Wendell Carter

As Bulls continue to evaluate Kris Dunn, it's becoming clear they need an upgrade

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USA TODAY

As Bulls continue to evaluate Kris Dunn, it's becoming clear they need an upgrade

The Bulls had two glaring positional needs when Year 2 of their rebuild began.

Small forward had been a revolving door since the team traded Jimmy Butler, initiating the rebuild in the first place. It was first thought that Jabari Parker might have been able to fill in that role, but that proved to be a square peg in a round hole. Justin Holiday had a solid run early in the season long enough for the Bulls to flip him for two second-round picks, and rookie Chandler Hutchison showed some promise before a broken toe sidelined him.

But the Bulls cemented the small forward position on Wednesday when they acquired Otto Porter Jr. They’ll pay upwards of $56 million to the 25-year-old the following two seasons but that’s the price for a two-way forward who has been one of the league’s best shooters the previous two seasons.

VP of basketball operations John Paxson said during his and Gar Forman’s 26-minute press conference on Thursday that the Bulls feel confident in four positions with Porter at small forward, Zach LaVine at shooting guard and Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. in the frontcourt. But what about point guard, that second glaring need?

“We still are evaluating Kris Dunn and the rest of this year, for the good or the bad, is letting Kris Dunn play, get experience and keep trying to become the player that he wants to become,” Paxson said. “It’s all about the decisions we’re going to make going forward and what happens the last 27-28 games.”

The Bulls may still be in the evaluation phase, but unless Dunn has a revelation it’s becoming increasingly clear that the Bulls are still in need of a point guard.

That’s not to say Dunn doesn’t have value. First of all he’s under contract in the final year of his rookie deal next season, so this isn’t a matter of whether he’ll be here in 2019-20 or not. And he’s still a plus defender and a high energy player. All teams need that, just not in the starting lineup at 30 minutes per game. His raw numbers aren't awful - 12.2 points, 6.3 assists, 1.5 steals - but still leaves plenty to be desired for a guy playing 30+ minutes a night with no real backup behind him.

And some of Dunn’s deeper offensive numbers are seriously troubling. He’s on pace to become the first point guard since Rajon Rondo in 2011 to average 30+ minutes and fewer than 2 free throw attempts and 3-point attempts; and that season Rondo was second in the NBA in assists per game and shot 48 percent for a 56-win Celtics team. Dunn isn’t Rondo.

Nitpicking further, the last player to average 30+ minutes and fewer than Dunn’s 1.8 3-point attempts and 1.7 free throw attempts was Toronto’s Alvin Williams in 2004. Just 40.5 percent of Dunn’s attempts are coming within 3 feet or from beyond the 3-point arc. That’s a woefully small number, and Dunn’s midrange game isn’t what it was earlier in the season.

This has been a troubling trend for Dunn his entire three-year career. He isn’t a 3-point threat and doesn’t get to the free throw line. The Bulls don’t exactly have the Warriors shooters around him, but adding Porter now gives Dunn three legitimate 3-point shooters (LaVine, Porter, Markkanen). This is essentially his last shot to prove he can be a positive distributor since he isn’t bringing much in the scoring department.

“The point guard position is a critical position. It’s a tough one to play. You have to be a leader. You have to be a distributor. You have to be a scorer,” Paxson said. “That’s what the position requires. It will be interesting to see now as we’ve added another legitimate wing in Otto how Kris handles that role with scorers. And we’re excited about that. We’ll see.”

The Bulls have reportedly been linked to veterans like Ricky Rubio and Darren Collison, and a player like Mike Conley could be available for trade this offseason. The Bulls have scouted Murray State point guard Ja Morant multiple times and he could certainly be an option if the Bulls pick in the top-3 and don’t win the Zion Sweepstakes.

Whoever it is – and it certainly could still be Dunn – Paxson is clearly making it clear that the Bulls value the position. On top of that, it’s the one area they still have a glaring weakness.

It was telling that Paxson didn’t include Dunn, part of the Jimmy Butler trade less than two seasons ago, when discussing the core of the team.

Lauri Markkanen has finally made his sophomore jump over the last two weeks. Zach LaVine has proven to be well worth the $78 million investment the Bulls made in him in July. Wendell Carter Jr. performed admirably as a 19-year-old center thrust into the starting lineup. And Otto Porter has proven to be one of the league’s better shooters.

Dunn hasn’t made that jump, or shown any improvement really, and it’s on Paxson to identify where the Bulls can improve as they inch closer to contention in the next year or two.

“We’ve said all along that this process is about learning who fits, who doesn’t. We still like Kris a lot. I mean, he’s had some ups and downs this year in terms of his consistency. And that’s always a challenge for players,” Paxson said.

“Being consistently efficient in your game, at all positions but especially the point guard position, is something that all teams value, and we’re still taking a long look at Kris. But we like him. He’s been competitive. He can still defend. And he’s playing hard. So we’re going to keep evaluating him.”

Report: Bulls will listen to trade offers on anyone other than Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr.

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Report: Bulls will listen to trade offers on anyone other than Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr.

With the February 7 NBA trade deadline fast approaching, essentially all 30 teams in the league are looking for ways to improve their team for the stretch run, and for much further out as well. The Bulls have been active on the market, acquiring Wayne Selden, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, while collecting a decent amount of cash considerations. But with veteran center Robin Lopez still hoping to play for a winning team and Jabari Parker simply hoping to play (more), it is unlikely the Bulls are done on the trade market just yet.

And according to ESPN’s Zach Lowe, there could--and a very, very big could--be much bigger trade discussions on the way.

In a report filed by Lowe on Friday he states the Bulls first and obvious goal of selling their veterans. But then, Lowe added this bombshell (“LoweBomb”?):

The Bulls will listen on offers for anyone other than Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr., sources say -- and that includes Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine.


Lowe did however go on to state that the Bulls--who historically has valued their young players very highly--would likely ask for “a ton” in any deals for LaVine or Dunn.

There is no reason for the Bulls to move on from either player at this time.

LaVine--one of 13 players in the league to average 22 PPG, 4 RPG, 4 APG--likely would’ve been the All-Star replacement for the injured Victor Oladipo had the Bulls had anything near a winning record. On top of that, he is in the first year of his fresh 4-year, $78 million contract that isn’t anywhere near a “bad contract” at this stage of LaVine’s development.

Dunn’s place on the team is a little bit more up in the air long-term due to his inconsistent play and lack of significant progress on his 3-point jumper. But that being said, Dunn is still in just his second season with the Chicago after last year’s abbreviated season. And though he isn’t locked up long-term, Dunn is still on a rookie deal that gives the Bulls tons of flexibility if they want to re-sign him down the road.

Following the massive Kristaps Porzingis-Dennis Smith trade that featured seven total players getting dealt, there is now a new standard for trades that feature rebuilding franchises swapping young talent.

The Mavericks showed that the path to acquiring high-ceiling youngsters is taking back big contracts, and the Bulls would have room to do just that if they were able to first move the salaries of Lopez and Parker.

Even if trade talks involving the likes of LaVine, Dunn and others don’t go anywhere, it is encouraging to hear that the franchise (reportedly) is exploring all manners of improving this roster as they finish up Year 2 of what has been a tough rebuilding progress so far.

Why despite owning valuable trade assets, the Bulls dealing for Anthony Davis is unlikely

Why despite owning valuable trade assets, the Bulls dealing for Anthony Davis is unlikely

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski dropped one of his biggest bombs to date on Monday morning when he reported that Pelicans All-Star Anthony Davis wants out of New Orleans. His agent Rich Paul reportedly told the Pelicans that Davis is requesting a trade and has no intention of re-signing with the team in 2020.

Davis, who is currently out with a finger injury, is averaging a career-high 29.3 points and 13.3 rebounds this season. He’s been named an All-Star in each of the last five seasons and has been an All-NBA First Team member three of the last four seasons. He’s one of the most valuable trade chips in the NBA at just 25 years old and will command a steep price for whichever team wants to deal for him.

Wojnarowski reported that Davis wants to play for a winner after suffering through five losing seasons and just one playoff series win in New Orleans.

Before getting into trade packages and which teams can offer the Pelicans the most, it’s important to understand this: the Pelicans are only trading Davis to a team that he will sign an extension with, because it’s an almost guarantee that no team is trading for Davis without a long-term commitment from the 25-year-old. Davis is eligible to sign a five-year, $240 million extension this summer.

This isn’t the Timberwolves trading for Jimmy Butler or the Thunder trading for Paul George or the Raptors trading for Kawhi Leonard. Given the assets that will be needed to acquire one of the game’s best players just about to enter his prime, it’s incredibly unlikely a franchise is going to package together their most valuable assets just to see Davis leave in free agency in the summer of 2020.

Because of that, the leader for Davis’ services right now has to be the Los Angeles Lakers. For starters, Davis wants to win and the Lakers employ LeBron James. Davis and James share an agent in Rich Paul, which makes the courtship even more likely. What’s more, the Lakers have been stockpiling young assets the last five seasons, and while none of them are can’t miss, home run prospects, they’re certainly good enough to entice New Orleans.

A combination of Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, Ivica Zubac and Brandon Ingram would be a starter in any deal, and the Lakers also have all future draft picks, for whatever that’s worth.

Next in line is the Celtics, a team that was hoping these trade discussions would stay dormant until the summer. That’s when Kyrie Irving can opt out of his contract and become a free agent. Both Irving and Davis signed their current contracts under the Rose Rule, named after Derrick Rose hat allows a player to make 30 percent of a team’s salary cap if he’s a two-time All-Star, two-time All-NBA player or an MVP. Teams are only allowed to have one “Rose Rule” contract, meaning Irving and Davis can’t play for the same team this season. Put a different way: any deal between the Celtics and Pelicans before July 1 would need to include Irving, and that seems highly unlikely to happen.

If the Pelicans do stand their ground and wait until the offseason, Boston’s surplus of young assets would be enticing. Jayson Tatum has future All-Star written all over him, while Jaylen Brown, Terry Rozier and, to a lesser degree, Robert Williams and Semi Ojeleye are potential pieces.

The real kicker is Boston’s embarrassment of draft picks: the Celtics have three first round picks in the 2019 NBA Draft (their own, Sacramento’s and the Clippers’) and a future first round pick from Memphis that is top-8 protected this year, top-6 protected in 2020 and unprotected in 2021. With the Grizzlies about to enter a rebuild that pick could be among the highest in 2021, when high-school prospects may be able to bypass college and enter the league, creating a Super-Draft.

Then there’s the Bulls. Any deal for Davis begins with Lauri Markkanen, by far the Bulls’ best asset. Beyond him, their 2019 draft pick could yield a franchise-changing player in Zion Williamson or R.J. Barrett. That’s why the Bulls should also be hoping that no deal gets done before the Feb. 7 trade deadline; the Bulls’ offer gets substantially better on May 14 when the Draft Lottery occurs (or worse if the ping pong balls bounce the wrong way).

Beyond that, Wendell Carter Jr., Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn are also potential pieces to include in the deal. The Pelicans could have their choice of going super young with Carter included in the deal, or taking a more sure bet in LaVine to pair with Jrue Holiday in the backcourt. Dunn has had his struggles in Chicago but is still three years removed from being a top-5 pick. Either way, they’re the smaller pieces of a potential deal after Markkanen and the 2019 first-round pick.

But remember that small caveat? That Davis is only going to sign an extension with a team he feels he can win a title? That could be a real issue. Aside from the fact that Davis reportedly has no desire to play in Chicago, whatever package the Bulls put together is going to decimate their roster. They’ve won 11 games this season and just finished off a week in which they lost to the Hawks and Cavaliers at home.

Yes, they have intriguing young pieces who could form a nice core. But their supporting cast is one of the weakest and shallowest in the league; dealing for Davis while including a combination of Markkanen, Carter and LaVine (plus the 2019 first round pick) guts the Bulls roster. It turns them into the current Pelicans team, middling below .500, lost without Davis in the lineup and going nowhere fast. There’s little reason for Davis to believe the Bulls would be capable of building the same kind of winner he’d find in L.A. with LeBron or in Boston with a perennial winner and one of the game’s best head coach.

Because of all that, despite what the Bulls could potentially offer in a deal, it’s unlikely it happens. There’s always a chance that John Paxson and Gar Forman decide to roll the dice and deal for Davis without the guarantee that he re-signs.

But even that feels a little too far-fetched, especially after they watched that same strategy backfire from the other side of the fence two years ago with the Timberwolves and Jimmy Butler. The assets needed to deal for Davis would be even larger, meaning the loss would be even greater if the Chicago native walked and the Bulls were forced to sell for fewer cents on the dollar than they acquired him for.