Bulls’ summer heats up, with position battles already underway

SHARE Bulls’ summer heats up, with position battles already underway
SHARE Bulls’ summer heats up, with position battles already underway

Nikola Mirotic no longer can be kicked around. Or, more specifically, punched.

Mirotic is long gone. The Bulls traded him to the Pelicans last season, but not before he was punched in the face by then-teammate Bobby Portis during training camp in October.

The forecast for camp showdowns this season calls for more heated competition, albeit with less knuckling up.

‘‘The thing I’m excited about with training camp is it’s going to be open competition,’’ Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said recently. ‘‘It should make for a very competitive camp.’’

While there are almost two months before camp begins, that doesn’t mean players aren’t already jockeying for depth-chart position. They have at least two more get-together sessions blocked off in the next seven weeks as they try to learn to play with each other. The addition of Jabari Parker complicates things because the starting five now features three high-volume scorers.

‘‘If we can be committed to get the ball up and down the floor, we have a chance, in my opinion, to play a very exciting style of basketball and be a very high-powered offensive team,’’ Hoiberg said. ‘‘So we’re really looking forward to it.’’

Fortunately, Hoiberg’s starting five is all but set.

Barring injury, Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine, Parker, Lauri Markkanen and Robin Lopez are all but assured to be introduced as the starters on opening night.

It’s the rest of the rotation that is a puzzle, and all eyes will be focused on three key battles between now and the start of camp that will shape the depth at each position.

Justin Holiday vs. Denzel Valentine

Valentine’s summer has been less than stellar — and that was before Frank ‘‘Nitty’’ Session completely abused him in the Uncle Drew League, dropping 44 points and making sure he told him about each basket.

By the way, Valentine was — at last check — still an NBA player, while Session sells shoes in Los Angeles.

With Parker now in the fold, Holiday and Valentine will battle for playing time as the backup small forward. The loser of the battle will drop to third on the depth chart and will see his playing time from last season dry up significantly.


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What works in Valentine’s favor is that Holiday will be eligible for free agency after next season. What works against him is what the Bulls might do with first-round pick Chandler Hutchison.

As of now, Hutchison’s playmaking and ability to run the floor in Hoiberg’s offense has him slotted more in the role of LaVine’s backup. But he also could jump to small forward, if necessary.

Either way, it could be make-or-break for Valentine and his future with the Bulls.

Cameron Payne vs. Ryan Arcidiacono

Make no mistake about it: Payne is the backup point guard.

But foot issues, as well as an inability to step up when he has been needed, has followed Payne back to his days with the Thunder.

What Hoiberg gets from Arcidiacono is a full understanding of the offense and 100 percent effort on defense.

Not much of a competition? Don’t bet on that.

Cristiano Felicio the $8 million a year player vs. Felicio from three years ago on his rookie contract

It’s shocking that Felicio is the fifth-highest-paid player on the roster heading into this season.

The Bulls can’t trade him, so he has to get better. Will he challenge rookie big man Wendell Carter Jr. for playing time off the bench? Unlikely. Will he push Portis? Doubtful.

So what is he? Right now, he’s just another example of general manager Gar Forman thinking he outsmarted the rest of the NBA, only to realize the joke is on him. It will be a huge next three months for Felicio.

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