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Zach Lavine says “I got my speed back, my jumping back,” aims to be All-Star

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Zach LaVine‘s game was always rooted in his freakish athleticism. He had to work at the craft of the game, but his raw skills made him an NBA player with a lot of potential, and the craft was starting to come along.

Then he tore his ACL.

He came back for 24 games last season with the Bulls (after having been traded from Minnesota as a central part of the Jimmy Butler deal), but LaVine was not the same. The explosion wasn’t there yet, and with it his shooting percentages — notably scoring around the rim — and overall efficiency dropped.

LaVine, entering his fifth season, told Alex Squadron of SLAM he is back to his old self.

“I got my speed back, my jumping back,” he says. “Once you get off an ACL injury, you’re lifting and eating. So I got up to, like, 210 pounds. I’ve never been that heavy before. I’m not a post-up player. I’m fast, a more athletic guy. I got back down to the weight I need to be at [185 pounds], but still I feel strong. I feel really good, man. I’m excited for the season….

“Over the last couple years, I’ve been trying to get better and better and I feel like I’m at the stage now where I should be trying to reach accolades like an All-Star and things like that,” he says.

For his sake, I hope LaVine is fully healthy again, the league would be more entertaining if he is.

LaVine is part of a Bulls team that is not going to win a lot of games this season but will be interesting to watch develop. They have Lauri Markannen and Wendal Carter Jr. up front which has a lot of potential, LaVine on the wing, and Kris Dunn showed promise at the point last season. Maybe Jabari Parker can fit into that mix (although I have my doubts). There are some nice pieces of a rebuild there, but just how good are they? Can Fred Hoiberg coach them up? Will management find a way to screw it up or let it develop? There are a lot of questions around the Bulls, but more interesting ones than there have been for a couple of seasons now.

Luol Deng hits free agency, Timberwolves already reportedly in pursuit

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Chicago Wolves.

No, it’s not the latest addition to NBC’s all-Chicago Wednesday night lineup, it’s what Tom Thibodeau is doing to the Minnesota Timberwolves. He’s getting the band back together. He traded for Jimmy Butler (who sources around the league are convinced will not be back with the team next season), added Taj Gibson, and scooped up Derrick Rose.

Soon you can probably add Luol Deng to the list, with Marc Stein of the New York Times and Shams Charnia of The Athletic confirming the rumors.

This is about as surprising as President Donald Trump not liking Nike’s new advertising campaign. Thibodeau trusts what he knows, even when he shouldn’t.

The Timberwolves start Gibson at the four and have Anthony Tolliver behind him, they have open roster spots and a slot as a backup four available (how many minutes would depend on if Thibodeau is going to trust his bench and not run his starters into the ground… so probably not many).

Deng needs to prove he can still play well enough to deserve those minutes. He played 13 minutes in the Lakers’ first game last season and sat the next 81. Part of that was the Lakers focusing on a youth movement (and this season Deng was squeezed by the roster numbers at the four), but likely not all of it. Two seasons ago with the Lakers he played in 56 games he struggled with the lowest point total of his career (7.6 per game), he shot just 30.9 percent from three, had a true shooting percentage of just 47, a PER of 10.1, and was below a replacement level player in the league. Was that injuries, or is father time winning the race (with a guy Thibodeau ground down with minutes in Chicago)? Can Deng still give a team 15 solid minutes a night of defense, rebounding, and a few buckets?

Minnesota is probably about to find out.

Rumor: Timberwolves have interest in both Luol Deng, Joakim Noah

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Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Minnesota Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau has interest in some of his former players from his glory days with the Chicago Bulls. I know you’re shocked.

Former Chicago Bull Luol Deng was recently stretched by the Los Angeles Lakers, creating cap space for the years to come, specifically the summer of 2019 when some big-name free agents become available. Meanwhile, we are still waiting to see what happens with Joakim Noah and the New York Knicks, although presumably that relationship will end sometime this year.

We have speculated for some time that Thibodeau could be interested in grabbing two former stalwarts of his old Bulls roster, which makes sense given that Minnesota already has Derrick Rose, Taj Gibson, and Jimmy Butler.

According to The Athletic’s Jon Krawczynski, it appears that the Timberwolves might be looking to add Deng, Noah, or both should they be available.

Via Twitter:

Along with rumors of a growing rift between Butler and star big man Karl-Anthony Towns, this potential roster shake-up adds to the growing concern that the Timberwolves are much like watching a car wreck in slow motion. There is no clear benefit seen from adding players who weren’t able to get over the hump in the Eastern Conference half a decade ago to a team with locker room troubles.

And while some teams will choose to sit out the Golden State Warriors’ run in the Western Conference, adding old Bulls to this roster is not exactly what folks in Minnesota will be hoping for if the team decides to take radical action to beat Golden State — and the rest of the teams out West — moving forward.

If the Timberwolves do this, there’s only one move left to make: Kirk Hinrich.

Bulls biding their time, except forced into action with Zach LaVine

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NBCSports.com’s 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 have a type.

Young volume scorer with suspect complementary skills who tore an ACL in February 2017.

The Bulls matched the Kings’ four-year, $78 million offer sheet to Zach LaVine and signed Jabari Parker to a two-year, $40 million deal with a team option.

Great for those players considering their injury histories. Good for Chicago?

LaVine could be worth $78 million over the next four years. The 23-year-old is a talented outside shooter and at least was an electric dunker. Those tools coupled with his age certainly give him a chance.

But he’s so far from that level, I wouldn’t have matched Sacramento’s offer sheet. That would have been a bitter to swallow after LaVine was the centerpiece of the Jimmy Butler trade, but throwing good money after bad is a mistake.

LaVine just too rarely puts his athleticism to good use in NBA games. He settles for too many jumpers, especially off the dribble. He doesn’t add anything as a defender or rebounder. Last year was a lost season for him, and while maybe that shouldn’t count too much against him, it certainly wasn’t encouraging.

The Parker signing looks much better. He showed more of an all-around game offensively before getting hurt, and he displayed his defensive potential in last year’s playoffs. He brings more functional talent to the table.

But he was available for less of a commitment because his ACL tear was his second. That’s a scary injury history, though Parker eased fears by showing his bounce after he returned last season.

I’m hardly convinced Parker will be worth $20 million either of the next two seasons. I would have preferred making the trade the Nets did with the Nuggets, absorbing bad contracts to gain draft picks. But even if it wasn’t their best option, the Bulls still helped themselves by betting on Parker. If it doesn’t work, they can drop him in a year.

Chicago’s most important decisions of the offseason weren’t LaVine and Parker, though. The big moves were drafting Wendell Carter Jr. No. 7 and Chandler Hutchison No. 22. Those are just too difficult to evaluate yet.

I was down on Carter before the draft, but I always liked his fit next to Lauri Markkanen. And Carter meaningfully impressed in summer league, reducing concerns about his defensive mobility.

If Carter and Hutchinson hit, they’d nicely complement Markkanen and send the Bulls in the right direction. Maybe even some of Kris Dunn, Bobby Portis and Denzel Valentine come along.

Chicago is still figuring out what it has, and this season will be another year of evaluation and probably losing. Markkanen is the only clear keeper, which means this rebuild is still in its early stages.

The Bulls can swing big in 2019 free agency or continue their slow progress. I’d just rather move forward without LaVine’s deal, but even that could work out.

Offseason grade: C-

Kings make neither friends nor progress

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NBCSports.com’s 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 good news for the Kings this offseason: They could do nearly no wrong (with one big exception). The bad news for the Kings this offseason: They could do nearly no right (with one big exception).

Yet, even in that stuck position, they still found ways to agitate a lot of people this summer.

Sacramento has been cripplingly impatient during its 12-year playoff drought, repeatedly falling for get-good-quick schemes that fell flat and left the team even less prepared to build up later. Among the worst was a 2015 salary-dump trade with the 76ers that cost the Kings their unprotected 2019 first-rounder (and forced Sacramento to swap the No. 3 pick with Philadelphia’s No. 5 pick last year).

But that mismanagement was also liberating this summer. The Kings will almost certainly be lousy again next year, but they can aim to be as good as possible without negative consequences. Signing hamstringing veterans like they did last offseason would have been far more reasonable this year. So would prioritizing youth despite not receiving the bonus tanking benefit. It’s all whatever.

Sacramento didn’t have a quiet offseason, though – at least not to those crossing paths with the combustible franchise.

The most consequential move was draft Marvin Bagley III No. 2 over Luka Doncic, seemingly the preferred choice among Kings fans. I would have picked Doncic, and I definitely wouldn’t have picked Bagley. Sacramento’s understood rationale – Bagley wanting to be there – is especially discouraging.

Maybe Bagley will turn out better than Doncic. Even picks made for poor reasons sometimes turn out. But I’m not a believer, and I sure don’t envy Kings fans trying to talk themselves into Bagley after getting their hopes up for Doncic.

Sacramento also signed Zach LaVine to a four-year, $78 million offer sheet that – fortunately for the Kings – Chicago matched. The deal will likely be a thorn in the Bulls’ side, but they probably weren’t eager to lose a key piece of their Jimmy Butler-trade return for nothing.

From there, Sacramento moved onto players who already agreed to terms with other teams, poaching Nemanja Bjelica from the 76ers and Yogi Ferrell from the Mavericks. Those defections reflect worse on the players, but this sure wasn’t a way for the Kings to endear themselves around the league.

Guaranteeing a 30-year-old Bjelica $13,325,000 over the next two years with a third season unguaranteed at $7.15 million seems about fair. It’s not certain he’ll hold positive trade value, but he might, and Sacramento didn’t necessarily have a better use for that money.

I like the Ferrell signing more. The Kings had plenty of room to get value while out-bidding the absurdly team-friendly contract he agreed to with Dallas. Sacramento will pay him $3 million next season and got an unguaranteed season tacked on.

Between all their incitement, the Kings provided comic relief by trading for Ben McLemore – whom they once drafted No. 7, never significantly developed, never traded then let leave in free agency without even a qualifying offer extended. It was actually part of a larger trade that worked well for Sacramento, netting a 2021 Grizzlies second-rounder for Garett Temple, an overpaid but still productive 32-year-old. Temple, McLemore and the other involved player – Deyonta Davis – are all are on expiring contracts. The second-rounder helps the Kings far more than Temple would’ve. McLemore returning to Sacramento is just a humorous side effect.

Even funnier: Vlade Divac declaring the Kings are a “super team, just young.” It’s hard to see a super team – present or future – in Bagley, De'Aaron FoxBogdan Bogdanovic, Buddy Hield, Willie Cauley-Stein, Harry GilesSkal Labissiere and Justin Jackson.

But that won’t be judged yet, and Bagley was the only core player added this summer. It’s especially too soon to evaluate him fully. In these grades, I’m reluctant to assign much credit or blame for draft picks who’ve yet to play in the NBA.

They took an adventurous route, but in an offseason where the Kings had the No. 2 pick and little else to change their fortunes, the Kings used essentially only the No. 2 pick to change their fortunes. We don’t yet what that’ll mean, but this grade reflects at least a little bit of my Bagley skepticism.

Offseason grade: C-