- As the Bulls continue to struggle with injuries and inconsistent play, Mark Strotman of NBC Sports Chicago points out that the team is exactly where they should be given the injuries to some of their best players and the team’s primary focus on rebuilding and player development.
- Bulls center Robin Lopez has seen his playing time increase in recent games and the team may be showcasing him and his expiring contract, Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times reports. Lopez is making $14.3MM and the team could acquire an asset and move him to a contender, where he could add toughness off the bench without a long-term commitment, Cowley notes. Lopez is downplaying the possibility of getting traded. ‘‘I’ve always found that I kind of play best when I go out there and play unencumbered or unhampered by things like that,’’ he said.
Bulls big man Lauri Markkanen‘s elbow injury will keep him sidelined longer than originally expected, according to The Associated Press. Markkanen was originally expected to miss six to eight weeks with a high-grade lateral elbow sprain he suffered at the start of training camp.
The Finnish center’s return will likely occur nine to 11 weeks after the initial injury, per Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg. Markkanen is reportedly still in pain and not shooting from long range and will not return until he’s “100%.”
Entering his sophomore season, Markkanen was looking to build off a solid rookie campaign in which he averaged 15.2 PPG and 7.5 RPG in 29.7 MPG while appearing in 68 games. The 7-footer was the seventh overall pick in the 2017 draft.
After his initial diagnosis, Markkanen expressed optimism about his return and improving his game even while he’s sidelined.
“It’s a minor setback,” he said. “I’m just ready to get back to work. Hopefully, I can be even a little better than I am right now. You can always improve other things. I know my shot is going to be there. I’m not worried about that. Now I can work on my lefty a little bit.”
Without Markkanen and several others, the Bulls are a disappointing 4-10 after Monday’s loss to the Mavericks.
Zach LaVine has thrived with the Bulls as a volume scorer this season, averaging 27.2 points per game in 13 contests so far. He’s shot 46% from the floor, 35% from 3-point territory and 86% from the charity stripe, which would easily make this the best scoring season of his five-year career if his numbers hold up.
The Bulls own just a 4-9 record, but it’s hard to blame LaVine for the team’s shortcomings. LaVine provides Chicago with production today, but also likely remains years away from his prime age at just 23 years old.
“I’ll do whatever I gotta do to try to put points on the board or help us win,” LaVine said before a team practice Friday, according to Mark Strotman of NBC Sports. “If that’s scoring, facilitating, rebounding, whatever it is. It’s scoring for right now. I’ll continue to do that until we need something else.”
LaVine, the No. 13 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, was shipped to Chicago from the Timberwolves as part of a Jimmy Butler trade in 2017. He missed most of last season rehabbing from a torn ACL and has since come back stronger than ever.
“He’s really improved in the area of attacking the basket,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “You can see his free throw numbers are up, his finishing is better at the rim, he’s not settling for as many shots as he did a year ago and I think a lot of that has to do with the confidence that he has with his health.
“Zach is in a great rhythm on the offensive end.”
There’s more from the Central Division:
- Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo will work to add a three-point shot to his arsenal, according to ESPN. “Every year he comes back with something different,” general manager Jon Horst said. “Whether it’s at some point this year or next year, you’re going to see him with a 3-point shot.” Antetokounmpo has averaged 25.7 points and 13.4 rebounds in 11 games this season. He’s made just two of 25 shots from downtown.
- The Pistons would likely make a strong push for Bradley Beal if the Wizards choose to blow up their roster, Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press writes. Washington has started the season with a disappointing 3-9 record, and the Pistons could express interest in adding another shooter to the mix.
- Ryan Arcidiacono will remain the Bulls’ starting point guard for now, tweets K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune. Kris Dunn, the usual starter for Chicago, has been out of the lineup with a moderate MCL sprain. Arcidiacono scored 15 points on 6-8 shooting in a win over the Cavaliers on Saturday.
The Timberwolves and Sixers agreed on Saturday to one of the biggest trades in recent years. Jimmy Butler is headed to Philadelphia, while Dario Saric and Robert Covington headline the package that Minnesota is receiving.
We have more news to pass along on this blockbuster:
- Butler had shown an interest in Philadelphia long before Saturday. Butler scheduled a free agent meeting with the Sixers in 2015, when they were still in the early stages of building a contender, before he re-signed with the Bulls, Jake Fischer of Sports Illustrated tweets.
- If Butler agrees to a max contract with Philadelphia, Markelle Fultz‘s long-term prospects with the organization would be in serious doubt, Zach Lowe of ESPN tweets. There are plenty of other questions regarding how Fultz fits with core group that Philadelphia has assembled and the team’s brass will closely monitor how all the personalities mesh, Lowe adds. The top 2017 pick is averaging just 8.9 PPG and 3.6 APG in 24.3 MPG and will now have to compete with another All-Star for touches.
- Minnesota avoided sending Butler to a Western Conference contender, one of the goals it set in trade talks involving the disgruntled swingman, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN notes (Twitter link). The Rockets had been mentioned prominently as a possible destination but even a package of four future first-round picks couldn’t entice the Timberwolves to send him to a conference rival. The Sixers became the most viable trade partner once the Heat pulled Josh Richardson out of trade discussions, Wojnarowski adds.
- The Sixers were prepared to offer a similar package to the Spurs to acquire Kawhi Leonard this summer, Fischer reports in another tweet. Philadelphia was willing to give up Saric, Covington and a first-rounder to San Antonio before the Spurs opted to deal Leonard to the Raptors. The Spurs’ decision to decline the Sixers’ offer thus far seems like a wise move, considering Saric’s early shooting slump (30% from long range), Jabari Young of The Athletic tweets. Toronto’s package, with DeMar DeRozan as the centerpiece, has helped San Antonio get off to a 6-4 start despite a rash of injuries.
- Buyout candidates will be even more intrigued to join the Sixers for the stretch run, Alex Kennedy of Hoops Hype tweets. Ersan Ilyasova and Marco Belinelli joined Philadelphia in that fashion last season, Kennedy adds, and the incentive for players seeking a ring to hop on Philadelphia’s bandwagon has dramatically increased.
- The Timberwolves considered three offers from different teams before picking the Sixers’ package, Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic tweets.
- Philadelphia will likely move J.J. Redick back into the starting lineup because his 3-point shooting will be needed on the first unit, Keith Smith of RealGM tweets.
- The earliest that Butler could make his Sixers debut, once the trade is finalized, is Wednesday against the Magic, Wojnarowski adds in another tweet.
Every week, Hoops Rumors takes a closer look at players who will be free agents or could become free agents next offseason. We examine if those players’ stock is rising or falling due to performance and other factors. This week, we turn our attention to the Central Division:
Justin Holiday, Bulls 29, SG (Up) – Signed to a two-year, $9MM deal in 2017
Holiday is playing heavy minutes for the injury-riddled Bulls. His scoring average (12.0 PPG) is modest, given the amount of playing time he’s receiving, but he’s been solid from long range (38.9%) and rarely turns the ball over. His OBPM (Offensive Box Plus/Minus) is a career-best 1.7, according to Basketball Reference. Defensively, he leads the club in steals (1.6). Holiday probably won’t find a starting gig on the open market, but he’d be a solid second unit option on a playoff contender.
Rodney Hood, Cavaliers, 26, SG (Down) – Signed to a one-year, $3.47MM deal in 2018
Hood accepted the Cavaliers’ qualifying offer as a restricted free agent over the summer with the aim of landing a lucrative mult-year pact as an unrestricted FA next summer. Thus far, Hood hasn’t really stood out from the pack on a struggling team. With Kevin Love sidelined by a foot injury, Hood had an opportunity to be a bigger offensive force. Instead, his numbers have declined. He averaged 14.0 PPG in 27.7 MPG last month but has posted a 9.3 PPG average in 26.0 MPG through four November outings.
Stanley Johnson, Pistons, 22, SF (Down) – Signed to a four-year, $12.85MM deal in 2015
Johnson didn’t receive a rookie scale extension and he’ll be a restricted free agent if the Pistons extend a $5.3MM qualifying offer after the season. Right now, that’s a big if. Johnson lost his starting job to Glenn Robinson III after shooting 35.2% overall and 25.0% from deep while committing 16 turnovers in seven starts. The Pistons are currently looking at Johnson as a small ball power forward off the bench. He’s looked comfortable in that role, posting back-to-back double-digit games while shooting with more confidence.
Tyreke Evans, Pacers, 29, SG (Down) – Signed to a one-year, $12MM deal in 2018
Coming off a career year with the Grizzlies in which he averaged 19.3 PPG, Evans was expected to be one of the league’s premier sixth men. He’s still finding his way with a much more talented team, averaging 10.9 PPG, though he’s been fine beyond the arc (41.7%). In his last six games, Evans is averaging 10.0 PPG while shooting 38.2% from the field. Evans’ numbers should spike up but for now, he hasn’t done anything to make him more attractive on the open market than he was this summer.
Khris Middleton, Bucks, 27, SF (Up) – Signed to a five-year, $70MM deal in 2015
Middleton has a $13MM option on his contract for next season and it’s a foregone conclusion he’ll test the open market. His value continues to rise with his early-season performances. He’s the second-best player on a very good team, averaging 19.3 PPG and shooting a whopping 45.5% from long range. Throw in career bests in rebounding (5.2 per game) and assists (4.3) along with his solid defense and Middleton will be highly coveted in July.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
- The Pistons rank among the top 10 in the league in open 3-point attempts, yet they’ve done a poor job of making them. Meanwhile, the Bulls have been bit hard by the injury bug. Spencer Davies of Basketball Insiders takes a closer look at some of the areas of concern for Central Division clubs.
Denzel Valentine has yet to appear in a game this season for the Bulls, and his 2018/19 debut isn’t imminent. As The Chicago Sun-Times relays (via Twitter), executive VP of basketball operations John Paxson indicated on Wednesday that Valentine’s left ankle isn’t responding well, prompting the team to pump the brakes on his rehab and rule him out indefinitely.
With Valentine still on the shelf, the team figures to continue relying on rookie Chandler Hutchison in a regular rotation role. Chicago also appears to qualify for the hardship provision, which allows an injury-ravaged team to add a 16th man to its 15-man roster when it’s missing at least four players. Valentine, Kris Dunn, Bobby Portis, and Lauri Markkanen are all in the midst of extended absences for the Bulls, but there has been no word on the team applying for or receiving that roster exception.
Here’s more from out of Chicago:
- It looks like there’s a real possibility that the 2018/19 season could be Fred Hoiberg‘s last with the Bulls, says Joe Cowley of The Chicago Sun-Times. If that happens, GM Gar Forman should follow Hoiberg out the door, Cowley argues.
- Hoiberg had a heated discussion with Jabari Parker during Wednesday’s loss, according to Cowley, who notes that Parker jogged down the floor on back-to-back defensive possessions before Hoiberg called timeout and had words with him.
- Bulls center Wendell Carter, a former Duke Blue Devil, raved about his alma mater’s 2018/19 roster, suggesting that he believes Zion Williamson will “translate perfectly” to the NBA, as Cowley details. However, Carter doesn’t want to see the Bulls go into tank mode to try to land one of those top Duke prospects in next year’s draft. “I feel like we’ve just got to try to win every game,” he said. “If we lose, but we’re playing hard, that’s one thing, but I wouldn’t feel good losing games on purpose.”
- In yet another article for The Sun-Times, Cowley revisits Nikola Mirotic‘s time in Chicago, suggesting that the front office “couldn’t wait to deal him” and some of his teammates “weren’t exactly sad” that Bobby Portis punched him during a practice last fall. Hoiberg and Robin Lopez spoke highly of Mirotic, however.
- Sam Smith of Bulls.com explores where things stand for two-way player Tyler Ulis, who finds himself on the Windy City Bulls after spending the last two seasons as an NBA rotation player.
- The Bulls matched the Kings’ four-year, $78MM offer sheet for Zach LaVine and thus far it’s looking like a wise decision. As Sam Smith of the Bulls’ website notes, LaVine is shooting a career high 46.8% and averaging 26.6 PPG. He’s second in the Eastern Conference in usage rate to Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo and his efficiency rating still is top 10 in the conference, Smith adds.
The Wizards recently became the 28th NBA team to reach a jersey patch agreement with a corporate sponsor, teaming with GEICO on a multiyear deal, as the club announced in a press release. GEICO’s logo will now appear on the uniforms of multiple D.C.-area organizations, with the Wizards, the Washington Mystics (WNBA), and the Capital City Go-Go (G League) all getting the advertisement patch.
The Pacers and Thunder are now the only two NBA teams without ads on their uniforms, as we outline here. The NBA’s jersey sponsorship pilot program is set to run through the 2019/20 season, but the league seems likely to extend it beyond that, given its success so far.
Here are a few more odds and ends from around the basketball world:
- ESPN’s draft gurus, including Jonathan Givony, recently revealed their complete prospect rankings for the 2019 draft, with Duke players nabbing three of the top four spots. R.J. Barrett leads the way, followed by Zion Williamson at No. 3 and Cameron Reddish at No. 4. The Blue Devils’ trio sandwiches North Carolina small forward Nassir Little at No. 2.
- Speaking of Williamson, Chris Stone of The Sporting News took an in-depth look at the 285-pound youngster, writing that the Duke forward represents a “truly one-of-a-kind prospect.”
- The NBA G League has reached a multiyear deal with ESPN that will allow ESPN+ subscribers to watch more than 200 games per season, the league announced today in a press release. This season’s broadcast schedule begins with three games on Tuesday.
- The Timberwolves could still end up trading Jimmy Butler for valuable long-term pieces, and Lauri Markkanen and Zach LaVine could become long-term core pieces for the Bulls. However, in the view of Vincent Goodwill of Yahoo Sports, the 2017 trade between Minnesota and Chicago is at risk of becoming the sort of blockbuster deal that doesn’t turn out perfectly for either side.