Bulls

Bulls' pursuit of LeBron losing momentum

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Bulls' pursuit of LeBron losing momentum

Tuesday, June 1, 2010
4:14 PM

By Mark Schanowski
CSNChicago.com

It's been two and a half weeks since LeBron James and the Cavaliers were knocked out of the playoffs by Boston in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Are you feeling better or worse about the Bulls' chances of signing LeBron as a free agent? Please post your comments in the section below.

It's hard to know how much James and his "team" are affected by things they read or hear, but the Bulls' hopes certainly weren't helped by comments made by Dwyane Wade and former NBA super-agent David Falk last week.

Wade criticized the Bulls organization for not showing loyalty to their former players. Wade grew up in the Chicago area and watched them win their six championships. The former Richards High School star says Michael Jordan is his favorite NBA player ever, and he finds it odd that Jordan is no longer with the organization. Same with Scottie Pippen, who now lives in Miami, and is a frequent guest at Heat games. Wade said loyalty is very important to him, and the Heat organization is loyal to its former players. And, Wade said he doesn't see that with the Bulls.

One day later, Wade and his agent, Chicago-based Henry Thomas, went out of their way to say Wade's comments were taken out of context, and he didn't mean to take shots at the Bulls' organization. But that's exactly what Wade meant to do. His current team, the Heat, will be competing with the Bulls to try to sign LeBron and the other top free agents this summer. Surely, Wade knows by running down the Bulls' reputation to guys who respect him, he has a better chance of convincing them to join him in Miami.

Wade played on the 2008 U.S. Olympic team with James, Chris Bosh, Carlos Boozer and Joe Johnson. They became friends during training sessions in Las Vegas and their two-week stay in China. And you can bet those other players will believe what Dwyane Wade has to say about the Bulls' organization more than the mountains of evidence that can be presented that the Bulls have been EXTREMELY loyal to their former players. In our society, perception is reality, and if the top free agents have the perception the Bulls won't be loyal to them, there's almost nothing John Paxson and Gar Forman can do to convince them otherwise.

Jordan's former agent, David Falk, also made some comments over the weekend that could hurt the Bulls' cause in recruiting LeBron. Falk didn't criticize the Bulls' organization, but he did say Chicago is "the last place" LeBron should consider. Falk stated the obvious, saying James will always be measured against the standards Jordan established with the Bulls, meaning six titles, six Finals MVP awards and five regular season MVP honors. Granted, this is a negative recruiting theme we've heard before, and former free agents like Tim Duncan, Grant Hill and Tracy McGrady were probably impacted by the specter of Jordan's greatness and career accomplishments.

But if LeBron truly wants to be considered among the greatest players of all-time, he shouldn't be afraid of playing in the House that Michael built. Instead, he should embrace the challenge. Chicago has passionate fans who will support him unconditionally. And, if he wins three or four championships instead of six, that can hardly be viewed as failing to live up to Jordan's legacy.

Only time will tell if the comments made by Wade andor Falk will hurt the Bulls' cause in trying to sign LeBron, but the one thing the front office really has to fear is the possibility that Jordan himself tries to talk James out of signing with the Bulls. LeBron grew up as a huge Jordan fan, and he idolizes Michael. If Jordan were to complain to LeBron directly about the fact the Bulls didn't offer him a minority ownership stake or a high level job in the front office, that could knock the Bulls out of the running for James' services almost immediately. Let's hope Jordan doesn't hold on to any bitterness over the circumstances that led him to accept a management position with the Washington Wizards years ago.

THIBODEAU AND SHAW KEY NAMES IN COACHING SEARCH

Meanwhile, the Bulls search for a new head coach continues to crawl along, probably by design. The front office decided not to make a trip to Boston to interview Celtics assistant Tom Thibodeau before the start of the Finals on Thursday. The Hornets would like to hire Thibodeau as their new head coach and reports indicate they are already negotiating terms of a contract with Thibodeau's agent. But Thibodeau is interested in talking with the Bulls and Nets before he accepts the job, and K.C. Johnson of the Tribune is reporting Thibodeau is most interested in the Bulls' job, which isn't surprising, considering the talent already on the roster, and the possibility of acquiring an all-star in free agency. Thibodeau signed on with LeBron James' agent, Leon Rose, and Rose is also associated with noted talent broker, William Wesley, a.k.a., Worldwide Wes. Hard to say if bringing Thibodeau in as head coach will help the Bulls' chances of signing LeBron, but it's certainly something the front office has to consider.

In the same fashion, the Bulls might also be waiting for a chance to interview Lakers' assistant coach Brian Shaw, who's spent the last five seasons learning the intricacies of the triangle offense with Phil Jackson and Tex Winter. Shaw is considered head coaching material and he has Jackson's strong endorsement. If LeBron really is intrigued by the idea of playing in the triangle offense, hiring Shaw would be a step in the right direction for the Bulls. Any way you look at it, the search for a new head coach figures to be put on hold until the Celtics and Lakers decide the NBA championship over the next two weeks.

Please let us know what you think about the latest developments concerning LeBron and the coaching search. Post your comments in the section below or send me an e-mail. Enjoy the Finals, still a month to go before the start of free agency!

Mark Schanowski hosts our Bulls pre- and postgame studio coverage with 15-year NBA veteran Kendall Gill. You can also watch Mark on SportsNite, Sunday through Thursday at 6:30 and 10.

Just as we all predicted, two rookies stole the show in L.A.

Just as we all predicted, two rookies stole the show in L.A.

There's not often hype surrounding a game between two of the NBA's worst teams, but Tuesday's Bulls-Lakers matchup was intriguing to many because it offered a chance to see a pair of top rookies compete. 

Oh, but you didn't think we meant Lonzo Ball and Lauri Markkanen, did you?

Nah, it was two different, less-touted first-year players that ended up stealing the spotlight at the Staples Center. 

Kyle Kuzma and Antonio Blakeney may not be household names, but they sure played like they were in the Bulls' 103-94 loss. 

Kuzma, the Lakers rook drafted 27th overall, has been a spark for Luke Walton's squad all season long. Boasting a terrific scoring arsenal, the Utah product carried the load for the Lakers' offense in the first half, dropping 18 points on 6-for-9 shooting. He finished the game as L.A.'s leading scorer with 22 in 40 minutes. But if you still need a more in-depth scouting report on Kuzma, just let Lonzo break it down:  

More importantly for Bulls fans, though, was the play of their undrafted guard who's signed to a two-way deal. 

Blakeney, the unofficial Summer League MVP, came off the bench on Tuesday and immediately left his mark on the game. The 21-year-old out of LSU posted 15 in the first half, finishing through contact as well as connecting on outside jumpers. 

Blakeney's shooting isn't reliable quite yet, but his energy has clearly influenced Hoiberg's rotation. The guard went from playing one NBA minute in the Bulls' first 11 games to playing 75 in the last four. Given that his two-way deal allows him to only spend 45 days with the team, it'll be fascinating to see how creative Gar Forman and John Paxson will get with his contract if this type of production continues. 

In a season that's obviously going to have its share of rough moments, an offseason flyer hitting is a huge plus for the rebuild. 

As for the recognized rookies, Lonzo's shooting woes persisted and Markkanen had maybe his worst offensive performance of his young Bulls career. Combined, they finished 7-for-30 with 21 points. Not ideal. 

Zach LaVine cleared for contact practice

Zach LaVine cleared for contact practice

The Zach LaVine comeback is one step closer as the shooting guard was cleared for contact practice after checking with his doctors in California. 

LaVine will go through a step by step process over the next few weeks and the Bulls will gauge his progress to see when the best time for his return will be. 

But, given the nine-month process from his ACL injury he suffered in February, he's right on track and there doesn't appear to be any setbacks. 

"There’s no real timeframe, I guess," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said at practice Monday. "It’s really going to be on how he feels. We’ll try to do a little more every day with him. We did a little bit, got him some light contact today just to get the process started.

"He’ll be able to play a little two-on-two with not a lot of practice time these next 10 days. But we’ll throw him out there and continue to try to get him feeling better. There’s going to be a mental hurdle that he’s going to have to clear as well. I know he’s excited. His teammates are excited and the coaches are obviously excited as well."

LaVine's recovery has gone as planned since his arrival in Chicago from the Jimmy Butler trade on draft night. Targeting a mid-December return seems realistic but of course, the Bulls will take every precaution to make sure he's healthy for the long term, both for LaVine and the franchise, as he's a restricted free agent this summer--and they have no plans on letting him walk. 

LaVine told NBC Sports Chicago recently that he wants to get on the floor immediately but the Bulls know they'll have to protect him from himself in the meantime. 

"He’s going to have to string together a lot of really good days, and he knows that," Hoiberg said. "He understands that. The important thing is he’s right on track from where it was said after the injury. He’s been doing a great job with his rehab. He’s on time. He’s doing everything that’s asked of him. His strength numbers are where they’re supposed to be. I’m confident he’s going to keep making progress. But we’ll absolutely monitor it daily and hopefully it’ll just continue to get better."

The Bulls aren't sure if they'll send LaVine to the G-League but it's certain they have plans on not only how to use him when he steps on the floor but also a regimen they've stuck to, to ensure there are no real setbacks. 

Hoiberg has been salivating over having a true scorer at that position since trading for him, and LaVine has been eager since his arrival to prove to the Bulls and fans that he is a franchise player. 

Prudence in the moment of progression, though, appears to be the approach taken by both sides.