Sunday, January 3, 2010By Mark Schanowski
Hard to believe it was just one week ago well-respected national basketball writer Chris Broussard was reporting the Bulls' front office had already made their decision to fire head coach Vinny Del Negro. Broussard saying management just was waiting to find a permanent replacement before pulling the plug on the firing. A tepid vote of confidence from General Manager Gar Forman before Tuesday night's win over Indiana did little to quiet the speculation, but the current 4 game winning streak should put Del Negro's future on the back burner......at least for now.
So, what do you make of the Bulls recent improvement? Is the return of Tyrus Thomas and a healthy Kirk Hinrich enough to make the Bulls a solid playoff team again? Did Del Negro's changes to the starting line-up jump start the winning streak? And, do you still think a coaching chance is needed, or should the Bulls stay the course until after the season? As always, we welcome your feedback. Please post your comments in the section below, or if you prefer, send me an e-mail.
My opinion is Del Negro received too much of the blame for the Bulls' poor start. The early injury to Thomas messed up the Bulls' rotation, and undercut their one real strength, quality depth. Now with Tyrus back and Hinrich playing with confidence in a starting role, the Bulls have an 8 man rotation that matches up well with most teams in the league. Having veterans like Thomas, John Salmons and Brad Miller to bring off the bench has allowed Vinny to get more rest for his core players, which in turn has made Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Luol Deng fresher at the end of games. Matter of fact, Miller played so well against Dwight Howard that Noah stayed on the bench for much of the 2nd half while the Bulls took control of the game. That's not something you can count on most nights, but anytime Del Negro can reduce the workload of his key players is a real positive for the Bulls.
ROSE'S ALL-STAR PROSPECTS LOOKING UP
We're still waiting for the Bulls to have a representative on the Eastern Conference All-Star team for the first time since Michael and Scottie left after the 1997-'98 season. And, looking at the stats of the top guards in the East, it's starting to look like Derrick Rose has a real shot to make it this season. What would really help would be someone passing Allen Iverson in the fan balloting. Iverson is currently running 2nd to Dwyane Wade, even though Iverson just joined the 76'ers a few weeks ago, and is putting up only modest numbers. Let's hope Joe Johnson or even Vince Carter pass Iverson in the fan vote to open up 3 spots for more deserving players in reserve roles. Right now, if Iverson gets voted on to the team, Rose would be competing with Johnson, Carter, Rajan Rondo, Brandon Jennings, Mo Williams and possibly Charlotte's Stephen Jackson for reserve spots in the East. The reserves will be chosen by a vote of Eastern Conference coaches, and you have to figure Rose will be given strong consideration, especially if the Bulls can get over the .500 mark by early February. If the fans elect the two most deserving players in Wade and Joe Johnson, my guess is Rose, Rondo and Carter will be named as reserves. But if Iverson takes one of those spots, Rose's chances drop significantly. In case you hadn't noticed, Derrick is coming off a terrific month of December where he averaged 20.4 points, 6 assists and 4 rebounds a game.
Joakim Noah also figures to get some consideration from Eastern Conference coaches given his dramatic improvement this season and the fact he ranks 2nd in the league in rebounding. But chances are the back-up center slot will go to Atlanta's Al Horford, who was Noah's teammate on those two national championship teams at Florida, or the Knicks' underrated double-double machine, David Lee. New Jersey's Brook Lopez and Milwaukee's Andrew Bogut also are possible candidates for the back-up center spot behind Dwight Howard.
BEWARE OF THUNDER
The Bulls try for their 5th straight win Monday night against the visiting Oklahoma City Thunder, and if you don't know much about that team, they've emerged as a future playoff contender in the West behind the sensational play of 3rd year forward Kevin Durant, who ranks among the league's scoring leaders at 28.5 points per game. Oklahoma City management has done a terrific job in the draft, assembling an excellent nucleus of young perimeter players like Durant, Jeff Green, Russell Westbrook and James Harden. The Thunder also got some help from the Bulls, who unloaded Thabo Sefolosha's contract for a future draft pick. Thabo is now starting at shooting guard for OKC, but the Bulls did okay too, using the draft pick they acquired on promising rookie forward Taj Gibson. But back to OKC, they added a solid veteran center by signing Nenad Kristic after a short stint in Russia, and they also have Nick Collison available to bang inside. It's hardly a championship-caliber team, but OKC has been surprising favored opponents all season long, and remember, they beat the Bulls at the United Center last season. Vinny and his staff have to do everything in their power to guard against a letdown after the big win over Orlando on Saturday.
One last note, former Washington Times basketball beat writer MIke Jones is reporting the Wizards are looking into making a trade to shake-up their underachieving team, and just about everyone is available. A report on Hoopsworld suggests the Wizards could be looking to deal fomer all-star Caron Butler to the Bulls or Heat. The website indicated a trade to the Bulls would involve Butler and veteran point guard Mike James coming to Chicago for Kirk Hinrich and the expiring contract of Jerome James. The deal would be salary cap neutral, meaning it wouldn't affect the Bulls' ability to go after a major free agent next summer, but it would also mean the Bulls would have to get more aggressive about pursuing a John Salmons' deal to free up the extra room they need to be able to offer a maximum contract. Butler is averaging 17 points to Hinrich's 9, but he's really more of a small forward than a shooting guard, and we've seen with some of Salmons' struggles that switching perimeter positions isn't always as simple as it sounds.
What do you think of the rumored deal? Let us know in the comments section below. I'll see you Monday night from the U.C. when Kendall Gill and I preview the Bulls-Thunder game during the 6:30 edition of SportsNite. And, don't forget you can watch that game and Tuesday's contest in Charlotte on Comcast SportsNet. Happy New Year everyone!
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.