For two decades, Gabrielle Union has been entertaining us with her acting in over 70 films and television shows. Recently, she has also found her way into our homes through social media, developing a huge following on Instagram (6.5 million followers), Twitter (3.12 million followers) and Snapchat, where she gives daily glimpses of her life to a similarly large audience.
Union is currently starring in Being Mary Jane, a hit show about a television news anchor and all aspects of her life. For her role as Mary Jane Paul, Union won the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actress in a Television Movie, Mini-Series or Dramatic Special. She is also set to appear in upcoming films such as The Birth of a Nation, Almost Christmas and Sleepless.
Despite her impressive success, Union might be best known among NBA fans as the wife of perennial All-Star Dwyane Wade. Union is a huge sports fan – she grew up in a family that was obsessed with Nebraska Cornhuskers football – and she shares her opinions on social media quite often. Now, in addition to focusing on her busy career, Union will be moving to the Windy City as Wade makes the transition from the Miami Heat to the Chicago Bulls.
Basketball Insiders recently caught up with Union to discuss her career, activism, social media dominance, the move to Chicago, her reaction to Wade leaving Miami and much more.
Alex Kennedy: You earned a degree in sociology and did a number of things before turning to acting. When did you realize that you wanted to be an actor and start looking at that as a full-time career?
Gabrielle Union: “When I made money (laughs). It wasn’t for the love of it initially, it seemed like a great way to delay adulthood for a while. I started while I was still in college. I kind of always looked at it like, ‘Well, I could always go to law school.’ That was my plan back then. But I was making $6.60 as the book buy back supervisor at UCLA, so I thought, ‘Let’s see if I can make more than that!’ And pretty quickly, I was like, ‘Ah, I can make a living doing this.’ So I never looked back. But even in the back of my mind, I always had that thought of, ‘If I don’t love this or I’m broke, I can still go to law school and carry out the rest of my initial plan.’”
Kennedy: Growing up, who were some of your favorite actors? Since you weren’t in love with acting at a young age or thinking of pursuing that career, I’m sure you weren’t looking up to certain actors or studying them or anything. But still, who were some actors you enjoyed when you were younger?
Union: “Yeah, I definitely wasn’t looking at acting like, ‘I love Meryl Streep. As a child, I watched Helen Mirren and took notes.’ I never looked at it that deep. I’d probably say Eddie Murphy because I liked his movies (laughs). Oh, and Vivica Fox had a guest-starring role on 90210 and that was big for black girls who wanted to see themselves reflected onscreen. Having Vivica on my favorite show was huge. But I definitely wasn’t looking at acting or actors like, ‘Wow, that was a great scene!’ (laughs) I just wasn’t looking at movies or shows in that kind of way.”
Kennedy: Who are some of the actors that have mentored you and helped you improve your craft?
Union: “Jennifer Lewis, right off the bat. Jennifer has been amazing. She just wasn’t interested in watching me, or any of the other actresses she’s mentored over the years, fail. In our town, it can be a little cutthroat and some people take joy in other people failing. But she’s just not one of those people. Tisha Campbell and Tichina Arnold have been really helpful and not just on the acting side, but also on the business of Hollywood and how it can kind of take an emotional toll on you. If people aren’t looking out for you, you can kind of lose your way in a number of different ways. Regina King is awesome. Having her directing episodes of Being Mary Jane now is great because we’ve been friends for a long time and she has looked out for me for so many years. I’ve been lucky to have those ladies.”
Kennedy: Speaking of Being Mary Jane, it has become a huge success. Congratulations on that. What has it been like to dive into that role and how rewarding has it been to see it take off the way it has?
Union: “Normally, we don’t see characters where we get to see 360 degrees of their life. You see them at work or you see them at home with their friends or spouse. But it’s rare that you get to see every angle of their life. What I love about Being Mary Jane is that you see her at work being that boss bitch. Then, you see her on the toilet. I like the fact that you see her masturbating and sexually free. I love that she doesn’t have the best, easiest relationship with her family. The family dynamic is complicated. She’s just so interesting and she’s definitely someone I would want to know. I’d want to sit next to her at a bar or sit next to at the airport during a delay. She fascinates me and I enjoy her. And I’m glad other people enjoy her as well.”
Kennedy: I think with your activism, positivity and the way you use your platform, you’ve become a role model for a lot of people. What is it like to have that kind of support and know you could be positively influencing the next generation?
Union: “Hmm. Well, it’s nice to have a voice. For so long, women have been silenced. Black women, women of color, have been silenced. It’s nice to have the respect of people and be respected because you opt to use your voice in a positive kind of way. It just feels nice and it’s humbling. But it’s sort of doing the right thing and being patted on the back for it. I feel like, ‘We’re all supposed to be doing this, but thank you! I appreciate it!’ Some say ‘role model,’ some would say ‘decent human being.’ But I’ll take either (laughs).”
Kennedy: One way that you reach that next generation is through social media. You have a huge following on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat among others. What’s been the key to building your social media following and how nice is it to have that huge platform to reach your fans?
Union: “I can only go based on comments and feedback, but I seem to be pretty cool (laughs). I just try to be entertaining. There are a lot of Snapchat [accounts] that I just scroll through where I’m like, ‘Okay, I can’t unfollow you because you’ll know when you try to chat me, but you’re just not that interesting.’ Like, me watching you lip sync isn’t that entertaining. I’d rather watch you sing badly. So I thought, ‘Maybe people would like to watch my bad singing!’ So I bad sing a lot. I joke with D [Dwyane Wade] a lot. I don’t know, I just try to be as normal as I can be, but interesting at the same time. If I can give me a chuckle, I’ll try to do that too. It seems like people have responded to that!”
Kennedy: You’ve done a ton of great work, but I’ve seen in interviews where you’ve said that Bring It On boosted your career to that next level and sort of made you a mainstream name. What was it like becoming a household name and having all of that attention come your way?
Union: “I think initially it just feels really good. Initially. Then, it can feel weird and I think everyone is changed by it in some kind of way. It’s a bizarre thing at times. Because sometimes I just want to sit in a sports bar and have a beer. And if someone is looking, in my head I’ll be thinking, ‘Why are they looking?’ I immediately think there’s a booger in my nose because why else would you be looking at me? (laughs) It doesn’t quite compute, at least for me and my friends in Hollywood. Once it gets to be normal, that’s when you know you’ve lost your mind. I’m glad for 20-plus years, it’s felt a little weird. But on the positive side, it just lets you know that people have seen your work and taken something away. And not all of the stares are positive. Provided that people respect your space and safety, it’s pretty cool.
“One time, I was with my girl who played a character that had some questionable things. We were in Miami in a club and this girl slapped the piss out of her. She yelled, ‘Why did you go with that white boy?’ And I know her boyfriend and I’m like, ‘Huh? I know her boyfriend and he’s a large black man.’ But she called her by the character’s name, and the character was dating interracially and this woman hated it. So she slapped the crapp out of her. That was like, ‘Oh my God.’ It makes you realize that there are some people who don’t know reality from fiction and that’s frightening. That was the first taste I’ve ever gotten where it was like, ‘Oh shit,’ and you see the downside of that attention. As much as I love playing questionable characters, some people take it to a scary point when they don’t realize it’s fantasy. A lot of people think you are your character. For years after Deliver Us from Eva, people would come up and be like, ‘Wow, I didn’t think you’d be nice! You play these bitchy characters so well!’ But they’re characters! Sometimes people forget that.”
Kennedy: Are there any actors that you haven’t worked with that you’d like to work alongside in the future?
Union: “There are many. Meryl Streep, Denzel Washington and Jodie Foster. Also, this new girl who was in Chi-Raq, Teyonah Parris – she is just super talented. Zoë Kravitz is another. I could just name a thousand because there are so many great actors. And now with cable and web series and things like that, there are so many avenues for people to express their art. You don’t have to wait for somebody to give you your big break; you can create your own. A lot more people are [getting] the opportunity to be seen. Also, there are a thousand actors I’d love to work with whose names I don’t know, but I love their work. I’m like that weirdo in L.A. who will creep up at them in CVS and be like, ‘I LOVED YOU IN RAY DONOVAN.’ I’m a creeper. But yeah, there are so many to name.”
Kennedy: In a 2008 interview, you talked about the lack of roles for black men and women and I think that’s a really important topic. Eight years later, do you feel like there has been progress made on that issue?
Union: “We’ve seen more progress in TV, for sure, and it’s hard to just focus on the roles for black women when there are so many women of color who are way worse off than I. So I’ll open [my quote] up to all opportunities for all women of color, in front of and behind the camera. It’s improving, but we’re nowhere close to being a real representation of the way the world looks. We just aren’t. I think the more inclusive the people who run the studios and networks – the people who greenlight projects – then the more inclusive the casts and directors and producers and writers will be. We need to think it holistically as opposed to just casting, because there are so many levels in which people of color are grossly underrepresented.”
Kennedy: I’m sure you’re used to criticism due to your career, but sports fans can be pretty insane. Maybe not slap-your-friend crazy, but I’m curious if you’ve had to deal with criticism from rival fans and crazy people online since marrying Dwyane?
Union: “Never in person. Ever. I’ve gone on the road a few times to games and you never know how opposing fans will be. But it’s really been kind of a lovefest in person. I think it goes to show that when people have the chance to say something to your face, they opt for kindness. Perhaps the anonymity of social media [lends itself to the negativity]. I mean, I rarely get criticism from people who use their own name in their Twitter handle. It’s usually an egg or some nonsensical name. Very rarely is it normal people like Allen Smith from Pittsburgh. No, it’s generally egg haters. And when I do get it, I retweet it with something funny attached. Or I’ll be like, ‘Mom, is this you?’ I don’t take online hate that seriously, unless it crosses a line. What I’ve seen my female sportswriter and sportscaster friends endure is not even sane. Nobody has threatened to rape me or kill me or both. I don’t get that kind of crazy negativity that a lot of women I know in sports get.”
Kennedy: It’s sickening. I’ve seen what women like Jessica Camerato, Kristen Ledlow, Rachel Nichols, Ramona Shelburne and others have to deal with in their mentions and it’s disturbing.
Union: “Cari Champion and Jemele Hill are good friends of mine and they’ll get everything all of the other women get plus a dose of racism as well. It’s the vilest shit I’ve ever seen or heard. It’s insane. So, no, I don’t get it to that degree. I don’t even get the same stuff that fans have given Ayesha Curry, which is vile and gross. It’s insane.”
Kennedy: You brought up Ayesha and that kind of leads to my next question about the wives of NBA players. What are some misconceptions about being an NBA player’s wife?
Union: “I think there are some stereotypes, but I mean some people live out those stereotypes (laughs). I do think there’s this idea that we’re all the same though. If one person opts to speak out, they’re a sinner; if one person opts to stay quiet, they’re a sinner. There’s the idea that everyone is a dim gold-digger who is just in it for a buck. Women who are married to professional athletes get a bad rap.”
Kennedy: It’s weird to me that you’re all grouped together and people make so many generalizations.
Union: “Right, it’s like saying, ‘All men are like this. All women are like that.’ There’s so much diversity within the wives of athletes. There’s just an enormous amount of diversity. I could go through so many stereotypes, but I’d just like for people to know that there are lovely, intelligent, amazing women who happen to be married to an athlete. And being married to an athlete isn’t the most interesting thing about them. You have to actually get to know people beyond, ‘Oh, this is Dwyane Wade……. and his wife.’ A lot of people will dismiss you, or act like just marrying this guy was some accomplishment. No, that’s not an accomplishment. Having a successful marriage is an accomplishment. I don’t liken getting down the aisle with graduating from UCLA (laughs). We didn’t luck out or hit the jackpot. D and I happen to be each other’s best friend, so we lucked out in that sense. But him being in the NBA or me having a job and my own money, that wasn’t a major selling point. Well, I guess you’d have to ask him (laughs). I’d like to think that it wasn’t a major selling point. There’s just a lot more to us than the stereotypes or the reality shows.
“Also, this idea that women can’t formulate their own ideas when it comes to sports is the biggest load of shit I’ve ever heard. If I tweet something about sports, sometimes people will say something like, ‘Okay, Dwyane can hand the phone back now.’ The thought that we aren’t watching the same games as everyone else, the thought we aren’t capable of having sports knowledge or having a high sports IQ is absurd. The idea that we’re somehow speaking for our husbands or saying things that they wish they could say is insane. If I’m at the game, then nobody is freaking telling me what to say, obviously. I’m from Nebraska, where if you don’t know Cornhuskers football, it’s preferred that you just don’t speak. I come from the kind of family where you have to know sports. So my opinions are based on facts, not just willy-nilly like, ‘Oh, I like this guy better than that guy or this team better than that team.’ I’m pretty honest and reasonable as it pertains to anything, including sports.
“And this idea that, ‘Women need to stay in their own lane’? Get the fuck out of here with that. My lane is whatever the fuck I want it to be. How about that? For myself – and I’d imagine any other wife of an NBA player – I’m watching at least 82 games each season. Even if I didn’t have any sports knowledge, by the end of 82 games, I probably would’ve developed an opinion! I probably would’ve been able to see patterns! I probably would’ve been able to spot tendencies. From that alone, I’d be able to put together a 140-character tweet!”
Kennedy: It pisses me off that you have to deal with that kind of stuff.
Union: “Yeah, and it pisses me off that [Stephen Curry’s wife] Ayesha has to deal with this stuff. And it pisses me off that people have ‘decided’ who [LeBron James’ wife] Savannah [Brinson] is just because she opts to not be heavily involved with social media. Whether or not you use social media doesn’t define your soul! You know what I mean? There are dope, cool, amazing mothers and businesswomen – let them live! But this idea that your tweets define who you are or that your lack of tweets define who are is insane. And for people who say that ‘a woman should know her place,’ stop it. Stop. It. My place is where I determine it to be. If I opt to use my voice, good! If I opt not to use my voice, that’s okay too!”
Kennedy: Dwyane obviously surprised people this offseason by joining the Bulls. How much are you looking forward to the move to Chicago and the new opportunity for Dwyane and the family?
Union: “It was shocking. There’s no way around that word. It takes some getting used to. We had just built our dream home in Miami and everyone sort of had their life in Miami so it’s big move for everyone. We all love Miami so much and Miami will still be one of our homes. For Chicago, I think the biggest thing for everyone was winter. There was the fear of winter. It was like Game of Thrones, ‘WINTER IS COMING!’ (laughs) Once we moved on from that, we just found our home and we got the boys in school, it was good. We were afraid because we were thinking, ‘Oh, the boys are about to start high school and how is that going to work?’ And they were, by far, the most eager [to move]. They’re like, ‘Ah! Cool, let’s go!’ As long as they got to keep their South Florida AAU team, they were cool with it. Everyone is just kind of jumping in. We can either dip our toe into the pool or cannon-ball and we’re cannon-balling. I think they like that they got to practice at the Bulls’ facility too. They love it, they’re excited. The first month was cool; hit me back later and we’ll see if they still love it (laughs). No, we’re all really excited.”
Kennedy: You mentioned the dream home in Miami and Dwyane obviously had a ton of history there. When did you start to realize that Dwyane leaving Miami was a possibility?
Union: “Even when we were on vacation, I think me and everyone just kind of assumed [we’d be back]. Like, ‘It looks kind of bleak right now, but they’ll work it out. They always work it out! They’ll work it out.’ It probably wasn’t until Denver’s offer came in that I realized. That offer was… a lot. Then there was another offer and another offer and another offer. And it was like, ‘Oh wait, hold on. Are you thinking about this?’ I mean, how can you not? When there’s an offer on the table that is, what, $13-15 million more than to stay home, it’s like, ‘Wow. Okay. Wow.’ But even still I thought, ‘I’m sure they’ll figure it out. They’ll figure it out!’ Really, even down to the hour that he made his decision, I just thought they’d work it out – like everyone else thought. But Chicago made the moves necessary to make his offer work. He didn’t go with the most money. Some people are saying it was just about money, but he would’ve taken Denver’s offer if that was the case. Denver’s offer was a lot, a lot – considerably more than even Chicago’s offer. It was just about finding a place where he’s comfortable, and he’s comfortable at home. Then, the rest of us had to get comfortable with it (laughs). It just seemed like after the season he had and then the postseason, he was just so excited – more so about his body and his health and that he was able to take his game to a different gear. Moving was the last thing on his mind, but yeah…”
Kennedy: You know Dwyane better than anyone. How determined is he to make this work in Chicago and silence his critics who are doubting him and the team?
Union: “I think more than making it work to silence the critics, he wants to put himself in a position physically, health-wise, to continue playing at a high level. That’s very important. Getting to know Jimmy [Butler] and [Rajon] Rondo is very important. But they haven’t even played together yet, so I don’t know where the criticism is coming from. You have Jimmy, who is an up-and-coming star and on the Olympic team. You have Rondo, who led the league in assists. I don’t know how a guy leads the league in assists and is an assist machine, but somehow gets no credit. You have my husband, who is already top five in shooting guards in the last two years in the NBA, but if you factor in what he accomplished and the amount of minutes he played, he’s one of the most efficient players in the league. What is there to criticize? But I get it. Everyone needs page views and things like that, and criticism does a lot better than raving endorsements so I get the business of criticism. But it’s kind of absurd. Now, if a few months in around the All-Star break it looks nuts, then, by all means, criticize! (laughs) But to criticize how it’ll work when these guys haven’t played together is just insane, in the same way that anointing the Warriors champions for adding KD. It’s like when the Big Three came together in Miami. Everyone was like, ‘Ugh, they’re going to win it all. Change the rules! We have to stopppp thissss!’ Cut to different teams winning championships. I mean, the Warriors have to get used to this because they haven’t all played together. Even in the Olympics, where you have three of them, it’s still not the whole team. They need time to get to know each other, to gel, to figure out the system and how it works with all of these moving parts.
“It’s all exciting though. I think the Warriors are exciting. Just like I think the trio of Jimmy, Rondo and D is exciting. I think Carmelo [Anthony] D-Rose, Joakim [Noah] and Kristaps [Porzingis] in New York is exciting. Seeing how the Spurs will do without Timmy [Duncan] is exciting. There are a lot of great storylines. To critique now is the lowest-hanging fruit. I’d rather err on the side of excitement.”
NBA Daily: The Importance of the Right Situation
D’Angelo Russell’s breakthrough this season has made some question the Lakers’ choice to trade him. Matt John explains why it was necessary for both sides.
In what could be the ultimate textbook example of poetic justice, D’Angelo Russell and the Brooklyn Nets eliminated the Los Angeles Lakers from playoff contention last Friday.
Russell’s 22 points and 13 assists played a vital role in Brooklyn’s victory over Los Angeles and made for yet another great output in a long line of impressive stat lines by Russell’s name. The former second overall pick is making a strong case for Most Improved Player this season, which should be fetching him plenty of money when he hits the market this summer.
His most recent performance in LA has brought up a question that’s been asked pretty much since his rise to stardom this season: Did the Lakers make a mistake when they traded Russell to the Nets?
The way he’s been playing, it sure looks like it. Russell deservedly made his first All-Star team this season, and at only 23 years old, there’s no telling how many more he’ll make. The strides he’s made as a player also could have really come in handy for what’s been a trainwreck of a season for the Lakers.
Looking at what he’s been able to do, trading Russell to Brooklyn looks to have been ill-advised on both Magic Johnson’s and Rob Pelinka’s part. However, people need to look past the hindsight bias with this trade.
Nobody has ever denied D’Angelo’s talent since he entered the NBA. What has always remained up in the air was whether he had the maturity to reach his ceiling. We’ve seen plenty of players over the years who had the talent to be something special that never put it together because their own hubris got in the way.
Names like Michael Beasley, Andrew Bynum and Eddy Curry come to mind. Early on in his career, Russell showed some red flags that he would become the NBA’s latest waste of talent.
First, there was that little cell phone incident with Nick Young. Then, his first coach Byron Scott outright questioned his work ethic as a player after Russell’s rookie season. Finally, when Magic Johnson and co. traded him to Brooklyn, Johnson praised D’Angelo’s skills but insinuated that he wasn’t a leader.
If Russell was going to reach his potential in the NBA, it seemed abundantly clear that wasn’t going to happen in Los Angeles. Plus, no matter what you think of how this season went for the Lakers, it’s not like Kyle Kuzma and opening up a ton of cap room to sign LeBron was exactly a bad return for him.
Of course things are different now.
After an injury-plagued first season in Brooklyn, Russell is averaging career highs in virtually every single category. He hasn’t just been good. He has at times looked completely unguardable.
It seems he’s a new man. This new D’Angelo Russell appears to not have gotten to where he is this season without a little help. Just a few days ago on Twitter, Russell thanked the veterans on the Nets for all that they’ve done for him this season.
— D'Angelo Russell (@Dloading) March 23, 2019
This indicates that a fair share of Russell’s success came from being around the right people. Also, there’s nothing that motivates a young player than to prove the doubters wrong. When the team that drafted you second overall decides you’re not good enough for them because they think you’re not leadership material, that’s enough motivation to push a player to new heights.
It’s clear that Brooklyn’s environment was more suitable for D’Angelo Russell than Los Angeles. That’s not to say that Brooklyn is better than Los Angeles. It was just better in Russell’s case.
What’s funny about D’Angelo’s story is that it is almost completely identical to Victor Oladipo’s last season.
Much like Russell, Oladipo was selected second overall in his draft, his original team gave up on him, was extremely motivated by doubters and eventually found his stride in his fifth season to become an unlikely star.
Finally, because of his unexpected rise to the top, many question why Orlando – keep in mind, not Oklahoma City – gave up on him so early. It was simple. Even though he had demonstrated immense talent, ‘Dipo did not live up to the expectations that they had set for him.
More importantly, Victor needed the necessary stimuli to get to where he is. Remember how many people said that his trade to Indiana for Paul George would go down as one of the worst deals in NBA history? Thanks to his one year of learning under Russell Westbrook’s tutelage, Oladipo did everything in his power to prove them all wrong. There’s no guarantee that the same would have happened had he stayed with the Magic, much like there’s no guarantee that Russell would have achieved the same success had he stayed with the Lakers.
In the end, neither Orlando or Los Angeles was necessarily wrong to trade their former high lottery picks because neither was the right fit. Both Oladipo and Russell are as good as they are today because they found the best situations for them to thrive.
Now, where both Orlando and Los Angeles went wrong is not that they traded those guys, but what they traded them for. The Magic received Serge Ibaka, who was an odd acquisition and was then traded mid-season, and the Lakers basically used Russell to rid themselves of the egregious error that was Timofey Mozgov’s contract.
There is some caution to D’Angelo’s story. Just because it appears that Russell has gotten past his internal issues this season does not mean that they are permanently gone. The fact that he’s played his best basketball just as he enters free agency may be more than just coincidental.
This writer hopes that Russell’s not doing all of this just for long-term financial security and nothing else, but cases like those have happened plenty of times that it should be brought up as a possibility. If it turns out he’s playing for his legacy more than anything else, then that’s great for both him and the Nets.
It wasn’t too long ago that both Oladipo and Russell were regarded as disappointments given where they were taken in their respective drafts. Because both of their careers took turns that proved to be beneficial, they’re now living up to their hype. It’s not the traditional path to stardom, but it’s still a path nonetheless.
So, after both Oladipo’s and Russell’s success stories, it makes you wonder who will be the next player to follow in their footsteps.
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?
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.
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.
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.
NBA Daily: Fixing the Chicago Bulls
Shane Rhodes continues Basketball Insiders’ “Fixing” series with a breakdown of the Chicago Bulls.
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 Chicago 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.