What a Difference a Week Makes for the Bulls

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What a Difference a Week Makes for the Bulls

Sunday, January 3, 2010By Mark Schanowski
CSNChicago.com

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.

Third time's a charm as Dwyane Wade embraces Bulls and Jimmy Butler as leader

Third time's a charm as Dwyane Wade embraces Bulls and Jimmy Butler as leader

Joking in presentation but serious in intent, Dwyane Wade sat patiently with Bulls GM Gar Forman, refusing to start his introductory news conference until his wife, Gabrielle Union, arrived for the proceedings.

After 13 years of waiting, and then a couple weeks after formally agreeing to join the Chicago Bulls, a few extra moments didn’t feel like an eternity.

For some, Wade was worth the wait.

“Sounds good, doesn’t it?” Forman joked to Wade about announcing him as a Chicago Bull, before going through Wade’s litany of accomplishments, all of which were done in a Miami Heat uniform.

“You make me feel good about myself,” Wade said.

[MORE: Dwyane Wade says the Bulls are Jimmy Butler's team]

With Jimmy Butler off to the side, Wade made sure to announce that despite his pedigree, his rings, his status as a Hall-of-Fame player and respected voice through the NBA that this team isn’t his; He first mentioned owner Jerry Reinsdorf, then Butler, stopping any controversy before it could develop.

“We’re not gonna go through this all year. It’s Jimmy Butler’s team,” Wade said. “He’s a young Bull who can play 40 minutes. I ain’t trying to do all that.”

It makes Forman’s opening statement about Wade that much more poignant, aside from the 20 points and on-floor savvy Wade will likely provide to a young Bulls team and inexperienced coach.

“As important and maybe more so, the presence and intangibles Dwyane will bring to this organization and this team,” Forman said. “From the locker room to the floor to how he interacts with his teammates…it’ll serve our team well.”

Wade has gone through the city in recent days after his trip from China, readjusting himself to Chicago.

“This is one of those moments for me, that is a dream come true,” Wade said. “It took a long time to get here. But I’m here. The excitement the city has shown, I can’t tell what you’ve meant to me.”

[SHOP: Get your Dwyane Wade Bulls gear]

It was a long and winding road as Wade said “let’s take a trip down memory lane”, recalling the belief he thought he would be drafted by the Bulls in 2003 when they held the seventh pick.

The Miami Heat had other plans.

Then when Wade hit unrestricted free agency in 2010, he had another two meetings with the Bulls and seriously considered them.

“Prime of my career. My first meeting was back home,” Wade said. “I met with a few teams, met with the Bulls twice.”

“It was a place I was really pulled toward. I had the opportunity to play with two good players, LeBron (James) and Chris (Bosh).”

The Bulls weren’t able to lure Bosh and James to Chicago, so the thought of being a Bull went as far as a deleted picture on his camera that showed him in a Bulls uniform—before he realized deleted pictures could be obtained through a cloud.

The third time was the charm, as the Bulls presented themselves as a reasonable option when talks broke down between Wade and the Heat early in free agency, creating arguably the biggest personnel surprise of the offseason—and a curious marriage of a player who still has enough game to be effective with a team struggling to claim a new identity on the fly as opposed to hitting the reset button.

“I still have a little bit left,” Wade said. “I wanted to come here and be a part of building this organization back up and where it should be.”

Dwyane Wade: Bulls are 'Jimmy Butler's team'

Dwyane Wade: Bulls are 'Jimmy Butler's team'

Dwyane Wade wanted there to be no doubt whatsoever.

"This is Jimmy Butler’s team."

Taking a cue from former teammate Shaquille O’Neal, Wade told reporters Friday during his introductory press conference — after a matter-of-fact joke that the Bulls' are Jerry Reinsdorf's team — that Butler is the leader of this Bulls squad, and his intent was to get that out of the way early and avoid a season-long controversy.

"We're not going to go through this all year. This is Jimmy Butler's team," Wade said. "Myself and (Rajon) Rondo are here to bring what we bring as athletes to this team and to this city. (Butler's) a young bull on this team. He's a 26-year-old that can play 40 minutes a game if coach wants him to and maybe more. I ain't trying to do all that. And we're going to depend on him a lot.

"This is a guy I've known since Marquette University, that I have a tremendous amount of respect for. And as much as Gar (Forman) and John Paxson and everyone did an amazing job of making sure this could happen, this wouldn't have happened if it wasn't for Jimmy Butler. Jimmy Butler called me and told me he wanted me here, and that was huge because at the time I didn't know. At the time, hometown kid, Derrick Rose, here and he leaves. (Joakim) Noah who's very known here leaves. It's now Jimmy's team. So to want to bring in a guy like myself and Rondo, it shows what he's about. He's about winning.

"It won't be a tug and pull of whose team it is. We're all playing together. We all have one common goal, and that's to win. Jimmy's going to be Jimmy Butler, and I think he's going to grow and be a better ballplayer because of what Rondo brings to the game and because of what I bring."

Wade is one of two multi-time All Stars to join the Bulls this season, arriving in Chicago with Rondo to play alongside Butler on a new-look Bulls team. All that veteran star power — as well as past discussions over the topic involving Butler and former Bulls guard Derrick Rose — prompted the question.

Wade had an answer ready to go.

And the inspiration for Friday’s proclamation came a decade earlier, when O’Neal teamed with Wade in Miami following his three championship wins with the Lakers.

"It's funny to be sitting in this seat," Wade said. "I remember when Shaquille O'Neal came to Miami, coming from the Lakers, three championships. He came to Miami, and we had no championships at the time. And I remember his press conference. I was playing in the Olympics at the time, like Jimmy is right now. And I remember Shaq said, 'We're not going to go through this all year. It's Dwyane Wade's team.'"

Wade has been on superstar-laden rosters before, not only winning a title with O'Neal but also winning a pair of championships alongside LeBron James and Chris Bosh in Miami, so he's used to this type of environment.

"I can't come into this situation thinking it's going to be the same as when me, Chris and LeBron played together. It's a different situation," Wade said. "I'm excited about playing with two guys I respect as competitors first. ... We'll learn what we need to do, just like we did in Miami, we learned what we needed to do.

"I think the only parallel from that is I've played in my career with other guys that are alphas. ... We have three strong personalities, we have three leaders."

Dwyane Wade denies using Bulls as free agency leverage in 2010

Dwyane Wade denies using Bulls as free agency leverage in 2010

There's been a longstanding rumor that Dwyane Wade used the Bulls as leverage during the free agency summer of 2010.

Wade put that notion to rest on Friday.

During his introductory press conference with the Bulls at the Advocate Center, Wade opened up about how close he was to signing with the Bulls after meeting with the organization twice in 2010 before deciding to form the "Big 3" in Miami with LeBron James and Chris Bosh.

[MORE: Dwyane Wade says the Bulls are Jimmy Butler's team]

"There's a notion out there that I used the Bulls for some sort of leverage (in 2010)," Wade said. "It's a place I really wanted to be.

"They gave me a Bulls jersey in 2010. I went home, put it on, took a picture"

Ultimately, despite his heart trying to sway him to Chicago, the decision came down to Wade not wanting to pass up the opportunity to play with James and Bosh in Miami.

As close as Wade came to becoming a member of the Bulls in 2010, it wasn't the first time that the Chicago native thought he would be playing for his hometown team.

[SHOP: Get your Dwyane Wade Bulls gear]

The Bulls were the only team that put Wade through multiple workouts before the 2003 NBA Draft.

"I thought for sure I was coming here," Wade revealed.

It looks like the third time was the charm for Wade and the Bulls.