Post-Deadline Bulls Still a Playoff Team

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Post-Deadline Bulls Still a Playoff Team

Friday, Feb. 19, 2010
7:05 PM

By Mark Schanowski
CSNChicago.com

Now that the dust has settled from the two trades engineered by John Paxson and Gar Forman, we know the Bulls will have enough salary cap room to make a bid for one of the top free agents in this summer's star-studded class. But the question remains, is the roster that's left good enough for a return trip to the playoffs?

Assuming that Joakim Noah can return at close to full strength in the near future, my answer is a definite yes. The Bulls didn't have to trade any of their starters to get the payroll room they needed, and they acquired a pair of proven scorers in Hakim Warrick and Flip Murray who should come close to equaling the production off the bench they got from Tyrus Thomas and John Salmons. Basically, Warrick is almost a carbon-copy of Thomas. Both are wiry, high-jumping 6-9 players who can drive coaches crazy with their inconsistency. Warrick is a better offensive player than Thomas, averaging just over 10 points a game in his NBA career, while shooting almost 50 percent from the field, but Thomas has the edge in the rebounding and shot-blocking departments. Given the Bulls already have a solid, defensive oriented starter at the power forward spot in Taj Gibson, Warrick's ability to score off the bench and run the fastbreak with Derrick Rose and Kirk Hinrich should be a nice addition.

As for Murray, he looked like an All-Star in putting up 25 points in a win over the Bulls back on January 5th in Charlotte. But over his career, he's been a very erratic shooter, hitting only 40 percent from the field and just 30 percent from beyond the arc. At 6-3, Murray doesn't have the ability to get to the basket and shoot over defenders like Salmons, but he is capable of scoring points in bunches, and gives the Bulls the kind of player they thought they were getting when they signed Jannero Pargo in the off-season. Once Noah returns from his foot injury, look for Vinny Del Negro to pretty much go with an 8-man rotation with Warrick, Murray and Brad Miller getting almost all the playing time off the bench. We'll probably see Pargo and disappointing rookie James Johnson on occasion, but that will be about it. Devin Brown left his shooting touch in New Orleans, and Acie Law has been a disappointment ever since Atlanta drafted him with a high first round pick in '07. The other guy the Bulls acquired, Joe Alexander, was the 8th overall pick by Milwaukee in the '08 draft, but Scott Skiles thought so little of his ability that he sent him to the Developmental League to play for the Fort Wayne Mad Ants. Figure Alexander, Lindsey Hunter and Jerome James to be the 3 inactive players on most nights.

With 29 games left in the regular season, the Bulls have the benefit of a very favorable schedule down the stretch. 16 of their remaining games are at home, and they've already got their 2 long Western trips out of the way. They'll get multiple chances to square off against the teams they're battling for playoff position like Charlotte, Milwaukee, Toronto and Miami, plus a couple of games each against teams that have cashed in their chips for the season like Philadelphia, Indiana, Washington and New Jersey. There's no reason why the Bulls shouldn't finish with a better record than the 41-41 mark that earned them the 7th seed in the East last season.

FREE AGENT MARKET MORE COMPETITIVE THAN EVER

The other big development from the trade deadline was the addition of at least 3 more teams, the Clippers, Kings and Wizards into this summer's free agent bidding war. And, with only 5 or 6 elite players available, several teams are going to be bitterly disappointed when the music stops and all the top guys pick a chair. Don't discount the Clippers becoming a player in the battle to land one of the top stars. Yes, I know the history of the franchise is laughable, and they've been haunted by bad luck and bad decisions more than any other NBA team. But it is L.A., and we know how much NBA players love warm weather, night life and marketing opportunities. And, believe it or not, the Clippers have a pretty good nucleus of talent with All-Star center Chris Kaman, Baron Davis, Eric Gordon and the top pick from last year's draft, Blake Griffin, who's been forced to sit out his rookie season because of a knee injury. The Knicks are the only team that has enough cap room to bring in two max contract free agents, but keep an eye on L.A.'s "other" team when the bidding starts on July 1st.

As for the Bulls, not much has changed on the free agent front. They'll be in there swinging for all the top guys, and figure to zero in on Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. The popular belief around the NBA is that Wade will stay in Miami, but you know he has to be disappointed that the Heat failed in its attempts to trade for either Amar'e Stoudemire or Carlos Boozer before the deadline. With Wade currently slowed by a calf injury, it's not beyond the realm of possibility that Miami could miss the playoffs altogether. Of course, Pat Riley will promise Wade he'll bring in one of the top free agents this summer, but after wasting two seasons in the prime of his career playing for .500 teams, does Wade really have faith in Riley's ability to build another championship team? You would have to think playing for his hometown Bulls with an unselfish All-Star guard in Rose and solid frontcourt players like Noah and Luol Deng is a solid 2nd option if Wade decides to look for a better situation.

As for Bosh, he's really taken his game to the next level this season. In the past, he was viewed as a "soft" perimeter shooting big man, but now Bosh has improved his back to the basket game, he's a better rebounder at both ends of the court, and as a result, he's probably the best power forward in the game. A frontline of Bosh, Noah and Deng to go along with Rose and Hinrich would move the Bulls into contending status in the East. But no one really knows what cities Bosh is most interested in. He's from Dallas, and we've been hearing he really doesn't want to go to another cold weather city. Hopefully a visit to Chicago in early July we'll show him everything our city has to offer! Maybe the Bulls can take him to Taste of Chicago, but they should probably leave Benny the Bull at home.

Bottom line, July 1st is still over 4 months away. Let's focus in on the final 29 games of the regular season and a likely return trip to the postseason. It starts tonight in Minnesota, and you can watch that game on Comcast SportsNet, starting at 7 p.m. I'll see you at halftime and after the game with Kendall Gill. Enjoy the hoops!

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Will the Bulls make the postseason?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Will the Bulls make the postseason?

Ben Finfer (ESPN 1000), Brian Hedger (nhl.com) and Jason Goch (SB Nation Radio) join Kap on the panel.  The Bulls beat the Pistons in a game with huge playoff implication.  So could they actually make the postseason?

The Blackhawks are closing in one division title but what’s their biggest weakness?

Plus Theo Epstein’s a really great leader, Kyle Hendricks is going to have to wait a while to pitch plus DeShone Kizer loves the band “Chicago” but will he play here?

NBA Buzz: 2017 Draft could be the best in more than a decade

NBA Buzz: 2017 Draft could be the best in more than a decade

If you've been watching the NCAA Tournament closely, it's apparent this June's draft will include a number of elite prospects, maybe the best top 10 talent since the LeBron, Melo, Bosh, Wade draft in 2003. 

Washington didn't qualify for the tournament, but NBA scouts seem to be in agreement that Washington point guard Markelle Fultz will be the No. 1 pick. The 6-foot-4 freshman has the size and ball-handling ability to play either guard spot, and word out of Boston is Fultz will be the pick if the Celtics get the first choice in the draft lottery.

UCLA point guard Lonzo Ball put on quite a show in the Bruins' win over Cincinnati on Sunday, finishing with 19 points, nine assists and seven rebounds. The 6-foot-6 Ball reminds scouts of a young Jason Kidd, showing amazing court vision and passing skills with the size to see over the top of smaller defenders. And don't caught up in his unusual shooting form. Ball can knock down shots, hitting almost 56 percent from the field this season and 42 percent beyond the 3-point line.

The other consensus top-3 prospect is Kansas small forward Josh Jackson. The 6-foot-8 Jackson is an Andrew Wiggins clone who has amazing quickness and finishing ability. Jackson improved his draft stock with a sensational performance in the first two games of the tournament. If the Bulls decide to trade Jimmy Butler in a deal for one of the top picks this June, the rangy 20-year-old Jackson would be an ideal replacement. If he ever gets a consistent jump shot, look out. We could be talking about a 25 points per game scorer.

Since Fultz, Ball and Jackson appear to be the kind of players NBA teams build around, the Bulls could potentially negotiate with the teams holding the top 3 picks for the best possible Butler deal. Right now, the Nets (pick will be swapped with Boston), Lakers and Suns own the worst records, and if the order isn't changed by the lottery, the Bulls could obtain a quality package centered around this year's first-round pick and a quality young player from any of the three teams.

Here's a look at how the lottery selections could fall based on the draft order as of March 23.

1. CELTICS (from Brooklyn)  Markelle Fultz  PG   Washington
2. LAKERS                              Lonzo Ball        PG    UCLA
3. SUNS                                  Josh Jackson   SF    Kansas
4. MAGIC                                Jayson Tatum   SF     Duke
5. 76'ers                                  De'Aaron Fox     PG    Kentucky
6. KINGS                                  Malik Monk         SG    Kentucky
7. KNICKS                               Dennis Smith      PG   N. Carolina St.
8. TIMBERWOLVES              Lauri Markkanen  PF    Arizona
9. KINGS (from Pelicans)       Frank Ntilikina      PG    France
10. MAVS                                 Miles Bridges    SF    Michigan St.
11. HORNETS                         Jonathan Isaac   SF    Florida St.
12. BLAZERS                          Justin Jackson   SF    N. Carolina
13. PISTONS                           John Collins      PF     Wake Forest       
14. BULLS                                OG Anunoby     SG-SF   Indiana  

Alright Bulls fans, I'm sure you're asking, why would the Bulls want to draft a player coming off a serious knee injury? Well, the Bulls haven't done all that well drafting productive older players from major programs, so why not roll the dice on a 19-year-old who could develop into the next Butler?

Scouts raved about Anunoby's potential heading into his sophomore season at Indiana. At 6-foot-8, Anunoby has good positional size to play both the small forward and shooting guard spots and figures to be a plus-defender from Day 1 in the NBA. Right now, his rehab from right knee surgery and lack of a consistent jump shot are the biggest concerns, but looking at mock drafts in the 13-20 range, do the Bulls really want to take a project big man or a mystery international player? 

Even if it takes a couple years for Anunoby to reach his ultimate potential, he seems like a good choice in today's position-less NBA. Plus, in the Bulls' current position, they need to take some chances and try to get lucky in landing a future star.

Two other athletic possibilities who are projected as late 1st round picks right now are SMU junior swingman Semi Ojeleye, a 6-foot-7 bundle of energy and muscle who should be able to contribute right away, and Oklahoma St. point guard Jawun Evans, one of the fastest players in the college game who could ignite the Bulls' fast break after Rajon Rondo moves on.

AROUND THE ASSOCIATION

If the Bulls are going to make a late season run to the playoffs, they'll have to find a way to pass two of the league's hottest teams. Milwaukee has won eight of its last 10 games to pull into a 6th place tie with the Pacers, while Miami has been one of the league's biggest surprises over the last two months, going from an 11-30 record on January 13 to 35-36, and a game and a half lead over the Bulls and Pistons for the final playoff spot.

Both late surges are surprising, especially the job Erik Spoelstra has done in Miami. After the controversial departure of Dwyane Wade, Pat Riley decided to hedge his bets for the future and signed a number of journeyman veteran types like Dion Waiters, Wayne Ellington, James Johnson, Derrick Williams and Willie Reed to short-term contracts.

Williams was released and signed on with Cleveland, but Spoelstra and his staff have done a masterful job in piecing together a roster with a lot of duplication into a consistent winning team. Hassan Whiteside has continued to improve, averaging 17 points and 14 rebounds, while the guard rotation of Waiters, Goran Dragic, Ellington and Tyler Johnson has been especially effective.

Bulls fans will remember James Johnson as a guy who arrived from Wake Forest with a lot of potential, but went on to bounce around the league with little success. Now that he's finally in optimal physical shape, Johnson is averaging 12 points, 5 rebounds and 3.5 assists off the bench while doing a strong job on the defensive end.

Spoelstra probably won't win the Coach of the Year award, but it might be his best job yet after losing Wade and Chris Bosh, then seeing promising second-year forward Justise Winslow go out with a season-ending shoulder injury.

It's been a different story in Milwaukee, where the Bucks got off to a fast start behind the amazing rise of Giannis Antetokounmpo to All-Star status. A mid-season slump dropped the Bucks out of the top 8 in the East, and when Chicago native Jabari Parker suffered another devastating ACL injury, it appeared Milwaukee was heading towards another trip to the lottery.

But Bucks' coach Jason Kidd got Khris Middleton back from a hamstring injury, and inserted rookies Thon Maker and Malcolm Brogdon into the starting lineup. All of a sudden, the Bucks took off with Antetokounmpo getting back to his early season production, and the bench unit of Greg Monroe, John Henson, Michael Beasley, Mirza Teletovic, Matthew Dellavedova and Jason Terry becoming a real strength.

It's unlikely either Milwaukee or Miami will be a threat to Cleveland and Boston in the opening round of the playoffs, but the hard work and persistence of those coaching staffs should not be overlooked.

STAT OF THE WEEK

Yet another example of the Bulls' maddening inconsistency under Fred Hoiberg over the last 2 seasons is the number of impressive wins offset by blowout losses.

These numbers courtesy of CSN's stats cruncher, Chris Kamka.

Bulls 20+ point wins and 20+ point losses

(with Fred Hoiberg as Head Coach)

                 20+ point wins             20+ point losses

2016-17              6                           7
2015-16              3                           7

total                      9                          14
========================================
(With Tom Thibodeau as Head Coach)

2014-15              7                           1
2013-14              7                           4
2012-13              5                           5
2011-12             14                          0
2010-11              8                          1

total                     41                         11

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

I'm pretty sure Hoiberg was being sarcastic when asked early in the week if battling for one of the final playoff spots in the East is "fun".

The coach's response? "It's miserable." 

Hoiberg won't get a lot of argument from Bulls fans who see their team stuck in the middle among the 30 NBA franchises right now. That's the worst place to be in professional sports, with no hope of contending for championships and little chance of getting a franchise-changing talent in the draft.