Chicago Bulls

Gasol will 'very likely' opt out of Bulls contract this summer, test free agency

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Gasol will 'very likely' opt out of Bulls contract this summer, test free agency

Pau Gasol came to the Bulls on a discount of sorts two summers ago, with some teams wondering how much top-flight game he had left in his veteran body.

But after a stellar first year in Chicago and his ramping it up recently after a busy summer, there appears to be very little doubt he can still produce at a high level.

Gasol told CSNChicago.com Wednesday night after his 26-point, 19-rebound, four-block and three-assist performance against the Denver Nuggets that it’s “very likely” he’ll opt-out of his contract this summer and test the market.

“As long as I keep playing like this,” Gasol said. “I know I’ll have some options.”

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Gasol, 35, signed a three-year, $22.3 million deal with the Bulls in the summer of 2014, spurning the likes of the San Antonio Spurs and to a lesser degree, the Miami Heat.

A two-time champion with the Los Angeles Lakers, Gasol is a sure-fire Hall of Famer due to his exploits both in the NBA and internationally.

Saturday’s game against the Charlotte Hornets will be career game No. 1,000 for Gasol and although he appeared to take things easy at the start of training camp and the preseason due to a busy summer with the Spanish National Team, his production has climbed in recent games.

“I feel pretty good right now physically,” Gasol said in the locker room after Wednesday's game. “I had to take it easier in the preseason so I started a little slower this season than I would’ve liked but because of how I played this summer I had no choice. I had to refuel somehow so I could have enough gas to make it through the entire season and still get to the end with enough and push through so I can play well in the playoffs.”

With the salary cap rising again this summer and assuming Gasol stays in relative good health, it makes sense for him to again hit free agency for a contract with long-term security and more annual money. By today’s financial standards, Gasol is underpaid for his production, ranking 23rd amongst power forwards in the NBA, according to spotrac.com.

If he were to be listed as a center, which he plays when Nikola Mirotic or Taj Gibson is on the floor, his $7.4 million average would rank 20th.

It appears both Gasol and Joakim Noah will be free agents this summer, leaving the Bulls with some choices in the frontline as they’ll try to fit the best pieces around Fred Hoiberg’s offensive system. No one from the Bulls seem to have given the indication they would merely let Gasol and his production walk out of the door without a fight and a source with the front office tells CSNChicago.com they'll make a hard push to retain his services.

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Hoiberg was certainly appreciative of Gasol’s effort Wednesday night, and his presence as a whole.

“I know his teammates don’t underestimate him and that’s the important thing with Pau,” Hoiberg said. “He got us going with the start and finished the game with a couple free throws.”

Gasol is averaging 14.4 points, 10.8 rebounds and 2.0 blocks, the last two being above his career averages. In Hoiberg’s system, his role has differed a bit than the one he played last year where he was featured more, as he averaged 18.5 points and 11.8 rebounds in Tom Thibodeau’s slow-down system.

With Hoiberg wanting to play faster, a style more tailored to the wings and point guards, Gasol hasn’t been exactly marginalized but the team seems to rely on him whenever they need a big bucket.

And more times than not, he’s delivered — on both ends of the floor. He had big defensive stands against the Spurs and Nuggets, as well as thwarting LeBron James’ last-second drive on Opening Night.

“Just trying to play as well as I can for the position I’m in now,” Gasol said. “I understand things are a little different now, but as long as we win and we’re a better team, we all sacrifice a little to do the things the coaching staff wants us to do.”

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.