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Bulls mailbag: What's Simonović's ceiling? Point guard plan? originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
If your question didn’t run in this version of the mailbag, please check out the Bulls Talk Podcast, available to stream from wherever you get your podcasts first thing Friday morning. We answered a few spillover questions there.
What is Marko Simonović? Is he the possible Lauri Markkanen replacement? The next Nikola Jokić? Etc. --- Eli F.
I’d go with Etc. since — let’s be frank — I’ve never seen him play live. Like — maybe? Probably? — you, I’ve watched highlights of his. I did talk to one international contact I know with no ties to the Bulls who praised the pick. But he’s a young, developing player.
I can see the desire to call him the next Jokić given Artūras Karnišovas’ ties to that incredible second-round selection while with the Denver Nuggets and the fact both Jokić and Simonović played for the same team in Serbia. (As an aside, a funny line I heard more than once following the trade deadline was: "Does Artūras need an All-Star center named Nikola to win?) I also can see the tie-in as Markkanen’s replacement because he’s tall and a capable outside shooter.
But their games look different to me. And Karnišovas’ post-draft description of the mobile, 6-foot-11 marksman highlights some of those differences.
“Seven-footer that can handle and shoot,” Karnišovas said during a post-draft interview. “Very versatile, can pass, runs the floor, gets to the free-throw line a lot, high basketball IQ, can do a little bit of everything. At that size, it’s very unique, as a seven-footer. Plays with pace and high motor.”
So stay tuned. Karnišovas didn’t commit to Simonović being a part of the 2021-22 Bulls, but he also didn’t rule it out and emphasized that he’s definitely in future plans.
In terms of addressing point guard, obviously Lonzo Ball was a big question mark for the Bulls and Bulls fans. Who else could the Bulls potentially pursue given that they need to resign Zach LaVine? --- Nolan O.
Only Karnišovas and his staff knows that. But tying this to LaVine, and his need to be extended either this offseason or next, is why the Bulls finding a facilitating combo guard to play in a three-guard rotation with LaVine and Coby White is just as likely a possibility as a big-ticket item like Ball.
To me, the only way Ball makes sense from a financial standpoint is if the Bulls figure a way to sign-and-trade Markkanen for him. But the Bulls and New Orleans Pelicans engaged in trade talks centered on those two players at the March deadline and couldn’t find common ground. Could they be revisited?
I personally wouldn’t overspend on someone like, say, Dennis Schröder. And even more expensive options like Mike Conley Jr. (who would be a great fit, in my opinion) and Kyle Lowry are unlikely options given the amount of moves the Bulls would have to make to clear that much salary cap space.
Will Spencer Dinwiddie decline his player option (and could his return from a partial ACL tear make him affordable)? Will the Dallas Mavericks extend Jalen Brunson, or is he gettable? How about T.J. McConnell? Those are some names to consider.
Any chance the Bulls can finally bring back Derrick Rose for the right money or is the draw to Tom Thibodeau too strong? Are the Bulls even interested? --- Allen H.
After strongly advocating for the Bulls to bring Rose home in January 2019, before the offseason in which the previous regime signed Tomáš Satoranský, I didn’t include Rose in the above list. He fits in the sense he’s a smart player who can find his role in any setting. But I don’t think he fills as many needs as he would have back in 2019. Like then, he would certainly sell tickets, so it makes sense for the Bulls to have interest from that standpoint.
But beyond his affinity for and connection with Thibodeau, I do think Rose has played himself to a contract level where his non-perfect fit could give pause. Never say never, but I get the sense the Bulls have other targets ahead of Rose.
If the Bulls try to do a sign-and-trade with Lauri Markkanen, which teams do you think are likely destinations. And what kind of return package would you expect from them? --- Mike B., via Twitter
I think the stalled trade talks in March with the Pelicans offered a sneak preview for Markkanen’s sign-and-trade prospects. Plenty of teams have cap space. So it’s going to be hard to find a team that will offer a premium asset for a player they can sign outright with cap space.
The ideal scenario for the Bulls, of course, would be to find a team who fears losing an asset for nothing and also likes Markkanen. I think too many moving parts have to happen for a Markkanen sign-and-trade to come to fruition, particularly since there’s talk around the league of teams with cap space like the San Antonio Spurs possibly showing interest.
I’ve mentioned this before, and it’s a longshot scenario. But Markkanen also could not like this offseason’s market and take the risk of playing next season on the Bulls’ qualifying offer — assuming it’s extended — and then enter unrestricted free agency in 2022. I can see the Bulls being comfortable with another season of Markkanen at that palatable number of $9 million. But it’s definitely the longshot scenario.
Should the Bulls look to bring back Doug McDermott this offseason? He has had a great few years in Indiana and, with his floor spacing, Zach LaVine, Nikola Vučević and Patrick Williams would get even more room to operate. We also know how much AK values shooting. He has said it several times. --- Matt A.
The Bulls’ offseason plan: Sign all of the Pacers free agents. But I digress.
Good for McDermott, who averaged in double figures each of the past two seasons from his three in Indiana, where he looks to have found a home. It certainly sounds like the Pacers hope to re-sign him. And while any team always could add shooting, I’d place other free-agency needs as higher priorities.
I’m sorry, but I’m very disappointed with the new Bulls front office. When they were hired, they preached the importance of player development. However, every key young player entering the season (Lauri Markkanen, Wendell Carter Jr. and Coby White) all regressed this season. Then they hired Billy Donovan, who was a “sexy hire” and is definitely a better coach than Jim Boylen. However, his rotations are questionable at best and he has proven that he is not an elite NBA head coach. They subsequently drafted Patrick Williams, who has definitely shown promise. However, they passed on a more promising player in Tyrese Haliburton and reportedly never aggressively pursued moving up to draft LaMelo Ball. Most recently, they mortgaged the future by trading for Nikola Vučević, a very good offensive player who is a defensive liability and does not impact winning. I don’t believe they’ve made one shrewd move yet and appear content with having two complementary All-Stars lead the team to the play-in Tournament for the next two years. --- Dan B.
There’s no need to apologize for your opinion, which I’ve heard voiced from some other fans who have reached out to me. Let’s break down your points individually.
As for player development, both Donovan and Karnišovas were asked about this topic either down the stretch of the season or in their postseason news conferences. Both pointed to the growth of Williams and White and also talked about player development playing out on multiple levels. That understanding what goes into winning and off-court habits and developing a team culture and who fits in that play a role.
I’d agree that Carter and Markkanen regressed. But in the latter case, could Markkanen be a player who, similar to Daniel Gafford, finds a better fit and role elsewhere? The flip side argument is that perhaps if management had addressed the point guard position last offseason rather than signing Garrett Temple, perhaps Carter and Markkanen would have played better. But Williams and White are critical here. Both players clearly have been identified as core pieces by the new regime. Williams absolutely has to take an offensive jump next season. White has to continue building on the positive momentum with which he closed last season.
Haliburton and Ball both could have helped fill a specific need at point guard. Ball, in particular, looks like a future star. The Bulls would have had to trade up to No. 2 to get Ball and all my predraft intel at the time indicated that the Golden State Warriors were pretty set on keeping the pick and drafting James Wiseman. Drafts can’t be judged after one season. The Bulls believe Williams can be a two-way force for years.
The early returns from the Vučević acquisition underwhelmed, no doubt. While he played fantastically, the Bulls couldn’t even qualify for the play-in tournament. As written at the time of the trade, management isn’t done. Let’s see what moves are made to build out the roster around Vučević and LaVine, whose 11-game absence in the league’s health and safety protocols didn’t help, now that so many roster spots are available. You call Vučević and LaVine “complementary” All-Stars. By which I assume — which is always dangerous — you mean they’re not frontline All-Stars like a Kevin Durant or LeBron James. They’re still All-Stars. They’re still players other teams have to gameplan for to try to stop. LaVine authored one of the more efficient scoring seasons of recent memory. So there’s plenty of internal optimism that those two players represent a strong foundation for what’s next.
As for Donovan, players like and respect him. I always start there. They appreciate his transparent communication and ability to hold all players to the same standard. I personally have always felt that elite NBA coaches represent a short list. Donovan may not be that — he hasn’t won a title yet and does have some of his in-game decisions questioned — but he’d certainly land in that next tier right behind the elites. He garnered Coach of the Year consideration his final season with the Oklahoma City Thunder because of his ability to adapt to a new roster and new personnel and max out a young team, with a major assist from Chris Paul. Who was available last summer that you’d rather hire?
Overall, the first season with the new regime and management showed some improvement and optimism for the future but failed because they didn’t make the playoffs. So no apologies needed. Let’s see what comes next.
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