Chicago Bulls

Who was the best of the holidays?

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Who was the best of the holidays?

Roy and Harv Schmidt of Illinois Prep Bulls-Eye are two of the leading recruiting analysts in the nation. For 26 years, they have provided an insightful and comprehensive evaluation of the best high school basketball players in Illinois. During the recent Christmas holidays, they attended seven tournaments from Pontiac to Wheeling. Here is what they saw and how
they saw it:Best team: Simeon. Coach Robert Smith's defense is more effective than his offense. Remember, defense wins championships. But Proviso East has closed the gap. The Pirates have almost as much depth. But do they have a clear-cut difference-maker? Will Keith Carter continue to provide the consistent spark that he did at Proviso West?Best player: Jabari Parker. Even though he didn't dominate every game at Pontiac, he stepped up when his team needed it the most. Steve Taylor was more consistent but Parker stepped up when it mattered the most in the 48-47 semifinal victory over Peoria Manual.All-Holiday Tournament Team: Jabari Parker, Steve Taylor, Kendrick Nunn, Simeon; Keith Carter, Proviso East; Donald Moore, Bloom.Best shooters: Mike Fleming, Stevenson; Mike LaTulip, Prospect. Fleming made significant strides with his game. He was MVP at Wheeling. When they went head-to-head at Wheeling, Fleming scored 28, LaTulip 18.Best rebounder: Steve Taylor, Simeon. As usual, he went to war in every game at Pontiac. He is an ideal 34 forward for Marquette's program.Best shot blocker: Cliff Alexander, Curie. More than anyone else, the 6-foot-9 sophomore has the best natural ability to block shots.Best playmaker: Tyler Ulis, Marian Catholic. He is as good a ball-handler and decision-maker as any point guard in the class of 2014.Best defenders: Kendrick Nunn, Simeon; Keith Carter, Proviso East. Carter did an outstanding job against Rockford Auburn's Fred Van Vleet, limiting the Wichita State recruit to 10 points.Best free throw shooter: Mike LaTulip, Prospect. He converts 90 percent of his free throws.Most intimidating player: Jahlil Okafor, Whitney Young. There isn't a more unstoppable post player at the high school level than the 6-foot-10 sophomore.Best passer: Jalen James, Hope Academy. The Illinois recruit does a tremendous job of pushing the ball up the floor.Best ball-handler: Tyler Ulis, Marian Catholic. Not only does he have great ball-handling ability but has the uncanny knack for lulling defenders to sleep while exploding to the basket.Best coach: Rick Kehoe, St. Ignatius. He did an outstanding job in guiding his team to the championship at the Jack Tosh Holiday Classic at York. He always has his teams prepared and ready to play and wins despite not always having the best talent.Best player you've never heard of: Ore Arogundade, St. Viator. The 6-foot-3 sophomore guard has the potential to be a high-major college player. He was all-tournament at Wheeling. He scored 18 against Naperville Central, 25 against Prospect.Players whose stock sky-rocketed: Sean O'Mara, Benet; Juwan Starks, West Aurora. O'Mara, a 6-foot-9 sophomore, has clearly shown that he is behind only Jahlil Okafor of Whitney Young and Cliff Alexander of Curie as one of the premier post players in the class of 2014. Starks, a 6-foot-4 senior, has firmly established himself as a Division I recruit for the spring signing period.Best game: Simeon 48, Peoria Manual 47, Pontiac semifinal. "The third quarter was possibly the best quarter of basketball action I've seen at Pontiac in 26 years," Roy Schmidt said. "Just non-stop action and intensity."Teams to watch in the New Year: Naperville Central, St. Ignatius, Metea Valley, Plainfield East. Naperville Central beat St. Viator, Libertyville and Stevenson to win at Wheeling. St. Ignatius upset Downers Grove South and De La Salle to win at York. Both proved they can compete against top-level competition but will continue to be tested in their respective conferences.Biggest disappointments: Cliff Alexander, Curie; Homewood-Flossmoor. Alexander wasn't a focal point on offense in any game at Pontiac and relies too much on his athletic ability instead of being a dominant presence. Time is running out on H-F to prove its worth. They have been highly touted for three years and still have trouble getting over the hump in big games.Best playincident I'm glad I saw: At the risk of being redundant, the entire third quarter of the SimeonPeoria Manual semifinal at Pontiac.Best playincident I wish I had seen: Overall good free throw shooting. Do teams even practice free throw shooting anymore? It cost several teams opportunities to win games.Best story: Marshall finished third in the Normandy tournament in St. Louis without its best player, 6-foot-4 senior Milton Doyle, who was forced to stay home with the flu. Corbin McClain, Derrick Miles and Citron Miller stepped up big for coach Henry Cotton's Commandoes, who are 11-2.Best conference: Public League's Red-West. As in the old days, every game in the section will be a war. Orr, North Lawndale, Collins, Crane, Marshall, Farragut and Whitney Young are dominant.Best act of sportsmanship: The Simeon team shaking hands with former Peoria Manual star Howard Nathan, who was sitting in a wheelchair at courtside prior to the SimeonPeoria Manual semifinal at Pontiac.

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.

Kevin White is starting small to answer the big question: Can he break out in 2017?

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USA Today Sports Images

Kevin White is starting small to answer the big question: Can he break out in 2017?

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. — Kevin White isn’t taking his ability to play football for granted anymore, not after missing 28 of the Bears’ 32 games since he was drafted seventh overall in 2015. This is supposed to be fun, White said, even though these last two years couldn’t have been much fun for him.  

So with training camp underway at Olivet Nazarene University, White isn’t putting any added pressure on himself in a year that could determine whether or not he gets labeled a bust. 

“I don’t look at this as a job,” White said. “I think it takes the fun away from it. So I would just look at it as it’s a game. I love to play it, just getting paid to do it. But it was fun to be back out there with the guys and rallying together and going out there to compete.”

White looked solid in the Bears’ first training camp practice of 2017, which was a promising start for the 6-foot-3, 216 pound West Virginia product. But that’s a small step that won’t hold much significance unless White can string a few good practices together, and then eventually turn those practices into productive games. 

The good news is the Bears don’t have any restrictions on White and aren’t planning on giving him any additional rest days during training camp.

“He’s ready to go,” general manager Ryan Pace said. “He’s had a great summer, a great offseason, so he’s ready to go. You can just feel his confidence gaining, knowledge of the offense and just being comfortable with his body. He’s pretty much unleashed.”

The bad news is until White proves he can play a full season, questions will remain about his durability. Since being drafted, White has dealt with a fractured left tibia and a severe ankle sprain that resulted in a spiral fracture of his fibula. Those two severe injuries mean we don’t really know what White can do — the four games he played last year were perhaps nothing more than an incomplete glimpse. 

White had the third-lowest average yards per target (5.19) among receivers with at least 35 targets last year, which couldn’t have been what the Bears envisioned when they invested a top-10 pick in him. This is a guy who had 1,447 yards and 10 touchdowns in his final year at West Virginia, after all. 

The Bears still believe White can be a go-to target opposite the budding Cam Meredith and in conjunction with the trio of veterans (Markus Wheaton, Kendall Wright, Victor Cruz) they signed in the spring. 

“We all can do whatever the coaches put us in position to do,” White said. “I do have a lot of confidence (in) us.”

But from a larger view, the Bears need White succeed so they won’t have to re-draft a player at his position, or at least be tempted to deviate from their best-player-available strategy. Doing so would be a blow to Pace’s efforts to build through the draft, a process that’s also, notably, seen the additions of Cody Whitehair, Jordan Howard, Mitch Trubisky and Adam Shaheen on offense. 

For White to fulfill those big-picture hopes, though, he’ll have to start small — like with Thursday’s practice. Saturday’s practice will be the first time White will take contact since Week 4 of the 2016 season, and the Aug. 10 preseason opener will be his first game action since then, too. 

“It’s hard to get better at something if you don’t practice it,” coach John Fox said. “So getting a string of practices, getting him out there and developing his skill set. He’s got plenty of athletic ability. That’s why he was picked where he was. Now it’s just getting out there and improving (his) skillset.”

White’s love of the game wasn’t marred by the frustration of his first two years in Chicago, though. In fact, the opposite happened. 

“You get something taken away from you a little bit, you enjoy it more,” White said.