Chicago Bulls

Boozer's big night should silence critics - for now

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Boozer's big night should silence critics - for now

MIAMI -- "I dont know if that small ball is going to workagainst us," Joakim Noah exclaimed, over the din of the jubilant visitinglocker room at American Airlines Arena. "Not with a guy like Carlos Boozer inthe game."

Following Boozers 27-point, 12-rebound outing in theBulls' 96-89 road win Friday night over the defending-champion Heat, Noah'sstatement rang true. The Bulls dominated the Heat on the glass to the tune ofa 48-28 margin as well as outscoring them in the paint, 46-34, and notching 20second-chance points to Miamis seven.

RELATED: Boozer, Bulls shock defending-champion Heat

Boozer was a huge part of that, but his effort set the tone. From the opening tip, the much-malignedpower forward battled -- on both ends of the court, evidenced by his late strip ofHeat big man Chris Bosh -- and even made important hustle plays to ensure that theBulls earned their biggest victory of the season. For the offseason Miamiresident, it might have been his most memorable performance -- certainly in thatparticular arena, at least in a Bulls uniform -- in a long while and thatscoming off a season-high scoring effort in Wednesdays win at Orlando

"I love it playing in front of my family. I had 70 peopleout there -- family, friends. Its good to get a win out there in front of all mypeople. It was fun," Boozer said before explaining why he was soproductive Friday. "Thibs coming to me, playing off my teammates, trying to beaggressive, trying to make the most of my shots, trying to be more efficient. Ihavent been really as efficient this year; trying to be more efficient in theNew Year.

It wasnt just me, it was everybody who was diving forloose balls, scrapping and thats how were going to have to play," he said. "Were stillshort-handed. Until weve got everybody back, were playing short-handed. Wevegot to scrap a lot of games to have a chance to win and we had some scrapperstoday. My New Years resolution of being more efficient andgetting more wins is working out so far."

His coaches and teammates certainly took note of thenew-and-improved Boozer, who looked like a man possessed -- or rather, a manamongst boys against the smallish Heat -- as he pounded the glass, ran the courtwith abandon and finished with force. If his past two outings are any indicationof what 2013 will bring, the entire Bulls frontcourt might have a case forAll-Star candidacy.

"'Los was big all night. He played huge for us. He canscore so well around the basket. But overall, I think that it was a great winfor us," Noah said. "He played very well defensively, as well, was very active with hishands and that was huge for us. That play when he dove on thefloor, caught it and he passed it to Taj, and he got fouled, I thought thatprobably was the play of the game. It was just hustle. We outhustled them."

WATCH: Noah says this is biggest win of the year

Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau concurred: He was great.Hes been playing very well at both ends, getting good post position, executingthe pick-and-roll well."

WATCH: Thibodau praises Bulls effort against Heat

In short, Boozer looked like the player thatChicago expected when he arrived in2010. Glimpses have appeared since hes been in the black and red, and oftentimes hes criticized unfairly even when he does play well. But if Boozercontinues to play like this, as far as effort -- if not numbers -- those jeers willturn to cheers and Booz wont be mistaken for boos.

NBA economic reality could speed up Bulls rebuild

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USA TODAY

NBA economic reality could speed up Bulls rebuild

In case you missed it this morning, ESPN's Tim McMahon and Bobby Marks collaborated on an excellent piece detailing how the irresponsible spending by NBA teams last summer could impact a star-studded free agent class in 2018.

Which is music to the ears of Bulls' front office executives John Paxson and Gar Forman, who are hoping to be a major player on the free agent market next year.

The ESPN report projected only nine teams having cap space to bid on a free agent class that could include Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, Paul George, DeMarcus Cousins, Chris Paul, Isaiah Thomas, Carmelo Anthony, DeAndre Jordan, LaMarcus Aldridge, Avery Bradley, Brook Lopez, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Wilson Chandler, Danny Green, Enes Kanter and Greg Monroe, along with restricted free agents like Nikola Jokic, Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Gary Harris, Jusuf Nurkic, Marcus Smart, Rodney Hood, Julius Randle, Dante Exum, Aaron Gordon and Clint Capela.

Bad summer not to have any spending money.

But that's exactly what Paxson and Forman were anticipating when they chose not to get involved in the reckless spending triggered by the league's new TV deal last summer. We all know about some of the terrible contracts handed out including a four-year, $72 million deal to Joakim Noah, four years, $64 million for Timofey Mozgov and Portland spending almost $150 million to lock up reserves Allen Crabbe and Evan Turner for four years.

The Bulls signed Dwyane Wade, Rajon Rondo and Isaiah Canaan last summer, but avoided any salary commitment beyond two years. Both Rondo and Canaan were bought out of the team options the Bulls held for next season.

Meanwhile, the Trail Blazers are now in such a deep luxury tax hole that they basically gave Crabbe away in a trade with Brooklyn earlier this week, immediately waiving the player they got back, power forward Andrew Nicholson, under the league's stretch provision. Portland figures to be one of at least 10 teams paying the luxury tax for the 2018-19 season.

I know what many of you are thinking, "Why will 2018 free agency be any different than in years past?" Yes, the Bulls missed out on primary targets James, Wade and Chris Bosh in 2010, and they failed to land Anthony in 2014. But with so many teams capped out, the Bulls will face less competition in pursuing the players they want most next summer.

We've all heard the rumors about James wanting to finish his career in L.A., and it's unlikely Durant, Westbrook, George or Paul would have any interest in coming to Chicago. But the Bulls could get significantly better right away in a weakened Eastern Conference by adding one or two players from a list of unrestricted free agents that could be looking for a new situation, including Cousins, Jordan, Bradley, Thomas, Caldwell-Pope, Kanter, Chandler and Green. They also could use their cap space to make a massive cap offer to a restricted free agent whose team is already in the luxury tax.

Of course, the Bulls have decisions to make with their own roster as well. They still haven't re-signed Niko Mirotic, and any contract beyond one season will reduce their cap space next summer. Plus, the key player coming back in the Jimmy Butler deal, shooting guard Zach LaVine, will be a restricted free agent next summer, and if he comes back 100 percent from ACL surgery, could command a multi-year contract starting at $20 million or more.

The Bulls have contract options on the rookie deals of Bobby Portis, Kris Dunn, Cam Payne, Jerian Grant, Denzel Valentine and Lauri Markkanen, while Paul Zipser's $1.5 million salary is not guaranteed for 2018-19.

Paxson said the Bulls are committed to re-building through the draft, and the hope is they'll wind up with a top 3 pick after next year's lottery to grab a franchise changing talent like Missouri's Michael Porter, Jr., International star Luka Doncic and 7-footers DeAndre Ayton of Arizona and Mohamed Bamba of Texas.

Looking at the big picture, if LaVine comes back 100 percent, Dunn emerges as a legit starting point guard and Markkanen shows potential as a stretch 4, the Bulls rebuild could move quickly. Adding one of the top players in next year's draft would be the first step, then Paxson and Forman would be armed with somewhere between $40-50 million dollars in cap space to pursue an impact free agent or two.

Bulls fans remember how long it took to re-build the team after the end of the Jordan era in 1998. Jerry Krause couldn't land a major free agent, and the Tyson Chandler-Eddy Curry experiment failed badly.

Let's hope Paxson and Forman have more luck this time around. At least they'll have a built-in advantage when the 2018 free agent market opens for business next July with the Bulls projected to have more cap space available than any other team in the league.

Bulls Talk Podcast: Why Bulls fans should not feel like they 'missed out' on trading for Kyrie Irving

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Bulls Talk Podcast: Why Bulls fans should not feel like they 'missed out' on trading for Kyrie Irving

On the latest Bulls Talk Podcast, Mark Schanowski, Kendall Gill, and Kevin Anderson break down the Kyrie Irving trade rumors, Derrick Rose’s move to Cleveland, and Kendall’s appearance in the ‘Big 3’.

Kendall shares what it was like when he wanted out of Charlotte, and how Rose to the Cavs only works if Kyrie is gone.

The trio also explains why Bulls fans should not feel like they ‘missed out’ on trading for Irving. Plus behind-the-scenes of KG’s hometown return to the court.

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