Lauri Markkanen

Bulls mailbag: Who will own front office power? Will Kris Dunn return?

Bulls mailbag: Who will own front office power? Will Kris Dunn return?

The Bulls have 27 games remaining beginning with Thursday’s home game against the Hornets. Can Zach LaVine sink 13 3-pointers again? Oh wait, it’s your turn to ask the questions.

Will John Paxson still have final say over decisions or be more of an advisor like Doug Collins? If he still has control, won’t this limit the number of quality candidates who would be interested since they would need to report to Paxson? And what is the point of keeping Gar Forman? – Tim G.

This question is in response to multiple outlets, including NBC Sports Chicago, reporting that this underwhelming season is expected to lead to offseason front office changes. My reporting said the Bulls are looking to add “an empowered presence.” Where this expected hire’s autonomy ends is unknown to me at this point. In other words, I don’t know if this hire would report to Paxson or ownership. It’s certainly possible it could be the latter.

I do know this: Contrary to some fans’ belief, a management hire for this organization, in whatever role, would attract a significant amount of interest. You’re in a major market. You have some of the best facilities in the league. There are some attractive young pieces on the roster. Paxson has little ego and always has merely wanted to win, please ownership and do what’s best for a franchise to which he feels a great allegiance. So if he’s around in an advisory role, finding a candidate willing to work with him wouldn’t be hard. Paxson will take whatever role that ownership tells him they think is best for the franchise. And as reported ad nauseum: He’s still valued by ownership.

The Bulls always have valued collaborative decision-making on big decisions. So if they hire an outside voice — or voices — in an empowered role, the decision-making still would be a collaborative process. But there’s no point in trying to affect significant change without giving this expected new hire power. Any new hire certainly would, and should, ask for authority to decide on the coaching situation. As for personnel and player development, those should be collaborative decisions anyway. Along those lines, the scouting department will be overhauled and likely bolstered.

As for Forman, the Reinsdorfs are extremely loyal people. That’s well documented. Plus, in the eyes of ownership, his personnel judgement and drafting ability features more hits than misses. As previously reported, nobody has finalized their decision-making process on what likely will be a new structure for the front office. So to answer in absolutes is impossible.

Any indication how the Bulls will go about finding their next general manager? Shouldn't they just poach from a franchise that have had longstanding success — Boston, Toronto, San Antonio? It would be less than ideal when they tell us they will go on a nationwide search and ultimately hire someone they know from Iowa. – Jay R.

All I know is most anywhere I went over All-Star weekend, executives from other teams and agents I know said, “So the Bulls are asking around for input on front office candidates?” Or some variation of that sentiment. So as for the process, that’s where I’ve been led to believe it currently stands: Ownership is seeking input from a wide variety of people on who these people think are the best candidates for this role or roles they envision adding. That sounds pretty far-reaching at this point to me. I assume it gets narrowed down as they move closer to the offseason.

Do you know who the Bulls are currently looking at as possible general manager and vice president candidates? If not, who would you like to see them pursue? As a Bulls fan for a long time, I’m excited that they’re finally looking to make a change. But I hope that they make the right one. – Brian M.

I know some names that were given to ownership from some of the people they asked for input. I don’t yet know who they’re interested in or looking at, and I think the list of names they’ve been given is a very long one. So to narrow it down to specific names would be misleading, especially because there are many avenues they could explore. Does ownership dream big to try to make a Theo Epstein-like hire and throw big money at Masai Ujiri or Sam Presti? Do they go the route of the accomplished executive with a president of basketball operations over him like Mike Zarren, Troy Weaver, Matt Lloyd, Justin Zanik, Chad Buchanan or Trajan Langdon? Do they go the agent route like B.J. Armstrong or Austin Brown? (Chicago-based Mark Bartelstein told WSCR-670 AM that he’d have no interest in such a move.) From my understanding, the Bulls are in the information gathering stages of this process. And to be clear, the above names are my names and not meant to be an all-encompassing list.

In your opinion, should the new general manager take a hard look at our young talent like Lauri Markkanen, Coby White and Wendell Carter Jr. before making any major moves? – Cary B., via Twitter

That’s why player development is so important. The Bulls don’t project to have salary-cap space this summer. If Otto Porter Jr. exercises his player option, the roster as it currently stands will largely return unless they opt to trade Zach LaVine. (I’ve been pretty clear in past mailbags that I think such a move would be a mistake.) When I talk to executives from other teams, most point to all three of those players you mention as solid young pieces. So, however the Bulls choose to approach this offseason, player development has to be near the top of the to-do list.

Since we are still paying Fred Hoiberg and gave Jim Boylen an extension, will that force the Bulls to stay with Boylen for a while? – Duncan H.

The financial commitment to Hoiberg ends after this season. Boylen’s extension is modest by NBA head coaching standards. If an expected new hire is given authority to address the coaching situation and didn’t want to retain Boylen, eating the rest of the money wouldn’t be prohibitive.

Any hope for Lauri Markkanen? Does he need a new coach or is he just not as good as we thought? – Kabby, via Twitter

Opinion is divided on this around the league. From the people I talk to, there’s still a slight edge to Markkanen approaching All-Star level than mere rotation player. As previously stated in this feature, I think Markkanen’s regression is multifaceted and a bad combination of confluent events. A system that doesn’t always utilize him to maximum efficiency. A system that brings out his team-first, non-selfish tendencies and too often allows him to cede to the background. His health. Missing open shots.

Is Markkanen a good dancer? – Jesse P., via Twitter

This was sent after I initially solicited questions for this mailbag and the first five were all on the front office. So I said other subjects welcomed. Bravo to Jesse for humorously taking the bait. And speaking of humor, would it surprise some to know that Markkanen possesses one of the best senses of humor on the team? He comes across as bland during most group media sessions. But he’s extremely funny when you talk to him away from the cameras.

With the Bulls’ decently easy schedule coming up, do you think it’s even a possibility we could get hot while our injured players come back along the way and push for the 8th seed? – Matt B.

I’m not sure what schedule you’re looking at, my man. Yes, the Bulls resume with a four-game homestand with three games against non-playoff teams. And, yes, they could get healthier soon. But from March 14 to April 8, they play the Heat and Nuggets twice each, the Celtics, Spurs, Rockets, 76ers and Lakers and Clippers. Can you say draft lottery?

If the Bulls were able to get healthy and go on a winning streak that allowed them to sneak into the playoffs, how impactful do you believe that would be as it relates to any kind of changes the organization would be inclined to make? This looks like a much weaker draft compared to 2018 and 2019, so my hope as a fan is to see improvement from the young core rather than hoping we luck out in the lottery. There’s no Tim Duncan, Anthony Davis or even a Zion Williamson-type prospect in 2020. – Mark F.

To answer your first question, I think changes are coming regardless. The issues facing the Bulls move beyond won-lost record. I thought All-Star weekend placed a spotlight on the distance between where the Bulls are and where the league is. They need to connect with a largely disgruntled fan base and become relevant again with agents and players around the league.

That said, particularly for a young team, always shoot for the playoffs. Getting swept by the Bucks in the first round would be more valuable to me than seeing this team improve its draft lottery positioning by a spot or two, particularly with this draft. Will that happen? I had them pegged for 36 victories and no playoffs before the season. One out of two ain’t bad.

What are the chances that Coby White will start at point guard this year? This season is basically lost, and Tomas Satoransky is obviously not the long-term point guard starter. I think it's time. – Corey H.

I’m in the minority here, but I think the Bulls’ usage of White has been excellent. Notice I said usage and not development, as I do think the latter could be better. But I think they’ve done well not trying to pigeonhole him into playing point guard and riding his strengths as a reserve scoring guard for now. I also think Boylen has utilized him down the stretch of games where he has been hot. And his minutes have increased of late, and with all the injuries, that should continue. It’s almost certain he’ll get some starts, possibly as early as Thursday. And, yes, the Bulls need to develop the point guard aspects of his game more.

Any chance the Bulls bring back Kris Dunn this summer? And at what cost? – Joe M.

I think there’s a good chance. I also think, given his injury history, Dunn should not play on the qualifying offer and look for long-term security. As a restricted free agent, the Bulls can match any offers he receives. They’ve historically played hardball in such situations. Unfortunately for Dunn, this latest injury — a sprained right MCL — came at the worst time for him. Not only is he about to become a restricted free agent, he was enjoying a solid season. The injury could lessen his market even more. Previously, I thought he’d be in the $10-$12 million range annually. But now perhaps he’ll be in the $8-$10 million range? Remember, not many teams have cap space this summer. And with the salary cap rising, that may seem like a lot for a point guard who isn’t a great 3-point shooter. But Dunn has the potential to become elite defensively if he stays healthy.

With everyone healthy, what is a lineup you would want to see start/finish games? – Casey K.

To start: Tomas Satoransky, Zach LaVine, Otto Porter Jr., Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. To finish: White for Satoransky to add more shooting. Good luck with the “everyone healthy” part.

How do other players around the league, especially the All-Star players, view Zach LaVine? I saw clips of players saying that Bradley Beal should have made the All-Star game and was wondering whether players view Zach in a similar way. If not, why not? - Jacob C.

This isn’t the be-all, end-all because some players don’t take voting seriously. But Beal finished second behind Kemba Walker in player voting for All-Star. LaVine finished seventh behind Walker, Beal, Trae Young, Ben Simmons, Kyle Lowry and Kyrie Irving. And Irving barely played this season. I don’t think this is as much a poor reflection on LaVine as it is to show how deep the East backcourt is. But for the most part, LaVine is viewed as an uber-talented scorer who plays for a bad team and needs to improve on defense.

I love Chandler Hutchinson’s game recently. Where do you see him fitting in as we get guys back from injury? – Chris F.

Well, he’s among the injured again now. And that’s a huge problem. Not only is he giving up valuable starting experience with his recurrence of that right shoulder injury, he’s showing again that he can’t stay on the court consistently.

What is Otto Porter Jr.’s future with the team? What are the chances he opts out? – William M., via Twitter

I have a better chance of winning a Pulitzer than him opting out.

Is Adam Mokoka just a guy or does he have some real potential as a wing in the NBA?  Cee J., via Twitter

I sensed some actual buzz and intrigue when the Bulls signed him as a two-way player. And he put on quite the show when he scored 15 points without missing a shot in less than 6 minutes against the Pelicans. But I haven’t seen enough of him to accurately answer your question. He seems like a fringe player to me.

I've been reading everything and anything I can about the offense. How much of this is on Zach and Lauri just not fitting? Or is it more likely that the coaching staff just isn't setting them up for success? Lauri isn't being coached to back smaller players down. He isn't using his drag step that was soooo money last year. I just feel like the offense is not in sync at all. Am I crazy? – Tony A.

Well, let’s see. It’s currently ranked 26th. So, no, you’re not crazy. Markkanen and LaVine have struggled to consistently impact games at the same time. But I do think part of this is usage. How many times have they been placed in screen-and-roll together? I also agree that this offense hasn’t featured Markkanen on the move as much as Fred Hoiberg’s did. As with most issues, it’s not one or the other. It’s a combination of players not playing to their potential and coaching not always putting them in the best position to succeed. There’s no reason two offensively gifted players like this, with different skill sets, shouldn’t play well together. But they haven’t.

No questions this week. I’ll return strong in March. – Andrew G.

That makes one of us.

Thanks for all your questions. Talk to you soon.

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Injury notes: Latest on Wendell Carter, Otto Porter, Lauri Markkanen, Kris Dunn

Injury notes: Latest on Wendell Carter, Otto Porter, Lauri Markkanen, Kris Dunn

Jim Boylen, Wendell Carter Jr. and Otto Porter Jr. spent the majority of their time speaking to media after the team’s first post-All-Star break practice laying a trail of injury-related tea leaves.

Carter has been sidelined with a high ankle sprain since Jan. 6, and Porter hasn’t played since spraining his foot on Nov. 6. Both took part in practice (which featured “some contact” according to Boylen) and are inching closer to respective returns, though nothing is official as of yet.

"Otto participated in practice and got his legs underneath him. Wendell, we kinda put him in for two possessions, then take him out for two and kinda getting him back comfortable," Boylen said.

“Just taking it one day at a time,” said Carter, who said on the Friday of All-Star weekend that he was shooting for a return this Thursday (Feb. 20) against the Hornets. “I practiced today and it felt okay, so I'm just taking it slow. Don't want to rush anything, and end up hurting again, so that's where I'm at right now.

“Depending on the coaching staff, depending on how I'm feeling come game time, of course I want to play Thursday, but I'm [going to] do what's best for the team and for myself."

Boylen declined to say officially whether Carter will be available Thursday, also taking a “we’ll see” approach. Carter is about six weeks into his initial four-to-six week recovery timeline.

Porter, who said he’s “close” to 100 percent, doesn’t yet know when he’ll be back and that “time will tell” how many practices he needs before sliding back into the Bulls’ lineup. He remains without a timetable, and said he is unsure if he’ll be eased back in on a minutes restriction when he is able to return.

“I was able to do everything. I feel good,” Porter said. “I’ll continue it a day at a time, making sure my pain is free."

When asked, Boylen said he doesn’t yet have a clear idea of when Lauri Markkanen (who has been out with a pelvis injury since Jan. 24) might return to practice. This Friday marks four weeks into Markkanen’s initial four-to-six week timeline

There was also no update on Kris Dunn on the two-week anniversary of his initial two-week re-examination timeline for a sprained right MCL suffered against the Nets on Jan. 31.

[RELATED: Bulls preparing for possibility of losing Kris Dunn for rest of season]

Still, things are moving in the right direction for the Bulls on the injury front. The team entered the All-Star break on a six-game losing streak that ties a season-high, but Boylen maintained playing competitive basketball down the stretch remains a goal. At 19-36, they will resume play five games behind the Magic for the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference.

“I think doing both, I think that's what our challenge is this year,” Boylen said of the team’s dual objectives of winning and developing. “Part of development is you hope to play in some meaningful games, and we've had a couple of those situations this year compared to last year, and I'm hoping we can have more. I'm hoping.

"Health is part of that and just getting better. I got a good group of guys that play hard, and we gotta continue to do that, and hopefully improve as we go down the stretch here.”

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Developing the young core remains the focus over final 27 games for Bulls

Developing the young core remains the focus over final 27 games for Bulls

With the Bulls headed to a third straight trip to the NBA Draft Lottery, the focus over the final two months of the NBA regular season now shifts to the development of the team’s core players.

Wendell Carter Jr. should be ready to go after missing the last 18 games before the All-Star break because of a high ankle sprain. Carter Jr. has already established himself as a quality defender and screener, but we still don’t have any idea what his ceiling could be as an offensive player. Before he was injured in early January, Carter Jr. had started mixing a couple of 3-point attempts into his shot profile, and while his success rate of 21.4% is nothing to get excited about, his shooting form suggests he should be able to improve over time.

Not many NBA teams are using dumping the ball into the low post as a big part of their offense, but the Bulls should try to get Carter Jr. more touches with his back to the basket to keep defenses honest. During his one collegiate season at Duke, Carter Jr. showed the ability to finish with either hand near the rim, and he has the ability to draw fouls against taller centers. NBA analytics will tell you layups, dunks and 3-pointers are the way to go in the modern game, but Carter Jr. is capable of getting some easy baskets inside and stepping out to knock down mid-range jumpers. Whether Carter Jr. becomes a consistent 3-point threat or not, he still can be a bigger part of the Bulls offense. 

The Bulls are also hoping to get starting forwards Lauri Markkanen and Otto Porter Jr. back at some point in the coming weeks. We pretty much know what Porter Jr. is at this point, a capable 3-point shooter and solid third scoring option. Problem is, Porter Jr. has been dogged by injuries over his NBA career, the latest being a fractured foot that’s cost him most of the season. There’s virtually zero chance Porter Jr. passes up his $28 million player option for next season, so he’ll be on the roster next season.

All kinds of questions about Markkanen, who was going through a puzzling third-year slump before being sidelined with a stress reaction to his pelvis. Markkanen was expected to make the jump to All-Star level status this season, but he got off to a poor shooting start and didn’t show the kind of aggressiveness on the offensive end we had come to expect. Markkanen says the new offensive system calls for him to be more of a spot-up 3-point shooter, which has limited his ability to attack the basket or post up against smaller defenders.

Whatever the reasons for his regression this season, the Bulls would love to get Markkanen back on the court at some point over the final two months just to give him a chance to reestablish his effectiveness at the offensive end and give him some positive feelings heading into the offseason. Markkanen will also be eligible for an extension to his rookie contract this summer, and those negotiations could prove to be difficult with the 7-foot forward having missed so many games because of injury over his first three seasons.

Another big question mark for the Bulls involves the point guard position. Tomas Satoransky was signed as a free agent last July with the idea he would handle the starting position until top draft pick Coby White was ready to run the offense on a regular basis. The Bulls have used White as an instant offense shooting guard off the bench, but he has been getting more chances to run the point in recent games, dishing out a career-high nine assists against the Pelicans on Feb, 6 and seven helpers against Washington in the last game before the All-Star break. Why not give White more opportunities to play as a point guard with Zach LaVine on the court, giving the Bulls another shot creator to ease some of the defensive pressure against LaVine.

While the season began with talk of making the playoffs, the bigger objective was developing the players who can make the Bulls more than a seventh or eighth seed in future seasons. If you’re looking for bright spots, it looks like Chandler Hutchison has figured out how he can be effective at the NBA level as a slashing small forward who can finish at the rim with power. If Hutchison can improve his outside shot and stay healthy, the Bulls might just have a long term answer at that position.

Now it’s about continuing to develop the so called “core four” of LaVine, Markkanen, Carter Jr. and White. The Bulls are hoping they’ll have a better idea by season’s end whether this is the right nucleus to build around or if it’s time to consider significant roster changes this summer.

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