Bulls Need to Build on Road Winning Streak

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Bulls Need to Build on Road Winning Streak

Monday, Feb. 1, 2010
9:32 PM
By Mark Schanowski
CSNChicago.com

Is it safe to assume the Bulls have finally turned the corner, and will put the .500 mark in their rear view mirror the rest of the season? Or, will they slide back to their inconsistent ways and fail to take advantage of a favorable schedule? As always, we welcome your opinions in the comments section below. The upcoming week should be telling. It's a stretch of 4 games in 5 nights, starting with VERY winnable games against the Clippers and 76'ers, followed by a day off, then a much tougher back-to-back against Atlanta and Miami. You'd love to say the Bulls should get 3 out of 4, but if we've learned anything this season, it's that this team is about as unpredictable as they come.

All kinds of positives coming out of the "Ice Show" trip, starting with Derrick Rose earning a spot on the Eastern Conference All-Star team, and playing at a level that is certainly All-Star worthy. Rose averaged over 23 points a game in January, shooting right around 50 percent from the field. He's also shown a willingness to try to take over late in close games, a trait that's shared by the biggest stars in the game. Rose making the All-Star team will only help the Bulls' prospects in this summer's free agent derby. The Bulls can now sell the opportunity to play with one of the NBA's best point guards to the likes of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. And, with the team also playing better, the argument can be made that the additon of a true superstar like the 3 guys we just named would vault the Bulls into immediate contention for the Eastern Conference crown.

But chasing superstar free agents is still a few months away. Let's get back to the Bulls and their sudden improvement. They're now 13-4 with Kirk HInrich in the starting line-up, and Captain Kirk has helped the team in so many ways. On the recent trip, he defended star point guards Tony Parker, Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul, allowing Rose to save his energy for the offensive end and avoid foul trouble. He's also improved his perimeter shooting, giving Rose an outlet against all the collapsing defenses he's been facing. Hinrich has been re-energized by his promotion to the starting line-up, and is playing with the kind of all-out intensity we saw a few seasons ago when the Bulls were considered one of the rising teams in the East.

Let's not forget about the frontcourt, either. Joakim Noah continues to make a strong case for the NBA's Most Improved Player Award, while Luol Deng has been the model of consistency, playing in all 45 games, despite a fractured left thumb injury. Meanwhile, rookie Taj Gibson is looking like one of the steals of last June's draft, playing solid defense and contributing big baskets and rebounds almost every night. Who would have guessed the guy picked 26th overall would be heading to All-Star weekend in Dallas as one of 9 players on the !st year squard for the annual Rookie-Sophomore game? The Bulls are also getting contributions off the bench from big men Brad Miller and Tyrus Thomas. Miller has found the fountain of youth, hitting big 3 points shots with consistency, and celebrating like a rookie. Thomas has been his usual inconsistent self, but on the nights he's focused, he can change the game with his shot blocking and ability to finish with resounding dunks on the fast break.

We're still waiting for Devin Brown's Bulls' debut, but Brown is a solid NBA defender, who is also a threat from 3 point range. Brown is expected to get some minutes against the Clippers, and his arrival probably means the end of John Salmons' short stay in Chicago. Salmons was one of the stars of the Bulls' near upset of Boston in last spring's playoffs, but his slow start this season, coupled with a 6.7 million dollar player option for next season that the Bulls want to unload probably means he'll be traded before the February 18th deadline.

The larger question remains, will the Bulls do something big before the deadline, or just try to move players who don't fit in the long term plan like Salmons and Thomas for expiring contracts andor draft picks? Phoenix All-Star forward Amare Stoudemire is very available in trade, but he's hardly looked like a player deserving a maximum contract. Hard to tell whether it's the effect of knee and eye surgeries, but Stoudemire has a tendency to drift in games, and he's never been a consistent rebounder. It seems very unlikely the Bulls would hitch their future hopes to an inconsistent player with a frightening history of injuries.

The latest name to surface in trade rumors is Boston shooting star Ray Allen. Allen is having a sub-par season, shooting only 35 percent from 3 point range, and some people are wondering if he's close to the end at the age of 33. Allen has an expiring 20 million dollar contract, and the Bulls might be able to get him for a package that would include Miller, Salmons and Jerome James. Is that something you'd be interested in? Allen probably could help the Bulls make a run for the 5th playoff spot in the East, but it's hard to picture him being a fit beyond this season. Still, as expiring contracts go, Allen is more capable of helping a team right now than Tracy McGrady, who continues to rehab here in Chicago, waiting for a trade.

We'll be hearing all kinds of rumors over the next 2 and a half weeks leading up to the deadline. Chances are the Bulls will do a smaller deal involving Salmons, and wait until this summer to make their recruiting pitch to Wade and Bosh. I'm guessing they won't even bother talking to James unless Cleveland makes an early exit from the playoffs, and the King gets restless.

I'll see you courtside Tuesday night to preview the Bulls-Clippers match-up with Kendall Gill during SportsNite at 6:30. You can watch the game on Comcast SportsNet starting at 7. Enjoy the hoops and let's hope the Bulls' rollercoaster ride will be replaced by a steady upwards climb towards the playoffs.

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.

Bulls Talk Podcast: Will Celtics trade for Jimmy Butler?

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Bulls Talk Podcast: Will Celtics trade for Jimmy Butler?

On the latest edition of the Bulls Talk Podcast, Kevin Anderson, Vincent Goodwill and Kendall Gill welcome in SB Nation's Ricky O'Donnell to discuss the Celtics' motivation to trade for Jimmy Butler. 

The guys also break down whether the league is undervaluing the Bulls All-Star. 

Later, they debate the contant Lebron James vs. Michael Jordan comparison and ask if it's fair after the King's poor showing in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals. O'Donnell also analyzes the NBA Draft. He believes Terrance Ferguson is the right pick for GarPax. 

Finally, a behind the scenes look at Goodwill vs. Kendall on the court, and Kendall on the right way to parent a young athlete. 

Listen to the Bulls Talk Podcast below. 

NBA Buzz: Financial and competitive realities could lead to Jimmy Butler trade for Bulls

NBA Buzz: Financial and competitive realities could lead to Jimmy Butler trade for Bulls

Watching LeBron James tear through the Eastern Conference playoffs the way Michael Jordan used to do in his prime, it's become increasingly apparent other teams in the East will be chasing James and the Cavaliers for the next 3-5 years.

With that in mind, you have to wonder what kind of conversations are going on inside the walls of the Advocate Center as the Bulls' front office prepares for the June 22nd draft and the start of free agency on July 1st. 

Jimmy Butler earned third-team All-NBA honors on Thursday, putting him in position to earn the Designated Veteran Player Extension with another All-NBA selection in either 2018 or 2019. Under terms of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, that could mean a contract starting at $42 million in 2019-20 with a total five-year value of over $246 million.

Are the Bulls prepared to pay that kind of money to a player who has logged big minutes over his career and will turn 30 just before the 2019-20 season?

If not, the best time to deal Butler would be right now. Butler is coming off the best season of his NBA career, including a starting spot for the Eastern Conference in the All-Star game. Plus, he still has two more guaranteed years on his contract at far below market value for one of the top 15 players in the league.

Tuesday's draft lottery pretty much eliminated Boston from a potential Butler trade. Celtics' GM Danny Ainge loves Washington point guard Markelle Fultz and is locked in to drafting him with the number one pick. Boston's future couldn't look brighter after finishing with the best regular season record in the East, advancing to the Conference Finals, and winning the lottery.

The Celtics will add Fultz and still have enough cap room to offer a max deal to free agent swingman Gordon Hayward, who played collegiately for Boston coach Brad Stevens at Butler. How does a starting line-up of Isaiah Thomas, Al Horford, Hayward, Jae Crowder and Avery Bradley sound, with a second unit of Fultz, Terry Rozier, Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown and Kelly Olynyk? It might not be good enough to take down the Cavs or Warriors, but should position the Celtics for a long run as a serious contender.

So, if the Celtics are out, where would the Bulls look for a possible Butler deal? Phoenix probably holds the best combination of assets, starting with the No. 4 overall pick. If point guards Fultz, Lonzo Ball and De'Aaron Fox go 1-2-3, the Bulls could grab Kansas forward Josh Jackson, an Andrew Wiggins-clone who could wind up being the best player in this draft.

The Suns also have a pair of intriguing young power forwards in Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender, both top 10 picks a year ago. Plus, Phoenix could include 23-year-old small forward T.J. Warren and Chicago native Tyler Ulis in the package going back to the Bulls.

Suns GM Ryan McDonough is reportedly under pressure to show significant improvement next season after winning just 47 games combined over the last two years. Adding another young player to the roster isn't the best way to improve the team immediately, so don't be surprised if the Suns make a pitch to acquire Butler in the days leading up to the draft.

Similar story in Philadelphia, where the Sixers own the third overall pick next month. Under former GM Sam Hinkie, the "trust the process" approach led to a roster purge and the acquisition of lottery picks. Right now, the Sixers are overloaded with young players like Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor, Ben Simmons, Dario Saric, Justin Anderson and Nik Stauskas.

Would current GM Bryan Colangelo be willing to trade the pick, along with Okafor and Anderson in a package for Butler? The Bulls could choose between Jackson and Kentucky's lightning-quick point guard Fox with the draft pick they’d acquire, potentially adding three young starters to a new-look line-up. 

Given all the trade rumors surrounding Butler in the past, you can expect a number of teams will be calling the Bulls leading up to the draft, including Tom Thibodeau's Timberwolves, coming off a disappointing season with assets to offer like Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and the seventh overall pick. 

Ultimately, it comes down to which direction the Bulls' front office wants to go. Try to build a contender around Butler, or use him as the trade asset to start a full re-build. We should get our answer in the days leading up to the draft.

Around the Association

Thursday's All-NBA announcement could lead to a pair of All-Star forwards changing teams this summer. We already mentioned Hayward's situation in Utah. Without the designated veteran player extension, he might be seriously tempted to join his old college coach in Boston. 

Hayward could sign a one year contract with a player option for a second season in Utah with hopes of earning the DVPE next summer, but if Hayward hits the open market, it's clear he'll be the number one target for the Celtics this off-season. 

Paul George also could be in play after failing to make one of the three All-NBA teams. The Pacers were hoping to sign their All-Star forward to a max five-year extension at over $200 million, but George isn't eligible now. George still could sign an extension with Indiana, but not at the dollars he would have received had he made All-NBA. 

Rumors of George's desire to join his home-state Lakers in free agency after the 2017-18 season continue to grow, especially with Magic Johnson likely to add dynamic point guard Lonzo Ball in next month's draft. The Pacers might be forced to trade George to get some assets now, rather than let him walk away for nothing in free agency next summer.

Back to the Bulls, who will bring in dozens of prospects to Chicago to work out at the Advocate Center before the draft. Unless they make a major trade to move up, the front office almost has to go "best player available" with their picks at Nos. 16 and 38. Look for them to focus on an athletic wing in the first round with Louisville's Donovan Mitchell, Indiana's OG Anunoby, Duke's Harry Giles and Australian pro Terrance Ferguson among the likely options. 

But if the team decides to part company with restricted free agent Niko Mirotic, that could open the door for the Bulls to select a power forward like Cal's Ivan Rabb, Wake Forest's John Collins, Utah's Kyle Kuzma or UCLA's T.J. Leaf. They could even draft an athletic young center like Jarrett Allen of Texas, Creighton's Justin Patton or UCLA's Ike Anigbogu.

In Round 2, the Bulls might look to add another young point guard to the mix like Oklahoma State's Jawun Evans, Iowa State's Monte Morris, Villanova's Josh Hart, Gonzaga's Nigel Williams Goss or Big 12 Player of the Year Frank Mason from Kansas.

Quotes of the Week

The Celtics might have edged Cleveland out for the top seed in the East during the regular season, but after watching Game 1 Wednesday night, it's clear Brad Stevens’ team will be lucky to get a win in the series.

This from Stevens about the NBA's version of Benjamin Button, LeBron James. "It's hard to believe, but he's better than when I got into the league. A lot better."

Still, Celtics' star Isaiah Thomas isn't about to concede the series just yet, saying, "We're not afraid of Cleveland. They're not the Monstars."  

Well, Thomas might be right about the rest of the Cavs. But if you remember the movie "Space Jam", I'm pretty sure James would be a good fit in that Monstars line-up. And the Celtics don't have Michael Jordan, Bugs Bunny or Bill Murray!