What to Watch for in Bulls' Pre-Season Opener

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What to Watch for in Bulls' Pre-Season Opener

Thursday, October 1st

Here's a few things to watch for in the Bulls' opening pre-season game against Indiana, Friday at 6 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet Plus.

1. LUOL DENG'S QUICKNESS...... How much did the right leg stress fracture and long summer of rehab affect his ability to drive past defenders and get to the rim? Deng looked like a future All-Star after his outstanding playoff series against Miami in 2007, but he's been held back by a series of injuries over the last 2 seasons. The Bulls need him to be a reliable scorer, combining his mid-range jumpers with an aggressive driving game. Will his health hold up over the course of a long season?

2. IMPROVED OFFENSIVE PLAY OF NOAH AND THOMAS..... Both players spent a lot of time in the gym this past summer working on their offensive games. Tyrus says he has complete confidence in his 15 to 18 foot jumper, which would open the door for him to fly past on-rushing defenders for one of his patented dunks. Noah did a lot of work with a shooting coach to improve the form on his mid-range jumpers and the consistency of his free throw shooting. If both players can make opposing defenders honor the threat of a mid-range jump shot, it will open up the Bulls' offense considerably.

3. THE ROOKIES.... How much playing time will James Johnson and Taj Gibson earn as rookies? It sounds like the Bulls have big plans for Johnson, their top draft pick out of Wake Forest. At 6-8, 250 pounds, Johnson has the size to play power forward and the ball handling and outside shooting skills to play some small forward. Keep an eye on him during the pre-season games to see if he has the confidence to contribute meaningful minutes off the bench. Gibson is more of a project at this point. The Bulls want to get him in the weight room to improve his strength, much like they did with Horace Grant when he first came into the league. Gibson is a versatile defender and extremely aggressive. With the injury to Aaron Gray, the Bulls might experiment with Gibson as their 3rd center behind Noah and Brad Miller.

4. JOHN SALMONS AT THE "2" GUARD...... With Ben Gordon taking his 21 points a game to Detroit, the Bulls are counting on a big season from Salmons, who's played both shooting guard and small forward during his NBA career. Salmons should be able to score 16 to 18 points a game, but will he be able to defend shorter, quicker shooting guards? And, after the injury issues he had at the end of last season, will an increased work load have him worn out come playoff time?

5. DEFENSE, DEFENSE, DEFENSE...... The coaching staff has talked about a renewed commitment to defense ever since the playoff series against Boston ended last spring. They plan to be more consistent in their approach to defending the pick and roll, which is the staple of most NBA offenses. The Bulls are counting on an improved defense to make up for some of the scoring they lost with Gordon's departure.

6. ROSE IN FULL BLOOM........ Derrick Rose had an eventful summer, not all of it pleasant, thanks to the academic irregularities reported involving his former college and high school. But Rose spent a lot of time working with personal trainers in Los Angeles to improve his jump shot and finishes at the rim. He also practiced with the U.S. Olympic developmental team, and should be a fixture on future national squads. Derrick turns 21 next week, and it's going to be a lot of fun watching him take his game to an even more dynamic level this season.

I wanted to answer some of the e-mail questions we've received lately, and as always, I invite you to keep them coming.

Question from Steven, Wilmette, Illinois:

Since the Bulls lost their scorer, can we look to the deadline to find a scorer rather than wait till the off season? Maybe we can acquire a guy like Stephen Jackson or Jason Richardson to play the 2-3 for Deng if things don't work out. Could that happen?

Mark Schanowski: It's always a possibility, but I'm pretty sure the Bulls are going to wait until next summer to make their move for a big time free agent like Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh or Amare Stoudemire. They probably could have worked out a trade for Carlos Boozer over the summer, but the front office wasn't convinced he was the right guy to be handed a max contract. Stephen Jackson has had a lot of attitude issues during his career, so I don't think the Bulls would be interested in him, and Jason Richardson has bounced around since coming into the league with so much promise out of Michigan State. I thought Richardson would develop into a great pro, but so far, it hasn't happened.

Question from Marc, Olive Branch, MS:
Hey Mark, do you still believe that the Bulls organization will try & make a move for Chris Bosh? They STILL need a low post presence that'll hopefully take this team to the next level. GO BULLS!!

Schanowski: My read on the situation is Wade will be the number 1 target for the Bulls in free agency, followed closely by Bosh. When you look at the top players in the league, it's probably something like LeBron, Kobe, D-Wade, Dwight Howard and Chris Paul. Bosh would be in that 2nd tier of all-star players, who would be great additions, but not necessarily franchise players. Personally, I'd rather see the Bulls pursue Stoudemire over Bosh. I think Amare is a more dominant scorer, whose talents would mesh perfectly with Rose in the pick and roll game. The Bulls are still hoping Tyrus Thomas might take a big step this season towards becoming the kind of player they expected when they picked him 4th overall in 2006. And if that happens, they might even think about a guy like Atlanta's 6-7 shooting guard Joe Johnson in free agency next summer.

Question from Ty, Chicago, IL

What did you think of MJ's HOF speech? I was very surprised at all the low blows.

Schanowski: I'm right there with you Ty. I was in Springfield for the speech, and I couldn't believe M.J. would pick that occasion to take so many shots at rivals and former colleagues instead of thanking his teammates, coaches and family for all their help through the years. As you can tell by all the criticism Jordan has received in the national media, a lot of people had their eyes opened regarding the down side of Michal's famous competitive, win-at-all-costs attitude. I thought his speech was very heavy-handed, and I'm guessing he would do things a little differently if he had it to do over again.

Question from Andy Larson, Barrington, IL:

My question is why don't the Bulls take risks to make their team better? Now i know the Ben Wallace free agent signing in 2006 was a risk but it seems like that was the last time they did so. The time is now for the Bulls. Let me know your feedback. Thanks

Schanowski: As I mentioned earlier, the Bulls seem to be putting all their eggs in the 2010 free agent class. I would have liked to have seen them roll the dice on a trade for Carlos Boozer this past summer, and see how his skills would have meshed with Rose. If they worked well together, sign Boozer to a long-term extension. If not, let him walk, and go after someone else in free agency. I think the Bulls front office is a little more cautious after getting burned on that huge contract they gave to Ben Wallace. It really hurt team chemistry, and sent their building plan back a couple years. It forced them to trade an emerging player in Tyson Chandler, and altered decisions they made in the draft and trade markets. The upside is they were able to get in the draft lottery in '08, and win the rights to draft Rose, so I guess things could work out well in the end. If they can get Wade next summer to go with Rose, they will instantly become a championship contender for the next 5 to 7 years.

Bulls Talk Podcast: Will Celtics trade for Jimmy Butler?

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Bulls Talk Podcast: Will Celtics trade for Jimmy Butler?

On the latest edition of the Bulls Talk Podcast, Kevin Anderson, Vincent Goodwill and Kendall Gill welcome in SB Nation's Ricky O'Donnell to discuss the Celtics' motivation to trade for Jimmy Butler. 

The guys also break down whether the league is undervaluing the Bulls All-Star. 

Later, they debate the contant Lebron James vs. Michael Jordan comparison and ask if it's fair after the King's poor showing in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals. O'Donnell also analyzes the NBA Draft. He believes Terrance Ferguson is the right pick for GarPax. 

Finally, a behind the scenes look at Goodwill vs. Kendall on the court, and Kendall on the right way to parent a young athlete. 

Listen to the Bulls Talk Podcast below. 

NBA Buzz: Financial and competitive realities could lead to Jimmy Butler trade for Bulls

NBA Buzz: Financial and competitive realities could lead to Jimmy Butler trade for Bulls

Watching LeBron James tear through the Eastern Conference playoffs the way Michael Jordan used to do in his prime, it's become increasingly apparent other teams in the East will be chasing James and the Cavaliers for the next 3-5 years.

With that in mind, you have to wonder what kind of conversations are going on inside the walls of the Advocate Center as the Bulls' front office prepares for the June 22nd draft and the start of free agency on July 1st. 

Jimmy Butler earned third-team All-NBA honors on Thursday, putting him in position to earn the Designated Veteran Player Extension with another All-NBA selection in either 2018 or 2019. Under terms of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, that could mean a contract starting at $42 million in 2019-20 with a total five-year value of over $246 million.

Are the Bulls prepared to pay that kind of money to a player who has logged big minutes over his career and will turn 30 just before the 2019-20 season?

If not, the best time to deal Butler would be right now. Butler is coming off the best season of his NBA career, including a starting spot for the Eastern Conference in the All-Star game. Plus, he still has two more guaranteed years on his contract at far below market value for one of the top 15 players in the league.

Tuesday's draft lottery pretty much eliminated Boston from a potential Butler trade. Celtics' GM Danny Ainge loves Washington point guard Markelle Fultz and is locked in to drafting him with the number one pick. Boston's future couldn't look brighter after finishing with the best regular season record in the East, advancing to the Conference Finals, and winning the lottery.

The Celtics will add Fultz and still have enough cap room to offer a max deal to free agent swingman Gordon Hayward, who played collegiately for Boston coach Brad Stevens at Butler. How does a starting line-up of Isaiah Thomas, Al Horford, Hayward, Jae Crowder and Avery Bradley sound, with a second unit of Fultz, Terry Rozier, Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown and Kelly Olynyk? It might not be good enough to take down the Cavs or Warriors, but should position the Celtics for a long run as a serious contender.

So, if the Celtics are out, where would the Bulls look for a possible Butler deal? Phoenix probably holds the best combination of assets, starting with the No. 4 overall pick. If point guards Fultz, Lonzo Ball and De'Aaron Fox go 1-2-3, the Bulls could grab Kansas forward Josh Jackson, an Andrew Wiggins-clone who could wind up being the best player in this draft.

The Suns also have a pair of intriguing young power forwards in Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender, both top 10 picks a year ago. Plus, Phoenix could include 23-year-old small forward T.J. Warren and Chicago native Tyler Ulis in the package going back to the Bulls.

Suns GM Ryan McDonough is reportedly under pressure to show significant improvement next season after winning just 47 games combined over the last two years. Adding another young player to the roster isn't the best way to improve the team immediately, so don't be surprised if the Suns make a pitch to acquire Butler in the days leading up to the draft.

Similar story in Philadelphia, where the Sixers own the third overall pick next month. Under former GM Sam Hinkie, the "trust the process" approach led to a roster purge and the acquisition of lottery picks. Right now, the Sixers are overloaded with young players like Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor, Ben Simmons, Dario Saric, Justin Anderson and Nik Stauskas.

Would current GM Bryan Colangelo be willing to trade the pick, along with Okafor and Anderson in a package for Butler? The Bulls could choose between Jackson and Kentucky's lightning-quick point guard Fox with the draft pick they’d acquire, potentially adding three young starters to a new-look line-up. 

Given all the trade rumors surrounding Butler in the past, you can expect a number of teams will be calling the Bulls leading up to the draft, including Tom Thibodeau's Timberwolves, coming off a disappointing season with assets to offer like Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and the seventh overall pick. 

Ultimately, it comes down to which direction the Bulls' front office wants to go. Try to build a contender around Butler, or use him as the trade asset to start a full re-build. We should get our answer in the days leading up to the draft.

Around the Association

Thursday's All-NBA announcement could lead to a pair of All-Star forwards changing teams this summer. We already mentioned Hayward's situation in Utah. Without the designated veteran player extension, he might be seriously tempted to join his old college coach in Boston. 

Hayward could sign a one year contract with a player option for a second season in Utah with hopes of earning the DVPE next summer, but if Hayward hits the open market, it's clear he'll be the number one target for the Celtics this off-season. 

Paul George also could be in play after failing to make one of the three All-NBA teams. The Pacers were hoping to sign their All-Star forward to a max five-year extension at over $200 million, but George isn't eligible now. George still could sign an extension with Indiana, but not at the dollars he would have received had he made All-NBA. 

Rumors of George's desire to join his home-state Lakers in free agency after the 2017-18 season continue to grow, especially with Magic Johnson likely to add dynamic point guard Lonzo Ball in next month's draft. The Pacers might be forced to trade George to get some assets now, rather than let him walk away for nothing in free agency next summer.

Back to the Bulls, who will bring in dozens of prospects to Chicago to work out at the Advocate Center before the draft. Unless they make a major trade to move up, the front office almost has to go "best player available" with their picks at Nos. 16 and 38. Look for them to focus on an athletic wing in the first round with Louisville's Donovan Mitchell, Indiana's OG Anunoby, Duke's Harry Giles and Australian pro Terrance Ferguson among the likely options. 

But if the team decides to part company with restricted free agent Niko Mirotic, that could open the door for the Bulls to select a power forward like Cal's Ivan Rabb, Wake Forest's John Collins, Utah's Kyle Kuzma or UCLA's T.J. Leaf. They could even draft an athletic young center like Jarrett Allen of Texas, Creighton's Justin Patton or UCLA's Ike Anigbogu.

In Round 2, the Bulls might look to add another young point guard to the mix like Oklahoma State's Jawun Evans, Iowa State's Monte Morris, Villanova's Josh Hart, Gonzaga's Nigel Williams Goss or Big 12 Player of the Year Frank Mason from Kansas.

Quotes of the Week

The Celtics might have edged Cleveland out for the top seed in the East during the regular season, but after watching Game 1 Wednesday night, it's clear Brad Stevens’ team will be lucky to get a win in the series.

This from Stevens about the NBA's version of Benjamin Button, LeBron James. "It's hard to believe, but he's better than when I got into the league. A lot better."

Still, Celtics' star Isaiah Thomas isn't about to concede the series just yet, saying, "We're not afraid of Cleveland. They're not the Monstars."  

Well, Thomas might be right about the rest of the Cavs. But if you remember the movie "Space Jam", I'm pretty sure James would be a good fit in that Monstars line-up. And the Celtics don't have Michael Jordan, Bugs Bunny or Bill Murray!