Friday, May 28, 20108:09 AM
By Aggrey Sam
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.