Pat Riley

As Bulls near tipoff, is there method to Jim Boylen's alleged madness?

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USA Today

As Bulls near tipoff, is there method to Jim Boylen's alleged madness?

The Bulls took Monday off. On Tuesday, Jim Boylen will ask his players to vote for team captains.

These events aren’t unrelated.

Boylen has said many times he wants a player-coached team. And while there’s still no word on whether this season’s team will feature a leadership committee, this week’s events won’t draw the loud headlines which that oft-mocked practice of Boylen’s did last season.

But perhaps they should.

Monday’s day off follows Boylen’s Sunday disclosure that he, management and Otto Porter Jr.’s camp are in positive communication regarding possible load management for the crucial veteran. And is now the time to mention the Bulls also took last Friday off?

What happened to the alleged, old school disciplinarian who sprinkled push-ups and wind sprints into lengthy practices when he first took over for Fred Hoiberg last season? Boylen is about accountability and doing what he thinks is right.

Now that the roster is more fully populated with players who believe similarly, he can balance competitiveness with common sense.

This isn’t solely about the arrivals of no-nonsense pros like Tomas Satoransky, Thaddeus Young and Luke Kornet or the youthful exuberance of Coby White and Daniel Gafford. It also isn’t to say Boylen has gone soft.

Players have consistently talked about how hard they go when then do practice. After Saturday’s lengthy and spirited session, Young exhaled with a smile as he walked off the court and over to address reporters.

What it is to say is that Boylen clearly spelled out his plan last December.

“There’s been a little shock and awe here in the last seven days,” Boylen said then, in one of many quotes which, without full context, could be easily mocked. “And there’s an adjustment to that.”

There’s no denying that Dec. 9, 2018, represented a significant news story. A day that started with a group text exchange with players talking other players out of boycotting practice and continued with several hours of team meetings is nothing but that.

But as the team traveled to Mexico City for NBA Global Games and an eventual loss to the Orlando Magic, the outside perception of the mood of the Bulls didn’t fully square with the reality. Players as varied as veteran Robin Lopez and second-year forward Lauri Markkanen backed Boylen.

And by season’s end, Zach LaVine offered to pay Boylen’s fines for his ejection for a dust-up with Clippers coach Doc Rivers in Los Angeles.

Boylen’s care factor for his players played out with him visiting them in various locales throughout the offseason. That included trips to Europe for Markkanen and Satoransky and a visit to the Bahamas with LaVine.

“We’ve had a tough camp,” LaVine said recently. “But you can see how much guys care for each other. The coaches have been doing a good job of putting us in the best positions to succeed.”

At the onset of voluntary September workouts, Boylen passed out T-shirts to all players that read: “Extreme Ownership: Conditioning. Communicating. Competing.” The phrase is now emblazoned on the padding for each basket stanchion at Advocate Center. He also awarded the winner of that month’s 1-on-1 tournament with a wrestling-style championship belt.

Some of Boylen’s methods or words may seem cornball and easily mocked. He unapologetically talks about spirit and playing hard to represent the franchise and spirit, stuff that doesn’t fly for everyone who follows pro sports.

But this training camp, the Heat suspended James Johnson for failing to meet conditioning requirements and Dion Waiters for conduct detrimental to the team. Nobody called Pat Riley old school.

This isn’t to equate Boylen with Riley, one of the most decorated coaches and executives in league history. It’s to say, like Riley, Boylen believes in what’s right and what’s wrong.

Boylen also had conditioning requirements for all Bulls to begin training camp. Each player passed.

The Bulls will be back to work Tuesday. Inevitably, this season will feature bumps in the road, adversity or controversy that will create more headlines. Most any pro sports season does.

Boylen won’t change his belief system then and hasn’t now. It’s just the trust factor between him and his players has grown.

The 3 trades involving Jabari Parker that make the most sense for the Bulls

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USA TODAY

The 3 trades involving Jabari Parker that make the most sense for the Bulls

On the heels of Thursday’s report by ESPN’s Malika Andrews that the Bulls are taking Jabari Parker out of the rotation that caused most of us (especially Horace Grant) to react in disbelief, the Tribune’s KC Johnson reported Friday that the Bulls are actively engaged in trade talks involving the former Simeon star.

Parker’s $20 million in salary this season makes it difficult for the Bulls to trade him. League rules state that a team trading for Parker would have to either absorb that salary into cap space or send back salary that closely matches what Parker is owed. Basically, the Bulls need to take on a salary of $16 million or greater if they trade just Parker away to a team over the cap. It gets more complicated if you try to package a deal involving multiple teams or other players like Justin Holiday.

With that said, here are my top 3 trades (and one wild one) that make the most sense for the Bulls.

Trade 1: Bulls trade Parker to the Knicks for Courtney Lee, Lance Thomas, and the Knicks 2019 1st round pick (top 8 protected).

Positives

The Bulls get a good asset in the Knicks 1st rounder and the Knicks clear Lee’s salary off the books to help in their pursuit of Kevin Durant. We know the Knicks desperately want to land a superstar next summer and Lee is owed $12.8 million in 2019-20. Thomas is a solid defensive player who can play small forward but he’s currently dealing with a knee injury that has sidelined him since early November. Thomas is essentially playing on an expiring deal with a non-guarantee for next season.

Negatives

Lee is under contract through the 2019-20 season and is owed $12.8 million next season. That money will eat directly into the Bulls cap space but it also gives them an expiring deal heading into Anthony Davis’ free agency summer.

Trade 2: Bulls trade Parker to the Heat for Tyler Johnson and the Heat 2019 1st round pick (top 8 protected)

Positives

Like New York, Pat Riley and Miami would love to clear more cap space to land a star next summer. Johnson has a player option of $19.2 million for next season that he almost certainly will pick up.  This move alone won’t clear enough space for the Heat to land a max player, but it puts them on the right path. Johnson can play either guard position and would serve as a solid backup for Dunn.

Negatives

Just like with the Knicks potential trade, the Bulls would take on salary for next season. Again, this isn’t the worst idea. If the Bulls feel they will be unable to attract a max free agent next summer, Johnson still gives you flexibility for the summer of 2020.

Trade 3: Bulls trade Parker to the Hawks for Kent Bazemore and the Hawks 2019 1st round pick (top 8 protected)

Positives

Let’s be honest, they won’t be getting the Hawks pick next summer. Like the Bulls, the Hawks are almost a lock to be drafting in the top 5, but they could end up getting a lottery pick from the Hawks in 2020 or 2021 when the protections lessen. Bazemore, who has a player option of $19.3 million for next season, is a very good defensive player. Although he’s struggled with his perimeter shot this year, the Bulls could insert him into the starting lineup immediately. This move would also give the Hawks close to $70 million in cap space next July.

Negatives

The Bulls won’t be seeing the Hawks 1st round pick for at least one more season. They’re also taking on Bazemore’s salary for the 2019-20 season.

The common theme with the three trades above is that the Bulls get an asset while taking on more salary. This is the right move to make for an organization that’s rebuilding and that is unlikely to contend for a star player next July. Of course, all three of these trades carry some risk, but they are much safer than the ‘let’s get nuts’ trade I would consider.

The Wild One: Bulls trade Jabari Parker and Cristiano Felicio to the Wizards for Otto Porter

Positives

The Bulls find a home for Felicio and his contract that pays a back-end-of-the-bench player an average of $8 million a year over the next three years.The Bulls also get a player in Porter that fits perfectly with this roster. He’s a 3-and-D small forward that’s only 25 years old. He fills a huge position of need for the Bulls and he’s under contract through the 2019-20 season with a player option for 2020-21. This will allow him to grow with the already excellent young core of LaVine, Markkanen and Carter Jr.

Negative

Yeah, about that contract.

Porter is owed an average of $27.2 million over the next three years. That is A LOT of money for a player averaging 10.7 points per game in his career. There is no question he is one of the most overpaid players in the league, but his contract also expires the same summer a certain superstar in Milwaukee is due to hit free agency. However, free agency has long been thought of as ‘fool's gold’ when it comes to building a championship team. Why not trade for a solid player like Porter that you can build around?

State of the Bulls: Stacked 2018 draft class

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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.