Lauri Markkanen

The Bulls aren't trading for Kawhi Leonard, but what would a potential deal look like?


The Bulls aren't trading for Kawhi Leonard, but what would a potential deal look like?

The Bulls aren't trading for Kawhi Leonard.

Let's get that out of the way before continuing on.

At this stage in their rebuild the Bulls are interested in acquiring pieces - they dealt a Kawhi-like Jimmy Butler 12 months ago for three core parts - and have two picks in next week's NBA Draft.

The Spurs will have myriad options on where to send Leonard, the two-time All-Star and 2014 Finals MVP, and offers will pour in from everywhere. Leonard could also dictate where he plays next season, as he has one year remaining on his deal and will be a free agent after the 2019 season. Certainly a team giving up the assets required to get Leonard would want to know their All-Pro intends on staying.

So that's why. Whichever team deals for Leonard (assuming he is dealt) will be able to put together a more enticing package than the Bulls could (think Boston, the Lakers, Philadelphia). Leonard also reportedly prefers to play in Los Angeles or New York. No mention of Chicago.

But! It's Friday afternoon and we can only churn out so much draft content before our own heads begin spinning. So we figured we would put together the best deal the Bulls could offer for Leonard.

First off, the Bulls would need a gaurantee from Leonard that he intended to re-sign. Like Butler, Leonard wouldn't be able for the supermax extension if he leaves the Spurs. Instead, Leonard could sign a five-year, $188 million max deal with the Bulls, averaging $37.6 million per year.

The Bulls would get a 26-year-old All-Pro just about to enter the prime of his career. Make no mistake about it: Kawhi Leonard is a superstar. It's easy to forget because he played in just nine games last year, but Leonard is just a year removed from a season in which he averaged 25.5 points on 48 percent shooting, 5.8 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.8 steals in 33.4 minutes. Oh, and he's won two Defensive Player of the Year awards in 2015 and 2016.

The Bulls would have Leonard through his age 31 season and would give the Bulls a souped-up version of Jimmy Butler, and perhaps one that could get them closer to contention in an Eastern Conference that may be without LeBron James.

The price would be steep. All-Rookie Lauri Markkanen would be the centerpiece of any deal. The Spurs have utilized versatile, small-ball lineups well in the past and adding Markkanen would be like a cheat code for Gregg Popovich. He'd slot in well next to LaMarcus Aldridge, who played 62 percent of his minutes at center last year, according to Basketball Reference. That was the most minutes he had played at center since his rookie season.

The Bulls would also have to include the 7th and 22nd picks in next week's draft, which only makes the deal more unlikely (from 0.01 percent to 0.005 percent). San Antonio could pursue a wing like Mikal Bridges or Kevin Knox and add him to a core that would include Dejounte Murray, Markkanen and Aldridge. The Spurs also have the 18th pick, so they could conceivably have five core players (Markkanen, Murray, 7, 18, 22) 21 years or younger to complement the 32-year-old Aldridge, who bounced back in a big way last season (ironically without Leonard).

Adding Justin Holiday's $4.615 million salary to the deal makes the money work and gives the Spurs another perimeter shooter.

What would the Bulls look like? Well, needless to say they would have found their wing.

Building around Leonard would include Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine and Bobby Portis. With Markkanen gone, Portis would be in line for a significant contract extension and a much larger role in the offense; his per-36 numbers were on par with Kevin Love's and Joel Embiid's a year ago.

PG: Kris Dunn
SG: Zach LaVine
SF: Kawhi Leonard
PF: Bobby Portis
C: Robin Lopez

Alas, this deal is not happening. We can only hope to have angered some of you at this hypothetical, fun mock trade.

Best player or need? Texas' Mohamed Bamba could represent best fit next to Lauri Markkanen


Best player or need? Texas' Mohamed Bamba could represent best fit next to Lauri Markkanen

Texas big man Mohamed Bamba’s knowledge of the Bulls’ roster was as impressive as his awareness of the concerns teams have expressed about him leading into the upcoming draft.

But the biggest revelation from Bamba may have been the Bulls’ strategy leading to draft night, as one can surmise the franchise will take the player best suited to complement Lauri Markkanen in the frontcourt.

Bamba had one part right in his interview session following an individual workout Friday afternoon: He knew to compliment Markkanen, who was a couple hundred feet away in the Advocate Center getting in a shooting session.

“I think Lauri and I, we're in a sense ... the front court of the future,” Bamba said. “I mean, he can step out and really shoot it really well. That gives me a lot of room to operate down low and start to develop.”

The Bulls’ affection for Markkanen is no secret, as he developed quicker than anyone expected after being the seventh pick in last year’s draft. Seeing him as a franchise cornerstone, it’s not a shock if their strategy to surround him with the best athlete is the main thought.

The Bulls’ ever-coy front office has been queried about taking the best player or player who best fits the current roster for weeks now, and the answer has been the same from John Paxson and Gar Forman.

“Best player,” they would all say.

But Bamba chose Chicago as his first individual workout for a reason, and he knew what would make him an ideal fit if he’s on the board when the Bulls are up with the seventh pick.

“I mean, when you look at all the categories that they struggled in, those were all things that I could step in and help impact like immediately,” Bamba said. “Like they were last or second to in blocked shots and I like to think of myself as a pretty good shot blocker.”

Several scouts and executives have said Bamba’s instincts at rim protection are better than DeAndre Ayton, who’ll likely go first in the draft to Phoenix. But some of the questions around Bamba feel unfair, as big men usually have to deal with concerns about their desire for the game and willingness to play hard all the time.

Bamba intimated his diverse interests wouldn’t be questioned if he were a swingman, bringing up Kobe Bryant’s worldliness as Bryant is fluent in multiple languages.

“You could tell with the drills, they put me through a couple things where we actually really had to battle,” Bamba said. “There’s a misconception about my motor not running as high. But I think I showed that in the workouts today.”

One general manager told recently, “Go look at his film. Call me when you see him running hard. It’ll take a while, though. I have no questions about his ability.”

If the Bulls feel satisfied with what they saw and if their top objective is indeed finding a fit next to Markkanen, Bamba could be atop their list.

Drenched in sweat following the workout, Bamba gave a few nuggets that went into it, most notably the lob passes at the rim from the assistant coaches that were a little too low for his liking, perhaps seeing how he could work a high-low game with Markkanen.

“I told ‘em – I encouraged ‘em to throw them a little bit higher,” Bamba said. “They had fun just tossing it up there. It was pretty interactive.”

And with the success the Bulls had at times running Markkanen with Bobby Portis and before his trade to New Orleans, Nikola Mirotic, they wanted to see how much Bamba improved on his outside shot since leaving Texas.

He only attempted 51 3-pointers at Texas, shooting 28 percent.

“We shot a lot of three’s. I shot pretty – I shot okay from the three,” he said. “It’s night and day from when I left Texas to now. My mechanics are a lot smoother. My makes are all net and my misses are landing a lot softer. I’ve improved a lot.”

The shot-blocking element separates Bamba from Portis, who improved his all-around game in his third season, and virtually anyone else on the roster. His seven-foot-nine wingspan is longer than Ayton’s, which aids in the observers’ view of Bamba’s shot blocking.

Even just as important as rim protection is Bamba’s defensive competence on the perimeter. Even though the NBA Finals feature the league’s most versatile defensive team in the Golden State Warriors, they’re no longer the lone special team in the way their bigs can track space against guards and hold their own in a switching league.

It’s not rare to see big men on an island, being expected to hang for at least a few steps before the help defense arrives.

“It’s improving. It’s getting better,” Bamba said. “I thought I demonstrated a lot of good spars at Texas, but I am doing it now at a pretty consistent level. Its just having that mentality of going out there and saying I am going to shut this dude down no matter how big or small he is.”

“They put me through a couple drills where I was first on a guard. I contested. I had to guard them for a little bit in late shot-clock situations. I think I’m going to surprise a lot of people with how much feel I have for the game. That will be something that a lot of people didn’t really get to see much of at Texas, but they’ll get to see it a lot more at the next level where there’s more space.”

Teams won’t get a chance to see him against other big men, as he’ll likely have individual workouts leading into the draft. But he believes this setting is more revealing for his basketball character, and it lessens the chance of a pre-draft injury.

“I’m real confident in where I stand with guys in the front offices of all the teams that I’m looking at,” he said.

If he’s around at seven, the Bulls’ selection will say a lot about how they feel about Bamba’s perception and his ability.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should Bulls use Lauri Markkanen as centerpiece of a trade to bring in a superstar?


SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should Bulls use Lauri Markkanen as centerpiece of a trade to bring in a superstar?

On this episode of SportsTalk Live, Hub Arkush (670 The Score/Pro Football Weekly), Danny Parkins (670 The Score) and Lauren Comitor (The Athletic) join David Kaplan on the panel.

Manny Machado Mania continues in Chicago. Do the Cubs even need to trade for him to win the World Series this year?

Ricky Renteria has to bench another player for not hustling. Is this becoming a problem on the South Side?

Plus, Lauri Markkanen is named to the All-Rookie team. Could he be the centerpiece of a trade if the Bulls want to acquire a superstar or move up in the draft? 

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below: