Bulls

Bulls Show Signs of Life in Loss to Lakers

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Bulls Show Signs of Life in Loss to Lakers

Wednesday, December 16
By Mark Schanowski
CSNChicago.com

Okay, let's start with the premise there are no moral victories in professional sports. But with that being said (apologies to Larry David & Curb Your Enthusiasm), it looks like the Bulls are trying to go back to the defense-first style that helped them get off to a 6-4 start this season. Led by an inspired effort by Joakim Noah, who finished with 11 points, 20 rebounds and 6 blocked shots, the Bulls outrebounded the league's tallest team and outworked them on both ends of the floor. Problem is, the Lakers have Kobe Bryant and the Bulls don't, and there-in lies the fundamental problem for your 2009-2010 Chicago Bulls.

This Bulls' team is offensively challenged. They shoot a low percentage from the field and the three point line, and they don't have a go-to scorer who can create his own shot or get to the free throw line down the stretch of close games. Granted, Derrick Rose is trying. The reigning NBA Rookie of the Year has been much more aggressive over the last few weeks, taking close to 20 shots per game, and his scoring average is climbing steadily. But Derrick still looks at himself as a point guard first, and he just doesn't have that selfish streak you find in so many of the game's great scorers (like Kobe). It was great to see him take the final shot of regulation against Golden State last Friday night. And, even though he missed the shot, it showed he's starting to realize how the Bulls' fortunes are riding on his performance.

Another issue for the Bulls is the puzzling season-long slump of John Salmons. One of the reasons the Bulls decided to let Ben Gordon go in free agency was the outstanding play by Salmons late last season and in the playoff series against Boston. The coaches and front office hoped Salmons would build off his career season, and become a consistent 18 to 20 point scorer while playing 35-plus minutes as the Bulls' starting shooting guard. But 23 games into the season, Salmons is still searching for his shooting stroke. He only played 29 minutes against the Lakers last night, and managed just 2 points on 1-5 shooting from the field. After last Saturday's loss to Boston, Salmons admitted he's struggling to get anything going and he looked devastated while acknowledging his numbers are down in all the key offensive categories. Maybe we were all fooled by his great play at the end of last season. After all, over his 7-plus seasons in the league, he's a 9 point a game scorer, and 44 percent shooter from the field. Now, the danger for the Bulls is that Salmons won't opt out of the final year of his contract, which would put them on the hook for his 6.7 million dollar salary, and prevent the Bulls from having enough cap room to make a maximum salary offer to one of the elite free agents.

But that's a problem for another day. Right now, the Bulls are looking forward to the return of Tyrus Thomas in about 2 weeks, which will give them the fresh legs off the bench they've been looking for during the current slump. During training camp, the coaches thought they were two-deep with quality players at every position, but the injuries to Thomas, Kirk Hinrich and Jannero Pargo have seriously cut into that depth and forced Vinny Del Negro to play his starters for heavy minutes. Now, we're hearing about Joakim Noah's rotator cuff injury, which required a cortisone shot. Noah has been the team's MVP, but the strain of playing big minutes against bulkier centers is obviously taking its toll. Getting Thomas back will allow Del Negro to give Noah more rest, and hopefully keep him healthy for the second half of the season.

Given the woeful state of the Eastern Conference, this season is far from over for the Bulls. They're only 2 games out of the final playoff spot, and judging by last night's effort against the Lakers, it looks like the worst is over. The schedule is much more favorable in the weeks ahead, starting with Thursday's visit by the New York Knicks. I'll see you courtside with Kendall Gill to preview the game during Sportsnite at 6:30, then Neil Funk and Stacey King have the call at 7 on Comcast SportsNet.

As always, your comments and e-mails are welcome. Here's to better Bulls' basketball over the holidays and into the New Year!

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.

Bulls continue stockpiling young point guards

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USA TODAY

Bulls continue stockpiling young point guards

Point Guard of the Future Part VIII? 

The Bulls added another guard to their already-claustrophobic backcourt on Monday, claiming Kay Felder off free agency waivers, according to The Vertical's Shams Charania. 

Felder, 22, was dealt alongside Richard Jefferson from the Cavaliers to the Hawks on Saturday before being immediately waived.

The Bulls then decided to take a flyer on the Oakland University product because why the heck not? Barring some type of NBA miracle, the Bulls are on a season-long march to the lottery, so adding another young player can't hurt. Even if Felder is now the fifth point guard, joining Cameron Payne, Kris Dunn, Ryan Arcidiacono and Jerian Grant, on the squad. 

In 42 games with the Cavs last season, Felder averaged four points and 1.4 assists in just over nine minutes. He was drafted with the hope that he could further his NCAA reputation as a scorer. However, he connected on just 39 percent from the field during his rookie season. He's also undersized -- like Nate Robinson-Isaiah Thomas Undersized -- lowering his ceiling as a defender. 

Whether he can find a niche as a second-unit heat check guy remains to be seen, but with Kris Dunn expected to miss a few weeks, it gives Fred Hoiberg another option at the very least. He's also former NBA All-Star Steve Smith's cousin, should you believe in the power of basketball families. 

In a corresponding move, the Bulls waived Diamond Stone and preseason hero, Jarell Eddie. 

Observations from the Bulls' preseason finale loss to the Raptors

Observations from the Bulls' preseason finale loss to the Raptors

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Justin Holiday shines again

It's pretty evident who the leader of the Bulls is through the preseason. Whether he wanted it or not - and it seems like he did - Justin Holiday is the go-to man in Chicago. He finished his impressive presason with a 17-point outing against the Raptors, including 6-for-12 shooting, four 3-pointers, a steal and a block in 28 minutes. He even added four assists, showing some playmaking to go along with his scoring. He finishes the preseason averaging 17.2 points on 44 percent shooting, 57 percent (!!) from deep and 1.6 steals. He and LaVine will be fun to watch together on the wing.

Lauri Markkanen's jumper stays confident

Lauri Markkanen's NBA career got off to a rough start. But he's more than righted the ship. Gone is the 1-for-9 performance in his first outing, and in is the 11-for-21 he shot in his final two games. That included 7-for-12 from deep, and he even added seven rebounds on Friday against Toronto. Markkanen has plenty of weight to put on before he can hang inside - Toronto's tough interior pushed him around quite a bit in his 29 minutes - but this was another step in the right direction for Markkanen, whose back issues seemed non-existent.

Jerian Grant flirts with a triple-double

Jerian Grant was likely to earn the starting point guard job out of training camp even if Kris Dunn didn't get injured, and tonight would have solidified it. Grant had 10 points, nine rebounds and eight assists in 27 efficient minutes. Though Kyle Lowry had his way (17 points in 26 minutes) that was more or less to be expected. But Grant was confident stepping into his shot, played aggressive on defense (two steals, two fouls) and found plenty of open shooters. The Bulls may struggle this season, but Fred Hoiberg has to be happy starting a backcourt of Grant and Holiday.

Bobby Portis: Some good, some really bad

Bobby Portis has had a not-so-great preseason, so it was nice to see him score 12 points on 5-for-6 shooting and grab four rebounds in his preseason finale. Then again, he played 18 minutes and somehow committed eight turnovers. Between losing balls in traffic, errant passes and some head-scratching decisions, it was tough to call Portis' night a success. He should find time on the second unit, but he needs to show improvement in all areas, not just scoring.

Antonio Blakeney gives it one (nine) last shot(s)

It'd be nice to see a great story like Antonio Blakeney stick on the Bulls' roster, and he made sure he was remembered in his final preseason game. In 20 minutes he took nine shots, hitting three for nine points. He didn't record any other stat but three fouls in his time on the floor, and was a -21 as the Raptors rode away with the win in the fourth quarter. But we're putting him here because there's a chance he can make the Bulls' roster, especially with LaVine out and Zipser potentially needing to miss time.