Schanowski: Roller-Coaster Ride Continues

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Schanowski: Roller-Coaster Ride Continues

Monday, April 12, 2010
5:00 PM
By Mark Schanowski
CSNChicago.com

I guess we shouldn't be surprised the Bulls are taking their playoff bid all the way down to the final two games of the season. They've been wildly inconsistent throughout the season, playing great against some of the league's best teams while giving away games against teams they should be able to handle easily. The loss at New Jersey last Friday was excruciating to watch. They were all but done midway through the fourth quarter, trailing the NBA's worst team by 12, but then Brad Miller staged a one man rally, hitting back-to-back three pointers, and even converting a breakaway lay-up off a Nets' turnover. Unfortunately, Derrick Rose could only split a pair of free throws with four seconds left, and New Jersey wound up tying the game on a Brook Lopez tip dunk with one-tenth of a second left. The first overtime was even worse, with the Bulls taking a seven point lead into the final minute, only to see a careless turnover by Rose, and a bad call by the officials give the Nets a chance to tie the game once again. By the time they got to the second OT, the Bulls were done, physically and emotionally.

So, who would have predicted the Bulls would come out with one of their best all-around games of the season in a must-win situation Sunday in Toronto? Led by the determined effort of Joakim Noah, the Bulls jumped on the Raptors early, and never let up, coasting to a 104-88 win to grab a one game lead in the race for the final playoff spot in the East. Noah basically told his teammates to jump on his back and let him lead the way. He came close to his first career triple double, scoring 18 points, grabbing 17 rebounds, and dishing out 7 assists. It's easy to see now why the Bulls were unable to pull out of the long losing streak in March that eventually reached 10 games. Without Noah, this team just doesn't have an emotional leader. Rose is without question the team's best player, but he's quiet and unemotional by nature. Noah is the one guy who can rally the locker room and get his teammates to dig a little deeper when things get tough. He's also become a force on both ends of the court, showing some decent post moves and the ability to hit that ugly 15 foot jumper with remarkable consistency.

Noah probably won't win the Most Improved Player Award, but he certainly gets my vote. To come as far as he has since his rookie season is remarkable. Remember Ben Wallace and Adrian Griffin voting to extend Noah's one game suspension for yelling at an assistant coach to two games because they didn't like the rookie and wanted to teach him a lesson? A lot of Bulls' fans were wondering why the team invested the 9th pick in the draft on a cocky, raw big man with limited offensive skills and a questionable work ethic. Well, Noah has done a complete 180 degree turn in his approach to life as a professional. He's now the hardest worker on the team and spent last summer trying to improve his offensive skills working at the I.M.G. Academy in Florida. Opponents now have to respect his ability to score and that opens up the court for the rest of the players. Who knows what else Noah will add to his game in the years to come? When the top free agents consider signing with the Bulls this summer, and I believe they will, the two biggest selling points are Rose's all-around brilliance and Noah's tireless play and leadership ability. Believe it or not, Noah is now one of the top 10 centers in the league, and with so few quality big men around, he will be a guy other players around the league want to team up with.

FREE AGENCY DEVELOPMENTS

The long awaited free agent class of 2010 got a little bit smaller with recent decisions by Kobe Bryant and Manu Ginobili to re-sign with their current teams. Nobody really thought Kobe would leave L.A., but until he signed the extension, Bulls' fans could dream about the possibility of Bryant following in the footsteps of Michael Jordan and bringing another string of NBA titles to Chicago. Ginobili isn't a guy the Bulls would have been interested in given his age and style, but taking him off the market just reduces the number of quality shooting guards that will be available.

The latest buzz around the league has Miami now more interested in Amar'e Stoudemire than Chris Bosh. The Heat would love to pair Stoudemire with Dwyane Wade, and then use their leftover cap room to bring in another shooter. If Stoudemire signs with Miami, the Bulls might have a better chance at signing Bosh, but Toronto G.M. Bryan Colangelo has said repeatedly he will work with Bosh on a sign and trade deal if the All-Star forward is determined to leave Toronto. And really, after watching the Raptors roll over against the Bulls on Sunday, is there any chance Bosh would want to stay!

The possibility of Toronto working a sign and trade deal for Bosh opens up the entire league as potential suitors, not just the teams with enough cap room to offer a maximum contract. I'm sure we'll be hearing the Andrew Bynum for Bosh rumors again, and you can bet Mark Cuban will get involved, since Bosh grew up in Dallas, and would be a popular addition for the Mavericks. Dallas has a lot of big contracts they could offer in a sign and trade for Bosh, including Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood, Jason Terry and Shawn Marion. The Bulls also could look into a sign and trade for Bosh, with Luol Deng, Kirk Hinrich, Taj Gibson and first round draft picks being the likely bait. It's no secret the Bulls are thinking big this summer, hoping to sign one star outright with their cap room, and bringing in another through a sign and trade. It's almost a foregone conclusion that Bosh will be playing for a new team next season, now it's up to the Bulls to come up with the right package to work a sign and trade with Toronto, then use their cap room to go after Wade or Joe Johnson to team up with Rose in the backcourt.

Of course, other teams have similar grand plans, most notably the Knicks, who can sign two max free agents without even worrying about sign and trade scenarios. But we're hearing more talk out of Cleveland that LeBron James is leaning towards staying with the Cavs, and without LeBron being the pied piper that brings a second top free agent to New York, the Knicks might have an awfully tough time bringing in two All-Stars this summer. Any way you look at it, the free agent chase will be one heck of an encore when the NBA Playoffs end in mid to late June.

Don't forget, we've got the regular season finale between the Bulls and Charlotte Bobcats Wednesday night on Comcast SportsNet. CSNChicago.com will also be streaming the game live. The Bobcats are locked into the number 7 playoff spot in the East, so there's a chance they could be resting some of their key players for the finale. But if the Bulls need a win to make the playoffs, I find it hard to believe new owner Michael Jordan will allow his team to use anything less than its best line-up. Kendall Gill will join me to preview the game during the 6:30 edition of SportsNite, then Neil Funk and Stacey King have the call at 7. We'll bring you Vinny Del Negro's media session and hopefully, take a look ahead to a first round playoff series against Cleveland during the final regular season edition of Bulls Post-Game live.

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.

Kendall Gill, Ice Cube give their predictions for Mayweather-McGregor

Kendall Gill, Ice Cube give their predictions for Mayweather-McGregor

This story originally appeared on Big3.com. Hear from Kendall and Ice Cube as they give their opinions on the Aug. 26 fight in the video above.

Timing really is everything.

When I went to Las Vegas for the BIG3 combine and draft back in April, I liked my chances. Sure, I was one of the oldest guys there, but my training as a boxer (I fought professionally after my NBA days) keeps me in great shape.

So I was pretty shocked when I didn’t get drafted.

I tried to be positive about it. I figured maybe the man upstairs was saying, “Just sit tight. I gotta put you on the right team.”

So there I was, sparring in the gym the other day. I get out of the ring and there’s a text waiting for me from Corey Maggette, asking me if I want to play for Power.

He didn’t have to ask twice!

Next thing I know, I’m getting a call from Power’s coach, Hall of Famer Clyde Drexler. I looked up to Clyde my whole career, looked at him as a big brother. To play for him in the BIG3 is the perfect scenario.

So it was great to be in Philadelphia last Sunday and help Power defeat the Ghost Ballers in my BIG3 debut. I thoroughly enjoyed playing with Cuttino Mobley, DeShawn Stevenson, Jerome “Junkyard Dog” Williams and Paul McPherson.

I was a bit rusty on the offensive side, but my defense -- which has been a staple for me throughout my career -- my rebounding, passing, that was all on point. I found Cuttino and DeShawn for a couple of shots when we forced them to double-team down on me. I had Mike Bibby on me in the post, and they knew that he probably couldn’t guard me down there.

So it was a pretty good first day. Now that I’ve got that under my belt, here comes the fun part. Everybody was excited when I was finally added to a team, and when they found out we were playing in Chicago they got twice as excited. When I got off the plane from Philadelphia on Monday, I had about 50 messages waiting for me – friends and family asking for tickets to the UIC Pavilion for Sunday’s games.

And since I work Chicago Bulls games for CSN Chicago, the network is excited, too. They want to mic me up and follow me around for the day, go behind the scenes. Radio stations have been calling me for interviews about the BIG3 coming to Chicago. It’s exciting. But when it comes time to play, I’ve got to forget about all that and go out there and play.

A lot of people think I’m biased because I was born and raised here, and still live in Chicago, but if you look at the number of pro players that we’ve produced, there’s really nowhere else that can compare to Chicago as a basketball town. You look at all the number one picks in the draft. Look at the top five picks in the NBA Draft throughout history. I think you’d have to say Chicago is probably the number one producer of NBA players – and college basketball players for that matter.

Only a few fortunate kids make it up the ranks to college and the pros. For most kids growing up in Chicago, at least basketball can be an important recreational activity that helps keep them off the streets and out of trouble. But there’s so much more we can do. When I was preparing for the BIG3 draft, I was practicing with Arne Duncan, President Obama’s Secretary of Education. Duncan, who has played competitive 3-on-3 with USA Basketball, is doing some great work with underprivileged kids in Chicago.

For my part, I donated a home in Champaign-Urbana (home of my alma mater, the University of Illinois). It’s the Cunningham Children’s Home and it helps disadvantaged kids in the region. We just had our annual golf tournament last week. We’ve been doing it for 28 years and have raised more than $1 million for the home.

While Arne Duncan is doing great work with Chicago youth, I’m grateful for the work he put in with me on the basketball court. He showed me a lot about how to cut, do a lot of pick and rolls away from the ball. In 3-on-3, those aspects of the game are very undervalued. Some guys have a tendency to play too much one-on-one, which I saw in some of the other games I was watching Sunday. The 3-on-3 game is very easy if you do it right, like we did. I think that’s why we won that game. We did a lot of cuts, and it worked well for us.

So after the disappointment of not being drafted, I’m thrilled to be where I am now – playing for a Power squad that is 3-1 and looking good for the playoffs. Which got me to thinking…

I really love boxing – not just training and sparring myself, but watching it. Boxing is the sweet science.

If we are fortunate enough to make it to Las Vegas for the BIG3 championship game on August 26, there just happens to be a pretty big boxing match taking place that night, right down the road. You may have heard:  Floyd Mayweather vs. Conor McGregor.

Personally, I don’t think McGregor has a chance. I’ve seen Floyd train in person and I’ve seen all his fights at least 10 times. He’s one of the greatest fighters to ever live. Now a guy who has no boxing experience whatsoever is going to get into the ring with him? Not happening.

But it’s gonna be an event. Believe me, I’m planning to buy the Pay-Per-View.

Unless I’m in Vegas that day and get to see it in person. You know, right after we win the BIG3 title.

Wake-up Call: Rose returning to Chicago?; Willson Contreras takes over; State of Cubs-Cards

Wake-up Call: Rose returning to Chicago?; Willson Contreras takes over; State of Cubs-Cards

Here are the top Chicago sports stories from Thursday: 

Is #TheReturn getting a reboot? Report says there's a possibility Derrick Rose comes back to Bulls

This is becoming Willson Contreras' team, whether or not Cubs add Alex Avila or another veteran catcher

Bears training camp preview: 3 burning questions for tight ends

Why Blackhawks fans might want to tap the brakes on Alex DeBrincat

That escalated quickly: Cubs just a game back of Brewers, could be in first place as soon as this weekend

Ping-pong balls everywhere: Where do the Bulls rank among projected lottery teams?

Joe Maddon's prime-time message: 'Help or die'

Report: Derrick Rose is considering teaming up with LeBron James, Cavs

Cubs Talk Podcast: State of Cubs-Cardinals rivalry and what lies ahead

Why Adam Engel came up with his unique batting stance, and how he's tweaked it since