Even with superstar trio, Heat roster needs work


Even with superstar trio, Heat roster needs work

Friday, July 9, 2010
4:02 PM

By Aggrey Sam

Now that LeBron James has decided to play for the Miami Heat, the most-anticipated decision in NBA free-agent history has been made and the balance of the league has changed--or has it?

With only four players on its current roster after trading Michael Beasley-- the former No. 2 overall draft pick behind Derrick Rose--Miami obviously has to make some additions. While a lineup of James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and two random South Beach denizens would dominate your local pro-am league, not only are 12 players required to be on an NBA roster, Mario Chalmers alone won't cut it. That's why some people felt James should join the Bulls, as their more complete roster seemed tailor-made for a superstar to push Chicago to the next level.

Whether he would have been the right fit--Derrick Rose is a true point guard, requiring the ball in his hands the majority of the time, as does James; neither player is a pure outside shooter--is another story. However, by making the move to South Florida, James proves that the selfless, playmaking instincts that came so natural to him as a high school phenom--he was more Magic Johnson that Michael Jordan back then; some of his multi-faceted game has been since diluted in order to carry the scoring load in Cleveland--have been rediscovered. Say what you will about how his decision came across or perceived lack of personal ambition by joining a so-called "super team," but his selflessness is being manifested in the forms of accepting less than a max deal, recognizing his individual star power could be somewhat muted and assuredly knowing he may have to adjust on the court by becoming more of a floor general.

Miami is Wade's team, where he won a title and on which he is the face of the franchise. The Chicago native has commented in the past about wishing he had a playmaking partner to shoulder more of the ballhandling duties, and James' passing abilities should only further enhance Wade's scoring effectiveness.

As for Bosh, while he'll surely be the Heat's top post threat and able to unleash his accurate mid-range jumper as a frequent recipient of the talented perimeter pair's passes in pick-and-roll and drive-and-kick situations, he'll likely be also utilized as a third scoring option, rebounder and energy player. With his bluster about wanting to be a team's alpha dog, not reaching a feasible sign-and-trade scenario with Toronto and frustration about not being able to lead the Raptors past the first round as their franchise player, Bosh is likewise sacrificing.

The players who won't be missing any figurative meals are the supporting cast of the new "Big Three." An announcement about sharpshooter Mike Miller's signing could come any minute, but with convenient trade of Beasley to Minnesota, point guard Mario Chalmers is technically all that's in the cupboard, with second-round draft choices Da'Sean Butler (whose NCAA Tournament injury dropped his stock; the former West Virginia star isn't expected to be ready to play at the beginning of the regular season), shot-blocker Jarvis Varnado and widebody Dexter Pittman, as well as 2009 pick and Windy City product Patrick Beverley, who was stashed in Greece for a season, all waiting in the wings.

A blend of a handful of the aforementioned youngsters and several inexpensive veteran free agents should fill out the team's roster. Obviously shooters--Miller will apparently decline New York's financially more impressive offer; his versatility is a bonus and he's not as one-dimensional as many would like to believe--a true center (Bosh's reluctance to moonlight in that role is well-documented; a familiar name to Bulls fans, Brad Miller, is among the possibilities for the Heat) and additional help at point guard are necessities. Despite the lack of big names still available on the market, Miami's role players will be expected to be reliable, play within themselves and only be proficient in limited capacities.

The man responsible for orchestrating this perfect storm, Heat president Pat Riley--although Wade should get some of the credit, whether or not he was entertaining other teams in his hometown to stall or gather intelligence, as is suspected by some--isn't done playing puppeteer, but one string he's unlikely to pull (at least not immediately) is that of head coach. Erik Spoelstra will have the opportunity to sink or swim with his talented trio and regardless of his relative inexperience and lack of success, winning cures all. Remember the general opinion of Doc Rivers prior to the formation of the "Big Three" in Boston?

Some tweaking by all of the above primary parties will be necessary to pull off their expected goal, especially in James' case. Suddenly reviled in Cleveland--and a lot of other places--"The King" certainly wasn't deserving of Cavs owner Dan Gilbert's stinging missive, posted on the team's website shortly after "The Decision," but the scrutiny he'll receive will be even more intense than ever before.

It will take time for the start-from-scratch squad to truly connect, but even in a best-case scenario, they'll still face staunch competition in the Eastern Conference from the Celtics and Magic, not to mention the rising Bulls--the significance of acquiring Carlos Boozer has almost been overlooked by the basketball landscape as a whole, but he's joining a back-to-back playoff team with burgeoning young talent, an expected upgrade on the sidelines and a front office that still has bullets left in its gun this offseason--and of course, the two-time defending champs, if Miami was to meet the Lakers in the Finals.

It's still early July and there are plenty of moves to be made, both on the trade and free-agent markets--or a combination, such as the Knicks' sign-and-trade of free agent power forward David Lee to the Golden State Warriors in exchange for Anthony Randolph, Kelenna Azuibuike and Ronny Turiaf--and things could be even more dramatically altered by next February's league-wide trade deadline. So while it's pondered how Miami's presently incomplete roster will fare this upcoming season, it may be wise to sit back, take a deep breath with the major free agents having determined their destinations and wait for some actual basketball to be played.

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.

Bulls Bracket Madness: The best individual seasons in franchise history


Bulls Bracket Madness: The best individual seasons in franchise history

We're trying to figure out the best season in Bulls franchise history, and we want your help in deciding.

Because the Bulls tout the greatest player in basketball history, who could have made up this list by himself, we're giving Michael Jordan his own side of the bracket. But the other side of the bracket is also filled with some pretty memorable and remarkable campaigns.

So read up on each matchup and then have your voice heard by voting on our Twitter page here. Check out the entire bracket in the graphic above.

The Jordan Region

No. 1 Michael Jordan (1995-96) vs. No. 8 Michael Jordan (1990-91)

No. 1 Michael Jordan (1995-96): Jordan was on a mission in his first full season back from retirement. He led the Bulls to a then-record 72 wins with a regular-season MVP award, All-Star MVP and romp through the NBA playoffs, where the Bulls went 15-3 en route to their fourth NBA title. Jordan won his eighth straight scoring title at 30.4 points a game, with nine games where he put up 40 or more. He saved his best for Detroit, scoring 53 with 11 rebounds and six steals in early March. To prove Jordan was getting better as he aged, he shot a career-high 43 percent from 3-point range at age 33.

No. 2 Michael Jordan (1990-91): 1990-91: Jordan's second MVP came with his first NBA title, as he was at the peak of his powers physically combined with the ultimate team success, with the Bulls finally getting past Detroit before defeating the Lakers in the Finals. He shot a career-high 54 percent from the field while averaging 31.5 points, six rebounds and 5.5 assists as he began to fully embrace the triangle offense in Phil Jackson's second season. Jordan had 57 games where he shot better than 50 percent from the field, and was among the league leaders in steals at 2.7 per game while earning his fourth straight All-Defensive First Team honor.

No. 1 Derrick Rose (2010-11) vs. No. 2 Scottie Pippen (1993-94)

No. 1 Derrick Rose (2010-11): Where to begin? The youngest MVP in league history took the league by storm, averaging 25.0 points and 7.7 assists while leading the Bulls to a league-best 62 wins. Rose had been named an All-Star the previous season but took his game to new heights in Year 3, appearing in 81 games, making 128 3-pointers (after making a combined 32 his first two seasons) while helping the Bulls rank first in defensive efficiency under first year head coach Tom Thibodeau. Rose and the Bulls lost in five games to LeBron James and the Miami Heat, with Rose shooting a paltry 35 percent on 24 attempts per game. But his historic season will always go down as one of the franchise’s best, and the only non-Jordan MVP.

No. 2 Scottie Pippen (1993-94): Yeah, well what would Scottie be without MJ? We found out that answer in 1993-94, when Pippen took the reins of the franchise as Jordan rode the Birmingham bus as a minor-league baseball player. Pippen responded with a sensational season, averaging 22.0 points, 8.7 rebounds and 5.6 assists. He averaged 2.9 steals, shot 49 percent from the field and became a 3-point threat for the first time in his career. He was named First Team All-NBA and All-NBA Defensive First Team, and finished third to Hakeem and The Admiral in MVP voting. He averaged 22.8/8.3/4.6 in the postseason but ultimately proved it was easier to win in the spring with MJ by his side. Still, this individual season was one of the franchise’s best, if not the best. Hardware isn’t everything.

NBA Draft Tracker: Kentucky PG Shai Gilgeous-Alexander


NBA Draft Tracker: Kentucky PG Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

For most of the college basketball season, John Calipari’s Kentucky Wildcats ranked among the nation’s biggest underachievers. Calipari had perfected the one-and-done route in Lexington, recruiting classes full of McDonald’s All-Americans every year, making a deep run in the NCAA Tournament, and then sending those talented freshmen off to the NBA. Matter of fact, Coach Cal’s ability to get players ready to play professionally is the foundation of his recruiting success.

However, this season the tried and true formula ran into a bit of a speed bump. Injuries and inconsistency led to double digit losses for the Wildcats during the regular season, and an uncertain tournament outlook. That’s when freshman point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander emerged as the leader of this young team, and sparked Kentucky to a Southeastern Conference tournament championship.

Gilgeous-Alexander has been even better in the NCAA Tournament, scoring 19 points with 8 rebounds and 7 assists in the Wildcats’ opening round win over Davidson, then coming back with 27 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists in a victory over Buffalo.

At 6-6, Gilgeous-Alexander has the ability to shoot and pass over smaller defenders, while also possessing the quickness that is so crucial at the point guard position. Yes, he is very thin at 180 pounds, but has the frame to put on weight once he’s introduced to an NBA strength training program.

Gilgeous-Alexander has been Kentucky’s most efficient player throughout the season, shooting 49% from the field and nearly 42% from the 3 point line. He has the quickness and ball-handling ability to break down defenses and get in the paint for easy scores or assists. As the season progressed, Gilgeous-Alexander took on the role of go-to scorer late in games, sparking Kentucky’s runs in the S.E.C. AND NCAA tournaments.

So, by now I’m sure you’re asking, where does he fit with the Bulls? 3 weeks ago I was hoping Gilgeous-Alexander might be available in the 16-22 range where the Bulls might be able to get him with the Pelicans’ 1st round pick acquired in the Niko Mirotic trade. Unfortunately, his outstanding post-season play has him rocketing into the late lottery in the most recent mock drafts, and he could move up even higher if Kentucky advances to the Final 4.

The Bulls are happy with Kris Dunn as their starting point guard, and both Jerian Grant and Cameron Payne are under contract for next season. But if somehow the Pelicans fall out of the playoff field in the West (which seems very unlikely right now), adding an athletic combo guard like Gilgeous-Alexander would be an outstanding pick at 13 or 14.

So, when you’re watching Kentucky play in the NCAA Tournament, keep an eye on the tall, skinny guard wearing #22 and try to project just how good he might be on the professional level.