Chicago Bulls

Celtics trade adds intrigue to Bulls, or does it?

Celtics trade adds intrigue to Bulls, or does it?

The NBA Draft is days away and a wild, potentially franchise-changing week could be ahead for the Chicago Bulls.

Rumors will swirl.

Names—big names—will be thrown around and there could either be an explosion of activity where star players will change addresses, creating a potential shift in conference hierarchies.

Or, nothing will happen and the status quo will remain so.

The Boston Celtics have observers of the Bulls on high alert, perhaps for natural reasons due to their affection for Jimmy Butler. Trading the No. 1 pick to Philadelphia for the No. 3 selection caused more than a few ripples leaguewide, as the Celtics acquired more future assets in the form of draft picks.

In next year’s draft, they have their own pick, Brooklyn’s first-round pick and the Lakers’ first-round pick, if it falls between No. 2-5, according to The Vertical. For the Celitcs, they’re passing up on Washington’s Markelle Fultz to maybe take Kansas’ Josh Jackson, a player many believe is the best prospect in the draft.

But trading away for the chance to draft Fultz is a risk Celtics GM Danny Ainge is willing to take—and it’s calculated risks that’s gotten him to this point, with assets on top of assets along with cap space and a roster that advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals last month.

Many have drawn a straight line from the Celtics’ activity to the Bulls, as they have coveted Butler since Butler has ascended to stardom. In theory the Celtics have assets the Bulls would want to jumpstart a rebuild—multiple draft picks and existing talent they could ask for.

The more assets the Celtics have, the more assets the Bulls would ask for in a potential deal. But many around the Bulls don’t believe Ainge will even come calling before draft night, sources tell CSNChicago.com. The Celtics have enough to put a competitive team on the floor as is without having to add a player of Butler’s caliber. They have their eyes on Jazz free agent swingman Gordon Hayward and their trade of the first pick cleared enough cap savings to offer Hayward a max contract this July, as they’ll likely compete with the Jazz and Miami Heat as top suitors.

Butler made an All-NBA team this season, while Hayward did not, but the difference between the two may not be so vast for the Celtics to mortgage their future to acquire Butler over Hayward, if it comes to that.

And Ainge has worked hard to stockpile these assets; would he cash them in for a star in Butler or Pacers swingman Paul George as opposed to waiting on a megastar to hit the market?

It’s easy to fantasize but it’s clear Ainge is taking the long play here, wanting to be in prime position to take over the East when LeBron James declines, retires or departs to Los Angeles, as has been rumored.

Make no mistake, the Bulls front office has long been transparent about their so-called commitment to Butler and are certainly testing their star’s patience and sanity with the recent strategy of trying to develop some of their younger players as opposed to going after proven players.

And the possibility of selecting in the top five of the draft for the next couple years would be intriguing to a front office that’s stated the difficulty in selecting in the middle of the first round and finding productive players.

A trade of Butler will likely make things murkier for Dwyane Wade’s future, as he has until June 27 to decide whether he’ll take a $24 million payday or hit free agency and a player of his stature probably wouldn’t want to be around for a scaled-down rebuild with no anchor.

But who knows if the Bulls have an actual desire to trade Butler, as players of his caliber are hard to come by and consistently drafting high doesn’t guarantee anything in the way of the future—anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of the NBA knows that.

So the Bulls must be very careful as to how they proceed for the rest of the week, if they’re at all bothered by the noise. If nothing else, they know how Ainge operates and he’s loving every second of this predraft madness.

Whether the Bulls stay calm or idle, it can appear to look the same way but they know there’s a possibility the phone may ring in the next four days.

But just because it rings, it doesn’t mean the Bulls have to kowtow or that they will; the status quo may not be sexy but it may be prudent.

If the Bulls buy out Dwyane Wade, the Heat seem like they'd welcome him back

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USA TODAY

If the Bulls buy out Dwyane Wade, the Heat seem like they'd welcome him back

The Bulls are in complete rebuild mode, and that means they have little use for 35-year-old Dwyane Wade.

ESPN's Nick Friedell reported last week that it's a matter of when - not if - the Bulls will buy out Wade. The future Hall of Famer is due $24 million this upcoming season, but how much Wade receives in a potential buyout could hold things up in the short-term.

The question then becomes: where would Wade land after he passes through waivers and becomes a free agent?

A potential destination is joining good friend LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. But Wade could also consider going back to the Miami Heat, where he spent the first 13 years of his NBA career.

And if he did, budding star Hassan Whiteside says the team would welcome back Wade with open arms.

"It'd be great," Whiteside told the Sun Sentinel. "It's a three-time NBA champion coming back, coming in and really helping a team out. It would be great."

Stay tuned, but it seems like a Wade-to-Miami reunion is a real possibility.

State of the Bulls: Stacked 2018 draft class

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USA TODAY

State of the Bulls: Stacked 2018 draft class

2018 draft class is loaded at the top

Quietly, you can bet Bulls' front office executives John Paxson and Gar Forman had a little celebration after hearing that prep star Marvin Bagley III was going to graduate from high school early and enroll at Duke for the 2017-18 season, making him eligible for the 2018 draft.

Bagley, a 6'11 power forward from Los Angeles, is being compared to longtime NBA star Chris Bosh, right down to his smooth left-handed shooting touch. Bagley averaged 24.6 points, 10.1 rebounds and two blocked shots during his junior season for Sierra Canyon H.S. He's also fared well against NBA competition at the highly-regarded Drew League in L.A. this summer. Bagley’s physical tools are off the charts, and you can count on Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski preparing him well for life in the NBA.

Most NBA scouts and execs expect the No. 1 overall pick to come down to either Bagley or Michael Porter Jr., who will play his one season of college basketball at Missouri. The 6'10 Porter averaged an amazing 34.8 points and 13.8 rebounds last season against Seattle high school competition. He's considered a more dynamic scorer than Bagley with more range on his jump shot. Some scouts believe he could quickly develop into one of the league's elite players with Kevin Durant-type length and shooting ability at the small forward position.

International swingman Luka Doncic is also highly coveted by NBA teams. The 6'8 swingman has excellent shooting range, and is also capable of creating his own shot with outstanding ball-handling ability. Forget the stereotype of European players being mechanical and unable to compete athletically, Doncic is capable of being an 18-20 point scorer in the NBA and should go in the top five next June. He's considered one of the best international prospects in the last decade.

Two 7-footers also will hear their names called early on draft night 2018. University of Arizona freshman DeAndre Ayton averaged 19.8 points and 12 rebounds in high school last season, while Texas freshman center Mohamed Bomba has an incredible 7-foot-9 wingspan. Sure, the NBA has moved away from the traditional low post center, but teams are still looking to acquire agile big men like Karl-Anthony Towns, Joel Embiid, DeAndre Jordan, Rudy Gobert and Hassan Whiteside. Depending on how they fare against top level college competition, Ayton and Bomba could round out the top five.

Other names to watch in the lottery portion of next year's draft include Texas A&M power forward Robert Williams, Michigan State's forward duo of Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson Jr., and the latest one-and-dones from John Calipari's Kentucky program, center Nick Richards and small forward Jarred Vanderbilt.

In case you missed it, ESPN released its preseason win total expectations for the Eastern Conference on Wednesday, and the Bulls were dead last with a projected record of 26-56. Now, I'm not sure a team with veterans Dwyane Wade and Robin Lopez and the three young players acquired in the Jimmy Butler trade with Minnesota will be quite that bad, but if you're going to rebuild, the idea is to get the best draft pick possible, and the Bulls appear to be on course for a top-five selection depending on how the lottery falls.

If the Bulls are able to land an elite talent like Porter Jr., Bagley III or Doncic in the draft, then use their $40-50 million in cap space to land a couple of quality free agents, the rebuild might not be as painful as some fans are fearing.

Last dance for LeBron in Cleveland?

Well-connected NBA writer Chris Sheridan dropped this bomb on Twitter Wednesday, quoting an NBA source, "This will be LeBron's final season in Cleveland. He is 100 percent leaving. Relationship with owners beyond repair." Don’t forget, Sheridan was the first national writer to report James was going to leave Miami to go back to Cleveland in 2014, so his reports definitely warrant a little extra attention.

Okay, we've already heard countless rumors about James planning to join the Lakers after next season. He's built a mansion in Brentwood, is close with Magic Johnson and will be able to bring another superstar with him to L.A. like Paul George or Russell Westbrook. Plus, the Lakers have a number of talented young players in place like Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. and a promising coach in Luke Walton.

Add in the likelihood Kyrie Irving will be traded before training camp opens and LeBron's long-standing poor relationship with Cavs' owner Dan Gilbert, and you have the perfect formula for another James' free agent decision next July. Although, I'm not sure why LeBron would want to go West, where Golden State is positioned to dominate the league for another five seasons, with strong challengers like the Rockets and Spurs still in place. 

But if we've learned anything from watching James over the years, he's clearly a man who wants to align the odds in his favor. So don't rule out anything when it comes to James' free agent decision. If the Cavs make a home run trade for Irving, maybe LeBron decided to plays out his career in his home state. If not, look for him to find a team with the cap space to bring in another top star to run with him.

Back in 2010, the Bulls carved out the cap space to add two max contract stars, but lost out to Pat Riley in Miami. This time around they won't be on James' July travel itinerary.

One thing we know for sure. Where LeBron plays in 2018 will be the number one story throughout the NBA season.