Chicago Bulls

Bulls facing tough series against Hawks

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Bulls facing tough series against Hawks

Friday, April 29, 2011Posted: 4:04 p.m.

By Mark Schanowski
CSNChicago.com

While most of the so-called NBA experts are picking the Bulls to take care of Atlanta in 4 or 5 games, there are some real areas of concern when you analyze the match-ups.

First of all, Hawks' forward Josh Smith is one of the most versatile players in the league, capable of filling up a stat sheet like Scottie Pippen used to do. At 6-9, Smith blocks shots like a center, and runs the court like a guard. He's capable of putting up 25 points, 10 rebounds, 5 steals, 5 assists and 5 blocks in an up-tempo game.

Against Orlando in the first round of the playoffs, the Hawks started a bigger front line with Jason Collins at center and Smith teaming with Al Horford at the forward spots. But Atlanta's best line-up is Horford at center, with Smith and Marvin Williams at the forwards. Smith is much too quick for Carlos Boozer to defend, and I'm not sure Tom Thibodeau would want to have Joakim Noah guarding a player with range out to the 3 point line.

If Atlanta goes small against the Bulls, Thibodeau might be forced to give more minutes to Taj Gibson, who has the best chance of matching up with Smith defensively. The Bulls might even go with a small line-up of their own, using Kyle Korver at small forward and Luol Deng at power forward.

The other issue is containing Horford, a 2-time All-Star, who had one of his best games of the season against his old college teammate, Noah, back in March. Horford is deceptively quick playing the center position, and is capable of driving past Noah for strong finishes at the rim. Noah and the Bulls did a much better job defensively against Horford in their 2 wins over Atlanta, but it's a match-up that will take on a lot of importance in the upcoming series.

Right now, the Hawks aren't sure about the status of Kirk Hinrich for the Conference semi-finals. Hinrich injured a hamstring muscle during the clinching win over Orlando, and had to be helped from the court. The Hawks don't know if he'll be able to play in Monday night's opening game, and they're not sure what he'll be able to provide throughout the series.

If Hinrich can't go, the Hawks lose their best defensive option against Derrick Rose. The other former Bulls' point guard, Jamal Crawford, is an excellent scorer, but one of the worst defensive players in the league. If the Hawks are forced to go with a tall back court of Crawford and All-Star Joe Johnson, they would probably have to put Johnson on Rose. Johnson is a strong defender, but at 6-7, he would have a tough time staying in front of the lightning-quick Rose.

On the other end, the Bulls will have to be physical against Johnson, using and Keith Bogans and Ronnie Brewer to keep him from driving into the paint, where he's tremendously effective scoring on jumpers and flip shots from 10 feet in. The Bulls have had a lot of success defending Johnson in the past, and his playoff history would suggest it's unlikely he'll come through with a series filled with high-scoring games.

One of the keys for the Bulls will be trying to establish Boozer in the post. He's coming off a couple of bad games in the Indiana series, and a painful "turf toe" injury. But he has the size and strength to get Smith in foul trouble if the Hawks go with their small line-up. Keep an eye on which coach is forced to adjust his line-up first. Will Thibodeau have to get Boozer out because he can't defend Smith, or will it work the other way around? That match-up could determine whether this series goes short or long.

Atlanta doesn't have any answers for Rose, but then again, who does? The soon-to-be-named M.V.P. is capable of blowing past any defender in a one-on-one situation, and he can also elevate over the Hawks' interior defenders, with the exception of Smith. With Rose getting into the paint, Atlanta's big men will be forced to help, and that should set up plenty of easy baskets for Noah, Boozer, Gibson and Deng.

The Hawks' best hope of extending the series is the 3 point line. Johnson, Crawford, Williams and Hinrich are streaky, but dangerous from beyond the arc. If they start draining 3 balls, the Bulls will be forced to extend their defense, creating more opportunities for Horford and Smith inside.

The Bulls "bench mob" didn't play to its usual level against Indiana, but they should have the advantage against an Atlanta team that normally doesn't get much production from anyone on the 2nd unit besides Crawford. And, when it comes to coaching, give Thibodeau and his staff a huge edge over 1st year Atlanta head coach Larry Drew.

I'm picking the Bulls to win the series in 6 games, but it might only go 5 if Hinrich is out for an extended period, or Atlanta's streaky outside shooters go cold. What do you think? Please post your comments in the section below. I'll see you at the United Center Monday night. We'll be doing SportsNet Central near Gate 3 at 6:30.

Mark Schanowski hosts our Bulls pre- and postgame studio coverage with 15-year NBA veteran Kendall Gill. You can also watch Mark on SportsNet Central, Sunday through Thursday at 6:30 and 10 p.m.

If the Bulls buy out Dwyane Wade, the Heat seem like they'd welcome him back

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USA TODAY

If the Bulls buy out Dwyane Wade, the Heat seem like they'd welcome him back

The Bulls are in complete rebuild mode, and that means they have little use for 35-year-old Dwyane Wade.

ESPN's Nick Friedell reported last week that it's a matter of when - not if - the Bulls will buy out Wade. The future Hall of Famer is due $24 million this upcoming season, but how much Wade receives in a potential buyout could hold things up in the short-term.

The question then becomes: where would Wade land after he passes through waivers and becomes a free agent?

A potential destination is joining good friend LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. But Wade could also consider going back to the Miami Heat, where he spent the first 13 years of his NBA career.

And if he did, budding star Hassan Whiteside says the team would welcome back Wade with open arms.

"It'd be great," Whiteside told the Sun Sentinel. "It's a three-time NBA champion coming back, coming in and really helping a team out. It would be great."

Stay tuned, but it seems like a Wade-to-Miami reunion is a real possibility.

State of the Bulls: Stacked 2018 draft class

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USA TODAY

State of the Bulls: Stacked 2018 draft class

2018 draft class is loaded at the top

Quietly, you can bet Bulls' front office executives John Paxson and Gar Forman had a little celebration after hearing that prep star Marvin Bagley III was going to graduate from high school early and enroll at Duke for the 2017-18 season, making him eligible for the 2018 draft.

Bagley, a 6'11 power forward from Los Angeles, is being compared to longtime NBA star Chris Bosh, right down to his smooth left-handed shooting touch. Bagley averaged 24.6 points, 10.1 rebounds and two blocked shots during his junior season for Sierra Canyon H.S. He's also fared well against NBA competition at the highly-regarded Drew League in L.A. this summer. Bagley’s physical tools are off the charts, and you can count on Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski preparing him well for life in the NBA.

Most NBA scouts and execs expect the No. 1 overall pick to come down to either Bagley or Michael Porter Jr., who will play his one season of college basketball at Missouri. The 6'10 Porter averaged an amazing 34.8 points and 13.8 rebounds last season against Seattle high school competition. He's considered a more dynamic scorer than Bagley with more range on his jump shot. Some scouts believe he could quickly develop into one of the league's elite players with Kevin Durant-type length and shooting ability at the small forward position.

International swingman Luka Doncic is also highly coveted by NBA teams. The 6'8 swingman has excellent shooting range, and is also capable of creating his own shot with outstanding ball-handling ability. Forget the stereotype of European players being mechanical and unable to compete athletically, Doncic is capable of being an 18-20 point scorer in the NBA and should go in the top five next June. He's considered one of the best international prospects in the last decade.

Two 7-footers also will hear their names called early on draft night 2018. University of Arizona freshman DeAndre Ayton averaged 19.8 points and 12 rebounds in high school last season, while Texas freshman center Mohamed Bomba has an incredible 7-foot-9 wingspan. Sure, the NBA has moved away from the traditional low post center, but teams are still looking to acquire agile big men like Karl-Anthony Towns, Joel Embiid, DeAndre Jordan, Rudy Gobert and Hassan Whiteside. Depending on how they fare against top level college competition, Ayton and Bomba could round out the top five.

Other names to watch in the lottery portion of next year's draft include Texas A&M power forward Robert Williams, Michigan State's forward duo of Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson Jr., and the latest one-and-dones from John Calipari's Kentucky program, center Nick Richards and small forward Jarred Vanderbilt.

In case you missed it, ESPN released its preseason win total expectations for the Eastern Conference on Wednesday, and the Bulls were dead last with a projected record of 26-56. Now, I'm not sure a team with veterans Dwyane Wade and Robin Lopez and the three young players acquired in the Jimmy Butler trade with Minnesota will be quite that bad, but if you're going to rebuild, the idea is to get the best draft pick possible, and the Bulls appear to be on course for a top-five selection depending on how the lottery falls.

If the Bulls are able to land an elite talent like Porter Jr., Bagley III or Doncic in the draft, then use their $40-50 million in cap space to land a couple of quality free agents, the rebuild might not be as painful as some fans are fearing.

Last dance for LeBron in Cleveland?

Well-connected NBA writer Chris Sheridan dropped this bomb on Twitter Wednesday, quoting an NBA source, "This will be LeBron's final season in Cleveland. He is 100 percent leaving. Relationship with owners beyond repair." Don’t forget, Sheridan was the first national writer to report James was going to leave Miami to go back to Cleveland in 2014, so his reports definitely warrant a little extra attention.

Okay, we've already heard countless rumors about James planning to join the Lakers after next season. He's built a mansion in Brentwood, is close with Magic Johnson and will be able to bring another superstar with him to L.A. like Paul George or Russell Westbrook. Plus, the Lakers have a number of talented young players in place like Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. and a promising coach in Luke Walton.

Add in the likelihood Kyrie Irving will be traded before training camp opens and LeBron's long-standing poor relationship with Cavs' owner Dan Gilbert, and you have the perfect formula for another James' free agent decision next July. Although, I'm not sure why LeBron would want to go West, where Golden State is positioned to dominate the league for another five seasons, with strong challengers like the Rockets and Spurs still in place. 

But if we've learned anything from watching James over the years, he's clearly a man who wants to align the odds in his favor. So don't rule out anything when it comes to James' free agent decision. If the Cavs make a home run trade for Irving, maybe LeBron decided to plays out his career in his home state. If not, look for him to find a team with the cap space to bring in another top star to run with him.

Back in 2010, the Bulls carved out the cap space to add two max contract stars, but lost out to Pat Riley in Miami. This time around they won't be on James' July travel itinerary.

One thing we know for sure. Where LeBron plays in 2018 will be the number one story throughout the NBA season.