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Los Angeles Clippers 2018-19 NBA Season Preview

The LA Clippers have refused to go the tanking route to rebuild after “Lob City.” They may have a roster that can win some games, but are they good enough to go anywhere? Basketball Insiders takes a look at the Clippers in this 2018-19 NBA Season Preview.

Basketball Insiders

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The Los Angeles Clippers go into the 2018-2019 season with optimism. The team dealt with injuries throughout last season, often resorting to players called up from the team’s G-League affiliate. Despite the constant roster turnover, the team still played competitive basketball and only had their playoff hopes dashed in the final days of the season. Now the team hopes that bringing back a fully healthy roster plus a few new additions could produce a return to the postseason.

To make it back to the playoffs, the Clippers will have to adjust to the loss of long-tenured center DeAndre Jordan, who finally completed his departure to Dallas this offseason. Also standing in the team’s way is the increasingly competitive Western Conference. Numerous teams have objectively improved this offseason and will also be vying for a postseason berth. Count their locker room rivals, the Los Angeles Lakers, among the teams that could squeeze the Clippers out of a lower end playoff berth.

FIVE GUYS THINK…

And just like that, it was over. Just one summer after Chris Paul began the teardown of the once Lob City Clippers, DeAndre Jordan put the final nail in that coffin when he agreed to (finally) sign with the Dallas Mavericks. Coming on the heels of Blake Griffin’s trade to Detroit before February’s deadline, arguably the greatest era in Clippers history has come to an end. A full rebuild, if there’s even interest in such a thing, would likely have to wait a year – high-priced veterans like Tobias Harris, Marcin Gortat and Avery Bradley will be on the books until then, with Danilo Gallinari on for another year after that as well. This doesn’t seem to be a strong enough squad on paper to do much more than threaten for the bottom West playoff seeds, and even that might be asking a lot. There might come a time next offseason where the front office has to choose between a full rebuild around names like Jerome Robinson and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, both acquired in the 2018 draft, and something of a hybrid plan for contention minus a true star on the roster.

3rd Place – Pacific Division

– Ben Dowsett

The Los Angeles Clippers’ upcoming season will be an interesting experiment in assessing the value of star players. The Clippers have quality players at every position and exceptional depth on their bench, but no star players. The NBA is a star-driven league, so it may be the case that the Clippers will be facing an uphill battle on most nights. However, the Clippers are well-positioned to pivot midseason and prioritize the future rather than chasing the playoffs this season should they lose pace in the Western Conference. Los Angeles has several players on favorable contracts who could be desirable trade targets for contending teams looking for a little help. Give the front office credit for making bold moves that positioned the team to have the flexibility to compete now and be free agent players next offseason, at which time they hope to land a superstar like Kawhi Leonard.

3rd Place – Pacific Division

– Jesse Blancarte

During the Lob City days, the Clippers had plenty of star power but were held down by their lack of depth. Now that they have moved on entirely, they have done a complete 180. A roster once devoid of depth is now swimming in it, while the star power in Clipperland went from magnificent to non-existent – all due respect to Tobias Harris. The Clippers probably won’t come close to attaining the same success they did years ago. Yet, it’s hard not to like the versatility they added. What may help the Clippers is that now that Lob City is done, there’s not as much pressure on them. Better yet, for the first time in years, the Clippers are likable again.

3rd Place – Pacific Division

– Matt John

For the first time in a long time, Lob City is no more. With the departure of DeAndre Jordan to Dallas, there is nobody left from that era of Clippers basketball. It’s full speed ahead and a brand new challenge for Doc Rivers, whose roster now boasts a large collection of youth to go with a few veterans to guide them throughout the season. Patrick Beverley is eager to get back from injury and has already said his piece on who the best team in town is. Along with Lou Williams and Avery Bradley, he’ll be mentoring rookie guards Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Jerome Robinson. It’s also a year for Tobias Harris to ascend to the elite level. Unfortunately, the Western Conference will be too difficult to break into playoff contention.

3rd Place – Pacific Division

– Spencer Davies

Ehh. The Clippers are such a hard team to buy into as anything more than a first-round playoff contender. Outside of Tobias Harris, who do the Clippers have in terms of star-level players? DeAndre Jordan’s exit will impact them defensively. Their draft was decent but lacked an impact player. There just isn’t anything that leads you to believe that the Clippers are gearing up for a serious run. They should be good enough to win 40-45 games, but what’s that mean in the West? The Clippers look more destined for the lottery than a serious post-season run. We’ll see how it ultimately plays out, but there just isn’t much to get excited about.

3rd Place – Pacific Division

– Steve Kyler

TOP OF THE LIST

Top Offensive Player: Tobias Harris

Should the Clippers make the playoffs, they will do so in large part based on their collective offensive versatility. Forward Tobias Harris is in position to lead the way on that end of the court. The Clippers acquired Harris from Detroit midway through last season in a trade that saw Blake Griffin depart from Los Angeles. Having already lost Chris Paul prior to last season, Griffin’s departure left the Clippers suddenly without star power. Lou Williams and Harris stepped up to fill the void. Harris essentially replaced Griffin and showed the ability to score down low when necessary, on the move and from the outside as an acceptable three-point shooter.

The Clippers are now the beneficiaries of the consistent year to year progression of Harris’s game. Harris doesn’t draw headlines the way Griffin did, but is an effective substitute who’s both younger and a more cost-effective lead option for the Clippers. Look for Harris to further settle into his lead role on the team and continue to build his game in his first full season with the team.

Top Defensive Player: Luc Mbah a Moute

Clippers fans are quite familiar with the nuances of Mbah a Moute’s game. Mbah a Moute played for the Clippers for two seasons before leaving last offseason to join Chris Paul in Houston. With Houston, Mbah a Moute showed the same defensive versatility and intelligence that made him a valuable contributor until he suffered a shoulder injury. The injury left Mbah a Moute unavailable at the start of the playoffs and unable to make the same contributions in a close playoff series against the Golden State Warriors.

Having just turned 32, Mbah a Moute returns to a deep Clippers squad that has a lot of talent on the offensive end and a few difference makers on the defensive end available to balance the team. Mbah a Moute has the size (6-foot-8), length, mobility and strength to cover on the perimeter and handle bigger players in the post when necessary. So long as injuries and age don’t significantly slow him down, Mbah a Moute is the Clippers’ top defensive option. Guards Patrick Beverley and Avery Bradley are the other defensive specialists the Clippers will lean on this season.

Top Playmaker: Lou Williams

In the past, Lou Williams has generally played a more focused role — lead the second unit as a primary scoring option and secondary playmaker. As mentioned, last year’s Clippers squad was not exactly like most teams. The team spent the whole season overcoming injuries to other key players. With players missing left and right, Williams stepped up with one of his finest seasons. In 79 games (only 19 in the starting lineup), Williams averaged 22.6 points, 5.3 assists in 32.8 minutes per game, all career highs. In addition to his career-high assist numbers, Williams also shot and made career-high numbers from three-point range, making him especially potent on offense.

Williams took on a bigger role for the Clippers last season than he has for other teams in the past. He thrived despite often being the focal point of opposing teams’ defenses and, in doing so, earned himself his second NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award. While the team has a glut of capable guards, Williams is coming off a career season and will again serve as a key playmaker.

Top Clutch Player: Lou Williams

This title goes to Williams, who is one of the NBA’s best natural scorers. In the clutch, Williams can rely on his ability to break down his defender one-on-one, score from mid-range or effortlessly drop a floater near the basket. The attention Williams draws from opposing defenses can also be used to the team’s advantage with correct play calling. The Clippers have a bevy of options at guard, but none can put opposing teams on their heels like Williams. Also a quick shout out to Harris, whose shooting percentages are quite strong as defined by NBA.com’s clutch numbers, although Harris was involved in far fewer clutch games/minutes as Williams last season.

The Unheralded Player: Montrezl Harrell

This Clippers squad has a few players that have not received a lot of attention for their efforts and impact. With the Clippers having a limited number of national broadcasts this season, that may not change any time soon. Regardless, count Montrezl Harrell as a player that quickly made his impact felt last season when the team needed it the most. At 6-foot-8, 240 pounds, Harrell is quick and surprisingly light on his feet. Harrell measures up as a versatile power forward/center who can make a significant impact on any given night with his intensity, hustle and physicality.

Although he only started three games last season, Harrell was a key impact player for the Clippers despite his lack of shot blocking. In stretches where the team would go stale, Harrell’s intensity, offensive rebounding and knack for finding the ball not only helped to keep the team afloat but often made him the best player on the floor. This season the Clippers will likely start center Marcin Gortat (acquired in an offseason trade for Austin Rivers) with Harrell coming off the bench. However, keep an eye on his minutes as the team will likely rely on Harrell just as much, if not more than, Gortat at center. With the addition of Mike Scott and the return of Danilo Gallinari, Harrell is more likely to play the majority of his minutes at center.

Best New Addition: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

In the 2018 NBA Summer League, fans got their first glimpse of the next crop of the league’s top rookies. Among this year’s lottery picks, Wendell Carter, Jr. and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander stood out with their play, which raised the question of whether they each should have been picked sooner. Gilgeous-Alexander had flashes of brilliance in Summer League, using hesitation dribbles and off-speed moves to keep defenders off balance while allowing him to get to the basket seemingly at will. Around the basket, he showed a deft touch and the ability to set up teammates through dump off passes or kick outs to shooters on the perimeter.

Gilgeous-Alexander projects to be a starting-quality lead guard with some star potential. While not the fastest or most explosive athlete, with his timing and length Gilgeous-Alexander could also grow into a strong defensive presence in the backcourt. The Clippers hope that both he and fellow rookie guard Jerome Robinson grow into the backcourt of the future.

– James Blancarte

WHO WE LIKE

1. Tyrone Wallace

Although these are the quiet days of the offseason, the Clippers did make a surprise move recently by matching an offer sheet on restricted free agent Tyrone Wallace. This was a surprise mostly due to the glut of guards the team already has going into next season. With the multitude of injuries that left the team bereft of talent, Wallace provided the Clippers with consistent production. Coming from the Clippers’ G-League affiliate team, Wallace used his length and creativity to score ball despite not having a particularly reliable jump shot. Wallace proved capable of playing heavy minutes later in the season while dealing with the restrictive rules surrounding travel and practice time that G-League call-ups have to deal with. With a new contract to stay in LA, Wallace will have to continue to develop his game and hope for another opportunity through trade or injuries to make an impact this upcoming season.

2. The defensive duo of Patrick Beverley and Avery Bradley

Patrick Beverley came to the Clippers last season to help ameliorate the loss of Paul and to lead the way with his defensive intensity and leadership. Unfortunately, Beverley’s season quickly came to a close due to injuries. Likewise, Avery Bradley’s tenure with the Clippers hardly registered a blip as he was quickly shut down due to injury concerns. Now both players are apparently healthy. The duo may serve as the starting backcourt for the Clippers and could help to buoy a team that lacks a defensive anchor in the front court.

3. Boban Marjanovic

Hidden in the large haul the Clippers received for Blake Griffin is center Boban Marjanovic. Marjanovic has been and likely will continue to serve as a situational player capable of scoring in bursts. Unfortunately, when he hits the court, the risk is his slow speed and lack of mobility make him a huge target for opposing offenses. This risk-reward balance keeps Marjanovic from hitting the court on some nights. Regardless, Marjanovic continues to be a fan favorite based on his infectious personality and entertaining friendship with Harris. With Jordan gone, there are still opportunities for Marjanovic to make it on the court, especially if the Clippers are hunting for a few easy buckets against teams who don’t play a traditional center.

4. Jerry West and the Clippers’ front office

With the 2017-2018 season looming, the Clippers were at a crossroads. The team risked a huge backslide if Paul or Griffin, or worse both, would have left and signed elsewhere in free agency. As it works out, the team managed to turn Paul into numerous players and assets and did the same with Griffin a few months later. Instead of being locked far over the cap with a core that had peaked years earlier, the Clippers’ front office orchestrated a rebuild on the fly. The Clippers now have a potential backcourt of the future, numerous trade assets and the ability to sign one or two high profile free agents next offseason.

– James Blancarte

STRENGTHS

Depth, Versatility and Roster Flexibility

Should the injury bug strike again, the Clippers have the depth and versatility to not miss a beat. The Clippers also players on favorable contracts that contending teams may be interested at the trade deadline. The Clippers are well-positioned to compete now and make opportunistic trades mid-season should it become apparent that they are not able to maintain pace in the playoff race.

– James Blancarte

WEAKNESSES

Star power and Defense.

The trades of Griffin and the offseason loss of Jordan leave the Clippers lacking in star power and national recognition. However, even without star power, the team does have the depth and offensive weapons to stay competitive. But the team’s defense may also be an Achilles heel. As mentioned, the team does have notable individual defenders but lacks a reliable shot blocking presence around the rim.

– James Blancarte

The Burning Question

Can the Clippers make the playoffs with this year’s roster or will they look to the future?

As mentioned, the team has talent across the roster to compete for the playoffs after coming close last season. However, injuries could slow down a team that can ill afford to fall behind the intense competition. In addition, the Clippers start their season with an extremely tough first few weeks, which could derail the season early on. If this is too much to overcome, the team might start looking to the future. Despite assurances from the front office that the team will compete at a high level, not making the playoffs will allow the Clippers to keep their top-14 protected first round pick next season. Plus, the team could find it opportune to trade away one of the team’s other guards to make way for the team’s rookie guards.

– James Blancarte

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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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