Running with the Bulls: Breaking down busy week

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Running with the Bulls: Breaking down busy week

Friday, May 28, 20108:09 AM

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

From President Barack Obama's endorsement of his former stomping grounds as the best potential landing spot for LeBron James to unsubstantiated speculation that former Bulls head coach Phil Jackson would be open to a return to the Windy City next season -- not to mention native son and Miami Heat star Dwyane Wade, a free agent this summer, questioning the organization's loyalty (watch Steve Schanwald's response to Wade) -- Chicago's fortunes continue to be a hot topic around the NBA. While those more sensationalized headlines have captivated league observers, the franchise itself quietly is muddling along in their search for a new head coach.

Of the league's coaching vacancies -- with the recent firing of Mike Brown, Cleveland joins New Jersey, New Orleans, Atlanta and Chicago as teams with current openings -- Philadelphia was the first domino to fall, as they hired TNT analyst and former Bulls (and Wizards and Pistons) head coach Doug Collins as the man to patrol the sidelines in the City of Brotherly Love last week. New Orleans is expected to be the team that makes the next hire (given that they've made the most headway in the interview process) and with Avery Johnson rumored to be effectively out of the running after an alleged request to also be given a front-office position, various reports indicate the Hornets have focused on Boston assistant coach Tom Thibodeau as their primary target. Of course, with Thibodeau's Celtics seemingly on track to reach the NBA Finals, the process could be prolonged, and other teams -- namely the Bulls -- will attempt to lure away the longtime assistant coach and defensive specialist.

Other candidates that have piqued the Bulls' interest include supposed frontrunners Maurice Cheeks and Lawrence Frank, although Frank's star has reportedly dimmed with the organization after a meeting during last week's NBA pre-draft combine in Chicago. The Bulls have also reportedly interviewed Rockets assistant coach Elston Turner, expressed interest in Bucks assistant Kelvin Sampson (a successful longtime college head coach) and sources tell CSNChicago.com that the franchise reached out to Clippers assistant John Lucas, a former head coach in San Antonio, Philadelphia and Cleveland. While TNT analyst and former Minnesota head coach Kevin McHale and other fringe candidates have expressed interest in the Bulls job through the media, it appears as if Cheeks -- the current Oklahoma assistant was a head coach in Portland and Philadelphia (where he reached the postseason), a Chicago native and a Hall of Fame point guard ably equipped to mentor Bulls All-Star point guard Derrick Rose -- would make the most sense at this point, especially as Cheeks' perceived weakness is not being able to control a locker room already rife with issues (which wouldn't be a problem in Chicago, as it was during Portland's "Jailblazers" era or during Allen Iverson's often-rocky tenure with the Sixers) and another top candidate, Dallas assistant Dwane Casey, a former Minnesota head coach, looks poised to be named the Hawks' new head coach -- unless the aforementioned Johnson lowers his reported salary demands

While there are conflicting reports as to whether Jackson would be open to a Chicago reunion -- his only on-the-record comments suggested he wouldn't be -- and although he seemingly left the door open to his potential interest in the Nets job, the Lakers are obviously still in the playoffs, it's been well-documented that his relationship with team executive Jeanie Buss (daughter of the franchise's owner) may be prohibitive in him relocating. And while a return to Chicago or coaching LeBron James (or both) may be intriguing, nobody would be surprised if Jackson rode into the sunset after this season.

Speaking of James, a name linked to the superstar as the coach for whatever team he deigns worthy of his services has been University of Kentucky head coach John Calipari. Despite his repeated denials about leaving Lexington (arguably the top job in the college game, where he is treated like a king, makes more than most NBA head coaches and has an opportunity to win a national championship with his stranglehold on recruiting the nation's top high school prospects), reports continue to suggest James will insist "Coach Cal" is the coach of the team he will suit up for next season, including Cleveland, which is only a short trip from Calipari's hometown of Pittsburgh. Another longshot to roam the Bulls' sidelines next season is Doc Rivers, the Celtics head coach and a Windy City native. Rivers is reportedly considering a hiatus from coaching next season -- so as to be involved with the recruitment process of his youngest son Austin, one of the nation's top high school basketball players, and watch his daughter, Callie, play volleyball during her senior year at the University of Florida, close to where his family resides in Gainesville; Rivers would ostensibly return to his previous role of television analyst for ESPN -- but some observers believe he would consider Chicago's opening and the interest would be mutual.

One reason Rivers might be interested is obvious: overseeing the development of James Johnson. Actually, no offense to Johnson, but the small forward of choice in that scenario -- as with Jackson -- would be the aforementioned LeBron James. While he's kept mum about his plans for the offseason, Wade indicated that the pair, as well as the duo of Toronto's Bosh and Atlanta's Joe Johnson -- another top free agent, regardless of his subpar playoff performance; sources continue to tell CSNChicago.com that he's still Chicago's most realistic target, as well as the best fit on the court, if not the most talented of the available options -- will sit down to discuss their respective futures. Bosh, possibly the best power forward on the market, is expected to depart Toronto, likely through a sign-and-trade scenario, and sources close to the Raptors tell CSNChicago.com that the Bulls are on his short list -- as was confirmed by a report last week, which was later denied by his agent -- but that his preferences are more limited than the general perception. Of other top options at the position, Dallas' Dirk Nowitzki may indeed opt out to test the market, but few observers believe there's a chance he will bolt the Mavericks. Phoenix's Amar'e Stoudemire was once a predictable choice to leave his current place of business (with Miami the best bet for a new locale), but with the Suns' playoff run, sources think he'll now stay put. Utah's Carlos Boozer, on the other hand, is a solid bet to switch jerseys, as the Jazz locked up underrated backup Paul Millsap and are expected to draft a young big man in next month's draft, giving the Bulls and other squads a viable, less-expensive option at the position.

This much is certain -- this summer won't lack for drama. Who else is hoping for a Finals sweep, so that the real games can begin?

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.

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Nikola Mirotic reflects on pump fakes, maddening March, future in Chicago

Nikola Mirotic reflects on pump fakes, maddening March, future in Chicago

If there's a more maddening player in the Eastern Conference than Nikola Mirotic, that player's psychologist should be getting paid double considering Bulls fans have been talking to themselves about Mirotic so much over the past three years.

And as they've reached no conclusion on Mirotic, along with many other sage minds, only one thing is for certain: March is his month.

Meaning it's the month where it becomes maddening to watch him play and probably equally as maddening for his teammates who've watched his inconsistencies for the better part of four months or so.

Averaging 16.0 points and 5.9 rebounds in 41 career March games, it's the only full month where Mirotic averages in double figures for his career—meaning there's a lot of inconsistencies to wade through to get to the proverbial pot of gold.

In 2014-15, he emerged as the NBA's best fourth-quarter scorer that month when the Bulls were without both Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler. Last season, he came back fresh after an appendectomy took a big chunk of his year.

This year, there's no big macro reason. He's just playing definitively, making quick movements and it's paying off as his two best scoring games took place within a four-day span (28 against both Detroit and Milwaukee).

"Right now, you see I'm shooting without hesitation," Mirotic said to CSNChicago.com. "Just catch and shooting. It's a great feeling."

No word on whether Mirotic hears the fans in the arena or the twitterverse screaming for him to ditch the pump fake that he actually admits it got in his head, but this season has been a roller coaster of the most dramatic kind, as the Bulls are still vying for playoff positioning with eight games remaining in the regular season.

"Sometimes, especially when I'm reading you guys (media), Niko pump fake, pump fake," Mirotic said with a smile. "Okay, no more pump fakes, just fire that ball. I'm laughing because you guys are (right)…that's true. You guys want me to shoot. It doesn't look good when you pump fake every time you have a wide-open shot."

Being penciled in as a training camp starter due to the need for floor spacing, Taj Gibson quickly outplayed Mirotic for the power forward spot. Then Mirotic's up and down, down and up, season began.

Kind of like his pump fake that often drew more defensive attention for it's predictability than effectiveness, stability has been hard to find for a player many have been waiting on since the day he was drafted in 2011.

"I know the defenses are ready for my pump fake so now just like, shoot the ball," Mirotic said. "I've been spending a lot of hours working on my shot before practice, after practice, trying to catch the feeling."

Better late than never or too late?

That's the question surrounding Mirotic and he knows it, being aware of his status as a restricted free-agent-to-be, along with his trade value a month ago being so low, the Bulls could only get a future second-round pick for him from teams.

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With the Bulls having so many questions going into the future, who knows if they want to go through the up-and-down, down-and-up cycle with a talented player yet again, with a big-time financial commitment.

In a sense, Mirotic knows he's left plenty on the table as far as his play through the years and seems to be content with playing with a sense of freedom as the season concludes, whether he's back with the Bulls or not for next year and beyond.

"I just wanna leave a good impression for the Bulls," Mirotic said. "Whatever decision they make. It's been a pleasure. A lot of people dream to be here, I was one of those guys when I was in Europe. I was really like, I wanna go there and play for the Bulls. The history they have. For me, it's a dream come true. Whatever decision they make, I make, whatever. I don't know. The years here have been great. I know it's been up and down. It's been a pleasure and I just wanna finish right."