Tag Archives: scottie pippen

NBA doesn’t punish Wade for anti-Bulls comments

The NBA absolved Dwyane Wade of any competitive wrongdoing in declaring the Bulls a disloyal franchise, but Wade’s comments clearly signaled this could be a noxious summer of free agent recruiting.
An NBA spokesman said the NBA has a rule that prohibits players from tampering with other players. The complication is the spokesman said the NBA understands players talk and interact with one another all the time and there is no was to regulate that.
The players from the 2008 Olympic team who are free agents have repeatedly stated they will talk about free agency and their plans, and Wade reiterated that again this week.
As a result of the league’s understanding you cannot prevent friends and colleagues from talking to one another the league reserves disciple for only the “most egregious tampering cases.”
It was decided Wade’s comments “do not meet that standard.”
Still, Wade’s comments to the Chicago Tribune earlier this week that the Bulls are a disloyal franchise given Wade’s view of their treatment of Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen should put on notice all teams that this will likely not be a fair and honest process.
Wade delivered the first salvo by suggesting, through implication as I noted in my Bulls.com story Thursday, free agents should avoid the Bulls because of some disloyalty factor.
An cursory examination of each team’s personnel roster, as I did, showed the Bulls with three times as many former players working for the franchise currently compared to the Heat. Plus, a huge number of former Bulls players have had significant positions with the franchise, like coach and GM, while the Heat has regularly ignored its former players for major positions in coaching or management.
So Wade’s message, clearly, was don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story. It would seem Wade realized his Heat with a decimated and aging roster don’t have nearly as much to sell as the Bulls. If you can’t let the record speak, perhaps then you try some, as Don King liked to say, trickeration. And, yes, this could become like boxing, which one promoter once described to me as “the closest thing we have to 17th century buccaneering.”
Yes, ready the canons and be ready for attacks. It’s just the beginning.

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Cavs out of playoffs; LeBron headed to Bulls?

Stupid time officially began about seven minutes after the Cavs were knocked out of playoffs Thursday in losing 94-85 to the Boston Celtics to fall four games to two in the Eastern semifinals.

Chad Ford of ESPN reported he’d heard from three league general managers who said they now believe James will leave the Cavs as a result of the series loss and said James would be coming to the Bulls and will be coached by John Calipari.

Of course, there were no actual names mentioned from these sources who may or may not know.

Among the actual people, former Mavs coach Avery Johnson, doing the pregame and postgame for ESPN, said he believed James would be going to the Nets. I took this to mean Johnson would like to be Nets coach.

Johnson’s postgame partner, former player Jamal Mashburn, said he believed James would be staying with the Cavs, though Mashburn was told he had to pick a team other than the Cavs—clearly ESPN as well as Joakim Noah is tired of Cleveland—for James to go to and he also guessed New Jersey.

ESPN national NBA writer Chris Broussard said he believed James would be signing with the Bulls, maybe with Phil Jackson as coach.

No report yet on whether Michael Jordan would come out of retirement for this, as he isn’t quite 50 yet. But, hey, it still wasn’t time for the real late SportsCenter…

Whew! I’m tired already. This is going to go on for the next two months since free agency begins July 1 and then teams have a week until they are permitted to sign a player.

James said after the game he “has no plans.”

He said, “We’ll see what happens.”

James acknowledged the Cavs are “committed to winning,” but added, he has “given myself options.”

How dare he be vague when so many people actually know what he’s doing? Who is he to say he doesn’t know?

It’s gotta be the Bulls, right? James already has said he’ll change his number next season to No. 6 because he didn’t feel anyone should wear No. 23. Yes, the Bulls can keep Jordan’s number retired.

Though James is friends with entertainer Jay-Z, a part owner of the Nets, who are now owned by one of the world’s richest, and supposedly to be the most generous to his basketball players.

But there’s the Knicks, the only team that can give a full free agent contract to James and whomever James wants to bring with him, even if it’s Ilgauskas. The owner of a famous New York strip club was quoted last week offering James free lap dances for life. I’m not fully sure how that works under the salary cap. I don’t know if James ever does that sort of thing, but I’m quite sure they wouldn’t be that expensive for him, anyway. I’m not saying, mind you, he engages in such behavior, whatever it is since I’m not familiar with the term.

There’s the Clippers and L.A. and the movie industry, which is where LeBron’s spending this summer making a movie. Of course, there’s the sign and trade possibility with the Lakers to play with Kobe. Can’t the NBA get this straight? Wasn’t this supposed to be a Kobe/LeBron Finals? And three second round sweeps. If the NBA manipulates these matchups they do a poor job.

The instant ESPN poll had 31 percent saying he’d go to New York, 27 percent say remaining in Cleveland and 24 percent for Chicago. Another 18 percent were said to be leaning to Warren Buffet’s basement.

Pat Riley allegedly has ordered LeBron to come to Miami because, well, he’s Pat Riley! OK, enough.

The Heat, meanwhile, already has set up a website inviting fans to urge Wade to remain in Miami. But there’s also a fan web site up now asking James to come to Chicago.

David Letterman has been running a segment of reasons for LeBron James to come to New York, though so far they’ve included being hit by a speeding taxi and being able to watch a foul mouthed TV anchor cursing on the air.

I’ve checked. No websites yet of anyone asking for free agent Shaq.

This is big, seriously.

This is the back-to-back MVP, a player whom some believe could one day be considered the games greatest not only being upset again in the playoffs, but threatening the geography of the NBA with James a free agent who may leave the Cavs.

And we know, as James would say, here’s a guy who has won at every level but college and the NBA.

It was not only a stunning, unexpected result after the Cavs led the league in wins for the second straight season. But it was shocking to see the way the Cavs gave up at the end, not even trying to foul to extend the game after Tony Allen, Rasheed Wallace and Rajon Rondo were gagging free throws down the stretch. Make them earn it! Heck, everyone does that even in the regular season.

I know Cavs players looked toward the bench at that time, though the mistake probably was not looking at the real coach, James.

There are going to be major ramifications from this series even if James elects to remain in Cleveland. No King Abdicates headlines quite yet.

It seems likely coach Mike Brown will be out. That would be a year after winning coach of the year and after winning at least 60 games in consecutive seasons. And they felt sorry for Vinny Del Negro. No coach ever has lost his job after such a run, though Alex Hannum resigned after a pair of 60-plus win seasons. James did say afterward he thought there could have been some better adjustments.

It was another unusual series for Brown as he stayed with the ineffective O’Neal for long stretches, failed to play smaller and quicker with players like J.J. Hickson to take advantage of getting James out in the open court, where he is unstoppable, and seemed more like a Rube Goldberg mad scientist trying different and odd combinations with Daniel Gibson appearing from nowhere, and never figuring out what to do with Antawn Jamison.

As I wrote during the Bulls series with the Cavs, if James really wanted to win—and I guess GMs in New York, New Jersey, Miami and L.A. would differ—he’d join the Bulls.

Yes, this appears on the Bulls’ site, but I’d say the majority of my mail about free agents favors Dwyane Wade over LeBron. Fans seem to personally like Wade more, though I know any team would take James first. He’s the best and he fits with anyone and everyone. And he sure can dance.

Forget positions. He can play anywhere, and probably one of the bigger issues with the Cavs is he has monopolized the ball too much. That took Mo Williams, for instance, out of games, and I thought the first half Thursday for the Cavs was better because Williams plays better with the ball. When James took over more after halftime, Williams became more a standstill player, which is when he’s not at his best.

Though James controls the ball a lot and has the mentality of a point guard, he would be better off playing with Derrick Rose.

James is such a threat that he should play in a faster, more open game, which suits Rose, because as James goes up court he’ll take the defense with him and make it easier on his point guard. It was an issue the Bulls had early with Michael Jordan. Doug Collins always tried to get Jordan to run out ahead of the ball, but Jordan resisted because he liked to have the ball in his hands and didn’t trust his teammates.

Once Scottie Pippen gained trust with Jordan and could handle the ball, Jordan attacked more without the ball and it led to Bulls titles.

So, James would do well to play with a ballhandler like Rose.

By the way, for those who whined all season about letting go of Ben Gordon and trading John Salmons, this was why. No, the Bulls may not get James. But they are now in the conversation. If they’d have kept either Gordon or Salmons they wouldn’t be. And how could they justify that?

Though the perfect scenario would be to get the Cavs to agree to a sign-and-trade for James, say Luol Deng, Taj Gibson and a No. 1 pick, for example, and then have salary cap money left to attract another free agent like Chris Bosh, David Lee or Joe Johnson.

That’s also why the Bulls seem to have the edge over, say, the Knicks, who have few sign-and-trade assets to offer. The Nets are much better equipped with a high draft pick and Devin Harris. It’s hard to see James going somewhere without a sign and trade, which would mean a lesser contract. Of course, James could go for three years with an opt out after two, which he could do with the Cavs to give them one more shot.

Of course, the sign-and-trade route opens the field to a team like the Lakers with Andrew Bynum and others to pair James with Bryant. You can be sure there will be other offers, though would the Cavs be the franchise that agreed to trade LeBron James? Almost better to let him walk.

James did acknowledge some issue with his elbow after the Game 6 loss, though there seemed more all of a sudden a level of dysfunction within the Cavs as their emotions and enthusiasm almost disappeared. We may be hearing something was amiss eventually.

As for Boston winning, you’ve now got to consider Celts top assistant Tom Thibodeau for at least an interview for the coaching job. The Celtics defense was terrific in this series, and without Kevin Garnett being great. What Boston had is what so many teams don’t and which troubled the Bulls this season, one system of play to fall back on when things went wrong or under pressure.

LeBron also needs to be coached. He clearly has run things in Cleveland, as everyone around the NBA knows, but that doesn’t seem to be working out. You don’t want to hire someone who is his friend or whom he chooses, but someone he can respect for his knowledge of the game and ability to put him in position to succeed, a strong figure.

This just in: James was heard listening to “25 or 6 to 4” by Chicago. Does anyone need anymore proof than that he’s coming to the Bulls?

Bulls lose to Cavs to fall one game from end of season

The Bulls players and coaches were trying to explain what they thought happened in Sunday’s 121-98 Cleveland Cavaliers playoff win that gave the Cavs a 3-1 lead in this opening round series, the game that could be the final Bulls home game of the 2009-10 season.
Joakim Noah, who had the first 20/20 playoff game in franchise history with 21 points and 20 rebounds, thought the Bulls gave in mentally when the Cavs put a big blitz on them late in the first half into the third quarter, a 21-6 run over about five minutes that broke open a close game.
“I think we weren’t very tough mentally,” said Noah. “I think we were playing good basketball and all of a sudden it collapsed. When things aren’t going our way we can’t out our heads down. When things weren’t going our way, everyone had their head down. Even myself. I have to do a better job of bringing energy, making sure everyone is on the same page. From players to staff, everyone had heads down. To have a performance like this in this kind of game is disappointing.”
Derrick Rose, who had 21 points and five assists in facing a multitude of switching Cavs defenders, said the Bulls could have attacked more when the Cavs were in the penalty with almost six minutes left in the third quarter instead of shooting jump shots and could have come up with more variety on offense.
“When we had the lead (45-44 with 3:50 left in the first half), we should have run more effective plays,” said Rose, “guys scoring from certain spots or get fouled or run something to get more ball movement while we were in the penalty and attack, run some pick-and-rolls and attacked the basket. And even if you couldn’t make the shot, you could dump it off to a big and maybe they could get to the line.”
Kirk Hinrich, whom LeBron James had labeled before the game the Bulls’ X-factor whom the Cavs had to stop and who had 10 points on three of 13 shooting, said the Bulls just weren’t able to match the Cavs fury, especially on defense, and, of course, James, who had a fifth playoff triple double with 37 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists.
“There’s a lot of stuff we could have done,” said Hinrich. “Most of the shots he made were tough shots. They took it to us, especially in the second half. They cranked up their intensity. The result was we got a little out of character on offense. They were putting up points fast. We haven’t been that type of team. When we feel the pressure to do that we struggle, settling for jumpers, not sharing the ball. They made some big jump shots, (Anthony) Parker, (Mo) Williams. They really took it to us.”
I was listening to all this and thinking I’d heard this many times before.
This, by the way, was not déjà vu, perhaps the most misused term in the English language, though since it is French we can understand since we never know what they are talking about. Though we are catching on with Noah. Déjà vu, by the way, is feeling you have experienced or witnessed something and actually have not. I am here, of course, to educate and inform.
Anyway, as for the past, I have heard these things said many times before by opponents of the Bulls and Michael Jordan explaining why they lost and what could they have done differently.
When, in fact, there was nothing because Jordan was better and James is better.
The Bulls tried, and did the best they could. You can pick at these things like rushed shots and open shooters and sagging confidence and certain substitutions. But the Bulls led the Cavs in fast break points 23-12. They led in second chance points 24-10. They outrebounded the Cavs 49-41 and 17-5 on the offensive boards, and attempted 12 more shots.
They didn’t play a bad game, though the Bulls shot just 37.4 percent. But the Cavs upped their defensive energy and James was just too much.
He faded back and hit threes, six of 9 among the team’s 12 of 25, including one stepping into a 45 footer to end the third quarter he called a regular jump shot.
“I can comfortably shoot that shot, probably half court or beyond.” James said. “I mean, it was a regular jump shot for me. Comfortably, I can walk and dribble into a halfcourt three. I’m doing pretty good so far with that shot.”
I asked James why, then, he didn’t shoot it more often. He did admit his percentage would go down some. The guy is playing an altogether different game form everyone else.
It would be bragging if you couldn’t do it.
“Those are definitely back breaking shots,” said James, wearing a “Witness” polo shirt as he talked with reporters. “I felt good, focused on this game as the most important game of the season for us. I wanted to force my will and get us the win. Now the most important game of the season is Game 5.”
It’s been something of a mantra for James, who is taking these playoffs far more seriously than he has any before, and certainly the regular season. I saw Jordan like this as well in 1991, sensing something the rest of us were uncertain about and putting everything into each game and making sure everyone else did.
James also closed the half holding onto the ball for a 22 footer with a second left to end an 18-7 run over the last four minutes to make it 62-52.
“Overall in the second half of the second quarter we took quick shots,” said Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro. “They got out on the break and that put us on our heels and they got into the penalty with a couple of fouls. They got that cushion at half time. Momentum is a big thing. In the third quarter, we were just one pass and a shot. We were not making them guard enough. They got in the open court and they made shots.”
James made shot after shot, and then when the Bulls tried to collapse on him he fanned the ball out to Williams, who was three of six on threes for 19 points, and then ran the same pick and roll play with James and Antawn Jamison at least a half dozen straight times, and the Bulls couldn’t do much as they switched it often and Jamison posted or ducked under Luol Deng and finished with 24 points.
Talk about your X-factors, your Scottie Pippen guy. Does LeBron finally have him? Is it enough now to win a championship?
“Antawn was great,” said James. “His ability to shoot the bal from outside and drive. He’s one of those hybrid fours we have in this league like Rashard Lewis, Josh Smith, guys who do multiple things. Fours have a tough time guarding him and smaller guys hav a tough time because he posts and can shoot over. He’s a great X-factor. I do my job and Mo does his, and ‘twan is the X-factor and we have to have those games from him.”
This series reminds me of the Bulls in 1991 when they won their first title.
In the second round, they faced a team somewhat like today’s Bulls, the Philadelphia 76ers with Charles Barkley, one star, and a bunch of role players like Hersey Hawkins, Ron Anderson and Armon Gilliam.
The Bulls won the first two games at home and then went to Philadelphia for a raucous Game 3 in which they fell behind by 20-plus points and then came charging back only to lose by two points. But like the Cavs in their two point loss in Game 3 in this series after trailing by 21, the comeback was a lesson for both teams, a wakeup for those Bulls to concentrate and a message for the 76ers you had to play your best just to barely win at home.
Back then, the Bulls came back and won Game 4 by double digits in Philadelphia and closed it back home in a tough Game 5. About a month later, the Bulls and Jordan had their first ever NBA championship.
You sort of get the same sense with these Cavs, especially with the mish mash of results going on in the Western Conference. Yes, Orlando remains a major obstacle in the Eastern Conference, but James, for all his dancing and posing, seems to be taking this quest seriously.
He showed up at the United Center for the Sunday afternoon game two hours before the rest of his teammates to shoot and practice.
“We just got fed up,” said Jamison. “After Game 3, our team was generally so frustrated knowing we didn’t come out prepared enough and put ourselves in a difficult position. We did a good job making it close at the end, but you can’t let a team like this (Bulls) get momentum and confidence. You saw what they did last year against Boston. I know (LeBron) was in a zone, really focused. Right before the game, he had that eye knowing he needed to go out and play a great game. He puts pressure on the defense, is a great defender, leader, communicating on the court, in the huddle. He did a great job setting the tone.”
I didn’t think so early as James had more rebounds and as many assists as shots in the first quarter as the Cavs led 24-21. Deng’s shot was pure and Noah had one of several instances where he got the rebound and either started or ran the entire break.
“We started off the game really well,” said Noah. “In the second quarter we were playing at a fast pace, putting Shaq in a lot of pick and rolls (five fouls in 17 minutes), and then we collapsed those last three minutes.”
The Bulls were ahead 45-44 thanks to 10 in the second quarter from Hinrich as James knew his stuff. The Bulls were 14-0 this season when Hinrich scored at least 16 and when Rose scored 31 and Hinrich 27 in Game 3, it was only the Bulls’ third playoff game in which both starting guards scored at least 25. The others were Jordan (36) and Sam Vincent (31) against Detroit in 1988, and Jerry Sloan (27) and Norm Van Lier (26) against the Lakers in 1973, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
But in that stretch with the Bulls ahead 45-44, James hit a three and then hit Anderson Varejao on a pick and roll. Varejao was fouled and missed the second, but Jamison got the rebound and scored. Deng missed a jumper and Varejao blocked Rose as the Cavs did a better job of closing on Rose in the lane.
“They were playing great defense,” said Rose. “And they were hitting all their (contested) shots. LeBron was penetrating and kicking and he was hitting great shots, crazy shots. That’s why he’s one of the best players in the NBA, if not the best. If anything, they outhustled us and we were settling for jump shots. They kept switching and putting different people on me throughout the game. One person would contest the shot and then there’d be a different one. We’ve got to find a way and do it quick.”
Rose sprained his ankle early in the third and the Bulls called a timeout, but Rose came right back and said he’d be fine for Game 5 in Cleveland Tuesday.
The Bulls had a chance, but started the second half missing their first six shots, all outside jumpers, and then the Cavs took over.
“I’ve done some great things in the past, I’ll do some great things in the future,” said James. “But we’re in the present now, and I’m feeling pretty good.”
Shaq, who was ineffective again and LeBron got his wish with J.J. Hickson playing as much and scoring 10 off the bench, did get a dunk. Jamison got a three-point play getting that switch onto Deng, and then Jamison had a driving score. He had a dozen in the third and James 11, the Cavs hit 12 of 18 shots and only Noah was able to do much with 14 points. But it was over.
“It came down to LeBron and Jamison. We could not control them,” said Del Negro. “We had been doing a good job of keeping them (especially James) from the middle. Their other guys made some plays.”The Cavs took a 21-point lead five minutes into the third, kept it throughout the quarter and never led by fewer than 20 the rest of the game and by as many as 29 long after the starters had departed.
And now it may be down to the last game for the Bulls. James is averaging 35 points, nine rebounds and eight assists and the Cavs are going back home for Game 5.
“We definitely don’t feel sorry for ourselves,” said Noah. “We’ve been pretty tough and resilient all year. That’s something I’m proud to be part of. I feel we got through a lot of adversity this year. Right now it’s tough because we just lost a game, but we’ll have practice and be ready to go to Cleveland.”
They hope not to be another step on the Cavs climb to a title. Win or Cancun for the Bulls. The Cavs have greater ambitions.

Could LeBron be thinking how he looks in Bulls red?

The Bulls Thursday play Game 3 of what may be the most important playoff series in franchise history.
And thus far, even though the Bulls trail 0-2, the series with the Cleveland Cavaliers may be going very well.
That’s because based on what LeBron James has seen in the first two games, especially in the Cavs 112-102 Game 2 victory in Cleveland Monday, if James’ goal is to become a great winner, he cannot possibly think there’s a big window of opportunity with his Cavaliers.
He, instead, has to consider what his future would be if he played with a 22-year-old All-Star point guard and a 25-year-old near All-Star center.
If James wants to be considered the greatest player in the history of the game and surpass Michael Jordan—and I believe he does—then it is about winning championships.
At least six of them.
James has a good chance to get his first this season.
But if James at 26 envisions a long run, does he have a better chance with 38-year-old Shaquille O’Neal, and by next season 34-year-old Antawn Jamison and 35-year-old Anthony Parker being three of his fellow starters? Or even the likes of Mo Williams and Delonte West?
On the other hand, how good and how long a run could James have if he teamed as a free agent after this season with Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah?
That’s potentially the best thing about this playoff series for the Bulls, even though they’ll likely lose it. They may well show James there’s a much better basketball future—if not Noah’s view of way more to do on the weekends—by joining up with Rose, Noah, Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich. With a core like that, how easy would it be to get a couple of top veterans who want to be part of the next great potential dynasty?
This series for the first time may give the Bulls a legitimate chance to land James as a free agent this summer.
And I know everyone in Chicago would feel James looks good dancing in a Bulls uniform.
The Bulls have believed with their core, which they kept in place while going into free agency unlike teams like the Knicks and Nets, they are one player like Joe Johnson or Chris Bosh or Amar’e Stoudemire or Carlos Boozer away from being a top four team in the East.
But what if you could get the game’s best player?
Look what James did Monday with a collection of scrap metal.
OK, that’s a bit harsh. Just kidding. But that is an old Cavs team with no cap room. Shaq’s on his last gasp. Zydrunas Ilgauskas probably will leave, anyway, after a falling out with the team this season. Plus, he is 35 soon and slowed. Jamison’s best days are past. Same with Parker. They’ve got some young guys, like J.J. Hickson, and, well nobody.
There still really isn’t that great second, the Scottie Pippen to Jordan, the Worthy and Kareem for Magic, the McHale and Parish for Bird.
Chicago’s got Nos. 2 and 3.
How good would they be with No. 1?
How many championships could James claim?
Hey, there’s room for another statue on the west side of the United Center.
It’s probably the main reason why it was so important the Bulls made the playoffs, especially against the Cavs.
Noah, who came up big in Game 2 with 25 points and 13 rebounds, wasn’t exactly conceding, and he never would. But he did take a bit of a big picture look after Game 2.
“This is great for our team,” said Noah. “Competition does not get higher than this. We understand this is great for us. In the big picture, when we go into the summer we can say (if we lose) we played against the best team and we know what we’ve got to do to get better. It’s all about getting better and trying to win ball games.”
Noah added he expected the team to win Game 3 back in Chicago Thursday, though, look, the Bulls finished 20 games behind the Cavs.
But it’s also why I felt it was important for the franchise to make the playoffs.
It’s not that they couldn’t get a free agent if they didn’t make the playoffs. But even trailing 0-2, what do you think is the reputation of the Bulls now compared to the Raptors, who missed out by that one game in Toronto.
The point is to show what you have on the big stage, and the Bulls did a good job of that Monday.
Sure, they lost, and the idea is to win. Second isn’t good in games.
But the Bulls showed not only impressive resolve in the way the Bulls played the Cavs but that they have at least a pair of high level NBA stars.
That’s why, I believe, the Bulls privately were hoping if they made the playoffs to get the Cavs.
They’d be a big underdog against any of the top four teams, obviously.
So show LeBron James, likely the biggest free agent prize in NBA history along with Shaq in 1996, what kind of talent you have, the way the team plays, hard and committed, and then let him get a look at life in Chicago in the playoffs.
There are few better venues.
It’s why it’s always been the foolish who suggested the Bulls should miss the playoffs for a chance for a top lottery pick. Yes, they got lucky for Rose, but it’s less than a one percent chance to move up like that from where they would have been this season.
I think that’s less than the chance James would see what he likes and maybe make the surprise decision.
You’ll notice Noah had some fun with the city of Cleveland, but he showed only respect to James and the Cavs.
We’ve all—including me—believed James was going to resign with the Cavs. Home, perhaps a championship, the most available money, and treatment like maybe no player ever has received from his team. It’s hard to argue how much the Cavs done to accommodate James.
But what if the Cavs don’t win?
It’s not like they looked like a championship team in Game 2.
Shaq was ineffective and you wonder if the one day of rest, which he’ll see more of in subsequent rounds, isn’t enough. There are two day breaks before games 3 and 4 in this series, which should benefit O’Neal.
Suddenly, if Anderson Varejao isn’t having a big game—and he doesn’t score, anyway—the front line looks overmatched. Noah ran them and outworked them badly and Taj Gibson out toughed them with 11 points and seven rebounds.
James, alone, can get you by a team like the Bulls. But then you probably have to deal with the athletic and deep Hawks and the Magic and Dwight Howard, who sent the Cavs out last season.
Of course, with Miami having Dwyane Wade and the excess salary cap room to add a maximum free agent and another high salaried player, maybe that looks better to James. Though you’d still have to find a center, which is difficult.
The notion was the Cavs responded to the Magic loss last year with the acquisition of Shaq to give fouls on Howard, and Jamison to match the Orlando forward scoring. Maybe it will work.
But there’s hardly any guarantee. After all, it took a phenomenal shooting performance–and at home–by James, 40 points, eight rebounds and eight assists to beat the .500 Bulls without Ben Gordon, John Salmons and Tyrus Thomas. And that’s with four threes from Jamario Moon, who hadn’t hit one in 109 minutes in the last four games of the regular season. Moon, once a Globetrotter, was just a 32 percent three point shooter in the season. Yes, as it was noted by my colleague Mark Heisler, “once in a Jamario moon.”
The Magic is deeper and a better defensive team, and the way Shaq looked after one day rest it’s difficult to imagine him being much but an annoyance to Howard.
And these things can become very emotional decisions. After the Cavs were knocked out by the Magic last season, it was clear James was anguished.
How much patience would he have again if it occurs?
And say James does win that first title. If he is about winning, as he says, and he has the opportunity through free agency, wouldn’t his future look a lot better with the likes of Rose and Noah or, say, Wade and Stoudemire, than with Shaq, Jamison, Parker and Williams?
Even the Bulls may not fully realize how big this playoff series is. It has the potential of changing the balance of power in the NBA. It’s why getting there and playing like they have thus far has been so potentially significant.
Maybe the Bulls can dream royally.

Pippen on the NCAA final, Tiger at the Masters

By Adam Fluck

Following the official announcement on Monday afternoon that Scottie Pippen will become a member of basketball’s Hall of Fame this fall, the Bulls legend will join more than 70,000 fans at Lucas Oil Stadium for the NCAA championship game as this year’s installment of March Madness comes to an end.
The game pits the top-seeded Duke Blue Devils against the hometown fifth-seeded Butler Bulldogs. Some are calling it a David versus Goliath type match up, but Pippen isn’t ready to count Butler out just yet.
“They play very well as a team and they’re very good defensively,” Pippen said of Butler. “Offensively, they move the basketball very efficiently and they know how to make teams work on defense. They constantly move the ball from side to side.”
Pippen will attend the final in a suite with others named to the Hall of Fame and the group will be honored during the game.
“All that being said, I am a big Coach K fan,” said Pippen. “We have a good relationship from working together during the Olympics. It would be fun to see Butler win, but if Duke wins, I certainly won’t be disappointed. I’m just happy to be living in this great era that he’s had as a college coach, closing in on John Wooden and the game’s best coaches of all time. I definitely have a lot of respect for him as a coach.”
Following his stay in Indianapolis, Pippen will make his way to Augusta, Georgia for the Masters. The big story, of course, is Tiger Woods’ return to golf.
“I’m picking Tiger to win,” said Pippen. “Not only will he win, I could see him doing it by many strokes. Who out there thinks that he won’t win? The pressure is on the other players—they are scared of Tiger. Let’s not kid ourselves; Tiger’s golf game hasn’t changed. He’s still the best and most intimidating golfer in the world.”
The sports world will certainly be watching to see if Pippen is right.

Bulls prepare for Suns as playoff underdogs

Well, that was a fun playoff race while it lasted.
Remember when it got going for real after the Bulls beat the Pistons in Auburn Hills Sunday afternoon? It didn’t look so good about 24 hours later when the seemingly dysfunctional Toronto Raptors went into Charlotte and outplayed the Bobcats 103-101.
It gives the Raptors a full one game lead on the Bulls for the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference along with the tiebreaker, so, in effect, a two game lead. And the Raptors now play the pretty-much-giving-up Clippers, 76ers and Warriors.
You can get hurt jumping off this bandwagon so often. It’s tough to be a front runner when you don’t know which direction the parade is heading.
“We can’t afford to lose any games at this point and obviously we put ourselves in this situation during the first part of March,” Brad Miller said after Sunday’s win in Detroit. “All we can do now is win. We have had some tough games and these last couple (New Jersey and Detroit) is kind of our little breather before we play Phoenix, Boston, Cleveland and Toronto. We play everyone in front of us so Toronto is obviously going to be a big game.”
At least on paper, the Bulls schedule the rest of the way is more difficult than Toronto’s. The Raptors have just three games left against winning teams. The Bulls have six, and that’s not counting the April 11 game in Toronto. The Bulls’ opponents have a combined 51 percent winning percentage compared with 47 percent for Toronto’s. Though if the Bulls fall short, it could be on Michael Jordan, who is no Kevin McHale.
You’ll recall how McHale gifted his former team Kevin Garnett and a title while Jordan’s Bobcats Monday lost at home to reeling Toronto, which had benched Hedo Turkoglu for apparently having too much nighttime fun while allegedly hurt. Yet, there was Charlotte with a chance to at least tie at the end and Raymond Felton is throwing a pick and roll pass to a diving Tyson Chandler. You could see Mike grimace as he knew Tyson had no chance of catching that low pass. The Bulls grimaced as well.
And now with Charlotte stumbling some they’re not about to lie down as the Bulls host them Saturday and then close the season April 14 in Charlotte. How ironic would that be for Jordan’s team to knock out the Bulls on the last day?
But there’s a lot of getting there until then, and they don’t come much tougher for the Bulls than Tuesday against visiting Phoenix.
The Suns at 47-26 have been the league’s hottest team the last two months, winning 21 of their last 26 and working on seven straight. They’re now fourth in the West and a game and a half out of second. They’re still leading the league in scoring, but are much more efficient defensively, ranking 11th in field goal defense.
The Bulls get a break with center Robin Lopez not on the trip with a back injury. His center defense has been crucial and allowed Amar’e Stoudemire to play his natural power forward position.
The Suns started Jarron Collins in Minnesota Sunday, and the Bulls could only hope. But it’s more likely the Suns go back to their spread-the-court game with Channing Frye at center, whom the Bulls worked over pretty good in a Phoenix in January. Though that was when Joakim Noah and Luol Deng were playing and playing well. Deng remains out with a calf injury and Noah hopes to be up to about 20 minutes with his plantar fasciitis. James Johnson remains day to day with his.
It also was the scene of the great Derrick Rose dunk on Goran Dragic, who has been perhaps the first real point guard sub the Suns have had for Steve Nash as Dragic avoided deportation after being dunked on like that. The Suns also have Leandro Barbosa back.
But the big thing has been Stoudemire, who has been as good as anyone in the NBA the last two months.
He’s averaging 28.8 points and 10.3 rebounds and shooting 59 percent in March with an average of 11.4 free throws per game and converting 86 percent. He’s making opponents cower and cry he’s been so dominant and scary. In February, he averaged 25.3 points and 10.1 rebounds.
Which has been great for the Suns. But also a head scratcher.
Where’s that been for six years?
Oh, right, Stoudemire can be a free agent this summer. And he welcomes discussing it as he’s basically gone around the league like Scottie Pippen in 1994 saying he’d love to play everywhere.
The Suns had Stoudemire available at the trading deadline the last two years, but never got a great offer even as he’s been, at least, a great offensive player for years. Will they pay him with a large payroll? Can they afford not to? Will he stay the way he’s been made available? He’s never been high on the Bulls list of free agents. Just because of the kind of reservations the Suns have.
Teammates say it’s a different Stoudemire, no longer so remote and moody and while playing defense and rebounding, two jobs he previously eschewed. It’s been sort of a running joke the last five or six years in Phoenix as Stoudemire, when healthy, would put up huge scoring numbers. And before games opposing coaches would come over to then Mike D’Antoni or now Alvin Gentry and apologize but say whomever Stoudemire was guarding would be in the pick and roll, and he was scoring most every time.
That’s changed as Stoudemire has changed. But is it a salary drive or Memorex? Sorry, old commercial.
It’s going to make for a heck of a summer for the Suns as GM Steve Kerr, after a choppy start, has seen implemented the few tweaks he once sought that drove D’Antoni off. They play defense and they use the bench. Otherwise, they’re mostly the same Suns. Which means good and dangerous and fun to watch.
Thinking of Stoudemire, I am reminded of Tyrus Thomas.
Tyrus missed Monday’s game against the Raptors with an ankle injury, and yes, still is hurting the Bulls from afar.
Fans ask me about picking him in the 2006 draft over LaMarcus Aldridge. And the reason was the Bulls believed then Thomas was the next Stoudemire. If they were right, and they weren’t the only ones who thought so, then it was the right pick.
Physically they are similar with Stoudemire being a bit stronger. But Tyrus was young and the Bulls assumed he’d fill out. Their games looked similar at the same age with Tyrus having a nice jump shot and form and amazing leaping ability and athleticism, like Stoudemire. And Stoudemire didn’t go until 9th in 2002 as a project. He averaged 13.5 and 8.8 rebounds as a rookie, numbers the Bulls projected for Thomas.
Of course, we know it didn’t work as perhaps no one could have seen Thomas having, at least in my memory, the worst attitude toward people and most anger of perhaps anyone I’d seen come into the NBA.
Really, Thomas should have been Stoudemire, so perhaps that’s what puts Stoudemire farther down on the Bulls free agent power forward list. But Stoudemire is much more approachable, especially lately, and, obviously, far more talented. And suddenly, after serious knee and eye surgery, a player capable of leading his team.
It’s a $100 million guess to find out if it’s for real.
But he sure has been putting on a show these days. And not one the Bulls are thrilled about seeing this time.

Bulls look to be among winners at trading deadline

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

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

Losers:

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

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