Chicago Bulls

'Lockout League' convenient for Bulls' Watson

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'Lockout League' convenient for Bulls' Watson

Friday, Sept. 9, 2011
Posted: 12:03 p.m.

By AggreySam
CSNChicago.com Bulls Insider Follow@CSNBullsInsider
As the old saying goes, "It's not where you're from, it's where you're at." Or is the opposite true?

Either way, C.J. Watson has the good fortune of both interpretations applying to him. The Las Vegas native has been in his hometown this summer, spending time with his family and working out with noted basketball trainer Joe Abunassar and the numerous NBA players who flock to "Sin City" in the offseason.

Watson and first-round draft pick Jimmy Butler -- who wasn't able to play in NBA summer-league competition because of the ongoing lockout -- are the two Bulls committed to playing in the Competitive Training Series, reportedly the brainchild of Phoenix Suns forward Jared Dudley. Starting Sept. 12, Abunassar's Las Vegas-based Impact Basketball will host a two-week session featuring training and games for NBA players.

"It's NBA players coming out and playing on teams to stay shape because of the lockout," Watson explained to CSNChicago.com in a recent phone interview from Las Vegas. "A lot of players just come to Vegas, so it's good."

According to a Thursday press release from Impact Basketball, over 70 NBA players, including longtime Abunassar client Chauncey Billups of the New York Knicks and Washington Wizards star John Wall, will participate. While optimism can be derived from recent reports during negotiations between the league and the union in New York this week -- perhaps putting on hold tentative plans to have Competitive Training Series sessions in subsequent months -- the benefits of playing in a structured environment with training, referees, NBA rules and competition (games will be open to the public) during the work stoppage are clear.

Never before in the offseason have so many great players come together to train and play. I am thrilled to be able to provide our world-class training environment and system to so many great players," Abunassar said Thursday in a statement released by Impact Basketball. "This will be an experience of a lifetime for our Impact Academy students. Everything we do at Impact is built from our experiences of training great pros and all-stars over the past 15 years. This will certainly enhance our entire program for all of our athletes."

Added Billups: "This will be an amazing two weeks for all of us NBA players who have been working and training hard all summer to get together and have a chance to really get after it on the court against some of the best players in the league. I have trained with Joe for 14 years and Impact continues to be the worlds elite place to train and improve your game. This will be a great two weeks for everyone."

Meanwhile, Watson, who had foot surgery earlier this summer leading him to miss out on the rash of exhibition games, summer leagues and pro-am events, is sticking to his usual offseason regimen.

"It's been good. I've been getting back into, getting back in shape and playing basketball, really," said the University of Tennessee product. "Actually, my days are just like any other summer. I wake up in the morning, go work out, come back home, then I go to the gym at night to shoot," he continued. "I'm just working on my shooting, passing, getting to the basket, everything. Not just one aspect. I'm trying to do it all."

Watson wasn't definitive about whether more of the Bulls would join him. Derrick Rose, Kyle Korver and Taj Gibson all spend time training in Southern California, a hop, skip and a jump from Vegas, in the offseason. Watson did note that he's kept in touch with his teammates during the offseason. Although he's soft-spoken, he is popular on the close-knit squad. In his first season in Chicago, he gradually found his groove as time progressed, beginning with a 39-point November outburst in Denver as a starter in Rose's lone absence of the 62-win regular season.

"I love Chicago. The only bad part for me is the traffic," quipped Watson. "Last year was great. It was an adjustment for me at first to have new players, a new coach, the style of play that he wants to play. After a while, I just started to be more comfortable with the players and the coaches and the style of play.

"It's a great feeling to know that my teammates are doing well. I hope they stay healthy and continue to get better and keep improving," he continued, referring to the performances by Luol Deng, Joakim Noah and Omer Asik in the ongoing EuroBasket tournament in Lithuania.

"We've just got to come out, make sure everybody's healthy first off, but come out with more focus and more drive. We know what it takes to get to where we got, but that's not what we want, so hopefully we can go a little further and do better than last year."

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.com's Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

NBA economic reality could speed up Bulls rebuild

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USA TODAY

NBA economic reality could speed up Bulls rebuild

In case you missed it this morning, ESPN's Tim McMahon and Bobby Marks collaborated on an excellent piece detailing how the irresponsible spending by NBA teams last summer could impact a star-studded free agent class in 2018.

Which is music to the ears of Bulls' front office executives John Paxson and Gar Forman, who are hoping to be a major player on the free agent market next year.

The ESPN report projected only nine teams having cap space to bid on a free agent class that could include Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, Paul George, DeMarcus Cousins, Chris Paul, Isaiah Thomas, Carmelo Anthony, DeAndre Jordan, LaMarcus Aldridge, Avery Bradley, Brook Lopez, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Wilson Chandler, Danny Green, Enes Kanter and Greg Monroe, along with restricted free agents like Nikola Jokic, Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Gary Harris, Jusuf Nurkic, Marcus Smart, Rodney Hood, Julius Randle, Dante Exum, Aaron Gordon and Clint Capela.

Bad summer not to have any spending money.

But that's exactly what Paxson and Forman were anticipating when they chose not to get involved in the reckless spending triggered by the league's new TV deal last summer. We all know about some of the terrible contracts handed out including a four-year, $72 million deal to Joakim Noah, four years, $64 million for Timofey Mozgov and Portland spending almost $150 million to lock up reserves Allen Crabbe and Evan Turner for four years.

The Bulls signed Dwyane Wade, Rajon Rondo and Isaiah Canaan last summer, but avoided any salary commitment beyond two years. Both Rondo and Canaan were bought out of the team options the Bulls held for next season.

Meanwhile, the Trail Blazers are now in such a deep luxury tax hole that they basically gave Crabbe away in a trade with Brooklyn earlier this week, immediately waiving the player they got back, power forward Andrew Nicholson, under the league's stretch provision. Portland figures to be one of at least 10 teams paying the luxury tax for the 2018-19 season.

I know what many of you are thinking, "Why will 2018 free agency be any different than in years past?" Yes, the Bulls missed out on primary targets James, Wade and Chris Bosh in 2010, and they failed to land Anthony in 2014. But with so many teams capped out, the Bulls will face less competition in pursuing the players they want most next summer.

We've all heard the rumors about James wanting to finish his career in L.A., and it's unlikely Durant, Westbrook, George or Paul would have any interest in coming to Chicago. But the Bulls could get significantly better right away in a weakened Eastern Conference by adding one or two players from a list of unrestricted free agents that could be looking for a new situation, including Cousins, Jordan, Bradley, Thomas, Caldwell-Pope, Kanter, Chandler and Green. They also could use their cap space to make a massive cap offer to a restricted free agent whose team is already in the luxury tax.

Of course, the Bulls have decisions to make with their own roster as well. They still haven't re-signed Niko Mirotic, and any contract beyond one season will reduce their cap space next summer. Plus, the key player coming back in the Jimmy Butler deal, shooting guard Zach LaVine, will be a restricted free agent next summer, and if he comes back 100 percent from ACL surgery, could command a multi-year contract starting at $20 million or more.

The Bulls have contract options on the rookie deals of Bobby Portis, Kris Dunn, Cam Payne, Jerian Grant, Denzel Valentine and Lauri Markkanen, while Paul Zipser's $1.5 million salary is not guaranteed for 2018-19.

Paxson said the Bulls are committed to re-building through the draft, and the hope is they'll wind up with a top 3 pick after next year's lottery to grab a franchise changing talent like Missouri's Michael Porter, Jr., International star Luka Doncic and 7-footers DeAndre Ayton of Arizona and Mohamed Bamba of Texas.

Looking at the big picture, if LaVine comes back 100 percent, Dunn emerges as a legit starting point guard and Markkanen shows potential as a stretch 4, the Bulls rebuild could move quickly. Adding one of the top players in next year's draft would be the first step, then Paxson and Forman would be armed with somewhere between $40-50 million dollars in cap space to pursue an impact free agent or two.

Bulls fans remember how long it took to re-build the team after the end of the Jordan era in 1998. Jerry Krause couldn't land a major free agent, and the Tyson Chandler-Eddy Curry experiment failed badly.

Let's hope Paxson and Forman have more luck this time around. At least they'll have a built-in advantage when the 2018 free agent market opens for business next July with the Bulls projected to have more cap space available than any other team in the league.

Bulls Talk Podcast: Why Bulls fans should not feel like they 'missed out' on trading for Kyrie Irving

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Bulls Talk Podcast: Why Bulls fans should not feel like they 'missed out' on trading for Kyrie Irving

On the latest Bulls Talk Podcast, Mark Schanowski, Kendall Gill, and Kevin Anderson break down the Kyrie Irving trade rumors, Derrick Rose’s move to Cleveland, and Kendall’s appearance in the ‘Big 3’.

Kendall shares what it was like when he wanted out of Charlotte, and how Rose to the Cavs only works if Kyrie is gone.

The trio also explains why Bulls fans should not feel like they ‘missed out’ on trading for Irving. Plus behind-the-scenes of KG’s hometown return to the court.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below: