Pat Riley

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.

NBA Buzz: Bulls looking for shooting in NBA Draft

NBA Buzz: Bulls looking for shooting in NBA Draft

With March Madness officially upon us, it's time to watch those college tournament games a little more closely to see if we can find some NBA prospects to help the Bulls. With the recent trade for Cameron Payne, the Bulls' number one need has probably shifted from point guard to finding a knockdown 3-point shooter, preferably at the power forward position.

So, who are the top stretch four prospects in this year's draft? Two players expected to go in the top 10 are Arizona 7-footer Lauri Markkanen and Florida State's Jonathan Isaac. Markkanen is averaging 15.2 points and 7.5 rebounds for the Wildcats, showing a lot of the skills we're seeing in Knicks star Kristaps Porzingis, albeit without the freakish athleticism.

Isaac is sharing top billing with small forward Dwayne Bacon at Florida State, but has a nice inside-outside game. And, he's an incredibly raw prospect right now at 19 years old, standing 6'11" and weighing only 205 pounds.

Other power forward prospects include Texas A&M's Robert Williams, Wake Forest's John Collins, Cal's Ivan Rabb, Baylor's Johnathan Motley, Duke's Harry Giles, UCLA's T.J. Leaf, Syracuse's Tyler Lydon, Purdue's Caleb Swanigan and Valparaiso's Alec Peters.

The Bulls also could be in the market for a shooting guard or small forward if Dwyane Wade chooses not to exercise his $23.8 million player option for next season. Players who could be available in the mid-first round include North Carolina's Justin Jackson, Australian Terrance Ferguson, Indiana's OG Anunoby, Duke's Luke Kennard and Grayson Allen, Louisville's Donovan Mitchell, Oregon's Dillon Brooks and Clemson's Jaron Blossomgame.

If the Bulls miss the playoffs, there's always the small chance to move up into the top three via the draft lottery for potential franchise-changing talents like Washington PG Markelle Fultz, UCLA's PG Lonzo Ball and Kansas SF Josh Jackson. But after cashing in on a 1.8 percent chance to get Derrick Rose back in 2008, the odds are definitely against lightning striking twice for the same franchise.

Remember, the Bulls traded their second-round pick this year to the Knicks in the Derrick Rose deal, but they will have an early second rounder coming from Sacramento that figures to be in the 35-40 overall range to potentially add another player who can make next season's roster.

AROUND THE ASSOCIATION

It wasn't all that long ago Miami was thinking about lottery balls, and the chance for a top-three pick this summer. The Heat got off to a miserable start after the departure of franchise icon Dwyane Wade, and looked like one of the league's worst teams at 11-30.

But then out of nowhere, the Heat lived up to their nickname, reeling off 13 straight wins in one of the strangest hot streaks the NBA has ever seen. And Miami still hasn't cooled off, beating the defending champion Cavaliers in back-to-back games on the way to pulling within a half game of the final playoff spot in the East.

At this point, who would bet against Miami qualifying for the postseason? Eric Spoelstra remains one of the league's best coaches, Hassan Whiteside is putting up big numbers at both ends, Goran Dragic is an underrated point guard and players like Dion Waiters, James Johnson, Tyler Johnson and Wayne Ellington are playing the best basketball of their pro careers.

The Heat are 20-4 since Jan. 13, playing with the kind of confidence no one would have expected from a roster thrown together by Pat Riley in one of the low points of the franchise after Wade decided to leave for his hometown of Chicago after 13 years starring in South Beach.

Now, while some members of the South Florida media are talking about a possible Wade return next season, Riley is faced with some tough decisions on re-signing some of the young players who've led this playoff push. Waiters will be due for a huge pay raise after averaging nearly 16 points a game, shooting 38 percent from 3-point range. The question is: Will Riley choose to invest in a 25-year-old player like Waiters, or bring back the 35-year-old Wade for a South Beach swan song?

Don't be surprised if Wade opts in for the $23.8 million remaining on his contract with the Bulls, then goes back to Miami for a farewell tour in 2018-19.

We've talked a lot about the battle between the Bulls, Pistons and Pacers for the sixth through eighth spots in the Eastern Conference playoff field, but now it's looking like two of those teams might miss the playoffs entirely. Miami has to be a favorite to grab one of those positions, and the Bucks are also making a late season move.

Even after the loss of Jabari Parker to a second ACL injury, the Bucks have won eight of their last 11 games to pull within a half game of the final playoff spot. Second-round draft pick Malcolm Brogdon has entered the Rookie of the Year discussion with his strong play off the bench, Khris Middleton has played well in his return from a hamstring injury and Giannis Antetokounmpo continues to put up amazing numbers. Milwaukee has won all three meetings against the Bulls this season, with one more game coming up later this month.

Congratulations to Dirk Nowitzki on joining the exclusive 30,000 point club. Dirk reached the plateau with a turn-back-the-clock first half against the Lakers on March 7, scoring 18 points in the first quarter, then hitting a classic one-legged fadeaway for 30K early in the second. 

Nowitzki is one of the most popular players in the NBA, and congratulatory tweets streamed in from a number of current and former stars. Dirk joins Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain on the short list of players to hit the 30,000 mark, and he's considered the best international player in the history of the game.

Nowitzki plans to play one more season, which would put him alongside Kobe as the only players to complete a 20-year career with just one franchise.

STATS OF THE WEEK

I asked our stats guru, Chris Kamka, for a little deeper look at Dirk's statistical accomplishments, and here's some of the gems he came up with:

Most career 3-pointers made by 7-footers

(heights via Basketball-Reference.com)

1755 Dirk Nowitzki 7'0"
627 Andrea Bargnani  7'0"
352 Spencer Hawes  7'1"
243   Kelly Olynyk   7'0"
192  Meyers Leonard 7'1"
180  Kristaps Porzingis 7'3"
155  Frank Kaminsky 7'0"

.500 FG%, .400 3P% & .900 FT with 20+ PPG in a season

Larry Bird (2): 1986-87, 1987-88

Dirk Nowitzki: 2006-07

Kevin Durant: 2012-13

Stephen Curry: 2015-16

Most career points with the same team

33643 Kobe Bryant Lakers
30005 Dirk Nowitzki  Mavericks
26496 Tim Duncan  Spurs
26395 John Havlicek Celtics
25279 Reggie Miller    Pacers
25192  Jerry West  Lakers

In Nowitzki's NBA Debut (Feb. 5, 1999), the Mavericks starting lineup was:

Steve Nash, Michael Finley, Shawn Bradley, A.C. Green and Dirk Nowitzki

Eight players have at least 200 NBA Career Win Shares:

(via Basketball-Reference.com)

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: 273.4  

Wilt Chamberlain: 247.3    

Karl Malone: 234.6    

Michael Jordan: 214.0  

John Stockton: 207.7    

Tim Duncan: 206.4  

LeBron James: 202.3    

Dirk Nowitzki: 200.6    

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

Dirk was gracious per usual in thanking everyone who congratulated him on social media, posting on his official twitter account:

Nowitzki also said he celebrated with a Bud Light, something he hadn't done in a long time. Kind of surprising a native of Germany wouldn't have gone with a heartier brew, but then again, he's been living in this country for the last 19 years!

 

Dwyane Wade repeats lack of communication with Pat Riley: 'We haven't spoken'

Dwyane Wade repeats lack of communication with Pat Riley: 'We haven't spoken'

ATLANTA — One day before his return to Miami, Dwyane Wade reiterated the fact he hasn’t talked to Heat president and former coach Pat Riley since leaving the Heat for the Bulls last summer.

“I think you guys know I haven’t talked to him. Simple as that,” Wade said. “I think I’ve been very open and honest about my love and respect for Pat but honest that I haven’t spoken to him since the season ended.”

A contentious contract negotiation would up resulting in the Bulls’ gain, as Wade agreed to a two-year deal with the Bulls in a surprising free-agency move. Leaving the place he was for 13 years, Wade said he’s kept up with everyone inside the Heat organization except for Riley.

“I know who Pat is. I’ve been there 13 years,” Wade said. “You gotta understand that. I’m cool with it, I’m fine, 100 percent. I’ve seen a lot of video tributes. Seen a lot of players come in and go out. I know if you’re not with him, you’re against him.”

Wade spoke to CSNChicago.com extensively about the matters surrounding his departure from the Heat on Monday night but wasn’t as talkative following Wednesday’s shootaround at Philips Arena before the Bulls took on the Atlanta Hawks.

When asked if he planned on speaking to Riley, Wade said, “I don’t know. I plan on playing tonight, focus on this game but focus on tomorrow at 8 o’clock.”

[SHOP BULLS: Get a Dwyane Wade jersey right here]

He’ll get the video tribute all former Heat players have received upon returning to Miami, the most notable of which was LeBron James coming back to Miami after leaving for Cleveland following the 2014 NBA Finals.

Only Wade knows what his emotions will be Thursday night.

“I don’t know. I’ve only experienced it clapping for other guys who came back,” Wade said. “I’ve always been appreciative of other guys who came back. And the cheers they got. I have no idea.”

But he certainly wished he had a little more than a few hours to take in his old surroundings.

“I would love if it wasn’t on a back to back, a day I could enjoy my house,” Wade said. “I’m gonna sleep in my bed for three hours. I’m gonna take advantage of the moments I’m there, my loved ones that’s there and around.”