Chicago Bulls

LIVE: Bulls can make statement vs. NBA-best Spurs

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LIVE: Bulls can make statement vs. NBA-best Spurs

Thursday, Feb. 17, 2011Posted: 10:00 a.m.

Associated Press

There's one last stop on the San Antonio Spurs' rodeo trip, which has done nothing to dispute their title as the NBA's best team heading into the All-Star break.

The Chicago Bulls might not be too far behind.

The Spurs try to close out their nine-game trip with a seventh victory Thursday night against the Bulls, who are looking for a 15th win in 16 games at the United Center.

San Antonio (46-9) has lost consecutive games just once, has reeled off three winning streaks of at least eight games and has been the NBA's top road team at 21-7.

The Spurs opened their annual rodeo trip with a loss to Portland but have won six of seven since, with only a poor shooting effort Friday at Philadelphia slowing them down. San Antonio bounced back with a 24-point win at Washington a night later, then cruised past New Jersey 102-85 on Monday.

A victory Thursday would give the Spurs their most wins on the rodeo trip since the 2002-03 team wrapped up its nine-game journey with eight straight victories. That team went on to win the NBA title.

"They're feeling a few bumps and bruises, but they're character guys," coach Gregg Popovich said. "They're professionals, and they know what's expected of them. They know where they want to be at the end of the year and they're working towards that. So no game can be left without trying to get better."

That's an approach the Bulls (37-16) seem to be taking, and they're about to get another boost when center Joakim Noah returns from thumb surgery after the break.

They've been doing awfully well without him. Only the Spurs, at 21-5, have a better record than the Bulls' 19-6 mark since Dec. 26. Luol Deng paved the way to their ninth win in 11 games Tuesday night, scoring 24 points in a 106-94 victory over Charlotte.

Chicago has surrendered an average of 84.5 points in its last 15 games at the United Center.

"Guys are extremely confident," forward Carlos Boozer said. "We're a team - not just one guy, two guys, three guys; we're a group of guys. Everybody on this team, whether you're starting or off the bench, can play in the NBA and play well."

Boozer was still recovering from a broken right hand during Chicago's stop in San Antonio on Nov. 17, part of its annual circus trip, and the Bulls could have used him.

Tim Duncan had 16 points and 18 rebounds as San Antonio rallied from a 17-point first-half deficit to win 103-94. Taj Gibson, filling in for Boozer, missed all seven shots and didn't score.

Boozer dominated the Spurs last season with Utah, averaging 25.8 points and 11.3 rebounds in four wins.

"We're looking forward to playing them," Boozer told the Bulls' official website. "We've played other great teams during the season. It's another big game before the break gets here."

While the battle between Boozer and Duncan should be intriguing, DeJuan Blair might give the Spurs an edge in the paint - particularly with Noah out. The 6-foot-8 center has averaged 13.4 points and 11.0 boards on the road trip.

Two of the league's premier scoring point guards should provide an excellent matchup in the backcourt. Chicago's Derrick Rose scored 33 points in the first meeting, while San Antonio's Tony Parker had 21.

The Spurs, who have split their last four visits to Chicago, are 31-2 when Parker scores 17 points or more.

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

If the Bulls buy out Dwyane Wade, the Heat seem like they'd welcome him back

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USA TODAY

If the Bulls buy out Dwyane Wade, the Heat seem like they'd welcome him back

The Bulls are in complete rebuild mode, and that means they have little use for 35-year-old Dwyane Wade.

ESPN's Nick Friedell reported last week that it's a matter of when - not if - the Bulls will buy out Wade. The future Hall of Famer is due $24 million this upcoming season, but how much Wade receives in a potential buyout could hold things up in the short-term.

The question then becomes: where would Wade land after he passes through waivers and becomes a free agent?

A potential destination is joining good friend LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. But Wade could also consider going back to the Miami Heat, where he spent the first 13 years of his NBA career.

And if he did, budding star Hassan Whiteside says the team would welcome back Wade with open arms.

"It'd be great," Whiteside told the Sun Sentinel. "It's a three-time NBA champion coming back, coming in and really helping a team out. It would be great."

Stay tuned, but it seems like a Wade-to-Miami reunion is a real possibility.

State of the Bulls: Stacked 2018 draft class

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USA TODAY

State of the Bulls: Stacked 2018 draft class

2018 draft class is loaded at the top

Quietly, you can bet Bulls' front office executives John Paxson and Gar Forman had a little celebration after hearing that prep star Marvin Bagley III was going to graduate from high school early and enroll at Duke for the 2017-18 season, making him eligible for the 2018 draft.

Bagley, a 6'11 power forward from Los Angeles, is being compared to longtime NBA star Chris Bosh, right down to his smooth left-handed shooting touch. Bagley averaged 24.6 points, 10.1 rebounds and two blocked shots during his junior season for Sierra Canyon H.S. He's also fared well against NBA competition at the highly-regarded Drew League in L.A. this summer. Bagley’s physical tools are off the charts, and you can count on Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski preparing him well for life in the NBA.

Most NBA scouts and execs expect the No. 1 overall pick to come down to either Bagley or Michael Porter Jr., who will play his one season of college basketball at Missouri. The 6'10 Porter averaged an amazing 34.8 points and 13.8 rebounds last season against Seattle high school competition. He's considered a more dynamic scorer than Bagley with more range on his jump shot. Some scouts believe he could quickly develop into one of the league's elite players with Kevin Durant-type length and shooting ability at the small forward position.

International swingman Luka Doncic is also highly coveted by NBA teams. The 6'8 swingman has excellent shooting range, and is also capable of creating his own shot with outstanding ball-handling ability. Forget the stereotype of European players being mechanical and unable to compete athletically, Doncic is capable of being an 18-20 point scorer in the NBA and should go in the top five next June. He's considered one of the best international prospects in the last decade.

Two 7-footers also will hear their names called early on draft night 2018. University of Arizona freshman DeAndre Ayton averaged 19.8 points and 12 rebounds in high school last season, while Texas freshman center Mohamed Bomba has an incredible 7-foot-9 wingspan. Sure, the NBA has moved away from the traditional low post center, but teams are still looking to acquire agile big men like Karl-Anthony Towns, Joel Embiid, DeAndre Jordan, Rudy Gobert and Hassan Whiteside. Depending on how they fare against top level college competition, Ayton and Bomba could round out the top five.

Other names to watch in the lottery portion of next year's draft include Texas A&M power forward Robert Williams, Michigan State's forward duo of Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson Jr., and the latest one-and-dones from John Calipari's Kentucky program, center Nick Richards and small forward Jarred Vanderbilt.

In case you missed it, ESPN released its preseason win total expectations for the Eastern Conference on Wednesday, and the Bulls were dead last with a projected record of 26-56. Now, I'm not sure a team with veterans Dwyane Wade and Robin Lopez and the three young players acquired in the Jimmy Butler trade with Minnesota will be quite that bad, but if you're going to rebuild, the idea is to get the best draft pick possible, and the Bulls appear to be on course for a top-five selection depending on how the lottery falls.

If the Bulls are able to land an elite talent like Porter Jr., Bagley III or Doncic in the draft, then use their $40-50 million in cap space to land a couple of quality free agents, the rebuild might not be as painful as some fans are fearing.

Last dance for LeBron in Cleveland?

Well-connected NBA writer Chris Sheridan dropped this bomb on Twitter Wednesday, quoting an NBA source, "This will be LeBron's final season in Cleveland. He is 100 percent leaving. Relationship with owners beyond repair." Don’t forget, Sheridan was the first national writer to report James was going to leave Miami to go back to Cleveland in 2014, so his reports definitely warrant a little extra attention.

Okay, we've already heard countless rumors about James planning to join the Lakers after next season. He's built a mansion in Brentwood, is close with Magic Johnson and will be able to bring another superstar with him to L.A. like Paul George or Russell Westbrook. Plus, the Lakers have a number of talented young players in place like Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. and a promising coach in Luke Walton.

Add in the likelihood Kyrie Irving will be traded before training camp opens and LeBron's long-standing poor relationship with Cavs' owner Dan Gilbert, and you have the perfect formula for another James' free agent decision next July. Although, I'm not sure why LeBron would want to go West, where Golden State is positioned to dominate the league for another five seasons, with strong challengers like the Rockets and Spurs still in place. 

But if we've learned anything from watching James over the years, he's clearly a man who wants to align the odds in his favor. So don't rule out anything when it comes to James' free agent decision. If the Cavs make a home run trade for Irving, maybe LeBron decided to plays out his career in his home state. If not, look for him to find a team with the cap space to bring in another top star to run with him.

Back in 2010, the Bulls carved out the cap space to add two max contract stars, but lost out to Pat Riley in Miami. This time around they won't be on James' July travel itinerary.

One thing we know for sure. Where LeBron plays in 2018 will be the number one story throughout the NBA season.