Bulls

Bulls' fortunes could be better than anticipated

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Bulls' fortunes could be better than anticipated

As discouraged as the Bulls might feel about their health woes in these playoffs, a postseason in which their Eastern Conference rivals have also had injury concerns, they should also feel optimistic.

Who knows what this summer's free agency and even before that, the annual draft-day trading frenzy, could bring, but when examining the rest of the upper echelon of the East--conference finalists Miami and Boston, semifinal losers Philadelphia and Indiana, and the star-studded Knicks--the Bulls are in good shape.

That may come off as odd, especially after the Bulls lost in the first round to an eighth seed, Derrick Rose is scheduled to be out for eight months to a year, Luol Deng may miss the beginning of next season and valuable reserves like C.J. Watson, Kyle Korver and Ronnie Brewer appear to be future casualties of the NBA's salary cap, to be replaced by less expensive and possibly less-talented players, but look on the bright side for a second:

Even with all of those issues, things are less problematic in Chicago than a lot of those aforementioned places, at least in the long-term.

Both the Pacers and 76ers are young teams that showed they have potential, but are at least one impact player, preferably a go-to scorer, away from being true contenders. Each team is likely to be active in looking for potential trades--despite being their respective franchise's marquee player, don't be surprised if small forwards Danny Granger and Andre Iguodala are on the block--and while they could be players in free agency, a middling class isn't the immediate solution to their issues.

The same goes for the Knicks, who still have yet to figure out the Carmelo Anthony-Amar'e Stoudemire dilemma, not to mention whether Jeremy Lin is the permanent answer to their point-guard problem, if he even returns to New York.

As far as the two teams still playing, the Celtics look to be in line for a rebuilt roster with Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett hitting free agency this summer--the latter is rumored to be considering retirement--and multiple holes to plug on an aging squad either way, while the Heat, even if they make another run to the Finals and Chris Bosh gets healthy, simply can't and won't, as long as team president Pat Riley is in charge, continue with the same roster, built almost solely upon the duo of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade playing at a near-flawless level throughout the playoffs.

Sure, Miami could find some takers, at a reduced rate, to chase a ring, even if they'd make more money in another city, and there's always the possibility Bosh or Wade gets dealt--though talk of Wade's imminent demise has slowed since his postseason career-worst Game 3 performance against Indiana in the second round; trading Bosh would still leave a void inside and no executive worth his salt would trade James, the current league MVP--top Celtics executive Danny Ainge could pull a rabbit out of his hat, the Pacers or Sixers could somehow swing a deal that puts them over the top and the Knicks, one team apparently unafraid of the repercussions of the punitive luxury tax, could simply throw more money at their problems, but the odds of all of those things happening simultaneously are slim.

Meanwhile, the Bulls will enter next season with low expectations, but with some shrewd offseason judgment in both the upcoming draft and free agency, Deng's return to the lineup, Tom Thibodeau coaching--it would be in everybody's best interest if his contract extension was sorted out sooner than later, as general manager Gar Forman's announcement that the organization would pick up his option for next season didn't simply make it go away--the squad to somewhere between a fifth and eighth seed in the playoffs and Rose's eventual comeback would set the stage for, if not an outright postseason run, at least throwing a scare into a so-called contender.

Even if the some of the above doesn't occur, the determination of the players currently under contract and the preparation of the coaching staff will ensure that next season won't be as disastrous as some believe, setting the stage for the 2013-14 season, in which title contention is again a realistic goal, assuming that Rose is fully healthy.

It's worth mentioning that the free-agent class in the summer of 2013 is extremely deep, perhaps rivaling the group from the "Summer of LeBron," and while the Bulls will have to make a tough decision with their own free agent in Taj Gibson by then, they'll also be able to add a significant piece and dangle assets like the rights to their protected first-round pick acquired in the 2010 Tyrus Thomas deal with Charlotte and 2011 first-round pick Nikola Mirotic--though the organization remains high on the young forward, who won the "Rising Star" award for the Spanish ACB League's top young player, for the second consecutive season--as well as having a team option for Hamilton and even potentially amnestying a player, such as Boozer, since it would make more sense leading up to a season in which a title was a realistic goal.

Regardless, whatever direction the Bulls choose, the crux of the matter is that while the team obviously won't be at a contending level going into next season, they won't be as awful as some believe and they'll have several options moving forward, as well as a roster with many current players, barring trades, entering their prime years, something that makes the current outlook a lot less gloomy.

Unless just the right pieces fall into place or the Magic simply gift Dwight Howard to a conference rival, can the same truly be said for many of their peers?

Wendell Carter Jr. survives gauntlet of centers to begin career

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AP

Wendell Carter Jr. survives gauntlet of centers to begin career

Don't tell Wendell Carter Jr. the center position is a dying breed.

The 19-year-old rookie hasn't exactly been able to ease into the NBA, finding himself up against a handful of All-Stars and powerful frontcourts just five days into his career.

It culminated Monday night with a date against Mavericks center DeAndre Jordan, and once again the seventh overall pick held his own. It was much of the same as it was against Philadelphia's Joel Embiid and Detroit's Andre Drummond last week (and Nikola Jokic in the preseason finale): some good, some bad, plenty of poise and zero backing down. The NBA is unforgiving, but this could very well be the toughest stretch Carter faces all season.

"He’s playing against top level centers now," Fred Hoiberg said before Monday's game. "It’s a great experience for him. He’s going to learn and get better and he plays within himself, we will continue to look for him to be more aggressive."

He was as aggressive as the Bulls have seen him against Jordan and the Mavericks. He blew by the 20 and 18 minutes he played in the first two games of the year, totalling 32 minutes. His final line won't tell the story - 4 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists and a block - of a Carter who defended well at the rim, picking and choosing his spots on when to attack shots and when to simply use his verticality.

He wasn't credited for a block but he contested a Jordan dunk that turned into a Bobby Portis dunk on the other end. Plus-minus isn't always a good indicator of a player's worth, but Carter was a +5 in a 14-point Bulls loss. He even attempted a corner 3-pointer early in the shot clock, showing no hesitation. Carter's had his moments, but it's also apparent he's got a 19-year-old body going up against veterans each night. That'll come with time in the weight room. For now the experience is 

"I appreciate the fact I’m able to play against these very talented bigs early in my career," Carter said after the loss to the Pistons. "What I need to work on is I have to get stronger; that’s the first thing I recognize; just being up against the best. I love the competition. It’s always a great feeling going against the best."

What the Bulls are finding out is they have a player mature beyond his years. As he progresses he'll continue to get more difficult assignments. He had his rookie moment late in Monday's loss, committing a turnover in the backcourt after the Bulls had cut the deficit to five with 35 seconds left. The fouls are also an issue, as Carter has committed 10 in three games (after committing 17 in five preseason games).

That doesn't necessarily seem important for a Lottery-bound team, but considering the continued struggles of Robin Lopez (and Cristiano Felicio is entirely out of the rotation) it is. Lopez had 2 points and 1 rebound in 10 minutes while committing five personal fouls. In three games he has 11 personal fouls and 11 points, and also has more turnovers (five) than rebounds (four). If the Bulls are going to compete until Lauri Markkanen returns, Carter will need to hover around the 32 minutes he played Monday.

He'll get a much easier test on Wednesday when the Charlotte Hornets arrive in town. Cody Zeller doesn't exactly have the credentials of a Jokic or Embiid, meaning Carter may have a little more room to work. 

The Bulls know they have something in Carter. It'll be abother month until they can deploy him alongside Markkanen, but if the first three games are any indication, Carter won't have any problems matching up with some of the league's best.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Moral victory for the Bears?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Moral victory for the Bears?

David Schuster, Adam Jahns and Patrick Finley join Kap on the panel.

0:00- Dave Wannstedt joins the panel to discuss the Bears 38-31 loss to the Patriots? Was it a moral victory? Is Matt Nagy crazy to say Mitch Trubisky didn’t play that bad?

13:00- Joe Girardi pulls his name out of the Reds managerial search and Jon Heyman reports that industry sources believe he might wait to see if there’s an opening in Chicago. What are the chances that he replaces Joe Maddon?

14:30- Adam Amin joins Kap to preview the Bulls/Mavericks game and discuss the lack of defense in the NBA.