Chicago Bulls

Bulls look for fourth straight road win

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Bulls look for fourth straight road win

The Bulls more resolved their struggles at home with a franchise record-setting performance, and they'll now have a chance to tie their longest road winning streak of the season when they take on the Raptors tonight on Comcast SportsNet.
After losing two straight inside the United Center, the Bulls' defense made sure not to make it three, allowing just 58 points in a 39-point blowout win over the Hawks on Monday. It was the fewest points allowed by Chicago in franchise history, and the Bulls grabbed an incredible 59 rebounds -- including 29 from Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah -- in the win.
Tom Thibodeau's group surprisingly has had less to prove on the road in 2012-'13, picking up wins in 10 of 15 tries thus far. That 10-5 mark is tops in the East, and behind only Oklahoma City (12-5) and the Los Angeles Clippers (11-5) for NBA road supremacy.
And while tonight's opponent, the 14-23 Raptors, don't seem like much of a test on paper, their 10-8 home record has paced them. It's never easy for teams to cross the border to play one game and come right home, as two of those losses have come in overtime, and just two others have been by double-digits. The Raptors will be comfortable, too, having played six straight home games to start 2013 before a matchup last night in Brooklyn, which they lost 113-106.
And with former No. 1 overall pick Andrea Bargnani and 2011 first round pick Jonas Valanciunas out, Toronto -- much like Chicago -- is relying on their pair of bigs to hold down the defense in the frontcourt. Ed Davis is averaging 13.6 points and 8.4 rebounds in 33 minutes in January, while fill-in center Amir Johnson has gone for 15.0 points and 8.1 rebounds in 31 minutes a night since the calendar flipped to 2013.
At the beginning of the year, the pair of lanky 6-foot-10 forwards were expected to spell each other, but have been forced into more significant roles and minutes and have answered the bell. The Raptors are just a marginal rebounding team, but have improved since Davis and Johnson saw an uptick in minutes. Depth is thin in the frontcourt -- they have Aaron Gray and Quincy Acy behind those two -- but they're playing well inside.
But those two aren't the only successful duo in the Raptors' rotation. Point guards Kyle Lowry and Jose Calderon also have formed a pairing, in the backcourt, that has the Raptors still in contention for the No. 8 seed in the East -- currently they sit 5.5 games back.
Lowry was the major addition to the Toronto roster this offseason, and he exploded out of the gates, averaging 23.6 points, 7.3 rebounds and 7.0 assists through the first three games. But a right ankle sprain cost him six games in November, and a right shoulder injury midway through December kept him out of action for seven more.
His numbers have been solid -- 13.8 points, 4.6 rebounds, 6.0 assists -- but since he returned from his shoulder injury, he's been relegated to the bench in favor of Calderon. The seventh year veteran has long been considered one of the more underrated point guards in the league, and he thrived when Lowry was shelved with his respective injuries. In 22 starts this year, he's averaging 12.4 points and 10.2 assists. Off the bench (15 games), his numbers dip to 8.1 points and 4.2 assists.
Lowry is capable of playing the "two-guard," and both have seen time on the court together, but the two-headed attack of Lowry and Calderon has helped an otherwise average offense.
The two are questionable for tonight's affair, as Lowry suffered a sprained left ankle early against the Nets (that he played through), and Calderon suffered a hip injury he also did not come out for. The two are game-time decisions tonight, and if they cannot go former Bulls point guard John Lucas III would get the start. The offensive spark has averaged 4.2 points and 1.7 assists in 11 minutes per game.
See if the Bulls can continue their impressive play away from the United Center and pick up a win out of the country tonight on Comcast SportsNet.

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: