Bulls

Schanowski: All Hail The King (James)!

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Schanowski: All Hail The King (James)!

Monday, March 22, 2010
5:12 PM

by Mark Schanowski
CSNChicago.com

If you didn't get the chance to watch last Friday's game between the Bulls and Cavs at the United Center, you missed a serious LeBron James love-fest. Hundreds of fans came to the arena wearing their best LeBron 23 gear, and they gave the King a rousing ovation when he was introduced before the game. James pretty much coasted for the first three quarters, then took over in the final eight minutes to help the Cavs take control of the game.

But the real story came after the game when LeBron took questions from a large group of Chicago reporters, and spoke in glowing terms about the Bulls, Chicago, and our city's sports fans. Now granted, talk is cheap, and James probably says similar things in any city that will have cap room to bid on the premiere free agents this summer. But James' knowledge about Chicago's sports history, the Bulls' current personnel and the injury situation that has de-railed the Bulls' season was really impressive, and MIGHT indicate he'll be willing to consider a move to Chicago when the free agent signing period opens on July 1st. If you'd like to judge for yourself how interested LeBron might be in the Bulls, watch the video above.

Bottom line, James has to realize the Bulls' future with him on the roster would be a whole lot brighter than the group he has right now in Cleveland. The Cavs have an excellent chance at winning an NBA title this season, but after that, it gets a little murky. Shaquille O'Neal and Zydrunas Ilgauskas are nearing the end of their careers, and Antawn Jamison is already 34, with his best seasons behind him. The rest of Cleveland's roster is filled with a bunch of average players, (yes, I know Mo Williams made the All-Star team in 2009), and outside of young forward J.J. Hickson, very few players with a lot of room to grow. James talked up the Bulls' young nucleus of Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Luol Deng and Taj Gibson, and he made a point of giving Gibson a post-game hug after he scored 20 points and pulled down 13 rebounds against the Cavs. Putting James on the Bulls' would make them an instant championship contender, with a core of young talent in place for a 10 year run at league dominance. I know it's a huge longshot, but James has obviously done his homework, and will take an informed look at the NBA landscape once the season is over, whether Cleveland wins the championship or not.

PLAYOFF HOPES AREN'T DEAD YET

Speaking of long shots, don't count out the Bulls making a late run at the final playoff spot in the East. They currently trail Toronto by 2 and a half games, but the Raptors have been in free-fall mode lately, with their star forward Chris Bosh taking shots at his teammates' lack of urgency and desire. With just about everyone around the NBA assuming Bosh will leave the team for free agency at the end of the season, it's hard to say whether his critical comments will inspire the team or cause a lot of dissension in the locker room.

That means the Bulls could find a way to pass Toronto in the final three and a half weeks of the season. After a brutal month of March, the schedule is finally softening up a bit, and it sounds like Joakim Noah is finally getting past the plantar fasciitis condition in his left foot that basically cost him two months of the season. Noah will be brought back slowly to avoid a major setback, but if you watched the game against Philadelphia on Saturday, you saw the spark Noah can provide, even in limited minutes. Derrick Rose also made a strong return from a sprained left wrist, hitting four three pointers after previously making just 6 for the entire season! If Rose adds a three point threat to his already versatile offensive game, the rest of the league can forget about trying to guard him. And, if Rose and Noah can stay healthy, there's no reason why the Bulls can't win 8 or 9 of their final 13 games and find a way to squeak into the playoffs. Of course, that would mean a first round series against LeBron and the Cavs, but who knows, maybe they can give the King an extended sampling of why his future years might be better spent in Chicago!

E-MAIL TIME

I wanted to take a few minutes to answer some of the e-mails you've been sending in. Thanks for your involvement, and please keep them coming!

Question: After seeing LeBron James in person on Friday, I have been dreaming of what he could do for the Bulls. Putting him and D-Rose together would be a lethal combination...multiple championships! (Sammy, Chicago)

Sammy, you're exactly right. James and Rose together could mean another 6 championships, and they might have to make room for 2 more statues outside of the United Center! I will concede the most likely scenario has James re-signing in Cleveland, but why not dream big? The Bulls have the cap room to make James a competitive offer, and if he's willing to leave his home state of Ohio, the Bulls offer the best opportunity for him to dominate the league for years to come.

Question: With Noah and Rose back healthy, what are the chances that the Bulls make a playoff run? (Ryan, Westmont)

As I wrote about, the Bulls probably need to win 8 or 9 out of their final 13 games to beat out Toronto for that final spot, and it would probably be a good idea to win the head to head match-up with the Raptors in Toronto on April 11th. I would say the Bulls' chances are less than 50-50, but there's certainly a chance, and that's not bad coming off a 10 game losing streak!
Question: Is it time to give up on Luol Deng? He seems to always be hurt, trade him and get a piece that we can use? (William, Lincolnshire)

I know a lot of fans are frustrated by Deng's recent run of injuries, but remember, he played in every game this season before hurting his knee and then straining his right calf when he tried to rush back into the line-up. Luol has quietly had a very solid season, and he figures to be part of the Bulls' core going forward. He also has a good relationship with LeBron James going back to their days competing in high school all-star games, so maybe he can help recruit LeBron this summer. All that being said, if a team like Toronto or Atlanta wanted to do a sign-and-trade for their free agent all-stars this summer, I'm sure the Bulls would be willing to include Deng in the package. The Bulls' dream goal is to sign one top free agent, and then acquire a 2nd one through a sign and trade. I'm sure Deng, Kirk Hinrich, Taj Gibson and 1st round draft picks would be the bait in any sign-and-trade scenarios they discuss this summer.

Question: What team do you think is the perfect fit for D-Wade? (Bob, IL)

I'd love to say the Bulls, because I really respect Wade's game, but the reality is he's probably best off staying in Miami, and hoping the Heat uses its cap room to sign either Bosh, Amare Stoudemire or Carlos Boozer this summer. Wade likes to dominate the ball, and he initiates most of Miami's offensive sets. There's no question a good coach could find a way to maximize the talents of Wade and D-Rose playing together, but Wade is used to running the show by himself and he's said all season he prefers to stay in Miami. Wade might have grown up in the Chicago area, but he says he hates cold weather, loves the South Beach lifestyle and the fact there aren't any state taxes in Florida. I would say it is VERY unlikely he will leave the Heat, unless there's some kind of falling out with team president Pat Riley, who's promised to build a contending team around Wade this summer.

Thanks again for all the great e-mails. Enjoy the hoops this week. If the Bulls can find a way to win all three home games on the schedule, they'll be right in the thick of the playoff race heading down the stretch. I'll see you Thursday from the United Center during SportsNite at 6:30 as we get ready for the Bulls-Heat game on Comcast SportsNet.

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.

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.