Lauri Markkanen

Bulls Will ‘Absolutely’ Retain Paxson, Forman

The Bulls have no plans to replace executive VP of basketball operations John Paxson or general manager Gar Forman in their front office anytime soon, team president and COO Michael Reinsdorf tells K.C. Johnson of The Chicago Tribune. Reinsdorf confirmed in no uncertain terms that Paxson and Forman would be back next season.

“Absolutely. We believe they’ve done a great job,” Reinsdorf said of the duo. “I know that in this market, with some of our fans and some in the media, they look at it differently. That perplexes me. Let’s talk about them individually because that’s another thing I don’t understand — why they’re referred to as ‘GarPax’ when they have different job responsibilities.

“… I said [previously] that if we ever felt we weren’t headed in the right direction that we’d be open to change. But we’re nowhere near that. John’s ability to build rosters is proven. We have the utmost confidence in him.”

Reinsdorf took exception to the idea that the Bulls have gone through a handful of rebuilds under Paxson and Forman, arguing that this is just the club’s second rebuild, and stating that he believes it’s very much on the right track. Pointing to promising young players like Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, and Wendell Carter, Reinsdorf likened the Bulls to the Kings and expressed optimism that Chicago can take a similar step forward next season.

The Bulls’ president and COO also offered a defense of Forman’s draft record, praising the GM for selecting players like Jimmy Butler, Nikola Mirotic, Taj Gibson, and Bobby Portis outside of the lottery over the years. The selection of Markkanen at No. 7 in 2017 earned high praise from Reinsdorf as well.

“If we look at Lauri Markkanen, if you did the 2017 draft over again, Lauri in theory could be the No. 1 pick in the draft,” Reinsdorf said. “You might say Jayson Tatum or Donovan Mitchell. But Lauri could be the No. 1 pick. That’s how good that pick was at No. 7.”

While Paxson, Forman, and head coach Jim Boylen have all received plenty of criticism from segments of the Bulls’ fanbase over the course of the 2018/19 season, it sounds like all three will be back to start the 2019/20 campaign. In addition to praising the club’s management team, Reinsdorf echoed Paxson’s earlier comments on Boylen returning for next season, lauding the work he has done with Markkanen and LaVine.

“Nothing has changed from what John has said,” Reinsdorf said. “I’m very happy with the job that Jim has done. Everything he has said he was going to do, he has done.”

Central Notes: Bledsoe, Bucks, Porter, Lopez

The Bucks’ decision to give point guard Eric Bledsoe a four-year, $70MM extension was a sensible move by both parties, Bobby Marks of ESPN argues. It’s a worthwhile price to retain Bledsoe and keep the core group together and that should aid their recruiting pitch to All-Star Giannis Antetokounmpo as he approaches free agency in 2021. Bledsoe has become a more efficient player in Milwaukee, particularly in coach Mike Budenholzer’s system. With that order of business out of the way, the Bucks front office can now concentrate on re-signing Khris Middleton and restricted free agent Malcolm Brogdon this summer, Marks adds.

We have more from the Central Division:

  • The Bucks had a much more sensible plan to build around Antetokounmpo than the Lakers did with LeBron James, Dan Woike of the Los Angeles Times opines. Milwaukee has a completely different scheme under Budenholzer, surrounding its star with shooters through savvy decisions in free agency and trades. That has opened up driving lanes for Antetokounmpo. Los Angeles’ front office brought in playmakers and ballhandlers around James, Woike notes, which is why the Lakers rank 28th in 3-point shooting.
  • The Bulls have a much brighter outlook than they did at this time last season, when they went into full tank mode, Matt John of Basketball Insiders notes. The addition of Otto Porter has allowed the Bulls to improve its spacing offensively. Improved health for second-year power forward Lauri Markkanen has also made a difference, as he’s enjoying the best stretch of his young career, John continues. Shooting guard Zach LaVine remains a defensive liability but in a recent eight-game stretch, Chicago was a plus-8.2 with him on the floor, Johns points out. The Bulls will still get a high lottery pick and should continue to be on the upswing, John concludes.
  • It’s not out of the question that Robin Lopez re-signs with the Bulls, according to Sam Smith of the team’s website. The veteran center is showing his value as an offensive factor due to Wendell Carter Jr.‘s injury. The front office was concerned that Lopez couldn’t be effective switching and getting out to the perimeter defensively, but recently few teams have beaten the Bulls at his position, Smith notes. Lopez will want to test the market but with the team’s frontcourt needs expanding, his return for next season will be under consideration, Smith adds.

Lowe’s Latest: Rockets, Prince, Blazers, Heat

The Rockets and Cavaliers had discussions about sending Brandon Knight to Cleveland along with a first-round pick in exchange for Alec Burks. However, Zach Lowe of ESPN.com hears that those talks have ceased. Houston has also spoken with the Grizzlies about potential Knight deals.

Cleveland is selling Burks, Rodney Hood, and any other “indispensable asset” prior to the deadline, Lowe writes. The team is willing to take back future salary in exchange for picks.

Houston is expected to scour the market for deals leading up to the deadline with an eye on attaching a future first-rounder to Knight and Marquese Chriss. The Rockets would likely push for lottery protections on any picks that would convey past James Harden‘s prime.

Lowe’s latest piece contains trade nuggets from several teams in the league and we’ve already passed along news from the Grizzlies’ Mike Conley and Marc Gasol sweepstakes as well as the Magic’s pre-deadline plan. Here are the rest of the newsworthy notes from the ESPN piece:

  • The Hawks have made Taurean Prince available in trade talks, sources tell Lowe. Atlanta hasn’t received a ton of traction on Prince deals because of its asking price. The organization wants a young prospect and a pick in exchange for the small forward.
  • The Blazers have put their first-rounder on the table in trade talks, sources tell Lowe. Portland has reached out about Otto Porter Jr.‘s availability, though Wizards owner Ted Leonsis previously announced that the team would not be trading Porter before the deadline.
  • Porter has drawn interest from several teams. In addition to the Blazers, the Mavericks and Jazz have kept an eye on the situation. Dallas was interested in swapping Harrison Barnes for Porter prior to the Kristaps Porzingis trade.
  • Miami appears to be willing to move anyone but Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson and Bam Adebayo for cap relief. Lowe expects the Heat to try to get at least a second-round pick for Wayne Ellington.
  • Lowe confirms a previous report that JaMychal Green, Justin Holiday, and Garrett Temple are all available. Holiday, who was acquired from the Bulls earlier this year, cost the Grizzlies two second-round picks.
  • The Kings have approximately $11MM in cap space available and they want to use it to pick up an asset. Lowe writes that it could be a draft pick or a player who will help them win this season.
  • Sacramento is willing to engage in trade talks about Willie Cauley-Stein, who will be a restricted free agent this summer. The Kings may simply let the center walk should he receive too high of an offer this offseason.
  • The Bulls are expected to listen to offers for anyone but Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter. Lowe doesn’t expect Chicago to deal either Kris Dunn or Zach LaVine though, as the team’s asking price is anticipated to be too high.
  • The Nuggets own a pair of trade exceptions and have slightly less than $7MM in breathing room under the tax. They are open to taking on a salary dump if another team calls and has to shed a player in that price range.

Bulls Notes: Boylen, Markkanen, Payne

Critics have called on coach Jim Boylen to make the 3-point shot a greater part of his offense, but the Bulls don’t have the personnel to make that strategy work, writes Joe Cowley of The Chicago Sun-Times.

“What we haven’t done is finished very well at those plays at the rim,” Boylen said in response to a question this week. “That’s where we have to grow. Then it’s finishing at the rim, maybe the defense takes it away, and now you spray out [to the 3-point line]. Who are we spraying out to? Well, we’re going to keep working at that.”

Lauri Markkanen has been the team’s most efficient 3-point shooter, but he doesn’t rank in the league’s top 20. The Bulls are 19th in the NBA in 3-point shooting percentage at 34.7%, but are 26th in the number of shots taken and tied for last in makes.

“Sometimes you don’t have the personnel to become a team that’s in the top 10 in 3-point attempts, and makes, and field-goal percentage,” Zach LaVine said. “I think we can take more, but we’d have to be hunting them, and certain guys have to hunt them.”

There’s more news out of Chicago:

  • The Bulls shouldn’t be so quick to commit to Boylen beyond this season, argues Jon Greenburg of The Athletic. He notes that the organization didn’t really conduct a coaching search before hiring Fred Hoiberg in 2015 and contends that Boylen is too similar to what management decided it didn’t want when it fired Tom Thibodeau. Greenburg mentions current Grizzlies assistant Jerry Stackhouse as a bold hiring the team could make.
  • Markkanen is still finding his way after missing the first part of the season with an elbow injury, relays Sam Smith of NBA.com. The second-year forward is averaging 17.0 PPG since returning to action, but hasn’t become the focus of the offense that many had hoped, taking just 14.6 shots per night.“I’d rather have plays where I get good shots rather than trying to force something up,” he explained. “I think it all starts from being aggressive and getting to my spots, try to make the right basketball plays.”
  • Taking a chance on Cameron Payne wasn’t a bad gamble, Smith writes in a question-and-answer column. The Bulls waived Payne last week after giving up Taj Gibson, Doug McDermott and a second-round pick to acquire him in 2017. But Smith says the front office never intended to re-sign Gibson or McDermott, so it didn’t hurt to take a chance on a former lottery pick.

Central Notes: Bulls, Thompson, Pistons, Carter

As the Bulls continue to navigate their way through the early stages of a rebuild, their core players have struggled most of the time they have been on the floor together. Joe Cowley of The Chicago Sun-Times writes that the core of Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and Lauri Markkanen look confused when sharing the floor together and at this point, still have more questions than answers.

A big reason for this confusion is the injuries that have plagued each player. In fact, Cowley points out that the three players have only played in 15 games together, despite joining together after the Jimmy Butler trade in June 2017.

The Bulls have since added Wendell Carter to the mix and have changed coaches, which will surely continue to create confusion among their growing core. Of course, as the rebuild continues, there will be more faces added to the mix to compliment this core.

There’s more from the Central division:

  • Cavaliers big man Tristan Thompson played a key role during Collin Sexton‘s recent stretch of promising play, but has missed the past ten games due to a foot injury. As Chris Fedor points out, Sexton has struggled in recent weeks without his pick-and-roll partner alongside him.
  • After their blowout loss to the Pacers, Rod Beard of The Detroit News reveals that the Pistons held a team meeting last week, with coach Dwane Casey and some of the team’s veterans sharing some positive words about how it went.
  • Wendell Carter has continued to prove he belongs in the league, providing energy and hustle plays on both ends of the floor. Sam Smith of the Bulls team website writes about how Carter is focusing on growing and learning each time he steps on the court.

Bulls Notes: Markkanen, Leadership Committee, More

While not every Bulls player was on the original group text that discussed a possible boycott of last Sunday’s practice, Lauri Markkanen was — and his voice “resonated immediately” when he urged teammates to show up, writes K.C. Johnson of The Chicago Tribune.

“I thought that was a more professional way to go about it,” Markkanen said of going to the team facility on Sunday. “I thought about other members of the staff. Like, they show up to work. Obviously, this isn’t the main point, but some of the staff lives an hour away and they come to work. I try to think how disrespectful that is to tell them that we wouldn’t show up.”

As Johnson details in that story, Markkanen believes he can be one of the leaders of the Bulls, and it appears he’ll get the opportunity to play that part. As Johnson tweeted on Thursday, the team’s new “leadership committee” will be comprised of Zach LaVine, Robin Lopez, Justin Holiday, Bobby Portis, and Markkanen. According to Johnson (Twitter link), the committee was originally just going to be four players, but Markkanen asked to be added.

Here’s more from out of Chicago:

  • With the Bulls facing plenty of outside criticism for the drama involving Boylen and his team, executive VP of basketball operations John Paxson pushed back this week against those critics, as Joe Cowley of The Chicago Sun-Times relays. The only thing that discourages me is when there are storylines out there and no one asks us our side of the story,” Paxson said. “It’s easy to look from the outside in and gather information from other people around the league that you know, but if you’re not coming directly to us, how do you really know? I’m confident in what we’re doing. … There’s so much noise out there, so much negativity. I don’t feel it inside our building or our locker room. Like I said, I think that what happened the last week, long term, will be a good thing.”
  • Addressing the situation in Chicago on Thursday, commissioner Adam Silver said that no one from the players’ union contacted him this week about the Bulls, and he plans to stay out of matters relating to the “operation of any particular team.” Cowley has the details and the quotes for The Sun-Times.
  • K.C. Johnson of The Chicago Tribune answered several Bulls-related questions in his mailbag earlier this week.
  • Earlier today, we passed along word that the Bulls have engaged in some Jabari Parker trade talks. That full story is right here.

Latest Details On Bulls’ Sunday Meetings

As we relayed on Sunday, the Bulls held a pair of meetings on Sunday following the worst loss in franchise history on Saturday, with the players participating in the first meeting before being joined by the coaches for the second one. K.C. Johnson of The Chicago Tribune and Darnell Mayberry of The Athletic have since provided more details on what happened on Sunday, reporting that those meetings were a compromise of sorts.

As Johnson and Mayberry explain, new head coach Jim Boylen pulled his starters early on Saturday in a “premeditated” move, vowing to put the team through another grueling practice on Sunday. Having played back-to-back games on Friday and Saturday, Bulls players pushed back against the idea of another intense practice on Sunday, using a team-wide group text to discuss the possibility of boycotting that practice, or showing up at the team facility together and then walking out.

However, Lauri Markkanen and Robin Lopez expressed concern about the “unprofessionalism” of a potential boycott, sources tell Mayberry. Veteran Bulls were also concerned about the impact that a major act of rebellion could have on the club’s younger, less established players, Mayberry adds. Ultimately, the players decided to show up and voice their concerns with Boylen and his staff, which led to the compromise — the practice didn’t happen, but the two meetings did.

Boylen’s initially-stated desire to push the Bulls hard again on Sunday after back-to-back games reflects the approach he has taken since replacing Fred Hoiberg as the team’s head coach a week ago. As Mayberry details, Boylen has been putting the Bulls through long, rigorous practices since taking over last Monday.

Last Tuesday, for instance, according to Mayberry, the team’s shootaround in Indianapolis exceeded 90 minutes. After the Bulls lost to the Pacers that night, Boylen immediately made players watch clips of their turnovers and poor defensive rebounding, then emerged from the locker room to tell reporters that his players needed to improve their conditioning and toughness.

“We needed to get a lot of stuff off our chest and be transparent,” Zach LaVine said on Sunday, according to Johnson. “I don’t think the players’ toughness should ever be questioned. I think that’s on us. I think that is a little bit of what we discussed in our meeting.”

For his part, Boylen has shown no regrets about the tactics he has taken, and believes they’re sending the right message to his players.

“They’re learning how I operate,” Boylen said, per Mayberry. “They’re learning what I value. And if I think a group out there isn’t doing what they need to be doing as a collective unit, I’m going to sub. Maybe I’ll sub three. Maybe I’ll sub five. What they have to understand is there are obligations and options. And we’re cleaning up what goes on. You’re obligated to do the things I ask them to do. And they’re obligated to play the right way. And when they’re not, my job is to try to fix that.”

When they announced last week that he would replace Hoiberg, the Bulls didn’t give Boylen the interim tag, suggesting they expect him to finish out the season and perhaps even remain in the head coaching role in 2019/20 and beyond. Despite a rocky start, there’s no indication the franchise won’t stick to that plan, so it’s in the Bulls’ best interests to make sure that the players and their coach are on the same page. After Sunday’s meetings, both sides seemed a little more comfortable, at least for now.

“Nobody is going to make more mistakes than I do,” Boylen said, per Johnson. “I have a lot of responsibility and make a lot of decisions. I’m not going to get them all right. But this is not a hobby for me. We’re going to keep working and grinding and communicating and hugging and crying and laughing and moving forward.”

Bulls Notes: Hoiberg, Boylen, Markkanen, Parker

The Bulls‘ decision to fire Fred Hoiberg wasn’t based on his win-loss record as the team’s head coach, executive VP of basketball operations John Paxson said today to reporters, including K.C. Johnson of The Chicago Tribune (Twitter link). Instead, Paxson explained, it was more about Hoiberg’s struggles to get his identity across to his team (Twitter link via Johnson).

“We were in a similar situation last year at this time. Poor record,” Paxson said (Twitter link via Johnson). “But the entire energy about this group was different then. What we’re lacking is an energy and spirit. It’s not as simple as saying we would’ve got that with healthy players.”

Associate head coach Jim Boylen will take over for Hoiberg, and he won’t just get the interim title. Paxson said today that the organization believes Boylen will be able to “affect change,” adding that the longtime assistant will be given the opportunity to remain in the role next season and possibly beyond (Twitter links via Johnson). For his part, Boylen told reporters that he believes he’s “a more passionate in-game coach” than Hoiberg (Twitter link via Johnson).

Here’s more on the Bulls:

  • The eventual firing of Hoiberg was inevitable after his relationship with Jimmy Butler deteriorated, in the view of Mark Strotman of NBC Sports Chicago. Meanwhile, Sean Deveney of The Sporting News and ESPN’s Zach Lowe both make the case that the Bulls’ management group didn’t put Hoiberg in a position to succeed.
  • Lowe also observes that Hoiberg is not a “forceful personality,” which may have contributed to his inability to succeed in Chicago: “I have come to believe after talking to lots of sources over lots of years now,” Lowe writes, “that (Hoiberg’s) tepid nature played some role in his inability to imprint any foundational belief upon any of his four Chicago teams.”
  • In a separate article for The Sporting News, Deveney identifies eight potential candidates to become the Bulls’ next long-term head coach, starting with Boylen.
  • Boylen’s first move as the Bulls’ head coach will be to insert Lauri Markkanen into the starting lineup, shifting Jabari Parker back to the bench, per The Chicago Sun-Times (Twitter link).
  • The rest of the Bulls’ assistants will be retained, and the team will also add G League coach Dean Cooper to its coaching staff, according to Boylen (Twitter link via Johnson).
  • As we detailed in an earlier story, Paxson said today that GM Gar Forman is “absolutely safe” in his current role.

Central Notes: Lopez, Pistons, Cavaliers

As the Bucks have gotten off to a strong start, the improved floor-spacing around Giannis Antetokounmpo has been a key in taking the team to the next level. Of course, one of the key cogs in the Bucks’ rotation has been Brook Lopez, who is attempting nearly seven 3-pointers per game from the center position.

As Marc Stein writes for The New York Times, Lopez’s transformation into an elite shooter at center has made the Bucks offense even more dynamic and unstoppable. As Stein points out, once the Lakers decided not to bring Lopez back in the offseason, the Bucks pounced and added Lopez as a key offseason addition for new head coach Mike Budenholzer as he worked to modernize the team’s offense.

So far, the results speak for themselves. Antetokounmpo is averaging 18.9 points per game in the paint as a result of the increased floor-spacing around him, and the Bucks look to be a regular season power with their new offensive system.

There’s more from the Central division:

Central Notes: Markkanen, Burks, Pachulia, Bulls

Bulls forward Lauri Markkanen made his season debut on Saturday against the Rockets, seeing 25 minutes of action off the bench for the first time since suffering an elbow sprain in September.

Markkanen, 21, is a key cog in the Bulls’ young core, and the team was 5-18 without him this season. He struggled shooting the ball on Saturday and finished 4-14 from the field, a clear sign of rust from the extended time on the sidelines.

“I felt good,” Markkanen said after the game, according to K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune. “I had no problems with my elbow, so that’s a positive. Missed some easy shots, but I think I played decent defense. I just gotta get my legs back.”

Aside from his shooting, Markkanen grabbed four rebounds, recorded a steal, one block and two fouls against the Rockets. It’s unclear how long he’ll come off the bench, with the likes of Jabari Parker and Wendell Carter Jr. starting ahead of him in the frontcourt.

“We will be careful with his minutes,” coach Fred Hoiberg said. “We’ll have constant communication while he’s on the floor to see if he needs a break to get his wind. But he’s done a great job of preparing himself for this moment with all the work he has done.

“Everybody is excited to have him back. He has a great skill set. He can do a lot on the floor. He demands a lot of attention to hopefully open up some driving lanes for some of our playmakers. He’ll have the ball in his hands some as well in facilitating.”

There’s more from the Central division today:

  • New Cavaliers guard Alec Burks played his first game with the team on Friday, scoring 15 points in 26 minutes off the bench. He followed this performance with a 13-point game on Saturday against the Raptors, proving his worth since being part of a Jazz-Cavs trade from last week. “Opportunity is everything in this league,” Burks said, according to Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com. “I feel like I have a great one here. Just trying to take advantage of it and help my new team win.”
  • Zaza Pachulia has provided a settling effect on the Pistons behind Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond this season, Ansar Khan of Mass Live writes. Pachulia, a former NBA champion, has averaged 4.1 points and 4.4 rebounds in 12.7 minutes per game.
  • Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times believes the Bulls should follow the Cavaliers’ lead and explore trading players, explaining his thoughts in a new piece. Players such as Justin Holiday, Jabari Parker and Robin Lopez could register interest on the trade market.