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.

2016-17 Bulls player preview: Isaiah Canaan

2016-17 Bulls player preview: Isaiah Canaan

Chicago Bulls training camp is right around the corner, with the first preseason game coming Oct. 3 against the Milwaukee Bucks. Between then and now, CSNChicago.com will take a look at each player on the Bulls’ roster to preview and possibly project their importance to the team as the Bulls hope to qualify for the 2017 NBA Playoffs.

Player: Isaiah Canaan

Position: Point Guard/Shooting guard

Experience: 4th season

2015-16 stats: 11.0 points, 1.8 rebounds

2016-17 Outlook: It’ll be a game of musical chairs in the Bulls’ backcourt this season with the backup positions and Canaan will be in the mix for playing time at both positions, despite his small 6-foot-0 frame.

He’s more scorer than facilitator and looks for his offense, being aggressive in the pick and roll and in the open floor. It could be a change of pace from Rajon Rondo’s style, as Rondo can push the pace but will definitely be in control. If Canaan beats out Jerian Grant, Spencer Dinwiddie and Denzel Valentine for minutes, he’s going to play at a breakneck speed, looking to force the action and reacquainting himself with a familiar statistic: Field Goals Attempted.

Per 36 minutes last year, he took 13.2 shots and nearly nine of them came from the 3-point line, which accounts for his career shooting percentage being below 37, as he gets up a huge bulk from the long line.

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Having spent the majority of his career with the then-tanking Philadelphia 76ers, Canaan’s value is hard to project and one wonders if he’s gotten accustomed to losing environments.

In Philly, though, he was able to get plenty of experience, playing 77 games last season in what was probably as eye-opening for him as anything he’s ever endured in the NBA.

With the depth, though, seeing the above-mentioned players likely being ahead of him in the rotation means the Bulls won’t be as dependent on him for wins — but during those dog days of the season, when the injuries can pile up and the excitement is low, one wonders if Fred Hoiberg can toss Canaan out there and his energy can help the Bulls to a win or two in February — which could come handy in April when all wins matter if you’re trying to compete for a playoff spot.

2016-17 Bulls player preview: Doug McDermott

2016-17 Bulls player preview: Doug McDermott

Chicago Bulls training camp is right around the corner, with the first preseason game coming Oct. 3 against the Milwaukee Bucks. Between then and now, CSNChicago.com will take a look at each player on the Bulls’ roster to preview and possibly project their importance to the team as the Bulls hope to qualify for the 2017 NBA Playoffs.

Player: Doug McDermott

Position: Small Forward

Experience: 3rd season

2015-16 Stats: 9.4 points, 2.5 rebounds

2016-17 Outlook: It’s been a steady progression for Doug McDermott from his rookie year to last season, as he’s symbolic of what Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg wants his system to be: A floor-spreading, free-wheeling wide open system, one that displays the new reality of the NBA.

McDermott, at times last season, showed his proficiency despite his limitations. Few were better from the 3-point line, as he shot 42.5 percent, ranking fifth in the NBA. In semi-transition, he was a sure bet to spot up from the left wing and position himself for a pass and quick release.

With Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo all able to make plays, McDermott will be counted on more than he has before to make shots with space at a premium.

McDermott and Nikola Mirotic will have to provide the shooting to keep defenses honest, which could lead to McDermott being the first sub off the bench for a guy like Wade or Butler, leaving the latter to anchor the second unit in the second quarter.

His game opened up last season after the All-Star break, especially with his ability to create his own shot. It’s not a staple of his game and who knows how much he’ll have to use it with the ballhandlers on the floor, but he did have a reliable baseline fadeaway and one-legged runner he would go to every once in awhile.

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The Bulls’ offense ran better with him on the floor, averaging 116 points per 100 possessions. February produced his best month as a pro, averaging nearly 15 a game on 52 percent shooting—splits that could be more common as his career progresses. But what he gives, he often gives away on the defensive end and it’ll be a battle to keep him on the floor with some of the concerns the team will have as a whole.

Keeping players in front of him with his lateral movement is an issue, and even being in the right place defensively off the ball isn’t a given. But a lot of that is scheme and the Bulls have to be better collectively.

Expecting him to take another step this season as he knows what to expect and gains more confidence in his own game isn’t unreasonable—and finding consistency will be important to his future in the league, as he’ll be eligible for an extension following his third season.

In other words, there’s plenty of tangible and intangible incentive to improve.