Lin Ready for Fresh Start With Lakers
It is 2 a.m. on July 12 and Jeremy Lin is asleep in his Beijing hotel room. He’s in the midst of his annual Asia tour, which spans several weeks and features basketball clinics and publicity events across China and Taiwan, so he’ll take every moment of shuteye he can get. The trip is going well, allowing Lin to escape from all of the drama back home – the constant trade rumors, the controversy over the Houston Rockets using his jersey number to recruit Carmelo Anthony and the comments from Daryl Morey hinting a Lin trade was inevitable because “it’s just math.”
Here, thousands of miles away, Lin can relax and not worry about all of that.
At least, that’s what he had hoped.
Moments later, Lin is awakened. His cell phone starts ringing and buzzing non-stop. He knows it could only mean one thing. He recognizes his agent’s number and answers the phone. Just as he had suspected, the Rockets have traded him. Lin had seen the writing on the wall for quite some time, he just wasn’t sure when the move would be finalized or which team would acquire him. His agent tells him that he is being dealt to the Los Angeles Lakers. Lin proceeds to wake up his family, friends and associates to share the news. By the next morning, he is on a flight to Los Angeles to take a physical.
While it’s never fun to get that kind of life-changing phone call at 2 a.m. on the opposite end of the world, Lin couldn’t contain his excitement when he heard he was L.A.-bound. The 25-year-old had no idea where Houston was going to ship him, but he was ecstatic when he found out that his next team would be the Lakers. He would get to return to California, where he was born and raised, and learn from future Hall of Fame guards like Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash. He also recognized that he would have an excellent opportunity to contribute in Los Angeles, since Nash’s injuries have left the team searching for a starting point guard. Throw in the franchise’s incredible history and the national exposure that comes with donning purple and gold and it seems like the perfect landing spot for Lin.
“I was extremely excited,” Lin told Basketball Insiders in a phone interview. “I thought it was great for me to have a new opportunity and a new situation, and I thought that would be an awesome start. I thought it would be cool, obviously, going to L.A. since I’m from California and I have a lot of friends and family out there. I thought it would be a great opportunity playing-wise too, so I was really excited and ready to get out there.
“I mean, it’s by far the most prestigious organization I’ve ever been a part of, obviously with all of the championships and just the level that it’s traditionally been known to be at. I think it’s a challenge for us to get the team back to where it was before and I think we have an opportunity to really surprise people this year. I think people aren’t expecting too much from us, and maybe they shouldn’t, but we’re hoping that we obviously do a lot better than anticipated.”
People often forget that Lin is just 25 years old and that he has only started 140 games throughout the course of his four-year career. Linsanity – his epic run with the New York Knicks – made him a household name, but it’s important to realize that he’s still a young player whose best basketball is likely still ahead of him. He’s looking forward to continuing his development in Los Angeles.
“I definitely don’t think I’m close to my prime yet,” Lin said with a laugh. “I’m 25 years old and I think because of the way things have happened, people always think I’m older or I’ve been around longer than I really have. I’ve played two full seasons in the NBA – two full seasons and those 25 games in New York. I guess people have been very quick to write me off just because they saw how it started and then they saw what I was like in Houston, but I have to just keep reminding myself it’s a marathon. If, God willing, I can still play another 10 years, I think it’s just the beginning for me.”
As he continues to expand his game, he’ll have two Hall of Fame guards alongside him in the backcourt, which should do wonders for his development. Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant have been injured in recent years, but Lin is hoping to pick their brains and learn as much as he can from his legendary teammates.
“It’s really exciting,” Lin said of playing with Bryant and Nash. “What can’t you learn from them? People have been asking that question a lot, and it’s kind of, like, I want to learn everything. Kobe is a little different just because he’s a different position, but there’s just so much from a mental aspect and from like a recovery standpoint and so many different things like footwork [that he can teach me]. There are things that both of them can teach me, so I’m actually really, really excited. I’m hoping our team gets out there early or something before camp so I can start spending more time with them right away.”
Last season, Lin averaged 12.5 points and 4.1 assists in 71 games for the Rockets. He came off of the bench behind Patrick Beverley for much of the season, but was serviceable when put in the starting lineup, averaging 14.2 points and 4.5 assists in 33 starts. He had several monster games that got the fans dreaming of Linsanity 2.0, such as a back-to-back in November in which he had 34 points, 11 assists and 5 rebounds against the Philadelphia 76ers, just one game after he poured in 31 points on 10-17 shooting against the Toronto Raptors.
However, even though he experienced some success in Houston and emerged as a contributor, he’s not surprised that his time with the Rockets came to an end. He realized that he wasn’t part of their long-term plan and now he’s just happy to move on and be out of the rumor mill.
“The writing was kind of on the wall,” Lin said of his time in Houston. “For me, I just felt like they were heading in a different direction, which is okay and I totally understand it from a business standpoint. They want to get that third superstar and so I think guys like me, Omer [Asik] and Chandler [Parsons], we knew that they wanted a third superstar, that was no secret, and we knew it would be hard to keep us if they were to do that. I think maybe the thing I was most shocked by is that they didn’t get the third superstar, but they lost what they traded away anyway. I thought for sure they would get a third superstar, I just didn’t know who. I kind of felt like the writing was on the wall for me and that my time in Houston was winding down.”
The Lakers recently named Byron Scott the team’s new head coach, and the two men can’t wait to work together. Scott has worked with a number of star-level point guards throughout his coaching career, including Jason Kidd on the Nets, Chris Paul on the Hornets and Kyrie Irving on the Cavaliers.
“The thing I like about Jeremy is that he’s feisty,” Scott said. “He’s tough. He competes. I’ve coached against him in a number of games, so I know how he is. He’s a competitor. The point guard position in this league today, on the defensive end, is vital. Guys don’t have to be great one-on-one defenders, but they have to go after you. They have to just continue to be persistent at that end of the floor. I think Jeremy is like that, and offensively, obviously he can shoot the ball, he can push the ball up and down the floor, he gets to the basket and he’s a very, very intelligent basketball player. After coaching against him for a few years, it’s going to be fun to coach him.”
“I think it’s great,” Lin said of the decision to hire Scott. “I think the first thing that he talked about from a public standpoint was reestablishing the franchise, the team and the emphasis on defense. I think that’s great, and I think that’s how you have to win games. If you look at the top four teams, the top two from the East and the top two from the West, they’re always top five, top 10, in the NBA in defensive efficiency. I know that’s been one of my weaknesses in the past, but I truly believe I’m a much better defensive player now and I think I’ll be able to contribute a lot to this team.”
Lin has made the playoffs over the last two seasons with the Rockets, and he’s expecting to do the same with the Lakers even in the insanely competitive Western Conference. He knows it will take a huge leap in the standings considering L.A. is coming off of a franchise-worst 27-55 record, but he’s optimistic that the pieces are in place for a postseason run. When asked if making the playoffs is his top goal entering the 2014-15 season, Lin doesn’t hesitate.
“Yeah, it is, for me,” Lin said. “I haven’t spoken with my teammates about what our team goal is, but I don’t ever go into a season not expecting to fight for a playoff spot, and I think we have the pieces. I think Carlos Boozer is just, like, really good. I don’t know; people seem to be [doubting him]. Maybe his stock has fallen over the last couple of years, but people forget he’s a career 18 and nine guy. He puts up numbers like that. And I heard Kobe is healthy, so I think we’ll be just fine.”
Lin’s life has been a whirlwind since his breakout 25-game stint with the Knicks back in the 2011-12 season. His ascent to stardom was so unique because it basically happened overnight. One day, he’s the undrafted kid out of Harvard who is riding the Knicks’ bench and being stopped by security on the way into Madison Square Garden. Then, all of a sudden, he’s one of the most recognizable faces on earth and everybody’s favorite underdog. He still has to pinch himself sometimes to confirm that this is all real.
“Does this ever feel surreal?” I asked him.
“Yeah, every day. Every day,” Lin said with a laugh. “Every day it’s something a little different, you know I might just be walking around and there might be someone who’s just like over-the-top excited, or I might go on an Asia trip and fans are going crazy, or it might just be like me at home on a computer and I might look and see all the adidas stuff that I have and just the fact that I have an endorsement. There are just so many reminders of how crazy this journey has been. There are definitely times when I still have to remind myself like, ‘Wow, this is real.’
“It’s a journey. I’m going through it together with my family and friends because I’m not the only one affected. My family and my friends, they are all affected and we’ve all had to go through similar things in terms of learning how to navigate this world and being able to figure out who to trust and how to put ourselves in good positions versus risky positions. I think we all are going to go through this journey, this process, together and we’re all learning together and I think that makes it easier because it’s not really squarely on my shoulders. I do think, in a sense, my family and close friends still see me the same, they still see me as more like kid Jeremy, or whatever, so I don’t think they see me that differently. They’re not like, ‘Oh wow, we’re going to treat you differently because of this or that.’”
Early on, Lin would get very stressed out trying to juggle all of the demands and pressure that come with being in the spotlight. Everyone wants a piece of his time. At one point, during the height of Linsanity, club promoters were offering a ridiculous sum – over $1,000 – to anyone who could pass along Lin’s phone number.
Speaking of ridiculous, consider this. There’s a chance that Lin may be voted on to the Western Conference All-Star team this season as a starter. That may seem crazy when you look at some of the other guards in the conference, but he racked up 883,809 votes last year – third behind only Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul. Now, with the combined support of Lakers Nation and the international audience, Lin may be able to get the necessary votes to be an All-Star.
As crazy as things can get, Lin has gotten used to the lifestyle and grown accustomed to these previously-unfamiliar situations.
“I think being overwhelmed is just part of it,” Lin said. “Theoretically, I like to say, ‘Make sure I never get overwhelmed,’ but the fact of the matter is that’s going to happen. It’s going to happen quite often. I think it’s more just how you deal with it and building a support network around it, and being able to deal with certain situations. I’m not always going to control the situations, but how I handle those situations, I think I’m getting better at it, growing and I think that’s where the spiritual aspect of things helps me a lot, just being able to deal with the stress and the pressure.”
Lin’s laid-back attitude helps him decompress. He doesn’t worry about critics or things that are out of his control, and that has removed a lot of unnecessary stress from his life.
“I used to get pretty upset [at haters] or maybe not understand where the hate was coming from,” Lin said. “It didn’t seem like it made sense to me. I felt like the reasons for hate weren’t anything necessarily related to, like, a bad decision or anything from my end, it was just maybe more because of the attention. But again that’s one of those things where it’s kind of like, it happened, it is what it is and that’s just part of life. I’m not really going to talk about that anymore.”
Now, Lin seems to block out critics and not worry about what they think. When asked if he feels he has proven that he’s a starting-caliber point guard in the NBA, Lin’s answer is somewhat surprising.
“You know what, that’s a good question; I don’t know and I don’t think I actually care anymore, and I think that’s just where I’m at in my life,” Lin said. “I don’t care to figure out what the answer to that question is anymore. Before I [had] kind of like a chip on my shoulder, things to prove, people to prove wrong. Now, I’m just like when I get out there I’m going to play and everyone’s going to formulate their own opinion and it’s going to change every single day. I don’t think my own opinion of myself has ever changed. I still believe I am capable of that. But that’s just me, that’s if you ask me. I’m not really worried about what everyone else is thinking anymore.”
Lin is focused on things that he can control. He’s training every day in Palo Alto, which is where he works out every offseason.
“I’m here every summer,” Lin said. “I’m just working on my floater, my defense, my three-point percentage and my left hand. Those are the top four things.”
When he’s not working out, he spends some time watching film and breaking down his game. I asked him if he ever watches footage from those 25 Knicks games when Linsanity blew up.
“Rarely,” Lin said. “Every once in a while, but not very often. Sometimes I go back to kind of look at things I did well, or different things, different moves, certain things that I’ve kind of gotten away from. More like when I create my summer workouts, or me and my trainer, we kind of talk about what we want to work on, and every once in a while I’ll go back and take a look to see if there’s anything I used to do that was really effective that I’ve gotten away from. But no, I’m not really sitting there reliving the past, re-watching my film.”
Lin is focused on the future, and for good reason. He’s nearing his prime and entering a perfect situation. He’ll get minutes, playing for the NBA’s most prestigious franchise on basketball’s biggest stage. He’ll be on national television consistently and have the opportunity to prove that his past success wasn’t some fluke. All eyes will be on Lin this season and he’s determined to make the most of the opportunity that he’s been presented.
Lakers Work Out Michael Beasley
The Los Angeles Lakers worked out Michael Beasley at their El Segundo, California, practice facility on Wednesday afternoon, sources close to the situation confirm. The workout was first reported by Dave McMenamin of ESPNLA.com.
The Lakers had been expressing interest in Beasley for several days, but nothing is imminent between the two parties. Beasley is also receiving interest from several other franchises and continues to weigh his options, according to sources.
Even though the former No. 2 overall pick’s career hasn’t gone exactly as planned, he’s still intriguing to executives. He’s only 25 years old and remains incredibly talented.
Teams were also impressed with Beasley’s stint with the Miami HEAT in the 2013-14 season, during which the forward played efficient basketball (shooting a career-best field goal percentage and finishing top 10 among small forwards in efficiency rating) and displayed maturity when asked to handle a reduced role on the contending team.
Beasley is currently working out in Los Angeles with his childhood friend Kevin Durant. He continues to field interest from teams and weigh his free agency options.
The Lakers currently have 12 players under contract for the 2014-15 season, with $67,361,996 in guaranteed commitments.
Dahntay Jones Shines at Open Workout
Several weeks ago, unrestricted free agent Brandon Rush scheduled an open workout during the Las Vegas Summer League, hoping to temporarily draw some executives away from the Thomas and Mack Center and display his skill set at the nearby Impact Basketball facility.
The workout was a huge success, with over 15 teams in attendance, and Rush ultimately inked a new contract with the Golden State Warriors that evening.
Now, Dahntay Jones is hoping for similar results. The 33-year-old held an open workout for teams this afternoon and looked good, according to league sources.
A number of teams were in attendance for Jones’ workout, including the Sacramento Kings, Cleveland Cavaliers, San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder and Washington Wizards among others.
Jones has appeared in nearly 600 NBA games over the course of his 10-year NBA career, averaging 5.6 points. He has had stints with the Memphis Grizzlies, Sacramento Kings, Denver Nuggets, Indiana Pacers, Dallas Mavericks and Atlanta Hawks.
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.
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.
Fixing The Detroit Pistons
David Yapkowitz looks at how the fading Pistons can turn things around moving forward.
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.
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.
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.