Bulls

Running with the Bulls: Breaking down busy week

180174.jpg

Running with the Bulls: Breaking down busy week

Friday, May 28, 20108:09 AM

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

From President Barack Obama's endorsement of his former stomping grounds as the best potential landing spot for LeBron James to unsubstantiated speculation that former Bulls head coach Phil Jackson would be open to a return to the Windy City next season -- not to mention native son and Miami Heat star Dwyane Wade, a free agent this summer, questioning the organization's loyalty (watch Steve Schanwald's response to Wade) -- Chicago's fortunes continue to be a hot topic around the NBA. While those more sensationalized headlines have captivated league observers, the franchise itself quietly is muddling along in their search for a new head coach.

Of the league's coaching vacancies -- with the recent firing of Mike Brown, Cleveland joins New Jersey, New Orleans, Atlanta and Chicago as teams with current openings -- Philadelphia was the first domino to fall, as they hired TNT analyst and former Bulls (and Wizards and Pistons) head coach Doug Collins as the man to patrol the sidelines in the City of Brotherly Love last week. New Orleans is expected to be the team that makes the next hire (given that they've made the most headway in the interview process) and with Avery Johnson rumored to be effectively out of the running after an alleged request to also be given a front-office position, various reports indicate the Hornets have focused on Boston assistant coach Tom Thibodeau as their primary target. Of course, with Thibodeau's Celtics seemingly on track to reach the NBA Finals, the process could be prolonged, and other teams -- namely the Bulls -- will attempt to lure away the longtime assistant coach and defensive specialist.

Other candidates that have piqued the Bulls' interest include supposed frontrunners Maurice Cheeks and Lawrence Frank, although Frank's star has reportedly dimmed with the organization after a meeting during last week's NBA pre-draft combine in Chicago. The Bulls have also reportedly interviewed Rockets assistant coach Elston Turner, expressed interest in Bucks assistant Kelvin Sampson (a successful longtime college head coach) and sources tell CSNChicago.com that the franchise reached out to Clippers assistant John Lucas, a former head coach in San Antonio, Philadelphia and Cleveland. While TNT analyst and former Minnesota head coach Kevin McHale and other fringe candidates have expressed interest in the Bulls job through the media, it appears as if Cheeks -- the current Oklahoma assistant was a head coach in Portland and Philadelphia (where he reached the postseason), a Chicago native and a Hall of Fame point guard ably equipped to mentor Bulls All-Star point guard Derrick Rose -- would make the most sense at this point, especially as Cheeks' perceived weakness is not being able to control a locker room already rife with issues (which wouldn't be a problem in Chicago, as it was during Portland's "Jailblazers" era or during Allen Iverson's often-rocky tenure with the Sixers) and another top candidate, Dallas assistant Dwane Casey, a former Minnesota head coach, looks poised to be named the Hawks' new head coach -- unless the aforementioned Johnson lowers his reported salary demands

While there are conflicting reports as to whether Jackson would be open to a Chicago reunion -- his only on-the-record comments suggested he wouldn't be -- and although he seemingly left the door open to his potential interest in the Nets job, the Lakers are obviously still in the playoffs, it's been well-documented that his relationship with team executive Jeanie Buss (daughter of the franchise's owner) may be prohibitive in him relocating. And while a return to Chicago or coaching LeBron James (or both) may be intriguing, nobody would be surprised if Jackson rode into the sunset after this season.

Speaking of James, a name linked to the superstar as the coach for whatever team he deigns worthy of his services has been University of Kentucky head coach John Calipari. Despite his repeated denials about leaving Lexington (arguably the top job in the college game, where he is treated like a king, makes more than most NBA head coaches and has an opportunity to win a national championship with his stranglehold on recruiting the nation's top high school prospects), reports continue to suggest James will insist "Coach Cal" is the coach of the team he will suit up for next season, including Cleveland, which is only a short trip from Calipari's hometown of Pittsburgh. Another longshot to roam the Bulls' sidelines next season is Doc Rivers, the Celtics head coach and a Windy City native. Rivers is reportedly considering a hiatus from coaching next season -- so as to be involved with the recruitment process of his youngest son Austin, one of the nation's top high school basketball players, and watch his daughter, Callie, play volleyball during her senior year at the University of Florida, close to where his family resides in Gainesville; Rivers would ostensibly return to his previous role of television analyst for ESPN -- but some observers believe he would consider Chicago's opening and the interest would be mutual.

One reason Rivers might be interested is obvious: overseeing the development of James Johnson. Actually, no offense to Johnson, but the small forward of choice in that scenario -- as with Jackson -- would be the aforementioned LeBron James. While he's kept mum about his plans for the offseason, Wade indicated that the pair, as well as the duo of Toronto's Bosh and Atlanta's Joe Johnson -- another top free agent, regardless of his subpar playoff performance; sources continue to tell CSNChicago.com that he's still Chicago's most realistic target, as well as the best fit on the court, if not the most talented of the available options -- will sit down to discuss their respective futures. Bosh, possibly the best power forward on the market, is expected to depart Toronto, likely through a sign-and-trade scenario, and sources close to the Raptors tell CSNChicago.com that the Bulls are on his short list -- as was confirmed by a report last week, which was later denied by his agent -- but that his preferences are more limited than the general perception. Of other top options at the position, Dallas' Dirk Nowitzki may indeed opt out to test the market, but few observers believe there's a chance he will bolt the Mavericks. Phoenix's Amar'e Stoudemire was once a predictable choice to leave his current place of business (with Miami the best bet for a new locale), but with the Suns' playoff run, sources think he'll now stay put. Utah's Carlos Boozer, on the other hand, is a solid bet to switch jerseys, as the Jazz locked up underrated backup Paul Millsap and are expected to draft a young big man in next month's draft, giving the Bulls and other squads a viable, less-expensive option at the position.

This much is certain -- this summer won't lack for drama. Who else is hoping for a Finals sweep, so that the real games can begin?

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.coms Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

'Underdog' Tyler Ulis will fit in just fine with these Bulls

'Underdog' Tyler Ulis will fit in just fine with these Bulls

It's been a whirlwind of a summer for point guard Tyler Ulis, but he finally feels like he's found a home. Literally.

The 5-foot-9 point guard was cut by the Suns in late June, latched on with a training camp invite by the Warriors and was subsequently waived on Friday. It was then that Ulis, working out in California, received a call from his agent. He had been claimed on waivers by the Chicago Bulls. His hometown Bulls.

"I grew up watching (the Bulls)," he said after his first practice on Tuesday. "Growing up in this city, you always want to be a Bull and you’re always willing and hoping that you’ll be here one day...I'm home now. It's a lot of fun and I'm looking forward to it."

Ulis is back in Chicago for the first time since he was breaking records for Marian Catholic High School. Ulis became a five-star recruit for the Spartans and in 2014 signed on as the next point guard in the long line of successful floor generals under John Calipari and Kentucky.

Ulis backed up the Harrison twins, Andrew and Aaron, as a freshman but saw his role increase as a sophomore. He blossomed, earning Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year honors in the SEC. Only Anthony Davis had ever earned both honors in a single season.

He declared for the 2016 NBA Draft with hopes of becoming a first-round pick. But unlike the Calipari point guards before him, Ulis slipped all the way down to the second round before the Phoenix Suns scooped him up with the 34th pick.

"Honestly I really did think (the Bulls) were going to draft me," Ulis said on Tuesday when recalling the 2016 NBA Draft. The Bulls took Denzel Valentine with the 14th pick. "But I'm here now so that's all that matters."

In 132 games, Ulis averaged 7.6 points and 4.1 assists in 21.1 minutes. He started 58 of those games, and while his shooting left plenty to be desired he handled the offense well and brought that same pesky defense he showed off at Kentucky. It wasn't enough, even for the guard-deprived Suns. They released Ulis before free agency this summer - which ruffled the feathers of franchise guard Devin Booker - in a rather unexpected move.

"My Mom always taught me (to) never expect anything," Ulis said of his release from the Suns. "When you're on a losing team like that anything can happen. I feel like I showed I could play at this level but they went a different way."

The Suns' loss - they may resort to starting 38-year-old Jamal Crawford at point guard this year - could be the Bulls' gain. Expectations should be harnessed for Ulis, especially with him joining the roster this late in the preseason, but the Bulls, like Phoenix, have question marks at the point.

Kris Dunn is entrenched as the starter, but Cameron Payne struggled mightily in the preseason and Ryan Arcidiacono doesn't project as a contributor. That leaves an opening for Ulis to potentially fill on the second unit, and apparently he's making a statement early in practice.

"Tyler had a real good practice," Fred Hoiberg said. "I think I think he changes the pace when he’s out there on the floor. He picks up full-court, he gets up underneath you. He can make a shot. He’s got good vision and can make a play with the ball in his hand. So I was very impressed with his first workout."

Ulis is working on a 45-day two-way contract, so it's unknown how much he'll contribute. He could be shuttled back and forth between Chicago and the Windy City Bulls, but there's certainly an opportunity for him to stick. He'll be playing catch-up and learning on the go, but doing so in his hometown wth friends and family around him for support will work to his advantage.

"Being a smaller guard growing up in a big man’s sport, you get looked over. So I’m the underdog," he said. "And I feel like this team is an underdog, so we should all be excited to get the season started and prove people wrong."

Bulls, Bobby Portis value each other greatly despite no deal getting done

44298379_315080225985989_7466543461454315520_n.jpg
USA TODAY

Bulls, Bobby Portis value each other greatly despite no deal getting done

Monday's deadline came and went with expected results: Bobby Portis and the Bulls being unable to reach an agreement on a contract extension.

Some 19 hours later all parties involved said the right things, that they value one another and hope to be working together long-term.

But all that will be shelved until July 1, when Portis enters restricted free agency at this coming season's end. The two sides found themselves in position to wait out on an extension.

For Portis, he's improved his game each of his first three seasons in the league posted per-36 numbers on par with some of the game's best big men. Expected to start while Lauri Markkanen recovers from a sprained elbow - and then act as the team's Sixth Man after that - Portis is in line to post career numbers once again.

For the Bulls, nearly all their front office decisions the past three seasons have been with an eye toward the 2019 offseason and having as much cap space as possible. Waiting on a Portis contract allows them to see if any of the top free agents in the class are interested in Chicago, while also having the ability to match any deal Portis gets on the open market.

It's similar to how the Bulls played out the rookie scale contracts of both Jimmy Butler and Zach LaVine.

John Paxson spoke during Tuesday's practice at the Advocate Center and reiterated how much the Bulls value Portis and the work he's put in since they drafted him 22nd overall in 2015.

Portis also spoke with reporters after practice. And what would normally be considered posturing from any other player, Portis' blue-collar mentality was present in his comments.

"I couldn’t see myself in no other jersey. Obviously, I got Bulls DNA," he said. "Me and the city have a love connection somewhere. At the same time, I just enjoy playing for the Bulls.

"I play this game because I love it. Obviously, you want to make as much money as possible to help your family. But I started playing basketball because it’s fun to me and I loved it. I still have that same passion, that same heart every night I go out there."

Still, the opportunity will be there for Portis to make himself significant money in the coming six months. After averaging a modest 13.2 points and 6.8 rebounds in Year 3, Portis will be called upon to shoulder a scoring load in the absence of Markkanen. And with Jabari Parker's Bulls career off to a shaky start, Portis will be the go-to guy on the second unit once Markkanen is back in the lineup.

"Bobby is a guy that is very confident in himself. He’s confident in his ability. That’s what we love about him," Fred Hoiberg said. "And like I said, he’s going to go out there and play the same way every time he steps on the floor, whether it’s practice, whether it’s a pick-up game in the summer or once we get started on Thursday. He’s a warrior, and he’s just going to go out there and play the right way with great effort.’’

The Bulls will need that with the start of the regular season just two days away. They open on the road against the Philadelphia 76ers, a team that went 30-11 at home last season.

Portis will play a significant role in slowing down one of the NBA's best frontcourts. Whether or not this is his last season doing so in Chicago, he knows what the Bulls think of him and won't let the impending negotiations distract him.

"I know how much I’m valued. They tell me a lot. Give it all I got. Kind of the leader of the bunch. Blue-collar worker," he said. "Everybody respects me because I come in every day with a chip on my shoulder, try to push my guys to get better each day. That makes me go."