Should Bulls worry about Heat's new secret weapon?

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Should Bulls worry about Heat's new secret weapon?

SAN FRANCISCO - Literally across an entire country from Northern California, where the Bulls are currently licking their wounds from Monday night's shocking loss to Golden State, perhaps the most disturbing threat to the chances of Chicago returning to the NBA Finals (let alone a parade down Michigan Ave.) may have emerged Tuesday evening in South Florida: Norris Cole.

Yes, the season is still very young and it might be a stretch to anoint the rookie out of Cleveland State -- though Heat fans serenaded the diminutive point guard, technically the Bulls' original 2011 first-round draft pick, with chants of "M-V-P" -- the next big thing based on a single performance, but what Cole brings to the table can't be ignored. Already appearing to be a potential upgrade from incumbent starter Mario Chalmers, Cole's speed, athleticism, moxie, surprising maturity and maybe most importantly, ability to knock down jumpers, were the difference for the Heat in fending off the Celtics (after surrendering a huge lead) Tuesday.

With head coach Erik Spoelstra reportedly adopting elements of the University of Oregon football team's warp-speed offense, Cole -- along with rugged backup power forward Udonis Haslem -- is a perfect complement to agile, finesse big man Chris Bosh and those two monster athletes Miami has on the wing. In fact, both Dwyane Wade and LeBron James deferred to Cole late against Boston, and with no hesitation, the rookie took over ballhandling duties (matched up with the likes of defensive-minded All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo) and rained in outside jumpers, scoring 14 of his 20 points in a taut fourth quarter, fending off a furious Celtics comeback.

I first became aware of Norris the summer before his senior year at Cleveland State, when he came to Chicago for one of the Nike Skills Academies camps. While pitted against more-ballyhooed peers like Duke All-American Nolan Smith, the little-known prospect wowed the NBA scouts in attendance with his explosiveness and fearlessness, giving him some buzz heading into his final college campaign.

Cole took full advantage of the increased attention, winning Horizon League (the same conference of back-to-back national runner-up Butler, as well as Chicago's own Loyola and UIC) MVP honors and even getting a piece of the national spotlight after a ridiculous 41-point, 20-rebound, nine-assist performance in one game. Still, when draft day came around, some skeptics wondered if, after dominating mid-major competition, whether his lack of size would negate his effectiveness on the next level, if he could make the transition into a traditional point guard and could he consistently hit shots from NBA three-point range.

So far, Cole has answered all of the above and then some, and judging from his even-keeled demeanor down the stretch of his second professional game, justified the trust his star teammates showed they had in him. Now, the pecking order won't be reconfigured to put the rookie ahead of James and Wade or even Bosh, but all of a sudden, coupled with the addition of veteran Shane Battier, still one of the league's better "three-and-D" players, and the low-risk, high-reward Eddy Curry experiment, the Heat are quietly a lot more multi-faceted than a year ago.

And by the way, Bulls fans who read this and saw Cole's Tuesday-night outburst, don't be mad at the front office for not holding onto him. It's not like there's a lot of playing time behind Derrick Rose or a need at the position (maybe not in two seasons, but right now, for his role on the Bulls, C.J. Watson is better than any rookie point guard, including Cole and No. 1 overall pick Kyrie Irving) and privately, team management is absolutely ecstatic about skilled face-up power forward Nikola Mirotic, who is currently tearing up Spain's high-level ACB league and whom they believe can be an immediate-impact player and possible starter upon arrival in Chicago.

But Cole does affect the Bulls, assuming they have to tangle with the Heat in the playoffs again, in this way: Wade and James no longer have to be Miami's only primary ballhandler (Chalmers is more of a spot-up shooter and occasional slasher, though he's bigger than Cole) and their defense just got even faster, if a bit smaller. Not that Cole is prepared to take on the league's reigning MVP head on, but top Heat executive Pat Riley adding more ammunition -- people around the league weren't unaware of Cole, but with the lockout, no summer league and an abbreviated preseason, the former mid-major star remained an unproven commodity -- to already-loaded Miami is something that, even this early in the season, should have the Bulls' attention.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should the Bulls sign Chris Bosh next year?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should the Bulls sign Chris Bosh next year?

David Kaplan hosts this episode of SportsTalk Live and is joined by Chris Rongey (670 The Score), Seth Gruen (Bleacher Report) and Chris Emma (670 The Score).

They debate whether or not the Bulls should make a run at signing Chris Bosh this coming off-season.

They also ask "O Captain, Where Art Thou?" and wonder what is behind Toews's dip in production this season. Finally, they discuss who is the best QB playing this weekend in the AFC and NFC Championship games.

Listen to the episode at this link or below in the embedded player:

Dwyane Wade not buying into the Bosh to Bulls speculation

Dwyane Wade not buying into the Bosh to Bulls speculation

ATLANTA — One of the reasons Dwyane Wade was so attractive to the Bulls in free agency was a perceived ability to bring other stars along with him at some point.

Enter Chris Bosh and an ESPN rumor that states the Bulls would be first in line if Bosh becomes free from the Miami Heat on March 1. 

Bosh hasn't played for the Heat in nearly a year after a reoccurrence of blood clots, which could ultimately be deadly. Bosh and the Heat are at an impasse; Bosh wants to play, believing he's found a medication that could work for him and his condition, while the Heat don't feel it's prudent or safe for him to suit up. 

Thus, the impasse.

Since Wade and Bosh are former teammates — and Bosh appeared at the United Center earlier this month for a Bulls-Raptors game — the Bulls seem like they could be a natural destination should he become free.

"Who came up with that? I don't know. I play with the Bulls and I don't even know that," Wade said after the morning shootaround at Philips Arena in Atlanta. "That's news to me, he's one of my good friends. The biggest thing with Chris is the same thing, you know, is his health. He's not even playing basketball right now. He's going to continue on his health and I think that's what he's doing."

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

The Heat can get Bosh off their salary cap Feb. 9th, the anniversary of the last game he played for them. Bosh played 53 games last year after playing 44 in the 2014-15 season, when the blood clot issue first appeared.

A player averaging 20 points and 7.2 rebounds — Bosh's numbers in the 97 games he's played since LeBron James left the Miami Heat in free agency — would be a boon, but as Wade said, his health has to come first for Bosh and whatever franchise is potentially looking at him.

It's already tricky enough when involving Bosh's desire to play and his support from the NBPA, but the NBA doesn't want to have a player potentially die on their watch, making it more difficult for a prospective team to step in and offer Bosh.

"Basketball is something he loves and I'm sure somewhere in the back of his mind he would love to be able to do again," Wade said. "But I know his steps and he's that moment is not here now. I can't even talk about next year."

Wade said the thought of Bosh coming to Chicago hasn't come up in their recent conversations, although even if it had, Wade wouldn't be the one to stoke the flames of speculation when there's so many other hurdles to clear.

"I talk to him. A lot of the issue with the Heat is at the end of the day he has something serious and they want to make sure it's not life-threatening and then it goes from there," Wade said. "Things are said and things are done, but at the end of the day, as I've always said about Chris, I know Chris is worried about his health first.

"He has a family that he loves and he wants to make sure that he's as healthy and whole as he can but also he loves the game of basketball so when that day comes there are always going to be stories about guys where they have friends at."