Tag Archives: chris paul

Now begins the hard part, waiting for LeBron

And now we wait.

The last time I heard that in quite this dramatic a sense was in Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium.

Hey, it was a classic of a sort.

And perhaps that is the most appropriate reference because this Great Free Agent Chase of 2010 has become something of a farce.

Now, the Bulls, Miami Heat, New York Knicks, New Jersey Nets and Los Angeles Clippers, at least, go home to wait to find out if they have been chosen by the player, LeBron James, who calls himself the chosen one.

How absolutely ridiculous has this been to watch teams of civic, business and entertainment leaders parade into an office building near Akron, Ohio, to basically plead with a basketball player still in shorts and t-shirt to honor their team and their city with his presence.

I know athletes were victimized for years by teams before the advent of free agency, but the symbolism of this has gotten ludicrous.

Here is James hosting some of the most powerful and influential people in the business and sports world and he’s sitting down for these pleading presentations like he’s eating at Burger King.

It remained unclear to me, as in medieval times when greeting a king whether the participants had to leave the room walking backward since kings refused to look upon the backs of subjects or those seeking favors.

I know it’s not much, but at least tuck in your shirt.

I weep for the entire NBA in this process for having to prostrate itself to this extent for just the chance to acquire some talent. Look, I understand. It’s the way it is now, and the rewards potentially are great. So you grit your teeth and turn it into a welcoming smile.

Actually, I’ve heard the Bulls presentation to James Saturday afternoon, the last of the teams courting his basketball majesty, was both dignified and spectacular.

Gone was the 2000 debacle of brass band and Benny the Bull for a frightened Tracy McGrady.

The Bulls management team made its presentation along with a film that included testimony from many of Chicago’s top business and civic leaders about how James would profit immensely both on and off the court in Chicago, undeniably more than anywhere else.

The point was perhaps that New York was bigger and Miami had Dwyane Wade, but New York’s roster was a disaster and Miami’s entrée into international finance was a non-starter. The best combination came in Chicago and with the Bulls, and this was a franchise that not only would do anything but despite what’s been spread, including by Wade, the franchise has spent lavishly in free agency and to accommodate it’s stars.

At the height of the Bulls’ championship run, the Bulls had the league’s highest payroll. Jordan in 1988 signed one of the first true groundbreaking contracts in pro sports that shocked the world, the eight-year $25 million blockbuster which was international news. It came when Jordan hadn’t even been past the second round of the playoffs. Ben Wallace, bad investment or not, was offered $12 million more than even his home team offered whom he helped win a championship. When Jay Williams was injured and violated his contract the Bulls paid him anyway, just as they did Jordan when he quit basketball to play minor league baseball.

Come to Chicago and only there can you achieve your championship dreams of outpacing Kobe Bryant.

That likely is one reason why James and Wade and Chris Bosh have some things to think about. Because there also is some significant intrigue going on among the top guys.

As we’ve seen, most of the apparent commitments thus far, like with Joe Johnson, Rudy Gay and seemingly Amar’e Stoudemire to New York, are about chasing the most money. Dirk Nowitzki and Paul Pierce are staying for the same reason, millions of them.  The Bulls cannot give anyone the most money because they likely cannot do a sign-and-trade for James or Wade, and only maybe for Bosh.

But here’s what’s going on: James and Wade still are favorites to return to their teams for the most money and Bosh is trying to figure out if he can get a sign-and-trade deal, though Toronto doesn’t want players back and perhaps will take multiple No. 1 draft or maybe no deal.

The big surprise in this has been Wade making nice with the Bulls.

Long considered a lock to return to Miami, Wade is playing it coy in challenging Miami to improve its roster first or perhaps bolt to the Bulls, which would prove devastating to the Heat.

So James is now left to ponder whether Wade is trying an end run to get he and Bosh to Chicago with Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, a foursome that likely would deny James any chance at a championships for years to come if he stayed home. Miami would be out for James, as would New York, and could James justify playing in Newark, N.J., wherever that is, and with a team coming off a 12-win season without a regular All-Star?

Is Wade bluffing, trying to push James out of his Cleveland comfort zone and top salary to the Bulls without Bosh, who then would follow Wade to Miami? And watch James and Rose fight it out for the ball?

Is Wade trying to distract the Bulls and have them show James they are not fully committed to him to scare him back to Cleveland and keep the Bulls from compiling a super team?

Or is Wade serious about what all these guys merely pay lip service to, that being winning at any cost. Would Wade take substantially less money to return to Chicago and team with Rose and bring along Bosh with what would be an ideal fit as the Bulls primary needs are shooting guard and power forward? James plays Luol Deng’s small forward position, and with previous attempts to trade Deng proving unavailing, that could be an ugly locker room with Deng sentenced to the bench and a minimum salary shooting guard to step in.

With Wade and Bosh, or even Carlos Boozer, all the pieces fall into place and the Bulls could be talking contending immediately.

But there’s also the possibility of finishing a strong second in each case, and place doesn’t pay anything in this race.

James could return to Cleveland now that Byron Scott is coach and the rumors are they’d figure out a way to trade for Chris Paul. Maybe another short deal as he’s only 25 and Jordan didn’t win until he was 28.

Maybe Wade goes back to Miami, where he is the most popular athlete in South Florida and has built a reputation in the community while he seems to have a good chance to regain custody of his children and maybe move them there.

So what of Bosh?

He’s been the flake in all this with goofy twitter bulletins about his thoughts about interviewing and psychological angst. And this guy was recruited in high school. What must that have been like?

He’s wanted the sign-and-trade for the six-year deal, and the Bulls and Heat would have a shot if Toronto truly only wants draft picks and cash. But other teams can get in with bigger players, and Bosh has been something less than the most committed competitor.

If you are Bosh and believe you deserve a maximum salary, how the heck do you miss the playoffs twice in a row with a pretty good roster that the general manager said was a 50-win team entering this past season?

That said, I’d still take him if I were the Bulls, even without James or Wade. Look, the reality is there are about five or six players in the entire NBA truly worth a “max’ deal and two players in this class, James and Wade.

This is the talent that plays today, so you have to take the best you can and pay. It’s a players’ market with more teams spending than players to spend the money on. Teams and fans have to get over that.

Stoudemire probably won’t even take a physical lest the Knicks fear losing him.

The Bulls’ sales pitch has to be strong because they can pay each of two top free agents about $1 million less than the lower five-year max with the assurance they would more than make it up on a championship team in Chicago. That’s been proven.

But what if Bosh bolts and takes a sign-and-trade elsewhere?

Would LeBron and Wade pair in Chicago? Everything I continue to hear is they don’t want to be together, and teaming with Rose would be an awkward fit that probably would chase Rose out as a free agent when his deal comes up. I’d take Wade with Rose, but I’d rather have Rose at his age than Wade. Wade just spent two grueling seasons using up a lot of his future to keep the Heat competitive. Ask Patrick Ewing how that kind of play under a Pat Riley system shortened his effective career.

If Bosh does bolt, then it becomes a race among the Bulls, Heat and Nets for Carlos Boozer.

So here’s the tough part for some of these guys.

James could go back to Cleveland and they have a mid-level exception, so they’ll add someone decent and they did win 60-plus games the last two seasons practically uncoached.

But how could Wade return to Miami if Bosh and Boozer went elsewhere, again without help and with a disaster of a roster now? He’d have to have a commitment from someone like Bosh or Boozer to return as I don’t see David Lee in that class.

Could the Bulls lock up Bosh or Boozer, or have they already, and that’s their pitch to James? Or why Wade suddenly became so lovey dovey with a franchise he’s basically ignored for several years.

Maybe he needs to head off James and can’t return to Miami because the Heat cannot assure him of that running mate. Even without Bosh or Boozer, having Wade with Rose and Taj Gibson at power forward would look, at least to me, like as good as there is in the East.

But, again, would Wade take so much less money. Some teams have toyed with the idea of an insurance contract for the sixth year in case  a player like Wade is hurt, so he still can collect a big ending season on his contract.

And Wade has been saying there’s more to his free agency life than just basketball, which no one is quite sure about the meaning.

They all talk about winning, but so far everyone who has committed has put themselves in situations to barely make the playoffs or barely advance a round.

James, Wade and Bosh have a chance to be the exceptions. But who goes first and where remain the questions.

So the Bulls and Heat seem in the most potentially exceptional and vulnerable positions. If Wade returns to Miami and brings Bosh with him and the Nets wow Boozer, it’s David Lee, and I’d probably rather stay with Gibson and test out the trade and utility free agent market and build a team.

If Wade and Bosh go to Chicago, making the Bulls the East favorites, Boozer probably is going to New Jersey and Eric Spoelstra likely would be begging Riley to coach.

As Mr. Magorium said, “Your life is an occasion. Rise to it.”

We’ll soon see if anyone will.

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Is Dwyane Wade for real and other tall free agent tales

Free agency Day 1: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

Yes, I believe that was first written when Charles Dickens was unable to lure the top free agent chimney sweep at the time as he instead moved into a high-rise condo near the Bastille.

This big LeBron free agency is actually becoming a tale of three cities, Chicago, Miami and Cleveland.

Though the big news Thursday, with nothing official until July 8 after the official salary cap figures come in July 7, was the apparent agreement by Joe Johnson to return to the Atlanta Hawks for some $120 million maximum salary and Rudy Gay to remain in Memphis for an extension of more than $80 million.

Unless you have the Hawks and Grizzlies playing in the 2011 Finals, this suggests the first wave of players did what most expected and what many teams with cap room feared—that the players would take the most money and run.

And no one even needed a gub in a holdup.

Sorry, I reference the 60s and 70s and the classics, like Dickens and Woody Allen, at least when he was funny. Dickens actually was quite the humorist himself, as readers know, though it’s still tough to get a good laugh out of the French revolution.

Meanwhile, there was some other free agent money promised, like Drew Gooden—now that’s what the word journeyman means—to the Bucks for apparently a full midlevel exception of about $34 million. Now, if Scott Skiles also wants Tim Thomas then I truly give up.

Johnson was the guy everyone was worrying their team would overspend on with a max five-year contract. And now he’s apparently off the market with a six-year monster deal with the Hawks, who barely got past the Bucks in the first round and were as uncompetitive as anyone ever in the next round against the Magic. The Bulls have long liked the idea of adding Johnson, but never really will get a shot. Johnson apparently will do some perfunctory interviews to say he experienced the process, but he’s back to play before 6,500 fans and hope again to get to the second round.

Heck, Gay hasn’t even been to the playoffs, but I heard he loves watching them. He cancelled his interviews to stay in supposedly cash strapped Memphis for more than he could have gotten on the open market.

Memphis fans have to credit owner Michael Heisley for being so willing to spend and not even for their top producer in a modest sized market with limited consumer support. This is hardly making a great owners’ case that the NBA is in financial trouble and franchises are about to fail. You’d think Memphis had to be among the worst off, and then they go spend like this.

But the worry for teams like the Bulls, Heat, Knicks and Nets has to be that, in the end, the players are going to take the money rather than take a chance on winning somewhere.

The test is soon to come as we’ll see where LeBron, Wade and Bosh, the elite of the market, choose to go and why.

The Bulls have talked with Bosh and have a meeting set. They’ve already met with Wade as well as Carlos Boozer as they’ll make their way through all the top free agents as they head for Akron Saturday and the final LeBron session with his main suitors. James then will talk to the Cavs, who in most eyes crept slightly ahead of the pack with the signing of Byron Scott as coach.

Scott was in line for the Lakers job if Phil Jackson left. But Phil returns for a shot at a third three-peat, and so Scott goes to Cleveland just as it seemed they were about to hire Brian Shaw.

Did LeBron send word? Did Scott get an assurance? No one is saying or seems to know for sure, but Scott fits a profile LeBron has talked about as a former player who will be tough on him and hold him accountable and who has had success. Scott has done well with stars like Jason Kidd and Chris Paul, and Paul is said to be perhaps James’ closest friend in the NBA and supposedly gave James a strong endorsement of Scott.

The speculation began immediately since Scott and Paul remain close that Paul, who has two years left on his contract though he has been the subject of trade rumors, will push for a trade to the Cavs now that he knows the Hornets looked to trade him. It wouldn’t seem the Cavs have enough, but they can add a player with a mid-level deal, give up J.J. Hickson and several first round picks and who knows. You never say never in the NBA.

But the Bulls may have gotten some unexpected good news with a good Thursday session with Dwyane Wade, who sought out the initially reluctant Bulls.

Was he just a spy? Heck, it may have been worth it just for the heart palpitations for Pat Riley.

I wrote about this last Monday, and Wade could make a heck of an end run boxing in James by going to the Bulls with Chris Bosh. Then Miami is out for James and he’d have to stay in Cleveland to have any chance to contend and clearly would be an also ran to Wade/Bosh/Rose/Noah.

New Jersey has suddenly revived with their presentation to James Thursday, and the biggest speculation around the NBA is the mysterious new owner with international billions will just stash away a fortune for James somewhere. Could James seriously talk contending going to a 12-win team moving to Newark? For less money? Really, what is going on!

Wade has to be giving the Chicago scenario some thought if he is serious about winning, and how sweet would it be to outdo James?

If Wade returns to Miami as expected, even with Bosh, if LeBron and, say, Boozer go to Chicago with Rose and Noah, Wade likely would never get back to the Finals and maybe the conference finals. Leaving with Bosh and walling in James would be the strategic move of the year to maybe bury James’s title hopes for the next year. The Bulls were said to be surprisingly upbeat after the Wade session.

But it would cost Wade a fortune since he would forfeit the six-year max and likely that $28 million sixth year pay day as he is 28 now, and even that extra three percent or so Florida doesn’t pay in state taxes.

So we’ll see where he is as well, but a door previously thought closed seems to have opened a bit.

One of my favorite parts of the day was the report when the Nets met first with James that a “Nets source” called the meeting “front runner tremendous.”

This reminds me when my group was the first off when a golf course in Miami had just opened. When we got in, someone asked what the course record was. They said we were the first to play the course so there was none. Yes, for about 15 minutes I had the course record at the Golf Club of Miami with a 94.

The Nets were first in. Of course they were the front runner.

Then came the Knicks with their grand tradition of having won a championship 40 years ago with a bunch of white guys and basically booing out of town the best player they had since, Patrick Ewing. Sure, they’re going to be on top of everyone’s list. The Knicks were said to be pursuing Ray Felton.

And then there was Darko getting $20 million for four years from Minnesota as Gay cancelled his scheduled meeting there. Yes, $20 million for Darko. Then $30 million for Channing Frye. Some $34 million for Amir Johnson. Who? Really, has anyone ever seen Amir play? How many could pick him out of a lineup? Do you think Luol Deng is overpaid now? I expect Deng to ask for renegotiations seeing the productivity of guys getting these contracts.

The Magic were said to be quietly exploring sign-and-trade scenarios for Vince Carter, and I can see why as if they weren’t quiet everyone would laugh out loud.

Day 2 should be even more fun.

Bulls closing in on hiring Thibodeau

It appears the Bulls coaching search is about to come to a conclusion.
The Bulls, insiders confirmed, officially tendered a three-year contract offer late Friday night to Boston Celtics associate head coach Tom Thibodeau to be the team’s head coach.
Sources close to Thibodeau said he is considering minor elements of the deal, but expect him to agree without any major issue.
It remains unclear given Thibodeau is involved in the NBA Finals with the Celtics trailing 1-0 whether, or when the Bulls and Thibodeau can make an official announcement.
But both sides independently have signaled they believe the signing is imminent.
As we know in sports, nothing is done until it’s done and signed, and things change and greed can be a mighty enemy. But Thibodeau did what few would have done—including me—in his interest for the Bulls job.
Thibodeau has been an assistant in the NBA for 20 years and in search of a head coaching job for perhaps the last decade. He was the most passed over veteran assistant in the last few years with much less experienced coaches getting jobs.
So what do you do? Accept the first head coaching job that comes along?
I probably would.
But Thibodeau said no to a pretty good New Orleans team with Chris Paul and David West. Then he apparently said no to a New Jersey Nets team with Devin Harris, Brook Lopez, the No. 3 draft pick and salary cap room. They are also a team coming off a 12-win season. Heck, I could coach that team and double the win total and win coach of the year.
Thibodeau apparently said no to both offers for just the chance to be a significant candidate with the Bulls. To be honest, I probably would have taken the Nets job if I were him, although I believe the Bulls have a better chance than the Nets to be a great team.
It says something about Thibodeau and what he likely will bring to the franchise that he was willing to pass on his first ever real chance to be an NBA head coach just to have a chance at what he felt would be the best opportunity.
And it was no sure shot, although Thibodeau long was one of the top candidates to replace the fired Vinny Del Negro.
The Bulls had numerous long telephone conversations with Thibodeau and did ample background checks as they avoided the circus atmosphere of 2008 when they did a parade of interviews. But the first scheduled meeting with Thibodeau was cancelled when the Celtics’ series with Orlando was extended. And then there was a mixup in communications while Boston prepared for the Finals. Just this past week the Bulls and Thibodeau got together before the Finals started in Los Angeles.
By that time, Thibodeau had pretty much passed on the Hornets and Nets and had no guarantees from the Bulls. But the meeting went well and apparently confirmed that Thibodeau had the characteristics general manager Gar Forman outlined when he announced Del Negro’s dismissal.
It was basically a basketball guy,  a teacher who would be well prepared and someone who could be a leader and hold players accountable. Thibodeau seems to fit a number of those categories.
The long knock against him was a vague notion of his difficulty in personal relationships with players, and while I personally haven’t seen it or heard particular examples, he’s worked hands on for two decades with numerous top players. If it was a problem you’d assume you’d have heard more about it and the teams he had big roles with wouldn’t be in three Finals in the last decade.
In some ways, Thibodeau’s story reminds me of football’s Bill Parcells.
Parcells was a longtime assistant coach who didn’t get his first head job until 20 years after he began coaching and in his 40’s. Parcells isn’t every player’s favorite, but he has a designed system of play, much like Thibodeau on defense, and holds to certain values of what a team should be. You get that sense with Thibodeau, who is a renowned hard worker. Parcells had seven assistant coaching jobs and was head coach at Air Force Academy before getting the head job with the football Giants. Likewise, someone like the Spurs’ Gregg Popovich, who also can be a bit testy, as every one of those TV reporters who do those mindless end of third quarter interviews will tell you. Guys like Parcells and Popovich, the latter an assistant and college coach for more than 20 years before becoming Spurs coach, are the kind of people who, as it’s said, don’t suffer fools well. When you are demanding, you can get a reputation for not exactly being a people person.
Fine with me. Coaches are not there to be loved and to make life easier on the players. They are there to get more from the player than the player thought himself capable of delivering. If Thibodeau had some instances of not exactly being beloved, who cares.
He’s played a major role almost exclusively with big winners and terrific head coaches who are strong supporters of his, like Jeff Van Gundy and Doc Rivers.
And did anyone mention he’s represented by the same agency that represents LeBron James. I don’t believe that had anything to do with the Bulls decision to extend an offer to Thibodeau. But, as they say, it can’t hurt.

Rose to be next Bulls Hall of Famer after Pippen?

Here’s my MVP ballot for this season:

LeBron James

Kobe Bryant

Dwight Howard

Kevin Durant

Dwyane Wade

Here’s my MVP ballot for 2015:

Kevin Durant

Derrick Rose

LeBron James

John Wall

Blake Griffin

The talk coming into this Bulls/Cleveland Cavaliers series, which resumes 2:30 p.m. Sunday with the Cavs ahead 2-1, was all about LeBron James.

James hasn’t disappointed, averaging 34.3 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and three blocks.

But now, it’s about James and Derrick Rose.

“He’s a really good talent,” James said after Cavs practice Saturday. “We’ve got to find a way to contain him.”

Rose, like he did last year in opening the playoffs tying Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s playoff debut scoring record, is drawing praise and homage for his impressive play.

The subject of discussion at Cavs practice, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, was what to do about Rose.

Rose missed Bulls practice once last week because of the death of a close relative and has been leaving early to be with family.

Still, he has been remarkable in the three games in averaging 27.3 points and 8.3 assists. After seven turnovers in Game 1, Rose has had just one in the last two games while averaging almost 43 minutes and attempting 50 shots. With just about every Cav wing player, including James the last four and a half minutes of Game 3, taking turns defending Rose.

“We all need to take a crack at him,” James said. “Just to show him a different person in front of him. A different length, a different speed to keep him a little contained.”

All of this, for a 21-year-old in his second NBA season, has even left veteran Bulls players trying to figure out where Rose will fit in NBA history.

This is a special player whom you will be talking about for years to come if he remains healthy and about whom you’ll be able to say you saw him at the beginning.

“Me, (Jannero) Pargo and Hakim (Warrick) were talking about this,” said Lindsey Hunter, now a special coach who played guard in the NBA 17 years and broke in backing up Isiah Thomas. “There hasn’t been a guy to compare athletically with him at point guard.

“You look at Steve Francis and he was explosive to the rim, but he couldn’t change ends like Derrick,” said Hunter. “Jason Kidd. He couldn’t play over the rim like Derrick. Isiah wasn’t as big and fast. He’s really in a class of his own.”

Hunter says when you look at the top point guards today, you’d probably go with Deron Williams, Chris Paul and Steve Nash. But Hunter believes Rose combines all their attributes and soon will pass them all.

“I cannot think of a guard who combines everything he does,” says Hunter. “I try all the time. He’s in the mold of Deron Williams with body size. He has the speed of the kid at New Jersey (Devin Harris) and has the hands and passing ability of Chris Paul.

“The athleticism of who?” laughs Hunter. “There is nobody.

“He’s like a mini, compact LeBron,” says Hunter. “He’s a point guard with those attributes. And the way his jump shot is coming along, you can’t stop him. I tell people other than the kid at Utah, Paul when he’s healthy, and you still have to put Nash in there, it’s him. And slowly he’s passing all those guys.”

The critics, of course, say, well, Rose can score but he’s really no point guard. Hunter says he just laughs.

“What is a pure point?” asks Hunter, who has worked with Rose the last two seasons. “I came in during a time when they did not want you to be a scorer (at point). They try to make you conform, but it takes away from who you are. It put me on my heels. You want guys to play in the comfort zone for what they do. Imagine if Derrick played with (three point) shooters and could space the floor. He’d get double figure assists and you could not stop him.”

Hunter said teams know the basic plays and know the Bulls reliance on the pick and roll. It’s no secret.

“He beats a double team and then beats the help and then he’ll finish above the bigs at the rim,” Hunter said laughing at what he just said. “Now his defense is coming. By next year, I think he’ll be in that MVP talk. That’s big.”

So I decided to give it some thought.

It is just Rose’s second season, but this is some pretty special stuff already. And I’ve tried to think if there’s ever been a point guard like Rose with that kind of power and offensive explosion above the rim. I couldn’t really think of any.

So I made a list of the players primarily point guards in the Basketball Hall of Fame and offer my ranking:

Oscar Robertson

Magic Johnson

Isiah Thomas

Bob Cousy

John Stockton

Lenny Wilkens

Walt Frazier

Earl Monroe

K.C. Jones

Tiny Archibald

Slater Martin

Bob Davies

Dick McGuire

Calvin Murphy

I left off Pete Maravich, Dave Bing, Gail Goodrich and Jerry West who were big scorers but also facilitators in an era when guards were just guards.

I think when he’s done Rose could rank behind only Oscar and Magic. Obviously, a lot has to occur and he has to be fortunate to avoid injury and get some better teammates. But Rose’s talent is extraordinary and something most around the NBA never have seen before.

It’s something now to enjoy. Next act: Sunday.

Bulls continue winning ways over 76ers

Who are those guys wearing the Bulls uniforms?
Forget LeBron and Wade. The Bulls have Hakim the Dream and Flip to my Lou.
This is starting to get scary.
But in blowing out the Philadelphia 76ers Saturday 122-90, the Bulls won their fourth straight game in the last five nights, reached three games over .500 at 29-26 for the first time in almost three years and moved to sixth in the Eastern Conference with their 15th win on the last 21.
It also was perhaps as perfect a game as any Bulls team ever has played with a franchise low four turnovers, a 21-0 first half run to effectively end the game, seven players in double figures led by rookie Taj Gibson with 20 points and 13 rebounds, the fourth different scoring leader in the last five games, a dozen dunks and 27 fast break points.
“They were stopping us and getting out and running, playing great team basketball,” marveled Allen Iverson, who had a quiet 13 points. “They were finding the open man and just making the right plays. They didn’t turn the ball over. They did everything right.”
Iverson may not be able to play like it anymore, but he knows great basketball when he sees it. And it was such a good performance that the Bulls got standing ovations from a sellout crowd after the second and third quarters.
“I feel better about our team,” said Derrick Rose, who had 17 points and six assists and seems quite comfortable not having to carry the team. “These are guys who have come in and they know their roles and they’re good guys. I’m really excited about the guys we have here right now.”
You can say, “Yeah, it was the 76ers (who, by the way, beat the Bulls the last time they played),” or, “Yeah, it was the Knicks.” But it wasn’t long ago these same fans were greeting the Bulls with boos and condemnations in losing a 35-point lead to the Kings at home, losing to the then 1-19 Nets at home or losing to the Raptors by 32 at home.
But this new post trading deadline group, more secure and seemingly more savvy, bolted from a 38-35 deficit with 5:19 left in the second quarter to score 21 straight points to take a 58-39 halftime lead.
Rose and Kirk Hinrich opened the third quarter with threes, Hinrich’s to break Ben Gordon’s franchise record for threes made, and the Bulls never led by fewer than 16 and spent the fourth quarter toying with a 30-point margin.
“We’re confident and we’re playing really good basketball,” said Rose. “We’re really doing a good job of communicating in practice and the new guys have come in and given us more depth.”
Yes, the new guys.
The headline of last week’s trades of John Salmons and Tyrus Thomas was the Bulls’ ability to assure enough room under the salary cap to make an offer to a top free agent like LeBron James, Chris Bosh or Dwyane Wade.
But Hakim Warrick and Flip Murray have fit in seamlessly with Murray scoring 12 Saturday and Warrick with 15 points and nine rebounds, and giving notice of an exciting night to come with a facial dunk over Thaddeus Young to tie the game at 22.
“That got me going,” said Warrick.
That came just after Joakim Noah’s surprise appearance after sitting out seven games with plantar fasciitis. Noah said he felt better with some new orthotics and Del Negro decided to give him a look off the bench. Noah played just under seven minutes, all in the first half, and finished with one point, two rebounds and a two handed breakaway dunk off the back rim that had the Bulls bench covering the faces with towels to avoid laughing out loud.
“I’m happy with the win,” said Noah. “I’m not happy with the missed dunk, but I guess that happens. Those guys on the bench were killing me all game. I think I was just so excited. I guess I should have just laid it up. I feel good right now. I really feel no pain and I feel really good that we’re playing such good basketball right now. I just want to get out there and help. We’re playing really well as a team. We’re rebounding the ball and moving without the ball and we’re going to be a tough team to beat at the end of the season.”
Noah was so flummoxed about the miss he asked for the ball at the end of the first quarter and dunked it into the 76ers basket, apparently to see if he still could.
The Bulls led 25-23 after the first quarter and were going back and forth with the 76ers until Brad Miller, who was lively and renewed again with 15 points and 10 rebounds, missed twice, grabbing his own rebound and scoring the third time. One time 76ers star Moses Malone was known for such stat producing possessions. I guess it’s common among great centers.
The 76ers, a fairly out of control bunch with no floor leadership without Andre Miller, began hoisting up long jumpers, most early in the shot clock, and the Bulls began taking the rebound and running away with them.
“We took a lot of jump shots and they did a good job of getting rebounds and pushing the fast break,” noticed Andre Iguodala, who at least knew but didn’t do much about it.
Luol Deng, who shot poorly but again got into traffic and got 10 more free throws, his third straight game in double figure attempts, ran out and was fouled. Hinrich, shooting the ball the best he has in two seasons and scoring 17, hit a 20 footer. Gibson spun off a Deng handoff and went up strong as he now almost always does, and Miller outran the defense for a score. Then Rose scored on a fast break, Miller suckered the defense into fouls on consecutive possessions and Murray hit a three from the deep left corner. Young stopped the 21-0 run with a drive and a pair of free throws, but Rose simply blew through the 76ers flailing hands for a layup to send the Bulls into halftime ahead by 19.
“This has been a tough stretch with four games in five nights, but we’re playing really well,” said Hinrich. “If we play like that, we’re going to be a tough team to beat.”
As for his record, it did take Hinrich a bit longer to get there, and it was just a few months ago you were wincing when he shot threes. But he’s 45 percent on threes the last six games.
“I wasn’t going to go out there and just fire them up,” said Hinrich. “But it was nice to knock some out tonight. I don’t feel like I shoot a lot of threes. I just take them when it’s available.”
The 76ers made a half hearted run, led by Iguodala with 23 points, in the third. But Warrick continued to be tough on the boards, Murray clever in working inside out with Warrick and Gibson with some big time rebounds and powerful follows.
Gibson isn’t going to be rookie of the year. But he is quietly leads all rookie in double/doubles, is first among rookies in rebounding and second in blocks and he may be the surprise rookie of the year, a lightly regarded low first rounder who has been a rock on offense and defense, has played through plantar fasciitis and already is one of the most fundamental defenders at his position.
“He works,” said Del Negro. “He’s such a good kid. He is very coachable. He wants to learn and he is always working. I like some of the passes that he and Hakim made to each other. They worked well against the zone. Taj had great activity on the defensive end and offensively he was moving around the basket. He likes to go with that lefty hook and he was converting it.”
And Warrick and Murray have come in and despite this notion of having to adjust, their experience and basketball savvy has enabled them to play confidently and loose and already communicate openly on the floor and even direct other players in help and switch situations.
“Hakim and Flip are here to play minutes. That’s why we brought them in,” said Del Negro. “We lost a couple of guys who played major minutes. Hakim and Flip are going to take those minutes. They are veteran guys. With Hakim you can throw it to him down on the post. He made a couple of really nice passes tonight. With his length and athleticism he can make up for a lot of mistakes. If you play the game the right way and unselfishly, the game becomes a lot more fun and easier.”
It got crazy, as Rose might say, when Warrick in one motion made an over the shoulder behind his head touch pass to Gibson for a slam dunk as the Bulls extended their lead to 24 early in the fourth quarter.
“I am not surprised at their cohesiveness,” said 76ers coach Eddie Jordan. “Derrick Rose has a lot to do with it with his play. Hakim took control with his post up moves.”
Rose is one of four NBA players along with James, Wade and Chris Paul averaging at least 19.5 points, 5.5 assists and 3.5 rebounds. Hinrich is setting three point shooting records. Deng is averaging almost 10 free throws per game the last seven games. Gibson is averaging doubles figures in rebounds the last six games. Miller is averaging 15 points and 10 rebounds the last three games. The new guys both are averaging in doubles figures scoring. The opposing coach is marveling at power forward post ups. Heck, even James Johnson is dunking the ball with ferocity and purpose, though I wish he didn’t advertise it so much in so called garbage time at the end with a reverse jam and stare to earn a taunting technical foul.
But heck, when you can walk the walk and all that. The Bulls are backing it up. Yes, those guys.

Bulls look to be among winners at trading deadline

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Now, that’s what I call a trading deadline.
The NBA had a fans’ delight week with some three dozen players changing teams, including about a half dozen former All Stars. While it didn’t carry the potential balance of power changing effect of the summer of 2010 free agency, it does potentially impact this summer’s moves and the shape of the league to come.
So here’s an early look at how teams did. All of this is subject to change, of course, if I am wrong:
Winners:

Cavs: In acquiring two time All Star Antawn Jamison. LeBron James finally has his Scottie Pippen/Paul Gasol. Jamison will be 34 next season. But he still plays at a high level and seems a better fit with James than Amar’e Stoudemire, whom the Cavs pursued. Plus, the Cavs keep their top defensive players and young players like Anderson Varejao and J.J. Hickson. LeBron isn’t about to commit to the Cavs because he likes to see them wiggle. But he’s not going anywhere. There’s likely no team he can join with a particularly better supporting cast, and certainly nowhere he’d be treated better than in Cleveland.
Mavericks: They kicked it all off All Star weekend with the continuation of the Wizards’ unraveling by acquiring Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood and moving the moody and injured Josh Howard. It gives them a true second scoring option better than Jason Terry and some size and toughness up front to go along with Erick Dampier. If Jason Kidd holds up they could cause some playoff problems for someone.
Bulls: They may have helped Milwaukee marginally in the short term by dealing them John Salmons and some second round picks. But the Bucks could conceivably give the Bulls a chance to bring Marquette’s Dwyane Wade 90 miles south. The Bulls thus make it the big three national markets—New York, L.A. and Chicago—among at least eight teams with probably enough salary cap room to attract a max salaried free agent. The big markets are the Bulls, Clippers, Knicks and Nets. Without disturbing their starting lineup, the Bulls replace Tyrus Thomas with a slightly less talented much less troubled Hakim Warrick. Thomas and his antics just never were going to fit with what the Bulls hope to build, even if I felt you could have gotten through this season with him. The Bulls probably would have had to renounce him and get nothing this summer, so at least they get a future No. 1 draft pick as well as two players for this season. If Thomas thinks he’s yelling at coaches anymore, that’s over with Larry Brown. I’d like to listen in to some of those practices. The Bulls also get a veteran shooter in Flip Murray and remain on course to compete for a playoff spot and to have the money to tell a free agent they can join an All Star guard in Derrick Rose. Could they have tried to move, say, Brad Miller and Luol Deng to open up a second potential max slot? Perhaps, though I think it’s too much risk and would set you back too far this season in trying to make the playoffs. And you suddenly don’t look so inviting finishing behind Milwaukee and Charlotte. The Bulls now head into the summer with enough to offer a veteran a maximum salary deal, estimated now at $16.5 million. And with a good supporting cast already with an All Star in Rose and top rebounder like Joakim Noah in place. With a high level point guard and center and solid small forward in Luol Deng, it leaves the Bulls with more talent than any of the teams competing for top free agents. Plus, they have pieces if they have to do a sign and trade to guarantee someone like Dwyane Wade of Chris Bosh the most they can make even from their own teams. And if those players stay with their teams, the Bulls also have the space and players to make trades or take on top players from teams having financial issues or trying to get into the next free agency. It gives them multiple options.
Rockets: I was surprised they’d give up Carl Landry, who personifies their toughness and competitive spirit. Kevin Martin from the Kings is a good scoring big guard and I know the notion is he’ll fit with Yao better. I don’t make them a winner for that move as much as getting, in effect, the Knicks 2011 and 2012 No. 1 draft picks because if the Knicks strike out this summer, as I expect they will, you might be able to build a franchise on those draft picks. The history of the NBA shows short term success with free agency and long term success through the draft.
Trailblazers: Quietly may have gotten the steal of the week with robo rebounder Marcus Camby for Steve Blake and Travis Outlaw. Camby is on an expiring deal and if Brandon Roy’s health is OK, he can team with Roy and Aldridge to keep them in it with Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla hurt.

Losers:

Knicks: You could say they won in moving Jared Jeffries in order to get far enough under the salary cap this summer to pay two max deals. The flaw in that theory is if players leave to sign with new teams without a sign and trade—which the Knicks cannot do with a decimated roster—they have to sign shorter deals for a total of about $30 million less than they would make resigning with their own teams. Maybe you’d do that if you could be guaranteed a title. But the Knicks have so little on their roster—Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari, basically—they have little chance to get better. They traded their 2009 No. 1 pick, their 2010 No. 1 got to the Jazz, the Rockets can swap their 2011 No. 1 for the Knicks and the Rockets get New York’s 2012 No. 1. That is about the same penalty, losing four No. 1’s, that crippled the Timberwolves in the illegal Joe Smith signing. Though the Knicks will pursue the top guys, one theory is with getting Eddy Curry off last season they’ll make their move for Carmelo Anthony in 2011 and Chris Paul in 2012. So maybe I change their grade then.
Lakers: They had a shot at the Bulls’ Kirk Hinrich, but never were very serious despite an obviously weak backcourt. They believe they have enough to win now, and they may be right. But we’ve always heard it’s only about championships in L.A., and you figured they’d take any chance to assure that. They apparently declined to.
Heat: So here’s the conversation buddies LeBron James and Dwyane Wade might have had this week: James: “Hey, D-Wade. My team got me an All Star in Jamison. What did you team do for you?” D Wade: “Nothing.” Pat Riley apparently made for show bids for Amar’e Soudemire and Carlos Boozer, but Wade has to be asking himself whether the Heat is just making money on his back and essentially wasting two of the best years of his career. It has to brighten the prospects for every team that wants to steal way Wade this summer.
Celtics: They were another of those alleged suitors for Hinrich and even John Salmons. They spread the word around the NBA they were going to make a major deal and widely discussed dealing Ray Allen. But they ended up with an asterisk addition of Nate Robinson, this season’s Stephon Marbury.
Magic: Another team with backcourt issues that did nothing to address them. I thought I had a great idea in a deal involving Brandon Bass and Hinrich. They’ve had Bass and to a lesser extent Marcin Gortat hanging around doing not much and didn’t seem to try to upgrade. You mean they think they believe they are good enough to win a championship as is?
Spurs: Another team that didn’t do anything. They seem to have needed a spark, but couldn’t land anyone. They’re into the luxury tax and with a team that seems unmotivated at times and still doesn’t seem to fit, somewhat unathletic and aging. They needed an activity jump start and couldn’t find one.

I think Milwaukee helped itself for the near term with John Salmons as they can’t be a free agency player. The 76ers kept Andre Iguodala and probably were right to do so. Same with the Suns and Stoudemire. They may not be championship material, but it’s difficult to persuade people to watch cap space. Outside New York, at least. The Pacers struck out in trying to move Troy Murphy and T.J. Ford, and they seem stuck in a morass. The Pistons couldn’t free up their perimeter logjam and the Wizards saved a lot of money, which could be a model for the federal government right there in the neighborhood.

Bulls and Rose both go down against Orlando

The Bulls final game before the All-Star break Wednesday ended with just over nine minutes left in the first quarter with the Orlando Magic leading 9-3 on the way to a 107-87 victory.
The Bulls are holding their breath their season didn’t end at that moment.
Because Derrick Rose seemed to be gasping for air.
Just like more than 21,000 in the United Center, and Rose’s teammates, who basically seemed about as stunned and disheartened as the fans about a horrible, thumping fall Rose took after driving into Magic center Dwight Howard.
The Bulls basically reacted to Rose’s fall and departure from the game by playing like they were hurt themselves. Perhaps in sympathy for Rose they also laid down.
The Magic surged to a 41-17 first quarter lead, and then the only concern was the health of Rose, who was scheduled to be leaving Thursday to be the Bulls’ first All-Star in 12 years.
“X-rays so far were negative,” Bulls trainer Fred Tedeschi said after the game in the Bulls locker room. “I won’t say we completely ruled out a fracture, but it looks unlikely at this point. If there’s not a great deal of inflammation, I think we can be optimistic. If there are some things going on we’ll have to deal with that.”
Rose was limping pretty badly as he left the United Center before the game ended and went to the hospital for an MRI. The Bulls are expected to announce the results Thursday, and then Rose hopefully can leave for his first NBA All-Star appearance and the organization and fans can begin breathing easily again.
Take a look at that fall. Though my advice is not to.
It was one of those crashes that makes you want to look away. Imaging holding someone on their back six feet in the air and dropping them.
I knew it was the worst I’d seen with Rose, who gets bounced around a lot and quickly gets up, when he initially tried to get up and then lay back down. I’d never seen him do that, and that’s when Tedeschi, usually cautious to let players try to get up on their own first as that’s the recommended procedure, hurried out to attend to Rose, who actually made the shot after crashing into Howard and falling.
“He finished the play, which is incredible,” said Magic coach Stan Van Gundy, the East All Star coach who said he had hoped to play Rose a lot because he is so impressed with Rose. “That’s what I said to my assistants. He made that because he’s so strong. He’s a little bit like LeBron (James) going to the hoop. People bounce off. Dwight’s coming to block it and he’s (Rose) looking for contact. It’s a pretty good collision. I hope he’s OK.
“I went through it with (Dwyane) Wade (as Heat coach),” said Van Gundy. “Guys like that who throw themselves at people like that unfortunately sometimes things like that happen.”
The Bulls were trailing from the tip as they were finishing six games in nine nights with three back to backs, and the Magic was still not particularly sanguine about losing here Jan. 2 to Rose’s 30 points.
“We wanted to come out and send a message because the last time we played them they beat us pretty bad and we didn’t like that,” said Howard.
Still, no one thought Howard intentionally tried to injure Rose, and Howard and Rose became friends on a sneaker company trip to China last summer and remain often in contact.
“I’m going to hit him up in a little bit to make sure he’s fine and pray for him,” Howard said as he dressed with Magic players munching on Chicago style pizzas.
After Rose got up, Howard went over to shake his hand.
“It was just his momentum,” Howard insisted. “It’s not like I caught him and threw him down. It was his momentum. He hit the man of steel. It was nothing personal.”
Though it certainly wasn’t an invitation to tea. Or even the fortress of solitude.
The Magic was pummeling the Bulls already with Howard going at Brad Miller with Joakim Noah still out and Matt Barnes with a quick three. Before the reign of jump shots and terror ended quickly, the Magic had made 11 of their first 13 shots.
“We were getting drilled,” said Kirk Hinrich. “From the beginning we were kind of out to lunch.”
And, yes, Orlando was feasting on some soft Bulls beef.
Then came the unofficial end, or as Van Gundy later noted, “They didn’t have Derrick Rose. They’re a little easier to defend. Not a little easier, a lot.”
Rashard Lewis drove by Taj Gibson. He missed and Gibson rebounded and pitched out to Rose on the left wing near midcourt and Rose turned to attack. Rose stopped as Lewis and Jameer Nelson met him above the circle and Rose pulled the ball back.
Rose then split Lewis and Nelson and was by both in a flash. Howard began to move over from the left box where he was monitoring Miller and Rose rose just in front of the basket.
You have to watch that sometime in slow motion as Rose seems to levitate and head upward like a balloon.
His feet got up to about Howard’s waist. Howard moved toward Rose. Rose hit Howard’s chest above the “Orlando” written across the front of Howard’s jersey, and Howard swiped at Rose and caught Rose on his right arm for the foul. The contact seemed to throw Rose off balance and he was unable to brace himself and Rose fell straight down as if he’s been dropped on his back.
Ouch!
Rose literally hit the floor and bounced. He grabbed his side as he lay face down. He tried to push himself up with his right hand, but then gave up. The Bulls officially listed the injury as a bruised right hip. It was then you knew this was no ordinary fall. Rose was grimacing and then laid his head on top of his hands like he was going to sleep and lay there.
Rose finally got himself up after about two minutes down and staggered off the floor, his game night essentially over. He had to shoot the free throw to return to the game, but that was academic. Rose did, made it and then the Bulls fouled intentionally to get Rose out.
Rose went for x-rays in the United Center and the doctors couldn’t spot more severe damage, but sent Rose to the hospital as a precaution.
Del Negro was being optimistic, though he probably had to be with Noah still out with plantar fasciitis, Gibson also with plantar fasciitis and Del Negro saying the Bulls had asked Gibson play limited time in the All-Star rookie/sophomore game as a result, and Miller with his own back and knee ailments.
“The MRI is more precautionary, I think,” said Del Negro. “So we’ll see. I think he’ll be fine. It didn’t look anything (intentional), but he kind of lost his balance when Dwight bumped into him. Kind of fell on his side, tailbone. They wear those (protective) pads. I think everything will be fine. It was a good aggressive move and it was unfortunate the way he fell. I don’t think there was anything intended there at all. Just trying to block the shot.
“Let’s see what the MRI says,” said Del Negro. “Let’s see how much discomfort, how stiff he is. Usually when it’s a hip or tail bone it’s depending on how deep the bruise is. Usually, those things tend to loosen up rapidly, and luckily, we do have the All-Star break. I just hope he’s all right to participate because he deserves it and I want him to enjoy himself.”
The Bulls are trying to breathe a bit easier and pleased it wasn’t worse, at least for now.
“Our first reaction was hoping it wasn’t a wrist or hand because a lot of times when you fall like that you stick out your wrist or hand and that’s how you really get hurt,” said Hinrich, who has missed months with wrist and hand injuries.
There is never a good time for your best player to be hurt, but the Bulls have five days off with All Star break. But it was to be one of the big weekends of his life with Rose making the All Star team.
My guess is if he’s not seriously hurt he’ll try to play Sunday and would take a pass on defending his title in the Saturday skills challenge competition. Rose already was excused from the rookie/sophomore game because he was scheduled to compete in so many events.
It looked like an exciting day for Rose as earlier in the day he was officially selected among 27 players to try out for 12 spots on the USA Basketball team for the 2010 World Championships and eventually the 2012 Olympics. Though there always are injuries and players pulling out for personal reasons, Rose is more likely being brought into the USA program for the 2014 World Championships and 2016 Olympics.
USA Basketball officials have said players from the 2008 Olympic team would have priority if they wanted to return, and point guards Chris Paul and Deron Williams played in 2008 and will be back. The committee also is said to be leaning toward having Chauncey Billups as the veteran point guard to replace Jason Kidd. Still, there will be tryouts in Las Vegas next summer, and the Bulls presented Rose with a USA jersey before the game and Rose gave a pregame thanks to the fans for their support.
And then, Down Goes Rose! Down Goes Rose!
It was the worst of times for Rose and the worst news for the Bulls, who thus went onto the break 25-26, a game ahead of ninth place Milwaukee for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
That would be just a fantasy without Rose and Noah, and next week is the trading deadline with the Bulls still involved in talks with several teams.
This one never was a contest as the closest the Bulls got after the first quarter was 18, and then only for a few seconds as the Magic kept the lead in the 20’s virtually all game. Luol Deng led the Bulls with 23 points. But the starters didn’t stay long and the reserves actually scored more than the starters, led by Tyrus Thomas’ 16 points.
The only Orlando starter to play in the fourth quarter was Lewis, and just for two minutes. Howard had 18 points and 14 rebounds in 25 minutes to lead Orlando with seven in double figures.
Howard insisted it was just basketball.
No flagrant foul was called and it was a veteran crew led by Joey Crawford.
“Me and Derrick are good friends,” said Howard. “I’d never do anything to hurt him. We went to China and got a good chance to develop our relationship. We had great talks. I’m happy with his progress this season and wish him the best.
It feels bad,” said Howard. “In the game of basketball there are hard fouls and times when people hit the ground pretty hard and there’s always a risk of any kind of injury. Hopefully he’s OK. It was never my intention to hurt him or anybody. It’s my job to protect the basket.”
Now the Bulls hope to protect what most now consider the franchise.
“He was wearing the Adidas padded shorts and I think that soaked up a lot of the blow,” said Tedeschi. “So hopefully it will turn out not as bad as it could have been. When he didn’t get up and we had the time out he was pretty shook. It was a pretty bad fall. Derrick never says a whole lot in the first place. He didn’t say much.”
Like everyone else, he seemed to just be holding his breath.