Bulls' pursuit of LeBron losing momentum

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Bulls' pursuit of LeBron losing momentum

Tuesday, June 1, 2010
4:14 PM

By Mark Schanowski
CSNChicago.com

It's been two and a half weeks since LeBron James and the Cavaliers were knocked out of the playoffs by Boston in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Are you feeling better or worse about the Bulls' chances of signing LeBron as a free agent? Please post your comments in the section below.

It's hard to know how much James and his "team" are affected by things they read or hear, but the Bulls' hopes certainly weren't helped by comments made by Dwyane Wade and former NBA super-agent David Falk last week.

Wade criticized the Bulls organization for not showing loyalty to their former players. Wade grew up in the Chicago area and watched them win their six championships. The former Richards High School star says Michael Jordan is his favorite NBA player ever, and he finds it odd that Jordan is no longer with the organization. Same with Scottie Pippen, who now lives in Miami, and is a frequent guest at Heat games. Wade said loyalty is very important to him, and the Heat organization is loyal to its former players. And, Wade said he doesn't see that with the Bulls.

One day later, Wade and his agent, Chicago-based Henry Thomas, went out of their way to say Wade's comments were taken out of context, and he didn't mean to take shots at the Bulls' organization. But that's exactly what Wade meant to do. His current team, the Heat, will be competing with the Bulls to try to sign LeBron and the other top free agents this summer. Surely, Wade knows by running down the Bulls' reputation to guys who respect him, he has a better chance of convincing them to join him in Miami.

Wade played on the 2008 U.S. Olympic team with James, Chris Bosh, Carlos Boozer and Joe Johnson. They became friends during training sessions in Las Vegas and their two-week stay in China. And you can bet those other players will believe what Dwyane Wade has to say about the Bulls' organization more than the mountains of evidence that can be presented that the Bulls have been EXTREMELY loyal to their former players. In our society, perception is reality, and if the top free agents have the perception the Bulls won't be loyal to them, there's almost nothing John Paxson and Gar Forman can do to convince them otherwise.

Jordan's former agent, David Falk, also made some comments over the weekend that could hurt the Bulls' cause in recruiting LeBron. Falk didn't criticize the Bulls' organization, but he did say Chicago is "the last place" LeBron should consider. Falk stated the obvious, saying James will always be measured against the standards Jordan established with the Bulls, meaning six titles, six Finals MVP awards and five regular season MVP honors. Granted, this is a negative recruiting theme we've heard before, and former free agents like Tim Duncan, Grant Hill and Tracy McGrady were probably impacted by the specter of Jordan's greatness and career accomplishments.

But if LeBron truly wants to be considered among the greatest players of all-time, he shouldn't be afraid of playing in the House that Michael built. Instead, he should embrace the challenge. Chicago has passionate fans who will support him unconditionally. And, if he wins three or four championships instead of six, that can hardly be viewed as failing to live up to Jordan's legacy.

Only time will tell if the comments made by Wade andor Falk will hurt the Bulls' cause in trying to sign LeBron, but the one thing the front office really has to fear is the possibility that Jordan himself tries to talk James out of signing with the Bulls. LeBron grew up as a huge Jordan fan, and he idolizes Michael. If Jordan were to complain to LeBron directly about the fact the Bulls didn't offer him a minority ownership stake or a high level job in the front office, that could knock the Bulls out of the running for James' services almost immediately. Let's hope Jordan doesn't hold on to any bitterness over the circumstances that led him to accept a management position with the Washington Wizards years ago.

THIBODEAU AND SHAW KEY NAMES IN COACHING SEARCH

Meanwhile, the Bulls search for a new head coach continues to crawl along, probably by design. The front office decided not to make a trip to Boston to interview Celtics assistant Tom Thibodeau before the start of the Finals on Thursday. The Hornets would like to hire Thibodeau as their new head coach and reports indicate they are already negotiating terms of a contract with Thibodeau's agent. But Thibodeau is interested in talking with the Bulls and Nets before he accepts the job, and K.C. Johnson of the Tribune is reporting Thibodeau is most interested in the Bulls' job, which isn't surprising, considering the talent already on the roster, and the possibility of acquiring an all-star in free agency. Thibodeau signed on with LeBron James' agent, Leon Rose, and Rose is also associated with noted talent broker, William Wesley, a.k.a., Worldwide Wes. Hard to say if bringing Thibodeau in as head coach will help the Bulls' chances of signing LeBron, but it's certainly something the front office has to consider.

In the same fashion, the Bulls might also be waiting for a chance to interview Lakers' assistant coach Brian Shaw, who's spent the last five seasons learning the intricacies of the triangle offense with Phil Jackson and Tex Winter. Shaw is considered head coaching material and he has Jackson's strong endorsement. If LeBron really is intrigued by the idea of playing in the triangle offense, hiring Shaw would be a step in the right direction for the Bulls. Any way you look at it, the search for a new head coach figures to be put on hold until the Celtics and Lakers decide the NBA championship over the next two weeks.

Please let us know what you think about the latest developments concerning LeBron and the coaching search. Post your comments in the section below or send me an e-mail. Enjoy the Finals, still a month to go before the start of free agency!

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.

Fred Hoiberg wants a more aggressive Bulls defense

Fred Hoiberg wants a more aggressive Bulls defense

Being a better defensive team was a prime objective for Fred Hoiberg coming into camp, as the Bulls hope to reclaim some of their defensive identity that disappeared last season.

Reciting a not-so-true stat routinely to reporters in the first few days, that the Bulls were last in forcing turnovers in 2015-16, means he’s likely barking it to the team in practices (they were actually second-to-last behind the New York Knicks).

“Absolutely,” said Hoiberg when asked if being more aggressive defensively is a goal. “We are turning the ball over way too much. After watching film, our defense is responsible for some of that. We have a guy in (Rajon) Rondo that's a high steals guy, got great hands, great instincts, great wingspan. Jimmy (Butler) is always had great anticipation and one of the top steals guy.”

Butler is one of the best two-way players, along with San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard and Indiana’s Paul George, but even he admitted his defense slipped last year as the Bulls fell to a middle-of-the-pack team in terms of advanced defensive rankings (15th).

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Rondo was once one of the league’s best defensive point guards before tearing up his knee his last full season in Boston, and averaged two steals last year in Sacramento, but gave up a career-high 107 points per 100 possessions, according to basketball-reference.com.

Whether Rondo was a function of a bad defense overall for the Kings or a player who no longer fully commits himself to that end remains to be seen, but it’s clear Hoiberg wants a more hands-y defense. Too many times last year, the Bulls defense had leaks from the top down, resulting in compromised drives to the basket and breakdowns all around.

More than anything, the Bulls defense was one of indifference, especially after the first 30 games or so.

“Like all staffs we watched a ton of film and tried to figure out with this group how to create more turnovers, how to impact the ball better,” Hoiberg said. “Every day it's been a big emphasis in our defense and we get out and force turnovers and make sure the help is there behind the trap and being aggressive on the ball.”

Denzel Valentine a candidate for minutes at the point for Bulls

Denzel Valentine a candidate for minutes at the point for Bulls

The common refrain among coaches in the first days of training camp is “this guy had an incredible summer”, a phrase Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg has said so much that even he had to laugh when asked who didn’t have a banner summer period.

Of course, that’s before fans and media get to see anyone play, so we can only speculate who’ll win certain position battles, like the starting power forward spot or how deep Hoiberg’s rotation will go.

So in the spirit of speculation, Bulls rookie Denzel Valentine’s versatility makes him a candidate for the backup point guard position, a spot that is filled with different options for Hoiberg to choose from.

“He’s such an instinctive player. He does a great job,” Hoiberg said. “We talk about making simple plays. You’ve done your job when you beat your man, draw the second defender and make the easy, simple play. Denzel is great at that. That’s not a gift that everybody has. That’s not an instinct that all players have. But Denzel certainly has it.”

One wonders if Valentine could find himself on the outside looking in at the start of the season, like Bobby Portis did last year before all the injuries hit the Bulls and forced him into action.

It’s a different vision than when Valentine was drafted as a late lottery pick after a seasoned career at Michigan State. The Bulls hadn’t signed Dwyane Wade or Rajon Rondo in free agency, and had traded Derrick Rose 24 hours before the draft, so the thought was Valentine could be an instant contributor.

Even still, Valentine can likely play anything from point guard to small forward, but hasn’t gotten extensive reps at the point, yet.

“I’ve played on the wing so far. A little bit of point,” Valentine said. “I got a couple reps on the point, but like 70-30. Seventy on the wing, 30 on the point.”

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He got an early jump on the Hoiberg terminology at summer league, so the language isn’t a big adjustment, but having to learn multiple positions along with the tendencies of new teammates can mean a steeper learning curve.

“Yeah, I just got to continue learning sets and learning guys’ strengths so that I can use that to their best advantage,” Valentine said. “Play-make as best I can when I’m at the point guard spot. Just learning the system, learning guys’ strengths, and then I’ll be better at it.”

The presence of Wade and Jimmy Butler, one of whom will likely anchor the second unit as Hoiberg will probably stagger minutes so each can have the requisite time and space, means even if Valentine were on the floor, he wouldn’t have to be a natural point guard.

Hoiberg does, however, crave having multiple playmakers who can initiate offense or create shots off penetration or pick and roll action, meaning Valentine can work it to his advantage.

“I think he can. Jimmy played with the ball in his hands a lot last year,” Hoiberg said. “Jimmy rebounds the ball and if Dwyane rebounds the ball, they’re bringing it. Rajon if he’s out there knows to fill one of the lanes. Denzel is an excellent passer. He’s got such good basketball instincts. So if you can get guys out there who can make plays, that’s what it’s all about. I think you’re very difficult to guard in this league when you have multiple ballmakers.”

Other notes:

Dwyane Wade won’t be taking walk-up triples for the Bulls, despite his call that Hoiberg wants him being more comfortable from behind the long line. Hoiberg does want him being willing and able to take corner threes, likely off guard penetration from Rondo or Jimmy Butler.

When Wade played with LeBron James in Miami, cutting from the corners became a staple, so putting him there could be an old wrinkle Hoiberg is adding to his scheme.

Wade took seven of his 44 3-pointers from the corner last season, hitting two from the right side, according to vorped.com.

“When he’s open, especially in the corners, that’s a shot we want him taking. It’s a thing we worked on yesterday, making sure he stays on balance,” Hoiberg said. “He’s got a natural lean on his shot, which has been very effective, being on the elite mid range shooters in our game. That’s allowed him to get shots over bigger defenders. When you get out further from the basket, especially by the line, you need to get momentum going in, work on your body position and work on finishing that shot. He’s got good mechanics, it’s a matter of finishing the shot.”