Chicago Bulls

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.

State of the Bulls: Stacked 2018 draft class

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USA TODAY

State of the Bulls: Stacked 2018 draft class

2018 draft class is loaded at the top

Quietly, you can bet Bulls' front office executives John Paxson and Gar Forman had a little celebration after hearing that prep star Marvin Bagley III was going to graduate from high school early and enroll at Duke for the 2017-18 season, making him eligible for the 2018 draft.

Bagley, a 6'11 power forward from Los Angeles, is being compared to longtime NBA star Chris Bosh, right down to his smooth left-handed shooting touch. Bagley averaged 24.6 points, 10.1 rebounds and two blocked shots during his junior season for Sierra Canyon H.S. He's also fared well against NBA competition at the highly-regarded Drew League in L.A. this summer. Bagley’s physical tools are off the charts, and you can count on Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski preparing him well for life in the NBA.

Most NBA scouts and execs expect the No. 1 overall pick to come down to either Bagley or Michael Porter Jr., who will play his one season of college basketball at Missouri. The 6'10 Porter averaged an amazing 34.8 points and 13.8 rebounds last season against Seattle high school competition. He's considered a more dynamic scorer than Bagley with more range on his jump shot. Some scouts believe he could quickly develop into one of the league's elite players with Kevin Durant-type length and shooting ability at the small forward position.

International swingman Luka Doncic is also highly coveted by NBA teams. The 6'8 swingman has excellent shooting range, and is also capable of creating his own shot with outstanding ball-handling ability. Forget the stereotype of European players being mechanical and unable to compete athletically, Doncic is capable of being an 18-20 point scorer in the NBA and should go in the top five next June. He's considered one of the best international prospects in the last decade.

Two 7-footers also will hear their names called early on draft night 2018. University of Arizona freshman DeAndre Ayton averaged 19.8 points and 12 rebounds in high school last season, while Texas freshman center Mohamed Bomba has an incredible 7-foot-9 wingspan. Sure, the NBA has moved away from the traditional low post center, but teams are still looking to acquire agile big men like Karl-Anthony Towns, Joel Embiid, DeAndre Jordan, Rudy Gobert and Hassan Whiteside. Depending on how they fare against top level college competition, Ayton and Bomba could round out the top five.

Other names to watch in the lottery portion of next year's draft include Texas A&M power forward Robert Williams, Michigan State's forward duo of Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson Jr., and the latest one-and-dones from John Calipari's Kentucky program, center Nick Richards and small forward Jarred Vanderbilt.

In case you missed it, ESPN released its preseason win total expectations for the Eastern Conference on Wednesday, and the Bulls were dead last with a projected record of 26-56. Now, I'm not sure a team with veterans Dwyane Wade and Robin Lopez and the three young players acquired in the Jimmy Butler trade with Minnesota will be quite that bad, but if you're going to rebuild, the idea is to get the best draft pick possible, and the Bulls appear to be on course for a top-five selection depending on how the lottery falls.

If the Bulls are able to land an elite talent like Porter Jr., Bagley III or Doncic in the draft, then use their $40-50 million in cap space to land a couple of quality free agents, the rebuild might not be as painful as some fans are fearing.

Last dance for LeBron in Cleveland?

Well-connected NBA writer Chris Sheridan dropped this bomb on Twitter Wednesday, quoting an NBA source, "This will be LeBron's final season in Cleveland. He is 100 percent leaving. Relationship with owners beyond repair." Don’t forget, Sheridan was the first national writer to report James was going to leave Miami to go back to Cleveland in 2014, so his reports definitely warrant a little extra attention.

Okay, we've already heard countless rumors about James planning to join the Lakers after next season. He's built a mansion in Brentwood, is close with Magic Johnson and will be able to bring another superstar with him to L.A. like Paul George or Russell Westbrook. Plus, the Lakers have a number of talented young players in place like Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. and a promising coach in Luke Walton.

Add in the likelihood Kyrie Irving will be traded before training camp opens and LeBron's long-standing poor relationship with Cavs' owner Dan Gilbert, and you have the perfect formula for another James' free agent decision next July. Although, I'm not sure why LeBron would want to go West, where Golden State is positioned to dominate the league for another five seasons, with strong challengers like the Rockets and Spurs still in place. 

But if we've learned anything from watching James over the years, he's clearly a man who wants to align the odds in his favor. So don't rule out anything when it comes to James' free agent decision. If the Cavs make a home run trade for Irving, maybe LeBron decided to plays out his career in his home state. If not, look for him to find a team with the cap space to bring in another top star to run with him.

Back in 2010, the Bulls carved out the cap space to add two max contract stars, but lost out to Pat Riley in Miami. This time around they won't be on James' July travel itinerary.

One thing we know for sure. Where LeBron plays in 2018 will be the number one story throughout the NBA season.

Report: Bulls expected to reach buyout agreement with Dwyane Wade

Report: Bulls expected to reach buyout agreement with Dwyane Wade

Dwyane Wade's homecoming may not last much longer. 

According to Nick Friedell's ESPN report, the Bulls are expected to reach a buyout agreement with the 12-time NBA All-Star "at some point in the next few months." 

The news comes two months after Wade picked up his player option, choosing $24 million over earning less on a more competitive team. 

If Gar Forman and John Paxson indeed decide to buy D-Wade out, the "Three Alphas," which consisted of Wade, Jimmy Butler and Rajon Rondo, would all be out just one season after coming together. 

The buyout may also mean more ping-pong balls in next year's stacked draft