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Chicago Bulls 2018-19 NBA Season Preview

The Chicago Bulls had a solid off-season, but have they done enough to get into the post-season? Basketball Insiders takes a deep dive into the Chicago Bulls in this 2018-19 NBA Season Preview.

Basketball Insiders

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Moving on from the Jimmy Butler era, the Bulls embarked on a new journey with a trio of pieces to build around. The 2017 draft night trade was seen as a steal for the Minnesota Timberwolves, but we found out that might not be the case.

Chicago has something to be excited about when it comes to the future of its franchise. With a healthy roster, one big signing and a couple of first-round draft picks entering the picture, the Bulls are aiming to prove they’re not a bottom dweller.

It may take some time for them to get to the level they desire, but there’s plenty to watch for in the Windy City in the upcoming season.

FIVE GUYS THINK…

With Zach LaVine signing his brand-new contract and hometown hero Jabari Parker coming to the Windy City for the foreseeable future, the Bulls have more talent than they had all of last year. But Lauri Markkanen was fantastic and Kris Dunn proved that it was way too early to call him a bust. Looking forward, rookie big man Wendell Carter Jr. made his presence felt during summer league and will look to continue that momentum into his first NBA season. Fred Hoiberg will have a better team on the floor, but the Central still has too much competition to offer.

5th Place – Central Division

– Spencer Davies

The Chicago Bulls made some bold moves this offseason, including matching the Sacramento Kings’ offer sheet for Zach LaVine and signing Jabari Parker to a two-year, $40 million contract (team option on the second year). I think there’s a good chance that in a few years the Bulls will regret matching the offer sheet for LaVine but I understand the thinking behind investing in a talented and athletic guard. I like the deal for Parker considering there’s little risk involved as Chicago holds a team option on the second year of the deal. Parker is better at power forward but he could be an answer at small forward for Chicago, which the team desperately needs. The best move of the offseason, however, was selecting Wendell Carter Jr. with the seventh pick in this year’s draft. Carter Jr. put on a show at the Las Vegas Summer League and looks to be a foundational player for the Bulls moving forward.

5th Place – Central Division

– Jesse Blancarte

This is looking more and more like the team Fred Hoiberg has wanted since he took over as Head Coach of the Bulls. Their players are better shooters and have more energy than in years past, which fits what Hoiberg has always had in mind. That doesn’t mean the Bulls will be good, necessarily. Rather, they could be one of the young teams that’s more fun to watch. As youthful as they are, the Bulls’ lack of defensive personnel should hold them back from making the playoffs, which is to be expected from a rebuilding team.

5th Place – Central Division

– Matt John

Are the outlines of a true core finally emerging for the Bulls? It certainly seems that way after a mostly productive summer. They’ll bring back Lauri Markkanen after a strong rookie campaign, plus other young pieces in Kris Dunn and Bobby Portis. They’ll also be holding onto Zach LaVine after matching a big restricted offer from Sacramento for him. Finally, they drafted Wendell Carter Jr. in the lottery, a player many believe could be a sneaky Rookie of the Year pick, then nabbed Jabari Parker after Milwaukee clearly signaled he wasn’t part of their future plans. Will any of this translate into a significant on-court improvement? Well…maybe, but certainly not enough to challenge for a playoff spot. The Bulls could push for 30 wins if everything breaks right, but the real priority should be seeing how those pieces work together over as large a sample as possible. Enough emphasis there could allow Chicago to make a few moves here or there to plug holes if certain pieces don’t work; too much messing around could see them stuck with guys a couple years down the line once their value has fallen too far to move.

5th Place – Central Division

-Ben Dowsett

The Chicago Bulls could be the sneaky play in the East to make the post-season. With Jabari Parker and Zach LaVine healthy, and the young bigs the Bulls have in Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr., the Bulls look to be formidable. The two big questions for the Bulls are, can it all come together under Fred Hoiberg and which version of Kris Dunn will show up to camp? Dunn was a dud in Minnesota as a rookie and a stud in Chicago as a sophomore. If Dunn can pick up where he left off the Bulls might have enough to not only win some games, but sneak into the playoff discussion in an Eastern Conference that flattens out pretty fast in the four through eight seeds.

3rd Place – Central Division

– Steve Kyler

Top Of The List

Top Offensive Player: Lauri Markkanen

When the Bulls needed to score the basketball, they looked for Markkanen to carry the load, and most nights he answered the bell. The Finnish 7-footer started the second-highest number of games on the team (68) and was one of the most durable players on the roster.

He displayed an innate ability to not only shoot the basketball, but also have the versatility to put the ball on the floor and attack the rim with force. Markannen’s accolades from his debut season include joining Dirk Nowitzki as the only other 7-footer to make eight threes in a NBA game, passing Hanno Mottola to become his country’s all-time scoring leader in the association and setting a new record as the fastest rookie to reach 100 made threes in league history.

This offseason, Markkanen has reportedly put on 14 pounds and is looking bulkier. He should be in store for another solid year of work, especially with the better talent surrounding him.

Top Defensive Player: Wendell Carter Jr.

Is it premature to say a rookie is the best defensive player on a professional team? Maybe. But based on what Carter showed off in summer league and at the collegiate level – combined with how awful Chicago was on that end last season – it isn’t far off.

At Duke, Carter averaged over two blocks in about 27 minutes per game and three blocks per 40 minutes. In Las Vegas, he had two games where he recorded at least four swats. The competition isn’t what it is at the true NBA level there, but the timing and defensive principles he had are absolutely an indicator of what he’ll bring.

Seeing how he’ll fit with Markannen will be interesting (who plays what position?), but regardless, it’s not a bad problem for Fred Hoiberg to have.

Top Playmaker: Denzel Valentine

Valentine’s sophomore season saw him make a huge jump in playing time. He went from 17 minutes per game to 27 minutes per game and was depended on for the majority of the year. With the Bulls having lost Jimmy Butler, he had a huge role to fill as a swingman.

While his individual defense can definitely use work, Valentine’s willingness to get everybody involved is purely natural. His decision making is certainly a strength and he doesn’t take too many shots unless Chicago is in a scoring funk.

Year three is usually when players really take the big step in their careers. Keep an eye on Valentine and his potential progression, especially with fresh faces joining him on the floor.

Top Clutch Player: Kris Dunn

In one November win and a memorable early winter stretch, Dunn delivered when it mattered the most. He was a go-to guy for Hoiberg and the Bulls in key moments. Chicago went 10-6 in December and he was a big reason why.

It started against the New York Knicks on Dec. 9, where Dunn won the game with two free throws after drawing a foul on a drive in a tie game late. He did it to them again weeks later with a beautiful upcourt pass to Markannen for a go-ahead bucket on a dunk. The third time was the charm on Jan. 10, when he floated a contested teardrop off the glass for the lead with less than a minute to go in the second overtime.

On Dec. 13, Dunn hit a step back, between-the-legs jumper over Alec Burks to put the Bulls up four and seal a win against the Utah Jazz. Taking on the Sixers five nights later, he hit a game-tying three in transition, another step back over Robert Covington and pulled off a drive-and-kick to a wide open Nikola Mitotic on the right elbow.

It’s a shame we didn’t see more down the stretch, as Dunn missed the last 14 games of the season with a toe injury. He also experienced a scary fall where his teeth were dislocated and he suffered a concussion to boot. If he stays healthy this season, though, we’re in for some big moments from the third-year guard.

The Unheralded Player: Justin Holiday

You can’t talk about Chicago’s 2017-18 season without mentioning the team’s ironman. Holiday receives little attention because he doesn’t put up gaudy numbers, but he is durable, talented and more than serviceable as a key rotational player in the NBA.

Holiday averaged over 30 minutes per game for the first time in his five-year career and took advantage of the chance he was given. His field goal percentage overall was poor, but he knocked down threes and gave the Bulls a sufficient second or third scoring option most nights he played.

He started 72 games and led the team in most appearances. That in itself should be appreciated. Holiday’s role will likely take a small hit this season with the new influx of talent, but don’t forget what he means to this team.

Best New Addition: Jabari Parker

It’s a brand new start for the former second overall pick, and what better way to do it than in his very own hometown? We know the talent Parker has offensively as a strong, attacking forward who can finish with the best of them when healthy. That is the question we all need answered, though: What is still left in the tank and can he stay on the floor?

Parker showed there’s plenty left during the final stretch of the Milwaukee Bucks’ season and short playoff appearance. While he didn’t shoot the ball well from three, he did just fine inside of the arc. Defensively, he will have work to do, but it makes sense that he’s had trouble with considering the injury history. It will also be an adjustment to manning the small forward position

Chicago isn’t really taking a risk signing him to a 2-year, $40 million deal since the second year of the contract is a team option. It may be a hefty salary this season, but if need be, that can be moved and treated as an expiring deal. It feels like a low-risk, high-reward type of situation.

– Spencer Davies

Who We Like

1. Zach LaVine

In the 24 games he played in coming off of a major knee injury, LaVine’s bounce was there. He was unafraid to take it to the basket with conviction and confident in his jump shot. There were signs of rust, of course, but that was to be expected due to the gruesome torn ACL he suffered on February 5, 2017. Expect LaVine to be a crucial piece to the puzzle this season.

2. Chandler Hutchison

The Bulls’ other first-round pick in the 2018 draft should not be overlooked. Hutchison’s primary skill is his ability to play both ends of the court. He is somebody who can open up the floor and is constantly trying to improve his three-point shot with each year, as he did in college at Boise State. His skillet is one that fits today’s game perfectly.

3. Bobby Portis

Chances are this season starts off a little smoother than last for Portis, which means Chicago will be much better off. Who knows how he’ll fit into rotations with the abundance of frontcourt players on the roster, but Hoiberg must find at least 20 minutes per game for the talented power forward, who made a big jump in production. He just might be the perfect sixth man big for this team.

4. Antonio Blakeney

Opportunity is knocking for Blakeney. As one of the beneficiaries of a two-way contract, he earned a regular multi-year NBA contract this summer. He is still being developed at only 21 years old, but he has the potential to break out as a volume scorer off the bench. He is quick and an aggressor, making him a candidate to ascend into a regular role for the Bulls.

– Spencer Davies

Strengths

Chicago is loaded with young talent. There might be difficulty finding minutes for all of these young players, but there is no question that they have plenty of potential. Think about the future of a frontcourt featuring Markkanen and Carter or a dynamic guard combination between Dunn and LaVine moving forward. There’s light at the end of the tunnel in the Windy City.

– Spencer Davies

Weaknesses

The Bulls have to get better on both ends of the floor. It’s as simple as that. While there were times where they found success, they ranked in the bottom four of the league in points per game and points allowed per game for a reason. There is no “one thing” that needs work. It’s a collective improvement that is needed. Oh, and staying healthy and at full strength for the majority of a season would be nice, too.

– Spencer Davies

The Burning Question

Can Fred Hoiberg win and develop players at the same time?

This is the toughest part about being a head coach in professional sports. There is a desire to rack up victories because people want to see progress, but that isn’t easy with a team that is still so young. Players have to make mistakes to learn and gain experience. Sometimes that will happen in key moments of games that prove to be costly and lead to a loss.

There will be times of adversity and times of success throughout the course of an 82-game NBA season. Hoiberg is going to have to figure out a way to fit all of these guys on the floor together with the right rotations. It might take a bit to find it out. The question is: How does the organization handle it as a whole?

– Spencer Davies

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NBA Daily: Finding Julius Randle A Permanent Home

Julius Randle will be highly sought-after this offseason following his career-year in New Orleans — but where might the talented power forward end up?

Ben Nadeau

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There will be no buried lede this time: Julius Randle is about to make some serious bank this summer.

And without hesitation, he certainly deserves it.

Randle’s road to this advantageous position has been anything but a straight line, first losing his entire rookie season to a broken leg before falling in-and-out of the Los Angeles Lakers’ rotation for the following three seasons. After the acquisition of LeBron James brought the signings of JaVale McGee, Lance Stephenson and Michael Beasley, the hulking forward had no choice but to bet on himself. Randle, 24, asked the Lakers to renounce his rights, wherein he signed a two-year deal worth $18 million with the New Orleans Pelicans.

At the time, it was reported that Randle turned down more lucrative offers to take New Orleans’ — now, he’s set to cash in on his slow burn approach.

See, that second year, wisely, came loaded with a player option. To Randle, he was willing to forgo the long-term security and pay for a re-do at free agency in 2019, should his on-court growth warrant such a decision. Evidently, that threshold has been met and more. In the power forward’s latest career-year rendition, he’s averaged 21 points, 8.7 rebounds, 3.1 assists on 52.3 percent from three-point range. All in all, Randle has improved in every successive season so far — but 2018-19 has quickly become his magnum opus.

Almost assuredly, Randle will opt out this offseason and sign the newer, bigger and better contract he’s rightfully earned.

While the Lakers certainly deserve scrutiny for their decision to focus on elsewhere — although the Nets’ D’Angelo Russell would like a word on that front too — this is not that piece. Instead, one of the other 29 teams is set to sign their forward of the future, benefiting immensely from Los Angeles’ ultimate impatience. Heading into July, the world may as well be Randle’s oyster — but where might his best fit be?

This, of course, is a messy exercise. There are a handful of franchises that either will be mostly capped out — Boston, Washington, Miami, Oklahoma City, etc — or don’t have a pressing need to add another power forward to the roster — Sacramento, Indiana, Chicago, Dallas, etc. In return, that leaves just about four perfect landing spots for Randle this summer.

Los Angeles Clippers

With the Clippers, their inclusion comes with the obvious whopping caveat: Should they strikeout during their foray into star-chasing free agency, adding Randle would be a more-than-acceptable pivot. As of late, Los Angeles has done a remarkable job of competing without a top-tier star in the crowded Western Conference, particularly so after Tobias Harris’ departure at the trade deadline. If Leonard, the Clippers’ reported main target in free agency, stays put in Toronto or is lured to the opposite locker room within the Staples Center, Randle is a budding option with All-Star potential. Randle would make the Clippers actively better without signing up for another season of wistfully dreaming of a big-time free agent.

In 2018-19, Los Angeles has scored 50.9 points in the paint per game, seventh-most in the NBA. One of the few teams ahead of them? Naturally, the Pelicans at 58.4 are the top dog in that realm and although Anthony Davis certainly boosts their average, Randle’s consistency has been a steady presence under the rim.

Most importantly, Randle would fill a long-term need on the roster. Future restricted free agent Ivica Zubac has remained promising since his arrival from the Lakers in February, but his sample size is still small, all things considered. While Patrick Beverley and Danilo Gallinari have performed dutifully, they’ll both be free agents and on the wrong side of 30 in 2020. Of note, Los Angeles’ most coveted assets — other than that unprotected 2021 HEAT pick — are all guards: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Jerome Robinson and Landry Shamet.

Tossing Randle into that mix, especially next to the defensive-minded Harrell, would make for a mobile yin-and-yang pairing down low. Then flanked by those aforementioned young sharpshooters and you’ve got a future worth getting excited about, even without a superstar signing.

Utah Jazz

Heading into April, Utah appears to be flying under the radar once again — and that’s for a few reasons. The Jazz will reach the postseason for a third consecutive season, they’ve found their prodigal centerpiece in Donovan Mitchell and, top to bottom, the roster is well-built already. Elsewhere, Rudy Gobert is in the midst of another potential Defensive Player of the Year campaign, Joe Ingles is a two-way standout and the roster has blossomed with head coach Quin Snyder at the helm — Randle, however, might just be the lottery ticket worth buying. Should the Jazz let Ricky Rubio walk and then waive the non-guaranteed $16.9 million left on Derrick Favors’ deal, the franchise would suddenly have top-tier money to spend.

Similarly to the Clippers, Utah is not often considered a marquee free agent destination — but those times, they are a-changin’. Still, not landing Klay Thompson or Kevin Durant wouldn’t a nightmare scenario as it would clear the runway for Randle. Although the Jazz remain one of the league’s premier defensive units, their scoring efforts are often middling and an offensive rating of 109.4 (15th) reflects that. If anything, Randle is a certified bucket-getter and Utah can lean rather heavily on Mitchell to make things happen. The 6-foot-9 big man has already thrived next to one elite rim-protecting center, but teaming him up with two other up-and-coming superstars is a tantalizing thought exercise.

Brooklyn Nets

The Nets themselves are said to be chasing a white whale the offseason — the likes of Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard continue to pop up — but those free agent fever-dreams still seem at least an offseason away. In recent years, the Nets have become an incredibly successful island of misfits — so signing Randle would be the blissful cherry on top of it all. Understandably, Randle and Russell are buddies from their Lakers days and Brooklyn has an absolutely glaring need at power forward. Ideally, Randle would be a stretch option already — 0.9 made three-pointers per game on 33.3 percent, a career-best mark — but the Nets have created a strong portfolio of development since bringing head coach Kenny Atkinson on in 2016. In fact, Brook Lopez — another one of Randle’s forgotten teammates last season — turned into a three-point maestro almost overnight, after seemingly ignoring the line for the first eight years of his career.

If they can transform Joe Harris from a scrap heap shooter to a three-point champion in two years, the Nets can certainly get Randle to hit at least the league average from deep.

Regardless, the Nets have hit home runs with nearly every signing in the Sean Marks era — but it’s time to get serious. Now all they need is a bullish, reliable power forward to wrap their painful three-year rebuild together with a neat bow. Currently, veteran extraordinaire DeMarre Carroll is out of a contract this summer, while Rondae Hollis-Jefferson will hit restricted free agency. Rodions Kurucs, energetic as he may be, has not proven to be the long-term answer in the frontcourt and the speedy rookie seems better suited to riveting one-man fastbreaks. With Spencer Dinwiddie, Joe Harris, Caris LeVert and Russell holding down the guard spots and Jarrett Allen coming into his own at center, the Nets shouldn’t be afraid to chase Randle’s looming athletic stature (and his even brighter potential) come July.

New Orleans Pelicans

Last but not least, we’d be remiss not to mention the Pelicans.

This is an issue most certainly complicated by the status of Anthony Davis — but if you’re hitting the reset button on a perennially disappointing franchise, Randle’s not a bad place to start from scratch.

Davis’ midseason trade request managed to torpedo both New Orleans and Los Angeles’ playoff hopes rather remarkably — but Randle, to his credit, has just kept on trucking. Last week, Randle exploded in a loss to Portland, dropping a career-high 45 points, plus 11 rebounds and six assists. Long before this drama even started, Randle even managed to notch his first-ever triple-double during a November victory over San Antonio. At just 24 years old, that’s undoubtedly something worth betting on.

With Davis’ presumed exit already on the cards — and Nikola Mirotic’s swift departure at the trade deadline — Randle is suddenly the Pelicans’ most talented frontcourt asset, bar none. Even if they don’t recoup complete value for Davis, they’ll have the money to spend big in free agency this summertime. Growing by the game, Randle’s self-gamble has paid off in a remarkable way as he’s gone from castaway to a legitimate near-max contract contender in the span of a year.

And he did all that in New Orleans.

Needless to say, Randle should be a priority for the rebuilding Pelicans the moment he (presumably) opts out. This time, however, the power forward won’t come so cheaply. After some career-scarring bumps and bruises along the way, Randle has made good on his effortless potential — finally, he’ll get to reap what he’s sown. In October, Randle will head into his sixth NBA season and at long last, wherever he may be, he’ll finally have a place to call home.

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NBA Daily: Fixing the Chicago Bulls

Shane Rhodes continues Basketball Insiders’ “Fixing” series with a breakdown of the Chicago Bulls.

Shane Rhodes

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With some 10-odd games left in the 2018-19 NBA regular season, Basketball Insiders has begun its annual “Fixing” series. So far, we have covered the Cleveland Cavaliers and New York Knicks. Today, we’ll be looking at the Chicago Bulls.

It’s been nearly two years since the Chicago Bulls kicked off their rebuild with the draft-night trade of Jimmy Butler. In the almost two seasons since, the Bulls have managed an awful — or awesome, depending on who you ask — 48-107 record. Yet, there have been some promising developments, acquisitions and draft selections in Chicago, and the team may be closer to relevancy than most would think.

That being said, there are still some issues that need to be sorted out in order for them to get there. As with any team, the upcoming draft and free agency period could prove crucial to them; the difference between a leap forward or regression.

So, what have the Bulls gotten right or wrong this season, and where do they go from here?

What is Working

Despite an injury that kept him out for an early portion of the season, Lauri Markkanen has continued to show that he can be an impact player on the court and is a major building block for the Bulls.

The Finnish power forward has posted an impressive 18.9 points and nine rebounds per game this season — both increased from his rookie season — while shooting 43.7 percent from the floor and 36.5 percent from three-point range. Markkanen has continued to improve throughout the season and, recently, has flashed a superstar potential. February saw the best stretch of Markkanen’s career; he averaged 26 points, 12.2 rebounds and shot 48.6 percent from the floor.

He has still struggled at times, specifically on the defensive end, but if Markkanen can reach that level of dominance on a more consistent basis, he could find himself in elite company going forward.

Another positive has been Zach LaVine who, like Markkanen, has had a career year in the first of the four-year, near $80 million deal he signed last offseason. LaVine has established himself as the Bulls’ leader on the floor and, in doing so, has set a new career high in points (23.7), rebounds (4.7), assists (4.5) and field goal percentage (46.7 percent). If LaVine and Markkanen can continue to improve in tandem, the two could prove quite the offensive powerhouse in future seasons.

There have been other bright spots from an otherwise dreary season in Chicago; Jim Boylen, after a rough start, has turned things around as of late; while he may not play again this season after thumb surgery in February, Wendell Carter Jr. flashed the ability that made him the seventh overall selection in the draft a season ago; deadline-acquisition Otto Porter has provided another young, scoring wing that the Bulls desperately needed and could make use of going forward; Ryan Arcidiacano, a two-way player for the Bulls last season, earned a standard contract with the team and has provided some big-time energy off the bench ala T.J. McConnel.

More could be said about the Bulls but, to keep it simple: the future is starting to look bright in Chicago.

What Needs to Change

The future may be bright, but the Bulls are still a ways away from it. They are on the up, certainly, but there are still some issues that need to be sorted out, both at a basketball level and with their personnel.

Perhaps the Bulls’ most pressing issue is their defensive inability. According to NBA Stats, Chicago has thus far posted the sixth worst defensive rating (112.4) in the NBA this season. They sit above only the Atlanta Hawks (112.5), Washington Wizards (112.6), New York Knicks (113), Phoenix Suns (113.4) and Cleveland Cavaliers (116), teams that most would consider far worse off than the Bulls.

Part of the problem has been a lack of lineup consistency; Markkanen, LaVine, Carter and others have all missed time at one point or another due to injury. But, on some nights, there is an apparent lack of effort from the Bulls, and that will have to change if they ever want to pull themselves out of the NBA basement.

The future of Kris Dunn is another concern. Another piece involved in the Jimmy Butler trade, Dunn impressed in his first season in Chicago, but has taken a step back in year two with the team. There have been stretches where the former Providence product has seemed too reserved, rather than the aggressor that enabled his success a season ago. That regression isn’t all on him — Dunn’s role with the team, and in head coach Jim Boylen’s offensive system has continued to evolve throughout the season — but Dunn must improve if the team is to.

And, with a guard-loaded draft on the horizon, the Bulls will have to make a decision on Dunn as well; whether or not Dunn has secured a spot in their vision of the future for Chicago could have a drastic effect on the Bulls’ draft strategy come June.

Focus Area: The Draft

As of right now, the Bulls hold the fourth worst record in the NBA and would have just a 12.5 percent chance of landing the top pick.

Chicago could go a number of different ways depending on whether they end up there, stick at four, or fall somewhere in between (or out of the top four altogether). But, obviously, if the Bulls have the opportunity the grab Zion Williamson, they take him. The future prospects are so high and the upside so great that you just can’t not take him (barring injury, anyway), regardless of how he would fit within the current roster construction. Williamson has the potential to ascend to that upper echelon level of NBA elite that few players — the LeBron James’, Kevin Durant’s and Giannis Antetonkoumpo’s of the world — reach and so, if you can, you make the roster fit around him, not the other way around.

Assuming they don’t luck out, however, a large part of their strategy should revolve around the future of Porter and Dunn and how they believe their futures align with the future of the team. In a draft loaded with high-upside wings and point-guard type players, the Bulls must leave no stone unturned in order to get the best player to help expedite their rebuild.

Porter, currently out due to injury, had performed well in his brief, post-trade deadline stint with the team — in 15 games, Porter averaged 17.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, 2.7 assists and shot 48.8 percent from three-point range on over five shots per game — but is still potentially due more than $55 million over the next two seasons. Should they choose to move him in the offseason, an abundance of minutes would be made available on the wing, minutes that could almost certainly be eaten up by a number of different prospects: R.J. Barrett, Jarrett Culver, Cam Reddish, DeAndre Hunter, etc.

Dunn, meanwhile, has flashed his ability but, ultimately, has taken a step back this season. Should Chicago believe him incapable of running their offense in the future, a number of different point guard prospects sit near the top of this class, including Barrett, Ja Morant, Darius Garland and others.

Focus Area: Free Agency

While they may try, the Bulls probably won’t have much luck in free agency. As for their own free agents, Robin Lopez is on an expiring contract and may not return next season, while Arcidiacano and guard Wayne Seldon will enter restricted free agency come the end of the regular season. Other than that, the entire roster is under contract through at least next season.

Replacing Lopez (or re-signing him, unlikely as that would seem) is likely somewhere near the top of general manager Gar Forman’s to-do list. Not only did Lopez provide a stable, veteran presence in the locker room, but he provided valuable minutes behind Markkanen and Carter in the front-court. Likewise, Forman could look to add another forward to play behind Porter or, should they look to trade him, to split time with rookie Chandler Hutchison.

Whether they draft a point guard for the future or retain Dunn, a veteran backup guard would also seem a likely option for the Bulls in free agency. A steady hand at such a crucial position could prove invaluable and calming for Dunn or whatever young players the Bulls acquire in the coming months.

The Bulls have been bad the last two seasons, there is no other way to put it. But, for the organization and the fans, there is light at the end of the tunnel. It may not be next season, but the Bulls are certainly on the up. They still have some things to sort out but, if they continue to play their cards right, they could find themselves back in the thick of Eastern Conference contention soon enough

Also, make sure to keep on the lookout for the rest of Basketball Insiders’ “Fixing” series.

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NBA Daily: Who Deserves Coach of the Year?

As the season enters its final stages, Matt John takes a look at who are the prime candidates for Coach of the Year.

Matt John

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Last year, this writer started his tenure with Basketball Insiders writing about who had the best case for Coach of the Year. One year later, we’re revisiting the same discussion. This time, with an entirely new slate of candidates.

The Coach of the Year Award produces one of the most fascinating races in the NBA that doesn’t get as much attention. What makes it fascinating is that there are a variety of reasons for why a coach can win the award. Why it doesn’t get enough attention is because fans understandably care more about the players than the coaches, which is nobody’s fault.

This season, we have coaches with different reasons for why they are viable candidates for Coach of the Year. Some aren’t necessarily coaching the best team, or are making the most progress, but they’re making a good enough case that they should be in the discussion.

Please note that these are ranked in alphabetical order, not by who deserves it the most.

Mike Budenholzer

A few weeks ago, this writer detailed why the Bucks’ front office deserved credit for building the contender that they did, and he stands by it. However, while it’s on the front office to assemble a great team, it is on the coach to make the pieces work. That is what Coach Bud has done, and he’s done it marvelously.

Milwaukee sits atop the Eastern Conference with a 53-19 record, they have the best net rating in the NBA and Giannis Antetokounmpo is in the center in one of the most intense MVP races of all time. With the exception of the most recent untimely injuries to Malcolm Brogdon and Nikola Mirotic, this season could not have gone better for the Bucks.

Milwaukee always had the talent to be one of the league’s best teams. They just needed the right guy calling the shots. They have their man. Let’s be fair though. The Bucks needed Mike just as much as he needed them. So far, it’s worked for the best for both sides because now, Coach Bud has a very believable chance to join his mentor Gregg Popovich among the very few coaches who have won the award multiple times.

Dave Joerger

Anytime you make the NBA’s doormat look the most promising it’s been in over a decade, you automatically get your name among the NBA’s coaching elite.

Coming into the season, many thought the story surrounding the Kings was going to be about how good of a pick they were going to give Boston or Philadelphia in the lottery. That was proven wrong. Somehow, with 11 games left in the season, the Kings are still fighting for a playoff spot. Miraculously, they’ve become the NBA’s little engine that could.

Much credit should go to the improvement of De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield, along with the exciting play of Marvin Bagley III among others, but young talent can grow together without being cohesive. Joerger deserves credit for the youth’s improvement and cohesion getting Sacramento results. The one knock against Joerger is that the Kings probably aren’t going to make the playoffs, but they’re finally trending in the right direction.

For that, Joerger absolutely deserves to be in the conversation. Let’s just hope those rumors of tension with upper management turn out to be nothing more than gossip.

Michael Malone

It’s arrived later than they would have wanted, but hey, better late than never! The Nuggets’ new era has finally started, and it has started gloriously.

The Nuggets currently place second in the Western Conference and have clinched their first playoff berth since 2013. They have the third-highest offensive rating in the league, and one of the best all-around offensive bigs the league has ever seen in Nikola Jokic. The improvements of Jamal Murray and Gary Harris, along with the surprising productivity coming from Monte Morris and Malik Beasley, have given the Nuggets a team swimming in depth.

This season has shown that just because you have depth on your squad does not mean that everything will fall into place – See Celtics, Boston – which is what makes Malone’s work in all the more impressive. It’s helped that he’s gotten more games out of Paul Millsap – who has the highest net rating on the team (plus-8.4) – but Malone has mixed and matched the roster about as well as Denver could have hoped.

There is a fair amount of skepticism as to whether the Nuggets will keep this up in the playoffs. Even if they don’t, Malone did his job extraordinarily.

Kenny Atkinson

Atkinson has been on the radar for a couple of years now since he’s had to clean up Brooklyn’s mess for the previous two seasons. This season, the Nets are starting to reap the benefits from the winning culture he has created.

Besides Joerger, Atkinson has the least impressive record of the coaches put on this list. Much like Joeger, in Atkinson’s case, it doesn’t matter because the jump his team has made from last season makes his case all the more legitimate. DeMarre Carroll and Ed Davis have been dependable veterans, and the leaps that Spencer Dinwiddie and Caris Levert have taken are too good to go unnoticed.

But most impressive of all, Atkinson seems to have unlocked D’Angelo Russell. After both the turmoil and the injuries that D-Lo has had to deal with since entering the league, he now has emerged as one of the league’s brighter young stars. It’s important that young talent be molded correctly otherwise it can stunt a player’s growth. We’ll never know if that would have happened in LA, but we now know that Russell’s move to Brooklyn was vital to his progress.

Brooklyn believed Atkinson was up to the task when he was first hired, and now, their faith is being rewarded.

Nate McMillan

Of all the coaches that were put on this list last year, only two resurfaced this season. You probably already know who one of them is, while McMillan is the other.

First off, hats off to McMillan for reviving his career as a head coach. Many were skeptical when Indiana replaced Frank Vogel with him. Since then, he’s only made them eat their words. His work last season was already impressive. He’s only continued to do so this season.

The Pacers are currently 44-29. If they just go 4-5 over their last nine games, they’ll match their record from last season. That’s remarkable considering they lost Victor Oladipo, i.e. their best player halfway through the season. They were on a 56-win pace before ‘Dipo’s injury, but his numbers actually declined this season, which shows that the team itself has grown.

Indiana currently is tied for the second-best defensive rating in the league (105.9) thanks to the likes of Myles Turner, which has mitigated Oladipo’s absence. They haven’t been great since Victor went down, but they’ve done well enough to stick with Boston and Philly in the playoff race. For that, Nate deserves recognition.

Nick Nurse

The new kid on the block had a tall order when the Raptors replaced Dwane Casey with him as head coach. So far, he’s run with it.

It’s likely Toronto won’t be able to match last season’s regular season win total. Their defense has stayed the same, but their offense has taken a step back this season, going from the second-highest in the league to the seventh. Nobody seems too concerned about that because the general feeling is that this is the best Raptors team ever assembled.

Kawhi Leonard has looked as good as ever. Pascal Siakam has exploded onto the scene as perhaps the team’s second-best all-around player. Serge Ibaka’s having his most efficient season in years. New additions Danny Green, Marc Gasol and Jeremy Lin have fit in without much trouble. The list goes on.

Nurse had a lot to juggle when he was appointed head coach, and so far, he’s filling in well for the departed Casey. We’ll have to see if he gets Toronto past its playoff demons, but what a season he’s had.

Gregg Popovich

Just when you think the Spurs are down for the count, they find ways to stay relevant. They’ve done this so many times that you’d think the national media would learn not to count them out. Somehow we still do, and we’re always wrong.

To recap, Coach Pop lost his best player (Leonard) during the summer. He lost his most promising young player (Dejounte Murray) just before the season started. Two of the most iconic Spurs ever – Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili – left the team. His two best players – LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan – are not reliable three-point shooters in a league that’s become increasingly reliant on floor spacing. It was supposed to be the start of the Spurs’ descent.

For a while, it looked that way, but as the season is winding down, it appears San Antonio isn’t going anywhere. They’ve won nine of their last 10 games, they have the sixth-highest offensive rating in the league, and most ironic of all, they have the best three-point shooting in the league at almost 40 percent.

It’s fair to say that this has been fantastic work by Popovich, but when was the last time he fell short of that description?

Doc Rivers

Rivers has plenty of evidence to support that he’s one of the league’s best coaches. He won Coach of the Year back in 2000 and led one of the most dominant basketball teams in the 21st century in 2008, but this season might just be his best work yet.

The Clippers looked like they were about to start rebuilding, but instead opted to build a winning culture. Doc’s coaching has put guys who know who they are in positions to thrive. Lou Williams, Danilo Gallinari, Montrezl Harrell, Patrick Beverley, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander – all of them, no matter where they are at in their career, have played excellent in the role Doc gave them. Oh, and has it been brought up that the Clippers traded their best player and haven’t slipped at all?

By doing this, Doc went back to his roots during his days as the head coach of the Magic. There were no elite players on the team, but guys who knew what they were supposed to do. What makes this Clippers team more impressive team than that Magic team is the Western Conference in 2019 is much tougher than the Eastern Conference was in 2000.

This could do so much for the Clippers. After the Magic’s impressive run in 2000, they landed Tracy McGrady, Grant Hill and almost Tim Duncan. If Doc continues to impress, a certain LA-native and Canadian resident might be donning a Clippers uniform.

There are some tough omissions, such as Quin Snyder, Brett Brown and Billy Donovan. The difference between them and the others mentioned is that they’ve reasonably met expectations. All of them are coaching playoff teams. It’s just that their respective teams or where we thought they’d be.

That doesn’t mean they don’t deserve consideration. It’s just that their case isn’t as strong as the others mentioned above.

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