Coby White

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Bulls closer to emerging from post-Jimmy Butler plunge

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NBC Sports’ Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

The Bulls were good, not great, and heavily reliant on Jimmy Butler when they traded him for young players 2017. Of course, they were going to stink.

Chicago went 27-55 in 2017-18 – its worst record since those ugly years right after Michael Jordan’s second retirement.

“We did this year what we felt was in the long-term best interests of the Bulls,” Bulls executive John Paxson said after that 2017-18 season. “It’s not a situation that any of us want to ever be in again. It goes against everything as a competitive person that you believe in. But it’s the way the system is set up.”

Chicago was even worse last season, 22-60.

Whether or not they knew it, the Bulls dug a deep hole by trading Butler. This summer, Chicago took key steps back toward ground level.

A big reason the Bulls grabbed a shovel in the first place: There are lottery picks down there. Last season’s losing netted No. 7 pick Coby White, who both presents good overall value and fits a need at point guard.

Lauri Markkanen (No. 34 on our list of 50 best players in 5 years) is the big prize from the Butler trade. Zach LaVine is again on the right track after arriving from the Timberwolves with a torn ACL, though his expensive contract raises questions about his value. The expected losing in 2017-18 also got Wendell Carter Jr. in last year’s lottery.

But the other player acquired for Butler, Kris Dunn, never seized the starting point-guard job. Now, White steps in to provide positional balance with the young core.

In a few years, we’ll see whether that works out.

But the Bulls aren’t content to wait that long. With a couple savvy signings, they gave themselves a chance to compete for the Eastern Conference playoffs as soon as next season.

Tomas Satoransky can help now (likely as starting point guard) and later (ideally as backup point guard after being surpassed by White). Chicago gave him $30 million over three years and relinquished second-round considerations in a sign-and-trade with the Wizards, who never appreciated him enough.

The Bulls also signed Thaddeus Young (three years, $43,635,000 with the third season unguaranteed). He’s quite good. At 31, he probably won’t remain this good when Chicago’s young core comes around. But Young could help sooner than later. At that price, the Bulls get plenty of value with the veteran.

Chicago made a few other small moves looking toward the future – drafting Daniel Gafford (No. 38), re-signing Ryan Arcidiacono (three years, $9 million with a team option), signing Luke Kornet (two years, $4.5 million). Maybe one of those low-cost swings connects.

The Bulls’ rebuild is hardly assured of working out. Neither is their attempt to win moderately now.

But Chicago has a reasonable chance of both succeeding after a helpful summer.

Offseason grade: B-

Suns improve, but to what end?

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NBC Sports’ Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

While coaching Marist, Jeff Bower hosted a middling recruit named Cameron Johnson. Bower was ahead of the curve. Bringing Johnson to the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference would’ve been a coup. Bigger programs eventually realized Johnson’s ability, and he bypassed Marist for the ACC (Pittsburgh then North Carolina).

Bower and Johnson reunited this summer. The Bower-employing Suns drafted Johnson No. 11 overall.

Delightful coincidence or distressing signal?

Since leaving Marist, Bower got hired by the Pistons, ran day-to-day operations in Detroit’s front office the entire San Van Gundy era, got fired by the Pistons, sat out a full season and got hired by Phoenix. It has been a long time since his initial meeting with Johnson.

Put another way: Johnson is old.

At 23, he’s one of the oldest lottery picks in the last 20 years. His 23-and-over company aside from Buddy Hield (No. 6 in 2016) is uninspiring. The others: Ekpe Udoh (No. 6 in 2010), Tyler Hansbrough (No. 13 in 2009), Al Thornton (No. 14 in 2007), Rafael Araújo (No. 8 in 2004), Melvin Ely (No. 12 in 2002), Fred Jones (No. 14 in 2002), Courtney Alexander (No. 13 in 2000).

Johnson is a polished shooter. There’s a chance he could fill a rotation role for Phoenix next season. But it’ll be a limited role. His upside appears low. His injury history is troubling.

Off all the ways the Suns misplaced their priorities and operated like novices this summer, drafting Johnson stands out.

Phoenix entered the draft with the No. 6 pick then traded down for No. 11 and Dario Saric. Saric is a fine player, but not someone – one year from free agency – who justifies watching prospects like Jarrett Culver and Coby White go off the board. Then, the Suns made the shocking reach for Johnson.

Unfortunately for Phoenix, that multi-blunder process doesn’t even cover everything that went wrong this summer. In James Jones’ first year as general manager, the Suns were determined to get their desired players and improve quickly. Missions accomplished. But Phoenix’s short-term upgrades came with too little consideration for value and where the team is in its ascent.

The big addition was Ricky Rubio – a solid starting point guard on a team that had no point guard. He’ll solidify so many disparate parts around him. But h didn’t come cheap at three years, $51 million.

A pair of draft-day trade agreements with the Pacers and Celtics helped clear cap room for Rubio. But Phoenix’s return was disappointing. The Suns traded up from No. 32 to No. 24, relinquished the Bucks’ 2020 first-rounder, unloaded T.J. Warren (three years, $35.25 million remaining) and took Aron Baynes (one year, $5,453,280 remaining). I at least like using the No. 24 pick on Ty Jerome.

That didn’t open enough cap space for Rubio, though. So, the Suns had to trade Josh Jackson, De’Anthony Melton and a second-rounder or two to the Grizzlies for Jevon Carter. None of those prospects – including 2017 No. 4 pick Jackson – are great. But Phoenix had to forfeit some upside in order to clear cap room.

The Suns used the full room exception on Frank Kaminsky (two years with a team option). Again, not great value.

Neither was re-signing Kelly Oubre for two years, $30 million. But at least that was justifiable, because Phoenix held him at a lower number and had his Bird Rights. Oubre is an interesting young player who fits the long-term vision the Suns should be prioritizing.

Phoenix didn’t completely ignore youth this summer. Cheick Diallo and undrafted Jalen Lecque have upside and signed deals that grant substantial team control. Still, they were low-priority moves.

It’s easy to see what happened in Phoenix. The Suns have missed the playoffs a franchise-worst nine straight years and got impatient. They want to win now.

Rubio will help. The other new role players will help. New coach Monty Williams will help.

But even with all its immediate improvements, Phoenix is highly unlikely to make the playoffs next season. Would going from 19 to 34 wins really feel that much better, especially considering the downgrade in lottery odds? I don’t think so.

The bigger picture hasn’t changed much. The Suns are building around Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton. Phoenix can still grow into a winner around those two.

I doubt it happens next season. And because of this summer’s moves, the Suns will have fewer resources to use when Booker and Ayton are actually ready to win.

Offseason grade: D+

Attorney, agent call out NCAA’s ‘Rich Paul Rule’

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There are concerns about the NCAA’s new requirements allowing men’s basketball players to sign with an agent during the NBA draft process while maintaining their college eligibility.

The measures – which notably now include requiring agents to have a bachelor’s degree – have drawn criticism from an attorney who has worked on numerous NCAA eligibility cases, at least one agent and NBA All-Star LeBron James via Twitter, among others.

“Frankly I think some of the efforts to control student-athletes and coaches, I think some of those actions are illegal,” Alabama-based attorney Don Jackson said Wednesday. “But now they’re attempting to engage in conduct where they’re going to assert economic control over people that they have no real right to regulate.

“The entity that actually has the responsibility of certifying contract advisers in basketball would be the National Basketball Players Association, not the NCAA.”

The NCAA rule permitting Division I men’s players to obtain an agent yet still return to school after withdrawing from the draft was part of recommendations from the Condoleezza Rice-led Commission on College Basketball, which was formed in response to a federal corruption investigation into the sport.

The change took place last August, with the first wave of early draft entrants allowed to sign with an agent certified by the NBA players union in the spring. The NCAA added an additional layer of restrictions that control who players can sign with while preserving their college eligibility when the governing body created its own certification program that was announced this week.

NCAA spokeswoman Stacey Osburn didn’t immediately return a call for comment on the certification rules, which still require the agent being certified by the NBPA (for at least three consecutive years and be in good standing).

The application process now also requires agents seeking the NCAA’s certification to take an in-person examination and go through a background check. Agents must also pay a $250 application fee and an annual $1,250 certification fee separate from any fees and requirements for the NBPA certification.

Jerry Dianis, a Maryland-based agent, believes the regulations are “overkill” and amount to unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles.

The NBPA does “a pretty solid job of vetting prospective agents,” Dianis said. “You’ve got to take a test, you’ve got to do different things, background checks. The way they did it the first time I think is sufficient – where if you’re an NBA-certified agent, that should be sufficient.”

The NCAA requirements wouldn’t affect marquee one-and-done stars like No. 1 overall pick Zion Williamson out of Duke or Coby White out of North Carolina, players who could sign with an NBPA-certified agent lacking NCAA certification because they plan to stay in the draft. It will impact early draft entrants seeking feedback on their NBA prospects while maintaining college eligibility; those players could only work with agents who have received NCAA certification.

James was one NBA player who felt the educational requirement targeted his agent, Rich Paul – who does not have a bachelor’s degree. Paul has become one of the most powerful agents in the NBA with a star-studded client list that includes James along with his new Los Angeles Lakers teammate and former No. 1 overall pick Anthony Davis.

James made that connection, tweeting Tuesday night “#TheRichPaulRule” then followed 2 minutes later: “Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop! They BIG MAD and Scared. Nothing will stop this movement and culture over here. Sorry! Not sorry.”

NBA all-star point guard Chris Paul also weighed in. He didn’t mention Paul but criticized the educational requirement in a tweet that included: “Some life experiences are as valuable, if not more, than diplomas. Y’all need to rethink this process.”

Dianis agrees it’s unnecessary, noting that a college degree offers no guarantee that someone will behave ethically.

“There are people with walls full of framed degrees from Ivy League institutions that commit malpractice,” Dianis said. “So a bachelor’s degree isn’t going to make a difference. . I think by the looks of things, Rich Paul seems to be giving some pretty damn good advice.”

Report: Wizards signing Ish Smith, signing-and-trading Tomas Satoransky to Bulls

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With John Wall sidelined a long time, the Wizards need a point guard for next season.

It won’t be incumbent backup Tomas Satoransky, who showed nice production and promise in Washington.

Instead, the Wizards will turn to Ish Smith.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Emiliano Carchia of Sportando:

David Aldridge of The Athletic:

I like Satoransky for the Bulls. They drafted Coby White but needed a veteran option. Satoransky deserved a shot to start somewhere, and he can hold that role as White develops. If White becomes ready in the next three years, the 27-year-old Satoransky can slide to the bench. Though he’s better at and prefers to play point guard, Satoransky can also sometimes play the wing with White in the backcourt.

Between Satoransky and Thaddeus Young (three years, $41 million), Chicago has added a couple quality veterans. The Bulls also traded for Otto Porter, another upgrade, during last season. If its young players – Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, Wendell Carter Jr., Chandler Hutchinson – are ready to take the next step, Chicago could compete for the playoffs next year.

Will Washington? Bradley Beal is better than any Bull, but his supporting cast is lacking. Burdened by Wall’s, Ian Mahinmi‘s and Dwight Howard‘s contracts and trying to stay out of the luxury tax, the Wizards are on a tight budget.

Smith is a fine placeholder given the circumstances. He can run the offense provide a good presence in the locker room. Washington needs both.

But there are reasons he came cheaper than Satoransky. Smith became expendable to the Pistons when they got Derrick Rose. Smith, who turns 31 this week, is a speedster with an unreliable jumper. He doesn’t carry untapped upside, but for the stability the Wizards want now, he’s perfectly fine.

Washington also gets a couple picks for Satoransky, whom the Wizards probably weren’t keeping, anyway. That’s part of the leverage a team gets in restricted free agency.

Coby White astonished by Suns drafting Cameron Johnson No. 11 (video)

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North Carolina point guard Coby White – the Bulls’ No. 7 pick – was doing his NBA draft media session when the Suns chose North Carolina forward Cameron Johnson No. 11.

I recommend the video to see White’s emotions, but the the transcript captured his words:

Q. Cameron Johnson just went 11th. How do you react to that news?

COBY WHITE: Cam went 11th?

Q. Yeah, it’s right on the screen right there.

COBY WHITE: Wow. Wow. Wow, bro! That’s crazy. That’s so low, bro. Y’all know Cam? You don’t know how hard Cam worked. There’s a lot of people that doubt him. But wow, that’s crazy, bro. Wow, that’s so crazy. I’m so happy for him right now. Y’all don’t understand how happy I am for Cam. He proved it night in, night out that he deserves to be in the conversation for a lottery pick, man. He shot the ball like anybody I’ve never seen before in my life or played with. Wow. I’m getting chills up here.

I had a similar reaction – minus the deep happiness for Johnson, whom I’ve never met.

I was stunned.

Johnson ranked No. 27 on my board, and that wasn’t a major outlier. Johnson was a fifth-year senior who does little besides shoot. (At least he shoots very well). There are also long-term health concerns.

Suns general manager James Jones is definitely putting his stamp on the franchise. He traded T.J. Warren and the No. 32 pick to the Pacers, traded the No. 6 pick to the Timberwolves for the No. 11 pick and Dario Saric, traded for No. 24 pick Ty Jerome (another upperclassman) and gave undrafted Jalen Lecque an unusually large guarantee.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Of all those moves yesterday, drafting Johnson so high was the eye-popping one.

It’s very cool White shared his joy for his teammate. That showed their bond and looked like a genuine moment.

But White also displayed a shock many of us were feeling, and that will probably be what gets remembered.