Bulls outlook still positive after off-season moves

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Bulls outlook still positive after off-season moves

It seems like just about every Bulls' fan I talk to wants to know why the front office wasn't more aggressive in trying to upgrade the roster over the last month. By now, you've probably already heard the explanation from Gar Forman and the team's beat writers. The Bulls want to maintain salary cap flexibility for the summer of 2014 when a big free agent class could provide a second star to go with Derrick Rose. That's also the summer the Bulls figure to use the amnesty provision on the final year of Carlos Boozers contract, and sign top European prospect Nikola Mirotic .So the question is: Are the Bulls in a holding pattern for the next two seasons?In terms of adding long term salary commitments, yes. But not in terms of fielding a team that can still compete in the Eastern Conference. Forman and his staff did a good job of rebuilding the Bulls' bench with the addition of solid veterans like Kirk Hinrich, Marco Belinelli and Nazr Mohammed. Hinrich will begin the season as the Bulls' starting point guard, then move into a reserve role when Rose finishes his rehab from knee surgery.
Belinelli is something of an unknown commodity since he came over from Italy and played his first five NBA seasons with bad teams. But the 26-year-old shooting guard is a career 39 percent shooter from 3-point range, and he's a more athletic player than the departed Kyle Korver. Belinelli admits he's not a great defensive player, but if anyone can help him, it's Tom Thibodeau.Hinrich is definitely an upgrade over C.J. Watson when he moves in to a reserve role, and we hear Captain Kirk is working out like a madman this summer, dropping weight and sharpening his skills for a second tour of duty with the Bulls. Hinrich has never been a high percentage shooter, but his ability to play both guard spots should give Thibodeau a lot more versatility late in close games. And no one will question Hinrichs work ethic and intensity on the defensive end.Second year forward Jimmy Butler also looks ready for regular rotation minutes. He has worked extremely hard at the Berto Center throughout the off-season, and was very impressive at the Las Vegas Summer League, making the All-Star team, along with free agent forward Malcolm Thomas. Butler looks a lot more aggressive on the offensive end, and should be able to get to the free throw line regularly with his ability to drive to the basket. Butler will eventually be an upgrade over the offensively-challenged Ronnie Brewer.
And lets hope the Bulls find a way to sign Thomas, whos getting attention from several teams after his strong summer league showing. At 6-foot-9, 220 pounds, his build is very similar to Taj Gibsons, and he would provide some insurance in case Tajs salary demands become too high as he gets ready to head into restricted free agency next summer.As far as Mohammed goes, the Chicago native has battled injuries in recent years, but he does have a nice touch around the basket, something that could not be said about the departed Omer Asik. Of course, Asik is a much better defensive player than Mohammed, but considering their relative salaries, its a trade-off the Bulls can live with. Bottom line, the bench will look a lot different than the last couple of seasons, but it could be just as effective, with more offensive potential.So where do the Bulls figure in the East? With Rose rehabbing for the first half of the season, the Bulls will go through some rough patches, especially on the offensive end. But the schedule is favorable early, and never underestimate the ability of Thibodeau and his staff to get the players prepared and motivated to take on every opponent. Assuming Luol Deng bypasses surgery on his injured wrist, the Bulls should have more than enough offense to win a high percentage of their games in the upcoming season. A finish somewhere in the four-to-six playoff seeding range is certainly reasonable. And, if Rose comes back strong for the second half of the season, the Bulls could be one of those dangerous teams that no one wants to face in the playoffs.Miami is still the class of the league, and the Heat got even better with the additions of Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis. Boston also reloaded with the addition of Jason Terry, Jeff Green, Courtney Lee and first round draft picks Jared Sullinger and Fab Melo.
Indiana will give the Bulls a battle for the Central Division title after keeping Roy Hibbert, and some of their young players should continue to improve. Add in the two New York teams, and its clear the East is stronger, especially at the top. But I would never bet against Thibodeau in giving his team an edge over the course of a grueling 82-game regular season. The Bulls might take a step back, but they should still be able to win at least 45 games, and qualify comfortably for the playoffs.The 2013-2014 outlook should be even brighter with Rose probably back in top form, and then well see if the long range planning by the front office will pay off big time in the summer of 2014. Believe me, the Bulls did not want to lose Asik. They scouted him, traded three second round draft picks to acquire him, and worked extremely hard to develop him over the last two seasons.
But that huge cap hit in 2014-2015 season was just too much to absorb. The focus continues to be about building the best possible team around Rose, and if that means passing on guys such as O.J. Mayo, Courtney Lee and Randy Foye in the short term, lets hope it pays off in the addition of a second major star somewhere down the line.In the meantime, dont panic Bulls fans. Your team will still be extremely competitive and fun to watch in the upcoming season, and we can all look forward to the day when Tommy Edwards can announce:...From Chicago...Welcome Back, Derrick Rose!

Fast Break Morning Update: Bulls blow out Pistons

Fast Break Morning Update: Bulls blow out Pistons

 

 

Bulls beat lifeless Pistons

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Bulls beat lifeless Pistons

Bulls beat lifeless Pistons

The Pistons looked to the worst possible matchup on the worst night of the season for the Bulls, as they were light at the center position and facing Andre Drummond, a man who has given the Bulls the business during their better days.

But the Pistons seemed to be the best opponent on the second night of a back-to-back, as they seemed dispirited and dead-legged, with the Bulls taking full advantage in their 117-95 win at the United Center Wednesday night.

The win ties the two rivals with 34-38 records, looking on the outside in at the Eastern Conference playoff race with 10 games left.

Both came into the game smarting from road losses the night before, with the Pistons falling to the lowly Brooklyn Nets at the buzzer in Brooklyn and the Bulls losing a 15-point fourth quarter lead to the Raptors, dropping the contest in overtime.

Nikola Mirotic scored a season-high 28 points in 38 minutes, hitting 12 of 15 shots while Jimmy Butler scored was perfect on his six shots, scoring 16 with 12 assists and five rebounds in 33 minutes, as the Bulls shot 59 percent from the field.

"I was proud of the guys, the way they bounced back after last night's disappointment," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. "We talked before the game about how well we played for the majority of the game last night besides the last five minutes."

There would be no such suspense on this night, as the Pistons offered little resistance and seemed to be a bit lifeless for most of the evening, despite the prodding from coach Stan Van Gundy.

"We've got 10 games to go, but I don't see a lot of life in us," said Van Gundy in a statement that could've been attributed to Hoiberg if he was given some truth serum after some disappointing losses this season.

But the tables were turned for once, in the most unlikely of ways as the Bulls own the tiebreaker over the Pistons with a better division record at the moment.

With Robin Lopez out with a suspension stemming from Tuesday's swing-and-miss exercise with Serge Ibaka and Cristiano Felicio being out with a lower back injury, Drummond was expected to dominate, already having three 20-20 games against the Bulls on his ledger.

He grabbed 17 rebounds but only scored eight points as the Pistons shot 44 percent from the field.

Joffrey Lauvergne took his turn in the starting lineup, performing admirably with 17 points, seven rebounds and three assists in 28 minutes and keeping Drummond occupied, his best game since being traded to Chicago at the deadline.

"Joff plays incredibly hard, he listens," Butler said. "The big dude (Drummond) missed a lot of shots he normally makes. I think that's all you can play about that. Joff played hard, he did what he was supposed to do."

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The Pistons' only signs of life came from Stanley Johnson (12 points) and Jon Leuer (13 points), who came off the bench in the late first quarter and early second to bring the game to a two-point margin before the half at 55-53.

But the Bulls took the fight from the Pistons early in the second half and made their separation in the third quarter with a decisive 32-20 run, as Nikola Mirotic scored 12 in the period and Butler adding seven.

Mirotic, if it carries over, could point to this game as the one that turned his season around at the right time. He was aggressive against Tobias Harris and hit four triples as the Bulls were nine of 20 from long range, proving they didn't have a hangover from their heartbreaker the night before.

"I thought he let the game come to him," Hoiberg said. "He didn't take forced shots. When you have good, crisp ball movement, you're going to get open looks."

Even without their lane cloggers, the Bulls lived in the paint, taking a 21-point lead due to scoring 48 points in the paint and moving the ball to the tune of 28 assists on their first 37 field goals.

"We needed to step up, especially guarding Drummond inside," Mirotic said.  "Offensively, we played great. Thirty-six assists."

Considering where Mirotic was a couple weeks ago, out of the rotation and nowhere near top of mind when it came to who would help the Bulls find themselves, it's somewhat gratifying.

"It's exciting when you do something well," Mirotic said. "But I've always been very positive about everything. When they told me I would be out of the rotation, I was the first guy coming in, working out and being positive with my teammates."

Unlike the fourth quarter against the Raptors, the Bulls didn't have to worry about a late surge as the Pistons rested their regulars relatively early, waiving the white flag as the Bulls shot close to 60 percent.

Rajon Rondo added nine assists of his own as he was the only starter who didn't reach double figures in scoring.

He didn't need to, as the game served as a confidence-builder for Mirotic, Bobby Portis and Lauvergne, the man who started in Lopez's stead.

Although giving up plenty in size and skill to Drummond, he pulled him to the perimeter and even found gold inside to score 17 with seven rebounds in his best performance as a Bull since being involved in the trade involving Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott at the deadline.

If the Bulls play like this every night before April 12, they could find their way to the postseason, but if they played like this before tonight, a playoff spot would've already been assured.