Bulls

Harrington Not the Answer to Bulls Problems

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Harrington Not the Answer to Bulls Problems

Friday, December 4th

by Mark Schanowski
CSNChicago.com

So, what do you think about the rumor suggesting the Bulls are interested in trading Tyrus Thomas and Jerome James' expiring contract to the Knicks for Al Harrington? Please post your comments in the section below.

You can put me in the "against it" camp. Harrington has been a decent scorer in his NBA career, averaging 14 points a game with the Pacers, Hawks, Warriors and Knicks, but he's been on mostly bad teams except for his early days as a teenager who didn't play in Indiana, and has never really been a guy who does the intangible things that help teams win. Right now, the Bulls are a jump-shooting team struggling to boost their field goal percentage, and I don't think adding another perimeter gunner is the right way to accomplish that.

Harrington is coming off the bench in New York, and he's a pretty good fit for Mike D'Antoni's fast-paced system. Harrington is averaging 19.5 points per game, and scored 41 in a game against Denver last week. But the 6-9 Harrington has never been a good defensive player, and doesn't like to go inside for his points.

Basically, he would give the Bulls a player very similar to Luol Deng and John Salmons, so shot attempts and touches in the halfcourt offense might become an issue. Also, the Bulls are trying to become a better defensive team this season, and Harrington just doesn't fit in that equation. He's a "tweener", not really a small forward or a power forward, so he has problems matching up defensively at either position. And, he's also been accused of being a selfish and disinterested player at various times in his career. With Harrington set to become a free agent at season's end, he'll be looking to put up offensive numbers, and probably not worry all that much about winning and losing, especially since he would be a one year rental with the Bulls.

Of course, keeping Tyrus is also a risk. Thomas will be a restricted free agent at season's end, and the Bulls would have to renounce his rights to free up enough cap room to bid on a "max" free agent next summer. So, do you hold on to Tyrus in the hopes he finally turns the corner in his career, and then let him walk for nothing at the end of the season? It's a difficult decision for the Bulls' front office to make, especially since Tyrus has never been one of Vinny Del Negro's favorite players.

Del Negro has been bothered by Thomas' inconsistency and stubborn attitude, but he also conceded during the recent road trip that the Bulls really miss the skills Thomas brings to the table. The interior defense just hasn't been the same without Thomas' shot-blocking ability, and the Western teams feasted on the Bulls to the tune of 50 to 60 points a night in the paint. Plus, Tyrus is usually good for two or three dunks a game, many of them in spectacular fashion. It's hard to measure what those kinds of athletic plays do for a team's psyche during the course of a long 48 minute game. Right now, the Bulls run a lot of extended motion sets just trying to free up Deng or Salmons for an open jumper. Tyrus isn't a great scorer, but he's one of the few guys on the team who can get easy baskets inside because of his leaping ability and timing on the offensive boards.

So what should the Bulls do for now? Thomas should be back from his broken arm in another week to 10 days. I would let him work his way back into shape, and then get him back in the starting line-up. Taj Gibson has been a nice addition, but he's prone to foul trouble and isn't a great defensive rebounder. Let Gibson learn the pro game playing 15 to 20 minutes off the bench, and reduce the work load on Joakim Noah, Brad Miller and Deng. The Bulls can use a bigger line-up at times with Tyrus playing the small forward spot along with Gibson and Noah, or even go very big with Thomas, Noah and Miller up front.

It's imperative the Bulls make an intelligent decision on what kind of player Thomas can become, and the only way they can do that is to give him extended playing time the rest of the season. If some team holding one of the elite free agents panics and decides to make their star player available in a trade closer to the February deadline, then you can use your best available asset (Thomas). We're already hearing talk that Toronto might consider trading Chris Bosh because of the likelihood he won't sign back with the Raptors next summer.

And, who knows what other players might become available. The list could include Amare Stoudemire, Antawn Jamison, David West, Elton Brand, Tracy McGrady, Rip Hamilton, Michael Redd and others.

That's why I think the Bulls would be making a mistake by trading Thomas now for a decent, but limited player like Al Harrington. It's tough to be patient, especially when the Bulls could finish as high as 5th in the East with a little more scoring punch. But the plan all along has been to wait until the summer of 2010 to pursue the big free agents like LeBron, D-Wade, Bosh, Stoudemire and Joe Johnson.

Harrington's expiring contract wouldn't hurt the Bulls' long term plans, but they're probably better served to wait with Thomas, see how he's playing when he returns, and then make a decision on any possible deals closer to the February deadline.

The Bulls will get an up-close look at Bosh Saturday night when the Raptors visit the United Center. I'm sure he'll be asked a lot of questions about his interest in coming to Chicago next season!

Kendall Gill will join me courtside to preview the Bulls-Raptors game on SportsNite at 6:30, and you can watch all the action on Comcast SportsNet starting at 7.

As always, we welcome all your comments and e-mails. Enjoy the hoops!

Mark Schanowski hosts our Bulls pre and post game studio coverage with 15-year NBA veteran Kendall Gill. You can also watch Mark on SportsNite, Sunday through Thursday at 6:30 and 10.

Player development still the key in Year 2 of the Bulls rebuild

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USA TODAY

Player development still the key in Year 2 of the Bulls rebuild

In talking with Bulls' fans over the summer and reading posts on social media, it seems like expectations for the 2018-19 season are all over the board.

Some fans think the Bulls will finish at or slightly above the .500 mark and contend for a playoff spot, others are looking for more modest improvement with a win total in the low to mid 30's, while others believe Fred Hoiberg's team will be among the worst in the league.

Reality probably lies in the middle ground. Bulls' General Manager Gar Forman told us on media day the goals will be to win as many games as possible while still focusing on individual player development. The Bulls will again be among the NBA's youngest teams with 9 of their top 11 players under the age of 25. 

Bulls' Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations John Paxson made it clear at the end of last year's 27-55 campaign that he couldn't endure another season of manipulating the roster and player rotations to improve draft lottery chances, while Hoiberg enters the 4th season of his 5 year contract needing to show improvement to keep his position as head coach. 

Clearly, no one in the front office or coaching staff is talking about tanking with the hopes of landing a top 3 pick in the 2019 draft. The Bulls will play to win this season, but they’ll also have to ride out the normal highs and lows of competing with such a young roster.

So, as a Bulls' fan, what should you be watching for this season to judge how much the team has improved? Here's what I'll be looking for:

1. Will Lauri Markkanen take the next step towards All-Star status?

Losing your best player on the 3rd day of training camp isn't the ideal way to start a season, but the good news is Markkanen should return from his elbow injury around Thanksgiving with plenty of time to re-establish himself as one of the league's rising stars. The 1st team All-Rookie selection put on needed bulk and muscle in the off-season to improve his low post game and he's ready to punish smaller defenders who switch on to him in pick and roll situations. Markkanen has all the tools to become a top 30 player in the league. The question is, how much closer will he come to reaching that status this season?

2. Is Zach LaVine all the way back?

Judging by what we saw during the preseason, LaVine appears to be ready to pick up where he left off during his 3rd year in Minnesota when he was averaging 18.9 points per game and shooting nearly 39% from 3 point range before an ACL injury set him back. LaVine should average 20 points a game or more this season, but how much he improves in other areas of his game (particularly on the defensive end), will be the key to whether the Bulls made the right decision in matching that 4 year, 78 million dollar offer sheet LaVine signed with the Sacramento Kings back in July. If LaVine reclaims his status as one of the league’s most promising wing players, the Bulls will have at least two foundation pieces in place. 

3. Can the backcourt pairing of LaVine and Kris Dunn succeed long term?

The Bulls' young guards didn't get a chance to play many minutes together last season because of LaVine's ACL rehab and Dunn's scary fall after making a breakaway dunk against Golden State. Both players are most comfortable with the ball in their hands, and both showed the ability to make big shots at the end of games. Dunn will need to sacrifice some of his offensive game to get the ball into the hands of the team's best shooters, but he's already one of the better defensive point guards in the league and looks like a potential leader on future Bulls' playoff squads. Developing better chemistry with LaVine is critical in year 2 of the rebuild.

4. Is Wendell Carter Jr. the answer at center?

The Bulls used the 7th pick in last June's draft to grab the 6'10" big man, who played in the considerable shadow of Marvin Bagley during their one season together at Duke. Carter Jr. showed enough during Summer League play and pre-season games to move into the starting line-up ahead of 10 year veteran Robin Lopez, but whether he's ready to stay there is another question. Carter Jr. is an excellent rim protector and also has the lateral quickness to switch out on to smaller perimeter players, but right now he's a reluctant shooter. Given the fact Carter Jr. is only 19, it will be fascinating to track how much he improves throughout his rookie season. Did the Bulls strike gold again with the #7 pick?

5. How does Jabari Parker fit?

More than a few eyebrows were raised around the league when the Bulls decided to sign the Chicago native to a 2 year, 40 million dollar free agent contract. Parker was expecting to move to the small forward spot, but returned to power forward when Markkanen was injured, and then moved to the bench when the coaching staff wasn't happy with how the starting line-up was playing early in the pre-season. Parker could be a valuable weapon as a big-time scorer and facilitator with the 2nd unit, but if he's unhappy with his role or playing time, this season could turn out to be an unhappy homecoming. How Parker adapts to the challenges of establishing his role will determine whether the Bulls exercise the team option on the 2nd year of his contract. 

6. Which other players will be part of the roster when the Bulls are a playoff team again?

Questions remain about a number of the team's young players. Bobby Portis has established himself as a legitimate NBA scorer and team leader; his improved 3 point shooting will be critical to the team's success, whether he starts or comes off the bench. But after failing to reach agreement on a contract extension by the Monday deadline, will Portis be chasing stats as he looks ahead to restricted free agency next summer? Denzel Valentine, Cameron Payne and rookie Chandler Hutchison will all have to make the most of limited minutes, with each player needing to prove to the coaching staff and front office they deserve to be in the rotation long term.

So, don't get caught up in the Bulls chasing some arbitrary win total number. Even though the Eastern Conference is weaker overall than the West, Boston, Toronto, Philadelphia, Indiana, Milwaukee, Washington, Miami and Detroit all appear to be likely playoff teams, barring an injury to a key player. 

Hoiberg's offense will continue to emphasize pace, floor spacing and 3 point shooting which should bring out the best in a young and developing roster. 

2018-19 NBA Power Rankings: Opening Week edition

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USA TODAY

2018-19 NBA Power Rankings: Opening Week edition

The theme of the 2018-19 NBA season will be: “old faces in new places”. Like a season-long game of the NBA on TNT crew’s “Who he play for?” game, this year will be about fans trying to get used to the idea of LeBron James in purple (I won’t call it ‘Forum Blue’)-and-gold, DeMarcus Cousins being on a championship-contending franchise and Kawhi Leonard being the new face of Toronto.

The Warriors are still the easy favorite to make it four NBA championships in five years, but they will be tested perhaps more than any year before in a loaded Western Conference, where even the lowliest of teams (here’s to you Phoenix and Memphis!) made solid offseason moves geared towards winning games.

Over in the now-LeBron-less East, there is hope amongst at least four-to-five teams that they could actually have a shot to win the conference. The Pacers still have budding superstar Victor Oladipo, the Sixers still have Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, and the Raptors and Bucks made head coaching changes that could lead to deep playoff runs. But with the rest of the Eastern conference being stuck between lottery contention and middle of the pack, expect the half-experienced, half-youthful Celtics to takeover as East juggernaut.

But whether or not your favorite franchise is aiming for a high draft pick or a postseason berth, there is tons to be excited in a 2018-19 NBA season that will surely be an intriguing one. Check out Week 1 of our NBA Power Rankings right here.