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Running with the Bulls: Who's available this summer?

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Running with the Bulls: Who's available this summer?

Wednesday, June 3, 2010
1:50 PM

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

Game 1 of the NBA Finals may be tonight, but the hype surrounding the free-agent circus that is officially set to begin July 1 -- and to a lesser extent, the handful of head-coaching vacancies around the league -- has partly overshadowed what should be another exciting chapter of the storied Lakers-Celtics rivalry.

Since free agency has been and will be covered ad nauseum in this space and lots of other outlets, theres no need to rehash any speculation of what the top-tier available players, but the recent interview conducted by CNNs Larry King with LeBron James (scheduled to air Friday) again has pushed the impending future of the leagues MVP to the top of the headlines. In his first public interview since his Cavaliers were ousted from the playoffs by Boston, James spoke at length about a variety of topics -- the leaked transcript has been pored over by everyone from casual fans to presumably NBA executives -- including President Obamas endorsement of Chicago as his new destination and his the fact that he was a Bulls fan as a child.

Although the wide-ranging interview didnt offer any specifics into his plans or even mindset heading into free agency -- despite any attempts to interpret any cues from his body language, affiliations of his team (consisting of his agent, advisers and other members of his inner circle) or rumors from his childhood barbers sisters cousin, it will be a carefully thought-out business decision -- James continued to stir the pot with the timing of the interview and coy nature in answering questions, even if unintentional.

Likewise, the rumored summit referenced by Miami star Dwyane Wade, a fellow free agent and Chicago native who also made headlines by questioning the loyalty of the Bulls, has been dismissed by, amongst other people, his agent (who also represents Toronto free agent Chris Bosh and falls under the same umbrella, Creative Artists Agency that represents James and Bulls head-coaching candidate Tom Thibodeau, to name a few) and is now more accurately being described as a series of conversations between friends.

That isnt to say Messrs. James, Wade (almost certain to remain with the Heat, as long as they add another star or two to the equation, which seems likely) and Bosh (its just about a given that hell leave the Raptors via a sign-and-trade scenario)not to mention Phoenixs Amare Stoudemire (the Suns success notwithstanding, he will have the choice of continuing on with aging star Steve Nash or joining one of the aforementioned stars elsewhere), Atlantas Joe Johnson (regardless of his poor playoff performance, he remains a coveted outside sharpshooter) and Utahs Carlos Boozer (likely to depart, as the Jazz signed productive backup power forward Paul Millsap to a contract extension last summer and are expected to select a big man with their lottery pick in this months NBA Draft), all USA Basketball teammates at one point or another -- wont figure out the process independently (although James decision may somehow influence the others), but its clear that the build-up to July 1 is rising to a level of ridiculousness that no longer makes much sense.

Almost the forgotten man in the equation is Dallas Dirk Nowitzki, who may be the third-best player (behind James and Wade) on the market, even with his advancing age. While most league observers would be shocked if the German forward were to suit up for a team other than his beloved Mavericks (even if he opts out of his deal; dont be surprised if team owner Mark Cuban maneuvers as hes done in the past, perhaps providing Cleveland with an attractive sign-and-trade possibility if James is determined to bolt the Cavaliers, something Cuban was recently fined by the NBA for implying), some suggest that Stoudemires potential departure from Phoenix could lead to Nowitzkis reunion with good friend Nash in the Valley of the Sun, as long as the state is fine with having another immigrant around.

A bit lower on the free-agent totem pole rank a trio of players that could make nice complimentary pieces for various teams. New Yorks David Lee has been persistently rumored to be leaving the Big Apple, as the Knicks have been long anticipating this summer and would be open to a sign-and-trade for the All-Star big man (some suggest his inflated numbers this season were a product of Mike DAntonis up-tempo system), in order to have the funds to sign a higher-profile star. Memphis Rudy Gay is a restricted free agent, but the prevailing notion is that the Grizzlies can be outbid for the athletic young swingman. Then, theres Charlottes Raymond Felton, who performed capably under Bobcats head coach Larry Brown the past two seasons, and while he isnt regarded as an upper-echelon NBA point guard, hes the best of a weak crop of available free agents at that position this summer.

As previously indicated, sign-and-trade situations abound this summer, and with the league rumor mill in full swing, a handful of players have been consistently mentioned as being on the block -- for the right price.

Perhaps the biggest name rumored to be moved is San Antonios Tony Parker. With the emergence of unheralded guard George Hill and the Spurs reported desire to get younger and more athletic before stalwarts Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili finish their careers, trading Parker may be the organizations best chance to remain viable, as last summers major acquisition, Richard Jefferson, was unproductive this season and wont garner close to anything valuable.

Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas, coming off a suspension for gun possession and a short incarceration, is another high-profile name that could be shipped out, especially with his huge contract. However, with Washington likely to select Kentucky point guard John Wall with the drafts top pick and the franchise still in rebuilding mode, the team may opt to simply move Arenas to shooting guard, which some have long believed is his best position.

An undervalued player who many league observers predicted would get moved at last seasons trade deadline is Indiana s Troy Murphy. The versatile power forward is still an attractive option to many teams and is one of the few Pacers with any real trade value.

Three second-year players who may have worn out their welcome or seemingly dont fit in their current homes are Memphis O.J. Mayo, Miami s Michael Beasley and New Jerseys Chris Douglas-Roberts. Mayo has been the most successful as a pro, but his pairing with point guard Mike Conley in the backcourt, reported issues with Gay, status as a tweener, defensive deficiencies and value as an asset could end his career with the Grizzlies. Beasley has had some unfortunate, well-publicized incidents, but overall, his inability to live up to the hype he achieved coming out of college, as well as his perceived immaturity and the Heats desire to free up room for potential incoming free agents have him firmly on the trading block. Douglas-Roberts had a bit of a breakout season for the Nets, but New Jerseys logjam at swingman -- fellow young players Courtney Lee and rookie Terrence Williams both seemed to curry more favor with the franchise -- and his vocal displeasure at the teams losing ways make him expendable.

A pair of young centers -- Portland s Greg Oden and the Lakers Andrew Bynum -- may not necessarily be being shopped, but are their respective teams are reportedly willing to listen to offers for the big men with bad knees. Two veteran centers, Dallas Erick Dampier and New Yorks Eddy Curry, arent really thought of as additions that can improve a team, but with their expiring contracts, they are also coveted pieces.

Then, there are numerous duos that could be packaged together by their teams to acquire a valuable asset. High-scoring Golden State guard Monta Ellis, as Warriors rookie Stephen Curry proved to be perhaps a better fit as a point guard and the smallish backcourt struggled to defend, while teammate Anthony Randolph, a young, versatile forward regarded as having major potential but injury issues, is another Warrior who could find a new home. Minnesota power forwards Al Jefferson and Kevin Love, are reportedly on the block -- but only one or the other will be moved; Jeffersons larger contract and knee problems make him the player being shopped more actively -- as their similar low-post games and lack of elite athleticism make playing them nearly impossible in Timberwolves head coach Kurt Rambis triangle offense. The departure of longtime Detroit mainstays Tayshaun Prince and Richard Hamilton could facilitate the Pistons continued desire to rebuild, although Princes versatility is more coveted by opposing teams and Hamilton s contract makes him difficult to deal. Two of Torontos several European imports -- point guard Jose Calderon (after his rise to ascension, the Spanish point guard largely struggled last season and was pretty much supplanted by backup Jarrett Jack) and Hedo Turkoglu, a heralded free-agent signee last summer, whose contentious relationship with the Raptors fan base (including reports of him missing games due to illness during the season, only to be spotted partying at night, as well as his recent diatribe against the organization in his homeland of Turkey) -- could be out of the door.

Lastly, at least one of a trio of young 76ers -- big man Marreese Speights, forward Thaddeus Young and guard Lou Williams -- has a chance to traded. New Philadelphia head coach Doug Collins has already pledged his allegiance to star swingman Andre Iguodala, young point guard Jrue Holiday and oft-injured veteran power forward Elton Brand, and with the Sixers likely to draft versatile Ohio State wing second in the draft, the Sixers will need to make some tough decisions to gain some flexibility in their roster moving forward.

Even with all these issues at hand, first things still must come first -- the NBA Finals. With the Lakers and Celtics so evenly matched, the series will likely come down to matchups, as well as the injury issues of the Lakers Bynum and Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo, who has been the key to Boston s postseason success. It should be a classic championship battle, but in the end, expect L.A. to avenge their 2008 loss and beat the Celtics in seven games.

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 are unlocking something with Zach LaVine: 'He was terrific'

Bulls are unlocking something with Zach LaVine: 'He was terrific'

MINNEAPOLIS—The applause was thunderous on the welcome back for Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine, two Timberwolves draft picks sent away when the chance to acquire Jimmy Butler came along.

But some of the air was taken out the Target Center due to the absence of Jimmy Butler, who’ll miss the next several weeks after deciding to have surgery on his right meniscus following an injury Friday night.

So while there was no rematch of the thrilling contest the two teams had in Chicago, some things were very much the same.

Lauri Markkanen’s struggles continued.

LaVine showed more flashes of his complete game and Dunn had a couple moments of his own.

And on the other side, Tom Thibodeau kept his starters in the game with victory secured and his team up 20 points in the Timberwolves’ 122-104 win over the Bulls Saturday night.

The Timberwolves broke the game open in the fourth quarter with some key shot-making from veteran Jamal Crawford, as he was one point short of the Timberwolves having four 20-point scorers on the night.

Jeff Teague, Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins combined for 70 points in their first game of many without Butler.

LaVine was a main reason the Bulls stayed afloat in the first 36 minutes, finishing with 21 points, seven assists and six rebounds in his first game back in front of the Minneapolis crowd he spent his first few years playing for.

Going head-up with his former teammate Wiggins for a stretch, the two seemed to relish their practice matchups. Wiggins was doing a lot of pure scoring while LaVine seemed to enjoy probing the defense and making plays for teammates, taking more of a ballhandling role as opposed to floating around the perimeter for 3-point attempts.

“He’s doing a much better job not settling for tough shots,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He’s attacking the basket much better than he was. You can just see him getting his legs, getting more comfortable. It was good to see him as a playmaker, he was terrific.”

Perhaps the Bulls are unlocking something with LaVine, getting him the ball in different places and on the move, where he made some nifty passes in traffic, exercising patience and maturity.

“I liked it. Hopefully we get a little bit more of it,” LaVine said. “But it’s working. Should’ve stuck to it.”

They didn’t, as the Bulls didn’t look as organized as they have previously. Dunn looked extremely motivated and aggressive but it seemed to work against him at times as Teague took advantage of Dunn being too quick for his own good. So hyped up, Dunn blew a breakaway dunk in the first half, but luckily Nwaba was right behind him for a putback.

That type of energy was expected for Dunn and LaVine, maybe even moreso for Dunn considering his underwhelming rookie year where he didn’t get much chance to play as a top-five pick.

Dunn finished with 10 points on four of 12 shooting while Cameron Payne scored 11  in 19 minutes, but the decision making from both point guards left plenty to be desired—which is to be expected given the lack of veterans on the floor.

Their starting unit again struggled as Justin Holiday and Robin Lopez again sat as the evaluation of the younger players continued.

Cristiano Felicio had a better outing than his foul-plagued game against Philadelphia, scoring 11 points but had his hands full on the other end. David Nwaba impressed for the second straight game as a starter, getting in the open floor to force the action, scoring 14 with nine rebounds in 34 minutes.

“The second quarter, I thought, was one of our better quarters of the year,” Hoiberg said. “As bad as we played in the first quarter, I thought we were down 20. We just didn’t sustain it. Against a great team like that, it’s gonna cost you.”

Nwaba, along with Bobby Portis, was a big reason why the Timberwolves couldn’t run away from the Bulls until well into the fourth quarter, even after taking a double-digit lead in the first quarter and sending Hoiberg scrambling for early timeouts.

“You can expect it because you haven’t played with that group before,” LaVine said. “We’re gonna get that chemistry down. We (only) had a couple practices with that lineup.”

Whether it’s the lineup change or just the rookie blues, the year has clearly caught up with Markkanen, who only made one field goal in 32 minutes.

“Gotta get some extra shots up. I see myself thinking too much,” Markkanen said. “That’s how it is. Of course it’s frustrating to not make shots but it is what it is. Gotta work through it.”

Markkanen has gone one-for-eight in each game coming from the All-Star break and missed all seven of his 3-point attempts.

“He’s shooting the heck out of the ball in practice,” Hoiberg said. “He’s struggling right now with his confidence, no question about it. As a shooter, you gotta keep looking to be aggressive, take the open ones. It takes one game to get that confidence back.”

Jimmy Butler's injury produced memories for Zach LaVine, Fred Hoiberg

Jimmy Butler's injury produced memories for Zach LaVine, Fred Hoiberg

MINNEAPOLIS — That feeling of having your knee buckle out of nowhere, Zach LaVine is all-too familiar with it.

That feeling of being on the sidelines and watching Jimmy Butler’s knee give out, Fred Hoiberg has been there, too.

Different perspectives, and different reactions but Butler’s knee injury produced a sick feeling to many who watched it Friday night. Butler turned to pivot in the Timberwolves’ game against the Houston Rockets and immediately collapsed on the floor, having to be carried off.

LaVine tore his ACL in Detroit over a year ago, while it was revealed Butler suffered a right meniscus injury. But it looked all the same and LaVine understood the uncertainty Butler must’ve been feeling before the MRI revealed it wasn’t an ACL injury.

“It’s scary,” LaVine said following morning shootaround at the Target Center Saturday afternoon. “I wish him the best. You don’t want to see that happen to anybody. Especially a player of his caliber and what he’s done for the team.”

When LaVine injured his ACL, he actually played a few more minutes before being removed and going to the locker room. The time between being evaluated by doctors and them coming back feels like a lifetime.

“It’s scary. You know you hurt yourself, you don’t know how bad,” LaVine said. “You think you’re good, you’re a tough minded person trying to get through it.”

“I saw him on the ground trying to get up, (Rockets guard) Chris Paul made him sit down. Jimmy’s a tough dude. Thoughts and prayers going out to him.”

Butler and LaVine were the centerpieces of the draft day trade involving the Bulls and Timberwolves. With Butler suffering the injury the night before playing his former team a second time, the timing produced a bunch of memories.

In Hoiberg’s first year with the Bulls, Butler went down in a somewhat similar manner in Denver, a non-contact injury. It looked just as bad, and Butler was taken off the floor in a wheelchair.

Thankfully it was a right knee strain that cost him several weeks but it wasn’t as bad as it looked. Considering the minutes he’s played over the last few years, Hoiberg was asked if Butler pushes himself too hard to be on the floor.

“Jimmy he wants to be out there,” Hoiberg said. “I remember the first year in Denver, he went down with what looked to be a serious injury. Thankfully he was back on the floor after 15-16 games.”

Actually, Butler missed 11 consecutive games before coming back for a nationally-televised game against the Rockets, playing 34 minutes in a Bulls win and missing the next three games for recovery.

“We really worried when he went down but it wasn’t something that ended his season,” Hoiberg said. “Jimmy’s a worker. He’s one of the hardest working guys I’ve seen. It’s a huge reason for the type of player he is, that work ethic to make him one of the elite players in the league.”