Tuesday, May 11, 2010
By Mark Schanowski
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.
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.