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NBA Monday: Can Miami Keep The Big Three?

With the Miami HEAT closing in on a fourth NBA Finals berth why is there talk of the Big Three breaking up?… What is going on in Memphis?… Up Close With Noah Vonleh.

Steve Kyler



Keeping The Big Three:  For some unexplainable reason – well not entirely unexplainable – there is this public and media driven belief that Miami’s Big Three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are somehow destined to break up. If not this summer, next summer or the summer after that.

All three players signed similarly constructed deals – they all have an option for free agency in July, another one next July and their contracts come to an end in July of 2016. So they all have the option to leave every summer for the next three years.

Having the option and wanting to use the option are two very different things.

Since coming together in July of 2010, the HEAT are 224-88, that is a win rate of 71%. They have won two championships and are on the eve of making their fourth straight Finals appearance and could collect their third championship this year.

Who Could Have Cap Space?

 Team  Max Possible Space
 Dallas Mavericks   $30,834,657
 Philadelphia 76ers   $28,797,920
 Utah Jazz   $26,276,061
 Los Angeles Lakers   $24,808,804
 Phoenix Suns   $23,118,682
 Charlotte Hornets   $18,356,720
 Orlando Magic   $16,139,426
 Cleveland Cavaliers   $16,038,933
 Detroit Pistons   $15,542,190
 Atlanta Hawks   $10,345,536
 Milwaukee Bucks   $10,326,218
 Washington Wizards   $9,380,622
 San Antonio Spurs   $8,265,107
 Boston Celtics   $3,279,450
 Toronto Raptors   $2,483,490
 New Orleans Pelicans   $1,604,459

***Would require renouncing all free agents, options and cap holds. Does not include draft pick placeholders.

The core of the team adores head coach Eric Spoelstra. HEAT president Pat Riley has delivered on everything he promised them in 2010 and HEAT owner Mickey Arison has said he’ll pay whatever he needs to pay to keep the championship train on its tracks.

So exactly what is not working that would have these guys looking for the door?

Dwyane Wade isn’t dead yet. As much as there is this perception among fans that James wouldn’t want to tie himself to Wade long-term because of repeated knee injuries, the two are extremely close friends and there is zero animosity between those two guys. There is a reason they sit at the podium together, there is a reason they came together in Miami in 2010. They are very close.

Bosh is playing the role they ask him to play. If you believe for a second that he can’t be more than he has been in Miami, you might be crazy. Bosh is one of the guys that has put his game in the closet to win championships. He is absolutely capable of doing more for the HEAT and from time to time he shows that. Bosh playing in the paint gums up how Miami plays, so he’s been asked to dial it back to things that fit into the system, and he is more than happy with that. He still makes the All-Star team; he has started a nice jewelry collection and has bought his second massive piece of property in Miami.

He isn’t looking for the door any more than Wade is.

So this brings us back to James.

There is this sense that because he left one team, that he will pick up and leave another. That when the championship train slow down, he’ll get off and go find a new one.

Could you imagine saying that about Tim Duncan? How about Kobe Bryant? Dirk Nowitzki? How about Michael Jordan? He left the Bulls when the Bulls gave up on him. He didn’t hop from team to team trying win championships.

But because James left once, there is this perception he’ll do it again, which completely overlooks how happy he is with his team, his coach, management and ownership.

James has a family in Miami. He is getting absolutely everything he could have dreamed for and a little more and he is packing up and leaving?

He has the option, so because that option is there it must be talked about, because it is an option.

James’ camp does their best to keep everyone honest and aggressive with rumors and innuendo. They want the HEAT to continue to add top level pieces around him to keep that ring train rolling and with how the HEAT’s roster is structured they will be able to do exactly that this summer.

Virtually all of the current roster players’ contracts expire this summer. Udonis Haslem has a final year worth a little more than $4.62 million that is a player option. Chris Andersen has something similar worth $1.44 million. Norris Cole is the only player with a fully guaranteed deal worth just over $2 million. So the books become pretty clean in Miami this summer.

Behind The Numbers
Big Three’s Current Deal

 Year  Salary
 1  $20,590,000
 2  $22,112,500

A New Four Year – $80 Million Deal

 Year  Salary
 1  $17,278,618
 2  $19,092,873
 3  $20,907,127
 4  $22,721,382

The Big Three all have two years and just over $42.7 million left on their deals. If they opt-in, the HEAT won’t have much to work with, but if all three opt-out, the HEAT have plenty of options.

What they re-sign for opens up a lot of possibilities.

A new three year deal in the three years for $60 million range gets the HEAT to roughly $54 million next season to those three players and opens up roughly $9 million in cap space depending on how they manage Haslem and Andersen.

A new four year deal worth $80 million gets the HEAT to $51.8 million in commitments to those three players next season and could open up as much as $11 million in cap space depending on how they manage Haslem and Andersen.

The message to the Big Three is a new four deal lets you pick two or possibly three players from the free agent pool to fill in the roster. Do similar ‘trade you one for two’ deals with Haslem and Andersen to spread out what’s owed across one more year and the HEAT are under the cap, under the tax and have the ability to add whatever they want.

But wait, that means giving Wade and Bosh a bunch of money right?

That’s the cost of keeping the band together.

It’s possible you could say to Wade, give us a little bit of a break and he might do that, especially if it means bolstering the team where he doesn’t have to do as much.

But the money paid out to those guys isn’t nearly as crazy as it sounds, mainly because we have seen the salary cap increase significantly this year and with a new National TV deal on the horizon the cap could go up even more in the life of their contract giving Miami more room to add and build around those guys.

Would the last year of Wade’s deal be ugly? Sure, but if it yields two or three more championships do you honestly believe anyone cares?

It’s easy to say James goes looking for a new championship contender. He has done it before, which means he could do it again. He has the options in his contract and this year’s HEAT are not nearly the unstoppable force that they were even a year ago.

The HEAT have to add fresh blood to the team, and there is a window to do exactly that this summer. As much as some want to talk about the Big Three breaking up, what’s far more likely is that the Big Three opt-out and re-up and give Pat Riley some breathing room to add to the roster. Trading two years and $42 million for four years and $80 million doesn’t seem like a crazy compromise to help your team get under the cap to go after one or two significant free agents.

The HEAT have all kinds of options in front of them and as fun as it is to speculate that it will all come apart as quickly as it all came together, the sense of things is the HEAT have done everything they promised those guys they would do and they all would like for this to keep rolling.

He Is In, He Is Out, He Is In Again:  If you are watching the Memphis Grizzlies from afar, they have become a head scratcher. Out of the blue majority owner Robert Pera ousted the front office and management that had turned the Grizzlies from a perennial money loser with no future beyond what was on the roster, into a profitable team with possibilities beyond the current core of guys.

Thanks for nothing I guess.

As rocky as head coach Dave Joerger’s start was to the season, he found his way mid-season and got the team into the postseason, but as the front office was packing, so too came the belief that Joerger was not Pera’s guy and that he was going to be fired and replaced by a higher profile coach.

There were media reports that Pera wanted to give the team to Chicago’s Tom Thibodeau much like Detroit did with Stan Van Gundy. That was followed by additional reports that suggested if Pera couldn’t get Thibodeau, he’d target Jeff Van Gundy.

Oh what a league it would be if both Van Gundy’s completely ran teams. Can you see it?

Smartly, Joerger started looking at his options and landed on the Timberwolves’ radar. The Wolves were granted permission to interview Joerger for their open coaching position and it seemed like the two were headed towards an agreement.

Joerger met with Wolves president Flip Saunders, who escalated the process to ownership and it seemed a coaching deal was imminent.

However to everyone’s surprise Joerger announced yesterday that he was not heading to Minnesota and that he and Pera had spoken on the phone and that both got to know each other a little and he is excited to remain in Memphis.


Pera took to Twitter to defend his team and his direction. He made sure to point out that the media knew nothing about what was going on and that none of what was being reported was true. He was excited to have Joerger back, and he believes he is the right coach to lead the team.


If you have watched all this unfold and find yourself confused, you are not alone. Former managing general partner Jason Levien who brought all of this together in Memphis, is likely as stunned as everyone else in the equation. Some where he has to be saying ‘I brought this all together and I am the one who is out?’.

If the image of a power mad tech billionaire jumps into your head, that might not be far from the truth.

If you have not seen this, Chris Herrington of the Memphis Flyer did a breakdown in 2012 of who paid what in the Memphis ownership group.

Robert Pera paid $45 million for a 25.6% ownership controlling stake in the team.

Huh? $45 million?

Things in Memphis have taken an absolutely weird turn towards the uncertain, and while Pera seems to want to manage the story from Twitter, at least the team has a head coach.

Chris Wallace, who was as far on the outside of the process as you are two weeks ago, is now back running the show and the draft. It’s completely unclear who will be running the team in the long-term, but for the time being stay tuned to Twitter, because that seems to be how news is going to come out now.

It’s been an odd couple week for Memphis, that’s for sure.

Up Close With Noah Vonleh:  While the top five spots in the 2014 NBA Draft might be pre-slotted to some combination of Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Dante Exum and Julius Randle, Indiana big man Noah Vonleh is very much in the discussion. With amazing length and shooting ability Vonleh gets compared a lot to a young Chris Bosh, and while no two players are the same, Vonleh’s physical dimensions and his scoring averages coming out of college compare extremely close to Bosh and that has teams more than intrigued.

More Twitter:  Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @AlexKennedyNBA, @TheRocketGuy, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @SusanBible @TommyBeer, @JabariDavisNBA , @NateDuncanNBA , @MokeHamilton , @JCameratoNBA and @YannisNBA.

Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.


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NBA Daily: The Golden State Warriors Need to Enter Rest Mode

With a bevy of injuries to their stars, the Golden State Warriors should rest up the remainder of the regular season to avoid any playoff letdowns.

Dennis Chambers



After a three-year-long run of dominating the NBA, the Golden State Warriors are showing some cracks in their armor.

Granted, those cracks aren’t a result of a botched system or poor play, but rather the injury bug biting the team in full force as they come down the regular season stretch.

First, it was Steph Curry and the ankle that’s bothered him all season — and for most of his career — when he tweaked it yet again on March 8 against the San Antonio Spurs. Golden State announced he would miss at least four games. Then it was Klay Thompson, who fractured his thumb three days later against the Minnesota Timberwolves — he’ll miss at least two weeks.

Now it’s Kevin Durant. Last year’s Finals MVP suffered an incomplete rib cartilage fracture and was ruled out of Friday’s game against the Sacramento Kings. Durant is expected to be sidelined for at least two weeks. The Warriors would go on to lose that contest 95-93.

In about two weeks time, the Warriors went from having one of the most formidable offenses and scoring trios in the entire league, to having  Quinn Cook and Nick Young logging starter minutes.

Luckily for the Warriors, they’ve built up a big enough lead in the standings to achieve a 52-17 record, good for second place in the Western Conference. But the issue for the remainder of the season now becomes how healthy will the Warriors be come playoff time?

Curry and Durant have injury histories. Curry particularly has been bothered by this ankle since he entered the league. Without either of them, the Warriors — while still incredibly talented — will be on a completely even playing field with the Houston Rockets, and possibly other teams in the gauntlet that will be the Western Conference playoffs.

The bigger issue on top of the pending injury concerns becomes whether the Warriors should just pack it in for the rest of the regular season, and regroup for another expected title run.

Steve Kerr doesn’t seem to be thinking that way, however.

“All these injuries seem to be temporary,” Kerr told reporters. “A couple weeks, a week, two weeks – whatever. We’re in good shape. We’ve just got to survive this next slate of games and hopefully, start getting guys back and get rolling again for the playoffs.”

That’s true. None of the aforementioned injuries seem to be anything more serious than a few weeks of rest and relaxation. But that’s assuming the best case scenario for these players.

Should we assume that the Warriors are without their scoring trio for the next couple of weeks as their health updates have indicated, that would put their return roughly around April 1. At that time, Golden State would have six games remaining on their schedule. Four coming against playoff teams (Oklahoma City, Indiana, New Orleans, and Utah) with the other two games against Phoenix.

After missing the last few weeks on the court, with injuries that most likely won’t be at 100 percent, tossing their most valuable contributors back into the fray against a slate of playoff teams probably isn’t the smartest idea.

At this point, the Warriors postseason position is locked up. They likely won’t take the top seed away from Houston, and their lead is big enough to keep their second seed intact regardless of who’s on the court. The only thing left now is the determining who Golden State will play in the first round. With the revolving carousel that is the playoff standings out West, that’s anybody’s guess right now.

The only thing that’s certain is whichever team coming into Oracle Arena for that first round will be battle tested and talented based off of the dogfight they had to survive just to make the playoffs. The last thing the Warriors need to be is a banged up in a postseason with their first opponent smelling blood in the water.

In all likelihood, the Warriors — should everything go according to plan — will play the Houston Rockets for a chance to return to their fourth straight NBA Finals. Only this time, a potential Game 7 won’t be at Oracle Arena. It will be in downtown Houston, at the Toyota Center.

An advantage as big as the Warriors’ homecourt can never be understated. Operating in a do-or-die situation away from home will be newfound territory for this bunch. Regardless of talent or team success, at that point, it’s anybody’s game.

It won’t be easy for the Golden State Warriors as they try to extend their dynasty’s reign. This might be their most difficult year yet.

Durant, in his own words, can’t even laugh right now without feeling pain. The league’s only unanimous MVP is operating on one and a half ankles, and the team’s second Splash Brother has an injury on his shooting hand.

Resting up the team’s stars should be the team’s top priority right now, at risk of entering the postseason hobbled. Track record means nothing if the Warriors don’t have their full arsenal at disposal when the games matter most.

Hey, a 16-seed finally won a first-round game in the NCAA Tournament. Anything is possible on a basketball court, and the Warriors should do everything possible to ensure they’re not the next major upset candidate in line.

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Fixing The Detroit Pistons

David Yapkowitz looks at how the fading Pistons can turn things around moving forward.

David Yapkowitz



We wrap this week up with another installment of our “Fixing” series here at Basketball Insiders. The next team up is the Detroit Pistons.

The Pistons came into this season with playoff aspirations after a disappointing 2016-17 campaign that saw them regress instead of building on their playoff appearance the season before. To begin the season, they looked like they were on their way to accomplishing that objective. Then Reggie Jackson got hurt and the season began spiraling out of control.

They tried to inject some life into the team by trading for Blake Griffin, but it hasn’t worked out as expected. The Pistons have gone 8-12 since acquiring Griffin and the postseason looks like a pipe dream at this point.

What Is Working

Not a whole lot. Despite trading for a superstar player, the Pistons have tumbled down to the point where playoffs are looking extremely unlikely.

If there’s one thing that’s a welcome sight, it’s the bounce back of Andre Drummond. After being named to his first All-Star team in 2015-16, Drummond had a bit of a let down the following season. This season, he was once again an All-Star while putting up career-highs in rebounds (15.7) and assists (3.2). Drummond is still only 24 years old and has his best basketball years ahead of him.

The Pistons have also received encouraging signs from rookie Luke Kennard. A lottery pick in last summer’s draft, Kennard he’s been one of the few bright spots at times for the Pistons. About a week ago, his playing time had diminished some and he racked up a few DNP’s, but Stan Van Gundy has since reinserted him into the rotation.

They’ve also gotten solid production out of Reggie Bullock. When Bullock came over to the Pistons in a trade with the Phoenix Suns almost three years ago, he was little more than a seldom-used wing with the potential to become a solid 3&D guy. This has been his year, however. He’s the best shooter on the team at 43.5 percent from the three-point line. His numbers, 10.8 points per game and 49.1 percent shooting from the field, are career-highs.

What Needs To Change

Quite a bit. Acquiring Griffin was a move the Pistons needed to make. On the verge of losing control of the season, they needed to make a move to try and turn things around. It’s been a disaster thus far, however. They are 2-8 in their last 10 games and although they’re in ninth place, they’re falling farther and farther away from eighth.

Who the Pistons are really missing is Reggie Jackson. Ish Smith, who has proven himself beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is an NBA player, just isn’t Jackson. They desperately need Jackson’s playmaking abilities to help take the pressure off everyone else. Even if he returns this season, it’s already too late. The Pistons need to focus on getting him healthy and ready for next season.

The Pistons also need to improve their offense. They’re in the bottom half of the league in both points per game (25th) and offensive rating (24th). A big part of that is Jackson’s absence, but they could also benefit from additional outside shooting. Right now they have one long-range threat on the roster and that’s Bullock.

Focus Area: The Draft

To make matters worse, the Pistons will likely give up their draft pick to the Los Angeles Clippers as part of the Griffin trade. The only way the Clippers wouldn’t acquire the Pistons’ pick this year is if it falls in the top four, and that’s not going to happen.

The Pistons will have a second-round pick though. The draft is never 100 percent guaranteed, and the second round is even more of a crapshoot, but talented players can definitely be found. That’s what the Pistons’ main objective in the draft should be. It sounds silly, but they truly need to buckle down and do their homework in hopes of finding that one overlooked guy in the second round. That’s pretty much all they have to look forward to come draft night.

Focus Area: Free Agency

The Pistons are going to have a couple of minor decisions to make this summer regarding their free agents. Jameer Nelson, James Ennis, and Anthony Tolliver are all unrestricted free agents. Out of the three, Ennis has given the team the best on-court production, but it isn’t necessary that any of them are brought back.

Bullock and Dwight Buycks have non-guaranteed contracts, and those are the two guys that the Pistons should work towards bringing back in the fold. Both should have their contracts guaranteed for the following season. Bullock is their only three-point threat. Buycks began the season as a two-way contract player splitting time between the Pistons and the Grand Rapids Drive of the G-League. He’s since been converted to a standard NBA contract and has done enough to earn his spot on the team next year.

In terms of adding new players to the roster, as mentioned before, the Pistons need outside shooting. Marco Belinelli and Wayne Ellington are possible options that the Pistons might be able to afford. Joe Harris is another option, but it will be interesting to see what the market is for him after the strong season he’s been having in Brooklyn.

It’s tough to gauge the Pistons’ true potential without Jackson. If he returns before the season ends, it will be too small a sample size to accurately assess the team. There are only 14 games left. Although things look pretty bleak right now, it can’t be argued that injuries haven’t played a big role in the Pistons disappointing season.

The team deserves a shot at seeing how a healthy Jackson, Griffin, and Drummond trio looks on the court together. If they start off next season the same way despite all three being healthy and in the lineup, then it would be time for serious changes.

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Fixing The Chicago Bulls

Spencer Davies says the Bulls have a long way to go, but they’re taking steps forward. In year one without the former face of the franchise, that’s about all they can ask for.

Spencer Davies



Next up on Basketball Insiders’ “fixing” series is a stop in the Windy City.

In spite of the criticisms over last summer’s Jimmy Butler trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves, it feels like the Chicago Bulls at least have a sense of direction. Many members of the media—including this one—expected them to finish dead last in the NBA, yet they have 23 wins, with seven other teams worse off.

Obviously, the goal for the organization this season was to establish an identity and see what they had with their new cornerstone pieces. To a good extent, there’s optimism regarding those players because of the potential they’ve shown.

There’s still a good chunk of the year left, but the Bulls are 12th in the Eastern Conference standings with 15 games to go.

What Is Working

If it weren’t for the spectacular seasons by Donovan Mitchell and Ben Simmons, Chicago stretch big man Lauri Markkanen might be the Rookie of the Year. Even with some second-half struggles, the entire body of work is impressive.

The 7-foot Finnish forward continues to stay aggressive with a high usage and great mentality in snatching up those boards. It’s normal for a first-year player to go through those ups and downs. Add in a back injury that’s been bothering him as of late and the slump make a little more sense. Markkanen has shown the skill and consistent effort that it takes to be a mainstay in this league.

Bobby Portis is another member of the frontcourt who’s made a noticeable impact off the Bulls’ bench. In his third year, you can see the confidence continue to grow as a versatile offensive threat with a ton of touches. He’s taken a responsibility upon himself to lead the second unit and the proof is in the pudding. According to Cleaning The Glass, the team is a net plus-11.5 per 100 possessions with him on the court.

Second-year swingman Denzel Valentine has filled the stat sheet in multiple games as one of the most unselfish players on the roster. David Nwaba’s role from the beginning was to be a defensive menace and he’s come through for the majority of the year. Even two-way contract rookie Antonio Blakeney has shown flashes as a volume scorer in stretches.

Recently, Chicago has given a couple of cast-offs opportunities to display their skills. In 10 games, Cameron Payne looks as comfortable as he has in quite some time coming off a major foot injury. Noah Vonleh has been an effective late addition playing next to Portis and filling in for Markkanen. Let’s not forget that these two were lottery picks and are still in their early 20s.

What Needs To Change

Looking at what Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine have done, it’s been a mixed bag. With that being said, there’s clearly untapped potential between the both of them.

Dunn proved in very little time that the narrative of him being a lost cause was far from the truth. Hoiberg’s trust in him to be Chicago’s floor general has gone a long way. He’s been in attack mode with the ball in his hands, has seen his outside game get better and has been bothersome with his length defensively. It hasn’t resulted in wins, but remember—it’s this group’s first season together.

As for LaVine, it’s difficult to judge where a player is using a 23-game sample size. Yes, it’s a good amount of playing time, but let’s not forget he’s coming off a devastating left ACL tear. His defense has been subpar, but the bounce seems to still be there. The jumper is on and off, but he hasn’t been bashful at all. Starting the year off fresh in 2018-19 will benefit him.

Speaking of next season, the goal for the front office of Gar Forman and John Paxson should be simple—get younger. Currently, Robin Lopez is the highest paid player on the Bulls and he’ll have one year left on his deal going into the summer. The same applies to Justin Holiday. These are two veterans who could contribute on teams ready to win now, and it would be logical to part ways considering the direction the franchise is going.

Focus Area: The Draft

Due to the Nikola Mirotic trade on February 1st, Chicago acquired a first-round draft pick from the New Orleans Pelicans. That gives them two chances to add to their young talent pool in the upcoming 2018 NBA Draft.

Typically you’d go with the best player available when you’re slotted in the top ten, but the Bulls should feel good about their backcourt and the power forward position. What they really are lacking are reliable shooters and perimeter defenders, as well as a player with a bulldog mentality.

Chicago doesn’t get to the free throw nearly enough and they don’t convert looks that they should. Considering a true wing is amiss, it’d be the ideal scenario for Michael Porter Jr. to fall right into their lap. The Missouri freshman just returned after missing basically the entire season with a back injury. He was a top name coming into the class because of his size and could be a steal with the eighth selection.

If Porter Jr. doesn’t make it to them, Miles Bridges would make for a heck of a consolation prize. Unlike Porter, he has a more muscular frame at 6-foot-7, 230 pounds that allows him to bully the opposition. There’s a relentless nature and fearlessness about him that will translate to the next level.

Using that Pelicans pick, the Bulls would be happy to see Duke sharpshooter Gary Trent Jr. fall to them in the early-to-mid 20s, but that seems more unlikely with Anthony Davis continuing to carry New Orleans to new heights. If they end up selecting towards to the back end of the first round, Arizona junior guard Allonzo Trier could end up being a good fit as well.

Focus Area: Free Agency

Entering the summer, Chicago doesn’t have too many decisions to make on the contract front.

The trade exception from the Butler deal expires on June 22nd. If it’s not used by then, the amount will be renounced if the team goes under the salary cap. The deadline to present Noah Vonleh and David Nwaba a qualifying offer is June 29th.

Everybody’s going to keep an eye on LaVine because of restricted free agency, but the Bulls have indicated they prefer him to be a part of their core. They’ll in all likelihood look to bring him back on a long-term contract. If he doesn’t approve of the terms, he can always choose to play on his qualifying offer and bet on himself.

Chicago has to decide whether or not to guarantee Paul Zipser’s $1.5 million salary for next season by July 18th. The extension deadline for Payne, Portis, and Grant is the day before the first day of the 2018 campaign and team option deadlines for Dunn and Markannen come on Halloween.

There probably won’t be too much activity on the Bulls’ part regarding free agency. The focus will lay on improving their young core and getting guys who are just getting on the upswing in the pros. There are talents out there who fit the bill. It just all depends on what comes from the draft.

All in all, Chicago has a long way to go to get back into the postseason conversation, but they’re taking steps forward. In year one without the former face of the franchise, that’s about all you can ask for.

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