Who Should You Root For? Sam Smith's NBA Restart Guide for Bulls Fans
Almost two dozen ex-Bulls players are resuming the season with other teams in Orlando.
Remind Me Later •
With the Chicago Bulls out of the NBA bubble resuming the season in Orlando, Sam Smith gives you ten teams with former Bulls players to keep an eye on.
Most of us know this feeling. Maybe it was the high school prom, high school team tryouts, high school play auditions, high school college prep courses. OK, the secret's out. I hated high school. All the cool kids are busy and look like they're having a ball. The Bulls are home watching TV. At least they have more than the five stations we did.
Bron, the Beard, Russ, PG-13, CP3, Luka, the Process, the Greek Freak, Jimmy Buckets and the Joker are dunking and running and bumping against the spacing rules and seem to be having all sorts of fun. Zach, Coby, Wendell and Lauri? Grounded. Stay in your room until Adam tells you to come out!
So what's a Bulls fan to do? Sure, there's the Cubs and White Sox and Blackhawks and Sky. But that only makes it worse. Want to rub it in some more? Cameron Payne is playing and Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen are not. And here come the Bears this week. Zach was actually a heck of a baseball player. Time for a Jordan-like hiatus with the Chicago Dogs?
Anyone want to watch if a Toronto team without a star player can repeat? If Giannas can make more journeyman role players look like All-Stars? OK, Zion can dunk. We've seen that. Though it might be worth tuning in to see if Quin Snyder can get between Donovan and Rudy fast enough and whether Embiid and Simmons will make eye contact. But is that enough?
Not really, so Bulls fans in this NBA reboot starting Thursday need something to do until the NBA expands to 30 teams.
In tribute to the great Chicago columnist Mike Royko, call it the Chicago Bulls NBA Restart Fans Guide.
Royko was a long suffering (that was the required prefix for Cubs fans back then) Cubs fan who wrote, "A pessimist sees the glass as half empty. A Cubs fan wonders when it's gonna spill." For those of us who believed in compete sentences, it was Royko who famously explained how Mayor Daley never came out of the same sentence he went into. Like when Daley unknowingly, though prophetically, proclaimed at the 1968 Democratic convention, "The police are not here to create disorder; they're here to preserve disorder." Royko spoke to Chicago.
So when the World Series came around and the Cubs, of course, were not in it — that's right, he had to be rolling over in his grave in 2016 — Royko would do his annual prediction column. It was simple: The team with the fewest former Cubs would win. It was the dreaded ex-Cubs factor.
The Bulls, especially as we saw this past spring in The Last Dance documentary, have a much brighter history than the Cubs. The Bulls were title contenders and in the conference finals a few years ago. OK, a decade ago. But in our lifetimes, unlike Royko's Cubs. But the point is to attempt to provide a basketball rooting interest this summer after the current Bulls were sentenced to NBA purgatory for the sins of rebuilding. As stimulating as it is to watch ESPN's breathless coverage of how LeBron feels about going for another title, there has to be more.
So here's the top 10 teams with former Bulls.
1. Los Angeles Clippers. Joakim Noah.
There will be teams with more former Bulls. Almost two dozen ex-Bulls players are spread among the 22 teams starting regular pre-post season play Thursday. Though perhaps none as beloved and highly decorated in his Bulls tenure as Noah. And a great story playing again after Achilles surgery. Which came after knee, shoulder and rotator cuff surgeries since beginning his physical breakdown in January of the 2015-16 season. By the way, with rookie Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg having the team 10 games over .500 at the time. The Bulls haven't been better since. Noah came back with Memphis in 2018-19, but then tore his Achilles at 34. Done, right? And there was Noah starting for the Clippers last week in their first scrimmage with Montrezl Harrell debubbled for a time. How great would it be for Noah, who famously called out LeBron James (and Cleveland) various times on the way to Defensive Player of the Year, top five MVP and three times all defense, to be an NBA champion? Chicago may have a team to watch.
2. Milwaukee Bucks. Kyle Korver & Robin Lopez.
Two more reserve role players and two of the better guys Chicago basketball has seen. One of the best things about the NBA this season was the pregame Bucks wrestling matches that even got Giannis in the pantomime. Everyone talks about having fun. That's one of the few teams which looked like it was. Obviously inspired by Robin, who also has had a long ultimate fighting career against mascots and boiling over at times into some of the most amusing ejections. Can't beat passion and playfulness. Korver long has been one of the quietly committed humanitarians around the NBA. I frequently would see him getting off the team bus during the two seasons when he was with the Bulls and quietly heading to a community center to help out. Though his shooting has been more useful in an unlikely 16-year career as a low second round draft pick. Bucks/Clippers would be the Finals of choice to give us something of interest.
3. Indiana Pacers. Justin Holiday, Doug McDermott and JaKarr Sampson.
JaKarr Sampson is playing, too, and Coby White just gets to practice free throws. This is so bad for the Bulls the way this is going Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot may as well be with a team, also. What! Seriously? OK, I'll get to him later. Though Bulls fans can still hear rims rattling and balls popping out thinking of Doug, I'm still OK with the trade. He should have been better. Sometimes you just don't know until they get there. He just wanted to succeed too much with the Bulls. He's in a nice place now with Indiana since no one generally knows you're there even when you're there. He shot almost 45 percent on threes off the bench this season and, see, you didn't even know. The Pacers have a heck of a formula with Holiday also shooting over 40 percent on threes off the bench, a hard playing team greater than the sum of its stars, which aren't many. They've also found a nice niche for Sampson, the Bulls second leading scorer at 20 per game in the 2018-19 season. Missed that, too? That's when everyone bailed out to end that season and Sampson came in from Windy City for four games to be the Bulls highest scoring power forward since Elton Brand.
4. Brooklyn Nets. Jamal Crawford & Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot.
Luwawu-Cabarrot was one of those freebee guys, acquired so the Thunder could save luxury tax payments. He ran around a lot and didn't seem to do much and now is on his third team in two years with likely more to come. Spencer Dinwiddie, who has mostly been confusing everyone by trying to sell crypto-currency shares of himself, opted out of the restart to join teammates Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving as the best team not playing. The story here, though, is Jamal, the answer to that question about the player who most should be in the NBA and wasn't. Jerry Krause's last great draft pick now makes it 20 NBA seasons as one of the greatest sixth man players, which might even get him into the Hall of Fame. Hey, you don't get there for defense. Which is also how you set the record for most 50 point games with different teams. He's (finally) back!
5. Miami Heat. Jimmy Butler.
He's remained an elite player and probably is deserving of All-NBA this season. But that's with his third team since being traded from the Bulls. Jimmy had his favored coach in Minnesota, Tom Thibodeau, and forced his way out. Then he was with the most talented team in the East, Philadelphia, and chose to leave. Jimmy isn't a journeyman, but he obviously had journeys in mind. Miami is the right fit for the mercurial Jimmy, who seems like the guy who is happiest when he gets punched back in the face. Jimmy clearly has the ball with the Heat, which seems to have been his greatest desire. The way the rest of this unjust, partisan and unrighteous NBA season could go maybe the Heat has a chance with an impressive scouting job of what most believed were nobodies. And further doing it the right way when they made a mistake paying Hassan Whiteside then working hard to dump him on someone else instead of trying to justify their decision. Pat Riley did learn from Jerry West. Everyone makes mistakes. The best get rid of them and try something else.
6. Orlando Magic. D.J. Augustin & Michael Carter-Williams.
Augustin is a marvel. He's with his eighth team and everyone seems to need him. He saved that 2013-14 season for the Bulls with so many game-saving shots after Derrick Rose was hurt a second time. He's one of those guys you root for, undersized, underrated and undeterred. The Magic might have something with Markelle Fultz regaining some form, but again it's Augustin to the rescue with Fultz slow to return. And Carter-Williams. Which looked like a heck of an addition for the Bulls, a former Rookie of the Year for Tony Snell. Carter-Williams actually came back to the Bulls for a few hours this season in another of those cap moves and was released. Carter-Williams is shot challenged, but he never really got a shot with the Bulls at the time experimenting with point guards with Isaiah Canaan, Jerian Grant, Cameron Payne, Rajon Rondo, and Jimmy and Dwyane Wade, who also liked to hang onto the ball. Though Carter-Williams' fate probably was sealed when he clashed with Butler while defending coach Fred Hoiberg, with whom Jimmy was feuding about not being punched in the face often enough.
7. Phoenix Suns. Cameron Payne.
When Chicago gets mad at you because of something their team did, well, you have no shot. And so it was for Payne, who felt the fans' pain of losing favorite Taj Gibson. It really was the sort of maneuver fans generally demand: Take a chance on a former high draft pick for an aging veteran you probably are not going to resign. And we didn't like Doug McDermott, anyway. Payne had been a low lottery pick mostly known for dancing with Russell Westbrook and being his replacement the 15 or 18 seconds Westbrook generally left the game. Payne wasn't horrible. He actually shot almost 40 percent on threes for the Bulls, but fans and media never let up on him. It was reminiscent of the treatment of Dave Corzine, the hard working center and good guy from DePaul who had the bad luck to be traded for the best center in franchise history, Artis Gilmore. And on Christmas Eve. Thanks for your service. Corzine never had a chance. Payne, either. Now Payne's getting to finish the NBA season while Otto Porter Jr. and Thad Young and Wendell Carter Jr... how is this even constitutional?
8. Sacramento Kings. Jabari Parker.
Maybe he's finally where he was meant to be, like the famed treasure hunters of nearby Sutter's Mill. Always looking for the big score before worrying about protecting home base. Always rushing for the gold. OK, that was a bit tortured, but they're not letting anyone associated with the Bulls in a competitive environment. How are we supposed to get better! The Kings are just fortunate there was the Clippers all those years. But now it's them. They're working on their 14th consecutive season out of the playoffs and just passed on Luka Doncic to take Marvin Bagley, the latter out injured again. Of all guys, how does Vlade miss the European? After making the playoffs their first year in Sacramento, 1985-86, they missed the next nine years. They've missed the playoffs 25 of their 35 Sacramento seasons, won five playoff series in those 35 years and finished 10th or lower 21 times. They've had a lot of high scorers and a lot of losses. Now it's Jabari's turn. Turn them around? Turn them off? Turn, turn, turn. A time to laugh, a time to weep. Kings basketball.
9. Houston Rockets. Tyson Chandler.
Still going 18 years later. He wasn't the next Kevin Garnett, as Jerry Krause promised. But he's had a remarkable career and now is the only Rockets players taller than 6-2. OK, there are a few guys a bit taller. But not many, and Chandler probably will not play much, if at all, in the restart and Rockets playoffs. But at least they have someone tall for the team picture.
10. Portland Trailblazers. Carmelo Anthony.
No, he didn't sign with the Bulls in 2014, choosing instead to return to New York to get paid, get Phil Jackson fired and apparently misplace his Frommer's travel guide and decide Oklahoma City was a good idea. Then there were those 10 or so magical days in January 2019 when Anthony was on the Bulls roster, though not actually in Chicago. It was one of those transactions to save the Rockets luxury tax money after they also realized he still was shooting 15 footers. He's had something of a renaissance in Portland, which could use an escape from crisis.
There's also Jerian Grant with the Wizards, Marco Belinelli with the Spurs and Noah Vonleh with the Nuggets. Couldn't think of anything to say about that.
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