Schanowski: Cavs play last card in LeBron deck

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Schanowski: Cavs play last card in LeBron deck

Monday, May 24, 20104:50 PM

By Mark Schanowski
CSNChicago.com

OK, so who didn't see this one coming? The Cavs fired head coach Mike Brown, and the only reason it took this long is that Brown would have been owed a lump sum payment if he had been fired within 10 days of Cleveland's elimination from the playoffs. In case you weren't counting, it's been 11 days since the Cavs were bounced by Boston in the conference semis.

So, what does this mean for Cleveland's chances of keeping LeBron? It's really the only move the Cavs could make to offer James a carrot to stay. Their roster is capped out, and aside from adding a veteran next season with their mid-level exception of around 5.5 million, the team that looked so bad against Boston will be pretty much the same team that takes the floor next season (minus Shaq). If you can't make any major roster moves, the only other incentive the Cavs can offer to LeBron is the chance to pick his next coach. While James usually avoided criticizing Brown publicly, analysts around the league wondered openly why Cleveland played such a slow-down style when they had the best open-court player in the league. Brown isn't the reason the Cavs lost to Boston in the playoffs, but with the future of the franchise at stake, firing the coach was a simple and obvious move to make.

We should learn over the next few weeks just how close LeBron is with University of Kentucky coach John Calipari. If LeBron wants Calipari as his next head coach, look for Cleveland to get that done at any price. Calipari was at a couple of Cavaliers' playoff games with LeBron's agent, Leon Rose, and my guess is Calipari will be at the top of Cleveland's list of candidates, unless they think they could have a shot at Phil Jackson. Cleveland owner Dan Gilbert won't be scared off by Jackson's salary demands of 10-12 million a season, although I find it hard to picture Phil leaving Malibu for the shores of Lake Erie.

In my last blog post, I wrote the Bulls should hire Calipari if it means a better chance at signing LeBron. Word out of the Berto Center is the Bulls will do whatever they can to recruit LeBron, but they won't be involved in any side deals that are against NBA rules, and they won't let James or his "team" of advisors pick the next Bulls' head coach.

Thibodeau could emerge as leading candidate for Bulls job

So, while the coaching search figures to be a long and drawn-out process, a few bits of information have come out. The Bulls met with Houston assistant coach Elston Turner during last week's pre-draft camp in Chicago, and they probably had a chat with Lawrence Frank as well. My friend K.C. Johnson of the Tribune reports the Bulls have requested permission to interview well-respected Boston assistant coach Tom Thibodeau. Thibodeau probably would have been a candidate for the job two years ago, but he wasn't able to interview while Boston was on its way to an NBA championship. This time, he should be able to meet with Bulls officials in the long break between the end of the conference finals and the start of the Finals.

Thibodeau is known around the league as a defensive guru, and he designed the schemes that frustrated Kobe Bryant two years ago in the Finals, and kept LeBron in check during Boston's recent series win over the Cavs. We know that Jerry Reinsdorf and John Paxson value defense very highly and that in itself will make Thibodeau an attractive option. But it's important to point out that the NBA is a players' league. How good did that Boston defense look against the Bulls in the '09 playoffs when Kevin Garnett was injured? All of Thibodeau's expertise was ineffective in trying to keep Derrick Rose out of the paint and Ben Gordon and John Salmons from raining jumpers over a collapsing Boston defense. The point is, hiring the right coach is important to the Bulls' future development, but it pales in comparison to the chance to sign a once-in-a-lifetime free agent like LeBron James. The Bulls would be well-served to keep the job open until July 1 and get a feel for which coaches LeBron would be most interested in playing for. No, they shouldn't allow any player to dictate who coaches the team, but getting James' preferences on style of play and coaching personalities is just good business.

The chances of getting James in a Bulls' uniform are still relatively slim when you consider the Cavs, Knicks and Heat also have attractive sales pitches to make. Right now, the Bulls need to get their best presentation ready to make to LeBron on July 1, and that will involve being active in the sign-and-trade market for other All-Stars like Chris Bosh and Joe Johnson. The Bulls' young talent makes them one of the most attractive options for this celebrated free-agent class, but there are no guarantees once the clock strikes midnight on July 1.

What do you think? Please post your comments in the section below, or send me an e-mail. We will answer some of your questions in the next post.

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.

Bulls supportive of Robin Lopez after one-game suspension following Serge Ibaka scrap

Bulls supportive of Robin Lopez after one-game suspension following Serge Ibaka scrap

Although the punches didn't connect, the NBA was not going to take the Robin Lopez-Serge Ibaka confrontation lightly, suspending each one game Wednesday afternoon.

Lopez served his time in the Bulls' surprising 117-95 win over the Detroit Pistons at the United Center. Per league rules, Lopez was not allowed on team property but he did speak to head coach Fred Hoiberg when the team returned from Toronto after the Bulls' heartbreaking overtime loss Tuesday.

Lopez will return to the Bulls lineup Friday against the Philadelphia 76ers, a relief to the Bulls considering the league could've taken a harsher stance with Lopez — a two- or three-game suspension was being mulled at the league office, sources tell CSNChicago.com

Lopez was pushed into Ibaka after Jimmy Butler hit a three in the second half, and the two combatants squared off underneath the rim, with officials, teammates and coaches trying to separate them.

Ibaka appeared to have his arm reaching at Lopez's neck, prompting Lopez to swing at Ibaka. He missed, and Ibaka grazed Lopez's face with a wild swing of his own.

Both were ejected after being separated and shortly thereafter, the Raptors begun their run from being down 15 points to end the Bulls' recent mastery over them.

Despite the effect, Lopez had the full support of his teammates and coaching staff.

"I think you ask anybody in that locker room, Robin Lopez is one of the most if not the most popular guy on this team," Hoiberg said. "He's a guy that goes out and approaches his job the same way every day. He goes to work. He never complains. He does what's asked of him. Also if you asked them, they'd tell you he's as passionate of a guy as we have on this team as well. He's got a fire to him that you just don't ever want to take away."

That fire clearly got underneath Lopez and Ibaka, causing Lopez to lunge at Ibaka. Telling from the immediate reaction from the Bulls players and from Hoiberg and associate coach Jim Boylen, it seems as if it wasn't the first time Lopez's engine ran a little hot.

"This game gets very competitive obviously, it gets heated at times," Hoiberg said. "That happened last night. It's unfortunate what went down, but we've all got Robin's back. I think everybody in this organization, from the players all the way to up top, has Robin's back. We'll deal with it and move on. We'll be happy to have him in the lineup Friday."

Lopez averages 10.3 points and 6.5 rebounds in 27.9 minutes per game, slightly higher than his career averages through his nine NBA seasons.

Considering the play seemed relatively tame, it was slightly puzzling to see both players go at each other so ferociously but there appeared to be more to the story than first blush.

"There's always more going on than it appears," Hoiberg said. "You go back and watch on film, there's little jabs that happen in the course of the game and sometimes it reaches the boiling point. Robin is a guy that plays this game with a lot of passion, and you don't ever want to see something like that happen, but it did. And again, you move on."

Normally, Lopez attacks mascots during timeouts or pregame warm-ups, so nobody felt Lopez was looking for an altercation, and considering it only cost him a game — one the Bulls won anyways — Hoiberg didn't seem too stressed about it beforehand.

"Yeah, you know, Robin's going to have our guys' backs as much as anybody in the locker room," Hoiberg said. "Again, you look in that locker room, all those guys are going to have each other's back, Robin as much as anybody. Unfortunately, it happened. It looked like it was a little hip check, they turned around and got squared off, and we all know what happened. Again, we'll all be excited to have Robin back in the lineup on Friday."

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