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Running with Bulls: Forman talks Bulls, free agency

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Running with Bulls: Forman talks Bulls, free agency

Friday, May 21, 2010
11:39 PM

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

As the NBA world converges on Chicago for the league's draft combine at the A.T.T.A.C.K. Athletics facility (where players such as Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade have trained in the offseason) on the West Side of the city, discussions about where free agents and coaches, let alone potential draftees (this much is certain, the Wizards will use the No. 1 selection they acquired in Tuesday's lottery to choose University of Kentucky point guard John Wall, team sources told CSNChicago.com), the Chicago Bulls are a hot topic of conversation amongst league observers and insiders alike. While much of the focus on Chicago revolves around adding a top-tier free agent (some player from Cleveland is reportedly a possibility), many have ignored the fact that the Bulls only have six players--Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Luol Deng, Kirk Hinrich, Taj Gibson and James Johnson--under contract for next season

Last week Bulls general manager Gar Forman spoke to CSNChicago.com about the overall direction of the team, specifically adding depth to the roster. While Forman didn't address specific players or the speculation regarding Chicago potentially acquiring high profile players such as LeBron James (perhaps that's the aformentioned Cavalier in question) this summer--under NBA rules, he can't comment on free agents or can risk facing tampering violations--he did provide insight about the team's approach to the offseason and status of the Bulls' present roster.

"The biggest thing as we continue to build and put this team together is adding high makeup and character guys," Forman told CSNChicago.com. "We feel the guys we have now do have character, so as we add players, we want to continue to add guys who love to play for the right reasons."

That said, it's obvious that while the Bulls had another promising season, there are certainly holes to fill, as well as roster spots.

"I guess it will depend on how our summer goes and what our needs are," asserted Forman to CSNChicago.com, adding, "We need to get better shooting the basketball."

With a supreme penetrator at point guard in Rose, it would certainly behoove Chicago to add some knockdown perimeter shooters to complement the young All-Star. Free-agent talk thus far has centered around the potential acquisition of James (although Dallas owner Mark Cuban's comments about a potential sign-and-trade scenario with Cleveland not involving one of the teams with significant cap room, such as the Bulls, possibly muddied the waters), Chicago native Dwyane Wade of the Heat (a longshot, as he's expected to stay in Miami), Chris Bosh (who reportedly listed the Bulls, Lakers, Heat, Knicks and his current team, the Raptors as potential destinations; his agent later refuted that claim) or Atlanta's Joe Johnson (despite his poor playoff performance), but outside of Johnson, none of the aforementioned stars truly fits the bill.

"Everybody focuses on free agency--some of the bigger names--but we had a staff meeting last week," Forman told CSNChicago.com. "We need to pay attention to some of the lower-salary players."

Fans shouldn't be shocked if players such as shooting guards Anthony Morrow of Golden State, former Bull Roger Mason of San Antonio and J.J. Redick of Orlando are in the mix this summer. At small forward, Utah's Kyle Korver, Washington's Mike Miller and former Nugget Linas Kleiza (who played professionally in Greece this season) are also deadeye shooters and free agents that Chicago could covet, while power forward Matt Bonner of the Spurs may be an intriguing option as a "stretch four" if veteran Brad Miller doesn't return to the Windy City next season.

Forman told CSNChicago.com that some of this season's Bulls not under contract for the next campaign--such as the aforementioned Miller and midseason pick-up Flip Murray--"definitely" are under consideration, but regardless if they return or not, the general manager wants to add a veteran presence to the team's young core.

"Obviously we want some veteran guys," Forman told CSNChicago.com, before cautioning that the organization wouldn't add players simply to match up with their competitiors in the East, as a team like Cleveland did the previous summer (with the addition of Shaquille O'Neal, which was assumed to be a counter for Orlando's Dwight Howard in the playoffs; obviously the Cavaliers didn't advance to the conference finals and a date with the Magic), with future postseason plans in mind. "I'm not sure we're at the point yet where we look at individual players and certain matchups."

Still, with added expectations heaped upon the franchise in light of the roster's potential, it's clear this summer is the time to capitalize on the perception around the league that Chicago is a team on the rise. In addition to the previously listed sharpshooters, some veteran free agents the Bulls could consider include Boston shooting guard Ray Allen (definitely an outside sniper, but even at his advanced age, a cut above his contemporaries), point guards Luke Ridnour of the Bucks and Steve Blake of the Clippers in the backcourt, with athletic Clippers small forward Travis Outlaw another player that could add some reserve firepower.

After Gibson's strong rookie season (he was named first team NBA all-rookie), some squads could opt to invest in his development, but with the plethora of available players at his position--not to mention Gibson's ability to be productive in a reserve role--the Bulls could take a different tack. Bosh is obviously the prime target on the market at power forward, followed by Phoenix's Amar'e Stoudemire (who Chicago is reportedly not as interested in) and Utah's Carlos Boozer, the only one of the trio who probably won't command a max deal. Another alternative is New York's David Lee, who leapt into second-tier status with a strong season for the Knicks, albeit in head coach Mike D'Antoni's run-and-gun system. However, that first quartet, rugged veterans like Houston's Luis Scola and Miami's Udonis Haslem (both restrcted free agents considered valuable pieces by their current teams) are possibilities, while frequently-rumored in-season (but never consummated) Bulls trade option Al Harrington (a proven scorer off the bench) of the Knicks and young, athletic energy player Amir Johnson of the Raptors could be in play.

Then there's the draft, the reason Chicago has been such a hot spot in NBA circles the past few days. Extensive athletic testing, workouts and interviews have yielded key insight, but it more of the same in the coming weeks will occur leading up to the June 24th D-Day, as teams hustle to make the perceived right decisions.

"Our philosophy draft-wise is take the best player available," Forman told CSNChicago.com. "If you look historically at the draft, in that area the Bulls currently own the 17th pick in the first round, it's tough to get a guy that can help us right away."

Of last season's draft haul, Johnson (drafted 16th) had an inconsistent initial campaign, but Gibson (picked 26th) was a mainstay from early on, so Forman's statement rings both true and false. With outside shooting being a top priority--as well as hypothetically adding some size on the wing to complement Hinrich--it seems as if Chicago got an accurate sneak peek at some of the best available shooting guards (as least as it stands right now) last Sunday, when James Anderson of Oklahoma State, Xavier Henry of Kansas, Dominique Jones of South Florida and Paul George of Fresno State came to the Berto Center (the Bulls practice facility in the city's northern suburbs) to work out for the team.

Anderson may be the most polished and accomplished of the group, Henry's strength and prolific shooting intrigue teams across the league and Jones' toughness and ability to play point guard have earned him admirers, but George--the least ballyhooed of the prospects--has earned rave reviews from league insiders and with his size (6-foot-8), versatility and high skill level, he has a chance to move even higher up the draft board, perhaps out of Chicago's range. Of that group, Jones is the one player not known as a precise outside marksman, but George, Anderson and Henry are all on the organization's radar.

All in all, this summer will definitely be one of change for the Bulls, regardless if James, Wade or Bosh come to town. Rome wasn't built in a day and as diehard Bulls fan know from the championship era that now seems so long ago, even Hall of Famers Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen were ably backed by a cast of solid, contributing role players.

"We'll always explore all our options. We like our nucleus, but at the same time, if there's something that makes us better, that's our job to explore all our options," Forman told CSNChicago.com. "We really like our young nucleus and want to see them get better."

In order for that to happen, that current group--if it remains wholly intact; Forman indicated that only Rose and Noah were truly untouchable--will need some help. That help just might come in the form of some under-the-radar assistance.

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.

Bulls down Clippers, post 1st victory over winning team with strong finish

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USA Today

Bulls down Clippers, post 1st victory over winning team with strong finish

Just over two hours before tipoff, in his first public comments since Media Day, executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson talked about how Jim Boylen’s teaching and coaching hasn’t always translated from the practice floor and film room to games.

Could the Bulls’ first victory this season over a winning team be a step?

And don’t mention that the Clippers played without Kawhi Leonard, Patrick Beverley and Lou Williams in the Bulls’ 109-106 victory, secured on Zach LaVine’s three-point play with 2 seconds to play.

“Well, we didn’t have (Otto Porter Jr.) or Hutch (Chandler Hutchison) or (Daniel) Gafford,” Boylen said. “So we can ‘Yeah, but’ it a little bit too.”

Bravado aside, there’s stuff on which the Bulls can build here.

LaVine posted his sixth 30-point game and ended a week filled with closing misses with a game-winner in which he powered through a Montrezl Harrell foul on a nice misdirection play involving Kris Dunn. Lauri Markkanen tied his season-high with 17 rebounds while posting his third double-double of the season. Denzel Valentine, playing all but two seconds of the fourth, hit a huge tying 3-pointer in the final minute and scored a season-high 16 points. Thad Young tied his season-high with 17 points.

And Dunn was everywhere, relishing the challenge of guarding Paul George down the stretch and winning a crucial battle for a 50-50 ball that led to Valentine’s tying shot.

“That was a huge moment,” Boylen said.

So was Valentine closing a game.

“I just thought we needed some more shooting on the floor,” Boylen said. “We’ve wrestled with defensive lineups, offensive lineups. We try to mingle them a little bit. I just thought we needed someone to make a big shot. And he did.”

Valentine has now scored in double figures off the bench in five of six games.

“I’m very confident in my abilities,” Valentine said. “I was just waiting for the ball to come my way. Zach is our best player. So the ball’s going to be in his hands. But shoot, I’m ready for it. I love those moments. I love to make those shots.”

Dunn, who finished a plus-22, defended George as he missed a good look for a tying 3-pointer. George scored 10 points in just over 7 minutes in the fourth but missed all three attempts following Valentine’s tying shot.

“I love it,” Dunn said of guarding great players. “I know my niche on this team is to guard. And I take pride in that. It feels good to go against a big-time player and be able to get stops towards the end.”

Markkanen actually received credit for the rebound that Dunn kept alive to lead to Valentine’s tying shot, which Dunn said Markkanen teased him about. Dunn finished with nine points, nine rebounds, four assists, three blocks and two steals.

But his two biggest plays didn’t even crash the box score. He won the 50-50 ball to lead to Valentine’s tying shot and then confused the Clippers’ defense by slipping a screen on LaVine’s game-winner.

“I knew Zach was going to get downhill,” Dunn said. “Because once I did it, I saw Paul George look at me.”

LaVine couldn’t believe how much space he had to operate.

“I’ll take it,” he said. “Once I saw the lane open up, I think there were like 5 seconds left. We were trying to get the last shot. But once the lane opened up, I tried to get a one-on-one. He’s a tough dude. I knew I could attack his body.”

LaVine missed game-winning attempts on an isolation 3-pointer against the Warriors and over a double-team against the Raptors. His three-point play offered a dose of redemption for a player who is never afraid to fail.

“You’re not going to be perfect. As much as people are going to show more of the bad than the good, I’ve had a lot of good times in the clutch as well,” LaVine said. “I try to make the right play for us to win. And I did that tonight.”

For one night, matters were more positive. The Bulls closed out a game against a good team and received multiple contributions while doing so.

Heck, Boylen even downplayed Paxson’s vote of confidence.

“We understand what we’re trying to do. We’re in step on what we’re asking our guys to do and play like and work like and care like,” the coach said. “I’m thankful for it. But I wouldn’t expect anything less.”

Four observations: Zach LaVine comes up clutch as the Bulls beat the Clippers

Four observations: Zach LaVine comes up clutch as the Bulls beat the Clippers

This Zach LaVine guy might be pretty good, huhThe Bulls beat a depleted Clippers team 109-106 Saturday night at the United Center. Here are some observations:

Bigs bounce back

After enduring a mostly rough night at the office on Friday against Charlotte, the Bulls’ bigs bounced back tonight — at least on the offensive end.

The 'Thad Young Minutes Watch' marches on; he checked in unusually early (at the 7:28 mark of the first) for Wendell Carter, and played extremely well in the first half. His 10 first quarter points (5-for-7 shooting), cutting and general activity undoubtedly sparked the Bulls after a sluggish start. He finished the game with 17 points and 12 shots in 20 minutes.

Wendell Carter Jr. was doing Wendell Carter Jr. things, as well. He had two crucial offensive rebounds in the first half — one he prettily dished straight to Young for a cutting dunk, the other he powered home for a putback. He got into foul trouble late, picking up his fifth foul just two minutes into the fourth quarter, and finished with 14 points and seven rebounds. He had a key alley-oop and putback late in the game and finished with 36 minutes.

Lauri Markkanen finished the night with only 13 points and eight field goal attempts but snatched 17 rebounds in 40 minutes of game action. His up-and-down season — both in terms of opportunity and production — continues.

Overall, the Bulls outrebounded the Clippers 50-40 for the game, a surprising result.

The Clippers dominated most of the first half — even without Paul George

For a time, it looked as if Paul George was going to have an easygoing night. He tallied eight first quarter points — and looked smooth in doing so — then didn’t check back in until the 4:08 mark of the second. The Clippers built a 14-point lead without him.

Credit Montrezl Harrell, in large part for that. He ate the Bulls for breakfast, lunch, and dinner in his first half minutes, notching 17 points on 14 field goal attempts (five from the charity stripe) before the break. Jim Boylen talked about needing more ‘physicality’ from his bigs. Harrell hunted one-on-one matchups against them all night (off-the-dribble, in the post, you name it), with Carter being the only Bull to offer much resistance. He finished with a whopping 30 points on 24 shots.

The Bulls starters closed the half on a 17-5 run to pull to within 57-55 at the break — incidentally, that run took place over the course of the 4 minutes, 8 seconds that George logged in the second quarter.

The starters sparked a massive run

That aforementioned spurt carried over, for a time; the Bulls started the second half with a 20-4 run and led 75-61 halfway through the third. The defense tightened up, the offense was free, loose and fluid, and the starters catalyzed it all. LaVine had 10 in the quarter.

Between George checking in in the second quarter and that point in the third, the Bulls outscored the Clippers 37-11, shooting 10-for-16 from the field, compared to 4-for-16 for LA.

But, as with all things — good and bad — that stretch passed, and it passed quickly. After a questionably-timed Boylen timeout with 5:48 left in the period (and the Bulls leading 75-63), the Clippers closed the gap to 84-79 entering the fourth. The Clippers switching to zone defense midway through the period seemed to trip the Bulls up, as well.

A hard-fought fourth quarter finally swings the Bulls’ way

It was Paul George vs. Zach LaVine down the stretch. The winners? The Bulls and everyone watching, both at the United Center and at home.

George entered the fourth quarter only having played 21 minutes and was fresh for the stretch run, scoring 10 in the final period. But he did, crucially, miss a free throw with just over a minute remaining that would have put the Clippers up 107-103. On the next possession, Markkanen tracked down a loose ball of a rebound and kicked to Denzel Valentine for a top-of-the-key 3-pointer to knot the game 106-106. George’s last two field goal attempts of the game were a wild fling at the rim and a bricked iso jumper, both in the final minute.

LaVine had nine points in the fourth (31 for the game), every one monumental. He canned an and-one 3-pointer (missed the free throw) with just over five minutes left in the game that put the Bulls up 96-95. Then, a deep off-the-dribble 3-pointer to pull the Bulls within 105-103. And, of course, the game-winner:

 

It was an exhilarating finish, and a win the Bulls had to have. The blemishes on it are obvious — yes, the Clippers were without Kawhi Leonard and Patrick Beverly, and the defensive lapses and stretches of inconsistency that have plagued the Bulls all season were there, at times. But ultimately, entering their upcoming four-game road trip 10-18 feels a whole lot better than 9-19. (And the Bulls beat a team over .500!) 

On to Oklahoma City on Monday.

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