Bulls

Bulls should expect a more aggressive LeBron James

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Bulls should expect a more aggressive LeBron James

CLEVELAND — It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that either the long layoff hurt LeBron James or Chicago’s defense did in Game 1 on Monday, with the road team taking full advantage in stealing the series opener.

And the beauty of this delicate dance between two talented teams is James has a chance to respond, while the Bulls have a chance to prepare for the alterations James will try to make.

For one, anybody with a set of eyes can tell you James wasn’t his usual aggressive self. Jimmy Butler wasn’t backing down and he had a gang of teammates behind him ready to help, knowing not too many of James’ teammates could beat them.

“I have to be better,” James said.

[MORE: 3 unsung keys to the Bulls' Game 1 victory over the Cavs]

James’ 19 points weren’t enough, nor were his 22 shots. In his third opening-game series loss to the Chicago Bulls, their star, Derrick Rose, didn’t want to hear anything about the past. Rose has deflected bringing up the past in interviews leading into the series and took the same tone Tuesday after the Bulls’ film session.

“I hadn’t thought about it unless I’m being asked,” Rose said.

But when asked what he feels James is going through mentally, Rose offered a glimpse into James’ thinking.

“I think he’s…I really don’t know,” Rose said. “Being aggressive, I think he’s gonna try to dictate the whole game from both sides of the ball.”

“And we have to prepare for that because he can actually do that. There’s a couple things he can do but I don’t want to talk about it (laughs).”

James has publicly stated he’ll be more aggressive, and the Cavaliers have to strategically change plenty of things before Game 2 — most notably their deplorable pick-and-roll defense — but one has to wonder if a change in James’ attitude will be the biggest alteration.

But if James takes over, will that play right into the Bulls’ hands? Talk about a delicate dance the Bulls are walking, along with James. If James becomes super aggressive, what does that do to Kyrie Irving, a player who isn’t a natural facilitator?

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Strategically, the Cavaliers could run more with their smallish lineup, but Cavaliers coach David Blatt could be overmatched here.

“They have a unique offense because of what LeBron brings to them,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “Kyrie can handle the point. You can never let your guard down against them. They can score 10 points in less than a minute. They can play in a number of ways and you have to be ready for the different looks and hopefully we can do a good job getting our defense back and being set.”

Along with Iman Shumpert, who scored a surprising 22 points, those three were the only impactful men wearing home whites on Monday night. And the Bulls certainly appear to have struck a blow that could last longer than 48 minutes.

Rose was asked how the Cavaliers would play him any differently, but he could very well have been James speaking about what the Bulls do to him.

“Who knows? That’s the great thing about the playoffs,” Rose said. “Even if I’m not scoring or having a bad game you gotta figure things out. I can’t go into the game having that thought in my mind. Only having good thoughts.”

It’s certainly going to take more than good thoughts for James to overcome another complex puzzle, one which the Bulls are happy to change around rapidly every game this series.

How the Bulls can land a max-salary free agent

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USA TODAY

How the Bulls can land a max-salary free agent

The Bulls will enter free agency with approximately $20 million in cap space. That’s far short of the amount needed to sign a max-salary player, but there is a path for the team to land a star — if one chooses to play in Chicago. With rumors out of Brooklyn that D’Angelo Russell would be on his way out if the Nets sign Kyrie Irving, coupled with the uncertain futures of both Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant, Bulls fans are wondering “what if.” I’ll let much wiser people debate if the Bulls should extend an offer to any of these players; I’ll outline how it could happen.

In terms of this discussion, it’s very important to note that not all free agents are eligible for the same max salary. The league has three tiers of max free agents, broken up by years of service. Players with 0-6 years of service are in one tier, 7-9 years in another, and 10+ years of service in the last.

Players in the more experienced tiers can get a much larger contract over players coming off their rookie contracts. The wonderful Larry Coon explains this in detail in his CBA FAQ. The exact 2019-20 salary cap will be announced at the end of the month. It’s currently projected at $109 million, and for this scenario, we use that number. Essentially, tier 1 players can get 25 percent of the cap, tier 2 30 percent and players with 10+ years of experience can get 35 percent of a team’s cap.

Russell would fall into the 0-6 years tier, earning him a first year salary (the one that matters in terms of cap space) of approximately $27.2 million. Klay Thompson has eight seasons of experience and is eligible for a first-year salary of about $32.7 million. His teammate Kevin Durant can sign a max deal starting at $38 million.

Step 1- Get medical waiver on Omer Asik’s $3 million cap hit.

The Bulls will find out by June 30 if the league approves their waiver request on Asik. The former Bulls big has a $3 million cap hit of guaranteed money on the books for the 2019-20 season. The team waived Asik back in October and it looks like his NBA career may be over after dealing with arthritis and Crohn’s Disease. The NBA is likely to approve the Bulls request, and they’ll get that money back in cap space for free agency.

Step 2- Waive and stretch Cristiano Felicio

The league allows teams to waive players and stretch their contracts over several years to lessen the immediate cap hit a team takes. Felicio is owed approximately $15.7 million over the next two seasons. The stretch provision means teams can spread out the cap hit of a waived player twice the years remaining on the deal, plus one. This translates to a cap hit of approximately $3.1 million over the next fives years instead of the amount he’s owed. This means the Bulls would gain an additional $5 million in cap space this summer.

Accomplishing steps 1 and 2 will clear enough cap space for the Bulls to sign a 0-6 year free agent, so if Russell wants to play for the Bulls and the front office feels he’d be a good fit, it would only take these two steps to sign him. It gets more complicated for the more experienced free agents.

Step 3- Trade Kris Dunn for a 2nd round pick.

Dunn is owed $5.3 million for the 2019-20 season. Trading him for a second round pick would net the Bulls a cap saving of $4.4 million. The reason the Bulls don’t get to keep the full amount is that teams have to account for a roster spot against the cap when they go below 12 players. Trading Dunn would get them into the 7-9 years tier and allow them to sign Klay Thompson (or any of the other free agents at that tier).

Step 4A- Trade out of the first round of the 2019 draft

Here is where it gets a lot more difficult for the Bulls if they want to sign a 10+ year free agent. They have to clear about $5 million more in cap space. Let’s safely assume they aren’t going to trade Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen or Wendell Carter for pennies on the dollar just to clear cap space. Otto Porter’s contract makes him a very unlikely trade candidate as well. Trading the No. 7 pick for a future first nets them another $4.4 million, close enough to get to that max slot with other small moves.

The major flaw with this is the draft is June 20 and free agency starts 10 days later. You’re not going to get a commitment from any superstar worth this amount until June 30, so essentially this option is off the table.

Step 4B- Trade Denzel Valentine and Chandler Hutchison for second round picks

This option is a lot more likely if the Bulls can sign a superstar in the 10+ years tier. Hutchison showed promise in his rookie season, and despite missing all of last season, Valentine should be able to get you something (especially if packaged with Hutchison). I doubt the team wants to punt on Hutchison after one season, but they'd have to, if this was the only thing in the way of signing a franchise changing star.

If you want to dream for the Bulls, our friends at NBC Sports Boston put together a list of the top free agents available. The likelihood is that the Bulls will use their cap space to sign a few veteran free agents to give them some much needed depth, but should they dream big, there is a path to be in play for a star.

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Bulls not a part of Anthony Davis-to-the-Lakers trade, but it could have an effect on the draft

Bulls not a part of Anthony Davis-to-the-Lakers trade, but it could have an effect on the draft

Farewell, Lonzo Ball-to-the-Bulls rumors.

ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported Saturday evening that the Los Angeles Lakers have finally acquired Anthony Davis from the New Orleans Pelicans, and the deal doesn't include a third team.

In exchange for Davis, a six-time All-Star about to enter his prime, the Pelicans recieved Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball and three first round picks, including the No. 4 pick in next week's NBA Draft.

There was some speculation - also reported by Woj - that a third team would need to get involved in order to satisfy what Pelicans GM David Griffin was looking for in a package for Davis.

Though the Bulls were never directly connected in reports as a potential third team, it made sense considering they own the No. 7 pick and have a need at point guard.

There was also some speculation - though, again, never concrete news or reports - that Zach LaVine could have been an option in a deal, with the Bulls acquiring the No. 4 pick.

Alas, the Bulls aren't part of the deal. But it still may have an effect on them.

The Pelicans now own the Nos. 1 and 4 picks in next week's draft. They're obviously going to take Duke forward Zion Williamson with the first pick but now have options at No. 4. Whereas the Lakers had been linked to Vanderbilt poing guard Darius Garland, the Pelicans really don't have a need there with Ball and Jrue Holiday in the backcourt.

That, in theory, could bump Garland down to No. 6 and the Phoenix Suns, which would then free up the Bulls to take North Carolina's Coby White at No. 7.

Wojnarowski also reported that teams are still inquiring about the No. 4 pick from the Pelicans. It's unlikely the Bulls would depart with LaVine though maybe they could put together some sort of package to move up from No. 7.

What's more likely is the Bulls keep their assets intact in such a weak draft class and move forward with the best player available on the board at No. 7.

But it's officially Woj Bomb season, so buckle up. As is the case every NBA offseason, anything can and will happen.