Running with the Bulls: Bosh vs. Johnson

Running with the Bulls: Bosh vs. Johnson

Thursday, April 15, 2010
4:29 PM

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

Even with the Bulls exciting road to making the playoffs -- complete with the turmoil surrounding the team over last week; from the Joakim Noah minutes controversy to reports of alleged physical altercations between Chicago head coach Vinny Del Negro and both team executive vice president John Paxson and general manager Gar Forman --the minds of Bulls observers havent strayed from the future. No, not just the LeBron James, the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Bulls first-round series -- which begins Saturday afternoon -- fans and media alike continue to wonder what will happen July 1, the much-anticipated start of free agency. Actually, the playoffs do relate to the summer, as some believe that Chicago making the postseason may somehow influence some of the top available players to come to the Windy City, as an appearance in the NBAs second season could convince them the Bulls cupboard is a lot more stocked than those of other suitors.

The other day, my Comcast SportsNet colleague Mark Schanowski wrote a piece for his Beyond the Arc blog that detailed some of the moves he thought would be in the Bulls best interest this summer. Now, Mark and I frequently play general manager before home games at the United Center, discussing which direction would be best for the team. Thus, I wasnt surprised when I read that he supports Chicago making a hard push to acquire Toronto superstar Chris Bosh.

I agree with the majority of what Mark wrote, but as I stated on Chicago Tribune Live last week, Im more in favor of the Bulls going after Atlanta swingman Joe Johnson. While Bosh is certainly a top-10 player in the league, Im not sure his game is best suited for what Chicago needs.

Bosh is a strong interior force who has proven to be a reliable 20-point, 10-rebound performer for the Raptors. Over the past few years, hes silenced critics who have accused him of being soft by continually developing his low-post game and becoming a better rebounder and defender in the paint.

At the same time, Bosh is most comfortable being an inside-outside threat, particularly facing the basket from 15 to 18 feet away, where he can knock down open mid-range jumpers or drive by slower big men. While the Bulls dont currently have a player who is as proficient offensively in that area, center Noah has been expanding his range and knocking down jumpers from the elbow as of late, rookie Taj Gibson has proven to be a consistent mid-range threat and small forward Luol Deng is probably at his best in that area, where he can shoot pull-up jumpers after a dribble or two. Dont forget that All-Star point guard Derrick Rose is at times deadly accurate on his stop-and-pop jumpers off quick penetration moves.

However, Im not blind -- its obvious the Bulls need some offensive help, specifically a true go-to scorer that allows Rose to be the playmaker he naturally is, as his scoring outbursts this season have often come out of necessity rather than his desire to put up big point totals -- I just think outside shooting is the teams most pressing need. Ill come back to my ideas of a top free agent the Bulls should go afte -- cough, Joe Johnson, cough -- but lets first continue to touch on Bosh.

As Mark pointed out in his post, Torontos top executive, Bryan Colangelo, has made it clear that he would prefer a sign-and-trade scenario to losing Bosh outright. The usual suspects -- Miami, New York, New Jersey -- will likely make an attempt to woo Bosh, not to mention Dallas, which could have the pieces to lure the Raptors into sending Bosh back to his hometown. Dont be surprised if the Lakers and Rockets also enter the fray.

If the Bulls were to present a sign-and-trade option, Mark suggests a package of Deng, Kirk Hinrich, Gibson and one or more draft picks could do the trick, as far as swaying Toronto to do a deal with Chicago for Bosh. On the surface, that does sound like the Raptors would end up with some more-than-serviceable pieces, however, I doubt Colangelo would bite -- unless he had no better options -- as the contracts of Deng and Hinrich arent exactly attractive and as well as Gibson has played this year, his effectiveness could be limited by the Raptors lack of an inside presence (minus Bosh, of course), something Bulls fans witnessed as the rookie wore down with the attention opponents showed him during Noahs extended absence.

In addition, in order to make salaries match, Toronto would have to throw in additional players. If you saw Sundays big Bulls win, there arent too many desirable players on the Raptors roster, and even if Chicago was interested in a few of them -- say, athletic swingman Sonny Weems or developing big man Amir Johnson -- its unlikely Colangelo would part with those high-potential youngsters, preferring to peddle a big-contract veteran with less value on the court. Regardless, it is something to consider.

Now, lets get back to Atlantas Johnson; we can even start with his flaws. At 28 (29 this summer), hes older than Bosh, so this will likely be his last big contract. While hes regarded as one of the most complete players in the league, the smooth swingman does have a reputation for being a ball-stopper on offense -- Hawks fans nicknamed Atlanta head coach Mike Woodsons fourth-quarter offensive strategy the Iso-Joe offense -- if not a volume shooter.

And while Johnson is accustomed to being the top offensive option for the Hawks, that doesnt necessarily have to change if he were to come to Chicago -- as Rose is more of a natural playmaker; he can certainly score, but is unselfish by nature, and surely wouldnt mind the addition of another player that could create shot opportunities -- although he might have to alter his style of play a bit. Unlike Bosh, however, Johnson hasnt indicated any preference to be the guy in his next destination, if he indeed leaves Atlanta.

Dont get me wrong -- both Bosh and Johnson are low-key individuals and havent proven to have any character issues on or off the court, something the Bulls value as an organization -- but Bosh is reported to take exception to the assumption that hed willingly sign on with the Heat, for example, to be a supporting actor in Dwyane Wades South Beach superstardom. How would he embrace playing second fiddle to Derrick Rose -- regardless of accolades and achievements, its unlikely that Bosh is enough a transcendent star to not be in the shadow of Rose, one of the leagues shining lights and a Chicago native, to boot -- in the All-Star point guards hometown?

Johnson, on the other hand, is known as one of the most mild-mannered and shy great players in the league. The Little Rock, Ark., native would fit in perfectly with the Bulls mostly unassuming (save for the exception of Noah) bunch.

Hed be a perfect fit on the court, too. One of the most polished and versatile scorers in the league, its not out of the realm of possibility that he could become an even more efficient scorer, thanks to playing with a true point guard like Rose, similar to his initial rise to stardom while playing next to Steve Nash in Phoenix.

Johnson is a prolific long-range shooter, but hes also a master of the mid-range game, arguably among the leagues best when pulling up off the dribble. As a ballhandler, hes a wiz, with the ability to break down opponents and get to the rim, where he smoothly finishes with his powerful, 6-foot-7, 240-pound frame. In fact, Johnson handles the ball well enough that he can be a de facto point guard on occasion, perhaps potentially enabling Rose to play off the ball at times (causing him less wear and tear, as well as allowing him to attack the defense from the wing as a scorer) and giving Chicago another playmaking threat to draw the defense and create easy opportunities for the likes of Noah down low.

Although hes definitely a perimeter player, Johnsons aforementioned strength also allows him to be able to post up smaller shooting guards, something that could compensate for not bringing in a top-flight big man. After all, having a back-to-the-basket game isnt only limited to seven-foot centers, as Magic Johnson (let alone smaller guards like Sam Cassell, Tim Hardaway and currently, Chauncey Billups) once proved. On top of those factors, Joe Johnson is a solid rebounder for a guard and is a willing defender who doesnt shy away from taking on his most talented contemporaries on both ends on the floor, something that also jibes with Chicagos style of play. Bosh, while not a terrible defender and a player who at least tries on that end of the floor, isnt exactly known as a defensive presence.

The package Johnson brings to the table on the court is simply too attractive to pass up, but is it even guaranteed that he wont return to the Hawks? Bosh is seen as a goner from Canada this summer, no matter what, but sources have mixed opinions on whether Johnson will leave Atlanta. With the Hawks on the brink of being a contender and Johnson having suffered through some rough times after leaving the Suns to be a major part of that process, its open for debate whether hell bolt, both due to the emotional attachment factor and the simple fact that Atlanta can give him that sixth year (which is what fuels the wide misconception that teams can pay their own stars much more money than their competitors; they simply have the option to add another year to the contract) may make it tough for him to find a new residence.

Still, some Atlanta sources believe Johnson will go wherever the money takes him, meaning that inferior teams like New York (its speculated that the long-standing relationship between Johnsons agent, Arn Tellem, and top Knicks executive Donnie Walsh could influence his decision) and New Jersey could have a shot at the scorer, hoping his desire to cash in on likely his final big payday and ego will override his sense of competitiveness.

Regardless, if the Bulls were to add Johnson, theres a slight possibility -- salary-cap experts should start crunching the numbers now -- that theyd have enough money left over to add a second-tier big man, such as Utahs Carlos Boozer or New Yorks David Lee, filling the teams need for a low-post threat. While Im high on Gibson, the rookie hasnt yet developed into a consistent scoring threat that can draw double teams on the box and in fact, Im even higher on Boozer -- as far as for what Chicago needs; Im not arguing hes a better player than Bosh, however, his more traditional back-to-the-basket style may be a better fit for the team -- as the correct piece to the puzzle, especially since he probably wont command a max deal.

Lee is less of a guarantee, as far as how much he can help the Bulls -- hes even more of a face-up offensive player and deficient defender than Bosh and some even theorize his improved play is a product of Knicks head coach Mike DAntonis up-tempo system -- but he would be a less costly acquisition, is younger than Boozer and has less mileage than Bosh. Other options the Bulls could consider are rugged, less high-profile veterans like Houstons Luis Scola and Miamis Udonis Haslem -- although both of their teams have expressed interest in re-signing them -- who would allow Gibson to continue to develop without eating as heavily into his minutes.

Anyway, the long and short of it is (mostly long, as evidenced by the length of this piece) is that Johnson should be the Bulls most realistic top target come July 1. While Bosh wouldnt be a bad acquisition -- in fact, if any big name leans toward Chicago, the Bulls shouldnt hesitate in sealing the deal; so tenuous is the market, especially with all the build-up -- but as far as what the team ideally needs, Johnson would be round peg for Chicagos round hole.

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.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Will the Bulls make the postseason?

usatsi_9965113.jpg
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.