Running with the Bulls: Offseason won't be idle

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Running with the Bulls: Offseason won't be idle

Monday, May 10, 2010
4:04 PM

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

With the search for a new head coach just getting fired up, the upcoming NBA Draft in June and the official beginning to free agency on July 1st, this offseason won't be an idle one for the Bulls.

Despite being ousted from the postseason by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs earlier this month, Chicago is one of the most heavily-discussed teams in the league right now. No wonder--with a coveted coaching vacancy, plenty of cap room to welcome at least one marquee player to the Windy City and a young, talented returning core, the Bulls are being watched very closely by observers and their competitors alike.

Although the Bulls have a strong group returning, an oft-overlooked fact is that only six players--center Joakim Noah, veteran guard Kirk Hinrich, young forwards Taj Gibson and James Johnson, small forward Luol Deng and All-Star point guard Derrick Rose--are under contract for next season. Chicago will surely build the rest of its roster through free agency, but they will also look to land a solid rookie contributor via the NBA Draft.

By virtue of their midseason John Salmons trade, the Bulls will select 17th in the first round (if Milwaukee, as expected, opts to swap picks with Chicago as a condition of the deal), which may not be high enough to grab an elite prospect, but can certainly net them an impact player, as evidenced by the selection of the aforementioned Gibson, a first team NBA All-Rookie choice, last year. Depending on their workouts leading up to the draft and the results of measureables such as height, weight, wingspan, speed, strength and leaping ability at the NBA Pre-Draft Combine--held in Chicago from May 19-23--certain players that might fit Chicago's needs, but are currently expected to be at least borderline lottery picks, may slip and become available to the team.

Since outside shooting on this season's team was such a major issue highly-acclaimed perimeter snipers like freshman wing Xavier Henry of Kansas and Oklahoma State's James Anderson, a polished scorer, may be intriguing to the organization, with Final Four hero Gordon Hayward and less-ballyhooed prospects Paul George of Fresno State and Nevada's Luke Babbitt also potentially fitting the bill. If the Bulls were to opt for the best available, high-risk, high-reward approach, fast-rising center Hassan Whiteside of Marshall--a talented, but raw offensive player and a force defensively and on the glass--could be an option, if he were to slip leading up to draft day, while versatile big man Ekpe Udoh of Baylor could provide an added dimension in the frontcourt as a reserve. Texas combo guard Avery Bradley, despite being somewhat of a tweener on the pro level, also is a capable outside shooter and possesses a strong defensive mindset, while teammate Damion James brings experience, versatility and toughness to the table. Yet another direction Chicago could choose is finding a reliable backup for Rose; sources tell CSNChicago.com that Kentucky's Eric Bledsoe--a natural point guard forced to play off the ball because of the presence of freshman teammate John Wall, regarded as the consensus top pick in the draft--came in for an unannounced workout (which went well, according to the source) at the Berto Center over the weekend. Others who may be considered by the franchise include Memphis guard Elliot Williams, South Florida scorer Dominique Jones, Nevada point guard Armon Johnson, Washington forward Quincy Pondexter, fiery Maryland guard Greivis Vasquez and Latavious Williams of high school-to-D-League fame.

Still, even with the deadline for college underclassmen to decide if they would stay in the draft rather than return to school occurring over the weekend, it's far too early for anybody--let alone the organizations making the decisions--to know exactly who they want, who will potentially be available or even the order of the NBA's draft lottery, which will take place later this month. Currently, the Bulls don't own a second-round pick in the draft--as a result of the trade that acquired the rights to Turkish center Omer Asik, a highly-touted big man whose expected presence on the team next season may pave the way for veteran free agent Brad Miller's departure--but draft choices are bought and sold like candy by teams on draft day, so it's not out of the question that Chicago could end up acquiring late picks to add inexpensive depth.

A more immediate means of adding help obviously comes in the form of free agency, something anticipated as a major part of a summer that could propel the franchise back into the upper echelon of NBA teams. The top available player is also the league's best--LeBron James--and while some observers continue to insist that he may leave his home state Cavaliers, it seems increasingly unlikely that the now two-time MVP will depart Cleveland, regardless of the outcome of this season. The consensus second-best free agent is Heat guard Dwyane Wade, a Chicago native. As exciting as a backcourt of hometown products Rose and Wade sounds, Wade has made it clear that although he's immensely disappointed with Miami's performance over the last few years, he would like to remain in South Florida. The onus is on top Heat executive Pat Riley--whose recent statements regarding his willingness to return to the sidelines, if necessary, show his commitment to retaining the superstar--to surround Wade with a much-improved supporting cast, something Miami is capable of doing. Another top free agent, Phoenix's Amar'e Stoudemire, also seems increasingly likely to stay put, as the resurgent Suns (who became the first team to advance to the conference finals by sweeping San Antonio) are again on the upswing after a hiatus from the postseason, due to improved chemistry and a renewed focus on the defensive end under Alvin Gentry's guidance. Plus, it doesn't look like Steve Nash is slowing down anytime soon.

While he's a distant third behind James and Wade, Toronto's Chris Bosh (like Stoudemire, a power forward, a position regarded as in need of an upgrade by the Bulls, despite Gibson's stellar rookie campaign) is also a highly-coveted addition, and with his recent Twitter posts referring to his free-agent status, it seems as if he would be unlikely to return to the Great White North. Top Raptors executive Bryan Colangelo, in a practical move, acknowledged Bosh's options and indicated his willingness to help assist with a sign-and-trade scenario (Colangelo also discussed the Toronto's desire to keep Bosh in Canada), which would provide Bosh with the contract he wants, while ensuring the Raptors don't lose their star without receiving something in exchange.

Atlanta's Joe Johnson, perhaps the top perimeter option behind James and Wade, spoke of his desire to remain with the high-flying Hawks toward the end of the regular season. However, after barely surviving an undermanned Bucks squad in the first round and now in the process of being thoroughly humiliated by Orlando--Johnson made some less than favorable remarks about the home crowd booing the team in Atlanta after their embarrassing Game 3 home loss on Saturday--the talented swingman again sounds like a man ready to pack his bags. Johnson hasn't played particularly well in the postseason, but with the Hawks' offense reliant on him creating for himself in isolation situations, imagining him spotting up on the wing or receiving passes from a playmaking floor general like Rose is a much more palatable thought.

Other teams in the league--the Clippers, Knicks, Heat and Nets are a few with the cap room to also sign a top-tier free agent--have money to spend, but an advantage in Chicago's favor is having assets to work out a sign-and-trade deal for the likes of Bosh, Johnson or even Utah power forward Carlos Boozer, another free agent possibility. While the organization is excited about their returning nucleus, it's no secret that players like Hinrich, Deng and even Gibson (who the team would be loathe to part with) could help them acquire a player of even more magnitude.

First, however, the Bulls need a coach. Add former Toronto head coach and ex-NBA coach of the year Sam Mitchell to the seemingly ever-growing list of candidates, with Dallas assistant Dwane Casey, former New Jersey head coach Lawrence Frank, Oklahoma City assistant Maurice Cheeks and former Minnesota head coach Kevin McHale already having been vetted by the organization, according to reports. And while the University of Kentucky's John Calipari continues to be linked to the Chicago job, don't expect that option to gain more traction as time wears on, regardless of any tenuous connections to free agents like James. All in all, as the Bulls continues their methodical pace in the search for a new sideline leader, desirable candidates could start to dwindle as other teams--the Clippers, Hornets, Nets and 76ers also currently have head-coaching vacancies, as well as head starts on Chicago--threaten to make the dominoes fall with new hires. Yet another factor that could impact the process is the fact that at least a handful of assistant coaches for teams still in the playoffs--Boston's Tom Thibodeau, Utah's Tyrone Corbin, Phoenix's Dan Majerle and Brian Shaw of the Lakers--are candidates for head jobs, while rumors persist that Atlanta's Mike Woodson may not have his contract renewed in the aftermath of the Hawks' postseason showing, potentially further complicating matters.

Speaking of the playoffs, a relatively exciting first round, filled with young players staking claim to prime-time performer status, has given way to a ho-hum second round, with the aforementioned Suns' sweep of the Spurs and two other possible perfect outings from the Lakers and Magic. The Cleveland-Boston series is the only series still up in the air, but if the Cavs win, it will result in the top two teams from each conference vying for an opportunity to play in the Finals, with a Lakers-Magic repeat looking more and more possible. No matter what anyone says, it looks like the regular season really does matter.

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.

Bulls Talk Podcast: Will Celtics trade for Jimmy Butler?

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Bulls Talk Podcast: Will Celtics trade for Jimmy Butler?

On the latest edition of the Bulls Talk Podcast, Kevin Anderson, Vincent Goodwill and Kendall Gill welcome in SB Nation's Ricky O'Donnell to discuss the Celtics' motivation to trade for Jimmy Butler. 

The guys also break down whether the league is undervaluing the Bulls All-Star. 

Later, they debate the contant Lebron James vs. Michael Jordan comparison and ask if it's fair after the King's poor showing in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals. O'Donnell also analyzes the NBA Draft. He believes Terrance Ferguson is the right pick for GarPax. 

Finally, a behind the scenes look at Goodwill vs. Kendall on the court, and Kendall on the right way to parent a young athlete. 

Listen to the Bulls Talk Podcast below. 

NBA Buzz: Financial and competitive realities could lead to Jimmy Butler trade for Bulls

NBA Buzz: Financial and competitive realities could lead to Jimmy Butler trade for Bulls

Watching LeBron James tear through the Eastern Conference playoffs the way Michael Jordan used to do in his prime, it's become increasingly apparent other teams in the East will be chasing James and the Cavaliers for the next 3-5 years.

With that in mind, you have to wonder what kind of conversations are going on inside the walls of the Advocate Center as the Bulls' front office prepares for the June 22nd draft and the start of free agency on July 1st. 

Jimmy Butler earned third-team All-NBA honors on Thursday, putting him in position to earn the Designated Veteran Player Extension with another All-NBA selection in either 2018 or 2019. Under terms of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, that could mean a contract starting at $42 million in 2019-20 with a total five-year value of over $246 million.

Are the Bulls prepared to pay that kind of money to a player who has logged big minutes over his career and will turn 30 just before the 2019-20 season?

If not, the best time to deal Butler would be right now. Butler is coming off the best season of his NBA career, including a starting spot for the Eastern Conference in the All-Star game. Plus, he still has two more guaranteed years on his contract at far below market value for one of the top 15 players in the league.

Tuesday's draft lottery pretty much eliminated Boston from a potential Butler trade. Celtics' GM Danny Ainge loves Washington point guard Markelle Fultz and is locked in to drafting him with the number one pick. Boston's future couldn't look brighter after finishing with the best regular season record in the East, advancing to the Conference Finals, and winning the lottery.

The Celtics will add Fultz and still have enough cap room to offer a max deal to free agent swingman Gordon Hayward, who played collegiately for Boston coach Brad Stevens at Butler. How does a starting line-up of Isaiah Thomas, Al Horford, Hayward, Jae Crowder and Avery Bradley sound, with a second unit of Fultz, Terry Rozier, Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown and Kelly Olynyk? It might not be good enough to take down the Cavs or Warriors, but should position the Celtics for a long run as a serious contender.

So, if the Celtics are out, where would the Bulls look for a possible Butler deal? Phoenix probably holds the best combination of assets, starting with the No. 4 overall pick. If point guards Fultz, Lonzo Ball and De'Aaron Fox go 1-2-3, the Bulls could grab Kansas forward Josh Jackson, an Andrew Wiggins-clone who could wind up being the best player in this draft.

The Suns also have a pair of intriguing young power forwards in Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender, both top 10 picks a year ago. Plus, Phoenix could include 23-year-old small forward T.J. Warren and Chicago native Tyler Ulis in the package going back to the Bulls.

Suns GM Ryan McDonough is reportedly under pressure to show significant improvement next season after winning just 47 games combined over the last two years. Adding another young player to the roster isn't the best way to improve the team immediately, so don't be surprised if the Suns make a pitch to acquire Butler in the days leading up to the draft.

Similar story in Philadelphia, where the Sixers own the third overall pick next month. Under former GM Sam Hinkie, the "trust the process" approach led to a roster purge and the acquisition of lottery picks. Right now, the Sixers are overloaded with young players like Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor, Ben Simmons, Dario Saric, Justin Anderson and Nik Stauskas.

Would current GM Bryan Colangelo be willing to trade the pick, along with Okafor and Anderson in a package for Butler? The Bulls could choose between Jackson and Kentucky's lightning-quick point guard Fox with the draft pick they’d acquire, potentially adding three young starters to a new-look line-up. 

Given all the trade rumors surrounding Butler in the past, you can expect a number of teams will be calling the Bulls leading up to the draft, including Tom Thibodeau's Timberwolves, coming off a disappointing season with assets to offer like Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and the seventh overall pick. 

Ultimately, it comes down to which direction the Bulls' front office wants to go. Try to build a contender around Butler, or use him as the trade asset to start a full re-build. We should get our answer in the days leading up to the draft.

Around the Association

Thursday's All-NBA announcement could lead to a pair of All-Star forwards changing teams this summer. We already mentioned Hayward's situation in Utah. Without the designated veteran player extension, he might be seriously tempted to join his old college coach in Boston. 

Hayward could sign a one year contract with a player option for a second season in Utah with hopes of earning the DVPE next summer, but if Hayward hits the open market, it's clear he'll be the number one target for the Celtics this off-season. 

Paul George also could be in play after failing to make one of the three All-NBA teams. The Pacers were hoping to sign their All-Star forward to a max five-year extension at over $200 million, but George isn't eligible now. George still could sign an extension with Indiana, but not at the dollars he would have received had he made All-NBA. 

Rumors of George's desire to join his home-state Lakers in free agency after the 2017-18 season continue to grow, especially with Magic Johnson likely to add dynamic point guard Lonzo Ball in next month's draft. The Pacers might be forced to trade George to get some assets now, rather than let him walk away for nothing in free agency next summer.

Back to the Bulls, who will bring in dozens of prospects to Chicago to work out at the Advocate Center before the draft. Unless they make a major trade to move up, the front office almost has to go "best player available" with their picks at Nos. 16 and 38. Look for them to focus on an athletic wing in the first round with Louisville's Donovan Mitchell, Indiana's OG Anunoby, Duke's Harry Giles and Australian pro Terrance Ferguson among the likely options. 

But if the team decides to part company with restricted free agent Niko Mirotic, that could open the door for the Bulls to select a power forward like Cal's Ivan Rabb, Wake Forest's John Collins, Utah's Kyle Kuzma or UCLA's T.J. Leaf. They could even draft an athletic young center like Jarrett Allen of Texas, Creighton's Justin Patton or UCLA's Ike Anigbogu.

In Round 2, the Bulls might look to add another young point guard to the mix like Oklahoma State's Jawun Evans, Iowa State's Monte Morris, Villanova's Josh Hart, Gonzaga's Nigel Williams Goss or Big 12 Player of the Year Frank Mason from Kansas.

Quotes of the Week

The Celtics might have edged Cleveland out for the top seed in the East during the regular season, but after watching Game 1 Wednesday night, it's clear Brad Stevens’ team will be lucky to get a win in the series.

This from Stevens about the NBA's version of Benjamin Button, LeBron James. "It's hard to believe, but he's better than when I got into the league. A lot better."

Still, Celtics' star Isaiah Thomas isn't about to concede the series just yet, saying, "We're not afraid of Cleveland. They're not the Monstars."  

Well, Thomas might be right about the rest of the Cavs. But if you remember the movie "Space Jam", I'm pretty sure James would be a good fit in that Monstars line-up. And the Celtics don't have Michael Jordan, Bugs Bunny or Bill Murray!