Bulls

Schanowski: Johnson just ordinary Joe in playoffs

109905.jpg

Schanowski: Johnson just ordinary Joe in playoffs

Tuesday, May 11, 2010
4:27 PM

By Mark Schanowski
CSNChicago.com

So, do you still think Joe Johnson is worth a maximum contract when free agency opens on July 1st? Please post your comments in the section below, or send me an e-mail.

Sure, the Bulls need a shooter to go along with Derrick Rose, and a two guard who stands 6-7 would be a significant help on the defensive end. But if you watched any of the Atlanta-Orlando series, it's pretty obvious Joe Johnson isn't the kind of player who can carry a team.

Johnson averaged just 12.7 points a game in the four-game wipe-out, while shooting just under 30 percent from the field. Hardly the kind of performance that will command a five-year contract, starting at about 16.5 million dollars on the open market. He also ripped Atlanta fans after they booed him throughout a Game 3 blowout loss at Phillips Arena, saying he didn't care if they even showed up for the 4th game of the series. So, let's see........Johnson is not a leader, he comes up small in the biggest games, and he'll turn 29 next month. Not exactly the kind of guy you want to commit 95 million over the next five seasons. Word out of the Berto Center is that the Bulls came to that conclusion a long time ago. The front office likes Johnson's skill-set, but they're not prepared to make him a maximum contract offer. Unless he's prepared to take a much lower contract offer, Johnson won't be coming to the Bulls this summer.

And, what about the other top prizes in this summer's free agent class. Dwyane Wade is involved in a nasty legal fight with his ex-wife over custody of the couple's two children. Wade's ex-wife is living in the Chicago area, where the couple first met during their high school days in Oak Lawn. It's pretty safe to assume Wade doesn't want to move back to Chicago, and be right in the middle of this legal mess. You can pretty much lock him in for a max contract extension with the Heat.

Chris Bosh will be the hardest free agent to acquire, because he plans to work with Toronto's front office on a sign-and-trade which will bring him the maximum six-year, 120 million package. That basically opens up every team in the league as a potential suitor for Bosh. And, since the Bulls aren't willing to include Rose or Joakim Noah in any trade with the Raptors, their chances of acquiring Bosh in a sign-and-trade deal are virtually nil, especially since some of the league's heavyweight teams like the Lakers, Mavericks and Spurs are likely to get in the bidding.

Amar'e Stoudemire figures to take a long look at signing an extension in Phoenix after the Suns' surprising run through the Western Conference playoffs. And, Utah's Carlos Boozer isn't really worth a maximum contract offer, even though he might get one from a desperate team like the Knicks or Nets.

Which leads us back to the best player on the planet, LeBron James. At this point in the free agent speculation, the Bulls might have a better chance at signing LeBron than they do with any of the other top players available. James genuinely respects the Bulls' talent, and knows the team has a tremendous upside with so many young players having already established themselves as quality players in the league. If I'm John Paxson, I take Rose and Noah with me for a road trip to Akron, and I camp out at LeBron's front door to make my pitch at 12:01 a.m. on July 1st. The way I look at it now, there's a 60 likelihood James signs a three-year extension in Cleveland, 20 that he comes to Chicago, and 10 chances he signs with the Knicks or Clippers. And, don't laugh about the Clippers. They have the money to make a max offer, and they have a young nucleus of talent that rivals the Bulls with Baron Davis, Chris Kaman, Eric Gordon and the number 1 pick in the 2009 draft, power forward Blake Griffin, who missed all of last season because of a knee injury.

As I wrote in my last post, it's hard to tell if we should root for James and the Cavs to win a championship this season, or lose to Boston in the 2nd round. James might find it hard to leave his home state if he fails to deliver the title he's talked about for so many years. That's why I think he would only sign a short-term extension if he stays. James knows the Cavs are an aging team, with three starters, Shaq, Antawn Jamison and Anthony Parker, 34 years or older. His future prospects would be better served with the Bulls or Clippers, but the mental burden of abandoning his home state team might be too strong for James to pull the trigger on switching teams this summer. Then again, if the Cavs flame out in Round 2 against Boston, all bets could be off. Who knows if James will lash out at head coach Mike Brown, G.M. Danny Ferry or his teammates? Remember, it was a playoff dispute with head coach Flip Saunders that brought Ben Wallace to the Bulls when everyone around the league assumed he would stay with the Pistons back in 2006.

Bottom line, the Bulls need to be flexible in their planning for free agency, but the front office should start by doing everything in their power to recruit LeBron.

McHALE DEFINITELY INTERESTED IN BULLS COACHING POSITION

Not much to report on the Bulls' coaching search. General Manager Gar Forman continues to do research on most of the top candidates available, and we hear Doug Collins is definitely NOT on the Bulls' radar this time around. The one interesting development is Celtics' Hall of Famer Kevin McHale coming out strongly with his interest in the Bulls' job. McHale told WMVP radio in Chicago that he loves the young talent on the roster, and appreciates the fact that the key players are "tough guys, they play really hard and they get after it defensively, and I think they're all just going to be better." McHale says he has a good relationship with Paxson and Forman and would welcome the chance to interview for the job.

McHale has very little coaching experience, moving from the Minnesota Timberwolves' front office to the bench on two separate occasions. He worked last season as an analyst for TNT and NBA-TV. Still, it sounds like he's a guy the Bulls plan to talk to early in the interview process. The other names that have been talked about frequently are Lawrence Frank, Maurice Cheeks and Dwane Casey. Right now, it doesn't sound like the Bulls plan to interview former Knicks and Rockets' coach Jeff Van Gundy, and we still don't know where the Bulls stand on former NBA Coach of the Year Byron Scott, who had so much success working with Jason Kidd in New Jersey and Chris Paul in New Orleans.

Any way you look at it, the search process figures to drag into June. Let's hope all parties involved can agree on one candidate this time, and get the right man for the job.

E-MAIL TIME

Question from James - Oswego, IL: What are the chances that the Bulls could land Avery Johnson? He is young, has had success in the past and to me seems like a perfect fit to coach our young guys.

Schanowski: Right now James, there doesn't appear to be much interest on either side. Johnson is a controlling head coach who likes to call a play almost every trip downcourt. The Bulls would prefer a more wide open style that allows Derrick Rose to attack the defense. Johnson also criticized the Bulls' front office for the way they handled the incident with Vinny Del Negro back on March 30th, and he probably would want a higher salary than the Bulls are willing to pay. Add it all up, and Johnson just isn't the right guy.
Question from Robert - Chicago, IL : I think that the Bulls need to attack the market looking for tall defenders like Tayshaun Prince. He's not a king but we might be able get a prince at a cheap price and target a post man.

Schanowski: Unless his name is LeBron James, the Bulls won't be shopping for a small forward this off-season. They already have a ton of money invested in Luol Deng and they still have hopes for last year's top draft pick, James Johnson. I used to like Prince's game, but his performance has dropped significantly over the last couple seasons, especially when the Pistons try to play him at power forward. By the way, the Bulls will have a new post man coming in next season, 7 footer Omer Asik from Turkey, a guy they acquired on draft night in 2008.
Question from Raheim - Chicago, IL: How important is the Bulls' head coaching choice in who they will end up signing in free agency?

Schanowski: Good question, Raheim. Some people believe the Bulls should hold their coaching position open until July 1st, and let LeBron pick the guy he wants to coach as another enticement to come to Chicago. But in talking to a lot of people around the league, they say free agents rarely pick a team based on the head coach. It's all about money, chance to win and locationmarketing opportunitiesweather. Having said all that, I do think the Bulls will look like they have a better chance to win if they hire an experienced head coach like Byron Scott, Maurice Cheeks or Jeff Van Gundy, rather than a career assistant or a guy with a losing record in the league like Lawrence Frank or Eric Musselman.

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.

Unbelievable performance, unexplainable failures leads to Bulls' collapse in New Orleans

Unbelievable performance, unexplainable failures leads to Bulls' collapse in New Orleans

Weird things tend to happen in New Orleans. Things filed under “unbelievable” or “unexplainable.”

The Bulls’ double-overtime loss to the New Orleans Pelicans doesn’t exactly fall under either, but the circumstances leading to it certainly do.

Justin Holiday, the reliable 84 percent free throw shooter missing the last of three freebies that would have ended the game in regulation after being fouled with 0.3 seconds left?

Unexplainable.

“Could’ve won the game with a free throw,” Holiday said, dismissing the notion of nerves. “Thought it was cash, it just didn’t go in. Wasn’t meant to happen, I guess. I was hyped. You get that opportunity, I don’t miss free throws. When you get an opportunity like that, that’s what was on my mind.”

Holiday raced to the 3-point line after the Bulls fell behind 114-112 with three seconds left, drawing a whistle on Darius Miller as the buzzer sounded—giving them a chance to win a game they had no business losing in the first place.

“He made the hard ones, which the first one is the hardest,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He made a great play to be fouled in the first place to even get himself to the line.”

It seemed so unlikely the Bulls would find themselves in their wildest game of the year after seemingly driving the Pelicans to insanity and frustration, taking a 17-point lead with 5 minutes left.

Zach LaVine looked comfortable in his fourth quarter minutes, while Denzel Valentine and Nikola Mirotic hit big shots to extend the Bulls lead—ignoring the irritated atmosphere at the Smoothie King Center as the Pelicans fans felt their team had gotten an unfair whistle.

Then the Pelicans—and their maddeningly talented star DeMarcus Cousins—got mad and took all his frustration out on the Bulls in a historic performance. He needed every bit of the 44 points, 24 rebounds and 10 assists to put the Bulls away, as he bullied the game inside and finessed things from the outside (five 3-pointers) as his teammates finally caught up to his intensity in those frenetic five minutes.

His numbers put him in the company of Wilt Chamberlain—not surprising considering he did everything down the stretch including bringing the ball upcourt as if he were the world’s biggest point guard.

Unbelievable.

“It’s cool to be in company with a guy like Wilt (Chamberlain). He’s a guy that’s put up videogame numbers his entire career,” Cousins said. “Just to have a little game like his, that’s pretty cool.”

His alley-oop to Anthony Davis with 1:39 left in regulation gave him a triple-double and cut the Bulls lead to 110-107, and the Bulls seemed to be in full panic mode. Davis fouled out in the first overtime but not after inflicting 34 points, nine rebounds and five assists of damage in 43 minutes.

“The inability to get a rebound late cost us,” Hoiberg said. “Their pressure, getting into us, really lost all of our pace that we did a good job of for the most part all game. It really slowed us down. That’s what got their run started.”

Jerian Grant, who had performed solidly in Kris Dunn’s absence, then became a target for the Pelicans defense as they harassed Grant, taking the Bulls’ offense out of its rhythm.

Grant had six turnovers in 47 minutes and was visibly bothered by the pressure employed by the Pelicans’ defense, nearly negating his 22-point, 13-assist, five-rebound performance.

“I thought we had really good flow,” Hoiberg said. “I thought Jerian had a really good game. But the pressure really did bother us. Gotta do the things that got you the lead we had. A lot of pace, a lot of movement. A lot of good things.”

The good things certainly included Lauri Markkanen holding his own against Davis and making big defensive plays in the fourth quarter and overtime when the Pelicans foolishly tried to switch Markkanen onto their guards.

But Markkanen kept his composure, moved his feet and was never exploited. Although he shot just 5-for-12 and missed all four of his 3-point attempts, Markkanen took steps forward defensively as he finished with 14 points and a career-high 17 rebounds.

Robin Lopez went at Cousins on the other end, as both were exhausted at the end of the marathon. Lopez scored 22 points in 39 minutes, his only regret likely getting stripped by Cousins at midcourt during the Pelicans’ comeback, leading to free throws.

“We just decided to play defense,” Davis said. “It was tied up going into the fourth quarter. They went on a crazy run. There was like eight minutes left, we just said we going to play defense. Play defense one possession at a time and we are going to be able to come back here.”

Jrue Holiday, Justin’s younger brother, was the main irritant late, along with former Bull E’Twaun Moore, giving just enough support for Cousins and Davis. The Pelicans’ Holiday scored just 12 points with six assists, but had big baskets in the first overtime after Davis fouled out.

“They turned it up, physically,” Justin Holiday said. “My brother started guarding full court. They all starting pressuring us a little more. Sometimes, it’s tough. When they turn the pressure up like that and we have the lead, we don’t necessarily want to be in a rush to score. Then they’re scoring on the other end. We gotta get stops.”

It was hard to ignore how the pressure affected the Bulls. The composure and poise they’ve played with over the last several weeks gave them a level of confidence in hostile environments, but missing Dunn meant they were without a critical part of their offense.

“I don’t wanna say trouble but it bothered us for sure,” Holiday said. “We kinda got sped up. Forget about the offensive end but if we get stops and rebound, we win the game. Again, they have all-stars and things like that, supposed to do their job.”

Even then, though, everyone walking away from the Smoothie King Center knew they witnessed a historic, unbelievable performance as well as an unexplainable collapse.

DeMarcus Cousins made some serious history in the Pelicans' win over the Bulls

DeMarcus Cousins made some serious history in the Pelicans' win over the Bulls

DeMarcus Cousins made serious history on Monday night in New Orleans. And no, it wasn't that he played 52 minutes and didn't commit a technical foul.

No, Boogie put together one of the most impressive statlines in NBA history in the Pelicans' double-overtime win over the Bulls. Cousins finished with 44 points, 24 rebounds and 10 assists in win. He became the first player with a 40-20-10 line since Wilt Chamberlain did so in 1968 playing for the 76ers. Chamberlain accomplished the feat four times, and Oscar Robertson did it once in 1965 with a 42-21-10 night for the Cincinnati Royals. 

In 1968 Chamberlain had himself a mammoth night, playing all 48 minutes and going for 53 points, 32 rebounds and 14 assists. In fact, in Chamberlain's four instances of accomplish the feat he averaged 44 points, 27 rebounds and 12.2 assists.

Back to Cousins, he did his damage all over. His wild night included 13-for-29 shooting, five 3-pointers, and he went 13-for-14 from the free throw line. He added four steals and a block and was a +13 in what turned out to be a four-point game.

Cousins played the final 18:36 (minus seven seconds late in the fourth on an offense-for-defense sub), entering the game with 8:36 to play in the fourth quarter and never coming out again. He scored 11 points in the fourth quarter as the Pelicans rallied back down 17 points to force the extra periods.

In the first overtime Cousins had four points and three rebounds, but it was assumed Cousins was going to be the focal point the rest of the night when teammate Anthony Davis fouled out with 2:05 to play.

In the second overtime Cousins gave his last burst, scoring the first five points of the second additional period to give New Orleans a lead. He wound up missing his next and final four shots, but his free throws with 8 seconds left iced the game and gave the Pelicans a four-point lead.

It's no wonder Cousins will start in next month's All-Star Game alongside Davis, who had 34 points, nine rebounds and five assists himself before fouling out in 43 minutes.

Combined the two All-Stars had 78 points, 31 rebounds and 15 assists.