Bulls

Who should join near-lock Rose on 2012 Olympic team?

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Who should join near-lock Rose on 2012 Olympic team?

Just as news that Bulls power forward Carlos Boozer won't make the cut of finalists for the 2012 USA Olympic men's basketball team -- along with fellow 2008 participants Michael Redd of the Suns, Pistons small forward Tayshaun Prince and future Hall of Famer Jason Kidd -- wasn't a shocker, it's no surprise that Derrick Rose did make the list.
Barring injury, the Bulls point guard and reigning league MVP is almost a lock to make the squad, but who else will join him?

Pencil in the likes of the back-to-back NBA scoring champion Kevin Durant of the Thunder, current Magic center Dwight Howard, Knicks small forward Carmelo Anthony and the Heat duo of LeBron James and Chicago native Dwyane Wade.

The other half of the dozen-man roster is where it gets tricky, but if it's up to me -- based on their skill sets and the 19-man player pool, first reported by Chris Sheridan -- I'd go with Clippers floor general Chris Paul, his young teammate Blake Griffin, NBA rebounding champ Kevin Love of the Timberwolves, Hornets sharpshooter Eric Gordon and 76ers swingman Andre Iguodala.

The final two picks might seem like head-scratchers -- leaving off point guards Chauncey Billups, Russell Westbrook and Deron Williams, forwards LaMarcus Aldridge, Chris Bosh and Lamar Odom, and center Tyson Chandler -- but if the goal is to win a gold medal, then role players and specialists like Gordon (shooting) and Iguodala (defense) are necessary, though it's hard to leave off veterans like Odom, Billups and Chandler, let alone young talents such as Westbrook and Aldridge.

However, evaluating the snubs on how they play for their NBA teams and present production -- Odom has started the season miserably after being traded to Dallas, Billups isn't getting any younger, Aldridge won't get the same touches he sees in Portland and the abilities of Westbrook, Chandler and Williams are relatively duplicated, if not surpassed, by Rose, Howard and Paul, respectively (Gordon is currently hurt and Iguodala has struggled, but they'd be specialists) -- it doesn't appear they'd make it a more complete team, though the value of chemistry can't be underestimated, helping the cases of 2010 World Championships veterans Odom, Chandler and Billups.

The final roster won't be set until after the NBA season concludes, so there's plenty of time for debate.

Who would be on your roster and what players should have been included in the group of finalists?

Just as we all predicted, two rookies stole the show in L.A.

Just as we all predicted, two rookies stole the show in L.A.

There's not often hype surrounding a game between two of the NBA's worst teams, but Tuesday's Bulls-Lakers matchup was intriguing to many because it offered a chance to see a pair of top rookies compete. 

Oh, but you didn't think we meant Lonzo Ball and Lauri Markkanen, did you?

Nah, it was two different, less-touted first-year players that ended up stealing the spotlight at the Staples Center. 

Kyle Kuzma and Antonio Blakeney may not be household names, but they sure played like they were in the Bulls' 103-94 loss. 

Kuzma, the Lakers rook drafted 27th overall, has been a spark for Luke Walton's squad all season long. Boasting a terrific scoring arsenal, the Utah product carried the load for the Lakers' offense in the first half, dropping 18 points on 6-for-9 shooting. He finished the game as L.A.'s leading scorer with 22 in 40 minutes. But if you still need a more in-depth scouting report on Kuzma, just let Lonzo break it down:  

More importantly for Bulls fans, though, was the play of their undrafted guard who's signed to a two-way deal. 

Blakeney, the unofficial Summer League MVP, came off the bench on Tuesday and immediately left his mark on the game. The 21-year-old out of LSU posted 15 in the first half, finishing through contact as well as connecting on outside jumpers. 

Blakeney's shooting isn't reliable quite yet, but his energy has clearly influenced Hoiberg's rotation. The guard went from playing one NBA minute in the Bulls' first 11 games to playing 75 in the last four. Given that his two-way deal allows him to only spend 45 days with the team, it'll be fascinating to see how creative Gar Forman and John Paxson will get with his contract if this type of production continues. 

In a season that's obviously going to have its share of rough moments, an offseason flyer hitting is a huge plus for the rebuild. 

As for the recognized rookies, Lonzo's shooting woes persisted and Markkanen had maybe his worst offensive performance of his young Bulls career. Combined, they finished 7-for-30 with 21 points. Not ideal. 

Zach LaVine cleared for contact practice

Zach LaVine cleared for contact practice

The Zach LaVine comeback is one step closer as the shooting guard was cleared for contact practice after checking with his doctors in California. 

LaVine will go through a step by step process over the next few weeks and the Bulls will gauge his progress to see when the best time for his return will be. 

But, given the nine-month process from his ACL injury he suffered in February, he's right on track and there doesn't appear to be any setbacks. 

"There’s no real timeframe, I guess," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said at practice Monday. "It’s really going to be on how he feels. We’ll try to do a little more every day with him. We did a little bit, got him some light contact today just to get the process started.

"He’ll be able to play a little two-on-two with not a lot of practice time these next 10 days. But we’ll throw him out there and continue to try to get him feeling better. There’s going to be a mental hurdle that he’s going to have to clear as well. I know he’s excited. His teammates are excited and the coaches are obviously excited as well."

LaVine's recovery has gone as planned since his arrival in Chicago from the Jimmy Butler trade on draft night. Targeting a mid-December return seems realistic but of course, the Bulls will take every precaution to make sure he's healthy for the long term, both for LaVine and the franchise, as he's a restricted free agent this summer--and they have no plans on letting him walk. 

LaVine told NBC Sports Chicago recently that he wants to get on the floor immediately but the Bulls know they'll have to protect him from himself in the meantime. 

"He’s going to have to string together a lot of really good days, and he knows that," Hoiberg said. "He understands that. The important thing is he’s right on track from where it was said after the injury. He’s been doing a great job with his rehab. He’s on time. He’s doing everything that’s asked of him. His strength numbers are where they’re supposed to be. I’m confident he’s going to keep making progress. But we’ll absolutely monitor it daily and hopefully it’ll just continue to get better."

The Bulls aren't sure if they'll send LaVine to the G-League but it's certain they have plans on not only how to use him when he steps on the floor but also a regimen they've stuck to, to ensure there are no real setbacks. 

Hoiberg has been salivating over having a true scorer at that position since trading for him, and LaVine has been eager since his arrival to prove to the Bulls and fans that he is a franchise player. 

Prudence in the moment of progression, though, appears to be the approach taken by both sides.