Bulls

Are Bulls facing a big-man dilemma?

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Are Bulls facing a big-man dilemma?

The reserve big-man duo of Omer Asik and power forward Taj Gibson closed out the game for the Bulls for the second consecutive evening, but although attention is newly focused on that trend, the pattern actually goes back to last season's playoffs, when Tom Thibodeau kept the young tandem in for the stretch runs of contests against the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. Thibodeau said all the right things afterward, reminding reporters that struggling starters Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer often carry the team, but it was telling that he listed how the quartet of big men bring different strengths to the table.

After praising the "lockdown defense" ability of Gibson and Asik, the coach talked about how some of his post players bring scoring, indicating Boozer's strong suit, while others bring defense before throwing in that some bring playmaking, a nod to Noah's unique ball-handling and passing, which is, at the present moment, his only advantage over his fellow big men, as he's struggled to score the ball this season. Boozer, though one wouldn't know it from his solid field-goal percentage, has also experienced scoring issues -- after coming into the season in top-notch physical condition, he again seemingly has difficulty finishing, due to a lack of explosiveness, and has regressed in terms of running the floor in transition -- making Gibson and Asik, both of whom continue to have increasing confidence on offense, particularly the latter, the logical choices to play crucial minutes, contracts aside, especially when one considers how much Thibodeau emphasizes the team establishing a defensive presence.

Noah took responsibility for his recent downturn in production and Boozer was diplomatic when questioned about his dwindling fourth-quarter playing time, and on a team with the chemistry of the Bulls, there's unlikely to be a rift, but the scrutiny placed upon the ongoing saga will only intensify, even as the team keeps winning. Keep in mind, however, shooting guard Rip Hamilton hasn't been healthy for much of the season and is still making an adjustment to his new squad, but in the limited time he's been on the court, his subtle play-making skills have directly benefited both Boozer and Noah.

At the same time, Noah's perceived regression on offense could fuel new-found rumors about the Bulls' willingness to engage Orlando in a potential deal to acquire Magic All-Star center Dwight Howard. Although Chicago didn't make his list of desired destinations, Magic general manager Otis Smith has a tough decision to make -- whether to trade Howard by the March 15 trade deadline or risk losing him in the offseason -- and the Bulls could have the right pieces to tempt him, as a more-than-serviceable center in Noah (it wouldn't hurt that fans of the University of Florida, where Noah won two national championships, would likely be less disappointed in losing Howard with the arrival of the former Gator), a top-five NBA small forward in Luol Deng (after LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony and Paul Pierce, is there a player at the position outright better than Deng, one of the league's best two-way talents?) and a young power forward in Gibson (paired with holdovers Glen Davis and Ryan Anderson, the Magic would have a solid frontline, even with Howard's departure) and a combination of the Bulls' coveted, currently-protected future first-round draft pick from Charlotte (acquired from the Bobcats in the Tyrus Thomas deal) and their own 2012 first-round pick, as well as potentially a role player like swingman Ronnie Brewer or the rights to 2011 draft choice Nikola Mirotic (though the Bulls are on high on the European prospect, who won't arrive in the NBA for at least another season or two, and ideally, wouldn't want to part with both him and Gibson), in exchange for Howard and possibly Hedo Turkoglu and his massive contract would have to at least intrigue him.

That said, the Bulls are a 10-2 team and with the current roster -- again, don't forget that Hamilton hasn't been at full strength -- appear poised to be one of the top-two teams in the Eastern Conference again, if not better. Furthermore, simply renting Howard for the remainder season and banking on a newly-constituted team finding instant chemistry, as well as the center wanting to return to Chicago, regardless of the results, is a calculated risk and perhaps one not worth it, considering the talent the Bulls would have to jettison to make it happen.

Robin Lopez taking demotion in stride, wants to return to Chicago

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USA TODAY

Robin Lopez taking demotion in stride, wants to return to Chicago

Only an errant punch that missed the face of Serge Ibaka prevented Robin Lopez from suiting up for the Bulls since arriving in the summer of 2016, but his availability streak will come to an abrupt end as the Bulls are sitting and Justin Holiday for the foreseeable future.

Lopez didn’t dress for the Bulls’ game against the 76ers, as he and Holiday were replaced by Cristiano Felicio and David Nwaba. Although he was jovial, cracking a few jokes when meeting with the media in pregame, it was clear he was disappointed.

“It was rough for me. I get it. I understand it,” Lopez said. “I always want to be out there playing on the court. That’s what I enjoy, especially playing with these guys. But I’m excited to watch these guys give it a go from the bench.”

With the Bulls being eighth in the lottery standings, Lopez understands the long-term objectives of the organization and said the conversation with the front office went as expected.

“I think pretty much what everybody else has heard,” Lopez said. “I was pulled aside. They told me they wanted to evaluate a few other guys, a few of the young guys. So I get it.”

Starting 138 of 139 games makes his streak ending a bit tougher to stomach, especially considering he didn’t find out about his certain inactivity until right before leaving for the United Center.

“I suppose that’s a little selfish of me, but a little bit,” said Lopez of sadness concerning the streak. “I looked in my closet today and thought I would have a glut of jackets. And I only found two. I didn’t realize this was an issue until about 5 minutes before I had to leave. So I got kind of a ragtag outfit for tonight but hopefully I’ll be better prepared in the games to come.”

Not only will he be armed with better wardrobe but he’ll be bringing a positive disposition to the sidelines that made him loved amongst his teammates.

“All my teammates, whether they’ve been playing with me or sitting on the bench and not dressing, they’ve all supported me,” Lopez said. “I don’t think I’d be too good a person if I didn’t do at least the bare minimum of the same.”

Lopez represented stability and veteran leadership in a tumultuous season, a solid performer when losing was the early norm and upheaval has been constant. It was a reason the Bulls hoped he would garner some interest in the trade market but after hitting for a draft pick in the Nikola Mirotic deal, they had no such luck with Lopez.

Naturally, he was asked about the prospect of being traded over sitting as a healthy scratch.

“That’s hard for me to talk about because I don’t know what situation I could have potentially been in once I had been traded,” Lopez said. “Yeah, it’s … I want to be playing obviously, but we’ve got a great group of guys right here.”

Considering how uncertain things will be for the future, it isn’t a guarantee Lopez won’t be around for the 2018-19 season.

“Yeah. It seems like they still like me. How could they not?,” he joked.

He’s due $14.3 million next season, the last of a four-year deal he signed with the Knicks in 2015. Averaging 12.3 points and shooting 53 percent from the field, he’s productive and valuable on the floor. He’s easy to dismiss with the hoopla surrounding the youth on the roster and the way things clicked when Mirotic stepped on the floor, but seven footers like Lopez aren’t easy to find—even as the game changes.

“I’m a team player. I like to think my play is tied to how the team plays,” Lopez said. “I think we had some really great stretches. The young guys really developed and found a rhythm once we all got healthy. I think we played pretty well.”

With 25 games remaining, he’s unsure of how long his inactivity will last but it’s hard to see him missing the remainder of the season. It would be a bad look for the Bulls and the league to have a healthy player miss two whole months, and Lopez claims no knowledge about that ugly “T” word.

“I’m not familiar with military artillery,” he said.

At least he’s keeping his sense of humor.

Kendall Gill named to Illini Athletics Hall of Fame

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NBC SPORTS

Kendall Gill named to Illini Athletics Hall of Fame

Kendall Gill can add another bullet point to his resume.

NBC Sports Chicago's Bulls analyst was announced as a member of the University of Illinois' Athletics Hall of Fame for the Class of 2018. Gill enters in the same class as his coach at Illinois, Lou Henson, and former Bulls broadcaster Johnny "Red" Kerr.

Gill was a part of Illinois' 1989 Final Four team and earned consensus Second-Team All-America honors the following year as a senior when he led the Big Ten in scoring (20 points per game). He is third in program history in steals with 218.

He went on to have a 15-year NBA career, which included a stint with the Bulls.

Last year was the inaugural class for Illinois' hall of fame.