Bulls

Schanowski: Bulls must be all-in for LeBron

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Schanowski: Bulls must be all-in for LeBron

Monday, May 17, 2010
5:35 PM

By Mark Schanowski
CSNChicago.com

Would you be willing to hire John Calipari as the Bulls' next head coach if you knew it would guarantee LeBron James coming aboard in July? Please post your comments in the section below.

You can bet that's a question that's being considered in the Bulls' front office right now. The coaching search figures to slow to a crawl right now while John Paxson and Gar Forman plan their strategy for trying to recruit the league's most talented player to Chicago. It's no secret LeBron, and his agent, Leon Rose, have a good relationship with Calipari. But we're hearing James would not go as far as insisting Calipari be the head coach in whatever NBA city he decides to play in (including Cleveland). Still, when it comes to recruiting the most marketable player in the game, you have to use every tool at your disposal. And, if that means bringing on Calipari as head coach, it's something the Bulls will need to consider very strongly.

Calipari does have NBA head coaching experience, spending three years in New Jersey from 1996 to '99. Our Bulls' analyst Kendall Gill played for Coach Cal in Jersey, and says Calipari is a good X's and O's guy but was too immature to deal with the strong egos of the players he was coaching. 11 years later, that might not be as much of an issue, and we know Calipari coached Derrick Rose for his one season at Memphis, which could make for having an important supporter in the locker room. Calipari continues to say he will coach at Kentucky next season, and doesn't know why he has to respond to every rumor that's put out on the internet. But, until James makes his free agent decision, Coach Cal will continue to hear his name linked with NBA rumors, whether he likes it or not. And, if the Bulls haven't talked to him yet, they need to find out if he really could deliver LeBron to Chicago.

ROSE AND LEBRON ALREADY MAKING PLANS?

And, how about this nugget from veteran NBA writer Scoop Jackson, who reported James called Rose after the Cavs were eliminated from the playoffs and told him how much he likes Rose's game, likes the Bulls, and would welcome the chance to play together. LeBron went out of his way during the regular season to praise the city of Chicago and the Bulls' young talent, but to have him actually call the Bulls' best player and say the same things right after the Cavs' season came to such a disappointing conclusion, well, that takes the story to a whole new level. Sure, talk is cheap, and we'll have to wait until at least July 1st for LeBron to pick his next team, but this isn't a second or third hand report from a friend close to LeBron. This is THE MAN HIMSELF picking up the phone and making a call to a prospective teammate he's respected as a fellow all-star and budding superstar.

Right now, all the momentum is building towards LeBron calling Chicago his new home. So, what could mess things up between now and July 1st? Actually, there are dozens of things that could happen, starting with the Bulls picking a coach LeBron isn't excited about, to one of the other teams with cap room making a bold trade around the NBA Draft in late June to alter James' thinking about his best prospects for winning championships. Whether you think the Bulls should keep LeBron's opinion out of the coaching search or not, the reality is, they really don't need to hire a new coach before free agency begins. Paxson, Forman and the team's scouts are working out prospects in preparation for the draft, and until the Bulls know which player or players they'll be able to add in free agency, they really can't make an informed decision on what style of coach would be best for the talent on the roster.

Also, don't count out veteran NBA player, coach and executive Pat Riley down in Miami. Riley is promising fans in South Florida he's ready to build the next NBA dynasty, and that would be pretty hard to do if LeBron winds up in Chicago. Riley plans to trade disappointing 2nd year forward Michael Beasley before the draft to create more cap room, and his grand plan involves bringing LeBron AND Chris Bosh to South Beach to team with Dwyane Wade. Granted, there probably aren't enough shot attempts to keep that trio happy, but Riley has the reputation of making big things happen, and all the teams in the league will be keeping an eye on what he does over the next six weeks.

BULLS FANS SHOULD ROOT AGAINST NEW JERSEY IN DRAFT LOTTERY

Finally, even though the Bulls aren't involved in Tuesday's NBA Draft Lottery, there's still a good reason to watch. LeBron built a friendship with Kentucky freshman guard John Wall during this past season, and Wall is the consensus number one pick in this year's draft. If New Jersey wins the top pick, they'll suddenly have a pretty good nucleus to build on with Wall, Brook Lopez, Devin Harris, Courtney Lee and Yi Jianlian. And, we know LeBron has been friends with Nets' minority owner Jay-Z for a long time. So, root for anyone but the Nets to get that number one pick. It will take away one attractive recruiting chip for New Jersey when the free agent chase begins on July 1st. The Nets can't fall any lower than fourth in the NBA Draft Lottery, but after Wall and Ohio State guard Evan Turner, the talent level drops pretty sharply to some talented, but raw big men. So, having New Jersey fall to third or fourth would be the next positive step in the chain of events that could bring LeBron to Chicago.

Three Things to Watch: Bulls square off against LeBron and the Cavaliers

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Three Things to Watch: Bulls square off against LeBron and the Cavaliers

Here are Three Things to Watch in the Bulls' Tuesday night tilt against the Cavaliers on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. with Bulls Pregame Live.

1. LeBron James will be on your television

Love him or hate him, LeBron James is must-see TV. Now in his 15th NBA season, James has shown no signs of slowing down. Despite playing just one preseason game (against the Bulls), James has shown anything but rust in three games, averaging 25.0 points on 60 percent shooting, 8.3 rebounds and 6.3 assists in nearly 37 minutes. He's a threat every night to do something you've never seen on a basketball court, His Airness included. Justin Holiday and Paul Zipser will have their hands full against the game's best player.

2. Lauri Markkanen, Week 2

Small sample size alert! But through the season's first week Markkanen and Ben Simmons are the only rookies averaging a double-double (Dallas' Dennis Smith has played just one game, averaging 16 points and 10 assists). While the Bulls have struggled through two games, Markkanen's net rating is third best on the team and he leads the Bulls bigs in rebounds per game and rebound percentage. Markkanen has shown some versatility offensively, and his 7 free-throw attempts have been a nice surprise as well.

3. Don't forget: The Bulls swept the Cavaliers last year

OK, so expecting a victory Tuesday night in Cleveland isn't smart. The Bulls will be underdogs just like they were in each of the four games last season, all of which were Bulls winners. It was the first time in 52 division series that LeBron James had been swept, which is pretty remarkable considering the Bulls were the No. 8 seed and the Cavs coasted to a third straight NBA Finals. We're not over here predicting a win. But just remember: the Bulls have fared well against James in the regular season.

Zach LaVine not sweating contract extension, anxious to get back in uniform

Zach LaVine not sweating contract extension, anxious to get back in uniform

The Zach LaVine timeline for a Bulls debut remains the same, although he’s ahead of schedule in every metric of his return from ACL surgery this past February.

It doesn’t mean he isn’t angling for more work and pushing his limits to learn the offense he’ll be featured in, along with taking contact “here and there,” in his words. He’s supposed to wait nine months from the day of his February 14 surgery before taking contact, which would put him at a November 14 practice before the Bulls go to Oklahoma City.

“I should be doing contact really soon. It all depends on them,” LaVine said in his first public words since media day several weeks ago. “I’m pushing them as hard as I can, but at the end of the day we still gotta be careful. I feel great. I’m doing everything I was doing before. I’m pretty sure I can do contact, but we’ve got to stick to that schedule. But every day I’m just getting back, trying to as close to 100 percent as I can before I come back.”

LaVine was at Air Canada Centre getting a workout in before the Bulls opener against the Raptors and has gotten in heavy workouts on the off days with the assistant coaches in the meantime.

Sticking to the schedule will be on both LaVine and the Bulls, although both sides could be tempted to cut corners a bit. It would be human nature for the Bulls to show the NBA world their centerpiece from the Jimmy Butler trade on draft night, as well as LaVine to want to be the frontline player he feels he deserves to be.

“Yeah, it’s definitely hard. I don’t like missing games,” LaVine said. “Before the injury I didn’t really miss any games. I think I missed one or two in my career, so it really sucks just sitting there, not being able to help. I try to help as much as I can from the sideline. You know, give a little advice here and there, but yeah it hurts.”

He’s also in line for a big-time extension, having passed the deadline for extensions for players in his 2014 draft class. He’ll have to wait until the summer, especially since it didn’t make sense for him to extend unless it was a max deal.

“Obviously, I want to be here for a long time,” LaVine said. “And I feel the deal is going to get done, either then or next summer. I don’t have any fear in that. I think I know I’ll be in black and red for a little bit longer. I’m very happy and looking forward to that day as well. The main concern is just getting back on the court, get my legs ready and try to help the team as much as possible until then.”

LaVine was averaging a career-high 18.9 points as a third option behind Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, but will be featured in Fred Hoiberg’s offense as a first and maybe even second option, too—especially seeing how anemic the Bulls offense has looked in the first two games.

“With the team that we have and the system that (Fred Hoiberg) put in, we’re going to get up a lot of threes,” LaVine said. “When we’re on we’re going to blow some teams out with those threes. When we’re off, as the last couple games have shown, it’s going to be a struggle to score sometimes, but I think that’s where I can come in and help, and I can’t wait to get out there and start playing.”

Never lacking for confidence, LaVine hasn’t been deterred by the losing or even the unfortunate Bobby Portis-Nikola Mirotic incident from last week.

“We’re building something here. People understand we’re going through a little bit of that process,” LaVine said. “But we’re going to play and win. When I’m on the court, I’m trying to win. Wins and losses do happen. We can always take positives from both of those. That’s how you grow.”

As for Mirotic, LaVine hasn’t spoken to him but has sent texts—as it seems many of the Bulls have reached out to their teammate over the last several days.

“It was unfortunate. That’s what happens when two players are battling I guess,” LaVine said. “I don’t think either of them were in the wrong. It was just something that happened, an altercation. Men are men sometimes. We never should have that happen. But I think we’ve moved past it. Bobby’s in a good spot. We’ve all tried to contact Niko. I think we’ll all be able to move forward.”