Chicago Bulls

Richard Signing Could Re-Energize Playoff Drive

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Richard Signing Could Re-Energize Playoff Drive

Tuesday, March 2, 2010
6:45 PM

by Mark Schanowski
CSNChicago.com

On the surface, it's hard to get excited about the addition of a player who averaged 2.2 points and 4.6 rebounds in 5 regular season games, but the Bulls' signing of free agent big man Chris Richard could help them get through a tough month of March. After watching the Bulls get out-rebounded to the tune of 63-37 by Atlanta Monday night, it was painfully obvious how much they miss injured center Joakim Noah. And with Luol Deng also sitting out because of a swollen left knee, the Bulls were totally out-manned against the Hawks' frontline of Al Horford, Josh Smith and Marvin Williams. Deng should be back for Thursday night's game against Memphis, but Noah could be out for weeks because of the ongoing plantar fasciitis injury to his left foot. Noah has been the team's 2nd most valuable player behind Derrick Rose all season long, and the Bulls really aren't the same without his hustle, defense, rebounding and leadership. In retrospect, the Bulls should have given Noah a couple more weeks of total rest with hopes of getting him ready for the playoffs. But because he is so valuable, they tried to get him back for limited duty as soon as possible and Noah aggravated the injury by playing 27 minutes in last week's overtime win over Portland. Don't be surprised if he sits out most of this month.

So, that's where his University of Florida teammate comes in. Richard may not put up big numbers, but he gives the Bulls another reliable big man to spell Brad Miller. Richard is a strong post defender, and isn't afraid to play a physical style against some of the league's top centers. With Noah out, the Bulls have been giving up way too many offensive rebounds, and that's an area where Richard can help. He's really more of a power forward than a center, which means the Bulls should be able to play Miller and Richard together, giving them a better chance of controlling their defensive glass. The Bulls' coaching staff strongly supported keeping Richard when the trade deadline deals left the team with one player too many on the roster. John Paxson and Gar Forman decided at that time to keep Lindsey Hunter, leaving the team with seven guards, but to their credit, they realized that's a luxury they can't afford with Noah sidelined. So, Hunter has been let go with the promise of another job in the organization, and Richard has been added to the roster for the rest of the season. He'll practice with the team on Wednesday, then be ready to do battle against Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and the rest of the Grizzlies' big men Thursday night. Again, it might seem like a small addition, but given the fact Miller has been playing extended minutes on a sore knee, having Richard available should give the Bulls a much more balanced roster.

MARCH SCHEDULE LOADED WITH .500 OR BETTER TEAMS

Unfortunately, Noah has plenty of company on the Bulls injury report. We told you about Deng and Miller battling sore knees, and All-Star guard Derrick Rose has two sore knees after a pair of open court collisions in his last 2 games. Kirk Hinrich also missed practice on Tuesday because of a variety of bumps and bruises, so the Bulls are definitely banged up heading into one of their toughest stretches of the season. 10 of the 15 games in March are against teams with .500 or better records, and that doesn't include the Miami Heat, who are just under the break even mark, but are still a dangerous team because of Dwyane Wade. If the Bulls are going to make the playoffs, they'll need to find a way to come up with 6 or 7 wins this month, and take advantage of a more favorable schedule in April.

Everyone talks about how superior the Western Conference is this season, and the Bulls have two games against the Grizzlies, two against Dallas, and one each against Utah, Houston and Phoenix this month. Fortunately, 5 of those games will be played at the United Center, giving the Bulls a decent chance at coming away with a few wins. Vinny's guys also play the Heat twice and have single games against Cleveland and Orlando. If they can get to April within a game or two of .500, they should have a chance to make their typical strong closing run and grab the 6th or 7th seed in the East. But if the injuries become too much of problem over the next few weeks, just getting into the post-season field will be a real challenge.

We'll have the next 2 games for you on Comcast SportsNet, Thursday night against Memphis and Saturday against the Dallas Mavericks, who are the NBA's hottest team right now. The trade with Washington that brought in Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood makes the Mavs one of the top challengers to the defending NBA champion Lakers in the West. Dallas now has a deep and talented team with Dirk Nowitzki, Butler, Jason Terry and Jason Kidd leading the offense, and Haywood providing another 7-footer to anchor the defense. Unfortunately, the Bulls are catching the Mavs at the wrong time, but that's life in the NBA!

Kendall Gill will join me at the United Center to preview the game against Memphis during the 6:30 SportsNite on Thursday, and we'll also be live at 6:30 on Saturday. How many games do you think the Bulls will win in March? Please post your comments in the section below.

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.

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.

Report: Bulls expected to reach buyout agreement with Dwyane Wade

Report: Bulls expected to reach buyout agreement with Dwyane Wade

Dwyane Wade's homecoming may not last much longer. 

According to Nick Friedell's ESPN report, the Bulls are expected to reach a buyout agreement with the 12-time NBA All-Star "at some point in the next few months." 

The news comes two months after Wade picked up his player option, choosing $24 million over earning less on a more competitive team. 

If Gar Forman and John Paxson indeed decide to buy D-Wade out, the "Three Alphas," which consisted of Wade, Jimmy Butler and Rajon Rondo, would all be out just one season after coming together. 

The buyout may also mean more ping-pong balls in next year's stacked draft