Expectations run high for Rose, Bulls


Expectations run high for Rose, Bulls

Coming off a league-best 62-win regular season campaign a year ago, expectations are high for the Chicago Bulls. Windy City native Derrick Rose became the youngest MVP in league history, Tom Thibodeau garnered NBA Coach of the Year honors in his first season as a professional head coach and with the recent acquisition of veteran shooting guard Richard Hamilton, a three-time All-Star, the team plugged what was regarded as its biggest hole.

However, after a disappointing Eastern Conference Finals defeat at the hands of Miami, several questions were raised about the squad's potential. Rose having to shoulder so much of the scoring load, prized free-agent signee Carlos Boozer's postseason ineffectiveness and center Joakim Noah's offensive output were chief among concerns for a group poised to contend for its first title since the Jordan era.

For casual observers who hadn't studied the Bulls -- who went under the radar for much of the season -- their formula of gritty hustle, their hometown hero's spectacular play and a stifling defense just didn't seem like enough to truly develop into a champion. With all due respect to fans and so-called expert naysayers alike, they're wrong.

Chicago's consistent defensive effort, in a second year under Thibodeau, should only get better as evidenced by Friday's preseason opener against Central Division rival Indiana. The up-and-coming Pacers were held to 2-of-23 shooting in the second quarter after scoring a gaudy 33 points in the opening period, as well as a paltry 17-of-66 mark for the final three stanzas. Yes, it was only an exhibition contest, following a prolonged offseason due to the NBA lockout, but the Bulls' defense was already in midseason form.

Additionally, the notion that Rose has a non-existent supporting cast on offense is a misguided theory. While the product of the City of Big Shoulders does indeed carry on immense burden on his 23-year-old back, it shouldn't be ignored that underrated small forward Luol Deng is coming off perhaps the best all-around season of his career. Most importantly, he played in all 82 regular season games and ranked third in the league in minutes per game, no small feat -- and for all the commotion about Boozer underachieving, the power forward put up numbers fairly similar to his averages in Utah, where he was a two-time All-Star for the Jazz.

Now, Noah's production certainly tailed off after he returned from a two-month injury layoff -- prior to that, he appeared to be headed toward his first All-Star Game appearance as one of the NBA's top rebounders with excellent passing ability for a big man and providing a scoring threat with his patented, unique "Tornado" elbow jumper. His worth can't be accurately judged by his nightly point totals; rather, his dominant work on the glass, ability to keep up with Rose in transition and defensive presence are his hallmarks.

Last season's fifth starter, rugged shooting guard Keith Bogans, was vastly unappreciated for his contributions, which mostly consisted of toughness, veteran leadership and physical defense. But even the most ardent Bogans fan is aware that the team's perimeter firepower needed an upgrade, something Hamilton, one of the premier mid-range artists in the game -- although not necessarily a prolific shooter from deep range -- should be able to provide, along with his championship experience.

Joining the organization's newest addition in helping to spread the floor is holdover reserve Kyle Korver, one of the league's top marksmen. Fellow backup swingman Ronnie Brewer (Rose's starting backcourt mate for the time being, as Hamilton learns Thibodeau's complex system) gives the team some size, athleticism and active defense on the wing. Backup point guard C.J. Watson excels at defensive ball pressure and instant offense.

But perhaps the best-kept secret in the league is the young post tandem of Taj Gibson and Omer Asik, a formidable, paint-protecting duo on the back line of the defense that also possesses some scoring capability, particularly Gibson, who started for the Bulls during his first-team NBA All-Rookie debut campaign as well as at the beginning of last season, when Boozer was sidelined by injury. The only missing piece for the "Bench Mob," the nickname for Chicago's potent second unit is big man Kurt Thomas, the league's oldest player, who migrated to Portland as a free agent. Extremely underrated, Thomas was able to rack up DNP's for months seemingly, then start in place of either Noah or Boozer, and the team wouldn't miss a beat.

And then there's Rose. More significant than his MVP season was his personal development -- as a more vocal team leader, an improved outside shooter, a savvier penetrator, more intelligent defender and overall clutch performer. It's something that hasn't gone unnoticed by his teammates, who once treated him like a precocious little brother with gobs of talent and now regard him as a player they expect to take over contests on a nightly basis, if he so chooses.

The understanding and appreciation of each member of a team's individual abilities is such a rare and special thing to observe, but the Bulls seem to have it down to a science, as very seldom will a player march to the beat of his own drum. When they're seen yelling at each other, the purpose is usually to encourage, not chastise. In a truncated season because of the lockout, the Bulls' cohesiveness and chemistry, on and off the court, will serve them well, especially when it's considered how self-motivated they are as a unit by the quest to win a championship.

That starts and ends with Thibodeau, who is so consumed by the singular goal of winning that his obsessive, workaholic nature immediately spread amongst his charges upon his arrival in Chicago. It's not a shock to know that Thibodeau is in his Berto Center office from almost daybreak to the wee hours of the night -- if not on the court, working out a player himself -- just as it's unsurprising to see various players hanging around late for extra repetitions or to see the team, en masse, eating out together on the road.

That said, great team chemistry might not be enough to knock off LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and the Heat, if the teams match up again in the playoffs. But with the improvements the Bulls have made, the burning desire to avenge their failure, guidance from the ultra-focused Thibodeau, a defense that requires near-flawless offense to overcome its vise-like grip on scorers and the brilliance of Rose, it wouldn't be wise to bet against them.

Ryan Hollins says Golden State Warriors would "run laps" around the '96 Bulls


Ryan Hollins says Golden State Warriors would "run laps" around the '96 Bulls

Former NBA journeyman Ryan Hollins made waves on Tuesday, stating that Kobe Bryant or Michael Jordan couldn’t “fill LeBron’s shoes”. Hollins argues that LeBron James cemented himself as the greatest player of all-time with his impact on multiple franchises and his knocking off of the Golden State Warriors in the 2016 NBA Finals. 

Hollins doubled down on his argument, saying that the Golden State Warriors would “run laps around that Bulls team”. Shaquille O’Neal brings up the valuable point that whichever team has the upper hand would depend a lot on what rules they played on, the more physical 1990s rules or the more finesses-based and offensive-oriented current rule set. Hollins believes that the Warriors would defeat the 90s Bulls regardless of what rules they played under, and O’Neal simply could not believe it.

“Whoever’s paying him to say all this stuff, I will pay you double to stop it,” said a bewildered Shaq. He knows a thing or two about playing against the 90s Bulls, as he was a key member of the Orlando Magic team that knocked off MJ’s Bulls in six games in the 1994-95 Eastern Conference Semifinals.

With All-NBA level talent Anthony Davis now headed to LeBron’s team, we could be seeing James back in the NBA title picture sooner than later. A return to the NBA Finals stage would add even more layers to the already complex, never-ending back-and-forth over who the true GOAT is in NBA history.

NBA Buzz: Expect a lot of movement at the start of Thursday's NBA Draft


NBA Buzz: Expect a lot of movement at the start of Thursday's NBA Draft

As we get closer to the New Orleans Pelicans going on the clock with the 1st pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, rumors are flying all over the basketball universe. All of a sudden, it seems like a handful of teams are trying to trade up to draft Vanderbilt point guard Darius Garland, even though he only played five games as a freshman before season-ending meniscus injury. Remember, Kyrie Irving only played 11 games at Duke because of injury and still wound up being the No. 1 overall pick by Cleveland back in 2011.

The Knicks are planning to work out Garland on Wednesday, but it’s not believed they would take him over high-scoring Duke swingman R.J. Barrett with the 3rd overall pick. Apparently, the Knicks are just doing their due diligence in case they get an overwhelming offer to trade down. With that said, don’t be surprised if we see at least a couple trades involving the top 10 picks on draft night.

Here’s my final mock draft looking at what could happen in the lottery on Thursday.

  1. PELICANS-Zion Williamson, F, Duke.  No surprises here. New Orleans gets its franchise player to start a new era under Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations David Griffin. Griffin is an extremely bright executive who made an excellent trade with the Lakers over the weekend, getting maximum value for unhappy star Anthony Davis.

  2. GRIZZLIES-Ja Morant, PG, Murray St.  Memphis also in rebuild mode after dealing Marc Gasol to Toronto at the deadline, with Mike Conley also likely to be traded this summer. Morant is the perfect player to build around with his play-making ability and charisma.

  3. KNICKS-R.J. Barrett, SG-SF, Duke.   The Knicks are holding a last-minute workout with Darius Garland, but that could just be to try to drive up better trade offers. Barrett’s scoring ability is a perfect fit for a team that desperately needs more scoring at the wing spots.

  4. HAWKS (trade w/New Orleans) -Jarrett Culver, SG, Texas Tech. Armed with 3 first round picks, the Hawks cash in No. 8 and No. 10 to acquire a perfect backcourt complement for last season’s rookie sensation Trae Young. If New Orleans decides to keep the pick, I still think Culver goes here.

  5. BULLS   (from Cavs)-Darius Garland, PG, Vanderbilt.  Bulls trade the 7th pick and a top 5 protected 2020 1st rounder to Cavs to acquire their point guard of the future. According to multiple reports, the Bulls have traveled to Los Angeles to watch Garland in a private workout, and they’ve been high on his potential since early in the college season. John Paxson is looking to make the team playoff relevant again, and acquiring Garland gives the Bulls a dynamic, young starting line-up with the chance to add a couple of quality veterans to strengthen the bench and the locker room in free agency.

  6. SUNS-Coby White, PG, North Carolina.  Phoenix also in desperate need of a point guard to run their young team. White’s speed and scoring ability should open things up for shooting star Devin Booker, and also set up screen and roll opportunities with last year’s No. 1 overall pick Deandre Ayton.

  7. CAVS-Cam Reddish, F, Duke.   Since the Cavs just drafted point guard Collin Sexton last season, moving down 2 spots to get the player they want anyway is a perfect trade scenario. Some scouts believe Reddish has the most star potential outside of the top 3, and he can step right into the starting small forward spot once held by Northeast Ohio’s favorite son LeBron James.

  8. PELICANS-Jaxson Hayes, C, Texas.  After trading Davis to Lakers, New Orleans has a major need to solidify the post position. Hayes is only 19 with excellent potential as a rim runner and shot blocker, ala Houston’s Clint Capela. The Pelicans will have to be patient with Hayes’ development, but he could eventually be a good fit playing alongside Zion and Brandon Ingram.

  9. WIZARDS-De’Andre Hunter, F, Virginia.  Washington will be thrilled to see Hunter fall this far. The Wizards are likely to lose both Bobby Portis and Jabari Parker in free agency, so they’ll need some reinforcements on the frontline. Hunter shot 52 percent from the field and 44 percent from the college 3-point line in leading Virginia to the national championship this past season. He should start immediately on a Washington team that will likely be without star guard John Wall for most of the 2019-20 season while he rehabs from an Achilles injury.

  10. ROCKETS (from Pelicans) -Rui Hachimura, PF, Gonzaga. Griffin probably doesn’t want to make three top 10 picks in a shallow draft, so he’ll send this selection to Houston for a future first-round selection. Rockets’ GM Daryl Morey is desperate to re-tool his roster after coming up short against the Warriors for the second straight season. Hachimura is a highly skilled power forward who will give Houston some needed scoring punch on the frontline.

  11. TIMBERWOLVES-Sekou Doumbouya, F, France.  Minnesota needs some frontline help with the likelihood of losing former Bull Taj Gibson in free agency. Doumbouya came on strong late in his European season and scouts like his potential as a 6-foot-9  athlete with a smooth stroke from 3-point range.

  12. HORNETS-Kevin Porter, Jr., SG, USC.   With the possibility of high-scoring Kemba Walker and shooting guard Jeremy Lamb leaving in free agency, the Hornets need some help in the backcourt. Porter is a dynamic athlete who could develop into a go-to scorer at the NBA level.

  13. HEAT-Keldon Johnson, SG-SF, Kentucky.  Johnson is moving up draft boards with strong showings in individual team workouts. Miami will be looking to replace the wing scoring they lost with Dwyane Wade’s retirement, and they’re also looking to trade oft-injured shooting guard Dion Waiters.

  14. CELTICS (from Sacramento)-Romeo Langford, SG, Indiana.  With the likely departure of All-Star guard Kyrie Irving in free agency, Boston will need to add some backcourt scoring to go along with young wing players Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Langford shot poorly in his one season at Indiana, but he played most of the year with a torn ligament in his right thumb. He began the college season as a likely top 10 pick.

Purdue Carsen Edwards hoping to crack the first round 

The Bulls also currently hold the No. 38 overall pick, which they acquired from Memphis in the Justin Holiday trade. Don’t be surprised if the Bulls trade the pick or use it on a European prospect who might not come to the league for a couple of years like forwards Luka Samanic or Deividas Sirvydis. They also could take a chance on Missouri big man Jontay Porter (Michael Porter’s brother), who might not play next season after suffering a second ACL tear. Another possibility is a first round talent falling into the second round like Purdue’s high-scoring guard Carsen Edwards.

Edwards led the Boilermakers to the NCAA’s Elite 8, putting up a pair of 42-point games against Villanova and eventual national champion Virginia. "Every game we won I enjoyed it, you know, moving on. I was just happy to be able to play the next game. Kind of enjoying it, staying in the moment, but then also getting ready for the next game. I enjoyed it with my teammates because it wasn't just me who won all those games and got us on the run that we had. I feel that we enjoyed it and for the most part we did it as a collective team."

For the season, the 6-foot-1 guard averaged 24.3 points per game, reminding some scouts of former Bull Ben Gordon with his quick-strike scoring ability. His size would suggest playing point guard in the NBA, but like Gordon, Edwards is really an undersized shooting guard. Still, he’s willing to shift to a facilitator role if needed. "I just want to do whatever a team needs from me. They want me to prove that, which I'm working hard just to be able to be ready for that. But at the same time, Coach (Matt) Painter didn't tell me that's the role I need to play, so it's hard for me to prove that when I need to score the ball for my team to win. At the end of the day, I was trying to do what's best for my team. If they want me to be a point guard and run the offense, then that's what I'm prepared to do."

Until his scoring explosion in the NCAA tournament, Edwards was projected to be a second-round pick in this draft, but given the success of smaller scoring guards in the league like Steph Curry, Kyrie Irving, Kemba Walker, and Damian Lillard, he could hear his name called somewhere in the 20s on Thursday. Still, Edwards isn’t wasting any time focusing on mock drafts.

"We'll see. There's a strategy we have for it, but for the most part, I'm trying not to focus on that. Honestly, I truly try not to look at those things. I just try to stay motivated by myself and do what I need to do. My agency has a strategy for me, and I just kind of work and follow after that."

Would the Bulls consider Edwards if he falls to 38? A lot depends on who they select in the first round and which players they plan to target when the free agent market opens at 5 p.m. on June 30. But the NBA has become a perimeter-based league--with 3-point shooting at a premium--so a player like Edwards figures to have a lot of value. Matter of fact, don’t be surprised if the Golden State Warriors pick him at 28 after losing Klay Thompson for most or all of next season due to an ACL injury.

The Big Ten won’t be getting a lot of attention in this year’s draft with only Romeo Langford and possibly Edwards expected to go in Round 1, but the Purdue star isn’t lacking confidence. After leading the Boilermakers within an overtime loss of reaching the Final 4, he plans of earning rotation minutes as a rookie for whichever team drafts him Thursday night.