Running with Bulls: Forman talks Bulls, free agency


Running with Bulls: Forman talks Bulls, free agency

Friday, May 21, 2010
11:39 PM

By Aggrey Sam

As the NBA world converges on Chicago for the league's draft combine at the A.T.T.A.C.K. Athletics facility (where players such as Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade have trained in the offseason) on the West Side of the city, discussions about where free agents and coaches, let alone potential draftees (this much is certain, the Wizards will use the No. 1 selection they acquired in Tuesday's lottery to choose University of Kentucky point guard John Wall, team sources told CSNChicago.com), the Chicago Bulls are a hot topic of conversation amongst league observers and insiders alike. While much of the focus on Chicago revolves around adding a top-tier free agent (some player from Cleveland is reportedly a possibility), many have ignored the fact that the Bulls only have six players--Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Luol Deng, Kirk Hinrich, Taj Gibson and James Johnson--under contract for next season

Last week Bulls general manager Gar Forman spoke to CSNChicago.com about the overall direction of the team, specifically adding depth to the roster. While Forman didn't address specific players or the speculation regarding Chicago potentially acquiring high profile players such as LeBron James (perhaps that's the aformentioned Cavalier in question) this summer--under NBA rules, he can't comment on free agents or can risk facing tampering violations--he did provide insight about the team's approach to the offseason and status of the Bulls' present roster.

"The biggest thing as we continue to build and put this team together is adding high makeup and character guys," Forman told CSNChicago.com. "We feel the guys we have now do have character, so as we add players, we want to continue to add guys who love to play for the right reasons."

That said, it's obvious that while the Bulls had another promising season, there are certainly holes to fill, as well as roster spots.

"I guess it will depend on how our summer goes and what our needs are," asserted Forman to CSNChicago.com, adding, "We need to get better shooting the basketball."

With a supreme penetrator at point guard in Rose, it would certainly behoove Chicago to add some knockdown perimeter shooters to complement the young All-Star. Free-agent talk thus far has centered around the potential acquisition of James (although Dallas owner Mark Cuban's comments about a potential sign-and-trade scenario with Cleveland not involving one of the teams with significant cap room, such as the Bulls, possibly muddied the waters), Chicago native Dwyane Wade of the Heat (a longshot, as he's expected to stay in Miami), Chris Bosh (who reportedly listed the Bulls, Lakers, Heat, Knicks and his current team, the Raptors as potential destinations; his agent later refuted that claim) or Atlanta's Joe Johnson (despite his poor playoff performance), but outside of Johnson, none of the aforementioned stars truly fits the bill.

"Everybody focuses on free agency--some of the bigger names--but we had a staff meeting last week," Forman told CSNChicago.com. "We need to pay attention to some of the lower-salary players."

Fans shouldn't be shocked if players such as shooting guards Anthony Morrow of Golden State, former Bull Roger Mason of San Antonio and J.J. Redick of Orlando are in the mix this summer. At small forward, Utah's Kyle Korver, Washington's Mike Miller and former Nugget Linas Kleiza (who played professionally in Greece this season) are also deadeye shooters and free agents that Chicago could covet, while power forward Matt Bonner of the Spurs may be an intriguing option as a "stretch four" if veteran Brad Miller doesn't return to the Windy City next season.

Forman told CSNChicago.com that some of this season's Bulls not under contract for the next campaign--such as the aforementioned Miller and midseason pick-up Flip Murray--"definitely" are under consideration, but regardless if they return or not, the general manager wants to add a veteran presence to the team's young core.

"Obviously we want some veteran guys," Forman told CSNChicago.com, before cautioning that the organization wouldn't add players simply to match up with their competitiors in the East, as a team like Cleveland did the previous summer (with the addition of Shaquille O'Neal, which was assumed to be a counter for Orlando's Dwight Howard in the playoffs; obviously the Cavaliers didn't advance to the conference finals and a date with the Magic), with future postseason plans in mind. "I'm not sure we're at the point yet where we look at individual players and certain matchups."

Still, with added expectations heaped upon the franchise in light of the roster's potential, it's clear this summer is the time to capitalize on the perception around the league that Chicago is a team on the rise. In addition to the previously listed sharpshooters, some veteran free agents the Bulls could consider include Boston shooting guard Ray Allen (definitely an outside sniper, but even at his advanced age, a cut above his contemporaries), point guards Luke Ridnour of the Bucks and Steve Blake of the Clippers in the backcourt, with athletic Clippers small forward Travis Outlaw another player that could add some reserve firepower.

After Gibson's strong rookie season (he was named first team NBA all-rookie), some squads could opt to invest in his development, but with the plethora of available players at his position--not to mention Gibson's ability to be productive in a reserve role--the Bulls could take a different tack. Bosh is obviously the prime target on the market at power forward, followed by Phoenix's Amar'e Stoudemire (who Chicago is reportedly not as interested in) and Utah's Carlos Boozer, the only one of the trio who probably won't command a max deal. Another alternative is New York's David Lee, who leapt into second-tier status with a strong season for the Knicks, albeit in head coach Mike D'Antoni's run-and-gun system. However, that first quartet, rugged veterans like Houston's Luis Scola and Miami's Udonis Haslem (both restrcted free agents considered valuable pieces by their current teams) are possibilities, while frequently-rumored in-season (but never consummated) Bulls trade option Al Harrington (a proven scorer off the bench) of the Knicks and young, athletic energy player Amir Johnson of the Raptors could be in play.

Then there's the draft, the reason Chicago has been such a hot spot in NBA circles the past few days. Extensive athletic testing, workouts and interviews have yielded key insight, but it more of the same in the coming weeks will occur leading up to the June 24th D-Day, as teams hustle to make the perceived right decisions.

"Our philosophy draft-wise is take the best player available," Forman told CSNChicago.com. "If you look historically at the draft, in that area the Bulls currently own the 17th pick in the first round, it's tough to get a guy that can help us right away."

Of last season's draft haul, Johnson (drafted 16th) had an inconsistent initial campaign, but Gibson (picked 26th) was a mainstay from early on, so Forman's statement rings both true and false. With outside shooting being a top priority--as well as hypothetically adding some size on the wing to complement Hinrich--it seems as if Chicago got an accurate sneak peek at some of the best available shooting guards (as least as it stands right now) last Sunday, when James Anderson of Oklahoma State, Xavier Henry of Kansas, Dominique Jones of South Florida and Paul George of Fresno State came to the Berto Center (the Bulls practice facility in the city's northern suburbs) to work out for the team.

Anderson may be the most polished and accomplished of the group, Henry's strength and prolific shooting intrigue teams across the league and Jones' toughness and ability to play point guard have earned him admirers, but George--the least ballyhooed of the prospects--has earned rave reviews from league insiders and with his size (6-foot-8), versatility and high skill level, he has a chance to move even higher up the draft board, perhaps out of Chicago's range. Of that group, Jones is the one player not known as a precise outside marksman, but George, Anderson and Henry are all on the organization's radar.

All in all, this summer will definitely be one of change for the Bulls, regardless if James, Wade or Bosh come to town. Rome wasn't built in a day and as diehard Bulls fan know from the championship era that now seems so long ago, even Hall of Famers Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen were ably backed by a cast of solid, contributing role players.

"We'll always explore all our options. We like our nucleus, but at the same time, if there's something that makes us better, that's our job to explore all our options," Forman told CSNChicago.com. "We really like our young nucleus and want to see them get better."

In order for that to happen, that current group--if it remains wholly intact; Forman indicated that only Rose and Noah were truly untouchable--will need some help. That help just might come in the form of some under-the-radar assistance.

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.