April 20, 2018, 8:59 am
I had the opportunity to talk with four-time NBA champion, former Chicago Bull, and current NBC Sports Chicago pre and post-game television analyst Will Perdue today.
See below, where Will discusses the 2017-18 season, players on the current roster, what to look for in the 2018-19 season, the NBA draft, and much more!
Be sure to follow Will on twitter at @Will_Perdue32 – and follow Will & the rest of the NBC Sports Chicago Bulls coverage team on twitter @NBCSChicago
Q: The Chicago Bulls finished the season 27-55 on the season, good for 13th place in the Eastern Conference.
If we take John Paxson at his word and the worst of the rebuild is behind us, what can we say about the 2017-18 campaign that would lend some optimism towards the future?
Will: I’ll go backwards before I go forwards with this answer.
What I like about what Pax (Bulls Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations John Paxson) has done and what he’s been steadfast about for the last year, and that goes back to last year’s draft, is that we have a direction.
It was almost like it was somewhat of a rudderless ship about what the direction was.
To me as a former player, to me as a guy that’s won championships with this organization, I believe once organizations win championships and multiple championships, the standards for those organizations are different.
It’s the bottom line.
The Boston Celtics, the Miami Heat, the Lakers, the Bulls for example to name a few, because of the fact they’ve won championships, your standards are different, former players’ standards for that organization are different, the fans’ standards are different.
John Paxson, a guy that played on many of those championship teams, his standards are different.
I liked the fact that we had a direction because we were wallowing in mediocrity.
We were a playoff team, but we weren’t a contender.
Q: Following up on your point, now that we’re a year out from the Jimmy Butler trade, what were your thoughts at the time of that deal?
What are your thoughts now after having a year to reflect on it?
Will: I think it was a win-win. Butler was the face of the franchise, but because they hadn’t been able to put the right pieces around him and because while it’s hard to say he was an All-Star still developing, but he was still growing, you weren’t sure what he needed – but they didn’t have what he needed around him.
They were basically filling holes, Dwyane Wade being a perfect example. It wasn’t working.
I feel by making the trade, they gave us a direction, meaning we were going to have to take a step back in order to get better and move forward.
I was excited about Zach LaVine. I saw LaVine play in Memphis in the NCAA tournament against Florida.
(Note: Florida defeated LaVine’s UCLA Bruins 79-68 to advance to the Elite 8 in the 2013-14 NCAA Tournament’s South Region).
I remember them saying this guy’s coming out, he’s going into the draft, and I thought “he’s doing what?!?!?”
I thought he was very one dimensional, hell of an athlete, but not a basketball player per se that was going to go straight to the NBA and have an impact.
The reason I mention that is because I logged the development I saw from the time I saw him in Memphis until the time I saw him get hurt.
There were concerns about him because of the fact he had hurt his ACL, but I said at this time that it’s just a different ballgame now with the advancements in science/medicine.
There was no doubt and there is still no doubt in my mind that he’ll get back to 99.9 percent if not 100 percent.
Unfortunately, we only saw a 24-game sample, and he played a lot better at the beginning that he did at the end, but something that I saw is that he’s just a better all-around basketball player now.
I thought he played his best basketball, and when I say best basketball I mean the complete player, when he was the primary ball handler when Dunn was out.
I thought he played better and relaxed more as the primary ball handler because he had the ball in his hands all the time, so he wasn’t just looking to be a scorer only.
I thought he did a nice job facilitating with the basketball and I thought that made his defense a little better – I thought his effort was better defensively, and I thought he did a better job with his shot selection.
What concerns me, and it’s a small sample size, was that when he did play the two and wasn’t the primary ball handler, I thought he took a lot of bad shots. I think he felt like “now I’m in the scorer’s position, I’m supposed to be a scorer”, so he took a lot of contested shots.
I think he’s still trying to find his way as far as where he fits in best with Dunn and with Markkanen. That still needs some work.
I still think he (LaVine) can be All-Star caliber or better.
I’m not really concerned about it, I’m just disappointed that he didn’t get to play more games and play more minutes with Dunn and Markkanen.
As far as Dunn goes, we saw what he can do. We saw his mentality, we saw his personality – he’s a leader.
He wants to be, and I’ll use a term we used two year ago with Wade, Butler, and Rondo, an alpha-dog.
At times his decision making is a little questionable, but we have also seen him do very well in the closer’s role taking the last shot and accepting that challenge. Then again, how does that jive with what LaVine was trying to do?
Again, not a big sample size of these guys playing a lot of minutes together.
That’s unfortunate and I think we’re still going to see some growing pains as we head into the beginning of next year.
That leaves the big question – how long before they, and Fred Hoiberg and his staff, figure that out?
Q: Dunn had the turf-toe injury at the end of the season, and like you said we only had 24 games of Zach LaVine.
A lot’s been made of the fact that on the season Dunn, LaVine, and Markkanen only managed 255 minutes of court time together, and Dunn and LaVine as a backcourt were only able to play 308 minutes together.
There’s been a lot of chatter about the three of them needing to establish some sort of “pecking order”, or at least more of a rapport as it seems like they struggled when on the court together.
How much of that is what you alluded to earlier – just a small sample size or how much credence might there be to some of the results we saw, albeit in limited minutes?
Will: We’ve talked about this a lot on our show on NBC Sports Chicago, because when we played, that’s how it was.
When I was in Chicago, it was Michael Jordan, then it was Scottie Pippen, then after that it was whoever was hot that night.
In San Antonio when I first got there it was David Robinson then Sean Elliot. Then Tim Duncan came in and he was in the mix.
I think the league has changed a little bit in the sense that now instead of pecking order, it’s more about trust unless you have a Lebron James, or a James Harden, or a Kyrie Irving – some player of that caliber.
We don’t have a player of that caliber yet.
What we do have is a future All-Star in LaVine, obviously a future All-Star in Markkanen, and I think a solid player, though we don’t know what his ceiling is yet, in Dunn.
We have three players and it’s more about trust.
It’s about Markkanen and LaVine trusting Dunn to make the right decision with the basketball in late game situations, or late shot clock situations.
It’s about LaVine being comfortable with his role and getting past the ACL injury. He is a very proud individual who feels like he still has a lot to prove, so that’s the hard part for him – ‘How do I prove what I can do without taking too many shots?’
Markkanen is still trying to find his way, he’s the rookie, and he needs to understand that it’s ok to step on older, veteran players’ toes if you’re having a big night or if you have the mismatch with whoever’s guarding you.
Also, the ability of Fred (Hoiberg), because he hasn’t played these guys much, to go with his gut sometimes instead of just sticking to the numbers because everything’s so analytical these days.
Q: If LaVine’s biggest task this summer is to continue to get healthy and work his way back to 100 percent, what about Kris Dunn?
Kris Dunn was the only player in the NBA last season to average six assists and two steals per game, yet he only shot 43 percent from the field and 32 percent from three.
What can Dunn work on this summer to take the next step towards cementing his role as the Bulls point guard of the future?
Will: He’s a point guard, he wants to be a point guard, and he’s been dubbed the point guard of the future, but I think he’s also a scorer.
He’s got to become a better shooter and become better off the ball because going back to what I talked about earlier, I think LaVine at this point is better when he’s the primary ball handler and has the ball in his hands because then his shot selection is much better.
Can Dunn and LaVine take turns being the primary ball handler or being the guy off the ball to where eventually one time down the floor you’re the primary ballhandler and the next time you’re the two guard, the scorer, the decoy?
I think that’s just about repetition and getting guys on the floor together.
The question is, will those guys be in Chicago a lot together (over the summer), and if so, its not just about doing drills or getting up jump shots, its about playing 2-on-2, 3-on-3, 4-on-4, 5-on-5.
Will there be enough guys in the Advent Center (Bull’s practice facility) to allow them to get that repetition in so they’re a little ahead of where they were last year heading into training camp.
Q: Digging deeper into the roster, what do you think about Denzel Valentine?
His minutes were up to a little over 27 per game, and he shot the ball a little bit better this season, yet Paxson recently stated in his season-ending press conference that the Bulls want to look towards the wing the No. 6 selection tentatively penciled in for them in this year’s NBA draft.
What do you think Valentine needs to work on, and ultimately what do you think Valentine’s role on this team is if you’re looking at a backcourt of Dunn and LaVine with Markkanen at the power forward spot – and now you’re looking at drafting a small forward?
Will: What he has done first and foremost is made himself a shooter, especially from the 3-point line. I also think he’s proven that he can be a facilitator.
The problem he has is that he can’t guard the ones, and he struggles to guard the twos and the threes.
He’s a step slow on defense.
With what he does bring, shooting and ball handling, he also brings a weakness on the defensive end, and that’s a problem.
That doesn’t mean he can’t play in the NBA, I think he’s proven he belongs in the NBA. I think he’s proven though that he belongs in a specific role.
For a player to hear that, it stinks.
Every player, including myself and guys I’ve played with, you think you’re better than you are. That’s a good thing.
He made the comment at the end of the year that he thinks he deserves to be a starter.
On certain teams, he probably is a starter, but on playoff teams and contending teams, I don’t think he is a starter unless he goes from – he made improvements from last year to this year, if he cam make the same from this year to the upcoming year, then all of a sudden you start to look at him a little differently.
I think we’ve seen a big enough sample size from him to determine what he is.
Unfortunately, they are probably going to draft over the top of him, that’s probably their biggest need, a small forward than can shoot the three and that’s a little longer, that’s a little quicker, that’s a little more explosive than he is.
That doesn’t mean he won’t play, but that means he’ll probably continue to come off the bench. He’s shown that he can be very impactful, but he needs to work on being more consistent on a nightly basis.
Q: Speaking of the NBA draft, the Bulls are slated to pick sixth pending the outcome of the lottery on May 15, are there any prospects out there that you currently have your eye on that you think might be a great fit if the Bulls were to stay at No. 6?
Will: I think its obviously a small forward, even though its somewhat of a position-less game now.
You need a guy on the perimeter like Mikal Bridges.
Michael Porter, Jr. maybe if you really trust everything you see in all the medical reports and all the tests you run him through. I think because he missed a lot of games, he’s a guy that’s behind the curve and will take a little longer to develop.
You have to stop and see what’s available at that position when you get there and is there a player there that fills the needs – which technically is a small forward.
If you draft the right player, I think this team is back into the playoffs.
They’re not championship contenders, I don’t think they can beat Toronto, we’ll wait and see what Cleveland does with their rebuild, or a healthy Boston – but all of a sudden you are a playoff contending team and you become a matchup nightmare on a nightly basis heading in the right direction.
Then, as Pax said, the technical rebuild is behind you and you have positioned yourself for the 2019 free agency market.
Q: I don’t think you’ve definitively stated that the Bulls should be in the playoffs next season, but if we start to look ahead and they get an impact player at No. 6 and we head into next season with the roster mostly intact, what do you think realistic goals should be for the 2018-19 season?
Will: There’s a lot of “ifs” ….
If LaVine is totally healthy –
If Dunn can stay healthy –
If these guys figure it out on the offensive end of the floor –
If defense improves, and that is probably the biggest if, the defense has to improve –
There were plenty of games this past season, even though everyone talks about tanking, the players weren’t trying to intentionally tank.
There were plenty of times where they scored enough points, they just couldn’t get the stops to win more games.
They got exposed defensively, but that also helped the big picture that they lost the game.
But we saw enough of the guys to know that they have the potential to be very good.
I think the goal should be the playoffs.
The playoffs meaning let’s not go overboard with what we look to do – remember the big target is 2019 free agency.
How do you get better?
How do you put yourself in a position to improve over last season, continue to win games, but still allow yourself the flexibility to really jump into that 2019 free agent market where if you sign one of those big name free agents, an impact player, you all of a sudden become a contender because you are in the East?
Q: The Bulls have plenty of cap space, certainly they are going to sign LaVine to an extension this season as he’s a restricted free agent.
The only other restricted free agent on the team is David Nwaba, a fan favorite who was able to have a big impact in limited minutes off the bench.
Do you think there’s a role on the team for him going forward?
Will: There is, but there’s also a price associated with that.
I think it’s very advantageous for the Bulls that in 2018 there’s not a lot of teams with cap space.
As you point out, even though he’s a restricted free agent there may be a team or two that makes a run at him, but probably not for big dollars.
If the Bulls are smart, they just let him sit out there, and wait for a team to make an offer.
If a team makes an offer within what they consider to be acceptable boundaries, they match the offer. If no team makes an offer, then this is a business and you probably get him for less than what he’s really valued at.
Yet you’re still in a positive position as far as your bolstering your bench.
Let’s not forget – you’ve talked about LaVine, at the same time I think they need to lock up Bobby Portis before he becomes a free agent.
If they let him become a free agent, I don’t think he’ll be on the roster in the future because he’s going to get big money.
Q: Portis looked great this season, made great strides in his third season out of Arkansas.
Switching gears, what are your thoughts on Fred Hoiberg this past season?
Paxson praising him in the year end press conference was a big change over just a year ago when Paxson publicly stated Hoiberg needed to demonstrate better growth as a leader.
Will: Pax was right on target, last season and this season about what Fred needs to work on.
The one thing he has done is proven he can convince guys to buy in, and that was the one thing everybody to a man said this year – was that they bought into the process of what they were trying to do.
Check that off the list.
I think we saw enough of the offense to know that it can work, and this team can score a lot of points, but when it’s all said and done we have to figure out the defense.
Technically that’s Jim Boylan’s job, that’s what he was brought in for.
Yet at the end of the day this is all the responsibility of Fred Hoiberg, and he has to figure out how we go about making this a complete package, offensively and defensively.
There is still some work to be done, but what I think we saw the reason Fred Hoiberg was brought in is starting to pay dividends because he now has the players that fit within his system.
Q: The roster was certainly more conductive to what Fred’s trying to accomplish this season than it has been in year’s past.
Hoiberg is certainly a far different coach than what we had here previously in Tom Thibodeau.
We’re coming up on the three-year mark of the controversial firing of Tom Thibodeau.
Tom’s up in Minnesota and has the Timberwolves back in the playoffs for the first time in a long time this season.
He took a tough loss to the Houston Rockets last night going down 2-0 in that series.
Three years out from Tom Thibodeau’s exit from Chicago, what have you seen in his time in Minnesota that makes you feel either Paxson made the right decision or perhaps made the wrong decision in moving on from Thibs?
Will: The stats that the Bulls have had on the defensive end since Thibodeau left have been implementing some of his defensive principals.
That was the one thing that everybody always bought into when Thibodeau was the coach – the defense.
He’s having a hard time selling that defense up in Minnesota as you watch that team throughout the season because the young guys aren’t necessarily buying in like they should.
Defense is about effort. Defense is about desire.
Sometimes that’s a hard sell and because he had Jimmy Butler here earlier and because when he came in some of the guys were younger, they bought in and you saw what they did on the defensive end of the floor.
He’s not having that same type of success up in Minnesota.
You have to realize Taj is getting older, and Butler was not healthy throughout the whole season.
It’s going to take KAT, Wiggins, and those guys awhile to really buy in and commit themselves to the defensive end of the floor because they’ve always tried to make their biggest impact on the offensive end.
At the end of the day, we all know who Thibodeau is, we all know what he expects of his players, and that hasn’t changed from the time he left Chicago through the time he’s been in Minnesota.
Q: On the topic of defense, it seems unfair to conduct the interview and not ask a question about Robin Lopez and the value he provides on the defensive end of the floor and perhaps some of the value he provides behind the scenes as a veteran leader in that locker room full of young players.
Any thoughts on Robin that you’d like to share?
Will: I think he’s undervalued for numerous reasons.
One, because of the stability he’s provided for this team. He’s not a vocal guy, a rah-rah guy, but what he does provide is that veteran leadership, that stability.
Because of his personality, because of his quirky character, I think the guys enjoy being around him.
He took a big, big hit personally to sit out games, to not play games when he was healthy.
That’s very difficult for any player to do because at this level all you ever want to be able to do is play. You want to be allowed to play and you want to be able to prove yourself.
It was a good sign that they know what they have in him, so they could sit him down and not necessarily have to make an evaluation but at the same time I think he’s proven he’s a better offensive player than he’s being given credit for.
He fits into the system offensively, but he also does need to improve his screen roll defense as every big man does.
Let’s not kid ourselves, at $14 million, he’s a commodity. He’s a value.
Pax talked about how he has an important role in the future of this franchise, but that role may be as a trade piece.
There may be a team out there that’s eyeing him as a guy with one year left on his contract, an expiring contract next season, and somebody that fits into what they’re trying to do this season but then give them cap space – meaning either the Bulls or another team – to go out and sign somebody in the 2019 free agent market.
So, he’s got different levels of value.
I sure hope he’s back with this team, but time will tell.
Q: To wrap things up, I’d like to ask a couple of fun questions.
Deep Dish or Thin Crust Pizza?
Will: Thin crust.
I’m not a deep-dish guy. A lot of people talk about Chicago and deep-dish pizza, but I’m not a deep-dish guy, too much cheese.
Q: I believe Harrison Ford is one of your favorite actors, do you have a favorite Harrison Ford movie or a favorite series of Harrison Ford movies?
Will: One of my last purchases from the DVD aisle at Best Buy was the Indiana Jones collection. That’s kind of where it all started, that’s where I started to become a fan. I am also a big fan of Witness.
Q: You’re one of only 38 players in NBA history to win four NBA championships, where does one keep four NBA championship rings?
Will: A safety deposit box.
Q: When was the last time you wore one of them?
Will: It’s been awhile actually. I wear them for special events, I usually wear one of them every year when I do the first show for NBA Sports Chicago. If I go speak to kids at schools I take them with me. If I do appearances for the Bulls or for the NBA I take them with me. It’s not something I wear on a daily basis, it’s something I consider to be a special event for me to take them out of the safety deposit box.