Bulls

Has T-Time Run Out in Chicago?

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Has T-Time Run Out in Chicago?

Monday, Feb. 8, 2010
7:32 PM

By Mark Schanowski
CSNChicago.com

Let me take you back to the weeks leading up to the 2006 NBA Draft. After the draft lottery, the Bulls wound up with the second overall pick, courtesy of the Eddy Curry trade with New York, and were looking seriously at three players: Texas centerpower forward LaMarcus Aldridge, Washington shooting guard Brandon Roy and LSU forward Tyrus Thomas. The Bulls also had their own first-round pick, No. 16 overall, and they were hoping to walk away from the draft with an explosive inside player and a tall shooting guard with defensive skills.

Toronto held the No. 1 overall pick, and their general manager, Bryan Colangelo, was especially interested in Italian big man Andrea Bargnani, known more for his 3-point shooting touch than his back-to-the-basket skills. That meant the Bulls would have their choice of the top three options.

John Paxson really liked Roy and knew he was the most NBA-ready player after four seasons of college ball. Aldridge also was considered a safe choice after a couple of productive seasons at Texas. There were concerns about Aldridge being too thin, but he had the back-to-the-basket skills the Bulls were looking for. Thomas was the high riskhigh reward option after playing only one year at LSU. He was coming off a strong showing in the NCAA tournament, drawing comparisons to Phoenix Suns All-Star Shawn Marion. Sure, he didn't have an outside shot and his basketball I.Q. was low, but he could jump out of the gym and NBA scouts drooled over his potential to run the court and block shots.

So, you know what happened. Paxson passed on Aldridge and Roy and wound up with Thomas and Thabo Sefolosha, who was dumped at last year's trade deadline after failing to find a consistent role with the Bulls.

The purpose of the history lesson is to show you how desperately the Bulls wanted Thomas to succeed. They missed a chance to draft one of the NBA's best young shooting guards in Roy and a quality power foward in Aldridge. And, Sefolosha turned out to be a disappointment, even though he's now a starter in Oklahoma City.

So, all they have left from that '06 Draft is Thomas, and he still hasn't figured out what it means to be a professional 3 12 years into his NBA career. Scott Skiles, Jim Boylan and now Vinny Del Negro all had problems with Tyrus' immaturity. Tyrus thinks he should be a jump-shooting small forward taking 15 shots a night instead of a guy who does the dirty work inside like rebound and block shots. He doesn't bother following the game plans and routinely is in the wrong place on both ends of the floor. And, when his constant mistakes lead to a seat on the bench, he complains about unfair treatment from the coaching staff.

When you go through three different coaches, and the same problems keep coming up, maybe it's time to look in the mirror. Tyrus needs to realize he has to change his approach on the court and off. He's been hard to work with for those of us in the news media and has put his teammates in a bad situation with his pouting and selfish play. Maybe a change of scenery will help Tyrus grow up, but that's hardly a guarantee. And right now, Paxson and Gar Forman are having a tough time drumming up serious trade interest. There aren't many teams interested in taking on an underachieving player with a bad attitude.

The Bulls' best hope might be to include Thomas in a deal for Houston's Tracy McGrady or possibly ship him to a dysfunctional Golden State team. Any way you look at it, Thomas' time in Chicago is coming to an end. If the Bulls don't find him a new home by the Feb. 18 deadline, they'll almost certainly renounce his rights to avoid a salary cap hold which would impact their ability to bid for the top free agents this summer.

Richard impressive in Bulls debut

From the disappointment of a failed high lottery pick to the successful debut of undrafted free agent Chris Richard, who was toiling in the NBA's Developmental League in Tulsa when the Bulls called. Richard was with the Bulls during training camp and played pretty well, including a double-figure points and rebounds preseason game at Minnesota. But with the Bulls wanting to avoid the luxury tax and keep roster flexibility they decided to cut Richard at the end of camp. He kept himself in shape playing in the D-League and was more than ready when his opportunity came.

Unlike Tyrus, Richard understands defensive rotations and knows his biggest job as a power forward is rebounding and being physical on the defensive end. Richard played 20 productive minutes in the win over Miami on Saturday, pulling down seven rebounds, blocking a couple of shots and playing good post defense against Jermaine O'Neal and Udonis Haslem. With Thomas and Joakim Noah out of the lineup, Richard's contributions played a key part in the Bulls' important win over a Miami team they'll be battling for playoff positioning the rest of the way.

Richard only signed a 10-day contract, but the Bulls would be well-served to keep him around for the rest of the season. He played with Noah at Florida and knows what winning basketball is all about. Given the Bulls' injury situation, it would be nice to have an extra big man around for the stretch run.

I'll see you Wednesday from the United Center during SportsNite at 6:30. We'll have the Bulls-Magic game for you on Comcast SportsNet at 7 p.m.

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.

In ugly home opener, Lauri Markkanen gives a glimmer of hope

In ugly home opener, Lauri Markkanen gives a glimmer of hope

Keeping the game simple is often a tough task for rookies entering the NBA, but it seems Lauri Markkanen has been a quick learner in that aspect.

Through two games he’s probably the lone bright spot, especially after the Bulls’ cringe-inducing 87-77 loss to the San Antonio Spurs in their home opener at the United Center.

Jumper not falling? Okay, go to the basket.

“It wasn’t falling so I tried to get to the rim a couple times,” Markkanen said. “At the end, I was like let’s do it and I connected on a 3-pointer, I felt more open just because I was at the rim. I think that helped.”

He was asked what the difference was in the second game of his career compared to the first.

“I mean the crowd was chanting for us (tonight),” Markkanen said, referring to Thursday in Toronto.

He wasn’t attempting to display any dry wit but applying common sense seems to work for him, even though he’s been thrust into a situation after an incident that doesn’t make any sense.

With Bobby Portis and Nikola Mirotic out for the foreseeable future, playing a game-high 37 minutes will be more common than anomaly.

“Whatever your minutes are, you gotta play them to the best of your ability,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He’s being allowed to play through some mistakes right now. He’s gonna play heavy minutes every night.”

He only shot five of 14 but achieved his first double-double with 13 points and 12 rebounds after a 17-point, eight-rebound debut against the Raptors Thursday.

No, someone didn’t open a door for a draft to come into the United Center on that three-pointer that went wide left, but it didn’t stop him from being assertive and continuing to look for his shot.

There was plenty of muck, easy to see on the stat sheet. The 38 percent shooting overall, the lack of penetration, the 29 percent shooting from 3-point range and 20 turnovers.

It’s not hard to imagine what Markkanen will look like with competent and effective NBA players around him, along with a true facilitating point guard that will find him in this offense.

“Markkanen is a wonderful player,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “He’s aggressive, he’s smart and obviously, he can shoot the ball. He’s just going to get better and better as he figures things out.”

He received a crash course, facing the likes of Pau Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge and Rudy Gay Saturday night. On one instance, Gay drove baseline and made Markkanen buckle with a 3-point play.

Aldridge had 24 shots in 32 minutes as a new focal point with Kawhi Leonard out with injury.

So he’s not getting treated with kid gloves, nor is he backing down from the assignments.

“He didn’t shoot the ball well but he battled,” Hoiberg said. “He had a tough assignment with Pau, who’s gonna be in the Hall of Fame one day. Good experience. He guarded Aldridge, Rudy Gay some. He battled, he fought them.”

Even with the airball, had the moment that gives the Bulls fans hope, when he drove on Gasol, spun and hooked a lefty layup while being fouled by the veteran in the first half—giving the United Center faithful something to have faith in for a moment.

“Sometimes you get labeled as a shooter. That’s the label Lauri had,” Hoiberg said. “But he really is a complete basketball player. He’s versatile, he can put in on the deck. He slides his feet very well for a guy that’s seven feet tall, someone his age. Yeah, he’s learning on the fly. He’s gonna have ups and downs, as young as he is. He’s gonna have some struggles at times. But he’s played pretty darn well for everything he’s been through, understanding two days ago he’s gonna be in the starting lineup.”

And for all the bad air around the Bulls right now, from the on-court product to the off-court drama that seems to follow them around like Pigpen, it would be even worse if Markkanen’s first two games had him looking like a corpse, or someone who would be a couple years away from reasonably contributing to an NBA team.

“He’s good, he’s very good,” Gasol said. “I like him. I like his game.”

Miscues, miscommunications and missed shots: Bulls offense struggling all around

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USA TODAY

Miscues, miscommunications and missed shots: Bulls offense struggling all around

Denzel Valentine corralled a rebound and casually dribbled up the right side of the floor, unaware of the final 5 seconds ticking off the clock in the third quarter. The second-year shooting guard moved toward the basket as the buzzer sounded, only realizing his gaffe as the red lights behind the backboard lit up. It was that kind of night for the Bulls offense, and one that highlighted carelessness, a lack of talent and obvious growing pains as the rebuild begins.

Fred Hoiberg’s group finished with more turnovers (20) than assists (18), shot 38 percent from the field and were doubled up on points in the paint in an ugly 87-77 loss to the Spurs on Saturday night. Adding to the issues were only nine free-throw attempts and 28 percent shooting from deep on a night where the Bulls played well enough defensively to earn a win.

But they couldn’t take advantage of a Spurs team playing without Kawhi Leonard. The ball stopped for long periods of time in the halfcourt, the fast break was non-existent and miscommunications were frequent, even when they didn’t result in one of those 20 turnovers.

“We had 20 turnovers that led to 23 points…that’s what kills you,” Hoiberg said. “A team goes on a run and they get easy ones, pick-sixes, you’re all of a sudden in a big hole. And obviously did not shoot the ball well today.”

The struggles came from across the board. Only Cris Felicio was turnover-less of the nine Bulls who played. The backcourt tandem of Jerian Grant and Justin Holiday combined for 11 of 32 shooting. Rookie Lauri Markkanen showed flashes with eight first-half points, but finished 5 of 14 and committed three ugly turnovers. Robin Lopez made the first 3-pointer of his career 630 games in, but a 29-year-old leading the way for a young rebuilding group could be deemed bittersweet at best.

It capped off a whirlwind first week for the Bulls, who dealt on the fly with the fallout of the altercation between Nikola Mirotic and Bobby Portis. Losing Mirotic and Portis hurt from a talent standpoint, but it also threw a wrench into Hoiberg’s rotation and scheme. It thrust 20-year-old Markkanen into the starting lineup; Paul Zipser has shifted to playing more power forward (while also starting at small forward); Lopez is being asked to score more than ever, and at times be the primary option.

“With everything we’ve had going on the past week, with playing guys different positions that they haven’t played yet,” Hoiberg said, “we’re still trying to figure out exactly how we’re going to go out there and play. We’re getting stuck at times because guys are in the wrong spots.”

The Bulls opened Saturday night with a solid first quarter, scoring 21 points, assisting on nine of 12 baskets and committing just three turnovers.

The final three quarters couldn’t have been more different. The second unit again struggled like it did in allowing the Raptors a 20-2 second-quarter run on Tuesday. Even without Leonard the Spurs’ defensive length cut off passing and driving lanes, forcing the Bulls to dribble down the shot clock and turn to isolation basketball or contested 3-pointers.

The Spurs couldn’t pull away thanks to an inspired defensive effort by the Bulls, but the offensive stalling rendered it moot; the Bulls took 28 3-pointers and 37 shots in the paint, an ugly ratio when considering the nine free-throw attempts. The bench shot 7-for-19, but most of that came in garbage time.

“One thing we definitely need to work on is attacking the basket,” Lopez said. “I think there are times where we all get a little jumper-happy on the perimeter. I think we need to have a good balance.

We need to be aware of that. We’re a team that doesn’t have a lot of room for error so any time we concede the ball like that, we don’t get up a shot attempt, tat’s going to really hurt us.”

Kris Dunn may be closer than expected to returning to the lineup after dislocating his finger in the preseason. It would give the Bulls help on that dismayed second unit, knocking Kay Felder (3 turnovers in 15 minutes) out of the rotation. Once Mirotic and Portis return in November, Hoiberg will have more flexibility with his rotations as well as some insurance if frontcourt foul trouble arrives.

None are go-to scorers, and not even Zach LaVine's 19.8 points per game last season will save the Bulls once he's healthy. Season-long struggles like Saturday night are on the way for a young team searching for pieces of the future. That's expected, and in the long term it benefits them as more Lottery balls roll toward Chicago.

But in a season in which success will be judged not on wins and losses but improvement from game-to-game, but the Bulls have set the bar low in the season's first week.