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Bulls will have plenty of options in 2017 NBA Draft

Bulls will have plenty of options in 2017 NBA Draft

Owning homecourt advantage at this week's NBA Draft Combine, the Bulls have one of the league's largest contingents for the testing and games at Quest Multisport, including their analytics experts and head of international scouting Ivica Dukan.

Picking in the middle of the first round (16th overall), you can expect the Bulls to go with the "best athlete available" formula, with extra emphasis on finding a young wing player to develop behind Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade.

So, assuming the Bulls stay at No. 16, which players might still be on the board when they're on the clock? Let's start with a pair of athletic wings' OG Anunoby (Indiana) and Terrance Ferguson (currently playing professionally in France).

Anunoby would have probably been a lottery pick if he had not suffered a knee injury that ended his sophomore season with the Hoosiers. At 6-foot-8, with a 7'2 1/4" inch wingspan, Anunoby should be a plus defender immediately. With the Bulls, he could provide valuable rest for Butler and also spare the three-time All-Star the responsibility of guarding the opposing team's best scorer for long stretches.

Anunoby only averaged 11.1 points during his shortened sophomore year at Indiana, but he has the athleticism to run the floor for easy baskets, and since he still hasn't turned 20, he has plenty of time to develop his offensive game.

Similar story with Ferguson, who grew up in Tulsa but decided to play overseas rather than spend a year in college. He's only averaging 4.6 points for French team Adelaide, but scouts are intrigued by his physical skills and potential as a 6-foot-7 shooting guard.

Some other players to watch in the middle of the first round include power forwards' Ivan Rabb (California) and John Collins (Wake Forest). Rabb was projected as a likely lottery pick last season, but decided to return to Cal for his sophomore year.

Facing double teams most of the season, Rabb didn't show the improvement in his numbers (14 points per game, 10.5 rebounds per game) that a lot of NBA scouts expected. Still, the 6-foot-10 lefty continues to draw comparisons to long-time Toronto Raptors and Miami Heat star Chris Bosh, and is a polished low post scorer.

[RELATED: NBA executives understand why top players skip combine]

Rabb can hit consistently from mid-range, but if the Bosh comparisons are going to hold up, he'll need to stretch his shooting skills out to the 3-point line.

I asked Rabb about the possibility of being drafted by the Bulls.

"One of my friends, Bobby Portis, he's a real good player," Rabb said. "He played pretty well in the playoffs and throughout the season. I know they traded Taj Gibson, they have (Nikola) Mirotic, so I'm not really sure what they plan on doing. I feel that's a great destination from me, too."

The Bulls needs at power forward depend heavily on whether they re-sign Mirotic, who will be a restricted free agent on July 1. Rabb could be a good fit as an athletic, rangy 4 who can replace some of the skills the Bulls lost with the Gibson trade to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Similar story with Collins, who averaged 19.2 points at Wake Forest last season. The 6-foot-10 Collins is known for his athleticism and ability to finish at the rim, but he understands how important it is to show scouts he can be a threat from the 3-point line.

"I think I can shoot it a lot better than I've shown, or had the ability to show," Collins said. "Definitely going to be working on that, and keep on expanding on that, so when the time is necessary for me to shoot it, I'm going to look good doing it."

When it comes to self-confidence, it will be tough for any of the prospects to top Creighton center Justin Patton. The 7-foot Patton averaged 12.9 points per game last season, playing for Doug McDermott's dad Greg McDermott at Creighton. Patton shot over 68 percent on 2-point attempts and is a powerful finisher on alley-oop passes.

When asked about his ability to be a "stretch 5" in the league like Al Horford or Karl-Anthony Towns, Patton said, "If they're looking for a stretch-5, they come to me, and find the right person. My skills translate perfectly. I can put the ball on the floor, I can shoot the ball with range, and I'm a willing passer, and a great passer too, and I have a high IQ."

Okay, then. Patton says he's already met with the Bulls and will be ready to play immediately with any team that drafts him. At this point, it seems unlikely the Bulls would draft a center at No. 16, but anything is possible considering Cristiano Felicio and Joffrey Lauvergne are both restricted free agents.

Other names to watch during the middle part of round one include power forwards' T.J. Leaf (UCLA) and Kyle Kuzma, Duke shooting guard Luke Kennard, Syracuse small forward Tyler Lydon and point guard Jawun Evans.

And, there's always the possibility the Bulls could be involved in a trade to move up into the Top 10. That would bring a whole different level of prospects into play. But for now, the front office is looking for athletes and shooters to add quality depth to a roster that figures to be very similar to the one we watched last season.

NBA Buzz: Getting better with age, LeBron James taking aim at title of greatest player of all-time

NBA Buzz: Getting better with age, LeBron James taking aim at title of greatest player of all-time

Now in his 14th NBA season, you'd think LeBron James would be starting to slow down given all the wear and tear on his body from seven different runs to the Finals.

But as hard to believe as it sounds on the surface, James might be playing the best basketball of his career at the age of 32. He's coming off a series against the third-seeded Raptors in which he averaged 36 points, 8.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists in the Cavs' four-game sweep.

And dating back to last season, James has led the Cavs to 11 straight playoff wins, starting with the improbable rally from a 3-1 deficit to beat Golden State in the Finals.

Early in his career, James would often defer to his teammates in the closing minutes of tight games, saying it was all about making the right basketball play. Now, James has so much confidence in his own ability that he's able to control the flow of the game from start to finish, knowing when to get his teammates involved and when the situation dictates he should take over as a scorer.

Opposing teams used to challenge James to shoot long jumpers by going under screens to cut off his driving lanes. Now, that strategy has been rendered ineffective with James hitting almost 47 percent of his shots from 3-point range during this year's playoffs.

And forget about trying to take advantage of James getting worn down by playing extended minutes. He's averaging 42.4 minutes per game this postseason but never appears to be tired, obviously helped along by the fact the Cavs' two sweeps earned the players a week off between playoff rounds.

James has already established himself as the greatest small forward to play the game, now he's taking dead aim at Michael Jordan and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the title of the greatest player period. James will probably pass Jordan during the current playoff run as the all-time leading postseason scorer, and before he's ready to retire, he'll probably pass Abdul-Jabbar for the No. 1 spot on the NBA's all-time scoring list.

Sure, James' 3-4 record in the Finals is the one blemish on his incredible resume, but looking back at those series, the 2011 Finals against Dallas and maybe the 2014 series against San Antonio would be the only times James' team lost to an underdog opponent.

James is virtually indestructible, rarely missing games for anything other than scheduled rest during the regular season. He's likely headed to a seventh straight Finals appearance, destroying just about every other Eastern Conference challenger along the way, including Doc Rivers' Celtics, Frank Vogel's Pacers and Tom Thibodeau's Bulls.

Given his effectiveness right now, it's easy to project the Cavaliers owning the East for at least another three years, with James going strong until the age of 40. When James is finally ready to hang up his signature shoes, he'll likely own just about every significant scoring record in the game, and he's already the top assist man among all forwards.

After having the pleasure of watching much of Jordan's career in person, I'm still going with Jordan as the greatest competitor and individual talent in the history of the game. But James will surely wind up on just about everyone's Mt. Rushmore of all-time greats alongside Jordan, Abdul-Jabbar and your choice of a fourth player: Wilt Chamberlain? Bill Russell? Magic Johnson?

And the scariest thing for other Eastern Conference teams? LeBron is still getting better.

Around the Association

With the Raptors and Jazz eliminated after getting swept in the conference semifinals, front offices for both teams head into an uncertain offseason.

Will Toronto really commit to five more years and more than $200 million to 31-year-old point guard Kyle Lowry after a second straight demolition at the hands of Cleveland? General manager Masai Ujiri gave DeMar DeRozan a max contract last summer, and since the Raptors wouldn't have enough cap room available to find a suitable replacement for Lowry, they probably have little choice but to double down with a new contract for their All-Star point guard.

Re-signing mid-season trade acquisition Serge Ibaka is a much tougher choice. Ibaka will also be looking for a max deal, but he's not the elite defender he was when he came into the league and really isn't much of a low-post scoring threat. Sure, a stretch four like Ibaka will have value on the free-agent market, but the Raptors would have to go deep into the luxury tax to keep him.

The Jazz qualify as one of the NBA's better stories this past season after getting back to the playoffs with 51 wins and winning a seven-game first-round playoff series against the Clippers. Center Rudy Gobert emerged as a defensive force while also becoming more of a threat in the pick-and-roll game. Trade acquisition George Hill solidified the offense with his steady play at point guard, and Gordon Hayward made the All-Star team for the first time in his career.

But both Hayward and Hill are free agents, and if they decide to sign elsewhere the Jazz could turn out to be a one-year wonder. Hayward has already been linked to the Celtics, where his old college coach at Butler, Brad Stevens, has done an outstanding job on the bench. Like most veteran free agents, Hayward would have to leave a ton of money on the table to change teams, but given Boston's situation as a rising power in the East, he'll certainly be tempted to make the jump. If the Celtics somehow manage to sign Hayward in free agency and draft top college prospect Markelle Fultz, they could be primed to give the Cavaliers a serious challenge next season.

Speaking of draft prospects, Chicago is the home of the annual NBA Draft Combine this week at Quest Multisport. Most of the top-10 prospects have decided to skip the process entirely, including the measurements and media interviews, but NBA scouts, coaches and executives will get a chance to evaluate 67 invited players, including Fultz and Kentucky point guard De'Aaron Fox.

With the league considering expanded rosters that include two-way contracts for young prospects, more players than ever are expected to remain in the draft with the chance to catch on with an NBA team and get paid a decent salary to develop while playing for a D-League affiliate.

The Bulls hold the 16th and 38th picks in the June 22 draft, so you know they'll be well represented at Quest this week, searching for shooters and athletes to add to a roster that figures to look very similar to the one that finished 41-41 this past season.

Bulls center Robin Lopez slapped with one-game suspension after fight

Bulls center Robin Lopez slapped with one-game suspension after fight

Robin Lopez will not be suiting up for the Bulls Wednesday night.

The center was slapped with a one-game suspension from the NBA just hours before tipoff after getting into a fight with Serge Ibaka in the Bulls' loss to the Toronto Raptors Tuesday evening.

The two threw punches at each other during a dead ball toward the end of the third quarter.

Raptors assistant coach Jamaal Magloire was fined $15,000 for pushing Bulls forward Niko Mirotic in the scuffle.