Bulls, Wizards have little in common


Bulls, Wizards have little in common

The Bulls' opponent Wednesday night at the United Center, the Wizards, share a few commonalities. The two franchises were the only team Michael Jordan ever played for and both feature explosive point guards who were former No. 1 overall draft picks after being coached in college for a season by John Calipari. That's where the similarities end.

Washington comes to Chicago with a 1-8 record, following Tuesday night's victory over the Raptors. An awful team last season, their performance was chalked up to youth and being a rebuilding year. But the Wizards have outdone themselves this season, as head coach Flip Saunders has basically accused the team of not playing hard or paying attention to scouting reports on opponents, while the players have admitted to playing too much one-on-one basketball.

John Wall, their second-year point guard, has been accused of regressing in his sophomore campaign. I've known Wall since he was an unknown high-school prospect, so I'm admittedly biased, but I know his work ethic (and witnessed it last summer, as he gallivanted across the country in search of competition and workouts to improve his game) and competitive spirit. Clearly, some of the blame has to fall upon his shoulders, as the organization's franchise player and starting point guard, but the Wizards' lack of veteran leadership (reserve swingmen Mo Evans and Roger Mason are quality role players and solid locker-room presences, but it's hard to make your opinion heard when you don't get the opportunity to impact the outcome of game's much) is severely lacking and with Andray Blatche and Nick Young, holdovers from a past, undisciplined and selfish era still aboard, Wall isn't exactly getting great mentoring on a daily basis.

Saunders appears to have lost his team already and will probably follow ouster Kings head coach Paul Westphal as the next NBA coach to be fired, but at least some of the fallout should affect the status of team general manager Ernie Grunfeld, who presided over the rise and fall of the organization in the wake of former All-Star guard Gilbert Arenas' fall from grace. While Grunfeld wasn't allowed to have contact with Wizards players during the lockout, it seems that he was wholly unprepared to make moves that could benefit the organization.

For example, it was well-known that Young, a restricted free agent, wanted out of Washington and one of the team's midseason acquisitions last year, fellow shooting guard Jordan Crawford, looked ready to fill the void, based on a solid end to his rookie campaign. But after other teams showed little to no interest in Young, the Wizards brought him back for his fourth season on a qualifying offer, a move that likely disappointed Young because of the financial ramifications and also won't help the team, as the noted gunner, in a second consecutive contract season, will likely stunt Crawford's development and focus on his individual success at the expense of a team he didn't want to return to.

Then, you have Blatche, who is certainly talented, but hasn't come close to living up to his multi-year contract extension, obtained after a breakout season and preceded by an offseason weight gain and injury. Another promising player, JaVale McGee -- Chicago fans might remember him from his late-game attempts to get a triple-double in the waning moments of a blowout loss against the Bulls last season -- is a rare true center and an athletic freak, whose pure athleticism rivals that of Dwight Howard's, hasn't developed much over his young career.

It isn't yet a lost cause for Wall or the Wizards -- rookies Chris Singleton and athletic Euro big man Jan Vesely both have potential, while second-year players Crawford and workhorse power forward Trevor Booker have excellent motors, if some limitations, and although it's hard to see a high-profile free agent signing with a team so down in the dumps, stranger things have happened to teams with cap space -- but with the direction the team is going in, they'll already have a great shot at the No. 1 overall pick in a loaded upcoming draft, so now is the time to clean house. Saunders is unlikely to finish the season in Washington, but Grunfeld should follow him out of the door and either the remaining personnel staff or whoever is hired to run their basketball operations needs to quickly evaluate who, besides Blatche and Young, doesn't deserve to stay.

But while hope springs eternal, it's unlikely to shine through for the Wizards at the United Center, as a focused Bulls team, even in the third game of their only back-to-back-to-back of the season, won't look to let up after seeing another young team in the Timberwolves, nearly shock them Tuesday night in Minnesota. One thing is for certain, though: when Derrick Rose, Luol Deng, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson talk about how miserable it was to be a .500 team and barely sneak into the playoffs as an eighth seed just a couple of years ago, all they have to do Wednesday is look at the visitors' bench to know the definition of real misery.

Bulls coach Jim Boylen stumps for Rudy Tomjanovich's Hall of Fame bid

USA Today

Bulls coach Jim Boylen stumps for Rudy Tomjanovich's Hall of Fame bid

In case you forgot, Jim Boylen once worked for Rudy Tomjanovich. In fact, the former Rockets coach gave Boylen his NBA start, hiring him as an assistant coach and video coordinator way back in 1992.

Boylen saw first-hand the coaching chops and commitment Tomjanovich displayed as the Rockets won back-to-back NBA titles while Michael Jordan was playing baseball in the mid-1990s. So it's beyond loyalty when Boylen says he believes, like many others, that Tomjanovich belongs in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. The organization named Tomjanovich a finalist over All-Star weekend in Chicago.

[RELATED: Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett highlight Hall of Fame finalists]

"He's deserving," Boylen said. "I don't know why he's not in there yet. It doesn't make sense to me. Two championships, a gold medal."

That's a reference to Tomjanovich coaching USA Basketball's gold-medal winning team at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Tomjanovich is an occasional visitor to the Advocate Center to watch Boylen.

"What he did with those Rockets teams and his playoff games — sixth seed in '95 — nobody's duplicated that. To win it from the sixth seed, play on the road like we did," Boylen said. "He has an unbelievable record in elimination games, which I think is a true test of your coaching and being able to communicate your message. I think he's getting in."

Does Boylen possess inside information?

"No," Boylen said, smiling. "He's due."

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Injury notes: Latest on Wendell Carter, Otto Porter, Lauri Markkanen, Kris Dunn

Injury notes: Latest on Wendell Carter, Otto Porter, Lauri Markkanen, Kris Dunn

Jim Boylen, Wendell Carter Jr. and Otto Porter Jr. spent the majority of their time speaking to media after the team’s first post-All-Star break practice laying a trail of injury-related tea leaves.

Carter has been sidelined with a high ankle sprain since Jan. 6, and Porter hasn’t played since spraining his foot on Nov. 6. Both took part in practice (which featured “some contact” according to Boylen) and are inching closer to respective returns, though nothing is official as of yet.

"Otto participated in practice and got his legs underneath him. Wendell, we kinda put him in for two possessions, then take him out for two and kinda getting him back comfortable," Boylen said.

“Just taking it one day at a time,” said Carter, who said on the Friday of All-Star weekend that he was shooting for a return this Thursday (Feb. 20) against the Hornets. “I practiced today and it felt okay, so I'm just taking it slow. Don't want to rush anything, and end up hurting again, so that's where I'm at right now.

“Depending on the coaching staff, depending on how I'm feeling come game time, of course I want to play Thursday, but I'm [going to] do what's best for the team and for myself."

Boylen declined to say officially whether Carter will be available Thursday, also taking a “we’ll see” approach. Carter is about six weeks into his initial four-to-six week recovery timeline.

Porter, who said he’s “close” to 100 percent, doesn’t yet know when he’ll be back and that “time will tell” how many practices he needs before sliding back into the Bulls’ lineup. He remains without a timetable, and said he is unsure if he’ll be eased back in on a minutes restriction when he is able to return.

“I was able to do everything. I feel good,” Porter said. “I’ll continue it a day at a time, making sure my pain is free."

When asked, Boylen said he doesn’t yet have a clear idea of when Lauri Markkanen (who has been out with a pelvis injury since Jan. 24) might return to practice. This Friday marks four weeks into Markkanen’s initial four-to-six week timeline

There was also no update on Kris Dunn on the two-week anniversary of his initial two-week re-examination timeline for a sprained right MCL suffered against the Nets on Jan. 31.

[RELATED: Bulls preparing for possibility of losing Kris Dunn for rest of season]

Still, things are moving in the right direction for the Bulls on the injury front. The team entered the All-Star break on a six-game losing streak that ties a season-high, but Boylen maintained playing competitive basketball down the stretch remains a goal. At 19-36, they will resume play five games behind the Magic for the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference.

“I think doing both, I think that's what our challenge is this year,” Boylen said of the team’s dual objectives of winning and developing. “Part of development is you hope to play in some meaningful games, and we've had a couple of those situations this year compared to last year, and I'm hoping we can have more. I'm hoping.

"Health is part of that and just getting better. I got a good group of guys that play hard, and we gotta continue to do that, and hopefully improve as we go down the stretch here.”

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