Schanowski: Johnson just ordinary Joe in playoffs

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Schanowski: Johnson just ordinary Joe in playoffs

Tuesday, May 11, 2010
4:27 PM

By Mark Schanowski
CSNChicago.com

So, do you still think Joe Johnson is worth a maximum contract when free agency opens on July 1st? Please post your comments in the section below, or send me an e-mail.

Sure, the Bulls need a shooter to go along with Derrick Rose, and a two guard who stands 6-7 would be a significant help on the defensive end. But if you watched any of the Atlanta-Orlando series, it's pretty obvious Joe Johnson isn't the kind of player who can carry a team.

Johnson averaged just 12.7 points a game in the four-game wipe-out, while shooting just under 30 percent from the field. Hardly the kind of performance that will command a five-year contract, starting at about 16.5 million dollars on the open market. He also ripped Atlanta fans after they booed him throughout a Game 3 blowout loss at Phillips Arena, saying he didn't care if they even showed up for the 4th game of the series. So, let's see........Johnson is not a leader, he comes up small in the biggest games, and he'll turn 29 next month. Not exactly the kind of guy you want to commit 95 million over the next five seasons. Word out of the Berto Center is that the Bulls came to that conclusion a long time ago. The front office likes Johnson's skill-set, but they're not prepared to make him a maximum contract offer. Unless he's prepared to take a much lower contract offer, Johnson won't be coming to the Bulls this summer.

And, what about the other top prizes in this summer's free agent class. Dwyane Wade is involved in a nasty legal fight with his ex-wife over custody of the couple's two children. Wade's ex-wife is living in the Chicago area, where the couple first met during their high school days in Oak Lawn. It's pretty safe to assume Wade doesn't want to move back to Chicago, and be right in the middle of this legal mess. You can pretty much lock him in for a max contract extension with the Heat.

Chris Bosh will be the hardest free agent to acquire, because he plans to work with Toronto's front office on a sign-and-trade which will bring him the maximum six-year, 120 million package. That basically opens up every team in the league as a potential suitor for Bosh. And, since the Bulls aren't willing to include Rose or Joakim Noah in any trade with the Raptors, their chances of acquiring Bosh in a sign-and-trade deal are virtually nil, especially since some of the league's heavyweight teams like the Lakers, Mavericks and Spurs are likely to get in the bidding.

Amar'e Stoudemire figures to take a long look at signing an extension in Phoenix after the Suns' surprising run through the Western Conference playoffs. And, Utah's Carlos Boozer isn't really worth a maximum contract offer, even though he might get one from a desperate team like the Knicks or Nets.

Which leads us back to the best player on the planet, LeBron James. At this point in the free agent speculation, the Bulls might have a better chance at signing LeBron than they do with any of the other top players available. James genuinely respects the Bulls' talent, and knows the team has a tremendous upside with so many young players having already established themselves as quality players in the league. If I'm John Paxson, I take Rose and Noah with me for a road trip to Akron, and I camp out at LeBron's front door to make my pitch at 12:01 a.m. on July 1st. The way I look at it now, there's a 60 likelihood James signs a three-year extension in Cleveland, 20 that he comes to Chicago, and 10 chances he signs with the Knicks or Clippers. And, don't laugh about the Clippers. They have the money to make a max offer, and they have a young nucleus of talent that rivals the Bulls with Baron Davis, Chris Kaman, Eric Gordon and the number 1 pick in the 2009 draft, power forward Blake Griffin, who missed all of last season because of a knee injury.

As I wrote in my last post, it's hard to tell if we should root for James and the Cavs to win a championship this season, or lose to Boston in the 2nd round. James might find it hard to leave his home state if he fails to deliver the title he's talked about for so many years. That's why I think he would only sign a short-term extension if he stays. James knows the Cavs are an aging team, with three starters, Shaq, Antawn Jamison and Anthony Parker, 34 years or older. His future prospects would be better served with the Bulls or Clippers, but the mental burden of abandoning his home state team might be too strong for James to pull the trigger on switching teams this summer. Then again, if the Cavs flame out in Round 2 against Boston, all bets could be off. Who knows if James will lash out at head coach Mike Brown, G.M. Danny Ferry or his teammates? Remember, it was a playoff dispute with head coach Flip Saunders that brought Ben Wallace to the Bulls when everyone around the league assumed he would stay with the Pistons back in 2006.

Bottom line, the Bulls need to be flexible in their planning for free agency, but the front office should start by doing everything in their power to recruit LeBron.

McHALE DEFINITELY INTERESTED IN BULLS COACHING POSITION

Not much to report on the Bulls' coaching search. General Manager Gar Forman continues to do research on most of the top candidates available, and we hear Doug Collins is definitely NOT on the Bulls' radar this time around. The one interesting development is Celtics' Hall of Famer Kevin McHale coming out strongly with his interest in the Bulls' job. McHale told WMVP radio in Chicago that he loves the young talent on the roster, and appreciates the fact that the key players are "tough guys, they play really hard and they get after it defensively, and I think they're all just going to be better." McHale says he has a good relationship with Paxson and Forman and would welcome the chance to interview for the job.

McHale has very little coaching experience, moving from the Minnesota Timberwolves' front office to the bench on two separate occasions. He worked last season as an analyst for TNT and NBA-TV. Still, it sounds like he's a guy the Bulls plan to talk to early in the interview process. The other names that have been talked about frequently are Lawrence Frank, Maurice Cheeks and Dwane Casey. Right now, it doesn't sound like the Bulls plan to interview former Knicks and Rockets' coach Jeff Van Gundy, and we still don't know where the Bulls stand on former NBA Coach of the Year Byron Scott, who had so much success working with Jason Kidd in New Jersey and Chris Paul in New Orleans.

Any way you look at it, the search process figures to drag into June. Let's hope all parties involved can agree on one candidate this time, and get the right man for the job.

E-MAIL TIME

Question from James - Oswego, IL: What are the chances that the Bulls could land Avery Johnson? He is young, has had success in the past and to me seems like a perfect fit to coach our young guys.

Schanowski: Right now James, there doesn't appear to be much interest on either side. Johnson is a controlling head coach who likes to call a play almost every trip downcourt. The Bulls would prefer a more wide open style that allows Derrick Rose to attack the defense. Johnson also criticized the Bulls' front office for the way they handled the incident with Vinny Del Negro back on March 30th, and he probably would want a higher salary than the Bulls are willing to pay. Add it all up, and Johnson just isn't the right guy.
Question from Robert - Chicago, IL : I think that the Bulls need to attack the market looking for tall defenders like Tayshaun Prince. He's not a king but we might be able get a prince at a cheap price and target a post man.

Schanowski: Unless his name is LeBron James, the Bulls won't be shopping for a small forward this off-season. They already have a ton of money invested in Luol Deng and they still have hopes for last year's top draft pick, James Johnson. I used to like Prince's game, but his performance has dropped significantly over the last couple seasons, especially when the Pistons try to play him at power forward. By the way, the Bulls will have a new post man coming in next season, 7 footer Omer Asik from Turkey, a guy they acquired on draft night in 2008.
Question from Raheim - Chicago, IL: How important is the Bulls' head coaching choice in who they will end up signing in free agency?

Schanowski: Good question, Raheim. Some people believe the Bulls should hold their coaching position open until July 1st, and let LeBron pick the guy he wants to coach as another enticement to come to Chicago. But in talking to a lot of people around the league, they say free agents rarely pick a team based on the head coach. It's all about money, chance to win and locationmarketing opportunitiesweather. Having said all that, I do think the Bulls will look like they have a better chance to win if they hire an experienced head coach like Byron Scott, Maurice Cheeks or Jeff Van Gundy, rather than a career assistant or a guy with a losing record in the league like Lawrence Frank or Eric Musselman.

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.

NBA Buzz: Nikola Mirotic making Bulls' offseason decision tougher

NBA Buzz: Nikola Mirotic making Bulls' offseason decision tougher

It's too bad Nikola Mirotic never played college basketball in the United States. He would have been fun to watch during March Madness.

For some reason, Mirotic has saved his best basketball for the month of March over his three NBA seasons. During his rookie season in 2014-15, Mirotic took advantage of injuries to a couple of the Bulls key players, and averaged 20.8 points a game with expanded playing time in March, leading all NBA players in fourth-quarter scoring.

Last season, after rehabbing from two surgeries following appendicitis, Niko averaged just over 13 points a game in March, shooting better than 53 percent from deep.

And this season, Mirotic is averaging 14.2 points on 47.9% shooting from the field during his favorite month. Since he re-entered the rotation back on March 13, Mirotic has been even better, averaging 17.1 points and 5.9 rebounds, shooting 51 percent from the field and 44 percent from 3-point land.

It appeared Mirotic's time with the Bulls was coming to an end when Fred Hoiberg held him out of three straight games earlier this month, including a spot on the inactive list in Boston on March 12. At that point, Mirotic talked openly of not knowing why he had been taken out of the rotation. Now, he might be the key to the Bulls' playoff hopes.

Mirotic has scored a season-high 28 points each in two of the last three games.

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Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said, "The big thing with Niko is he's playing with a lot of confidence right now. Anybody who's a shooter, they play with confidence, the game's a lot easier. He's not hesitating at all with his shots. He's taking good shots in the flow of the offense. When Jimmy and Rajon get in the paint, and Niko's spacing the floor, it's a great look and right now he's knocking them down."

So, right now all is good for the 26-year-old native of Montenegro. But it's hard to look past the inconsistency that's marked his NBA career. Mirotic is averaging 10.7 points and 5.2 rebounds per game in his three NBA seasons, shooting  41 percent from the field and 35 percent from deep. Not exactly the numbers Bulls' fans expected from the guy considered to be one of the best prospects in Europe when he was drafted in 2011. 

Now, as Mirotic gets ready to head into restricted free agency this summer, the Bulls are faced with a difficult decision. Are they willing to pay more than $10 million a year for a player who's been so inconsistent in the NBA? Or, do they let Mirotic walk and risk the possibility the light will suddenly come on for a 6-foot-10 stretch forward that every team in the league could utilize?

The Bulls have 2015 first-round pick Bobby Portis under contract for next season, and Paul Zipser and Joffrey Lauvergne also could be in the mix for playing time at the power forward spot. And, there's always the chance the Bulls could get in the bidding for big name free agents Blake Griffin and Paul Millsap.

But after trading Doug McDermott at the deadline, the Bulls are painfully short on 3-point shooting threats, and that might lead the front office to decide they'll need to overpay to keep Mirotic around.

It's just one of the tough decisions the Bulls front office faces in what promises to be a fascinating off-season.

AROUND THE ASSOCIATION

It's been another tough season in Phoenix. Despite adding a number of lottery picks in recent years, the Suns currently own the third-worst record in the league. Maybe that's why the players were celebrating with so much energy during a loss in Boston last Friday, watching second year guard Devin Booker explode for 70 points.

Booker becomes only the 6th NBA player to hit the 70-point plateau, joining Wilt Chamberlain, Kobe Bryant, David Thompson, David Robinson and Elgin Baylor. The baby-faced 20-year-old shooting guard connected on 21 of 40 shots from the field (only 4-11 from 3-point range), plus 24 of 26 from the free-throw line.

With the game hopelessly out of reach in the 4th quarter the Suns kept feeding the ball to Booker to see how high he could push his point total. It might not have pleased basketball purists, but it sure was fun for the Suns' players during their 51st loss of the year.

Phoenix added a pair of young big men in last year's draft, Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender, and they have a deep backcourt with Booker, Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight. So, is there a chance they could enter the bidding for Bulls' star Jimmy Butler this summer?

Would a top-3 pick and Bledsoe be enough for Butler? Or would the Bulls prefer a couple of the Suns' young frontcourt players, Bender, Alex Len or T.J. Warren to go along with the pick?

With seven or eight elite prospects at the top of this year's draft, the Bulls will have some options if they decide to go the total rebuild route.

If the Bulls do go shopping for a Butler deal, don't count on Boston still being interested this summer. In case you haven't noticed, the Celtics moved ahead of Cleveland for the No. 1 seed in the East earlier this week, and Danny Ainge might decide he can build a championship team without making a major trade.

The Celtics already have two All-Star caliber players on the roster in Isaiah Thomas and Al Horford, and if the pick they have coming from Brooklyn remains in the top 3, Ainge will be able to add an elite young player like Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball or Josh Jackson. After holding on to those Brooklyn picks for so long in the trade that sent Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to the Nets, it's hard to imagine Ainge changing direction now.

Plus, the Celtics also will have enough salary cap room to go after a top free agent, and they've long been linked to Jazz star Gordon Hayward, who played for Brad Stevens at Butler. It's possible the Celtics could come back next season with a lineup of Thomas and Fultz/Ball in the backcourt, with Horford, Hayward and Jae Crowder up front. Maybe not the star power to match Cleveland, but certainly a team that could contend in the East for a number of years to come.

Former Bulls' All-Star Joakim Noah met with the New York media to discuss his 20 game suspension for testing positive for a banned substance contained in an over the counter supplement he was taking. 

"I made a mistake. It was a tough year for me, for this team," Noah told reporters after returning to practice Tuesday. "... I let a lot of people down. It was a mistake. And I gotta learn from it and bounce back. This is a tough moment and I'm going to learn from it."

Noah said he used the supplement to try to help him bounce back from a hamstring injury he suffered in early February. The former NBA Defensive Player of the Year then had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee on February 27 to remove loose fragments.

The Knicks are hoping he can get medical clearance to serve part of the 20-game suspension this season, with the remaining time served at the start of the 2017-18 season. Noah still has three more years left on the four-year, $72 million contract he signed with Phil Jackson's Knicks last summer.

Kevin Durant continues to work his way back from the sprained knee he suffered on February 28th in Washington. The Warriors released a statement on Wednesday saying Durant has made very good progress in his rehab and will be re-evaluated in 7-10 days. The hope is to have Durant play a few regular season games over the final week to get him ready for the playoffs.

Durant has been traveling with the team, going through pre-game workouts monitored by the medical and training staff. The plan is to increase his level of movement over the next few days to see how the knee responds.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

Even though the Bulls haven't won back-to-back games since February 24 and 25, the players continue to remain confident about their playoff chances.

This from Mirotic following practice on Wednesday, "We have to depend on just ourselves and pray basically. Hopefully we can be there...... I think we deserve it. The attitude of the team is great right now. We're sticking together even after that tough loss against Philly, we bounce back against Milwaukee. So, right now, we've got another chance."

The Bulls probably need to go 5-3 over the final eight games to make the postseason. After a season of ups and downs, it's anyone's guess if they'll be able to put together a stretch of solid basketball during the final two weeks.

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