Bulls Preview: Glass Half-Empty or Half-Full?

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Bulls Preview: Glass Half-Empty or Half-Full?

Thursday, October 29thBy Mark Schanowski
CSNChicago.com

Are the Bulls a better team heading into the 2009-2010 season? That's the big question for basketball fans in Chicago and around the NBA. We would love to hear what you think......please send me an e-mail or leave your comments in the section below.

The players are tired of answering questions about how they'll replace the scoring lost when Ben Gordon took his 21 points a game to Detroit, but it's a legitimate concern. Derrick Rose averaged nearly 17 points a game as a rookie, but his minutes will be limited at the start of the season because of a lingering ankle injury. John Salmons averaged over 18 a game after coming over in the trade with Sacramento last February, but can he hold up playing major minutes every game and trying to defend quicker shooting guards? And, how will Luol Deng come back from the right leg stress fracture that caused him to miss the last 6 weeks of the regular season, plus the playoffs last spring?

General Manager Gar Forman told me he really likes the mix of players on the roster, and is counting on major improvement from Joakim Noah and Tyrus Thomas this season. Thomas is playing for his Bulls' future, since he'll be a restricted free agent next summer. In case you haven't noticed, Thomas has grown since last year. The Bulls now list him as 6-10 on their roster. Question is, has his maturity grown? Tyrus infuriated the coaches last season with his stubborn attitude and unwillingness to accept criticism. Tyrus sees himself as a jump shooting small forward, but the reality is, he's most effective when he drives to the basket, or attacks the offensive glass for putback dunks. If Thomas can show improvement as a player and as a person, the Bulls might be willing to commit to a long term contract next summer. If not, they'll probably renounce his rights to free up salary cap room to chase a major free agent like Dwyane Wade, Amare Stoudemire or Chris Bosh.

As for Noah, his summer workout at the I.M.G. Basketball Academy have helped him become a new player. He's shown more confidence on the offensive end, shooting jump hooks with either hand and doing a better job of finishing on his drives to the basket. His outside shot is still a work in progress, but there's no reason to think he couldn't average 10 points and 10 rebounds a game this season Forman told me the Bulls are counting on Noah to be their starting center for "years to come."

The backcourt should be a real strength this season, with Rose and Salmons starting, backed up by solid veterans Kirk Hinrich and Jannero Pargo. Rose should be even better than last season, armed with the confidence he gained through his Rookie of the Year performance, and outstanding playoff series against Boston. Derrick worked on his jump shot this summer, and should be more of a threat from the outside, even though he missed most of the pre-season because of the ankle injury. His ability to get to the basket is unquestioned, and you can look for him to be more aggressive in late game situations now that Gordon is gone. Rose struggled on the defensive end last season, so we know he'll put the work in to become a better player in that area. Salmons is a versatile offensive player, with range out to the 3 point line, a good mid-range game, and the ability to post-up smaller defenders. If he can stay healthy, he should be the Bulls leading scorer this season. Hinrich is rock-solid, able to play both guard positions at a high level. Vinny Del Negro loves Hinrich, and will probably find a way to get him on the court for 25-30 minutes a game. Pargo is the "X" factor. He is the streakiest of streak shooters, with the ability to make (or miss) a half dozen shots in a row in the span of a few minutes. The Bulls will probably look for favorable match-ups to get him in the game, and he'll only get extended minutes when he's lighting it up from 3 point range.

In the frontcourt, Deng says he's feeling better than ever after playing in all eight pre-season games, and he appears to be running and cutting without any limitations. We'll probably have to wait for 15 to 20 games before knowing if he can come close to the level he played at during the 2006-07 season when he started all 82 games, and averaged nearly 19 points a game on 52 percent shooting from the field. We've already talked about Thomas and Noah, and don't forget about Brad Miller, who came to camp in good shape, and had a big game in the final tune-up against Washington last Friday. Miller is a pro's pro, knows all the veteran tricks, and you can count on him to make the right pass and hit shots when the team needs him the most. Rookies Taj Gibson and James Johnson will probably ride the roller coaster as far as playing time is concerned. Gibson should play more early on. He's a fundamentally sound player who understands defensive rotations, can block shots, and can also hit the open 15 footer. Johnson is more of a wild card, who has a lot of potential, but looked a little wild in the pre-season. He might be the better player down the road, but the coaches have more confidence in Gibson right now.

Add it all up, and it looks to me like the Bulls will be in the 40 to 45 victory range, which should be good for another trip to the playoffs. And, if the defense improves, the Bulls could make a run at the 5th seed in the East. It should be another exciting season, and I can't wait to get things started!

Once again, please post your comments in the section below, or drop me an e-mail. Our first game on Comcast SportsNet is Sunday, November 1st. Kendall Gill joins me for Bulls Pre-Game live at 4:30, with tip-off in Miami against Dwyane Wade and the Heat at 5. Enjoy the hoops everyone!

Bulls Talk Podcast: Gar Forman defends Jimmy Butler trade

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AP

Bulls Talk Podcast: Gar Forman defends Jimmy Butler trade

On the latest Bulls Talk Podcast, Mark Schanowski, Will Perdue and Vincent Goodwill recap the Bulls' busy NBA Draft and the decision to trade Jimmy Butler to Minnesota. 

Bulls general manager Gar Forman joins the panel for an exclusive interview. He breaks down why the organization decided to move the three-time All-Star. 

Click here to Bulls Talk Podcast.

Nikola Mirotic and why the Bulls traded their second-round pick

Nikola Mirotic and why the Bulls traded their second-round pick

The Bulls entered rebuild mode on Thursday night after they dealt Jimmy Butler to the Minnesota Timberwolves. They acquired a pair of guards in Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn, and the No. 7 pick which they used to select Arizona power forward Lauri Markkanen.

But the Bulls opted not to continue adding youth to their roster when they sold their second-round pick, No. 38 overall, to the Golden State Warriors. That pick was Oregon power forward Jordan Bell, who many considered a late first-round prospect.

The move was perplexing for a team that hours earlier had traded away its franchise player to start a youth movement. But VP John Paxson said after the draft that the decision to move the pick was based on team depth, hinting at a significant move the Bulls will make in free agency.

"We had some wings on our board that we had targeted that were the only way we were going to keep that (No. 38) pick, and they went before us. And drafting Lauri (Markkanen), and the fact that we have, Niko’s a restricted free agent we intend to bring back, Bobby Portis, we didn’t want to add another big and that’s really all that was left on our board."

Both Paxson and general manager Gar Forman have said since the season ended that Mirotic, who will become a restricted free agent on July 1, is part of their future plans. The Bulls will be able to match any contract that another team offers Mirotic, and they intend to keep the 26-year-old in Chicago. After Butler's departure, Mirotic is now the longest tenured member of the Bulls. He's been with the team for three seasons.

The wings Paxson may have been referring to include Miami's Devon Reed (32nd overall to Phoenix), Kansas State's Wesley Iwundu (33rd overall to Orlando) or SMU's Semi Ojeleye (Boston, 37th overall). Point guards Juwan Evans (Oklahoma State) and Sterling Brown (SMU) were still on the board and potential options, but the Bulls were set on looking for wing help after receiving point guard Kris Dunn and shooting guard Zach LaVine in the Butler trade.

The Bulls frontcourt depth looks filled, as Cristiano Felicio is expected to return behind Brook Lopez. Mirotic, Portis, Markkanen and Joffrey Lauvergne should make up the power forward depth chart. Opting against using the 38th pick, which Golden State bought for a whopping $3.5 million, also leaves the Bulls with room to add a 13th player in the fall.

"It keeps us at 12 roster spots and gives us real flexibility for our roster," Paxson said. "So we didn’t just want to use up a roster spot on a player that we probably wouldn’t have kept."