Bulls

20 in 20: Boozer the right fit for Chicago

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20 in 20: Boozer the right fit for Chicago

Thursday, Sept. 16, 2010
10:36 PM

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

A historic summer for the NBA has passed and for the Bulls, while they didn't acquire quite the star power many expected andor hoped for, optimism runs high, both within the organization and throughout the team's fan base. With the offseason coming to an end, the time to fully delve into the upcoming NBA season is here. Instead of a traditional season preview, issues both throughout the league and in Chicago will be probed daily here on CSNChicago.com up until the squad officially convenes for training camp toward the end of September.

9. What type of impact will Carlos Boozer make and is he worth his contract or just a free agency consolation prize?

Boozer didn't have the highest profile of the available free agents this summer. The Alaska native wasn't the flashiest player, nor he did he possess the gaudiest numbers. But even though it will take time to fully evaluate how things will play out this upcoming season, Boozer might ultimately be the best fit for the Bulls.

Think about it. At 6-foot-9 and 260 pounds, the Duke product's blend of brawn, bruising nature, low-post scoring ability and underrated offensive versatility gives Chicago since ... well, here's a hint: this writer -- along with everybody on the current roster, with the exception of Kurt Thomas (this was the pre-Jordan era) -- wasn't born at the time.

Stumped? The likes of Boozer's talent in the post haven't been seen in the Windy City since the days of Artis Gilmore. How about dominant power forwards? The Bull at his position with Boozer's credentials to truly garner league-wide respect -- albeit one with a much different style -- was Dennis Rodman. For a less extreme example, try Horace Grant.

But enough rehashing of the past. A career 17.2-point scorer and 10.2 rebounder on average through his first eight professional seasons, if anything, "Booze" is a model of consistency. Only 28, he brings a veteran presence and significant playoff experience (an added bonus: Jerry Sloan, the hard-nosed former Bulls star, coached him over the past six seasons in Utah, ensuring he'll compete) to a relatively young team.

Boozer, a two-time All-Star, has a reputation for not being durable, but that's partly mitigated by the presence of Taj Gibson, last year's starting power forward, who is coming off a first team NBA all-rookie campaign. While Boozer is the clear starter at the four for Chicago, his reputation for not being the staunchest defender will be challenged by both the blue-collar Gibson and new Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, a known defensive strategist.

Boozer will be expected to defend and buy in to the team philosophy -- again, after playing for Sloan, a noted taskmaster, that shouldn't be an issue -- but he was acquired to fill a gaping hole on offense. The tandem of Gibson and Joakim Noah performed capably last season, but neither player brings the scoring talents Boozer has to the table. In fact, Noah, in particular should team especially well with Boozer. They should make up for each others deficiencies (Noah's still raw post-up game, lack of strength and limited range; Boozer's so-so athleticism and aforementioned lack of defensive prowess) with their respective strengths.

That's probably the biggest positive. Not to say Bulls general manager Gar Forman was only paying lip service when he remarked that Chicago's braintrust rated Boozer their top-ranked available power forward, but that line of thinking was likely influenced more by how they envisioned him complementing their nucleus, specifically Noah and All-Star point guard Derrick Rose.

Boozer has already played with a great floor general in Deron Williams, and while Rose hasn't quite ascended to the Utah playmaker's level just yet, he's not far from it. Williams has a different style than Rose, so it will be an adjustment process, but that's where Boozer's experience and willingness to play second banana on occasion come in. Boozer chose Chicago for the opportunity to win -- he's confident enough to believe the lofty goal of winning a title immediately is feasible -- not the fanfare that he's smart enough to realize won't come as readily with hometown product Rose and fan favorite Noah getting better every day. That willingness to sacrifice alone (despite not necessarily being his new team's first choice in the summer, he reportedly wasn't even tempted by the chance to be the man for the likes of the Nets) is admirable, and the fact that former teammates Ronnie Brewer and Kyle Korver followed him to the Bulls speaks volumes.

In this day and age, however, fans are too quick to wonder what could have been. While the sting of the triple rejection of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh seems to have disappeared within the Bulls' fan base, it's not hard to predict that as soon as the team undergoes a single misstep, is perceived to underachieve or even fails to jell quickly enough, at least some of the Chicago faithful will lament the franchise not adding the services of even one member of the trio.

When it comes to James or Wade, a Chicagoan, it's hard to argue the downside of not locking up either of the proven superstars -- although one has to consider the potential challenge of how to effectively blend their respective ball-dominant games with Rose's own. But anybody who watched the Bulls on a regular basis last season recognizes that a post-up scorer and outside shooting were bigger needs than adding another dynamic slasher to mirror Rose.

Bosh, on the other hand, was widely considered the top power forward on the market. For those who closely studied the strong second half to last season enjoyed by Amar'e Stoudemire could make a case for him, too. And while Bosh's game might be prettier and Stoudemire's game might be more exciting (like Boozer, neither is regarded as a good defender; both players are younger than Boozer), Boozer's ability to mix it up in the paint fits the already blue-collar Bulls better. Not to mention, Boozer's acquisition was a bit less expensive than most observers project it would have cost to sign the others.

In the midst of his prime, with a game that appears cohesive with the rest of the squad and gives the Bulls' young stars room to grow (forming a pretty formidable triumvirate; Luol Deng makes them a very strong quartet), the ability to fill a major team need, a history of deftly shifting between being a lead guy and a supporting piece, having significant postseason battles under his belt and enough character that the oft-taciturn Sloan spoke up for him (despite Boozer's issues with the Utah front office), in short, Boozer seems like the right guy for both the Bulls and Chicago.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.coms Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

It's Bobby's World in Bulls' lottery-improving loss to 76ers

It's Bobby's World in Bulls' lottery-improving loss to 76ers

The final 25 games was supposed to be all about the development of the Bulls’ recent acquisitions and securing a record worthy of one of the last three envelopes at the NBA Draft Lottery.

Only Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn seemed to matter, with Cameron Payne and Cristiano Felicio being the perfect window dressing for development as opposed to just saying a team is tanking.

But Bobby Portis is making a case that he isn’t to be forgotten in the big picture, that his worth is more than just being a punchline to the jokes that followed his incident with Nikola Mirotic.

The only thing Portis didn’t do right in the Bulls’ 116-115 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers was missing a point blank shot that would’ve given the Bulls an improbable and unwanted win, and it would’ve given him 40 points.

Instead he had to settle for a career-high 38 as Joel Embiid was bearing down on Portis when he caught a diagonal pass from Dunn with 1.1 seconds left, having the shorter T.J. McConnell on him and taking a power dribble to gather himself.

“If I could go back I would’ve just went up the first time off the glass like I always do,” Portis said. “We just have to try to close out games better.”

Embiid showed he’s worth all the trouble with his health problems, scoring 30 with 13 rebounds and five rebounds while Ben Simmons put up 32 with 11 assists and seven rebounds as the 76ers improved to 31-25, good enough for seventh place in the East.

In a game that featured remarkable resolve from a purposely undermanned Bulls team as they sat Robin Lopez and Justin Holiday, they put themselves in position to win after trailing by 18 early. After leading by five courtesy of a LaVine walk-down triple with 1:02 left, they made a couple critical errors that allowed the 76ers to steal a game the Bulls won’t mind them taking at the end of 82.

Denzel Valentine’s inbounds pass with 5.9 seconds left was intended for LaVine, but Embiid stepped in front for a steal as they were in position to make it a free-throw game the rest of the way.

Similar to the Bulls’ unlikely win over the Orlando Magic before the All-Star break, they returned the favor as 76ers rookie Ben Simmons made free throws after the steal to give the visitors a one-point lead, setting the stage for the final play.

If learning lessons is what the last 100 quarters of basketball is supposed to be about, the Bulls got a big-time lesson in a game that ultimately means nothing.

“These are learning opportunities for our team,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “I couldn’t be happier, the way we went out and competed. We dug ourselves an 18-point hold and (fought) our way back—have complete control of the game.”

Control was wrestled from the 76ers by Portis’ able and quick hands. Taking more of a scoring posture since Mirotic’s departure, Portis has never been shy about being aggressive.

But now he’s being encouraged in that department, playing a big part in the Bulls’ tying their franchise record of 18 triples with six of his own, scoring 21 in the first half and not backing down one step from the massive Embiid.

“I kind of struggled from (three) in the last six, seven games,” said Portis, who didn’t take much time off during the All-Star break. “I think I’ve shown this entire year, trying to stay consistent and be a spark off the bench.”

Counting the last two games before the break, Portis has been on the best scoring binge of his career—cementing his place in the league when just a few months ago, many were questioning if the Bulls should’ve actually picked up his player option following the Mirotic incident.

His 25.0 points in the last three, along with scoring in double figures for seven straight games are career-bests. With every flex, every energetic plea to the crowd and resourceful score underneath the rim, Portis is becoming a player the Bulls can’t afford to plan without.

The stage was set for a Portis breakout shortly after the incident, when he was serving his suspension to start the season. When the Bulls traveled to Miami and Orlando, he flew on his own to Orlando for dinner with his mentor, former NBA veteran and Magic assistant coach Corliss Williamson.

Williamson, a player who was not to be trifled with during his career, told Portis essentially, “this too shall pass”.

“Just play your game,” Williamson told NBCSportsChicago.com recently. “Don’t put any pressure on yourself about what’s gonna happen after this year. What’s got him here is hard work, how hard he plays in the game. He continues to do that, he’ll be successful.”

Portis recalled the dinner where he was finally able to confide and unleash after weeks of frustration. Calling Williamson a father figure dating back to their Arkansas roots, where Portis played on Williamson’s AAU teams in middle school, Portis put his trust in him and came back reinvigorated.

“We talked for hours about the whole situation,” Portis told NBCSportsChicago.com “He told me when I come back to come 10 times harder. When people play this game and play the right way, they forget about the other stuff. That’s what I’m trying to do.”

Scoring 38 tends to remake a narrative.

“Bobby just continues to improve,” Hoiberg said. “He’s a confident kid that goes out and plays with a ton of swagger and toughness. You need that, to go out and play with that type of effort. He’s tenacious on the glass. He’s getting the crowd into the game.”

When speaking of Portis, Hoiberg’s face went from flush to beaming, knowing how far Portis has come in his three years—being a player who wouldn’t take 3-pointers with confidence to now unleashing them whenever a defender’s feet shows the slightest hint of leaning back.

No hesitation.

“Regardless if I’m making shots, I try to leave it all out on the floor,” Portis said. “It felt good making shots, being able to help the team. I wanted the win tonight.”

Portis helped make up for the Bulls not getting their usual production from Dunn, who struggled guarding the bigger Simmons and Lauri Markkanen, who missed all five of his 3-pointers and made just one field goal in 32 minutes.

“You can put he and Lauri together,” Hoiberg said. “It gives you two guys that can stretch the floor and space it, two guys that can rebound, two that can put it on the floor. It’s exciting to think about when Kris gets his rhythm back.”

And now, Williamson’s words have proven to be prophetic for his pupil, because if the Bulls aren’t seeing Portis as a key part of their future, there’s about 25 other teams who’ll be lining up for his services this summer.

“I told him don’t even worry about it,” Williamson said. “Let your game speak for itself. People who really know you, know what type of person you are. You start producing people will forget about it and love you for what you do on the court.”

His game is talking, even if the Bulls’ loss was one they’d rather have taken in silence.

Bulls Talk Podcast: Projecting the Bulls’ future

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USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: Projecting the Bulls’ future

In the latest edition of the Bulls Talk Podcast, Mark Schanowski, Will Perdue and Kendall Gill recap the Bulls’ 116-115 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, look at the continued growth of Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn, and discuss if Bobby Portis is part of the Bulls’ long term future.

They also check in on LeBron James and the new-look Cleveland Cavaliers, discuss whether or not the Golden State Warriors can make another title run and the latest on the status of San Antonio Spurs guard Kawhi Leonard. The guys also discuss how Oklahoma guard Trae Young could look in a Bulls uniform if he’s available for them in the draft.

Listen to the full episode at this link (iOS users can go here) or in the embedded player below. Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts.