Monday, April 26, 2010
By Mark Schanowski
For those of us who've watched just about every minute of Bulls' basketball this season, it's no surprise to see this team struggling on the defensive end in the playoffs. Granted, LeBron James is the best player in the league right now, and no one will have much success trying to slow him down. But the Bulls have done a poor job of trying to take the ball out of LeBron's hands with early double teams, and they haven't been consistent in rotating to help on James when he gets by the initial defender on his drives to the basket. Luol Deng is doing everything he can to try to stay in front of LeBron, but let's be honest, lateral quickness has never been Luol's strong suit, and he doesn't have the physical tools to guard a 6-8, 260 pound freight train like James. Vinny Del Negro has tried Taj Gibson, Hakim Warrick, James Johnson and even Kirk Hinrich on LeBron, but none of them have had even a shred of success. James will embarrass any number of defenders around the league before these playoffs are over, but the Bulls really haven't done anything to force him to give up the ball in the Cavs' half-court offense, and they're paying a heavy price.
Unfortunately, James isn't the only player who's hurting the Bulls right now. Derrick Rose continues his bad habit of watching the ball on the defensive end, and letting his man drift to an open spot for uncontested jumpers. Mo Williams, Anthony Parker and Jamario Moon have hurt the Bulls at various times in the series with wide open 3's. The Bulls try to hide Rose on the defensive end, but against a willing passer like James, that isn't easy. When Derrick is out of position, James will get the ball to an open shooter, and the Bulls haven't done a good job of defending the three point line. Cleveland has shot a high percentage from beyond the arc throughout the series by taking advantage of the Bulls' poor weak-side defense. Improving team defense was supposed to be a high priority at the start of the season, but aside from a few decent stretches during the regular season, we haven't seen that improvement. You can bet defensive philosophy will be a big topic of conversation when the Bulls' begin the search for their next head coach.
Byron Scott could be a name to watch
Speaking of which, former Nets and Hornets head coach Byron Scott says he would be interested in the Bulls job. Scott led New Jersey to the Finals behind the talents of Jason Kidd back in 2002, and did a good job developing an offense to fully utilize the open-court talents of point guard Chris Paul in New Orleans. Former Bulls' center Tyson Chandler had the best season of his career by running the floor and finishing alley-oop passes from Paul, so you wonder if Scott couldn't bring that same type of efficiency with Rose and Joakim Noah. Scott played on the Showtime Lakers with Magic Johnson, James Worthy and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the 80's, and he's well respected as a player and coach. He could be helpful in trying to attract an elite free agent to Chicago since he's known as a players' coach, willing to play an up-tempo style.
You can bet we'll also be hearing names like Doug Collins, Jeff Van Gundy, Avery Johnson and Lawrence Frank over the coming days and weeks as the Bulls try to find the right man to lead this team back to contending status. Another name to watch for is former Blazers and 76'ers head coach Maurice Cheeks, who's currently serving as an assistant to Scott Brooks in Oklahoma City. Like Byron Scott, Cheeks is well respected from his playing days in Philadelphia, and did a good job as a head coach under trying circumstances in both stops. Cheeks is also a Chicago native who excelled as an NBA point guard, and he might be able to help in Rose's development, especially on the defensive end. Look for the Bulls to try to move quickly and decisively in their search for a new head coach to avoid all the problems that occurred two years ago before they finally settled on Del Negro.
Bosh holds the key to free agent chase
So, while the Bulls should have a new head coach by the end of May, they'll have to wait until July 1st to start pursuing the best free agent class in NBA history. We're hearing Toronto General Manager Bryan Colangelo has pretty much resigned himself to the fact Chris Bosh won't be staying with the Raptors. But rather than just watch him walk away as a free agent, Colangelo will aggressively pursue sign-and-trade options. That means instead of 6 to 8 teams having the required salary cap room to sign Bosh outright, Colangelo can now negotiate with the rest of the league for the best deal possible. What's in it for Bosh you ask? Well, how about an extra year on his contract, and about 30 million dollars in salary over what he could get by just signing with another team. So, the Raptors AND Bosh will be motivated to explore sign-and-trade options, which could include some of the real heavyweight teams like Dallas and the Lakers. L.A. inquired about a Bosh for Andrew Bynum deal before the deadline in February, and if they aren't able to defend their championship, they'll probably be in the market to make an aggressive move, especially since Kobe Bryant recently signed a 3 year contract extension. A Bynum for Bosh trade could actually help both teams, since Toronto could move 3-point shooting big man Andrea Bargnani to the power forward spot with Bynum in the line-up as a legitimate low post threat, and Bosh could team with Pau Gasol to give the Lakers a versatile and explosive front court. Bosh grew up in Dallas, and we know how aggressive Mavericks' owner Mark Cuban is. He has multiple assets he could include in a sign-and-trade, including players like Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood, Shawn Marion, Jason Terry and explosive rookie Rodrigue Beaubois.
If the Raptors trade Bosh to one of the teams that doesn't have a maximum salary slot available, they could put a serious crimp into the grand plans of teams like New York and Miami. The Knicks know they have zero chance of attracting LeBron if he can't bring another superstar with him. And we're already hearing Amar'e Stoudemire is in serious talks on a contract extension with Phoenix. So, if you take Bosh and Stoudemire out of the market of available free agents, LeBron is probably going to stay in Cleveland, and Dwyane Wade might get a little anxious in Miami. Heat President Pat Riley has promised Wade a major infusion of talent for next season, and if he can't deliver Bosh or Stoudemire, Wade might decide he's better off leaving South Beach for a return home to Chicago. Granted, these are all just possible scenarios, and we haven't even considered whether Atlanta All-Star guard Joe Johnson might try to pursue a sign-and-trade with the Hawks to get a 6 year contract, instead of a five year deal with a new team. Everything is fluid right now, and no one can really predict how an early playoff exit might affect James, Stoudemire or the Lakers' desire to pursue Bosh. Bulls management has to be prepared for every possible twist and turn, but at this point, nothing is out of the question, even the ultimate dream of convincing LeBron his future championship goals are more attainable in Chicago.
I'll see you Tuesday on Bulls Pre-Game live with Kendall Gill at 6:30 on Comcast SportsNet. Neil Funk and Stacey King will have the call at 7:00 on CSN Chicago, and we'll also be streaming the game live on CSNChicago.com.
Mark Schanowski hosts our Bulls pre- and postgame studio coverage with 15-year NBA veteran Kendall Gill. You can also watch Mark on SportsNite, Sunday through Thursday at 6:30 and 10.