Tag Archives: kobe bryant

Figuring out the Big Three of free agency

The Bulls ended up doing OK in free agency, even though they apparently lost out on the elite of the class, though LeBron James could still be in play after the Bulls Wednesday reached apparent agreement with Jazz All-Star forward Carlos Boozer.

After all, earlier in the day it was looking like the Bulls had a chance to put together a free agency Big Three of All-Stars and potential Hall of Famers.

Too bad that would have been Shaq, Iverson and McGrady.

Now, the big suspense remains as to what will LeBron do. It seems he has taken his TV embarrassment–I mean spectacular–to a Greenwich, Conn. studio for his announcement Thursday night on ESPN, which is headquartered in Bristol, Conn.

The indicators would then suggest LeBron is signing with the Knicks. Why else go to Connecticut? It is true that LeBron tried to recruit Amar’e Stoudemire to play with him in Cleveland before Amar’e agreed with the Knicks. So the thinking goes LeBron hasn’t played with anyone in Cleveland and still went to a Finals, averaging 63.5 wins the last two seasons. Now, he’d play with Stoudemire.

Of course, the rest of that roster actually makes Eddy Curry one of the better players.

So maybe it’s the Nets.

Yes, you can see the James’ gang having scripted all this.

By the way, this is how stupid this James TV show has to be–even ESPN didn’t think of it. James’ posse presented it to the network.

The Nets have a way better roster, an exciting new billionaire owner/playboy, James’ buddy Jay-Z as a part owner, Avery Johnson as coach and the promise of the world’s newest arena in two years.

The other big speculation going around was that James would go to the Heat to form a super friends team with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, who Wednesday declared their allegiance to one another in Miami.

They said they passed on Chicago with Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Luol Deng so they could be winners, as they will now play with Michael Beasley and Mario Chalmers. James could join up, though then all would have to accept well under a maximum contract, or Miami would have about another $10 million for additional players without James.

So Wade and Bosh have a better chance to win there?

Of course, these are the guys who have one championship and two 50-win seasons between them in 14 combined years in the NBA.

Actually, if you combine Wade, Bosh and LeBron, that’s one championship in 21 combined NBA seasons.

Maybe that’s why we don’t hear much from Kobe Bryant in this mess. He apparently is about winning and has won. The others may just be about talking about winning.

And in all this, there still is a chance James could opt for the Bulls. Yes, we have to keep all the TV markets watching. Hey, maybe a sign-and-trade to join Kobe in L.A. Don’t forget the West market. You’ll notice the show was timed not to be on too early in Los Angeles.

Look, if LeBron opted for the Bulls, as with the $75 million for Boozer they still could give LeBron a five-year max deal, he could walk into a ready made near super team. The Bulls seem to be the only free agent team truly with veteran roster depth and an All-Star. Plus, with a point guard and center, which only New Jersey can also offer. The Nets, by the way, play in Newark the next two years.

I actually think James is best positioned to win if he stays in Cleveland.

I think their roster, with the ability to add a mid-level free agent and new coach Byron Scott, is the most set up to make a run.

If James were to go to New York or Miami, I see the East opening up quite a bit. The Knicks and Heat would be viewed as the big free agency winners and have the praise of the media.

But both teams would need a quality center and point guard, which would not be easy to find with minimum salaries.

If James does join Wade and Bosh, which seems unlikely, how do you compete with three stars and nine minimum contracts?

That’s being with a winner?

Or if James goes to New York to play with Stoudemire, whom his own team wouldn’t pay a max deal, the rest of the roster is Eddy Curry, Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Douglas Toney and Bill Walker.

Yes, you probably win 50 games automatically with James.

But would you be better than Rose, Noah, Boozer, Deng and, say, Mike Miller, along with Taj Gibson and Omer Asik?

Boozer is a solid pickup and was on the Bulls’ radar early, though even he understood they had to make a run at LeBron and Wade, especially once Wade opened the door to talks. But Boozer has basically made his intentions known to the Bulls for a year since going on Chicago radio a year ago to talk about how he’d love to play in Chicago. Even Jim Paxson, the Cavs GM when Boozer mysteriously left as a free agent and now a Bulls scout, endorsed the acquisition of Boozer.

While Boozer will be 29 and has had injury issues–though no major surgeries like Stoudemire–Boozer is one of the top pick-and-roll big men in the NBA. He fits nicely with Derrick Rose, who has been an advocate of Boozer coming to the Bulls for some time.

Boozer is a career double-double player, former All-Star and 2008 Olympian. He has been deft running the pick-and-roll with Deron Williams and spaces the floor nicely with his shooting. He’s not regarded as highly as Bosh because of age and size, but he was an all-NBA player just two years ago.

As a result, if the free agents basically divide up, I’d see the East opening up from the three big teams of Boston, Cleveland and Orlando to include the Bulls, Heat, Knicks if they get LeBron, or Nets, and perhaps Atlanta, who is still a 50-win team with Joe Johnson. You’d be looking at a much more competitive and deeper Eastern Conference than we’ve seen since maybe the late ’80s when the Bulls, Pistons, Hawks, Celtics, Cavs, Knicks, 76ers and Bucks were all contenders on some level.

But perhaps the larger question in Chicago is could you be right and everyone else wrong?

Look, I know most probably regret giving up Kirk Hinrich. And I was long a proponent of getting someone early through modest free agency, like Joe Johnson, or trade, like Monta Ellis. But if the Bulls did not do the Hinrich trade, which is not contingent, they probably could not even have gotten an interview with James.

And if they didn’t, what could they say to the possibility of not having a shot at James or Wade because they wanted to keep Hinrich?

They, obviously, had to take the shot.

The Wade chance came out of nowhere, basically, and assuming it was for real, which I am not sure it ever was, it also required two salary spaces.

Now, that could have been the super team.

LeBron and Bosh with what the Bulls had or Wade and Bosh, or Boozer, with what the Bulls had.

You’d head off LeBron and basically make him irrelevant for the rest of his career as he couldn’t go to Miami and didn’t have the roster to match in New York or Cleveland.

The media consensus, and now we are sure that is meaningless, was the Bulls were the favorites for James.

So how could he not see that, too, unless we are in for a last minute switch here.

And how could Wade not see that?

The others didn’t have a stake in Chicago as Wade does with family, even though he is going through a divorce and custody, and home.

Wade alluded to that in his comments on ESPN Wednesday in saying what a tough decision it was. It rang hollow because if he really was only about winning, how could he say, especially with the chance to be closer to his family, he has a better chance to win in Miami with Bosh, Beasley and Chalmers than he would in Chicago with Bosh, Rose, Noah, Deng and Gibson?

C’mon, it’s obvious, which is why Wade likely was trying to con the Bulls.

One report had it that Wade was put off by the Bulls because they still wanted to see LeBron after seeing him. What nonsense. The Bulls were supposed to drop pursuit of LeBron to get a shot at Wade, who previously blasted the organization and long has said he’d prefer Miami?

Pat Riley would have loved that.

In fact, the story out of New Jersey was they regretted talking to Wade because they felt he used their information to return it to Miami. Was he doing the same with the Bulls? Did he find their first presentation potentially so attractive to LeBron he had to go back a second time to maybe scare off LeBron and make it seem like they were recruiting him harder?

You can be sure there was plenty of ugly stuff going on everywhere as the free agents were trying to talk one another away from other guys. Clearly, LeBron was trying to get Bosh away from Wade and to Cleveland.

What I also think Wade was up to, and it made more sense, was to use the Bulls as an emergency fallback.

He had long been aligned with Bosh as their shared agent, Henry Thomas, has been working to try to place them together with max deals.

LeBron was recruiting Bosh and Bosh could get a sign-and-trade and so-called super max of $125 million in Cleveland. He also could get it in Houston and maybe Chicago. Chicago was probably out of contention for Wade with Bosh, as if Bosh got the sign-and-trade, Wade would be paid less than Bosh and eventually maybe less than Rose as well. You know Wade never would stand for that. And, frankly, the top player never should.

I had worked out a formula which could satisfy that with Bosh getting a sign-and-trade for slightly less than the max to guarantee the sixth year and let Wade earn more. I don’t know if that ever was broached.

But Wade wasn’t fully sure he could get Bosh to go with him. The terms of Bosh’s deal remain unclear as Toronto could do a sign-and-trade or Wade and Bosh can take similar salaries of Bosh just takes the five-year max and some $95 million.

It’s a tough statement for basketball in Canada as the only guy apparently willing to go for less than the most money seemed to be Bosh.

Meanwhile,  Wade had to protect himself in case Bosh took the money somewhere else.

New York didn’t make sense because Wade can see that roster, and Chicago had not only the talent but many personal reasons that would fit. So the Bulls were likely just an emergency landing spot for Wade. And perhaps to plant the seed a bit with LeBron that the Bulls may not be fully committed.

Look, Wade is a good actor. Have you seen those TV commercials?

So we tune in to watch LeBron Thursday and see where the rest of this heads.

If LeBron is truly about only winning, he’d have to consider the Bulls with Boozer. But hardly anyone in this free agency class has made a statement about winning. It would be hard to justify that even one free agent made a decision about winning over money, even Bosh.

If anyone wanted only to win they would have tried to make a so called super team, and it’s hard to see how any two could do that without including the Bulls. If LeBron goes to Miami is that a super team? Sure, in name, but those three guys would take all the cap room (and none at a max salary) and the rest of the roster other than Beasley and Chalmers would have to be minimum players. And Bosh has made it pretty clear he ain’t playin’ no stinking center. Tough to see that.

So I don’t expect LeBron to come to the Bulls, either, though there has to be a chance.

If he doesn’t, yes, you try to fill the shooting guard spot and there are plenty of candidates, like Mike Miller, Ray Allen, Ronnie Brewer, Wesley Matthews, J.J. Redick, Roger Mason and Anthony Morrow.

But I’d try to go the trade route if I can as you have that approximately $15 million left after Boozer’s $75 million/five-year deal.

I’d narrow in on Golden State, which is for sale and busy clearly salaries as they recently dealt Corey Maggette to the Bucks. One possibility is Deng for Monta Ellis and Andris Bierdins. That’s $20 million in salary for the Warriors, who maybe save $10 million and get back Deng with some No. 1’s and maybe cash. It’s gives the Warriors a veteran who can play while taking two long deals off their books. I’ve heard the Knicks also are pursuing Ellis. Yes, you’d have an opening at small forward, but Ellis with Rose, Boozer and Noah and a lot of size with Biedrins and Omer Asik would be a heck of an uptempo team that would be impossible to defend. Now, that would be exciting.

There are many other possibilities and combinations if James moves elsewhere, but at least the Bulls remain in the game in a potentially big way. That is a lot better than it seemed Tuesday.

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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.

Thibodeau hired to coach Bulls

The Bulls have a new coach, Tom Thibodeau of the Boston Celtics.

Thibodeau, according to reliable sources, agreed to a three-year deal early Saturday afternoon to become the 15th (not counting interims) coach in Bulls history.

Thibodeau currently is the associate head coach of the Celtics, who are down 1-0 in the NBA Finals.

NBA rules do not specifically prohibit the announcement of significant transactions like a trade or coaching hire during the Finals, a spokesman said. But teams are strongly discouraged from doing so to not upstage the league’s premier postseason event. Plus, Thibodeau is busy now, anyway.

I know. Apparently this memo never reached LeBron James.

So the Bulls declined comment.

But reliable sources close to Thibodeau confirmed that Thibodeau received the three-year offer worth some $6.5 million late Friday and agreed early Saturday.

Sources also said Thibodeau is trying to persuade Oklahoma City Thunder assistants Mo Cheeks and Ron Adams to join his staff in Chicago with holdover Pete Myers.

Thibodeau also is not expected to comment until the Finals conclude and under rules of the Celtics assistant coaches cannot do interviews with the media.

Unlike the interview process, which was permitted by the league to be public, the Bulls will have to wait to make the official announcement. Team officials could not be reached for comment.

But it was clear with word from Thibodeau’s associates the deal is done and that Thibodeau is thrilled. Thibodeau made the unusual commitment to pass on several job opportunities just for the chance to be considered a prime candidate for the Bulls job.

Although the Bulls did extensive background work on numerous candidates and had informal personal and telephone discussions with candidates, the interview with Thibodeau while the Celtics prepared for the Finals earlier this week was the most significant.

So did the Bulls get a great coach?

No one ever truly knows that until they get the chance to prove it. But Thibodeau has strong backing and support around the NBA and in retrospect perhaps the major surprise is he is just getting his first NBA head coaching job.

The guy has been so good for so long that he’s been taken for granted,” Jeff Van Gundy told the Newark Star-Ledger about Thibodeau, his longtime assistant. “Tom now has this thing where he’s known as a defensive guy, which he’s great at — not good, great. But he also is very good offensively. And it’s the reason why I hired him initially in New York — his work with individual players. He had incredibly good offensively ideas. His work with Yao Ming still gets overlooked because Yao is hurt a lot. But in Yao’s last full year, he was an MVP candidate, 25 and 11.”

Thibodeau has gotten a reputation as a so called defensive guru, which is a bit unfair because you have to have the players. And while he did have Kevin Garnett in Boston, no one ever accused Ray Allen or Paul Pierce of being defenders previously in their careers and they’ve both been principal starters for one of the NBA best defenses the last three years, and at the most vital wing positions where there is the best talent.

The so-called knock on Thibodeau has been that he’s too intense, so would not relate well with players. But with Thibodeau up for serious head coaching consideration this season his players have been effusive in praise. And Van Gundy also noted the irony of guys being condemned because they don’t work hard enough and here’s a guy who supposedly works too hard.

And while Thibodeau is highly regarded for his defense systems and schemes, even Kobe Bryant credited him in a recent interview for helping Bryant develop his offensive game when Bryant was growing up in Philadelphia and Thibodeau was a 76ers assistant.

As the son of former 76ers Joe Jellybean” Bryant, Kobe had access to 76ers facilities and said of Thibodeau: “He started drilling me, NBA basketball drills, when I was 14. So he kind of has inside information on what I like to do because he taught me most of the stuff.”

Added Bryant: “I’ve been facing his defenses here for some time and they’re tough – very, very tough.  Every single team he’s been on has had great strategies and physical defenses.”

And Van Gundy’s point about Thibodeau and Yao was significant, if often overlooked.

But before his injury which kept him out all last season, Yao had become one of the most efficient and effective offensive players in the NBA. Thibodeau is a renowned worker who has put the job before everything in his life. Friends says he owns little but a car as he spends all his time working with players and on the game. During his time with Van Gundy in Houston, Thibodeau traveled to China in the summers to work with Yao and developed a strong teacher/student relationship with him and Yao long has been an advocate.

Here are some quotes from Boston players on Thibodeau:

Ray Allen: “Tom will come up with a defensive scheme that we’ve never heard before, and he’ll say it like we’ve been talking about it all year.  But he makes sure we’re all on the same page with it. So, he’s definitely kept us keyed in.”

Kevin Garnett: “Coach is real animated. He’s real emotional. He’s real energetic. That’s what type of defense we try to go out and have. It’s an energetic, consistent defense. It’s a talkative defense, and when you see him on the side, those are the things that he’s put in for us to try to go and carry over to the court.”

Kendrick Perkins: “Thib has been the best thing that happened to us.”

I’ve also heard the stuff about Thibodeau and being too much a workaholic and humorless, and as I’ve written previously I didn’t find that when I’ve talked with him and I remember a scene at the All Star game in New Orleans a few years back when I saw Yao and Thibodeau doing something of a comedy routine for the NBA Entertainment cameras, which are everywhere during All Star weekend, about Thibodeau being single and what he does on Valentine’s Day and both shooting one liners at one another. And if you have been around Yao you knew he does that much better than most guys with English as a first language. It certainly didn’t strike me with Thibodeau as a guy who didn’t have the humor gene.

Which is not to say the Bulls hired Jerry Seinfeld.

I believe they hired one of the most respected coaching minds in the NBA. That seems to be a good start. And, at least on this one, Jeff Van Gundy and I agree.

I caught up with Van Gundy Saturday afternoon after Finals practice and he was both thrilled and relieved his old friend and coaching colleague, Thibodeau, finally gets a chance to be a head coach.

Van Gundy chose to sit out this coaching derby to stay with his ESPN/ABC television gig, but his views about the game are held in high regard and he believes Thibodeau will be a success with the Bulls.

Van Gundy admits he probably wouldn’t have been so bold if he were Thibodeau to turn down jobs to pursue a chance with the Bulls, but Van Gundy said, “You’ve got to admire him. He knew what he wanted and he went for it.

“He’s smart,” said Van Gundy about why he believes Thibodeau is the right man for the Bulls job now. “But not just smart about the game, but about people and making the right decisions. That’s critical to being a good coach and that’s what he’s got. The other thing is he’s sincere, reliable and trustworthy. Those are the things that are going to form the basis for solid relationships.

“He’s as bright as anyone I know about the game,” said Van Gundy. “I don’t worry about that. It’s the other stuff at which he’ll surprise his critics. This is a guy who’ll be astute about the magnitude of the job.”

Van Gundy laughed about past questions of Thibodeau’s supposed lack of a gregarious nature. Besides not necessarily being the case, Van Gundy said it’s not like Pat Riley and Phil Jackson are going around doing celebrity roasts.

“I have no doubt for a guy who never has coached an NBA game that he’s done as much to prove he’s ready to get an opportunity as anybody. He’s experienced everything, the highs and lows, the championships, long losing streaks, winning streaks, all kinds of markets and players. He’s a guy who knows how the NBA works and he’ll be the same coach every day. No real highs or lows, and that demeanor will serve him well.

“And he understands the balance you need for winning basketball,” said Van Gundy. “You see that with the teams still playing, teams that balance offense and defense.”

Van Gundy admitted his friend was discouraged some after the Celtics won in 2008 and he didn’t get a head coaching chance, but he persevered, which is the kind of trait a coach needs to carry a team through the tough parts of seasons.

“Like any good coach, Tom believes in certain principles without regard to who is on the team,” said Van Gundy. “Play hard, play smart, play together, defend, rebound, take care of the ball. But he will design a system that plays to the strengths of his best players and try to hide their non strengths. I think his time in Philadelphia, New York and Boston has prepared him for the magnitude of the job.”

Bulls begin coaching search; here’s a list

So now the Bulls need a new coach with the official announcement Tuesday of the firing of Vinny Del Negro.

I suppose if you are looking to get to the so-called Point C, then, literally, you might need a C for Collins. But that ship has sailed and I don’t believe the former Bulls coach Doug Collins is in the mix to be the next coach.
Other Cs? Casey, Cleamons, Cartwright, Cheeks? No, I don’t think that’s what the Bulls have meant about going to Point C, which, actually, GM Gar Forman avoided referring to in his Tuesday press conference.
The question not only is who, but what. What makes a good coach?
There are several principal elements and several particulars that apply to the Bulls.
Forman Tuesday talked generically about accountability, teaching and leadership, and I didn’t take that as a direct shot at Vinny, but more general qualifications.
Still, Vinny was not so much a so-called accountability coach, as was Scott Skiles. Those guys say play defense. You don’t, you sit until you do. But since the Bulls had one of those and fired him, the next guy tends to be a bit looser, more so-called player friendly, which Vinny was. Plenty of good coaches are–Flip Saunders, for example.
There’s also experience. Though Forman said he wouldn’t exclude anyone, I’d assume the Bulls would this time want a coach who knows the NBA, which Forman did refer to, and a coach who didn’t require on-the-job training. That would be a former head coach or, at least, a veteran assistant with longtime experience and leaguewide respect.
There’s what I’d call equanimity, something of the ability to work with management and avoid the pitfalls of competitors going at one another. That obviously became a late season issue with the dustup between Del Negro and Executive VP John Paxson. The issue is these guys are together virtually all year with training camp, the season, draft and summer league. When they can’t comfortably get along and talk basketball for fun, the job becomes a chore, which it should never be.
Then there’s presence, someone who commands respect with the team for what he knows and/or who he is as well as with the community. That also being a person who communicates being in charge, so-called leadership.
As Rick Pitino once famously said not long before he was being fired, “Bird, McHale and Parish aren’t walking through the door.” Neither are Sloan, Popovich and Jackson, though more on that later.
Most of the great ones are taken, but it’s not like you have to settle as much as perhaps your choice cannot be everything to everyone.
This is where I think the Bulls are, though I have no actual evidence: I think they have an idea of candidates, which is what all organizations have. Don’t fool yourself. Everyone organization keeps a list of prospective head coaches and assistants, as well as players. It’s what they do. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be doing their jobs.
The classic story is one of the reasons the Jerry Krause/Doug Collins dynamic split. Krause, as we recall, was something of a Mr. Malaprop, saying the wrong thing the wrong way, like when he said organizations win championships. He was trying to say a good thing and commend all the support staff, and, well, that was Jerry.
So this one time he’s talking to Doug and tells him something about, what if Doug were unable to coach perhaps from an accident or something and there being staff to step in. Jerry was trying to make a point of how good the staff was, but Doug took it as Jerry trying to line up his successor, which, I guess, eventually happened.
I suspect the Bulls want to avoid this parade of candidates they had last time, so maybe they’ll edit their list down to four or five, maybe check out a few more, cut it again and maybe interview three or four and make a recommendation to managing partner Jerry Reinsdorf, who always said he holds only veto power.
People ask me about the organization structure and I see it as sort of a bicameral legislature, theories that went back to ancient Greece and like the U.S. government. To my thinking, Forman, the guy who worked up the scouting ranks, is the House and John Paxson, the former Finals hero, is the Senate, and they try to come together in conference. Reinsdorf is the president and has veto power. I see each with sort of a line to the president, but having to come together before presenting something.
Forman left open the time frame, and, certainly, there are unique situations which could lead to an extended time period. After all, this is draft/trade/free agent time, and the coach has minimal involvement. Phil Jackson used to go home after the season and skip the draft.
I don’t believe the coach is a make or break for a free agent, but, I’d guess, you wouldn’t want to have P.J. Carlesimo if you were going after Latrell Sprewell. Just hypothetically, of course. Maybe you’d take LeBron’s uncle if LeBron would commit, but you wouldn’t know that until July.
So what would I do?
Factoring in what I believe the Bulls wouldn’t do and what seems feasible and I could be excited about, I’d go with Mo Cheeks.
He has head coaching experience, and won 49 and 50 games in consecutive seasons in Portland. He’s a Chicago native from DuSable High School. He’s one of the great point guards ever, ranking in the top 10 alltime in steals and assists, a perfect guy to tutor Derrick Rose with his biggest weakness. He started for a championship team, the great ’83 Philadelphia 76ers, and is one of the alltime good guys ever in the NBA. Any doubt, check out the YouTube video of Cheeks with the girl stumbling over the national anthem.
He’s not regarded as great in so-called accountability, as he’s more the good guy, but I can see Cheeks with tough assistants, like Larry Bird had at Indiana, particularly close friend Ron Adams, who transformed the Thunder defense.
But I’m not sure Cheeks, who is now on the Thunder staff, is even on the Bulls’ list. So here’s a rundown of all the possibilities I can think of. And I’m sure the Bulls have a secret one or two. The hope is the Bulls don’t have to interview them all.
— Doug Collins: The former Bulls coach is a great turnaround specialist whom I think will get the 76ers job, assuming he wants it. I’ve heard he had a knock-your-socks-off interview. The Bulls passed on him two years ago and usually one veto is all you get.
— Larry Brown: The other great turnaround specialist, though the Bulls don’t exactly need turning around. Brown’s play-the-right-way defensive philosophy, though, would make a difference, at least in the short term. But Larry also wants a front office role and no one is giving theirs up. Plus, it’s one thing for Michael Jordan to let him go to Philadelphia, but back to Chicago? I see Brown getting the Clippers job as he also owns a home in Malibu and is close with Clippers owner Donald Sterling and with a high draft pick and Blake Griffin presumably healthy that could be a great job.
— Kevin McHale: The former Wolves executive did interim stints twice and actually did well. He’s good working with players; they respect and like him. But Kevin’s never liked the grind of coaching with travel and all the film work. Perhaps he’s ready. I’ve heard he’s very interested.
— Lawrence Frank: Same with him. Actually same with a lot of guys as far as interest. There was all this media talk about front office issues, but I’ve heard coaches and agents inquiring for months about the job. With Rose and Joakim Noah, the cap room and a major market, the Bulls job is considered perhaps the best open one. Frank is regarded as hard working and well prepared and excellent with X’s and O’s and strategy. But he had a losing record with the Nets, played a slow game heavy on coaching control  and never was regarded as very demanding of the players, especially the stars. You always worry about those control oriented coaches like Frank who don’t allow assistants to speak to anyone.
— Byron Scott: He’s had two jobs and also a losing career record, though not by much. He’s expressed open interest in the Bulls, but there’s some talk he’s also waiting to see what happens with the Lakers, as he’s close with Kobe Bryant. He’s had a rap as not a very hard worker with players and preparation with Eddie Jordan getting behind the scenes credit when he took the Nets to two Finals. Though that seemed unfair.
— Avery Johnson: The “Little General” was not necessarily always a term of endearment as he’s been regarded by some teammates as somewhat overbearing. He’s supposedly pushing hard for the New Orleans job and may be trying to leverage himself in by pushing for Philadelphia.
— Jeff Van Gundy: He seems satisfied to stay in TV for awhile, but it would be hard to see the Bulls going for him the way he went on ABC and ripped the organization for two hours during one playoff game with the Cavs. At least you have to credit him for not pandering for the job. Little known fact: His brother, Stan, played against Forman when they were growing up in California with Jeff at the games.
— Tom Thibodeau: The perennial runnerup. The Celtics’ defensive guy should get a look, but he’s probably at a disadvantage without having had a head job. There always are vague questions about relating to players, but I know him and find him good to get along with and have asked players and they seem to like him.
— Ron Adams: Another longtime assistant and regarded with Thibodeau as one of the best defensive minds in the league. He was on Scott Skiles’ staff as the defensive guy when Skiles was Bulls coach. There are a lot of latest hot assistant names you hear in these searches like Monty Williams, John Shumate, Mike Budenholzer, Elston Turner, Mike Malone, Tyrone Corbin and Brian Shaw. I’d go with Adams before any of them, but it’s uncertain if the Bulls will go the assistant route.
— Phil Johnson: The one-time, long time ago Bulls interim has basically been Jerry Sloan’s co-coach for years. He was coach of the year in 1975 for the old Kansas City/Omaha Kings and who knows if he wants his own team anymore. But he’s a good one.
— Mike Dunleavy: He was fired from the Clippers this season, but has more than 600 career wins for four teams and a Finals loss to the Bulls in 1991. He’s been close with Reinsdorf as a fellow Brooklynite.
— Eric Musselman: His name popped up in rumors several months back when there was talk about Del Negro’s job. He’s a hard driving guy like his late dad and had a rough go in one lamentable season coaching the Kings. Who knows if he’s mellowed with time away.
— Reggie Theus: The one-time popular Bull is on the bench with the Timberwolves after doing a decent job with the Kings for a few seasons. He’s popular in Chicago and a great ambassador, though he got rejected for the DePaul job. He’s got some connections with Forman as both worked at New Mexico State, where Theus had a nice NCAA run. The question at times has been his work ethic.
— Dwane Casey: He was close two years ago when Del Negro got the job. He had a good start at Minnesota, where he was replaced midway into the season and the team collapsed. He’s been on the bench at Dallas and has been a respected, if low key guy.
— Mark Jackson: The ABC broadcaster and former top point guard has been fishing around for an NBA job the last few years, though he’s had difficulties after having developed, fairly or not, something of a clubhouse lawyer reputation during his playing days.
— Mike Woodson: If the Hawks go out as expected and quickly after barely getting by the Bucks and having coached into his final season without an extension, he seems like the next to be available. But he’s way too much one-on-one coach and for all the criticism Del Negro got for his offense, Woodson’s and Mike Brown’s in Cleveland were way less complex or interesting. For some reason, the national media had it in for Vinny.
— Isiah Thomas: Just kidding, though he never had a losing season coaching the Pacers.
— Tony Barone: The Chicago native and former Creighton coach had an interim stint with Memphis, where he now is personnel director. He ran an uptempo, open game the Bulls need to play, though the defensive identity was questionable.
— Mark Price: The great Cavs point guard of the late 1980s was a head coach in Australia and has been a top shooting coach for several teams and working with a number of players. He’s also involved with a basketball teaching academy and specializes innwork with point guards. He’s also been a prep coach and coached Atlanta’s Josh Smith.
— Mike Fratello: The famed “Czar” from Marv Albert’s broadcasts would like to get another shot. He got something of a bad rap as a slowdown coach in Cleveland after having an uptempo Atlanta team with Dominique. He’s been away for a while and has been regarded as a bit too controlling of point guards and the offense, like Van Gundy and Avery Johnson.
— Sam Mitchell: He’s a name I like. Definitely a hold accountable, demanding tough guy. He was to be replaced when Bryan Colangelo came to Toronto, but then won coach of the year. Oops. Colangelo finally dumped him and the team has tanked since. He’s got some rough edges which seem to worry teams.
— Dick Versace: He’s also been out awhile but trying to break back in. He had a head stint with the Pacers and did front office work for the Grizzlies before Jerry West took over. He’s been popular and well known in Chicago, but away from the game and even tried a congressional run a few years back.
— Rudy Tomjanovich: He’s one of the great guys, but the game finally became too much when he was the guy between the two Phil Jackson runs in L.A. He quietly reverted to scouting and personnel work and has seemed much happier.
— Jim Cleamons: The longtime Jackson assistant had one run with the Mavs before Don Nelson added him to his list of guys he undercut. He’s a triangle guy, and I don’t see that offense very good for this Bulls personnel.
— Brian Hill: He had a couple of runs with the Magic and got to a Finals, though he’s mostly settled into assistant work, lately with the Pistons.
— Darrell Walker: Also an assistant with the Pistons after working under Scott with the Hornets. If Brown leaves the Bobcats, I can see Michael Jordan making a run at Walker, a Chicago guy who’s an old school type demanding coach who once had a run with the Raptors as Jordan likes guys he knows.
— Patrick Ewing: Also a Jordan guy. He’s the assistant most passed over of late, sort of like the best golfer never to win a major. He’s a bit on the quiet side, which has hurt his chances, though he’d be a good tutor for Joakim Noah given the way he developed from a defender into an offensive player. He’s been working under a terrific coach in Orlando in Stan Van Gundy.
— Tom Izzo: I don’t see the Bulls going the college way with the likes of ego maniacs like Pitino, who apparently pursued the New Jersey job earlier this season, or John Calipari. They’d be insufferable to work with and having been in college so long know little of the NBA even though both previously coached in the NBA. Izzo is the one guy I can see making the transition given his defensive style and the way he’s trained coaches like Skiles.
— Mike Kyzyzewski: No, he’s not going to the NBA. He’s got the Olympic team and he’s fine with that, plus his health wouldn’t permit an NBA lifestyle after the time he took off a few years back. He’s already turned down the Lakers and Kobe a few years back and I’ve heard the financial overtures from the Nets would make Phil Jackson’s $12 million annually not even close to being the highest paid coach.
— Bill Cartwright: I’d hope the longtime Bull and former Bulls coach would get another shot, as he’s done great things with the Suns defense as an assistant, but his voice issues might preclude that.
— P.J. Carlesimo: A bit more the college guy even though he had several jobs and a nice run on the bench with the Spurs. He was with the Sonics when they moved and fired after a 1-12 start in Oklahoma City.  He’d mellowed some over the years, but just a bit too terse with this era’s players and never with enough results to justify.
— Paul Silas: A guy who fell off the radar and probably has left the game a bit behind. He was LeBron’s first coach and had a few celebrated runins and seems to have settled quietly in North Carolina.
— Dan Issel: The Batavia native had a great run with the Nuggets, was popular and effective until one of those politically correct days got him. He’s been in the horse business in Kentucky and pretty much stayed away from the NBA in recent years.
— Bill Laimbeer: He’s on the bench in Minnesota, and you ask why. Perhaps the most disliked, detested player in the history of pro sports, an arrogant, condescending, cheap shot artist. Yeah, he should be high on a lot of lists.
— Bob Hill: He was a 60-game winner when he was replaced by Popovich in San Antonio, and the rest is history. Though lucking into David Robinson and Tim Duncan helped. He also had a good run as Pacers coach, but I always was suspicious as he wore loafers and no socks in winter, was always tanned and highlighted Pat Riley’s books.
— Dave Cowens: He finished up as a Pistons assistant after the WNBA in Chicago. He had a good run with the Hornets and Warriors as an old school, hustle guy, though wasn’t great with the subtleties of dealing with today’s youth. He once left the Celts in the middle of his career to clear his head and took a job as a cab driver. You don’t find guys like that anymore.
— John Lucas: There was talk the Houston rehab guy to the stars now on the Clippers bench would replace Dunleavy as interim. Lucas had head coaching runs with the Spurs, 76ers and Cavs and players train with him often in the summer, but probably has passed his coaching prime.
— Doc Rivers: He’s under contract another year with the Celts and I cannot see the Celts letting him go to join another team, especially without major compensation. I wouldn’t be surprised if he did take a year away and I think he’d love to get in with the young Bulls back in his hometown and he certainly is a guy with that coaching presence.
— Erik Spoelstra: Pat Riley left a big enchilada out there with that tease the other day about coaching again if some free agent demanded it. Spoelstra has gained a lot of credence for his work as a defensive leader for the Heat the last two years, but as many coaches find out, the jobs aren’t guaranteed and life isn’t always fair.
— Brendan Malone: He’s Stan Van Gundy’s top guy with the Magic and was the Raptors first coach and had an interim stint with the Cavs. He’s a solid pro while his son is a rising star assistant with the Cavs now.
— Chris Ford: He’s an old school hold accountable guy who had jobs with the Celts, Bucks and Clippers before running afoul trying to actually get Allen Iverson to practice in Philadelphia. He knows the game and is credited with the first three pointer ever in the NBA. So he started it.
— Phil Jackson: This is the fantasy choice and would be a bit too complicated. If the Lakers win, Phil says he’s coming back. The Lakers want him back, but not at so much money. I’ve long thought life was too good in L.A. living on the beach, wearing his sandals to work every day and dating the Playboy posing daughter of the owner who has a crazy crush on him. If he were to leave, I could see him taking that huge payday with the Nets new owner as they could get the No. 1 pick and Phil started his coaching career there. But if LeBron would come to Chicago….The problem is that couldn’t be until July and if the Bulls wait and Phil stays or goes elsewhere there may be no one left. Is it worth playing for the jackpot? And only the jackpot?
So whom do you like?

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.

How the Bulls can beat the Cavs

The Bulls made the playoffs. Great. Now what do they do? Or more precisely, how do they beat LeBron James, surely the league’s MVP, and the Cavs, the NBA’s winningest team?

I’m glad I asked because I know how to do it. Unfortunately, I am not coaching the Bulls, so I cannot be responsible if the Cavs win, as everyone expects.
Look, the Bulls aren’t supposed to win this series, or really even make it close. This is supposed to be a Cavs team on a mission after being upset in the conference finals last season and reloading with Shaquille O’Neal and Antawn Jamison.

This is a Bulls team whose priority is this summer and free agency, so they let go Ben Gordon, the scoring star of last season’s great playoff series with the Celtics, along with trades of John Salmons and Tyrus Thomas, two other major contributors. Flip Murray and Hakim Warrick have come in their place, though Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro rarely uses Warrick.
Perhaps the Cavs’ biggest early opponent is expectations.
You are supposed to walk through this series. After all, the Bulls lost 10 straight games in March and got to .500 by winning 10 of their last 14 to barely pass Toronto for the final playoff spot. But Derrick Rose, who just was named player of the month, and Joakim Noah are playing at All Star levels, and, the Cavs had just one All Star this season.
Will Mo Williams start missing shots again like he did in last year’s playoffs? Shaq’s just returning from being out six weeks. Jamison hasn’t shot as well. Can James embolden them? Will he have to?
The Bulls should look at this as an easy series in which they have nothing to lose. They weren’t supposed to be here. Few expect them to get even a game or two. So what if they don’t? Big deal.
So be creative. Be imaginative. Make the Cavs think. And make ‘em sweat a little.
I don’t really expect it because Del Negro prefers to play a traditional game.
On defense, the Bulls will play Deng on James and Noah and later Miller on Shaq, though Shaq probably won’t play that much in his first game back. The Bulls general defensive plan will be to deny middle and when someone penetrates to bring a double.
I wouldn’t do that, but I’ll explain.
The Bulls will stunt with the guards when Shaq or someone is posting, and they’ll probably bring someone in a double along the baseline, which has been their preferred position to double. They’ve been burned some bringing the other big from across the lane because then you have a mismatch with a guard dropping down, and teams have exploited that. Better, perhaps, to bring the wing player on the shooter who’ll be in the opposite corner. It’s a longer run to make the double, but keeps your matchups.
The Bulls stay traditional, and that’s where I’d change.
Look, the Cavs are way better than the Bulls.
So what you’ve got to do is get them off balance. Their coach, Mike  Brown, isn’t very good making in game adjustments. So make them think.
LeBron, obviously, is the key.
The last half of this season he’s begun to play more like Michael Jordan, at least in the last three championships. LeBron won’t look for his scoring early. He sort of lopes into games, looking to get interior guys going, then working with the perimeter guys before he takes over scoring later.
I’d put Kirk Hinrich on him. Del Negro will likely have Hinrich on Mo Williams in a cross match with Rose as Williams gives Rose trouble running off screens. Teams like to put Rose in screen/roll since he has trouble with them, just as the Bulls will have to put Shaq or Zydrunas Ilgauskas in screen/roll since they don’t particularly play them.
Obviously, James would see the mismatch against Hinrich, who is a pesky defender. You need that kind of defender on James. No one stops him. But you need to stay up on him and bother him, not give him space.
You also want to lure him into trying to score, especially in the post as he doesn’t like to play out of the post.
It’s a variation on what Don Nelson once did to upset the second seeded Jazz when he had the Warriors at seventh seed. He put Tim Hardaway on 7-3 Mark Eaton, daring the Jazz to try to score. The result was the Jazz going away from their ball movement game, and the Warriors won the series.
You have to do the same with the Cavs.
The key to playing the Cavs, I believe, is to let LeBron try to beat you. He really doesn’t want to score that much. He is a willing passer, much more so than the likes of Jordan or Kobe Bryant. It also keeps his teammates more engaged, and, especially at home, the crowd responds when the “supporting cast” begins hitting threes and dunking.
So you stay home on the shooters and don’t double off. Let LeBron get going, but it takes the others out of the game. They get to standing around and can get lethargic in transition.
Because that’s the offensive priority for the Bulls.
There’s this notion the Bulls have to keep the score low because they don’t have as many weapons, and in a low scoring, closer game they can get bailed out by Rose.
But you want to run the Cavs. Shaq is old. Z is old. Jamison is old. That was what worked for the Bulls when they upset the defending champion Heat in 2007. Run and don’t let them set their defense.
The Cavs are best when they can set their defense. They are not a good defensive team contesting shots. It’s actually surprising how bad they are at that. You can get shots up against them. But they are very good in what’s called loading to the ball, which means stacking a defense to create a sort of wall against the offensive play.
You want to keep them out of those formations. You do that with speed and transition.
Also, you have to get in front of James and make the refs call charges. James gets a free pass like no one going to the basket because he is so quick and strong it seems guys don’t want to take charges or feel they won’t get a call against him as he’s called for the fewest fouls in the league for the star players.
Make the refs make a call. Get in front of him. Forget blocking a shot. Let him take those threes, which he can hit, but is hit or miss more often.
Also, make him defend. James has perhaps the most bogus reputation in the league as a defender because he makes so many of those highlight blocks from behind. But he doesn’t like to play much man to man and direct contact. He likes to play passing lanes and avoids a lot of direct defensive contact. If he’s on you, you have to go at him and attack. Make him make a play. Challenge the refs to make calls. They won’t to start. But you have to go back at him.
So I’d have Hinrich harassing him and see if he forgets about his teammates. The Bulls will play Taj Gibson on Jamison, but I’d have Deng more on Jamison. I’d play Jamison like teams play Dirk Nowitzki. He’s too fast and clever for a big who wants to stay by the basket, anyway, like Gibson does. Deng has good length and enough quickness to bother Jamison, who can shoot the three and then would beat Gibson with his quickness.
These aren’t matchups to start the game, which would be more traditional, but things to spring on the Cavs.
Initially, they’ll go to Shaq and I’d have Noah fronting. It’s not easy and no one generally tries with Shaq as he’ll try to seal you. Noah is quick enough to do it. The Cavs with Shaq like to post and repost and fighting him like that will take time off the clock and force him into a quicker shot, which is usually isn’t good at even when in condition.
So when I’ve got Kirk on LeBron and Deng on Jamison, it’s a small team. But the Bulls are small in this series. Use what you have. The Cavs eventually will go small in the backcourt a lot with Williams and Delonte West, so it won’t hurt you that much.
But Del Negro has to go to the bench. It’s too bad he lost faith in Devin Brown, who is a better defender than Jannero Pargo or Flip Murray and knows the Cavs well from playing there. The Cavs privately are happy not to see him as they felt he was one of their tougher players.
The Bulls will have to stay away from their high pick and roll, which they use way too much, anyway. Cleveland defends that well by loading to the ball, so the Bulls should go more side pick and roll in half court sets.
You’d say get Deng in more pick and rolls, but he doesn’t screen particularly well, and once you leave the screener, who usually is Noah, it happens that Noah is one of the better decision makers with the ball and can now make that jumper reasonably often. Brad Miller can pop out in that and the Bulls will try to use Miller as much as possible when Shaq plays other than starting.
The Bulls also have to move the ball, make those extra passes in the halfcourt to keep the Cavs moving, especially when they go with their slower bigs. The Cavs will go with Hickson a lot at center in what has been their best lineup because they spread the court and give James more options, which is when I’d have someone like Hinrich on him to just stay with him and see if he’ll go for 50. The Pistons always used to bait Jordan like that and take teammates out of the game.
The Cavs on defense are going to pick up Rose high and trap him early, as teams have done more of late. But they’ll have to be small to do that more effectively, and then the Bulls may be able to run more. And we saw in that last game when James didn’t play the Bulls laid off Varejao and he couldn’t make a play.
And then if the Bulls can get a lead, with the expectations hovering over them, can the Cavs exorcise those Bulls demons haunting their past and show themselves as the favorite they are supposed to be.
The Bulls should be loose and should be able to play free and easy. It’s house money just being in the playoffs. So take some chances and go for a jackpot. What have you go to lose?
Point Guard: Derrick Rose vs Mo Williams. This is going to be a cross match situation. Most likely, the Bulls will play Rose, their weakest defender but getting better with some nice blocks and staying more in front lately, on Anthony Parker. Williams plays off LeBron well and runs pick and pops with him and spots up. Hinrich likely will play Williams, who had a huge game earlier this month against the Bulls with LeBron not playing. Williams has not been good in big game settings and strained to make shots in last year’s playoffs. Rose is making up for the loss of Ben Gordon from last season and averaged more than 30 the last three games when the Bulls had to win and is the player of the month. The Cavs, like everyone else, will aggressively try to trap him, though it will only work some when Varejao plays. Rose has shown like in stealing Game 1 last season he’s a big game player.
Edge: Bulls
Shooting Guard: Kirk Hinrich vs Anthony Parker. Parker can make some threes and will likely be defended by Rose since he’s not one of the primary scoring options. The Cavs probably will use a lot more of Delonte West as he’s more of a scorer off the dribble and could give Rose trouble in the pick and roll. Parker is a streaky shooter and can get hot if left alone, which is why I wouldn’t necessarily be aggressively doubling with Rose. Hinrich is the Bulls best perimeter defender and has been shooting the ball well lately coming off that down screen and dribble handoff the Bulls run for him. He’s finally giving the team some court spacing with his threes.
Edge: Bulls
Small Forward: Luol Deng vs LeBron James. Obviously, no one has the edge on the league MVP. James pretty much does what he wants, though I’ve noticed of late he’s taken to the Jordan model of getting teammates off first and then looking for his scoring later in the game. He’ll tend to fall in love with the three a bit too much, and his free throw shooting is shaky with the Cavs last in the league in free throw shooting. But when he decides no one can stop him at the basket. It’s almost as if everyone is afraid to step in front, figuring either they’ll get hurt or they’ll never get the call. You’ve got to step in and make the refs call something. Deng missed last season’s playoffs and is determined to harass James sand make it difficult for him. Deng’s calf injury has acted up, and his scoring has dropped off. But he’s got to be aggressive to make LeBron work.
Edge: Cavs (big)
Power Forward: Taj Gibson vs Antawn Jamison. We’ll see if he’s the final piece. You’ve got to give the Cavs credit for being aggressive with adding personnel, obviously to try to get James to resign. Jamison’s a tough matchup for Gibson as he’s not a traditional four since he can go outside and hit the three and is unusually quick inside and never quite gets in the shooting motion with his assortment of floaters. Gibson had a big game against him earlier, but in the last game without James playing Gibson was lost as he is best inside and around the basket. He’s probably not strong enough to punish Jamison in the post.
Edge: Cavs
Center: Joakim Noah vs Shaquille O’Neal. O’Neal has been out more than a month with a hand injury and probably won’t play that much given his conditioning. He’s mostly on the team for the expected later matchup with Orlando and Dwight Howard. Without Shaq, they’ve been playing J.J. Hickson at center in a smaller, quicker lineup that opens the floor, and they’re really best that way. They’ll bring Varejao off the bench, though he’ll finish more games than Hickson because of his defensive abilities. Shaq will try to overwhelm Noah, who is more like the active Varejao. James likes to find Hickson in pick and roll and transition situations slashing and finishing, which is why the Bulls could have trouble if they continue to blitz the pick and roll, which is a staple of their defense. Brad Miller is the team’s choice on Shaq, so after the initial matchup Miller will probably match with O’Neal. Noah will run whomever is guarding him and the Cavs’ big guys with Ilgauskas don’t want to do that, and Hickson is too small for Noah.
Edge: Bulls
Bench: Varejao is the defensive key off the bench for the Cavs along with Ilgauskas, who can be dangerous as a spot up shooter. The Cavs have pretty much ignored his value this season and he’ll probably move on to another team next season. Delonte West is another key for them, though you wonder as the playoffs go on if the pressure will have an affect on his personality disorder, which the Cavs tend to pretend doesn’t exist. The Bulls have done a poor job this season developing and using the bench. James Johnson never got much playing time and is pretty lost now as a result. After playing some after the trade, the same with Hakim Warrick, who could be useful. They went with their starters down the stretch for huge minutes to get into the playoffs, and they did, so it worked. But the bench has tended to turn selfish as a result given limited time and quick hooks for mistakes.
Edge: Cavs
Coaching: Vinny Del Negro vs Mike Brown. It’s been a surreal last week for Del Negro with the revelations of an incident with vice president John Paxson and additional media scrutiny. Brown is the reigning coach of the year, so it’s not a fair fight, anyway. Brown remains essentially a defensive coach with little apparent input on the offensive end as James and Williams basically call all the plays and James isolates to close games and runs what he chooses. But he is a bright player and an asset that way. They are a tough defensive team that sets up a wall well on one side with good rotation, which is why you cannot let them get into a set defense. Del Negro hasn’t created much with the Bulls offense, which runs mostly high pick and roll and some weak side action of down screens. The lack of bench development shouldn’t hurt as much in a series with the games spread out, especially in the first round.
Pick: Cavs in five. Maybe six if they listen to me more.

Bulls defenseless again in loss to Jazz

There’s a famous story from the 1998 playoffs I was reminded of watching the Bulls submit and lose to the Utah Jazz Tuesday, 132-108, the team’s fifth consecutive loss in falling to ninth place and, at least for now, out of the playoffs in the Eastern Conference.
The Lakers were trailing 3-0 in the Western Conference finals and just finished up what everyone knew was their final practice of the season before Game 4. Players usually gather at the end of practice for some sort of unity exclamation. The Lakers was, “One, two, three, win.”
So the team huddled and all stretched their arms in and in unison began, “One, two, three…” when Nick Van Exel quickly added, “Cancun.”
Yes, the season was over and it was time for the beach.
And while the Bulls have 19 games remaining and are just a half game out of seventh at 31-32, they clearly are playing the poorest of all the bottom contenders for a playoff spot and are facing even more injuries with Luol Deng scheduled for an MRI Wednesday morning for a calf strain he suffered against the Jazz.
It’s looking like an early vacation.
Deng is not likely to make the road trip to Orlando and Miami this week. Taj Gibson, according to coach Vinny Del Negro, had a flareup of his plantar fasciitis in his poorest game of the season with zero points and one rebound in fouling out in 13 minutes.
Plus, the Bulls, who recently had worked up to No. 1 in opponents field goal percentage, the league’s key defensive barometer, gave up better than 52 percent shooting for the third consecutive game and now have given up at least 100 points in the last eight games and an average of 115 per game in the current five game losing streak.
Mike D’Antoni and Paul Westhead would be proud.
“We don’t (have answers),” said a somber Del Negro after the game. “We can’t control the paint right now. We didn’t have any answers for them defensively.
“We emphasize defense all the time,” said Del Negro. “It’s not like it’s a one game thing here. Before the injuries (Noah out three weeks with plantar fasciitis), we led the league in field goal (defensive) percentage. We were all on the same page and working. The trade deadline came, we incorporate a few new players….Joakim being out is a big factor. There have been some injuries to deal with, Luol’s knee. We had a few days of practice, but most guys were on the sideline trying to heal up.
“We’ve got to keep battling,” said Del Negro. “There’s no question we’ve won this season by holding teams to a low field goal percentage and controlling tempo better. We’ve proven when we try to outscore teams, the way we’re made up now we haven’t had much success. We have to reevaluate. There’s still a lot of basketball to be played. Hopefully, we’ll play much better and get guys healthy. Now we have to try to weather the storm, stay confident, stay together and keep working.”
No, it’s not time to give up . The Bulls have two games left with Charlotte, two with the Nets and games with the Wizards, Bucks, Raptors and Pistons. There are wins to get, at least once the Bulls get through this stretch with the road trip to Orlando, Miami, Memphis and Dallas and then Cleveland at home.
Say they lose them all, which seems likely the way they are going now, and fall to 31-37? Over? No. But they’d probably need a strong close to nine or 10 of the next 14. So, yes, it would be tough. Because the teams ahead of them like Charlotte, Miami and Milwaukee, all were involved in tense, low scoring playoff type games Tuesday. And Toronto got beat at the buzzer in L.A. by a Kobe Bryant shot.
The Bulls gave up a season high 132 points.
It’s not only what you are doing, but how you are doing it. And right now this Bulls team has lost its edge. No, I wouldn’t say they’ve given up. But you get the sense watching and being around them they are closing in on accepting their fate.
“It seems like we’ve gone away from what’s been successful for us,” said Kirk Hinrich. “We’re scoring the ball at a high rate (averaging 112 the last two games), but we’re having a hard time getting stops right now.”
The obvious answer is the lack of size and length and athleticism at the rim with Noah out, Tyrus Thomas traded and Gibson now slowing with injury as well. The Jazz, 41-22 and in the Western Conference race, have been a high scoring team this season and always run an offense that produces a lot of layups and inside scores.
But they also hit a dozen threes, half by reserve C.J. Miles, as the Bulls concentrate on shutting down the paint in their defense.
“I’d rather have them taking contested jump shots instead of points in the paint on layups,” said Del Negro. “But tonight they got them both.”
It’s also a delicate point for Del Negro, though he alluded to it: The team made deals to insure it’s position this summer in free agency, moves they had to make in case they’d have a shot at star players like Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, LeBron James, Amar’e Stoudemire, Joe Johnson and Carlos Boozer.
But in doing so—and with the injury to Noah—the roster which had become defensive oriented with speed and size and was working well together with continuity, which is the key to team defense, changed drastically. Coaches aren’t supposed to say they’ve got to have the players, and that wouldn’t exactly endear Del Negro with management.
But it may be too late to change.
Derrick Rose got a lot of the blame for those Miles threes. Rose was brilliant on offense with a memorable duel with the Jazz’ Deron Williams. But you could see Rose trying to adhere to the team’s defensive principles to close the paint and form that defensive shell inside. It just so happened Miles was hot with four threes in the fourth and one late in the third when the Jazz broke from a close game.
So Rose has to react to the hot shooter. Or someone has to tell him to forget the inside help and get that guy! Apparently, he didn’t and no one did.
But the Bulls hardly lost because of that, and, as usual, they’d have been nowhere near competing without another brilliant game from Rose, who had 25 points and a career equaling 13 assists. The Bulls were no slouches, shooting 52.9 percent for the game, which was just about what they Jazz shot, and the Bulls shot 62.5 percent in the first half.
The Bulls still trailed at the time 63-61, which was the disturbing news, but it also showed that Rose can be a high assist player if teammates make shots, as well as a high scorer.
“Rose played a great game and put pressure on us all night,” said Jazz coach Jerry Sloan. “I like to see guys compete out there. It doesn’t matter if it’s practice or in a game. Tonight those guys (Rose and Williams, the latter with 28 points and 17 assists and both with double/doubles by halftime) competed hard the whole game. With Deron, we’re fortunate that here we have had two great point guards (with John Stockton). He knows how to play the game. It’s really pretty simple. The game needs to be played with other people involved. He knows that and does a great job with his teammates.”
Williams was terrific, and he got the highlight play on a two-on-one break with Rose retreating with the Jazz ahead 81-77 with just under four minutes left in the third quarter.
It was a game.
But Paul Millsap got the ball from Deng in a turnover, who soon went out for the game, and Williams got a pass from Wesley Matthews and dunked in the face of Rose.
I don’t know if it was a collective shock among Bulls players to see Rose be victimized by one of those dunks. But the Bulls were outscored 11-4 to end the third, and them after pulling within 92-87 early in the fourth with an active group of reserves pressuring, the Jazz outscored the Bulls 20-12 with Miles hitting a trio of three pointers and pulling away as Del Negro gave up and pulled the starters down by 14 with 3:26 remaining.
Though it isn’t any group I’d like to see in the game regularly—Jannero Pargo, Chris Richard, Hakim Warrick, James Jphnson and Flip Murray—the fivesome played the best defense of the game for the Bulls, pressing in the backcourt and causing a pair of Jazz turnovers to open the fourth and outscoring Utah 6-1 to get within 93-87 with 10:22 left.
But Del Negro, as he’s done of late, went back quickly to his starters, though no one but Rose really was much help after halftime. I actually thought Warrick finally was having an impact with his activity and even Richard was doing some nice things bothering Boozer and Johnson was active.
Sometimes you need to shake up the starters, who have played huge minutes this season, and go with a group that’s getting some things done. It didn’t happen, and when the regulars came back they made little impact and had no legs left as they were fouling and sending Jazz players to the line, getting beaten to loose balls and not getting out to Miles making those threes and ending with 26 points.
“We had a couple of opportunities,” said Del Negro. “But they got their hands on (balls) and got in the open court and made layups.”
There were a lot of layups in an another entertaining, high scoring, Phoenix Suns style game with the Bulls trailing 35-30 after one with both teams shooting over 60 percent and the Jazz ahead 63-61 at halftime and the Bulls shooting 62.5 percent and trailing.
The Bulls got a dozen from Deng in the first half and 15 from Brad Miller. But Rose was alone in the second half as no other starter had more than five. Rose added 15 in the second half with some stunning drives as Williams defended him and Rose on one occasion blew by Williams and beat both Paul Millsap and Matthews at the basket for a slick reverse layup and foul. That three point play got the Bulls within 113-102 with 5:19 left. But Kyle Korver answered with a three and as the Bulls scored on the next two possessions the Jazz scored on seven of he next eight.
You can’t catch up when they keep scoring.
The Jazz answered the Bulls early surrender with their bench players, who included D-league callup Othyus Jeffers, the U. of Illinois/Chicago product who had more than 100 family and friends at the game for his dream of playing in the NBA in the United Center.
Jeffers is from the West Side and came through the hard way having had two brothers shot to death. He also was shot in 2007 defending his sister. He went to Italy this season but came back to the D-league, where he starred last year, to get a chance at the NBA.
He earned it.
It also was a relatively quiet game for Carlos Boozer, who had 16 points and 10 rebounds and had seven of the Jazz’ 39 free throw attempts. He’s one of the so called second tier of free agents this summer, and though there have been questions about his health and commitment, he supposedly has talked about wanting to play in Chicago and would have looked good at power forward for the Bulls Tuesday. Before Boozer arrived, he told the Salt Lake Tribune the Bulls are “a good, young team that plays hard every night” and Rose is “something special, a stud.”
Rose was again Tuesday, but it hasn’t been nearly enough for the Bulls.
“When somebody scores like that, no defense,” agreed Rose. “They weren’t missing any shots either, so that didn’t help. When you lose a guy like (Noah), it’s always going to hurt the team. Some guys have come in and they are trying to pick up the slack. But there really can’t be any excuses in the NBA. (We have to) just come in and work on it. That’s really all you can do. Come in to practice, work on it and hope that it transfers to the game. We just have to find a way.”
Asked if the team’s confidence was shaken, Miller, who finished with 20, agreed.
“Obviously a little,” he said. “But you just have to keep your head up and know that there are a lot of games left to play. In this league you can win five games in a row just as quickly as you can lose five games in a row. We have to find a way to right this ship.”
Before someone brings up Micheal Ray Richardson, a famous maritime man in his own right, who once observed about his team, “The ship be sinkin.”
Not yet, but the Bulls are taking on lots of water.