Nikola Mirotic

NBA Buzz: Former Bulls will be a big part of 2019 free agency madness

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USA TODAY

NBA Buzz: Former Bulls will be a big part of 2019 free agency madness

With over half of the league’s players heading into free agency come July 1, it’s not surprising to hear a number of ex-Bulls will be waiting to see what they’re worth on the open market.

Let’s start with the biggest name, four-time All-Star Jimmy Butler, who will be looking for a max contract, preferably a five-year offer from his current team, the Philadelphia 76ers.

Problem is, Butler will turn 30 before the 2019-20 season begins with a lot of mileage on his body playing for Tom Thibodeau in both Chicago and Minnesota. Watching him play for the 76ers lately, it appears Butler is now the fourth option in the offense behind Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and newly-acquired Tobias Harris.

Butler is averaging 13.7 field goal attempts with Philadelphia, the lowest total since his third season with the Bulls in 2013-14. He often goes for long stretches without being a primary option in half-court sets. Will Butler be happy to continue taking a back seat to three other players in Philly for the rest of his career? That will be one of the interesting story lines around the league this summer.

Sixers’ general manager Elton Brand, the former Bulls’ Rookie of the Year, told reporters after completing the Harris trade with the Clippers that he hopes to sign both Harris and Butler to long-term contracts this summer. But Harris is younger (26) and is enjoying his best season, while committing five years to Butler would take him through his age 34 season.

Ultimately, how the 76ers fare in the upcoming playoffs could play a big part in helping Brand decide whether to offer max contracts to both Butler and Harris. Don’t forget Simmons is also eligible to an extension of his rookie deal. It’s very possible the 76ers will have to make a hard choice on which free agent they want to invest in.

We know Butler spends a lot of time in California during the offseason, and both the Lakers and Clippers have cap space to offer max deals, as do the two New York teams, the Knicks and Nets. Is Jimmy still interested in partnering with Kyrie Irving? Would he be willing to be LeBron’s co-star with the Lakers? Safe to say Butler will be a big part of the free agency intrigue come July 1.

So will his former backcourt mate with the Bulls, Derrick Rose. After rejuvenating his career with a tremendous season as a sixth man for the Timberwolves, Rose hits the open market again after playing on veteran’s minimum contracts the last two seasons.

What is Rose worth on the open market after averaging 18 points and 4.5 assists in his age 30 season? Given the fact Eric Bledsoe just signed a four-year, $70 million extension in Milwaukee, you would have to think Rose will be looking for at least a $10 million average on a multi-year deal. He could stay with the Timberwolves, but after outplaying starter Jeff Teague all season, it’s hard to imagine Rose would be comfortable taking another smaller contract with Teague staring at a $19 million player option.

The Bulls are in the market for a veteran point guard to either compete with Kris Dunn or mentor a young draft pick like Ja Morant or Darius Garland, and the door appears to be open to a Rose return on both sides. But given Rose’s injury history and drama-filled first run with the Bulls, the front office might decide to go a safer route in looking for a veteran point guard.

Rose could seek a bigger contract with a team in need of a starting point guard like the Magic or Suns, or he could try to find a back-up role with a legitimate championship contender. Still, don’t be surprised if you hear reports of Rose being interested in coming back to the Bulls this summer.

Former Bulls big men Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, Niko Mirotic and Pau Gasol all hit free agency this summer. Gasol is near the end of the line at age 38, and will probably stay in Milwaukee if the Bucks are interested in keeping him around next season.

Similar story for Noah, who has played well in a reserve role for Memphis. Noah just turned 34 and worked hard during the offseason to get his body ready to compete again. The former NBA Defensive Player of the Year is beloved in Chicago, and if the Bulls decide they can’t afford to bring back Robin Lopez, it’s possible they could ask Noah if he’s interested in a mentor role with one of the league’s youngest teams.

Actually, Taj Gibson might be a better option as a veteran backup big. Gibson is quietly having another solid season in Minneapolis, averaging 10.7 points and 6.6 rebounds while shooting .567 from the field. Gibson’s lack of 3-point range will probably limit the interest he receives on the open market since he turns 34 in June, but the Bulls need a backup for Lauri Markkanen and bringing Taj back on a team-friendly two-year deal can’t be counted out.

Mirotic will also be a free agent, but I don’t think the Bulls will show any serious interest. Mirotic has been saddled with a backup role everywhere he’s been, and he’ll be looking for more minutes and a long-term contract at around $15 million per season. The Bulls weren’t going to pay Bobby Portis that kind of money to be a backup, and they won’t offer that to Mirotic either. Still, as the prototypical “stretch four” that teams covet, Niko should find plenty of interest this summer.

Veteran swingman Justin Holiday will also be an unrestricted free agent this summer, but he could be looking at a contract similar to the $4.4 million he made this season after struggling with his shooting after the trade to Memphis in January. The Bulls are set at the small forward spot, so don’t look for a third tour of duty in Chicago for Holiday.

Around the Association

According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Lakers have decided to put contract talks with Carmelo Anthony on hold while they wait to see if they’re still viable playoff contenders in the West. The Lakers stumbled out of the All-Star break with bad losses to the Pelicans, Grizzlies and Suns and it’s looking more and more like LeBron James will miss the playoffs for the first time since the 2004-05 season.

All kinds of speculation on who will replace Luke Walton on the bench as soon as the season ends, but you can be sure James and his agent Rich Paul will have a big say in what changes are made this summer. The Lakers will try to re-engage the Pelicans on a possible Anthony Davis trade, and they do have cap space to add an elite free agent, but recruiting players to join one of the league’s glamour franchises hasn’t been easy for most of the last decade.

Magic Johnson and GM Rob Pelinka will have their work cut out for them convincing free agents the Lakers can be title contenders, even with King James on the roster.

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Yahoo Sports is reporting the Golden State Warriors plan to sign veteran free agent center Andrew Bogut, now that he’s finished his season in Australia. The Warriors had been waiting to see what developed with Bulls’ big man Robin Lopez, but neither Lopez nor the Bulls were interested in pursuing a buyout.

Lopez is hoping to stay in Chicago after this season, but as mentioned earlier, the fact that seldom used backup Cristiano Felicio makes $8 million per season will probably end any chance the Bulls have at negotiating a team-friendly contract with RoLo. It’s hard to project the Bulls paying Lopez somewhere around $10 million to play 15-18 minutes a night behind Wendell Carter Jr.

As for Bogut, he was a part of the Warriors’ 2015 championship team and is popular with the coaching staff and some of the key players. He won’t be asked to play significant minutes for Golden State with DeMarcus Cousins, Kevon Looney and Jordan Bell already on the roster. Basically, it’s just a low risk insurance policy as the Warriors get ready to compete for a third straight NBA title, and their fourth in the last five seasons.

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Former Bulls in the playoffs: Kyle Korver gets hot as LeBron, Cavs top Raptors

Former Bulls in the playoffs: Kyle Korver gets hot as LeBron, Cavs top Raptors

Just about the only difference between the Kyle Korver who Bulls fans remember and the one playing in Toronto last night was that he didn't come off the bench.

Korver, a member of the original Bench Mob in Chicago in 2011, was one of the supporting cast members who picked up LeBron James and Kevin Love in Tuesday's Game 1 win over the Raptors in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

The 37-year-old finished with 19 points, including five 3-pointers, and was a key cog in the third quarter as the Cavaliers tried to keep things close against the top-seeded Raptors.

Korver hit a pair of long jumpers with his foot on the 3-point line to get it going, and later in the period hit back-to-back 3-pointers to keep the Cavaliers afloat after Toronto had pushed its lead to 10 points.

Korver didn't score in the fourth quarter but was clutch in overtime, hitting a 3-pointer to get the extra period started that gave the Cavs the lead for good.

The 19 points were necessary on a night when James and Kevin Love combined to go 15 of 43. Korver has one distinct role on the Cavaliers: be shot-ready as soon as a James drive-and-kick finds him. In Game 1 he was 7 of 17 from the field with five 3-pointers, and both 2-pointers were jumpers.

He's been streaky in the postseason but did come up clutch in Round 1 against the Pacers. He scored 18 points in Game 4 to help the Cavs even up the series, and then the Cavs took a 3-2 series lead in Game 5 behind, in part, Korver's 19 points. He was held scoreless in Game 1 and 3 losses and had 6 and 3 points in Games 6 and 7 against the Pacers, so Ty Lue and the Cavs will have to hope his streaky shooting stays hot if they intend to knock off Raptors and advance to the conference finals.

Rajon Rondo: The Pelicans now trail the Warriors 2-0 in their best of seven series, but not because of Rondo. #PlayoffRondo was at it again with 22 points, seven rebounds, 12 assists and five steals in Game 2. He did commit seven turnovers but was otherwise great, even connecting on three 3-pointers and making all three of his free throws. Stopping the Warriors offense is another discussion, but Rondo is still putting up massive lines for the Pellies. Rondo was actually a +2 in the five-point loss.

Nikola Mirotic: A bounce-back performance for Threekola, who finished with 18 points and nine rebounds in the Game 2 loss.

Bulls in the playoffs: Nikola Mirotic can't miss and the Pelicans are up 3-0

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Bulls in the playoffs: Nikola Mirotic can't miss and the Pelicans are up 3-0

When the Bulls traded Nikola Mirotic to the Pelicans on Feb. 1, the consensus belief was that the deal was a win-win for both sides.

That still may be true, but the way Mirotic has played the last two weeks has made invaluable to the Pelicans, who hold a commanding 3-0 lead on the Blazers following Thursday night's blowout win.

Mirotic was back at it again, scoring a playoff career-high 30 points on 12 of 15 shooting, making 4 of 6 3-poiners, and added eight rebounds, three steals and a block. Oh, and he did all this in 30 minutes.

Mirotic has been great in three games against the third-seeded Blazers, averaging 21.0 points, 9.0 rebounds, 1.7 steals and 2.3 blocks while shooting a ridiculous .585/.478/1.000.

But it's really been a two-week tear for Mirotic during the Pelicans' eight-game winning streak going back to the final 10 days of the regular season.

In those eight games Mirotic has averaged 24.0 points, 10.9 rebounds, 1.4 blocks, 1.4 steals and has shot 57 percent from the field.

The Bulls are happy to have the 22nd overall pick in June's draft, but at this rate would they rather have Mirotic still in the fold? He seems to have turned the corner. Remarkable stuff. At the very least, it's easy to root for him.

Rajon Rondo, Pelicans: #PlayoffRondo, who we featured two days ago, was also back at it in Game 3, going for 16 points on 7 of 12 shooting, five rebounds and 11 more assists. He now has a league-high 37 assists in three games against the Blazers and has played excellent defense on that dangerous Blazers backcourt. He's also shooting 50 percent from the field. This is incredible stuff.

Marco Belinelli, Sixers: More remarkable stuff from a player who was an afterthought until about a month ago. Belinelli, who played 52 games with the Hawks before his release, has exploded in the postseason with Philadelphia. He scored 21 points on 7 of 13 shooting and hit four more 3-pointers, giving him 10 in the series. The Sixers are up 2-1 thanks in large part to Belinelli's 20.7 points and 1.7 steals. He remains a key cog off the bench.