Chicago Bulls

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.

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