Bulls outlook still positive after off-season moves

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Bulls outlook still positive after off-season moves

It seems like just about every Bulls' fan I talk to wants to know why the front office wasn't more aggressive in trying to upgrade the roster over the last month. By now, you've probably already heard the explanation from Gar Forman and the team's beat writers. The Bulls want to maintain salary cap flexibility for the summer of 2014 when a big free agent class could provide a second star to go with Derrick Rose. That's also the summer the Bulls figure to use the amnesty provision on the final year of Carlos Boozers contract, and sign top European prospect Nikola Mirotic .So the question is: Are the Bulls in a holding pattern for the next two seasons?In terms of adding long term salary commitments, yes. But not in terms of fielding a team that can still compete in the Eastern Conference. Forman and his staff did a good job of rebuilding the Bulls' bench with the addition of solid veterans like Kirk Hinrich, Marco Belinelli and Nazr Mohammed. Hinrich will begin the season as the Bulls' starting point guard, then move into a reserve role when Rose finishes his rehab from knee surgery.
Belinelli is something of an unknown commodity since he came over from Italy and played his first five NBA seasons with bad teams. But the 26-year-old shooting guard is a career 39 percent shooter from 3-point range, and he's a more athletic player than the departed Kyle Korver. Belinelli admits he's not a great defensive player, but if anyone can help him, it's Tom Thibodeau.Hinrich is definitely an upgrade over C.J. Watson when he moves in to a reserve role, and we hear Captain Kirk is working out like a madman this summer, dropping weight and sharpening his skills for a second tour of duty with the Bulls. Hinrich has never been a high percentage shooter, but his ability to play both guard spots should give Thibodeau a lot more versatility late in close games. And no one will question Hinrichs work ethic and intensity on the defensive end.Second year forward Jimmy Butler also looks ready for regular rotation minutes. He has worked extremely hard at the Berto Center throughout the off-season, and was very impressive at the Las Vegas Summer League, making the All-Star team, along with free agent forward Malcolm Thomas. Butler looks a lot more aggressive on the offensive end, and should be able to get to the free throw line regularly with his ability to drive to the basket. Butler will eventually be an upgrade over the offensively-challenged Ronnie Brewer.
And lets hope the Bulls find a way to sign Thomas, whos getting attention from several teams after his strong summer league showing. At 6-foot-9, 220 pounds, his build is very similar to Taj Gibsons, and he would provide some insurance in case Tajs salary demands become too high as he gets ready to head into restricted free agency next summer.As far as Mohammed goes, the Chicago native has battled injuries in recent years, but he does have a nice touch around the basket, something that could not be said about the departed Omer Asik. Of course, Asik is a much better defensive player than Mohammed, but considering their relative salaries, its a trade-off the Bulls can live with. Bottom line, the bench will look a lot different than the last couple of seasons, but it could be just as effective, with more offensive potential.So where do the Bulls figure in the East? With Rose rehabbing for the first half of the season, the Bulls will go through some rough patches, especially on the offensive end. But the schedule is favorable early, and never underestimate the ability of Thibodeau and his staff to get the players prepared and motivated to take on every opponent. Assuming Luol Deng bypasses surgery on his injured wrist, the Bulls should have more than enough offense to win a high percentage of their games in the upcoming season. A finish somewhere in the four-to-six playoff seeding range is certainly reasonable. And, if Rose comes back strong for the second half of the season, the Bulls could be one of those dangerous teams that no one wants to face in the playoffs.Miami is still the class of the league, and the Heat got even better with the additions of Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis. Boston also reloaded with the addition of Jason Terry, Jeff Green, Courtney Lee and first round draft picks Jared Sullinger and Fab Melo.
Indiana will give the Bulls a battle for the Central Division title after keeping Roy Hibbert, and some of their young players should continue to improve. Add in the two New York teams, and its clear the East is stronger, especially at the top. But I would never bet against Thibodeau in giving his team an edge over the course of a grueling 82-game regular season. The Bulls might take a step back, but they should still be able to win at least 45 games, and qualify comfortably for the playoffs.The 2013-2014 outlook should be even brighter with Rose probably back in top form, and then well see if the long range planning by the front office will pay off big time in the summer of 2014. Believe me, the Bulls did not want to lose Asik. They scouted him, traded three second round draft picks to acquire him, and worked extremely hard to develop him over the last two seasons.
But that huge cap hit in 2014-2015 season was just too much to absorb. The focus continues to be about building the best possible team around Rose, and if that means passing on guys such as O.J. Mayo, Courtney Lee and Randy Foye in the short term, lets hope it pays off in the addition of a second major star somewhere down the line.In the meantime, dont panic Bulls fans. Your team will still be extremely competitive and fun to watch in the upcoming season, and we can all look forward to the day when Tommy Edwards can announce:...From Chicago...Welcome Back, Derrick Rose!

Morning Update: Dwyane Wade comes up clutch in close win vs. Kings

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AP

Morning Update: Dwyane Wade comes up clutch in close win vs. Kings

Dwyane Wade gets a little help but saves the day defensively vs. Kings

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Dwyane Wade gets a little help but saves the day defensively vs. Kings

Dwyane Wade gets a little help but saves the day defensively vs. Kings

It was a gift and the Bulls weren't going to look it in the mouth as Dwyane Wade was poised to finish off another one of his sterling defensive plays with a breakaway dunk with the game tied and Arron Afflalo and DeMarcus Cousins trailing.

Lightly touched by the small of his back by Cousins, Wade miscalculated his liftoff and missed the dunk but was bailed out by the refs for a foul with 14 seconds left.

Then, he bailed the Bulls out.

Wade had his fifth fourth-quarter defensive play, stripping Cousins on a steal on the ensuing possession with the Sacramento Kings having a chance to win, leading to a Michael Carter-Williams dunk and finishing a 102-99 win Saturday night at the United Center.

It was a clock-turning performance for Wade on both ends of the floor, even if his missed dunk is a reminder that he is 35 years old. 

"I took off too far as I look at the instant replay," Wade said. "I should've took maybe one more dribble. Can't say I felt 35, I just took off too far (laughs). But hey, sometimes you get calls, sometimes you don't. I'm a person who hasn't gotten a lot all year so I'm not gonna apologize for nothing."

Stripping Cousins on his spin move was the finale, but he swatted an Arron Afflalo corner triple in the fourth, smothered Ty Lawson at the rim twice for blocked shots to end the third and tortured Lawson again in the fourth for another steal that led to him following up a Jimmy Butler missed layup with a follow and foul.

"Just a read," said Wade on stripping Cousins. "We knew he was gonna go to DeMarcus at that point. Once we forced him left, I knew he had to come back to the right hand. And being in the right place at the right time, the ball was right there for me."

Wade played like a desperate and motivated man, putting up 30 with six rebounds and four assists on the second night of a back-to-back is proof positive he took Friday's loss to Atlanta personally and used his play to back up those feelings.

He took to twitter to apologize for the poor effort against the Hawks, producing his best all-around performance as a Bull.

"We've been good in desperate moments," Wade said. "We haven't been good in non-desperate moments, when we win three in a row or playing a team that we should beat. But (in) the desperate moments I like us."

He scored 13 in the fourth, along with the last of his four blocked shots and all three of his steals took place in the final 12.

"I thought he was terrific," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. "He was aggressive all game long, taking the ball to the basket, getting to the line 15 times. He came up with two big plays."

Hoiberg threw out different lineups and rotations, playing Paul Zipser as a sixth man and having the second-round draft pick close the game. Zipser took advantage, hitting three triples and scoring 13 points.

"I thought it was night and day from last night," Hoiberg said. "Our energy was really good all night long. We got just enough stops to find a way to win."

Cousins dominated the game with 42 and 14 rebounds in 35 minutes, the only Kings player in double figures all night.

"He was pretty much unguardable for the majority of the game, Taj did a solid job on him," Hoiberg said. "When Robin was on him, they put him on the perimeter and let him shoot threes. He's a monster."

Back-to-back triples from Cousins gave him 40 and tied the game at 97, as a third one rimmed out with a little under two minutes left.

Cousins dominated the start of the third quarter, hitting midrange jumpers over Lopez and taunting the Bulls bench after hitting a jumper to put the Kings ahead, 70-63 midway through the third.

But the Bulls stayed close, with Hoiberg choosing to sit Rajon Rondo for the second half after playing him six minutes in the second quarter, using Wade as a point guard and going with Carter-Williams for defense, along with Zipser, who didn't look scared of the moment.

"I like the wrinkle coach put in there, putting him in early," Wade said. "He gave him an opportunity and he helped us big time."

Butler scored 23 with seven assists and five rebounds in 39 minutes, didn't have to play the hero for once and made fun of Wade's apology tweet.

"He was due for a big night," Butler said. "He can tweet again if he can come out again and give us 30 and some big steals and big dunks."

"I think that's what called of him, to score baskets and guard. It's kinda sneaky. You never really expect it until it happens."

It looked like the worst was over when the Bulls made a short run to end the third, surviving the onslaught from Cousins — and surviving their own experimenting with Zipser instead of going with Denzel Valentine, switching things up altogether.

But the tone was set by the leaders, who can only manufacture but so much urgency on a nightly basis.

"I like this team when we're desperate," Wade said. "A desperate team, we're not bad."