Chicago Bulls

Surging Bulls continue road trip against Hawks

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Surging Bulls continue road trip against Hawks

Wednesday, Mar. 2, 2011
1:07 p.m.

Associated Press

(AP) -- While many expected the teams currently ahead of Chicago to be fighting for the Eastern Conference's top seed, few predicted the Bulls would also be in the thick of the race.

Looking to surpass their win total from last season, the surging Bulls continue their road trip Wednesday night against the Atlanta Hawks, who return home seeking an eighth win in nine games in the series.

After beating Milwaukee 83-75 on Saturday, the Bulls (41-17) easily defeated Washington 105-77 on Monday night on the second stop of their five-game trek to move one game behind Miami and remain two behind East-leading Boston.

Chicago's trip is about to get more difficult, though, with matchups against Orlando and the Heat following their visit to Atlanta.

The Bulls, who face the Hawks three times in the next three weeks, have lost five straight at Atlanta by an average of 16.2 points and seven of eight overall in the series. MVP candidate Derrick Rose scored 32 points on Dec. 19, 2009, leading his team to its only victory over that span, 101-98 in overtime.

Chicago has won seven of eight overall and has limited opponents to 80.3 points on 38.0 percent shooting during a three-game winning streak - defense that could make things difficult on Atlanta.

The Hawks (36-24) are averaging just 89.4 points - 6.8 fewer than their season mark - over their last nine games and return to Philips Arena after losing four of seven on their recent trip.

"It's acceptable," coach Larry Drew said of the trip. "It could have been a lot worse. That's what I told the guys. We're still in a position where we can control our own destiny."

The fifth-place Hawks had won 14 of 16 at home prior to back-to-back losses before the trip, and will probably need to slow down two of Chicago's best players if they hope to avoid matching their longest home skid of the season.

Rose had 21 points, nine assists and five rebounds against the Wizards while Joakim Noah recorded 19 points on 8-of-10 shooting and 11 boards for his first double-double in four games since missing 30 with a torn ligament in his right thumb.

"He's back, almost to the point he was at before the injury," coach Tom Thibodeau told NBA.com. "His activity is off the charts. His defense is terrific, his rebounding is very good, and you can see he's starting to get a lot more comfortable offensively."

While Chicago is getting used to having one of its stars back, the Hawks could be without one of theirs after Josh Smith suffered a knee injury in a 100-90 loss at Denver on Monday night.

Smith was averaging 22.0 points in his previous three games prior to scoring 10 before leaving in the second quarter. He was unable to return and his status for Wednesday remains in question.

Joe Johnson scored 22 for the second consecutive night after averaging 11.4 points on 39.8 percent shooting in his previous seven games. Johnson is averaging 23.5 points in his last six meetings with Chicago, including two 40-point efforts.

The Hawks acquired guard Kirk Hinrich, who spent his first seven years in the league with the Bulls, from Washington prior to Thursday's trade deadline, but he was held out Monday with a sore right calf and could miss this game.

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

NBA economic reality could speed up Bulls rebuild

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USA TODAY

NBA economic reality could speed up Bulls rebuild

In case you missed it this morning, ESPN's Tim McMahon and Bobby Marks collaborated on an excellent piece detailing how the irresponsible spending by NBA teams last summer could impact a star-studded free agent class in 2018.

Which is music to the ears of Bulls' front office executives John Paxson and Gar Forman, who are hoping to be a major player on the free agent market next year.

The ESPN report projected only nine teams having cap space to bid on a free agent class that could include Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, Paul George, DeMarcus Cousins, Chris Paul, Isaiah Thomas, Carmelo Anthony, DeAndre Jordan, LaMarcus Aldridge, Avery Bradley, Brook Lopez, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Wilson Chandler, Danny Green, Enes Kanter and Greg Monroe, along with restricted free agents like Nikola Jokic, Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Gary Harris, Jusuf Nurkic, Marcus Smart, Rodney Hood, Julius Randle, Dante Exum, Aaron Gordon and Clint Capela.

Bad summer not to have any spending money.

But that's exactly what Paxson and Forman were anticipating when they chose not to get involved in the reckless spending triggered by the league's new TV deal last summer. We all know about some of the terrible contracts handed out including a four-year, $72 million deal to Joakim Noah, four years, $64 million for Timofey Mozgov and Portland spending almost $150 million to lock up reserves Allen Crabbe and Evan Turner for four years.

The Bulls signed Dwyane Wade, Rajon Rondo and Isaiah Canaan last summer, but avoided any salary commitment beyond two years. Both Rondo and Canaan were bought out of the team options the Bulls held for next season.

Meanwhile, the Trail Blazers are now in such a deep luxury tax hole that they basically gave Crabbe away in a trade with Brooklyn earlier this week, immediately waiving the player they got back, power forward Andrew Nicholson, under the league's stretch provision. Portland figures to be one of at least 10 teams paying the luxury tax for the 2018-19 season.

I know what many of you are thinking, "Why will 2018 free agency be any different than in years past?" Yes, the Bulls missed out on primary targets James, Wade and Chris Bosh in 2010, and they failed to land Anthony in 2014. But with so many teams capped out, the Bulls will face less competition in pursuing the players they want most next summer.

We've all heard the rumors about James wanting to finish his career in L.A., and it's unlikely Durant, Westbrook, George or Paul would have any interest in coming to Chicago. But the Bulls could get significantly better right away in a weakened Eastern Conference by adding one or two players from a list of unrestricted free agents that could be looking for a new situation, including Cousins, Jordan, Bradley, Thomas, Caldwell-Pope, Kanter, Chandler and Green. They also could use their cap space to make a massive cap offer to a restricted free agent whose team is already in the luxury tax.

Of course, the Bulls have decisions to make with their own roster as well. They still haven't re-signed Niko Mirotic, and any contract beyond one season will reduce their cap space next summer. Plus, the key player coming back in the Jimmy Butler deal, shooting guard Zach LaVine, will be a restricted free agent next summer, and if he comes back 100 percent from ACL surgery, could command a multi-year contract starting at $20 million or more.

The Bulls have contract options on the rookie deals of Bobby Portis, Kris Dunn, Cam Payne, Jerian Grant, Denzel Valentine and Lauri Markkanen, while Paul Zipser's $1.5 million salary is not guaranteed for 2018-19.

Paxson said the Bulls are committed to re-building through the draft, and the hope is they'll wind up with a top 3 pick after next year's lottery to grab a franchise changing talent like Missouri's Michael Porter, Jr., International star Luka Doncic and 7-footers DeAndre Ayton of Arizona and Mohamed Bamba of Texas.

Looking at the big picture, if LaVine comes back 100 percent, Dunn emerges as a legit starting point guard and Markkanen shows potential as a stretch 4, the Bulls rebuild could move quickly. Adding one of the top players in next year's draft would be the first step, then Paxson and Forman would be armed with somewhere between $40-50 million dollars in cap space to pursue an impact free agent or two.

Bulls fans remember how long it took to re-build the team after the end of the Jordan era in 1998. Jerry Krause couldn't land a major free agent, and the Tyson Chandler-Eddy Curry experiment failed badly.

Let's hope Paxson and Forman have more luck this time around. At least they'll have a built-in advantage when the 2018 free agent market opens for business next July with the Bulls projected to have more cap space available than any other team in the league.

Bulls Talk Podcast: Why Bulls fans should not feel like they 'missed out' on trading for Kyrie Irving

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Bulls Talk Podcast: Why Bulls fans should not feel like they 'missed out' on trading for Kyrie Irving

On the latest Bulls Talk Podcast, Mark Schanowski, Kendall Gill, and Kevin Anderson break down the Kyrie Irving trade rumors, Derrick Rose’s move to Cleveland, and Kendall’s appearance in the ‘Big 3’.

Kendall shares what it was like when he wanted out of Charlotte, and how Rose to the Cavs only works if Kyrie is gone.

The trio also explains why Bulls fans should not feel like they ‘missed out’ on trading for Irving. Plus behind-the-scenes of KG’s hometown return to the court.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below: