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.

It sure sounds like Jimmy Butler regrets being labeled as the face of the Bulls franchise

It sure sounds like Jimmy Butler regrets being labeled as the face of the Bulls franchise

Jimmy Butler didn't come close to following in his trainer's footsteps, but Mr. G. Buckets Unplugged still proved enlightening.

Following a wild Thursday, Butler hopped on the phone Friday afternoon from Paris to chat with Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times about the deal that sent the former face of the Bulls to rejoin Tom Thibodeau in Minnesota.

Butler wanted to be labeled as the face of the franchise, but his comments seem to reflect the old adage "be careful what you wish for."

"It doesn't mean a damn thing. I guess being called the face of an organization isn't as good as I thought. We all see where being the so-called face of the Chicago Bulls got me. So let me be just a player for the Timberwolves, man. That's all I want to do. I just want to be winning games, do what I can for my respective organization and let them realize what I'm trying to do.

"Whatever they want to call me... face... I don't even want to get into that anymore. Whose team is it? All that means nothing. You know what I've learned? Face of the team, eventually, you're going to see the back of his head as he's leaving town, so no thanks."

Whoa.

Butler also spoke about trying to block out all the trade rumors while on vacation in France:

"I mean, I had so many people telling me what could possibly happen, but I just got to the point where I stopped paying attention to it. 

"It's crazy because it reminds you of what a business this is. You can't get mad at anybody. I'm not mad - I'm not. I just don't like the way some things were handled, but it's OK."

Butler doesn't have to be the sole face of the franchise in Minnesota on a team that has two of the top homegrown young stars in the game in Karl Anthony-Towns and Andrew Wiggins.

Bulls have emerged from a ball of confusion to parts unknown

Bulls have emerged from a ball of confusion to parts unknown

The big red button was pressed and Jimmy Butler was ejected from the Chicago Bulls’ present and future as they finally made the decision to rebuild after two years of resisting.

Trading Butler to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and the ability to draft Lauri Markkanen represents the Bulls committing to the draft lottery and fully going in on the Fred Hoiberg experience for the foreseeable future, as the prospect of trying to improve through shrewd moves in the East while also facing the likelihood of Butler commanding a $200 million contract wasn’t palatable to their pocketbook or their sensibilities.

On one hand, making a decision — any decision — can be applauded on some levels after years of their relationship with Butler being complicated at best. But the idea of rebuilding and the application of it are often two separate ideals, because the evaluation of a rebuild can often be as murky as the land the Bulls just left.

“What we’ve done tonight is set a direction,” Bulls Executive Vice President John Paxson said. “We’ve gone to the past where we make the playoffs, but not at the level we wanted to. You know in this league, success is not determined that way. We’ve decided to make the change and rebuild this roster.”

“We’re gonna remain patient and disciplined. The development of our young players is important. The coaching staff has done a phenomenal job. We’re gonna continue down that path. We’re not gonna throw huge money at people.”

The Bulls aren’t exclusive to this territory, the land in which they’ve inhibited for the last couple seasons, which makes the Butler trade about more than one thing.

Not equal parts but part basketball, part fiscal, part narrative and finally, masking some mistakes that have been made over the years but are not as easily rectified. Trading Butler seemed to be the easiest vessel used as an elixir to wash away missteps. Trading a star in Butler is also the easiest way to get heat off a coach or front office in today’s NBA, because few franchises like to make wholesale changes midstream or early in it.

Trading Butler — along with shipping their second-round pick in a box marked for the Bay Area — was also financial, considering many felt if he made it through the tumultuous evening that he would finish his career as a Bull, raking in a hefty sum of cash on the back end.

It’s because of these factors that the evaluation of this trade and subsequently, a painful rebuild, cannot be in a vacuum. (Note: No rebuild is painless, it’s the size of the migraine a team can endure that determines the type of aspirin necessary).

Just taking a look at the players the Bulls got back in the Butler trade illustrates the gray area they’ve now immersed themselves into. The Bulls fell in love with Dunn before he came to the NBA, and aren’t as bothered by him being a 23-year old second-year player who struggled mightily in his rookie year.

Zach LaVine is an explosive athlete who can put up 20 every night — when he’s on the floor. Recovering from an ACL injury is no given, as evidenced by a young phenom who once graced the United Center hardwood before his body betrayed him.

And Lauri Markkanen is a rookie with promise, but nobody can make any promises on what type of career he’ll have, or if he’ll fulfill that promise with this franchise in the requisite time.

“There’s always risk in anything,” Paxson said. “But here’s a guy that’s 22 years old and averages 20 a game (LaVine). He can score the basketball, he can run. He can shoot the basketball. He shot over 40 percent from three. That’s an area we’re deficient in. Markkanen shot over 40 from three in college. Again, it’s an area where we’re deficient. It’s trying to find the type of player that fits the way that we want to play going forward.”

[RELATED: Jimmy Butler bids emotional farewell to Chicago]

General Manager Gar Forman stated after the announcement of the trade that the Bulls would have to hit on their next few draft picks to stop this rebuild from being elongated, but even then there’s no guarantee.

The Sacramento Kings drafted a rookie of the year, then two future max contract players in the same year, followed by another player who’ll command close to max money very soon. But nobody remembers Tyreke Evans, DeMarcus Cousins, Hassan Whiteside and Isaiah Thomas leading the Kings from the wilderness and into glory, unless recent memory has been scrubbed away from everyone.

Inconsistencies in organizational structure combined with multiple coaching changes and an inability to develop the right young players kept the Kings on the dais of the draft lottery every April.

The Timberwolves, heck, nobody could say they missed when selecting LaVine, Karl-Anthony Towns and getting Andrew Wiggins in a trade for Kevin Love. It’s because it takes more than the right draft picks, or in the Sacramento Kings’ case, the right infrastructure and environment, to foster an atmosphere of winning.

The Bulls were ready, despite their claims that this was a decision that came across their table right before the draft, because common sense has to be applied. No team makes knee-jerk, franchise-altering decisions that will have reverberations for years to come on the whim of a trade offer from Tom Thibodeau. This was likely decided when the Bulls went out with a whimper in the first-round after shocking the NBA world in the first two games against the Boston Celtics, when their fortunes changed on the trifle of Rajon Rondo’s broken wrist.

It was decided that Hoiberg, the man who endured chants calling for his firing in the second half of the decisive Game 6 loss, needed to have the right type of roster to be accurately judged as a successful hire or failure, and Butler couldn’t be part of those plans.

And just as Hoiberg has been dealt an uneven hand, Butler wasn’t given the type of roster that would accurately judge how he could flourish as a leader, max player and face of the franchise — and probably had less time to show one way or the other relative to his coach.

The longer Butler stayed, the more empowered he would become as his individual accomplishments would rack up because of the dedication he applied to game, the drive he had to place himself in the upper echelon of NBA players.

The better Butler got, the more pressure Hoiberg would be under to mix and match his roster and to foster a relationship with Butler he might’ve been ill-suited to fix. The better Butler got, the more pressure the front office would be under to maximize a prime it didn’t see coming, a prime they can’t truly figure when there’s an expiration date on given Butler’s unlikely rise to stardom.

So getting rid of Butler was the solution and the Bulls have now chosen their path, definitively and with confidence. Emerging from a ball of confusion to parts unknown, from one land of uncertainty to another.