type of team best-suited for Hoiberg’s style.

It wasn’t an intentional shot from Paxson but the inference was clear: Younger teams are better for him.

“I think Fred just kind of got his feet underneath him more this year,” Paxson said. “This group, the way he wants to play, pushing the basketball. Just from my observations watching practices and games, you could see that comfort level.”

Will this experience bode better for Hoiberg when this team’s talent level begins to turn the corner? Paxson wasn’t asked that directly but there’s not many young teams that actually win much—especially if there’s no unicorn capable of lifting all tides.

“I think every year as a coach you gain experience and you learn things,” Paxson said. “So I’m sure you’ve talked to Fred about what he’s learned over this year as opposed to last year. Again, I thought Fred and our staff did a tremendous job of keeping our group together.”

It wasn’t an easy task, especially after the Bobby Portis-Nikola Mirotic incident and subsequent 3-20 start; Some of the roster changes management wanted to see implemented in the last six weeks and the general upheaval of the roster considering there was little continuity with new players coming in and out of the lineup.

“I know Fred enjoyed coaching this group,” Paxson said. “I think this you go back to last summer. Fred and our guys set the tone when our guys came back and they just had the everyday attitude of working. That needs to carry over and it will. Our guys need to continue to buy in which we believe they will.”

Overselling? Not quite: The general thought about the Bulls revolves around a belief that with two first-round draft picks in a deep class, the Bulls should be back in playoff contention in short order.

Whether it was a tacit acknowledgement of the gaffes Gar Forman has made at times or merely wanting to keep expectations at a modest level, Paxson would not get himself caught up hyping the sum of the parts.

Teams like Philadelphia and Boston are set up for the long run if LeBron James leaves Cleveland and heads west. The Bulls have the salary cap space to do some things but Paxson was pragmatic about not being too hasty.

“I don’t know how far away that is. You never know what other teams are going to do but all we can do is worry about ourselves,” Paxson said. “When we went on the path that we did last summer, we’re not just going to go out and try and sign some older players that fill a need. We have to remain patient and discipline in the approach we have.”

The expectation is to play more competitive basketball this time next season and if it results in the playoffs, he won’t turn his nose at it.

“We’re going to be a better basketball team. And we’re going to be young, we’re going to be athletic, we’re going to be more skilled,” he said. “And for coaches and players, their goal has to be every year to be as good as they can be. Be a playoff team, be whatever you can be.”

Three pieces/Markkanen: The timeline of injuries and organizational objectives interfered with the Bulls being able to see Lauri Markkanen, Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn all on the floor at the same time.

He didn’t duck the belief someone would have to emerge among the three, but stated if they all make the expected improvements this offseason, it’ll be a problem he’s glad to have.

“That’s one thing we have to find out,” Paxson said. “That was part of the deal when we made it. We need to find out how those guys play together. That’s why I said this summer is important. We need them all healthy so we can have a good training camp and find a way to get them playing the right way together.”

Paxson would hedge and watch himself on a lot of things, but Markkanen seemed to be the exception. Calling Markkanen a “cornerstone”, he’s excited about the strides Markkanen can make with a summer in Chicago or at least under the guidance of the Bulls’ strength and conditioning coaches.

“We loved him in the draft, obviously, but we didn’t know what we had,” he said. “I’m incredibly impressed with the poise he plays with. He rarely gets outside of himself. But Lauri, like Zach and Kris Dunn and all our guys, he has so much room to grow.”

The expectations for a significant jump next season appear to be as high for Markkanen as it is for LaVine.

“With his size and his ability to shoot the ball, he should be able to get in areas on the floor where he can really dominate a game,” Paxson said. “He’s a young man and just one year in the league, but he at least from my seat, he exceeded expectations. So yeah, we’re lucky. We feel very lucky he was part of that deal we made last summer.”

Disappearing Wizards a cautionary tale of sorts for the Bulls

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USA TODAY

Disappearing Wizards a cautionary tale of sorts for the Bulls

Nobody can do a disappearing act like the Washington Wizards, not even a team trying to improve lottery positioning as the Wizards are desperately aiming to avoid the Cleveland Cavaliers in a first-round playoff matchup.

But even when agendas are aligned, the Wizards’ should-be motto rears its familiar head: “Why try to beat us when you can just wait on us to not show up?”

And that’s what happened on Easter Sunday as the Wizards added the Bulls to the ledger of teams that will likely send the perpetually underachieving group to the scrap heap after the first-round this spring.

The Bulls were without head coach Fred Hoiberg for the first time this season, as he left the United Center some time before the game started with an upper respiratory infection.

Associate head coach Jim Boylen filled in for the first time in the first chair and helped the Bulls to a 113-94 win—one that ranks as unsurprising given the Wizards’ recent history of looking past opponents.

With three days before their next game and plenty of time to burn before playing the Houston Rockets, they started their off-time on a Sunday afternoon—coinciding with Boylen’s first win.

“It was fun. First of all, I feel bad for Fred. I’ve never seen him this sick before,” Boylen said. “Before the game, John Paxson grabbed me and said, ‘have fun with it’. And that’s what we did.”

Lauri Markkanen certainly helped with that, hitting five 3-pointers and scoring 23 points in 25 minutes, his 12th time crossing the 20-point threshold, and second time in three games.

Bobby Portis entered the game late in the first quarter and scored a quick nine, helping the Bulls to a 15-point lead before the period ended. He finished with 18 points in 16 minutes as the Bulls hit eight triples in the first and a franchise record-tying 18 overall—including two rare four-point plays.

If one wants to point to player development, it’s Markkanen expanding his game beyond the 3-point line and Portis moving his range to the outside. After hitting 48 triples in his first two years combined, Portis is at 76 in 68 games this year.

“I was always a mid-range shooter in college,” Portis said. “But the league has now transitioned to all bigs shooting threes and that’s something I’d be glad to work on and that I’m into. Last year I would make a couple here and there.”

“I really tried to hone into that and it’s worked so far.”

That should’ve been a signal that the Wizards had no interest in competing, and the Bulls won their second straight game for the first time since a three-game winning streak in January.

“I thought our guys really competed. Played together,” Boylen said. “When you get into the game defensively, good things happen for you at the other end. I thought we did that.”

Wizards leading scorer Bradley Beal was five of 17 from the field, missing all five 3-point attempts as the Wizards shot 27 percent from three and turned the ball over 17 times.

In a way, it was a classic Wizards performance and one the Bulls were going to take advantage of.

If there’s one way to give the Bulls’ front office a kernel of credit is acknowledging they didn’t want to be the Wizards—a capped-out team not good enough to advance through the East, just meandering through the regular season for a first-round knockout.

That’s what they also have to avoid moving forward with this rebuild.

No one can argue the Wizards hitting on John Wall, Beal and to a lesser extent Otto Porter with high draft picks. But subsequent moves and management of the salary cap has played a part in preventing the Wizards from advancing beyond the second round in the East.

The Bulls will have another high pick this summer and even if it’s a hit, there are no guarantees for how it’ll turn out. Markkanen, Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine are as good a haul as the Bulls could’ve gotten in the Jimmy Butler deal, but in the big picture it does nothing aside from the temporary adrenaline of a front office getting a trade right.

The East is developing new faces rather quickly and the dependable ones don’t seem like they’ll register enough on the Richter Scale when it matters most.

Wall has missed extended time with a knee injury this season and didn’t play Sunday due to the back-to-back portion of his return. Even if he hadn’t gotten hurt, it’s hard to see this roster doing much in the postseason this year—and without major moves going forward, competing with Boston and Philadelphia as the future of the East.

They’re stuck in the middle, with games like Sunday as more evidence that something hasn’t gone right with team-building or the culture.

“We made the playoffs, but are we just excited about making the playoffs?” Wizards coach Scott Brooks said. “That’s a question we have to ask. The good habits that we talk about and we work on, it wasn’t displayed tonight.”

The Wizards specialize in tantalizing an audience on the “if” factor: If Wall and Beal can stay healthy long enough, if the Wizards can develop a third option next to them, if the Wizards can simply get out of their own way.

Those “ifs” almost culminated in an appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals last season, falling short in a Game 7 in Boston—the same set of “ifs” that seemingly haunted the Bulls franchise over the last decade, with a whole new set of “ifs” on the horizon.