Schanowski: Bulls Bracing for Gordon's Return

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Schanowski: Bulls Bracing for Gordon's Return

Tuesday, December 1st

by Mark Schanowski
CSNChicago.com

I know, I know, it's too easy to blame the Bulls' slow start on the loss of Ben Gordon in free agency, but honestly, don't you think the Bulls' 6-9 record would be 9-6 or better if they still had Gordon's quick strike scoring ability? The biggest issue so far has been the lack of consistent offense because of terrible shooting from the field. Gordon led the Bulls in scoring each of the last 4 seasons, averaging almost 21 points a game a year ago. His ability to score points in bunches is exactly what the Bulls are missing right now.

What it came down to for the Bulls' front office is basically this, Do you re-sign Ben Gordon at an average of 12 million dollars a season, or roll the dice on possibly replacing him with an all-star guard like Dwyane Wade or Joe Johnson in the summer of 2010? The Bulls obviously decided on the latter option, and they will do everything possible to free up enough money to make a max offer once the clock strikes midnight on June 30th of next year. The thought of Wade, Johnson or (do we even dream!) LeBron wearing Bulls colors next season should have fans legitimately excited, but it doesn't do much for anyone this season.

Which brings us back to Gordon, who makes his return to the United Center Wednesday night. Gordon rolled his left ankle last week, and is listed as questionable for the game, but you have to think he'll try to play against his former team. Detroit has been one of the league's early season disappointments after signing Gordon and Charlie Villaneuva as free agents last summer. They're currently in last place in the Central Divison, but their 6-11 record can be blamed more on injuries to Rip Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince than a lack of talent on the roster. Former Bulls' free agent bust Ben Wallace is actually trying again in Detroit, and has given the Pistons some solid defense and rebounding in the post. Once Detroit gets all its players healthy, they'll most likely be one of the teams battling for the final 2 or 3 playoff spots in the East.

The Bulls figure to be in that mix of teams as well, along with Milwaukee, Toronto, Washington, Charlotte and Indiana. Really, at this early stage of the season, only the Nets and Knicks are definitely out of playoff contention in the East. The Bulls should benefit from playing 11 of their 15 games at home in December, and they also have a very favorable schedule for the first half of January. But the larger issues of poor outside shooting, and a suspect interior defense won't go away overnight. Getting Tyrus Thomas and his shot blocking ability back in the line-up will certainly help shore up the defense in the paint, and Kirk HInrich should return from his thumb injury within a week or so. But where is the scoring going to come from?

Luol Deng has been pretty consistent, especially lately, and that's a welcome sign for the Bulls' coaching staff. Derrick Rose has picked up his scoring, plus even more importantly, his trademark quickness is back after a slow recovery from that pre-season ankle injury. But, John Salmons has struggled trying to replace Gordon. Salmons is shooting 37 percent from the field, and looks really tentative at times trying to figure out whether to drive to the basket or settle for another long jumper. Hinrich has been an inconsistent shooter his whole career, and the Bulls really can't expect to get much offense in the post from Joakim Noah or Taj Gibson.

So, barring a trade, the Bulls pretty much are what we think they are (apologies to Denny Green). They will struggle to score at times, and have trouble defending teams with dominant low post scorers. But Rose will continue to get better, and eventually Salmons and Hinrich should improve their shooting percentages. The heavy dose of home games should allow the Bulls to get above the .500 mark by New Year's Day, then it's a question of how well they can compete in head to head games against the other playoff contenders in the East.

How many games do you think the Bulls will win in December? And, are you okay with waiting until next summer for the big roster move(s)? Please post your comments in the space below or send me an e-mail with your thoughts.

I'll see you Wednesday night from the United Center with Kendall Gill during SportsNite at 6:30. And, don't worry, I'll be sure to tell Ben Gordon how much Bulls' fans miss him!

Mark Schanowski hosts our Bulls pre and post game studio coverage with 15-year NBA veteran Kendall Gill. You can also watch Mark on SportsNite, Sunday through Thursday at 6:30 and 10.

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What will Bulls do with Rajon Rondo and Dwyane Wade?

What will Bulls do with Rajon Rondo and Dwyane Wade?

The Bulls have made their biggest decision of the offseason but the future of Rajon Rondo and to a lesser extent, Dwyane Wade, is still in the air.

Due to the trade for Kris Dunn and the Bulls having acquired Cameron Payne at the trade deadline last season, it doesn’t appear to be much room for Rondo. Even moreso, considering Dunn and Payne’s lack of production, one would think the Bulls would easily guarantee Rondo’s $13.3 million for next season.

But with the June 30th deadline approaching, it seems more and more like the Bulls will buy Rondo out for $3 million and go with a total youth movement, despite Rondo’s success with guiding some of the young players on the roster.

If not for Rondo’s wrist injury in Game 2 of the Bulls’ first-round series against the Boston Celtics, the Bulls could’ve advanced to the second round of the playoffs. Instead, they’re embarking on what could be a long process that may take years to recover from.

“He’s always been a great teammate and nurturer of the young guys,” said Bill Duffy, Rondo’s agent. Duffy also serves as Zach LaVine’s agent, so he was in attendance for LaVine’s introduction at the United Center.

The handling of Rondo’s benching, re-emergence and subsequent importance to the Bulls this past season has helped Rondo, in a sense. Rondo proved to be a galvanizing force to a degree after being shuffled in and out of the starting lineup.

“I think it’s fair to say he definitely showed a different persona that what had existed but like I said, he’s always been that way, I think it’s more publicized,” Duffy said. “I think he just loves to develop people, always managing and directing. So I think that’s always the case with the younger guys.”

If Rondo is released—and it certainly appears matters are trending in that direction, the 31-year old could have suitors in the New Orleans Pelicans and Indiana Pacers, sources tell CSNChicago.com. One would think the Bulls could use Rondo’s type of straightforward but encouraging brand of leadership in the locker room, but the Bulls have yet to guarantee his contract for next season.

“That’s still to be determined,” Bulls Executive Vice President John Paxson said. “We’re going to sit down with Bill and talk it through. We do understand that veterans are important for a young basketball team, the right veterans – guys that are good teammates, are supportive of the young guys and can continue to teach them how to be pros. Those are things we’ll be addressing.”

“The proof’s always in the pudding and I think if you talk to the front office and coaches, they really love what he brought and how he handled the challenges last year,” Duffy said. “I think we all mature over time and he’s been in the league a long time. He wants to win but he loves the game. I think he appreciates it more, he’s kinda of in his twilight years or approaching it.”

As for Wade, he exercised his $23.8 million option for next season as he was expected to, but that was before the Jimmy Butler trade that ushered in a new day of change.

There’s been speculation Wade would seek a buyout from the Bulls at the start of free agency but so far, those conversations haven’t been held and Paxson intimated Wade would have to give back a significant amount of that money to become a free agent.

There’s been speculation of Wade joining LeBron James with the Cleveland Cavaliers, as well as Carmelo Anthony getting a buyout from the Knicks and following suit.

But the Cavaliers will have very little to offer in the way of cap space, so it’s tough to see Wade giving back a large sum then going to Cleveland for the veterans’ minimum—which would not make up the difference of a “significant” amount.

“I know Gar has spoken with Leon Rose, Dwyane’s agent, As far as the buyout, that has not been broached,” Paxson said. “I would say this: In this type of scenario, it would have to benefit us. It would have to benefit us. Dwyane was a great pro last year, and he’s been around a lot of different situations.”

But with Wade’s history of giving up large sums of money in the name of team, it’s harder to predict his moves. As strong as his relationship with Butler is, the possibility of Butler being moved didn’t affect him picking up his option, so his desire to play competitive or at least meaningful basketball could be weighed against wanting to keep his family comfortable after relocating to Chicago last year and collecting every dollar of his deal.

“He was in Miami when they had a couple rebuilding years as well,” Paxson said. “So right now we’re operating under assumption that he’ll be here. But like I said, if that subject is ever broached by them, it would have to be advantageous for us."