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Dallas Mavericks 2018-19 NBA Season Preview

The Dallas Mavericks are an enigma. They want to rebuild, but continue to sign win-now players. The Mavericks have done a good job landing top-level draft picks, but the question i,s what does that equate to in a tough Western Conference? Basketball Insiders takes a look in this 2018-19 Dallas Mavericks Season Preview.

Basketball Insiders

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After spending the last two years rebuilding, Dallas came up as one of the biggest winners of the 2018 off-season. They did this primarily by making two moves. First was trading the fifth overall pick in the 2018 draft (Trae Young) along with a 2019 first-rounder for European sensation Luka Doncic, a prospect who many believe could be the best player in what was believed to be a very loaded draft. The second was signing big-time center DeAndre Jordan, a walking double-double still very much in his prime.

By adding these two, Dallas once again has playoff ambitions while also building a good future to go off of with Doncic and Dennis Smith Jr. Along with those two, Dallas brought back plenty of familiar faces in free agency, including Dirk, Salah Mejri, and even Devin Harris just months after trading him to Denver. Some of the players they lost included Doug McDermott, Yogi Ferrell, Seth Curry, and Nerlens Noel. However, the impact of losing them does not come anywhere close to the potential impact Jordan and Doncic could have on the team.

The one fly in the ointment is that as good as the Mavericks should be this season, they still play in a Western Conference that has many teams hoping to make the playoffs. No matter how Dallas’ season turns out, it’s very admirable of them to go down swinging as the Dirk Nowitzki era comes to a close. That being said, let’s take a look at what the Dallas Mavericks could look like this season.

FIVE GUYS THINK…

Will this finally be the year of the swan song for Dirk Nowitzki? After what seems like several straight seasons that could be his last, the legendary German forward will indeed be back for another year. True to form, the Mavericks have continued to toe the line between rebuilding and competing with Dirk still in the league, and their 2018 offseason was much of the same. While they obtained another major core piece for the future in a big draft day trade for Luka Doncic, they also went out and signed DeAndre Jordan for a mammoth one-year deal in the hopes of competing out West once more. If Doncic’s game translates to the NBA right away and second-year point man Dennis Smith Jr. has a leap or two in him, this team could sneak up on a few people and threaten for the final couple playoff spots. More likely, though, is gradual development from the youngsters, some fun games, but another lottery finish for the Mavs.

5th Place – Southwest Division

-Ben Dowsett

Following a dismal year in the Big D, all eyes are on the Mavericks to make a quick turnaround. The hype train for Luka Doncic is picking up speed with each day, as the Slovenian sensation looks to find his niche alongside Dennis Smith Jr. and company. Harrison Barnes’ confidence has continued to grow at the power forward position. Mark Cuban and general manager Donnie Nelson lured DeAndre Jordan to Dallas to be the team’s interior presence on both ends, as well as a rim runner in transition. Considering their division and that this is the first time we’ll see some of these guys play together, though, it’s tough to say they will get out of the basement of the Southwest.

5th Place – Southwest Division

– Spencer Davies

Dallas got the best of both worlds this summer. Mark Cuban and co. want Dirk Nowitzki’s last year(s) in the NBA to be meaningful while also wanting to build a promising future. Trading for Luka Doncic and signing DeAndre Jordan did just that. With them aboard, Rick Carlisle has more malleable talent to work with. Jordan’s the first rim protector/elite rebounder the Mavericks have had since Tyson Chandler, and Doncic could potentially be Dirk’s heir. Add them to Dallas’ already astute roster, and the postseason is in their sights again. At this point, that’s all they can ask for as Nowitzki’s retirement nears.

4th Place – Southwest Division

– Matt John

The Mavericks have kept no secret of their desire to completely rebuild and after two passes through the draft, they have collected two impressive first-round talents that should line up with some the middle tier players they have nabbed during the rebuild. Its unlikely the Mavericks jump into the playoff discussion in the West without one of those guys becoming an All-Star level guy this season, but the Mavericks have a great foundation to build from and that should be overlooked. They may not be in the postseason but they will be significantly better this year.

4th Place – Southwest Division

– Steve Kyler

The Dallas Mavericks have at least one more season with Dirk Nowitzki and clearly want to make the most of it. Dallas traded for the rights to Luka Doncic, who projects to be a capable contributor as early as this season. The Mavericks also signed DeAndre Jordan to a large one-year deal. With an interesting mix of veterans and talented youngsters, the Mavericks have a shot of competing for a playoff seed if everything breaks right this season. If Dennis Smith Jr. takes a significant step forward in his development and finds some chemistry with Doncic, Dallas’ offense could be surprisingly potent this season. This is especially true if Jordan meshes quickly and becomes a consistent lob threat for Smith Jr. and Doncic.

5th Place – Southwest Division

– Jesse Blancarte

TOP OF THE LIST

Top Offensive Player: Harrison Barnes

It was difficult to choose between Barnes and Dennis Smith Jr. here. Smith had quite the electric rookie campaign last season, and he could very well take this label away from Barnes by season’s end. For now, the reason why Barnes gets the nod is his efficiency. On 15.7 attempts a game, Barnes averaged a team-high 18.9 points a game on 44.5 percent shooting from the field and 35.7 percent from distance. Compared to Smith who, on only one less attempt a game on average, shot 39 percent from the field and 31 percent from distance.

Smith has the higher ceiling than Barnes at this point, but until he proves to be a reliable shooter, Barnes gets the nod as he is the Mavericks’ most proven scorer. It feels so sleazy to say that because for the last 15-plus years, it was undeniable that Dirk fit this label.

Top Defensive Player: DeAndre Jordan

This would seem obvious. Dallas’ defense was slightly below league average – 17th in defensive rating (109.5 points allowed per 100 possessions) – so adding someone with the resume that DeAndre Jordan has should give them a boost. However, a closer look at some of Jordan’s stats could say otherwise. Jordan averaged 0.9 blocks a game, his lowest average since his second year in the league when he was playing half as many minutes. His Defensive Real Plus-Minus was only slightly better than average at 1.32, and the Clippers’ defense was 3.4 points per 100 possessions better when he was off the court.

So why pick him as the top defensive player? Rick Carlisle. Remember that when the Mavericks acquired Tyson Chandler in 2011, his value was pretty low. Hence why they got him for peanuts. When Carlisle was done with him, Chandler got a four-year, $58 million contract the following summer. If there’s anyone who can get Jordan back to his NBA All-Defensive 1st team form, it’s Carlisle.

Top Playmaker: Jose Juan Barea

Surprised? A fair argument could be made for Luka Doncic or Smith. But, until we see how Doncic does at the NBA level and until we see how much Smith improves his playmaking, the team’s top playmaker currently is JJ Barea. Barea is and always has been the glue since donning the Mavericks’ uniform. In just 23.2 minutes, Barea led the team with 6.2 assists a game last year. Better yet, Dallas’s offensive rating was 4.8 points per 100 possessions better when Barea was on the court, which also was a team-best for all players who stayed on the team for the entire season.

By next year, Doncic or Smith will probably supplant Barea in this category, but for the time being, let’s appreciate that Barea continues to be one of the league’s premier bench players even at 34.

Top Clutch Player: Harrison Barnes

Take note that Dallas was not exactly great in the clutch last season. In games decided by five points or less, they only won five of 23 games. In the 41 games that were classified as clutch by NBA.com, Barnes’ net rating was -34.3.

Yikes.

Since Barnes is the team’s most proven scorer at the moment, he currently takes the mantle as its top clutch player. As bad as Dallas was in close games, Barnes averaged 2.2 points in 3.5 minutes on 43 percent shooting from the field in games that were classified as clutch last season. It’s fair to mention that he had that nice buzzer beater against Memphis last season. He’s not ideal, but he’s somebody.

The Unheralded Player: Dwight Powell

Originally a throw-in when the Rajon Rondo trade was completed, Powell has slowly worked his way into becoming a solid rotation player for Dallas as a rim-running energy big. His traditional statistics from this season speak for themselves: 8.5 points, 5.6 rebounds on 59 percent shooting including 33 percent from three-point land were all career-highs. However, it’s the advanced metrics that prove how valuable this guy is.

Dallas was overall +5.6 in overall net rating with Powell on the floor, with their offensive rating being +3.2 on offense and their defensive rating being +2.4. Powell had a Real Plus-Minus of 2.43, good for ninth among centers, and totaled 5.82 win shares, good for fifteenth among centers. Now that he’s Dallas’ third/fourth big, Powell’s services should serve the Mavericks very well in their playoff hopes.

Best New Addition: DeAndre Jordan

Long-term, Dallas’ best new addition will probably wind up being Doncic. Presently, DeAndre Jordan will be the more integral part of Dallas’ success. There’s already been plenty said about what Jordan could do for the Mavericks defensively, but the one area where Jordan is going to help the most this season will be on the boards.

Jordan’s blocks may have taken a hit last season, but his rebounding was still as good as ever. Jordan averaged a phenomenal 15.2 rebounds a game last season, a career-high. Last season, Dallas tied for 24th in the league in team rebounding averages, corralling 42.9 a game, while also allowing their opponents to nab a league-high 47.5 rebounds a game. Jordan will solve that problem practically by himself.

Dallas should also be excited for Jordan’s improvements from the charity stripe. Jordan shot 58 percent from the free throw line last season, which isn’t good, but a major improvement compared to his entire career. It may, in fact, be good enough to not force Dallas to bench Jordan in crunch time. Even if it’s been three years in the making, Jordan should make Dallas very happy this season.

-Matt John

WHO WE LIKE

1. Rick Carlisle

It’s been a rough couple of the years for one of the league’s best coaches. From all the drama behind the scenes with Rajon Rondo and Nerlens Noel to DeAndre Jordan reneging the team, both Carlisle and the Mavericks have been through a lot, but that’s over now. With Jordan and Doncic onboard, Carlisle now has plenty of lemons to make lemonade with. Now that his roster has both talent and depth again, don’t be surprised that, if and when the Mavericks find themselves in the playoff hunt, Carlisle will be making another run at Coach of the Year.

2. Dennis Smith Jr.

Everything that Dennis Smith did last year was exactly what many expected from him, as both his strengths and his weaknesses were on full display. Smith is a super athlete with good passing instincts and fantastic energy, but his spacing leaves much to be desired. A fair amount of Dallas’ success hinges on his improvement this season, a challenge that Smith appears to relish. DSJ doesn’t have to be Stephen Curry for both he and Dallas to succeed. All he needs to do is capitalize on such a promising rookie year under the tutelage of Coach Carlisle.

3. Wes Matthews

Matthews has done everything he can to regain his form after his devastating Achilles injury three years ago. He hasn’t been able to get it back entirely, but he has tried his best since arriving in Dallas. At 32 years old and on the last year of his contract, you better believe Matthews will be playing his heart out this season. Matthews is still a reliable floor spacer – 38 percent from three for his career – and he still tries his best on defense. Whether he starts or comes off the bench, his efforts should fit well with Dallas’ goals.

4. Dirk Nowitzki

You thought we’d forget about good ol’ Dirk? No chance in hell would we forget about the best Maverick of all time! At 40 years old, Dirk won’t be much more than a role player for Dallas. That’s all that can be expected of him at this point. Dirk stands out because he’s one of the few players in the NBA that stuck with his team through the thick and thin in a league where loyalty is going extinct from both players and general managers alike. That’s what makes Dirk’s final years so riveting to watch. With any luck, he’ll also have a great influence on Luka Doncic’s future as a pro.

-Matt John

STRENGTHS

This is the most well-rounded roster the Mavericks have had since the one they assembled in 2014 (before they acquired Rondo). The Mavericks have a team that is built to compete both now and in the future, led by one of the league’s best basketball minds in Rick Carlisle. They have young talented building blocks in Smith and Doncic. They have star talent and pseudo-star talent in Jordan and Barnes respectively. They have experienced vets in Dirk, Matthews, Barea, Powell, and Devin Harris among others. Ironically, Dallas’ biggest strength may be that they don’t have a weakness to exploit. If all goes right, they may be the one team nobody in the West will want to face in the playoffs.

-Matt John

WEAKNESSES

As well-rounded as they are, the Mavericks’ weakness is that they don’t have an elite player on their squad. They had one in Dirk, but he’s way past his prime. They could have two in Smith and Doncic, but their primes are years away. It took Dirk a few years to become a star, and it took a few more years for him to evolve into the legend he is today. This is a league where talent rules supreme no matter what changes are made. Dallas has admirably done what it can to build a winning team in Dirk’s last ride, but their absence of a star could really hurt their chances in the postseason.

-Matt John

THE BURNING QUESTION

What is Dallas’ long-term plan?

It appears that this is the team that Dallas wants to run with as Dirk fades into the sunset. Whether this team is what Dallas wants past Dirk’s retirement is another story. That’s the impression I got when they gave Jordan a one-year deal instead of a long-term contract. A lot of Dallas’ future rides on how they do this season. If this experiment works, then Dallas should do everything in their power to keep the team together. If it fails, Jordan and/or Matthews may not stay. If the Mavericks can’t replace them, they may opt for a full rebuild, which could affect Carlisle’s desire to stay as head coach. This team is more likely to succeed than it is not to, but after this season, the future is up in the air.

-Matt John

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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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