Even with superstar trio, Heat roster needs work

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Even with superstar trio, Heat roster needs work

Friday, July 9, 2010
4:02 PM

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

Now that LeBron James has decided to play for the Miami Heat, the most-anticipated decision in NBA free-agent history has been made and the balance of the league has changed--or has it?

With only four players on its current roster after trading Michael Beasley-- the former No. 2 overall draft pick behind Derrick Rose--Miami obviously has to make some additions. While a lineup of James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and two random South Beach denizens would dominate your local pro-am league, not only are 12 players required to be on an NBA roster, Mario Chalmers alone won't cut it. That's why some people felt James should join the Bulls, as their more complete roster seemed tailor-made for a superstar to push Chicago to the next level.

Whether he would have been the right fit--Derrick Rose is a true point guard, requiring the ball in his hands the majority of the time, as does James; neither player is a pure outside shooter--is another story. However, by making the move to South Florida, James proves that the selfless, playmaking instincts that came so natural to him as a high school phenom--he was more Magic Johnson that Michael Jordan back then; some of his multi-faceted game has been since diluted in order to carry the scoring load in Cleveland--have been rediscovered. Say what you will about how his decision came across or perceived lack of personal ambition by joining a so-called "super team," but his selflessness is being manifested in the forms of accepting less than a max deal, recognizing his individual star power could be somewhat muted and assuredly knowing he may have to adjust on the court by becoming more of a floor general.

Miami is Wade's team, where he won a title and on which he is the face of the franchise. The Chicago native has commented in the past about wishing he had a playmaking partner to shoulder more of the ballhandling duties, and James' passing abilities should only further enhance Wade's scoring effectiveness.

As for Bosh, while he'll surely be the Heat's top post threat and able to unleash his accurate mid-range jumper as a frequent recipient of the talented perimeter pair's passes in pick-and-roll and drive-and-kick situations, he'll likely be also utilized as a third scoring option, rebounder and energy player. With his bluster about wanting to be a team's alpha dog, not reaching a feasible sign-and-trade scenario with Toronto and frustration about not being able to lead the Raptors past the first round as their franchise player, Bosh is likewise sacrificing.

The players who won't be missing any figurative meals are the supporting cast of the new "Big Three." An announcement about sharpshooter Mike Miller's signing could come any minute, but with convenient trade of Beasley to Minnesota, point guard Mario Chalmers is technically all that's in the cupboard, with second-round draft choices Da'Sean Butler (whose NCAA Tournament injury dropped his stock; the former West Virginia star isn't expected to be ready to play at the beginning of the regular season), shot-blocker Jarvis Varnado and widebody Dexter Pittman, as well as 2009 pick and Windy City product Patrick Beverley, who was stashed in Greece for a season, all waiting in the wings.

A blend of a handful of the aforementioned youngsters and several inexpensive veteran free agents should fill out the team's roster. Obviously shooters--Miller will apparently decline New York's financially more impressive offer; his versatility is a bonus and he's not as one-dimensional as many would like to believe--a true center (Bosh's reluctance to moonlight in that role is well-documented; a familiar name to Bulls fans, Brad Miller, is among the possibilities for the Heat) and additional help at point guard are necessities. Despite the lack of big names still available on the market, Miami's role players will be expected to be reliable, play within themselves and only be proficient in limited capacities.

The man responsible for orchestrating this perfect storm, Heat president Pat Riley--although Wade should get some of the credit, whether or not he was entertaining other teams in his hometown to stall or gather intelligence, as is suspected by some--isn't done playing puppeteer, but one string he's unlikely to pull (at least not immediately) is that of head coach. Erik Spoelstra will have the opportunity to sink or swim with his talented trio and regardless of his relative inexperience and lack of success, winning cures all. Remember the general opinion of Doc Rivers prior to the formation of the "Big Three" in Boston?

Some tweaking by all of the above primary parties will be necessary to pull off their expected goal, especially in James' case. Suddenly reviled in Cleveland--and a lot of other places--"The King" certainly wasn't deserving of Cavs owner Dan Gilbert's stinging missive, posted on the team's website shortly after "The Decision," but the scrutiny he'll receive will be even more intense than ever before.

It will take time for the start-from-scratch squad to truly connect, but even in a best-case scenario, they'll still face staunch competition in the Eastern Conference from the Celtics and Magic, not to mention the rising Bulls--the significance of acquiring Carlos Boozer has almost been overlooked by the basketball landscape as a whole, but he's joining a back-to-back playoff team with burgeoning young talent, an expected upgrade on the sidelines and a front office that still has bullets left in its gun this offseason--and of course, the two-time defending champs, if Miami was to meet the Lakers in the Finals.

It's still early July and there are plenty of moves to be made, both on the trade and free-agent markets--or a combination, such as the Knicks' sign-and-trade of free agent power forward David Lee to the Golden State Warriors in exchange for Anthony Randolph, Kelenna Azuibuike and Ronny Turiaf--and things could be even more dramatically altered by next February's league-wide trade deadline. So while it's pondered how Miami's presently incomplete roster will fare this upcoming season, it may be wise to sit back, take a deep breath with the major free agents having determined their destinations and wait for some actual basketball to be played.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.coms Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

Jimmy Butler limited, Rajon Rondo out as odds stack against Bulls for Game 6

Jimmy Butler limited, Rajon Rondo out as odds stack against Bulls for Game 6

If the Bulls are going to push the Celtics to a Game 7 with a win tonight at the United Center, it’ll have to be under the most improbable of circumstances.

Jimmy Butler is banged up and finally, the Bulls are admitting it as he has a sore left knee he suffered from a collision in Game 4 that has affected him in Game 5. And point guard Rajon Rondo will not be making a miraculous comeback to lead the troops in some made-for-TV moment.

Butler took just two shots in the fourth quarter in Game 5, clearly favoring his left knee, the knee he jumps off of, limiting an offensive game that relies a lot on explosion and contact.

“Jimmy, he’s gonna battle. One thing you know about Jimmy, he’s as well conditioned as anybody in the game,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He’s as big a competitor as anybody in the game. He does have soreness, no denying that. He’s gonna continue to go out there and do everything he has.”

After bumping and bruising his way to 23 free-throw attempts in Game 4, Butler took just one free throw in Boston two days ago — the greatest indicator of how this injury is affecting his game.

Hoiberg said Butler didn’t do much in the morning shootaround, and it seems the best method could be using him as a decoy if the Celtics still treat him as a player capable of scoring 30.

“He’s still gonna have the ball in his hands a lot,” Hoiberg said. “Tried to give him the ball with the side cleared, and let him go to work. I thought he drew the defense and got us a couple quality looks, we just didn’t knock it down.”

With Rondo, while he’s improving and has a track record of playing through injuries, it appears his broken right thumb isn’t healing at the rate it needs to for him to be on the floor and contribute without risking further damage.

“Not much. Pretty much the same,” Hoiberg said. “He’s still got a lot of soreness in that right hand, especially with everything he’s got with the torn ligament and also the broken thumb. Not able to do enough at this point.”

So without their best player and their most indispensible, the Bulls are facing an uphill task against a Celtics team that made the Bulls lose a little poise in a critical juncture of Game 5, and will try to push all the buttons again.

And it means more will fall on Dwyane Wade’s experienced shoulders in the meantime, and he believes Butler can be effective even while limited.

“My approach is going to be the same as it was last game — just try to be aggressive. And try to find other opportunities to find a way that Jimmy can still lead,” Wade said. “He’s just a little banged up. It’s fine. It’s the NBA. Jimmy is a tough guy. We have to find different ways to make sure he’s involved.”

For the rest of the roster, Wade believes finding a way to continue their season appears to be a matter of opportunity instead of panic, with the urgency being the best teacher.

“There definitely should be,” Wade said. “This is a big game for our season. It seems like every playoff game, the cliché thing to say is, ‘Oh, this is the biggest game of our season.’ But it rings true tonight. I think it’s a good thing for this young team to be in this situation now just to see how we respond.”

Five Things to Watch: Bulls battle Celtics in Game 6

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Five Things to Watch: Bulls battle Celtics in Game 6

Watch as the Bulls take on the Celtics tonight on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. Coverage begins at 6:00 p.m. with Bulls Pregame Live. Then stick around after the final buzzer to watch Bulls Postgame Live for highlights and analysis.

Click here to watch the game or download the NBC Sports App, your home for live streaming coverage of the Bulls.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH

1. The point guard carousel. It's been something to watch all year, and with the Bulls desparately searching for answers it will continue to be one heading into Game 6. Isaiah Canaan actually played well against Isaiah Thomas, and Dwyane Wade looked comfortable initiating the offense. That'll need to continue simply for the Bulls to have a chance, with Rajon Rondo ruled out for the game.

2. What's Jimmy Butler's health status? Jimmy Butler attempted just two free throws in the fourth quarter of Game 5. He only went to the free throw line one time, in the second quarter. This goes without saying, but the Bulls' only chance to win Games 6 and 7 is for Butler to be playing like his old self. With his back against the wall, maybe we'll see that "Jimmy Game" where he wins it by himself.

3. Is Isaiah Thomas heating up? The smallest player on the court is starting to heat up in the series. While his shooting hasn't been great, he was super in Game 3, took over in Game 4 and made plenty of plays in Game 5 that led to a win. It wouldn't be surprising at all to see him continue this, as his eyes seem to light up every trip down the floor with Rondo on the sideline.

4. Who's the next surprise contributor? Bobby Portis, Paul Zipser, Isaiah Canaan and now Anthony Morrow have all made surprising contributions in the series. At this point that's what it's going to take to compete against a deep Celtics team that's healthy and rolling with some momentum. Could it be Cris Felicio playing big? Perhaps Portis gets hot again from deep? Either way, it's got to be someone helping Butler and Wade.

5. The Bulls' backs are against the wall. It's simple. Win or go home. How will the Bulls respond in this type of situation, with Boston holding all the momentum and looking to end this before it goes back to Boston for a do-or-die Game 7. The Bulls don't have a lot of pressure on them from a national standpoint, but you can bet their expectations for themselves are large. How they respond early will say a lot about the job Fred Hoiberg did getting them ready.

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