Tag Archives: rudy gay

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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Bulls set for final showdown at LeBron’s corral

Talk about your fireworks. This July 4th weekend may be about to produce some huge sparks—and duds—around the NBA as the free agent beauty pageant is about to conclude with LeBron James Saturday closing his series of free agency meetings in Akron with the hometown Cavs and finally the Bulls.

He’s expected to be wearing his best sweatpants.

The big question is whether James is about to issue his own declaration of independence from Cleveland or remain a loyalist. Because, after all, he is the king, or so he says.

The drama ratcheted up Friday as Dwyane Wade had a second meeting with the Bulls, setting off a frenzy of speculation that Wade was perhaps concocting an elaborate power play to seal off James by beating him to Chicago along with Chris Bosh and arranging the super team for Chicago with Bosh and LeBron to join Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah.

Wade’s second session with the Bulls kicked off all kinds of wild theories and anonymous source spread certainty that was perhaps appropriate for this basketball madness that is building to a dramatic conclusion.

That should come shortly after this weekend, as James and Wade likely make their decisions. Though it seems several of the major free agents already have made theirs.

Joe Johnson is virtually certain to return to Atlanta for a six-year maximum salary contract.

Rudy Gay has agreed to return to Memphis for an extension larger than anything he could have garnered on the open market.

Amar’e Stoudemire seems headed to New York for the largest deal he could get as his home town Suns declined to fully guarantee the final years of a five-year deal.

What all the apparent agreements had in common is each player took every last penny he could get, which suggests a return to Cleveland for James and a return to Miami for Wade.

So what, exactly, is going on?

From everything I have heard, Wade does not want to play with James. He wants to beat James. He’s had enough of being the other guy despite the one with the championship. So you ask, what was Pat Riley doing almost all day Friday in Akron meeting with James?

It may be what Wade was asking and his own subtle message to Riley, that if you are pursuing James, I can go other places.

As I outlined in my NBA column last Monday on Bulls.com, it would be a brilliant strategic move for Wade to box in James by going to the Bulls with Chris Bosh, with whom Wade seems closest.

Wade, really, fits better with Rose and the Bulls, who lack a shooting guard after giving up Ben Gordon, John Salmons and Kirk Hinrich, while James duplicates Luol Deng’s position. Then you add Bosh with Taj Gibson a backup, and Noah and the Bulls have a loaded top of the rotation.

That also would eliminate Miami for James and he either returns to Cleveland without a supporting cast to match, or goes to New Jersey with maybe Carlos Boozer and tries to dig out from 12 wins.

That, obviously, would be the Bulls’ dream scenario and the one I’ve felt fits best among the grand plans.

A lot of it requires players giving up money to go for wins, which doesn’t seem to be happening anywhere. Could Stoudemire seriously think he’s going to win more with that Knicks’ roster?

I don’t believe that’s what Wade is up to. I believe he was sending a message to Riley to get to work on Bosh. Others believe Wade was more in a stalling tactic to delay and obfuscate the Bulls’ free agency plans.

The latest word is the Raptors don’t want any big sign-and-trade for Bosh, but might take back draft picks only. The big issue for Bosh is he wants the sixth year maximum along with Wade, and the Bulls cannot deliver that to both. They might be able to put together three firsts for a sign-and-trade for Bosh, though Miami might have a slight edge as they own a Toronto first the Raptors would like back from the Jermaine O’Neal deal.

Would Bosh go elsewhere, like Houston, for that sign-and-trade? Most doubt it.

So comes the Bulls, who met with Wade, Bosh, Boozer and David Lee over the last day or so and head into Cleveland to make their pitch to LeBron.

It’s a tenuous one for salary reasons, though no one seems to think James wants or needs the six year maximum salary deal because of who he is and what he can make.

The Bulls’ appeal to James probably rests on persuading him who else they have gotten an assurance from who could team with James to join Rose and Noah.

Frankly, there’s no way James and Wade are going to play with or mesh with Rose, so the presumption is the Bulls have to lock up a commitment from a power forward and show James that would enable him to win and stay ahead of the team Miami has assembled with Wade.

Lurking in the background is the Nets, who have this unusual appeal of the Russian billionaire owner and what vistas that could open for James. They seem like a third option after the Cavs, who officially introduced new coach Byron Scott, and the Bulls.

While the Bulls have their eyes on the big ball heading into Saturday’s final face off, they have to also be considering the alternative and what if James stays. There’s been talk of late Boozer has had interest in the Nets and could go there, which would leave the Bulls grasping for someone like David Lee and an aggressive trading approach that has had them linked to a deal with Portland for Luol Deng and the likes of free agent guards like Mike Miller, whom the Knicks are said to be pursuing to add to Stoudemire, and J.J. Redick.

This is the kind of high stakes poker fit more for Amarillo Slim.

It looks like boom or bust and we’re approaching the final hand.

Hey, it didn’t look good for those rag tag American militia, either. We know the players are going to have a happy 4th. There are no losers with those pay days. We’ll soon find out which teams have reason to celebrate.

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.

Where LeBron, Wade and the free agents are going…

As the Great One said, “And away we go.”

No, not LeBron, the real Great One, Jackie Gleason. Of course, that may be bad karma here as he went to Miami.

No, I don’t believe LeBron is going to Miami to form some superhero trio of Flash, Batman and Robin, also known as Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh, if only because Wade doesn’t want to be elbowed aside, Bosh doesn’t want to be a third wheel doing the inside dirty work and LeBron doesn’t want to be known as a guy who needed Dwyane Wade to get him a championship. Plus, who really wants to play for Pat Riley? He’ll put on a great pitch, as he is probably the league’s most impressive salesman/motivator. But who needs those Kremlin rules and three-hour practices?

I think the key to all this may be Chris Bosh.

He seems like the mystery figure to me. Everyone seems to assume/hear/believe/know he’s going as some sort of tag along for LeBron or Wade. He could, but I don’t believe he views himself that way. I’m not sure he needs to be the dominant figure, as he’s pretty much shown he’s not up to being able to carry a team. But he also has made it clear he’s not playing center–Miami and New York have no center–and never has been a defensive stalwart. Bosh has an ego as well and if not the guy to carry a team, which he’d have to be in New York, then he likely doesn’t also want to be the guy to be ignored and the third option for a shot. I know we all want to say they’d sacrifice for winning. But you also want to be a large part of that.

Plus, Bosh is most likely, along with Joe Johnson, to want a sign-and-trade. Johnson will for sure if he were to leave, because five years from now at his age, now 29, there’d be no way he’d be in position for a $28 million pay day, which is about the final year of a six-year contract. Likely Bosh as well, even though he’s 26. A dozen years into his career, it’s hard to see how Bosh would command a salary that high.

In addition, there’s little chance in a new labor deal after next summer anyone would be able to make that kind of money in one season in the future. That is also why Wade stays in Miami. At 28 and with a history of injuries, Wade needs to cash in now as well.

The only one who really doesn’t need to is LeBron, who is 25 and likely to still be in his prime if he were to leave and sign for five years. The Cavs seem to have made it clear they are not doing any sign and trade to accommodate LeBron, especially to an Eastern team. But LeBron has outside earnings interests that basically none of the others have with the exception, perhaps to a limited extent, of Wade.

Meetings began just after midnight Eastern Time Thursday morning, with LeBron’s expected to last about three days. The thinking is he’ll commit to someone fairly soon after that, as he’s been accused enough already of making this a circus-like atmosphere. Some of those meetings will be based on whether the team can produce another free agent to join LeBron and whom that might be. Despite what you may have heard, LeBron isn’t delivering anyone else. He’s expecting a team to show him what they can do, not unlike Wade, who has been asking the same of the Heat.

Yes, the heat is on and there are an awful lot of team executives sweating.

So what’s going to happen and who’s going where? I think the Bulls do have a pretty good shot to hit the jackpot, though I don’t see it in the end.

LeBron James: Cavs. Since when did they get so bad? They just won 127 games in two seasons and had LeBron himself not gone into that mysterious Game 5 pout against the Celtics they probably would have won that series. They are getting a new coach, likely Byron Scott or Brian Shaw, both appealing to James for their championship playing experience. Plus, because they are over the cap they have the mid level exception and will be able to give someone a $35 million deal, which will get you a very good player in this era. Anderson Varejao can be somewhat like Joakim Noah at center. They have Antawn Jamison and Mo Williams, near All Stars and potentially could have cap room after one more season. He just built a huge mansion near Akron, where the Cavs built their training facility and can you go home again after being the basketball version of Art Modell, who stole your team and chance for something special. And there’s that extra approximately $30 million he gets from staying a sixth year. I know he has a lot of money. But that’s what Michael Jordan made when he finally hit it big with the Bulls. And after next summer with a new labor deal, those kinds of one season paydays are probably over with. I believe his only other choice will be Chicago if the Bulls can attract Chris Bosh, whom I believe they will. LeBron will have a tough time making that choice, but eventually will stay home.

Chris Bosh: Bulls. This would be a huge coup for the Bulls, even if LeBron doesn’t come. If they get a commitment from Bosh, it makes them the most appealing to LeBron. Though the complication is a sign-and-trade. Bosh wants it and all things being equal will go to another team that’s close if he can get it. I believe Miami is out because all they can really offer is Michael Beasley, whom I’ve heard the Raptors won’t take because of his myriad of issues. Heck, with his record he might not even make it past customs. Same with Chalmers. So forget that. Would Bosh go to Houston to play with Yao? The Mavs? The Lakers made sense, but they say they are out. We’ll see. The Raptors surely would prefer Bosh out of the East and could get a decent sign-and-trade involving Luis Scola and then maybe build up a deal to enable the Raptors to get rid of Hedo Turkoglu or Jose Calderon. But would Bosh want to go there? That’s why he’s the mystery in all this. He seems the toughest to read with statements one day he wants to be the main man and then the obvious that he cannot be. He’s given the Raptors a list of seven teams he’d go to for a sign and trade, so there are options for the Raptors. Chicago would fit him perfectly as there’s a center so he doesn’t have to play there and worry about defense and a point guard who doesn’t really want to be the leading scorer and he can be the leading scorer without having to carry the load, seemingly ideal for him. I’ve heard he’s been in touch regularly with Rose and has told Rose of his interest previously. In the end, my guess is the Raptors take Taj Gibson, three No. 1s and the maximum $3 million. That’s also a huge trade exception for them and they can do some maneuvering on their own. Is that enough to attract LeBron? But then LeBron comes at less money and he’s the man while Bosh makes more. I’ve never seen that as a happy locker room in the NBA. I wouldn’t be surprised if Bosh would prefer it that way without LeBron because then the Bulls would be in position to win the East and LeBron would be without a super teammate as he likely wouldn’t go to Miami. Then the Bulls go for a shooting guard like Ray Allen, Randy Foye, Ronnie Brewer or J.J. Redick. The Bosh scenario is the scenario to watch most closely. I see the Bosh/Carlos Boozer tandem as the main possibilities for the Bulls and Heat. So if Bosh flees, the battle likely is over Boozer.

Dwyane Wade: Miami. He’s not going anywhere and leaving that extra $28 million or so on the table, the lack of state taxes, South Beach and it looks like him getting custody of his kids and why would he want to be anywhere else? He’ll get a power forward partner. Bosh is his choice as he and Bosh share agents. But he probably realizes there isn’t a huge chance. Pat Riley has privately said for months the Heat is getting LeBron, but that’s no place to build an international brand as LeBron wants to do. I know, Cleveland probably isn’t, either, but you get some credit for staying and building. Wade will visit the Bulls among a few other spots, but it’s hard to see that as other than a fact finding visit about what those teams are up to as Wade has been very open, the most among the top free agents, in personally recruiting.

Joe Johnson: Atlanta. Once word started to come out that the Hawks were going to offer Johnson a max deal, it was over. There’s no way he could walk away from six years and $126 million at age 29 and coming off that desultory playoff finish that labeled him to some not even worth a five year maximum. I’d take him, and he was committed as much as anyone to the Bulls for much of the season. But the Hawks make a good point in saying even with Chicago having someone like Bosh they are as good as the Bulls with Johnson and a chance to add a mid level player and Jamal Crawford going into his final season and trade material. And without Kirk Hinrich there wasn’t any real sign and trade possibility with Atlanta for the Bulls. The Mavs will try a sign and trade with Caron Butler, but the Hawks are for sale and like with the Tribune’s view of the Soriano signing when the team was being sold, what’s the big deal. The next guy will pay the contract.

Carlos Boozer: Miami. Though he has his Coconut Grove home up for sale. Boozer is also the Bulls fallback if somehow Bosh gets to Miami and Wade. As I said, I cannot see it as he is likely to get a reasonable sign and trade somewhere he prefers and as much a competitor as Bosh might be, he’s not about to go for winning while he makes all the monetary sacrifice and Wade makes none. With slightly less than $30 million after signing Wade, the Heat have money for an additional guy after signing Boozer and that should be enough to at least keep Wade there. Look, without a low post All Star they won 47 games. They should still be right there in the mix. But rather than everyone coming together I see most of them going for what’s best for each and the Lakers still the favorite coming into next season.

Amar’e Stoudemire: Suns. The assumption in Phoenix has been owner Robert Sarver won’t pay Stoudemire. Stoudemire’s not likely to warrant a huge sign and trade or likely any. He’s cocky, but he has it awfully good in Phoenix with Steve Nash and a comfort zone now. There remain concerns about the possibilities of more surgery, though he is fine now, after microfracture a few years back. He may be too much of a risk on the outside, though the Nets could take a shot.

David Lee: Nets. The Nets are the wildcard in the LeBron race because everyone with an arched eyebrow wonders what the new Russian oligarch owner will promise LeBron. The league will be watching, though they are more like the SEC trying to figure out what the banks are doing. They don’t have the expertise to examine these kinds of holdings and business deals. If the owner puts away a $100 million annuity for LeBron, no one would ever know. Heck, it could be in gold bars with his initials on them in some country without vowels. Lee doesn’t need to be a savior in New York when they strike out. He could play off Brook Lopez well with his new shooting and help Lopez’ rebounding and give time for Derrick Favors to develop.

Dirk Nowitzki: Mavericks. I know he talks all the time about nothing meaning much but winning, but he does have an owner who will make moves. Cuban is all over the free agents to try for a sign and trade and will be trying hard for Bosh as well. The money is too big to pass on and the possibilities of being better than Dallas now are uncertain.

Paul Pierce: Celtics. Likewise with Nowitzki, he’s a lifer. His value likely isn’t that much anyway as he was part of one of the losingest teams ever until Garnett and Ray Allen showed up. He wants a longer deal and certainly will get it.

Rudy Gay: Knicks. Rudy will be the biggest winner because the Knicks cannot come out of this empty handed and have the most money to waste. Gay will be the most not worth it, but he’s a lot better than trying to resign Al Harrington. He’s a huge talent and can be a spectacular player with a personality that can fit the city. They’ll make runs at other players and throw such a front loaded deal at Memphis since Rudy is restricted that Elvis will roll over in his grave.

Of course, sources who may or may not know assure me this may or may not happen. But it sure is going to be fun to find out. How sweet it is!

Bulls roster madness to begin with end of season

So what happens next?
The Bulls Tuesday in losing the opening round playoff series to the Cleveland Cavaliers 4-1 concluded what generally was a successful season with a second straight 41-41 record and first round playoff elimination. Yes, even with another first round out. This was to be the appetizer.
But given injuries that cost Joakim Noah 18 games and parts of several others, Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich missing another 20 combined—only Brad Miller, of all guys, and Taj Gibson played all 82 games—and the midseason trade of John Salmons, it was a positive to get to the playoffs and give the Cavs a scare, if not a seventh game.
This season with the loss of Ben Gordon as a free agent was aimed toward acquiring a free agent this summer. That process begins July 1, and the initial targets likely will be Chris Bosh, Joe Johnson, David Lee and Carlos Boozer. The general belief is Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, the two elite free agents, will remain with their teams. But with Miami’s poor playoff performance around Wade and the possibility the Cavs could lose to the Celtics in the second round, their objectives could change. Free agency tends to be a financial and emotional process.
Though he was no where near the caliber, Trevor Ariza essentially took the same offer from the Rockets as he could have gotten from the Lakers because he was mad at them. The Heat doesn’t have near the players for a sign and trade the Bulls do, so if Miami comes up short, Wade could go shopping. Same with LeBron. It’s LeBron’s seventh season and if there’s no championship, maybe there’s a different itch he wants to scratch, that seven year itch.
And if Joe Johnson doesn’t have a rash the way the Hawks have fallen behind the no name Bucks 3-2 after Wednesday’s home loss, then maybe you have to wonder about him. Could he want to stay with that team under any circumstances if they lose to the Bucks?
Basically, everyone on the Bulls roster but Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah is available. It’s not like the Bulls are looking to move Taj Gibson or Kirk Hinrich, for instance, but they’d like to use a player in trade and then perhaps money to sign a free agent.
There will be dozens of possibilities. I’ve previously mentioned trading for Golden State’s Monta Ellis and signing Lee. Neither is a first tier free agent, generally considered James and Wade, and then Bosh and Johnson—but the Bulls would love to find both a shooting guard and interior scorer.
Ellis likely will be available and the Warriors during the season made various attempts at acquiring Hinrich. The Jazz also has liked Hinrich and there’s some talk they might resign Boozer and trade Paul Millsap. The Timberwolves will be active, as they’ve promised, and given the rough relationship between Kevin Love and coach Kurt Rambis, Love probably could be gotten. The team, for now, seems to be asking way too much for Al Jefferson, namely an All-Star or someone like Noah.
There also will be other free agents who would come more cheaply, like Anthony Morrow, Brendan Haywood, Raja Bell, Steve Blake, Drew Gooden, Jermaine O’Neal, Al Harrington, Juwan Howard, Roger Mason and Kyle Korver. Maybe you take a shot at a restricted free agent like Rudy Gay or Randy Foye.
And the Bulls finally will bring in 2008 draft pick Omer Asik. He is a seven-footer who has been injured the last two years with knee surgery and a broken collarbone but has ranked among the best shotblockers in Euroleagus history. The Bulls will get a good look at him at the World Championships in his native Turkey this summer. He is expected to be available to the Bulls for next season.
So there will be plenty of potential permutations before the Bulls have a roster for the 2010-11 season.
Here’s a look at what will happen with this group:
Derrick Rose: He’s the anchor of the team’s future as even LeBron James after Game 5 was calling Rose maybe the league’s best point guard. Deron Williams, by the way, objected, and said at shootaround Wednesday he was the best. Nyaah, nyaah, nyaah. Rose has one more season before he can negotiate an extension, which will be at the maximum salary. He’s not available to anyone. He earned $5.2 million this season and will be under team option one more season, unless he adds an extension after the 2011-12 season.
Chance of returning: 100 percent.
Joakim Noah: He’s the other untouchable. The organization will not even listen to any sign and trade offers with the possible exception of LeBron James, and then only possibly because of James’ bum elbow. Noah earned $2.5 million this season and is eligible for an extension this summer. I assume he signs one as players will want to get in under the old rules as the current collective bargaining agreement expires after next season and long term deals are expected to be reduced. The Bulls can get free agents first, but that’s why they will spend their money this summer because they likely won’t have for beyond once Noah commits. They could make some short term deals to go into 2011 free agency, but with the labor uncertainty it’s not likely. So what’s Noah worth? He’s made himself a star player, though still as an eight figure earner will be one of the only NBA players who probably won’t make as much as his father, former tennis and now European music star Yannick Noah.
Chance of returning: 100 percent.
Luol Deng: After all the preseason uncertainty coming off his stress fracture, Deng had a good season, averaging 17.6 points and 7.3 rebounds in 70 games. He makes $11.3 million next season and has a contract through 2013-14, the team’s longest now. He’ll likely be dangled in sign and trade talks as that will be a key in trying to attract someone like Bosh or Johnson. He has value around the league, but his contract length limits that with no one sure what will happen with the labor talks. And then the Bulls would need a small forward, so they won’t give him up easily.
Chance of returning: 75 percent.
Kirk Hinrich: He is fairly unflappable and sounded the most after Game 5 like he didn’t know if he’d be back. As Hinrich acknowledged, his name has come up in rumors for years. The reason is so many teams like what he brings and he has a descending contract that ends at $8 million in 2011-12, not much above the mid level for a guy who can play point guard and defend. With Joe Johnson and Rose, he’d give the Bulls likely the best guard rotation in the league. But it could cost the Bulls Hinrich in a sign and trade to get someone like Johnson. His name will come up in numerous scenarios starting at draft time, though the Bulls would like to have him back.
Chance of returning: 25 percent.
Taj Gibson: Along with Noah, he was the surprise of the season coming from the 26th pick in the draft to starting 70 games, second most to Rose. He made $1 million and was one of the league’s best bargains. He averaged nine points and 7.5 rebounds and with Noah made the Bulls one of the league’s best rebounding teams. He does have trouble against bigger players, but is a relentless worker. He’s got to improve his shooting and strength. If the Bulls can get Bosh, he’ll either be in a sign-and-trade or make up a heck of a front line with Noah. He gives the Bulls the option to explore fixing their shooting issues first because he can be a starting power forward, if not at an All-Star level.
Chance of returning: 70 percent.
James Johnson: The sixth player the Bulls have under contract for next season. He made $1.6 million this season, but barely played the first half and then sparingly as that was one of the key issues between management and coach Vinny Del Negro. He was a risk/reward draft pick, selected to make a hit or bust. He had a rocky start with punctuality issues and maturity, but has begun to come around. He’ll likely go to summer league, which can give him a chance to gain confidence. He probably would have been in the D-league at times if the team had more depth. The Bulls still want to give him a chance and feel he’ll virtually be a rookie again.
Chance of returning: 90 percent.
Brad Miller: He’s coming off a $90 million long term deal in which he made $12.25 million this season. Remarkably, he played all 82 games, albeit slowly. He really liked his teammates and bonds well with the support staff, though he was closest with Hinrich. Career wise his numbers are in decline at 34 as he shot a career low 43 percent and 28 percent on threes. He had some big games, but generally takes a few months to get back into condition. He’s a good backup center, though the Bulls won’t have much money after signing free agents and won’t get into a bidding fight for him. They’d probably give him a few million dollars for a year with a team option and would like to have him back. But at his age he remains a risk.
Chance of returning: 25 percent.
Hakim Warrick: He was acquired in the John Salmons deal and seemed like he’d be a good fit, but he quickly fell out of favor with Del Negro, who never quite found a role for him. He made $3 million this season and probably will look for something in that range or a bit less. It probably would be too much for the Bulls. He averaged 8.7 points and 3.6 rebounds for the Bulls, but in just 19 minutes per game when he played and rarely in the playoffs. He’s not a physical player, but can score with a decent mid range jumper and is a good athlete.
Chance of returning: 10 percent.
Flip Murray: He came in the Tyrus Thomas deal and became a relatively trusted sixth man type as an instant scorer. He got more time than Warrick, but not consistently. He averaged 10.1 for the Bulls, but shot just under 40 percent and 31 percent on threes. The Bulls would like to him have back as he’s a pro shooter and scorer, if streaky. But teams like him as a bench player and he’ll probably command more than the Bulls feel is worth paying.
Chance of returning: 10 percent.
Jannero Pargo: He never gained the regular trust of Del Negro and, as a result, had a tough shooting season with erratic playing time, shooting just 27.5 percent on threes. He got the $1.9 million mid level exception this season. With a bit more discipline and accountability, I think he could be a better average shooter. He’s a popular locker room guy and if he’d take close to the veteran’s minimum might be worth another look.
Chance of returning: 25 percent.
Acie Law: He came with Murray in the Thomas deal and never got much chance to play, 12 games and one start and mostly DNP’s. He’s a clever ball handler who can get to the basket, but he’s determined to get a chance, which he’s never had in being shuttled around. He made $2.2 million on the end of his rookie deal as 11th pick in 2007. I talked to him and he says he can see the Bulls getting Johnson and with Rose and Hinrich there’d be no minutes again. He doesn’t fit with Rose since he’s a penetrator and is more a scoring point guard. If he gets a chance several teams may regret giving him up.
Chances of returning: 5 percent.
Joe Alexander: Came in the Salmons deal and is an unusually gifted athlete who dominates the one-one-one games in practices. When it gets to full court something seems to change. He’s a dedicated worker and one of those guys coaches don’t seem to know why he’s not better. He says it’s been injuries and the lack of a chance. He made $2.6 million as the eighth pick in 2008, but the Bucks passed on his team option. He’ll likely take a minimum deal and the Bulls will be looking for players who’ll take a minimum but have had experience.
Chance of returning: 50 percent.
Chris Richard: The power forward from Florida became a popular guy around the locker room, easy going and friendly. He can bang around and was back and forth on some 10 day deals. He could be an asset in some sign and trade possibilities and might get a shot with the summer league team.
Chances of returning: 20 percent.
Rob Kurz: Picked up late so the team could take a look at him for perhaps a minimum deal as one of those shooting, so called stretch four forwards who can play a guy like Antawn Jamison, if not quite in that class. Also could be in a sign and trade and likely summer league as well.
Chances of returning: 20 percent.
Devin Brown: Came for Aaron Gray and pretty much got forgotten about once the team added Murray. Never got a chance to shoot himself out of his poor start, which was a long way from starting with the Hornets and making about $1.2 million.
Chances of returning: Zero.

Bulls lose 8th straight to Grizzlies without top 4 scorers

Eight is enough. But the losses look like they will keep coming for the Bulls.
The losing streak reached eight Tuesday in Memphis in a curious 104-97 defeat to the Grizzlies without the Bulls’ four top scorers. Yet, the Bulls came back from 25 down to get within four with 3:39 left and twice had chances to cut the lead to one or two.
The first time Brad Miller came out of a timeout with a corner three that was off, and after the Grizzlies missed underneath, Jannero Pargo lost the ball dribbling down the middle for one of the Bulls seven fourth quarter turnovers, three by Pargo.
But Pargo was playing point guard because Derrick Rose was out with a sprained wrist, Kirk Hinrich was suspended from bumping a referee in Friday’s Miami game and Acie Law, who was two off a career high with 18 points, was out late because of cramps in his legs. Overall, the Bulls were without their top four scorers with Luol Deng and Joakim Noah also injured.
“A lot of guys haven’t played together,” understated Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro. “I was pleased with the effort, but I was disappointed with the outcome. We will just try to get guys healthy. Acie was cramping up a lot. I would have liked to have gotten him back there in the end, but he was cramping up and couldn’t go.”So the Bulls stumbled to 31-35, though Miami and Charlotte also lost in the scramble for the final Eastern Conference playoff spots. No, it ain’t over.
The Bulls gave up at least 100 points for the 11th consecutive game, the longest streak since the 1985-86 season. And they play in Dallas Wednesday before returning home to face the league leading Cleveland Cavaliers Friday.
But Noah went on the trip for the first time since being pulled with his plantar fasciitis at the end of February and said he is getting close to playing. No one is saying, though my guess is Noah returns, though for limited minutes, when the Bulls travel to Philadelphia Saturday. It’s likely Rose and Deng will be back by then as well, perhaps Friday in the home game against the Cavs.
“Let’s see who comes back healthy and when and what the rotation is,” said Del Negro, guessing now from game to game who’ll play. “There’s a lot of basketball left. But we can’t keep saying that. We’ve got to get guys healthy and win some basketball games. I appreciated the way the guys battled, but it wasn’t good enough.”
It’s difficult to quantify a game like this with rookie Taj Gibson, who is clearly moving slowly with his own plantar fasciitis and with just two points and three rebounds and fouling out in 26 minutes, the only regular starter playing. The backcourt was Pargo and Law with Flip Murray at small forward and Brad Miller at center.
You figured this was a no chance game for the Bulls, even as they sprinted out 22-11 to open the game.
“They kept changing lineups and going smaller and smaller, and trying to create bad matchups,” said Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins. “We were discombobulated early offensively because we saw a lot of mismatches and were standing around trying to take advantage of mismatches instead of just playing. Once we got control of that, we took control of the game.”The Grizzlies did, particularly with a 17-0 run in the second quarter as the Bulls went 10 straight possessions without scoring and mostly firing up jumpers without much ball movement. Really, it is what you’d expected and you could hardly blame the makeshift group. Late in the third quarter, the Bulls were trailing 81-56 as Rudy Gay, who was little factor and seemingly little interested all game, made one of those spectacular twisting drives he can do.
So did the Bulls then fight back and show no quit and make some cases, namely Law, Murray with 25 and Hakim Warrick with 22, for extra playing time and a nice supporting rotation when the regular return?
Or was it one of those tortoise and hare things where the guy was so far ahead he decided to take a nap and before you knew it the little regarded one came crawling up and stole it?
Well, almost.
The Bulls still trailed 85-67 entering the fourth quarter as Warrick, playing back in Memphis, ran out for a slam dunk and pulled up for a jumper as the Grizzlies sat back satisfied.
The Grizzlies pretty much emptied their bench after that and Zach Randolph apparently gave away his headband, not expecting to return, which he eventually had to bandless. And he saved the game for Memphis with a couple of tough baskets inside after the Bulls had those two shots while trailing 94-90.
But the Grizzlies’ reserves who opened the fourth couldn’t find a scorer. Warrick had a pair of jumpers and James Johnson got a run out dunk and suddenly the Bulls were getting close to within 10.
Johnson would have started, especially after his best game of the season with 20 points against Miami Friday. But he was late for practice Monday and was benched, and it has become too much with him. He’s been perennially, let’s say, inconsistent about time throughout the season having grown up in the Mountain time zone and played college ball in the Eastern time zone. Or maybe he just needs a battery for his watch. He is a talent. We saw that Friday. And he blocked four shots Tuesday against the Grizzlies, often coming up from behind to surprise shooters or drivers, and twice late in key defensive possessions. But he remains somewhat immature and a bit too fun loving, from the break dancing you’ve seen him do on YouTube to just a general lack of discipline. Though not disruptive. He doesn’t seem to have the anger or attitude of someone like Tyrus Thomas. He’s just seems a bit too playful for being a professional. It’s what people forget. Just because you are in the NBA doesn’t mean you automatically become a pro. It’s a learning process, and Johnson is getting his schooling. He’s still learning, as we can see.
Which is why Murray started at small forward, and he actually did a good job on Gay, who finished with 12 points on five of 13 shooting, six rebounds and three assists.
I’ll admit, I like Gay’s talent. But he’s probably not the guy to invest in for free agency. He does come more cheaply because as a young player his maximum salary is closer to $12 million. He’s a restricted free agent, which means the Grizzlies can match an offer. Though with the stands a third empty again it’s difficult to see how they would do that, especially with a creative, front loaded offer.
That said, the Bulls have seen Gay now twice in the last few weeks and he’s shown no inclination to take over the game or look like he can. Plus, he plays small forward, where the Bulls have Deng. Heck, Murray had 25 Tuesday, though he went into the backcourt at times while O.J. Mayo was the leader for Memphis Tuesday with 24 points and Mike Conley with 19 points and 10 assists. Pargo was one off his career high in assists with eight.
No. 2 overall draft pick Hasheem Thabeet got his first career start with Marc Gasol hurt and Thabeet had a respectable 10 points, nine rebounds and two blocks. But he was lost on defense and constantly beaten on the pick and rolls as he seemingly had little idea even what to do.
Meanwhile, after that early run to open the fourth quarter behind Warrick, with 10 in the fourth, and Johnson’s dunk, and pulling within 89-77 the Bulls had another brutal stretch. This time the Memphis reserves still were in and collapsing as Johnson had back to back blocks. But the Bulls messed up four straight possessions with Devin Brown having two ugly possessions with a quick, bad jumper and turnover on a fast break as he traveled. Johnson then stepped out of bounds for a turnover as he tried to drive and Del Negro pulled them both. Pargo then went one-on-one on top of the floor and went between his legs on the dribble about eight times standing still and threw up a jumper, and I hate that extra dribbling stuff.
Yes, we know you can dribble.
Anyway, Thabeet gagged a pair of free throws and it was beginning to look like that 35-point lead the Bulls blew to Sacramento. You take a team for granted, and then you tighten up.
The Bulls kept making turnovers, Gibson and Law with one each following a Murray three giving the Bulls four turnovers in seven possessions. Yet, they were still in the game and about to get within 94-90. Amazingly, they could have won this game.
Because Miller then hit a corner three and a cutting Warrick took a pass from Pargo and slammed it facial version over Mayo with Gay looking on curiously. Pargo then drove for a score and was fouled after a Ronnie Brewer air ball and, stunningly, it was 94-90 Grizzlies with almost four minutes left.
“We just have to take care of the ball to put ourselves in a position to win,” said Law, who looked good driving the ball. “We hurt ourselves down the stretch. We were down 25 and we fight all the way to get back into the game and then we kill ourselves with turnovers.” Yes, here they come.
The Grizzlies committed a 24-second violation with Gay stuck with the ball, but Miller missed that three to get within one. Mayo missed a reverse underneath, but Pargo dropped the ball on a drive and went out of bounds with it. Randolph got deep post position and went up for an easy score, and then Pargo lost the ball again as he drove into four defenders.
Randolph scored again and Murray missed a three. Conley got a pass to Thabeet at the rim, and he put it in for a 10-point lead with 1:25 left. But Pargo suckered Conley into jumping into him on a three-point shot and made all three. Pargo then pressured in the backcourt—at least he wasn’t quitting after his misplays—and forced a turnover. Warrick rebounded a Murray miss, was fouled and made both and the Bulls, amazingly, were within five with 1:03 left.
Mayo missed a three, but with a chance to get within two or three, Pargo had the ball slip out of his hands for still another turnover, and that was about it.
“We didn’t value possession of the basketball enough and turned it over,” agreed Del Negro. “There were some costly turnovers and that was frustrating.”
Great effort? Opponent who took them too lightly? An encouraging loss? Still, another loss. And the march goes in. Can you lose 10 straight after the All Star break and still make the playoffs? We’ll likely soon find out. The Grizzlies moved to 36-32 and are pretty much out of it in the Western Conference. Life and basketball can be so unfair.

Bulls and Rose suffer game most foul in loss to Grizzlies

OK, no more Mr. Nice Guy for Derrick Rose.
He tried. He thought being professional was the right way. He thought he’d be rewarded for showing respect, for revering the game, for appreciating authority, for simply not acting out like a brat.
So Rose attacked the defense and the basket over and over Thursday in the Bulls 105-96 come-from-ahead loss to the Memphis Grizzlies and got just two free throws on one possession despite 21 shots.
Enough is enough.
“I don’t know what I’ve got to do to get a call,” Rose offered in a rare bout of open post game frustration. “I don’t know if I’m being too physical or whatever. I’m just going to go in and start making them make the call. Go in and go crazy like some of those other players in the league and hopefully they call it.
“You’ll see,” Rose promised. “Definitely, next game.”
It would be too bad if it has to come to that, a kid who wants to do it right, not complain and stop playing and yell at the referees after every drive like Dwyane Wade and LeBron James and Kobe Bryant. But this seems to be what the NBA always will be. The squeaky wheel gets the grease? Sadly.
It’s not fully why the Bulls blew a 17-point second quarter lead and 10-point lead in the third to inexplicably lose to a Memphis team playing the second of a back to back while the Bulls had two off days.
The Bulls were pounded on the boards again, 46-31, with Joakim Noah out probably through the end of the month with plantar fasciitis. There were too many quick jump shots in a 38 percent shooting second half even with Memphis over the foul limit early, and a failure to go for a knockout punch when the Grizzlies seemed disinterested and looking for a quick trip home with a lackluster effort in the first 18 minutes.
Rose finished with 20 points and Luol Deng led the Bulls with 23 points on sharp nine of 16 shooting and showing few ill effects of his knee problems that kept him out of the Monday loss to Atlanta.
But without Noah and with new acquisitions Hakim Warrick and Flip Murray a combined two for 10 for 10 points and not adding much of late, the Bulls margin for error is slight without Noah.
So they need all they can get from Rose, and Rose tried desperately to give it all he could, including an angry looking one handed slam dunk over Zach Randolph on a Brad Miller bounce pass early in the third quarter.
It seemed as much crowd pleasing highlight as Rose statement of frustration over being battered around by a wall of collapsing double and triple teams every time he went to the basket and left to watch he and the ball bounce away.
It’s too bad because even commissioner David Stern has urged players to stop complaining so much about not getting foul calls, and then when someone does the referees seem to ignore him.
“We’ve just got to find a way to end games,” said Rose of the Bulls again blowing a big lead at home. “When we have a team down we have to come out and find a way to put them away. We really want to be in the playoffs. But it’s up to us. Not anybody else. We have to go out there and show how much we want it.”
At this point most observers would say they don’t seem to want it very much.
It was the Bulls third straight loss to fall to 31-30. It’s way more than that. They aren’t playing so much poorly as indifferently, though more in stretches than the entire game. They’ll have great runs, but then settle for jumpers and a lack of body or ball movement.
It also too often seems a funereal atmosphere among the players, little emotion except for several whom seem comfortable with one foot out the door.
“I believe we could have played a lot harder,” said Deng. “It’s not time to panic. We’ve got 21 games left. We’ve got to play with more energy. Early in the game, we did a good job of running out. But we let them back in the game and kept building their confidence. And then with six minutes left or so they made plays and we didn’t.
“I know we did not make shots,” said Deng. “I thought we could have moved the ball better (17 assists). “They had two big plays, and ones (by Marc Gasol) to go up seven (with 3:50 left) and spread out a little. I believe we’ve got a very good team. We just can’t act like we’re a good team. That’s what we did tonight, kind of played like we were better than them.”
This is hardly a roster for overconfidence, even with the nice post All Star game stretch, which was populated more by teams with losing records.
It also didn’t help that it seemed coach Vinny Del Negro also pulled his foot off the pedal along with his players.
The Grizzlies appeared to be going through the motions after an exciting win in New Orleans Wednesday night to move into ninth in the West.
So the Bulls came out flying, moving the ball, outrebounding Memphis 12-9 in the first quarter and shooting 59 percent behind Rose’s 10 points. They led 27-10 when the Bulls started major substitutions, Jannero Pargo for Rose, Warrick for Miller and Murray for Hinrich.
The Bulls still led 32-19 after one, and even with some moves deeper into the bench to open the second quarter, Memphis still seemed disinterested and the Bulls led 49-32 with about five minutes left in the first half.
The Bulls then went with Chris Richard and Warrick again for Taj Gibson, and yes the starters need rest. They cannot play 48. But you just had the feel with this kind of game one more first half spurt and the Grizzlies would have packed it in.
But the Grizzlies got some life to end the second quarter with Gasol and Zach Randolph, who ended with 31 points and 18 rebounds, scoring inside while the Bulls went scoreless on seven straight possessions with three long jumpers and three unforced turnovers.
No sweat, we’ll get ‘em when we need to seemed the attitude.
That enabled the Grizzlies to go to halftime trailing just 51-45 in a game they should have been down 25.
“We are an uptempo, jump shooting team,” agreed Del Negro. “We don’t have a lot of post up guys. When you settle for jump shots, they are going to go in some time and out. You have to guard very well and get up and down the court to get some easy baskets. It makes it hard to control tempo sometimes because if we slow it down without a post up game, we end up running a lot of pick and rolls and isolations with Derrick. We got a little stagnant.”
The Bulls seemed to grab hold of the game again to open the third with that great Rose dunk and Miller, who had 14 points and seven rebounds, with a terrific sequence including a nice cut for a score on a Hinrich pass, a baseline drive and finger roll and then a dunk followed by a gangly arm movement and primal scream (yes, Miller was into it) off another Hinrich feed. The big guy was warmed up.
The Bulls were back ahead 65-55 with 7:10 left in the third, and again I thought they had a chance to make the Grizzlies quit as Memphis went to backup center Hamed Haddadi and already had four team fouls in the quarter. I thought Miller could have head faked Haddadi into a bunch more and spread out the game.
Again, guys like Miller need rest, especially with Noah out. But this seemed one of the more winnable games in this tough March stretch of winning teams for the first three weeks. So you push to get the ones you can without Noah? But Del Negro likes to rest his starters when the opponent goes to the bench, and he took out Miller and Hinrich.
And this is one of those debates you perhaps only make in a loss. A coach gets blamed for playing the starters too much, which has happened this season. So then how can you blame him for playing the starters too little? I don’t. It’s a job open to ultimate second guessing. I don’t fault Del Negro for the loss. Players have to make the plays, and the Bulls are short on those players now. They will need some extraordinary individual efforts this last quarter of the season to make the playoffs. Which may be why Rose has begun his campaign with the officials.
I tend to be more conservative, perhaps like Del Negro, and I like to try to steal as many wins as I can to see if I can hold on down the stretch.
But they always say that’s inexperience and a veteran coach knows how to massage his bench to save the starters. So Del Negro did try that Thursday.
It just didn’t work this time.
Memphis went on a 10-0 run to tie the game as Randolph was just too strong for Warrick, who is more a combo three/four.
“The rebounding and the loose balls, I think, made the difference,” said Del Negro. “Our initial defense was decent. The extra possessions really hurt us. As they got more offensive rebounds, they were making us pay for that. We can’t expect to win when we are giving up 53 percent shooting, that many offensive rebounds and letting them score 60 points in the second half. We were not sharp defensively. We are going to win by defending. We are not going to outscore anyone with the make up of our team right now.”
The Bulls did regain the lead on some hustle plays by Deng that led to free throws and a couple of nice defensive plays by Gibson along with a Deng three. So the Bulls clung to an 80-76 lead after three.
“You have to want it more than the other guy,” said Del Negro pointedly. “We did not put enough pressure on them defensively. They came back after we had a big lead and I’m sure they went into the half feeling confident. When the game got close, they went to Zach and we could not control him.”
Hinrich scored on a drive to open the fourth, twisting his ankle for the first of two times in the quarter, though he said after the game he should be OK for Saturday’s game against Dallas.
But the Bulls had awakened the sleeping giants of the Grizzlies front court and they began to batter the Bulls with drives (a 62-42 points in the paint margin), offensive rebounds, loose balls with the guards flying into the mix and second shots.
Memphis finally took its first lead since early in the game on a Mike Conley floater after an O.J. Mayo rebound at 89-87 with 6:54 left. Mayo finished with 20 points and nine rebounds, including five offensive, while free agent to be Rudy Gay had 17 points, six rebounds, five steals and two blocks.
The Memphis bench isn’t very good, though the Bulls couldn’t take much advantage with their bench five of 16 overall. But Memphis’ starting lineup is far superior to the Bulls’, and this was arguably the weakest team in this three week stretch.
The Bulls got the lead back at 90-89 with 5:29 left on a Hinrich three. But then when Hinrich missed a three on the next possession, Gasol scored on the first of two screen/rolls with Conley in which he successfully sealed off Miller and the Grizzlies pulled away as Bulls errant jumpers shot off the rim in all directions.
“It hurt,” said Hinrich. “We were getting hurt on the boards. At home we’ve had leads and let our guard down. We can’t do that.”
The Bulls top guard, Rose, was down numerous times. But he wasn’t rewarded for the effort. He had three assists, and I counted at least five passes he made out of deep penetration to shooters who missed with no one within five feet of them.
It only gets more difficult from here, so we’ll see how much this Bulls teams has and how much they want or can produce a longer season. So far it doesn’t look promising.