Schanowski: Bulls Holiday Wish List

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Schanowski: Bulls Holiday Wish List

Tuesday, December 22nd

by Mark Schanowski
CSNChicago.com

In the spirit of the holiday season, let's try to put the ugly memory of that 35-point collapse against Sacramento out of our minds, and come up with some much-needed Christmas gifts for the beleaguered Bulls. As always, your input is welcomed. Please post your gift ideas in the comments sections below.

JOHN PAXSONGAR FORMAN: MORE CAP ROOM.

As we've written consistently since the start of training camp, Paxson and Forman decided Ben Gordon was not worth 11 or 12 million dollars a season over 5 years. They decided to let Gordon walk, and try to get into position to offer a maximum contact to one of the top players available in the free agent class of 2010. My speculation is that Dwyane Wade is their number 1 target, but they will bid on Chris Bosh or Joe Johnson if Wade decides to stay in Miami. The problem is, the salary cap is expected to take a major drop next summer, from 57 million down to about 53 or 54 million. That means the Bulls are short of the cap room they need to make a maximum contract offer, unless John Salmons opts out of his 6.7 million dollar salary for next season. And with the way Salmons has struggled this season, that's looking more and more unlikely. He's unlikely to get a higher salary from another team in an overcrowded free agent market. So, the only way for the Bulls to free up more cap room is to trade one of their veteran players for an expiring contract andor draft picks. Paxson looked into trading Kirk Hinrich for cap space last season at the deadline, but changed his mind at the last minute. Hinrich could go this time around, but don't be surprised if the Bulls decide to trade Salmons instead. He looks like a player who's lost his confidence, and seems to be overwhelmed by the constant questioning from the large Chicago media contingent.

VINNY DEL NEGRO: AN INSIDE SCORER & A CONSISTENT LONG-RANGE SHOOTER

It would have been easy to say job security for Vinny, but when you think about it, he's been forced to operate with a flawed roster all season long. The loss of Gordon has hurt the Bulls in so many ways. They currently rank near the bottom of the league in scoring, field goal percentage and three point shooting. Without a true low-post scorer or consistent three point shooters, the Bulls have been easy to defend. Opposing teams just pack the lane to keep Derrick Rose from getting to the rim, and they challenge the Bulls perimeter shooters to beat them. So far, the Bulls haven't come up with any answers. Salmons and Hinrich have struggled to find their shooting touch this season, and free agent addition Jannero Pargo has been a non-factor because of nagging injuries and limited playing time. Vinny has been going with a seven man rotation in recent weeks, and he runs the risk of burning out his key players. Getting Tyrus Thomas back from injury will give the Bulls another rotation player, but Tyrus won't solve either of the two biggest problems facing the Bulls' offense.

BERNIE BICKERSTAFF: A FEW NEW SUITS

If the Bulls decide to make a coaching change, Bickerstaff is the most likely guy to take over on an interim basis. He's been a head coach and general manager in the league, and has the experience to make some changes in the way the Bulls run their practices and execute in games. Maybe he has some ideas on using Derrick Rose more effectively.

DERRICK ROSE: A BOOK ON HOW TO BE AN NBA STAR

There's no questioning Derrick's ability. He has all the qualities to be one of the best point guards in the league. The problem is that he's TOO unselfish. He says the job of the point guard is to pass the ball to open teammates, and let them do the scoring. Unfortunately, that doesn't work on this Bulls' team, especially with Ben Gordon not on the roster anymore. Derrick needs to decide the Bulls will only go as far as he can take them, and look for his opportunities to score every second he's on the court. Rose is the biggest attraction for potential free agents to come to Chicago, and he needs to show his peers he can handle the responsibilities of being the best player on the team.

JOAKIM NOAH: ANOTHER SUMMER OF OFFENSIVE WORK

No player on the Bulls roster has improved more than Noah. He dedicated himself to getting stronger and working on his offensive game this past summer, and the results have been amazing. With another off-season of work on his low-post game, Noah just might be able to make the jump to an all-star caliber NBA center. He has been the Bulls' MVP. so far this season.

LUOL DENG: GOOD HEALTH

Deng has also been a pleasant surprise this season. No one really knew what to expect from the 6th year forward coming back from a right leg stress fracture, but he has been a consistent scorer and also has done a good job rebounding. Deng is playing through a chip fracture of his left thumb, and so far, it hasn't affected his performance. If he can stay healthy, Deng gives the Bulls a solid insideoutside forward to go along with Rose, Noah and whatever free agent the Bulls are able to sign next summer.

JOHN SALMONS: CONFIDENCE

Salmons played the best basketball of his career last season, averaging 18 points a game for Sacramento and the Bulls, and then reaching an even higher level in the playoff series against Boston. The front office believed he would be able to move into the primary scorer role vacated by Gordon. But for whatever reason, Salmons got off to a terrible start this season, and he's been battling his confidence ever since. He needs to attack the rim more and try to get to the free throw line, instead of settling for so many standstill three-point jumpers that rarely go in.

BRAD MILLER: A DRINK FROM THE FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH

Miller gives it all he's got every night. Problem is, I'm not sure there's a whole lot left. Miller has been an over-achiever throughout his career, even making a couple of all-star teams. But too many times this season, he's been rooted on the floor, while younger more athletic players jump over his back for rebounds or beat him to loose balls. It was great to see him take out Rajon Rondo with that hard foul earlier this month, but you get the feeling Miller's court time will be reduced greatly with Thomas back in the rotation.

TYRUS THOMAS: COACHABILITY

We know Tyrus' athletic skills are off the charts, but so far, he hasn't been very receptive to taking advice from the Bulls' coaching staff. Thomas will be a restricted free agent at the end of the season, and you get the feeling he'll probably start to blossom on his next NBA team. But there is still four months left in this season, and Thomas needs to show the rest of the league that he can be an impact player at the power forward position, not just a guy who makes the highlight shows with an occasional dunk or blocked shot. If Thomas can take his game to another level, the Bulls should be an improved team during the second half of the season.

KIRK HINRICH: IMPROVED THREE POINT SHOOTING

Back in his days at Kansas, Hinrich was a deadly three point shooter who did some of his best work with the game on the line. So far in his NBA career, Hinrich has been an erratic shooter, who earned a big contract with his ability to run a team and play solid defense. But with Rose now entrenched at point guard, Hinrich needs to be more of a scorer, and his biggest contribution right now would be to hit his perimeter shots more consistently.

TAJ GIBSON: A SUMMER IN THE WEIGHT ROOM

Gibson has been terrific as an unheralded rookie out of USC. Whether he's used as a starter or a reserve, Gibson brings all-out effort, solid rebounding and a nice mid-range jump shot to the table. But he's still a little thin for the NBA game, and sometimes gets pushed out of position in the paint. Another summer with Erik Helland and the Bulls' weight training staff should help him tremendously. With Tyrus Thomas likely to leave the Bulls after this season, Gibson should have a long and successful run with the Bulls.

JANNERO PARGO: PLAYING TIME

It seemed like a smart move when the Bulls signed Pargo to a low money, free agent deal last summer to provide some instant offense off the bench. But Pargo hurt his back and hip early in the season, and fell out of the rotation, and he hasn't been able to find his way back in. With the Bulls struggling to find an outside shooting threat, it might be time to give the Chicago native some consistent minutes.

JAMES JOHNSON: AN INTRODUCTION TO THE HEAD COACH

Johnson is the forgotten man on the roster, which is kind of surprising considering how the front office talked about him up on draft day. Del Negro doesn't have any faith in Johnson right now, and it looks like his rookie season will be pretty much a lost year. In his limited time, Johnson has been turnover-prone and frequently out of position, but on a Bulls' team pretty much waiting until next year, he should get some developmental minutes so the front office can see if he figures in their future plans.

AARON GRAY, LINDSEY HUNTER & JEROME JAMES: SOME READING MATERIAL FOR THOSE LONG NIGHTS ON THE BENCH

Hard to picture any of these players being on the team next season, unless Hunter moves into an assistant coach's role. And yes, Jerome James does come to the games. He's the seven foot guy wearing a casual suit without a tie. James ruptured his Achilles tendon about a year and a half ago. It could be the longest rehab in NBA history.

So, what would you suggest for the team that needs just about everything? Please post your comments in the section below or send me an e-mail. Have a safe and enjoyable holiday season, and let's hope for better basketball from the Bulls in the New Year!

Mark Schanowski hosts our Bulls pre- and postgame 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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Nikola Mirotic reflects on pump fakes, maddening March, future in Chicago

Nikola Mirotic reflects on pump fakes, maddening March, future in Chicago

If there's a more maddening player in the Eastern Conference than Nikola Mirotic, that player's psychologist should be getting paid double considering Bulls fans have been talking to themselves about Mirotic so much over the past three years.

And as they've reached no conclusion on Mirotic, along with many other sage minds, only one thing is for certain: March is his month.

Meaning it's the month where it becomes maddening to watch him play and probably equally as maddening for his teammates who've watched his inconsistencies for the better part of four months or so.

Averaging 16.0 points and 5.9 rebounds in 41 career March games, it's the only full month where Mirotic averages in double figures for his career—meaning there's a lot of inconsistencies to wade through to get to the proverbial pot of gold.

In 2014-15, he emerged as the NBA's best fourth-quarter scorer that month when the Bulls were without both Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler. Last season, he came back fresh after an appendectomy took a big chunk of his year.

This year, there's no big macro reason. He's just playing definitively, making quick movements and it's paying off as his two best scoring games took place within a four-day span (28 against both Detroit and Milwaukee).

"Right now, you see I'm shooting without hesitation," Mirotic said to CSNChicago.com. "Just catch and shooting. It's a great feeling."

No word on whether Mirotic hears the fans in the arena or the twitterverse screaming for him to ditch the pump fake that he actually admits it got in his head, but this season has been a roller coaster of the most dramatic kind, as the Bulls are still vying for playoff positioning with eight games remaining in the regular season.

"Sometimes, especially when I'm reading you guys (media), Niko pump fake, pump fake," Mirotic said with a smile. "Okay, no more pump fakes, just fire that ball. I'm laughing because you guys are (right)…that's true. You guys want me to shoot. It doesn't look good when you pump fake every time you have a wide-open shot."

Being penciled in as a training camp starter due to the need for floor spacing, Taj Gibson quickly outplayed Mirotic for the power forward spot. Then Mirotic's up and down, down and up, season began.

Kind of like his pump fake that often drew more defensive attention for it's predictability than effectiveness, stability has been hard to find for a player many have been waiting on since the day he was drafted in 2011.

"I know the defenses are ready for my pump fake so now just like, shoot the ball," Mirotic said. "I've been spending a lot of hours working on my shot before practice, after practice, trying to catch the feeling."

Better late than never or too late?

That's the question surrounding Mirotic and he knows it, being aware of his status as a restricted free-agent-to-be, along with his trade value a month ago being so low, the Bulls could only get a future second-round pick for him from teams.

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With the Bulls having so many questions going into the future, who knows if they want to go through the up-and-down, down-and-up cycle with a talented player yet again, with a big-time financial commitment.

In a sense, Mirotic knows he's left plenty on the table as far as his play through the years and seems to be content with playing with a sense of freedom as the season concludes, whether he's back with the Bulls or not for next year and beyond.

"I just wanna leave a good impression for the Bulls," Mirotic said. "Whatever decision they make. It's been a pleasure. A lot of people dream to be here, I was one of those guys when I was in Europe. I was really like, I wanna go there and play for the Bulls. The history they have. For me, it's a dream come true. Whatever decision they make, I make, whatever. I don't know. The years here have been great. I know it's been up and down. It's been a pleasure and I just wanna finish right."