Bulls

Running with the Bulls: Breaking down busy week

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Running with the Bulls: Breaking down busy week

Friday, May 28, 20108:09 AM

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

From President Barack Obama's endorsement of his former stomping grounds as the best potential landing spot for LeBron James to unsubstantiated speculation that former Bulls head coach Phil Jackson would be open to a return to the Windy City next season -- not to mention native son and Miami Heat star Dwyane Wade, a free agent this summer, questioning the organization's loyalty (watch Steve Schanwald's response to Wade) -- Chicago's fortunes continue to be a hot topic around the NBA. While those more sensationalized headlines have captivated league observers, the franchise itself quietly is muddling along in their search for a new head coach.

Of the league's coaching vacancies -- with the recent firing of Mike Brown, Cleveland joins New Jersey, New Orleans, Atlanta and Chicago as teams with current openings -- Philadelphia was the first domino to fall, as they hired TNT analyst and former Bulls (and Wizards and Pistons) head coach Doug Collins as the man to patrol the sidelines in the City of Brotherly Love last week. New Orleans is expected to be the team that makes the next hire (given that they've made the most headway in the interview process) and with Avery Johnson rumored to be effectively out of the running after an alleged request to also be given a front-office position, various reports indicate the Hornets have focused on Boston assistant coach Tom Thibodeau as their primary target. Of course, with Thibodeau's Celtics seemingly on track to reach the NBA Finals, the process could be prolonged, and other teams -- namely the Bulls -- will attempt to lure away the longtime assistant coach and defensive specialist.

Other candidates that have piqued the Bulls' interest include supposed frontrunners Maurice Cheeks and Lawrence Frank, although Frank's star has reportedly dimmed with the organization after a meeting during last week's NBA pre-draft combine in Chicago. The Bulls have also reportedly interviewed Rockets assistant coach Elston Turner, expressed interest in Bucks assistant Kelvin Sampson (a successful longtime college head coach) and sources tell CSNChicago.com that the franchise reached out to Clippers assistant John Lucas, a former head coach in San Antonio, Philadelphia and Cleveland. While TNT analyst and former Minnesota head coach Kevin McHale and other fringe candidates have expressed interest in the Bulls job through the media, it appears as if Cheeks -- the current Oklahoma assistant was a head coach in Portland and Philadelphia (where he reached the postseason), a Chicago native and a Hall of Fame point guard ably equipped to mentor Bulls All-Star point guard Derrick Rose -- would make the most sense at this point, especially as Cheeks' perceived weakness is not being able to control a locker room already rife with issues (which wouldn't be a problem in Chicago, as it was during Portland's "Jailblazers" era or during Allen Iverson's often-rocky tenure with the Sixers) and another top candidate, Dallas assistant Dwane Casey, a former Minnesota head coach, looks poised to be named the Hawks' new head coach -- unless the aforementioned Johnson lowers his reported salary demands

While there are conflicting reports as to whether Jackson would be open to a Chicago reunion -- his only on-the-record comments suggested he wouldn't be -- and although he seemingly left the door open to his potential interest in the Nets job, the Lakers are obviously still in the playoffs, it's been well-documented that his relationship with team executive Jeanie Buss (daughter of the franchise's owner) may be prohibitive in him relocating. And while a return to Chicago or coaching LeBron James (or both) may be intriguing, nobody would be surprised if Jackson rode into the sunset after this season.

Speaking of James, a name linked to the superstar as the coach for whatever team he deigns worthy of his services has been University of Kentucky head coach John Calipari. Despite his repeated denials about leaving Lexington (arguably the top job in the college game, where he is treated like a king, makes more than most NBA head coaches and has an opportunity to win a national championship with his stranglehold on recruiting the nation's top high school prospects), reports continue to suggest James will insist "Coach Cal" is the coach of the team he will suit up for next season, including Cleveland, which is only a short trip from Calipari's hometown of Pittsburgh. Another longshot to roam the Bulls' sidelines next season is Doc Rivers, the Celtics head coach and a Windy City native. Rivers is reportedly considering a hiatus from coaching next season -- so as to be involved with the recruitment process of his youngest son Austin, one of the nation's top high school basketball players, and watch his daughter, Callie, play volleyball during her senior year at the University of Florida, close to where his family resides in Gainesville; Rivers would ostensibly return to his previous role of television analyst for ESPN -- but some observers believe he would consider Chicago's opening and the interest would be mutual.

One reason Rivers might be interested is obvious: overseeing the development of James Johnson. Actually, no offense to Johnson, but the small forward of choice in that scenario -- as with Jackson -- would be the aforementioned LeBron James. While he's kept mum about his plans for the offseason, Wade indicated that the pair, as well as the duo of Toronto's Bosh and Atlanta's Joe Johnson -- another top free agent, regardless of his subpar playoff performance; sources continue to tell CSNChicago.com that he's still Chicago's most realistic target, as well as the best fit on the court, if not the most talented of the available options -- will sit down to discuss their respective futures. Bosh, possibly the best power forward on the market, is expected to depart Toronto, likely through a sign-and-trade scenario, and sources close to the Raptors tell CSNChicago.com that the Bulls are on his short list -- as was confirmed by a report last week, which was later denied by his agent -- but that his preferences are more limited than the general perception. Of other top options at the position, Dallas' Dirk Nowitzki may indeed opt out to test the market, but few observers believe there's a chance he will bolt the Mavericks. Phoenix's Amar'e Stoudemire was once a predictable choice to leave his current place of business (with Miami the best bet for a new locale), but with the Suns' playoff run, sources think he'll now stay put. Utah's Carlos Boozer, on the other hand, is a solid bet to switch jerseys, as the Jazz locked up underrated backup Paul Millsap and are expected to draft a young big man in next month's draft, giving the Bulls and other squads a viable, less-expensive option at the position.

This much is certain -- this summer won't lack for drama. Who else is hoping for a Finals sweep, so that the real games can begin?

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.

Dunking Markkanen, dead-legged LaVine, no Dunn and tanking the right way

Dunking Markkanen, dead-legged LaVine, no Dunn and tanking the right way

ATLANTA — Here are the observations from the Bulls’ 113-97 win over the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena Saturday afternoon.

Not a shooter, but a scorer: The Atlanta Hawks’ gameplan was clear on Bulls rookie Lauri Markkanen: Do anything but let him shoot.

They succeeded at that objective but in the words of Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer, they “won the battle but lost the war” as Markkanen missed all four of his 3-pointers and didn’t hit a jump shot.

But he scored 19 including six dunks—after coming in with 28 dunks in the first 42 games. The Hawks kept putting smaller players on him after switching pick and rolls and the Bulls smartly and patiently went to Markkanen inside after ball movement.

Shooting over 6-foot-10 guys who aren’t as agile is certainly satisfying for the rookie but as Markkanen said, “dunking is fun.”

“Trying to be a complete player,” Markkanen said. “If that was their game plan, I don’t know. I can do much more than shoot. I missed how many three’s today? But that wasn’t going for me tonight so I went to something else.”

Clearly while Markkanen’s game is growing the easiest thing for opposing teams to do is to see how he’ll perform against smaller players, but as the season has gone on he’s shown more comfort with his back to the basket and being two passes away, ready to step into the lane when defenses collapse.

“I know I can’t just shoot threes, I gotta get to the rim,” Markkanen said. “Eventually it’ll open more space for 3-pointers and stuff like that. Trying to mix it up.”

Dead legs or settling in for Zach LaVine: It was tailor made for Zach LaVine to get his second slam of the season, getting the ball on a breakaway with only Taurean Prince trailing him.

Whether LaVine heard footsteps or knew he didn’t have the full lift to get there, Prince caught up with him to foul from behind as LaVine tripped before liftoff, missing a layup.

It was indicative of his early showing, as the adrenaline from the first two games has worn off and LaVine is having to get used to his body’s limitations in the moment—especially as his minute restriction was raised to 24 minutes for the next three games before he’ll be re-evaluated again.

He was 0-for-4 in the first half before catching a bit of a rhythm in the second half, finishing two-for-nine with eight points in 18 minutes, adding nine rebounds. His explosion isn’t there yet, going to the rim. And his legs on his jumper feels a little flat, too.

“I don’t have all of it (legs),” LaVine said. “A couple possessions down the floor, I get tired. Get fouled and have to walk it off. I have to get the game legs back and I can’t practice it, it comes with playing.”

In two months, one would think he’ll finish that with little issues but he admitted fatigue caught up with him more than anything.

“My first two (games) I was extremely excited, energized,” LaVine said. “I just feel like it’s something I gotta get used to playing NBA games again. I feel it a little bit.”

Especially in watching Cleveland’s Isaiah Thomas go through a similar up-and-down period with his return, nobody should’ve expected LaVine’s performances to just keep rising and rising without dropoff.

This is part of the rehab, and the Bulls feel as if they’re prepared for it. Their reasoning for only marginally increasing LaVine’s workload from 20 to 24 minutes is simple: They want him to have off-days to continue strengthening his surgically-repaired knee, not just having him take the practice days as recovery from playing heavy minutes.

“You can’t anticipate any of it,” LaVine said. “I felt good the first two, I feel good now. No injury, no knick-knacks or anything. Just energy-wise and your legs, making sure you’re getting up and down the floor, making sure you’re getting elevation on your jumper and in the lane, I gotta get better at it.”

As self-aware as anyone considering what he’s been through over the past year, he offered an assurance to any who may be concerned.

“I gotta play through it, find ways around it,” LaVine said. “Regardless I’m not scared or anything. I feel fine.”

Dunn out vs. New Orleans: Kris Dunn will be out against the New Orleans Pelicans and it appears more likely he’ll miss Wednesday’s game in Philadelphia as well as he recovers from the concussion he suffered in a scary fall against Golden State earlier this week.

“He has no change in his symptoms,” Hoiberg said. “We’ll know more tomorrow but his symptoms haven’t changed.”

Initially the Bulls didn’t believe Dunn had a concussion but the symptoms emerged early the next morning.

“From what I understand with concussion symptoms, they can take up to 24 hours to develop. It sounds like the initial tests, he passed,” Hoiberg said. “Then he woke up the morning, had a headache, had some dizziness, was re-checked and that’s when they put him in concussion protocol. There’s been very little change since. He’s still having trouble with sleeping. The biggest thing is making sure he’s getting rest and he stays hydrated.”

The tank: One team successfully executed how to tank, and that was the Atlanta Hawks. Yes, the Bulls forced them into missing 37 of 48 3-point attempts, and the Bulls jumped on them early and never allowed the Hawks to take a lead, much less get too close.

“We opened with a double-digit lead right out the gate,” Hoiberg said. “Overall, really complete performance for our guys.”

“We knew we had to come out the gate with great effort.”

Robin Lopez continued his impressive play with 20 points and Justin Holiday hit a few shots late to score 13, while Bobby Portis scored 14 in 18 minutes.

But pretty, it was not.

The Bulls haven’t completely abandoned their plans for the season, as they’ll field calls for Holiday, Lopez and of course, have Nikola Mirotic’s exit being first on their docket.

But while this team is relatively whole, this is a game they should win handily.

And they did.

Yet and still, though, this applies to the 13-32 Hawks:

Does Rodney Hood make sense for the Bulls?

Does Rodney Hood make sense for the Bulls?

New York Times veteran NBA writer Marc Stein tweeted late Friday that multiple teams were interested in fourth-year swingman Rodney Hood.

We know that the Jazz are one of the rumored teams interested in embattled forward Niko Mirotic and while it wouldn’t seem to make sense on the surface, Rodney Hood could be a good fit for the Bulls.

Hood will be a restricted free agent this summer and the Bulls would retain the rights to match any offer if they felt like the former Duke Blue Devil was the right piece to join the new core of Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, and Kris Dunn.

There is one complication in a potential Mirotic for Hood deal; the salaries don’t quite match. Utah would need to send another player like Alec Burks to Chicago in the deal. The Bulls would have to be OK taking on Burks’ $11.5 million salary for the 2018-19 season and his cap hit in free agency. Good news though, the free agent class this summer is very thin at small forward, the main position the Bulls have a need for.

Another road block, the Bulls are set to max out LaVine this July, and they may be wary on tying up a good part of their cap space for the next four years on two players.

Acquiring Hood hurts the ‘tank’ but you’d have a three-month audition of a 25-year old shooter that on paper would seem to work with the current rotation. If the Bulls felt like Hood wasn’t a good fit, let him walk in free agency. They would then keep their cap space intact for the 2019 super free agent class.