THE VULTURE WARS

TEAMS ARE SNIFF­ING AROUND IN CASE BULLS WANT TO DEAL LAVINE, MARKKANEN, CARTER

Chicago Sun-Times - - BULLS BEAT - BY JOE COW­LEY | jcow­ley@sun­times.com | @JCow­leyHoops

The Bulls’ fail­ing re­build isn’t even cold yet, but the vul­tures have be­gun to cir­cle. SNY re­ported last week that the Knicks and Nets were do­ing back­ground work on Zach LaVine, as­sum­ing he could be dealt by the new regime.

An NBA scout told the Chicago Sun­Times that there were some teams ac­tively ze­ro­ing in on sev­eral Bulls, in­clud­ing Lauri Markkanen and Wen­dell Carter Jr.

Is it your nor­mal due dili­gence or a lot more smoke than usual?

In this case, it’s likely both.

First, sources have in­di­cated the or­ga­ni­za­tion hasn’t even crossed the trade bridge. Ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent of bas­ket­ball op­er­a­tions Ar­turas Kar­niso­vas hasn’t even rounded up the en­tire ros­ter at the Ad­vo­cate Cen­ter for a full work­out.

This is more about other teams waiting to pounce af­ter the Bulls make a de­ci­sion on the coach­ing staff.

There were at least a hand­ful of play­ers — sev­eral key ones — un­happy with coach Jim Boylen as well as the scheme the an­a­lyt­ics de­part­ment had im­posed on the of­fense.

The midrange shot was frowned upon even though LaVine and Markkanen con­sider it a key part of their games. The Bulls lived and mostly died from three-point range.

Be­fore the restart be­gan in Or­lando on Thurs­day, the Bulls fin­ished the reg­u­lar sea­son ninth in three-point at­tempts with 35.1 per game but 24th in three-point per­cent­age at 34.8.

It was a square peg try­ing to be jammed into a round hole, and Boylen was ac­cept­ing what­ever the an­a­lyt­ics de­part­ment was feed­ing him.

LaVine did have one of his bet­ter of­fen­sive sea­sons, but he still felt some­what hand­cuffed and could have done more. The same can’t be said for Markkanen, who pri­vately ridiculed the of­fense most of the sea­son.

As for Carter, he ba­si­cally be­came an af­ter­thought in the of­fense. His touches seemed to dis­ap­pear af­ter be­ing pushed into the garbage-man role, and his points had to come off of­fen­sive re­bounds.

That of­fen­sive phi­los­o­phy al­ready is be­ing picked apart by the new regime, ac­cord­ing to a source, so ex­pect Boylen to have to teach a new look again if he is re­tained.

But many of the de­fen­sive schemes Boylen im­ple­mented — mi­nus the con­stant blitzes on pick-and-roll — have been ap­plauded by the front of­fice, so there’s that.

So why has the Bulls’ ros­ter drawn at­ten­tion?

Well, Markkanen, Carter and LaVine have had their is­sues with Boylen.

Markkanen didn’t like his role, Carter wanted to play more power for­ward and less cen­ter, and the cam­eras re­vealed LaVine’s frus­tra­tion at the end of some games last sea­son af­ter Boylen called what he per­ceived as mean­ing­less time­outs.

There are sce­nar­ios in which all three could be dealt, es­pe­cially if the Bulls stum­ble across a true cen­ter in the draft — James Wise­man — and want to break up a log­jam that has formed at power for­ward with Carter and Markkanen. Yes, it’s un­likely, but it ex­ists.

And what if Boylen be­ing re­tained leads to a sec­ond coup at­tempt by the play­ers? There was a weak two-man coup at­tempt dur­ing Boylen’s first week on the job, but what if his re­turn trig­gers a bunch of trade de­mands?

Then there’s LaVine, who’s tired of miss­ing out on the play­offs and be­ing over­looked for All-Star recog­ni­tion. He’s signed for the next two sea­sons at $19.5 mil­lion each, but af­ter that, all bets are off. If the Bulls want to be in the best fi­nan­cial po­si­tion for the highly touted 2021 free-agent class, maybe they’ll act now and get LaVine off the books by ac­quir­ing an ex­pir­ing con­tract and draft picks.

By free­ing up $20 mil­lion from LaVine, then the $28.4 mil­lion Otto Porter Jr. will make this sea­son when he opts in, the Bulls could be in great shape to po­ten­tially add two max deals in ’21.

Those are a lot of what-ifs, how­ever, while the vul­tures keep cir­cling. ✶

PAUL BEATY/AP

Sev­eral NBA teams have shown in­ter­est in Lauri Markkanen (left) and Wen­dell Carter Jr.

ELSA/GETTY IM­AGES

Bulls guard Zach LaVine and coach Jim Boylen have not al­ways seen eye to eye.

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