Running with the Bulls: Who's available this summer?

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Running with the Bulls: Who's available this summer?

Wednesday, June 3, 2010
1:50 PM

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

Game 1 of the NBA Finals may be tonight, but the hype surrounding the free-agent circus that is officially set to begin July 1 -- and to a lesser extent, the handful of head-coaching vacancies around the league -- has partly overshadowed what should be another exciting chapter of the storied Lakers-Celtics rivalry.

Since free agency has been and will be covered ad nauseum in this space and lots of other outlets, theres no need to rehash any speculation of what the top-tier available players, but the recent interview conducted by CNNs Larry King with LeBron James (scheduled to air Friday) again has pushed the impending future of the leagues MVP to the top of the headlines. In his first public interview since his Cavaliers were ousted from the playoffs by Boston, James spoke at length about a variety of topics -- the leaked transcript has been pored over by everyone from casual fans to presumably NBA executives -- including President Obamas endorsement of Chicago as his new destination and his the fact that he was a Bulls fan as a child.

Although the wide-ranging interview didnt offer any specifics into his plans or even mindset heading into free agency -- despite any attempts to interpret any cues from his body language, affiliations of his team (consisting of his agent, advisers and other members of his inner circle) or rumors from his childhood barbers sisters cousin, it will be a carefully thought-out business decision -- James continued to stir the pot with the timing of the interview and coy nature in answering questions, even if unintentional.

Likewise, the rumored summit referenced by Miami star Dwyane Wade, a fellow free agent and Chicago native who also made headlines by questioning the loyalty of the Bulls, has been dismissed by, amongst other people, his agent (who also represents Toronto free agent Chris Bosh and falls under the same umbrella, Creative Artists Agency that represents James and Bulls head-coaching candidate Tom Thibodeau, to name a few) and is now more accurately being described as a series of conversations between friends.

That isnt to say Messrs. James, Wade (almost certain to remain with the Heat, as long as they add another star or two to the equation, which seems likely) and Bosh (its just about a given that hell leave the Raptors via a sign-and-trade scenario)not to mention Phoenixs Amare Stoudemire (the Suns success notwithstanding, he will have the choice of continuing on with aging star Steve Nash or joining one of the aforementioned stars elsewhere), Atlantas Joe Johnson (regardless of his poor playoff performance, he remains a coveted outside sharpshooter) and Utahs Carlos Boozer (likely to depart, as the Jazz signed productive backup power forward Paul Millsap to a contract extension last summer and are expected to select a big man with their lottery pick in this months NBA Draft), all USA Basketball teammates at one point or another -- wont figure out the process independently (although James decision may somehow influence the others), but its clear that the build-up to July 1 is rising to a level of ridiculousness that no longer makes much sense.

Almost the forgotten man in the equation is Dallas Dirk Nowitzki, who may be the third-best player (behind James and Wade) on the market, even with his advancing age. While most league observers would be shocked if the German forward were to suit up for a team other than his beloved Mavericks (even if he opts out of his deal; dont be surprised if team owner Mark Cuban maneuvers as hes done in the past, perhaps providing Cleveland with an attractive sign-and-trade possibility if James is determined to bolt the Cavaliers, something Cuban was recently fined by the NBA for implying), some suggest that Stoudemires potential departure from Phoenix could lead to Nowitzkis reunion with good friend Nash in the Valley of the Sun, as long as the state is fine with having another immigrant around.

A bit lower on the free-agent totem pole rank a trio of players that could make nice complimentary pieces for various teams. New Yorks David Lee has been persistently rumored to be leaving the Big Apple, as the Knicks have been long anticipating this summer and would be open to a sign-and-trade for the All-Star big man (some suggest his inflated numbers this season were a product of Mike DAntonis up-tempo system), in order to have the funds to sign a higher-profile star. Memphis Rudy Gay is a restricted free agent, but the prevailing notion is that the Grizzlies can be outbid for the athletic young swingman. Then, theres Charlottes Raymond Felton, who performed capably under Bobcats head coach Larry Brown the past two seasons, and while he isnt regarded as an upper-echelon NBA point guard, hes the best of a weak crop of available free agents at that position this summer.

As previously indicated, sign-and-trade situations abound this summer, and with the league rumor mill in full swing, a handful of players have been consistently mentioned as being on the block -- for the right price.

Perhaps the biggest name rumored to be moved is San Antonios Tony Parker. With the emergence of unheralded guard George Hill and the Spurs reported desire to get younger and more athletic before stalwarts Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili finish their careers, trading Parker may be the organizations best chance to remain viable, as last summers major acquisition, Richard Jefferson, was unproductive this season and wont garner close to anything valuable.

Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas, coming off a suspension for gun possession and a short incarceration, is another high-profile name that could be shipped out, especially with his huge contract. However, with Washington likely to select Kentucky point guard John Wall with the drafts top pick and the franchise still in rebuilding mode, the team may opt to simply move Arenas to shooting guard, which some have long believed is his best position.

An undervalued player who many league observers predicted would get moved at last seasons trade deadline is Indiana s Troy Murphy. The versatile power forward is still an attractive option to many teams and is one of the few Pacers with any real trade value.

Three second-year players who may have worn out their welcome or seemingly dont fit in their current homes are Memphis O.J. Mayo, Miami s Michael Beasley and New Jerseys Chris Douglas-Roberts. Mayo has been the most successful as a pro, but his pairing with point guard Mike Conley in the backcourt, reported issues with Gay, status as a tweener, defensive deficiencies and value as an asset could end his career with the Grizzlies. Beasley has had some unfortunate, well-publicized incidents, but overall, his inability to live up to the hype he achieved coming out of college, as well as his perceived immaturity and the Heats desire to free up room for potential incoming free agents have him firmly on the trading block. Douglas-Roberts had a bit of a breakout season for the Nets, but New Jerseys logjam at swingman -- fellow young players Courtney Lee and rookie Terrence Williams both seemed to curry more favor with the franchise -- and his vocal displeasure at the teams losing ways make him expendable.

A pair of young centers -- Portland s Greg Oden and the Lakers Andrew Bynum -- may not necessarily be being shopped, but are their respective teams are reportedly willing to listen to offers for the big men with bad knees. Two veteran centers, Dallas Erick Dampier and New Yorks Eddy Curry, arent really thought of as additions that can improve a team, but with their expiring contracts, they are also coveted pieces.

Then, there are numerous duos that could be packaged together by their teams to acquire a valuable asset. High-scoring Golden State guard Monta Ellis, as Warriors rookie Stephen Curry proved to be perhaps a better fit as a point guard and the smallish backcourt struggled to defend, while teammate Anthony Randolph, a young, versatile forward regarded as having major potential but injury issues, is another Warrior who could find a new home. Minnesota power forwards Al Jefferson and Kevin Love, are reportedly on the block -- but only one or the other will be moved; Jeffersons larger contract and knee problems make him the player being shopped more actively -- as their similar low-post games and lack of elite athleticism make playing them nearly impossible in Timberwolves head coach Kurt Rambis triangle offense. The departure of longtime Detroit mainstays Tayshaun Prince and Richard Hamilton could facilitate the Pistons continued desire to rebuild, although Princes versatility is more coveted by opposing teams and Hamilton s contract makes him difficult to deal. Two of Torontos several European imports -- point guard Jose Calderon (after his rise to ascension, the Spanish point guard largely struggled last season and was pretty much supplanted by backup Jarrett Jack) and Hedo Turkoglu, a heralded free-agent signee last summer, whose contentious relationship with the Raptors fan base (including reports of him missing games due to illness during the season, only to be spotted partying at night, as well as his recent diatribe against the organization in his homeland of Turkey) -- could be out of the door.

Lastly, at least one of a trio of young 76ers -- big man Marreese Speights, forward Thaddeus Young and guard Lou Williams -- has a chance to traded. New Philadelphia head coach Doug Collins has already pledged his allegiance to star swingman Andre Iguodala, young point guard Jrue Holiday and oft-injured veteran power forward Elton Brand, and with the Sixers likely to draft versatile Ohio State wing second in the draft, the Sixers will need to make some tough decisions to gain some flexibility in their roster moving forward.

Even with all these issues at hand, first things still must come first -- the NBA Finals. With the Lakers and Celtics so evenly matched, the series will likely come down to matchups, as well as the injury issues of the Lakers Bynum and Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo, who has been the key to Boston s postseason success. It should be a classic championship battle, but in the end, expect L.A. to avenge their 2008 loss and beat the Celtics in seven games.

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.

Honda Road Ahead: Bulls continue playoff push against Cavaliers, Hawks

Honda Road Ahead: Bulls continue playoff push against Cavaliers, Hawks

Mark Schanowski, Kendall Gill and Will Perdue break down the Bulls' upcoming schedule in the latest edition of the Bulls Road Ahead, presented by Chicagoland and NW Indiana Honda dealers.

TNT Bulls are back this week as the team heads into a crucial stretch. 

Currently, the Bulls sit half a game back of the Miami Heat for the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race, and with just eight games remaining on the schedule, each contest is essentially a must-win. 

So, yes, Thursday would be a great time for Jimmy Butler and company to summon their TNT alter ego. The Bulls have sealed 18 straight victories when playing on TNT Thursday, an improbable feat considering those games are usually reserved for two of the NBA's best. 

To continue that run, they'll have to down Lebron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, who are also fighting for playoff positioning -- albeit at the top of the conference. Good thing the Bulls have a tendency to get up for big games. 

"The Bulls play up and down to their competition," Bulls Pregame and Postgame analyst Kendall Gill said. "They've been doing that the whole season." 

After Cleveland, the Bulls get set to battle another playoff squad, the Atlanta Hawks. 

Watch the video above to see Schanowski, Gill and Perdue break down the matchups. 

Nikola Mirotic, Bulls show some moxie in road win over Bucks

Nikola Mirotic, Bulls show some moxie in road win over Bucks

Whacked on his ailing left hand by Khris Middleton, Jimmy Butler shook off the pain to hit a rare triple in transition while Middleton was complaining for a foul a couple possessions later.

Butler then darted into the passing lane for a pass intended for Jason Terry like a linebacker jumping into the flat for an interception, then trotted down for an uncontested dunk to give the Bulls an unlikely 17-point lead.

For the man who claims he’s the best football player in the NBA, playing through the pain and doing so with his team’s playoff hopes dwindling, Butler may finally have some believers to his boasts.

Not only did the Bulls avoid a season sweep to the Milwaukee Bucks with a resounding 109-94 win at the BMO Bradley Center Sunday afternoon, they restored a slight sense of pride after looking like they had none of it Friday night in their loss to the Philadelphia 76ers.

“I give them credit for bouncing back after a tough home loss,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “We have to understand what makes us successful. When we’re committed to following the game plan and executing…It’s the little things we have to do that add up to give ourselves a chance to win.

Butler scored 20 with a career-high 14 assists in a grinding 39 minutes, but he could play the role of a semi-closer, making those big plays in the fourth when the Bulls pulled away, and pulled to within a game of the eighth playoff spot in the East.

But the Bulls’ defense, one that held the Bucks to just 39 points in the second half, caught his eye.

“I could actually say we played some legitimate defense,” Butler said. “Got back in transition, we always helped. We came out, stuck to the gameplan of getting back.”

He didn’t have to carry a heavy load offensively, though, leading to his being fresh down the stretch as he started the fourth quarter on the floor as opposed to the bench.

Instead, it was March Madness as Nikola Mirotic played up to his career numbers in his favorite month on the calendar, drilling five triples on his way to 28 points and eight rebounds in 35 minutes.

It helped the Bulls shoot 54 percent overall, bringing their mark to 10-1 when they cross that threshold.

“I’ve been playing with a lot of confidence,” Mirotic said. “I’ve spent a lot of hours before practice and after. I know you guys have been asking about consistency, so I’m working on that and trying to be more consistent.”

Mirotic and Rajon Rondo helped the Bulls to a decisive double-digit lead in the third quarter with Rondo scoring 14 of his 18 points in the period, hitting a triple, getting into the lane for layups and dishing out a few of his eight assists.

It was an offensive masterpiece for the Bulls, a prospect that seemed highly unlikely given the opponent and the way they played coming into Sunday’s contest. And with the Bucks getting Giannis Antetokounmpo going early along with Middleton, it looked like a nightmare of a different kind was in store for the Bulls.

Antetokounmpo scored 22 with eight rebounds and seven assists, but 12 of those points happened in the first quarter. Middleton scored 14 but shot six of 17.

“When we get slapped in the face and punched in the mouth, adversity hits and we have to handle it and get through it,” Hoiberg said. “I didn’t see any head-hanging when it didn’t start off great.”

But Hoiberg wasn’t about to let an instant replay occur, having seen his own version of a “Nightmare on Madison Street” Friday night against the woeful 76ers when his backups let time stand still for minutes at a time, squandering a double-digit lead.

Hoiberg decided not to mess around with the second unit as the Bucks began pulling away in the same manner the 76ers did Friday night. He brought the starters right back in when the lead ballooned to 45-33 at the 8:29 mark.

“We were ready in case that happened,” Hoiberg said. “We felt we had to do everything possible to give ourselves a chance. We were ready to play our guys big minutes tonight and we’ll have to do that in the next eight games.”

Then the Bulls went to work to finish the half, with a 23-10 run, along with starting off the third as efficient as they had been in awhile against a worthwhile opponent, shooting 14 of 21 in the period to take a 91-79 lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

Mirotic was seven of eight from the field before halftime and his first miss of the third—a 30-foot triple that went wide right, wound up in a 3-point opportunity for Rondo, who scooped the ball and scored on a layup while being fouled.

It was that kind of afternoon for the Bulls, a team that can’t seem to decide who they want to be on a nightly basis—making it that much harder for an opponent to predict, that much more difficult to eliminate from the playoff conversation.