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.

NBA offseason gone wild as league executives go into overdrive to compete with Golden State

NBA offseason gone wild as league executives go into overdrive to compete with Golden State

NBA free agency doesn't officially begin until 11 p.m. Chicago time on Friday, but league executives have already gone into overdrive in their race to create the next super-team to compete with the Golden State Warriors.

Rockets GM Daryl Morey hinted he had a big move up his sleeve last week, suggesting the Warriors "aren't unbeatable." Well, Morey unveiled that big move on Wednesday, rounding up a bunch of non-guaranteed contracts from all over the league to help him acquire Clippers' All-Star point guard Chris Paul before free agency even begins.

Paul met with Clippers officials on Tuesday, and basically told Doc Rivers he was going to sign with Houston as a free agent, so if the Clippers wanted to get anything for him, they better work out a trade right away. The return L.A. got in the 7-for-1 deal was hardly overwhelming, headlined by Chicago native Patrick Beverley and super-sub Lou Williams, and it showed once again how league executives are powerless if a star player decides he wants a chance of scenery.

Paul and James Harden wanted to play together, and Morey and his staff came up with a creative way to get it done. And, by all reports, Morey isn't done yet. The Rockets are hoping to swing a deal for either Paul George or Carmelo Anthony as a third star in the frontcourt, giving them a shooter's chance against the champion Warriors.

George is one of the biggest chess pieces being moved around boards in executive offices all around the league. Ever since George informed Pacers management he isn't interested in re-signing with the team, GM Kevin Pritchard has been searching for the best possible deal.

The Cavaliers would love to add George as the new third star on their super-team with LeBron and Kyrie Irving and send Kevin Love to the Pacers or to a third team that would provide Indiana with young players and/or draft picks.

Boston is hoping to trade some of Danny Ainge's treasure-trove of draft picks to bring George in, but only after they make a free agent run at Utah All-Star swingman Gordon Hayward, who played his college ball for Celtics coach Brad Stevens at Butler. Remember, making a trade for George carries a lot of risk, since he's eligible to become a free agent next summer and could wind up being a one-year rental.

George has told anyone who will listen he plans to sign on with the Lakers in the summer of 2018, but will new Lakers President of Basketball Operations Magic Johnson get antsy with all the trade interest in George and try to bring him in now? Is it worth it for Magic to give up young players like Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson if he can just wait a year and sign George without giving up any assets?

We're already hearing reports of George trying to recruit Warriors sharp-shooter Klay Thompson to join him on the Lakers when Klay becomes a free agent in 2019. And, speculation continues about LeBron heading west to join the Lakers if the Cavs come up short of a championship again next season.

So many questions as we approach the start of free agency. Where will Derrick Rose end up after a fourth knee surgery? Will the Clippers be interested in bringing Rose in to play with Blake Griffin and keep Lob City going? And what about veterans like Kyle Lowry, Paul Millsap, Serge Ibaka, Danilo Gallinari, Andre Iguodala, Kyle Korver, J.J. Redick, Pau Gasol, Taj Gibson, George Hill, Jrue Holiday and Jeff Teague? What kind of market will they find with fewer teams having the kind of cap space we saw last summer?

And, where will Carmelo Anthony wind up now that Phil Jackson is out as Knicks President? Jackson might be the greatest coach in NBA history after winning 11 championships with the Bulls and Lakers, but it was clear the Zen Master was overmatched as a front office executive. Phil didn't want to travel to scout top college prospects, didn't stay on top of day to day roster moves around the league, and insisted on saddling his coaches with running an offense that didn't translate in today's game.

Maybe now Jeff Hornacek will be able to run his up-tempo offense that had some success in Phoenix instead of Phil's beloved triangle. But don't count on Anthony being a part of next season's Knicks team. Reports out of New York suggest the organization is still intent on dealing Melo, problem is that nasty no-trade clause that Phil gave Anthony on top of a $127 million contract back in 2014.

In the coming weeks, you can count on hearing all kinds of Anthony-related rumors. Maybe a trade to Houston, Boston or even Philadelphia. And, if Melo is able to convince the Knicks to buy out the remainder of his contract, look for him to join forces with LeBron in Cleveland for a shot at that elusive championship ring.

The Knicks may have rid themselves of Phil’s front office mismanagement, but their roster is still a mess with no easy solutions in sight.

The great thing for NBA fans is the buzz created by all the speculation. NBA offseasons are the most impactful of any sport since the acquisition of a star player can cause a major shift in any team's fortunes. Unfortunately here in Chicago, don't expect any free agent buzz this year, unless you're excited about the possibility of a Dwyane Wade buyout.

Bulls Executive VP of Basketball Operations John Paxson made it clear the Bulls are going in a new direction and will be patient and disciplined in their rebuild. That means no spending on veterans this summer as the front office keeps its power dry for some time in the future when the Bulls are closer to being a playoff contender again.

Player development will be the focus of the next couple seasons as Fred Hoiberg and his staff try to find out exactly what they have in young players like Lauri Markkanen, Kris Dunn, Denzel Valentine, Bobby Portis, Cameron Payne, Paul Zipser, Jerian Grant, Cris Felicio and Niko Mirotic.

Ideally, the Bulls will lose enough games next season to put themselves into position to land a top-3 pick in next year's top-heavy draft. Paxson talked about building a contending team through the draft, and that will require a lot of patience from everyone involved. Adding a Michael Porter, Jr. or Luka Doncic to a young backcourt of Dunn and Zach LaVine and a promising "stretch 4" in Markkanen could be the foundation of the next Bulls playoff team.

So, while the league's top teams engage in a massive arms race to try to close the gap on the Warriors over the next few weeks, all will be quiet in the city of Chicago. The buzzword for Bulls fans for the foreseeable future is PATIENCE.

Bulls Talk Podcast: An NBA gone wild and Zach LaVine sit down interview

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USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: An NBA gone wild and Zach LaVine sit down interview

On the latest BullsTalk Podcast, Mark Schanowski, Kendall Gill and Vincent Goodwill delve into the blockbuster news of Chris Paul being traded to the Rockets. Will any other teams try to go all-in?

With Phil Jackson parting ways with the Knicks, Goodwill shares the behind-the-scenes story of how James Dolan hired Jackson to run his franchise. 

Then, Schanowski sits down with the newest Bull Zach LaVine to discuss recovering from his ACL tear, his love of Space Jam and moving to Chicago.

Plus, the guys break down their first impressions of LaVine and his potential in a Bulls uniform, and how the new CBA is actually leading to teams getting rid of their stars rather than keeping them.

Finally, what will the Bulls do with Dwyane Wade, and where will Derrick Rose end up?

Check out the latest Bulls Talk Podcast right here: