Bulls

Running with the Bulls: Offseason won't be idle

115654.jpg

Running with the Bulls: Offseason won't be idle

Monday, May 10, 2010
4:04 PM

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

With the search for a new head coach just getting fired up, the upcoming NBA Draft in June and the official beginning to free agency on July 1st, this offseason won't be an idle one for the Bulls.

Despite being ousted from the postseason by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs earlier this month, Chicago is one of the most heavily-discussed teams in the league right now. No wonder--with a coveted coaching vacancy, plenty of cap room to welcome at least one marquee player to the Windy City and a young, talented returning core, the Bulls are being watched very closely by observers and their competitors alike.

Although the Bulls have a strong group returning, an oft-overlooked fact is that only six players--center Joakim Noah, veteran guard Kirk Hinrich, young forwards Taj Gibson and James Johnson, small forward Luol Deng and All-Star point guard Derrick Rose--are under contract for next season. Chicago will surely build the rest of its roster through free agency, but they will also look to land a solid rookie contributor via the NBA Draft.

By virtue of their midseason John Salmons trade, the Bulls will select 17th in the first round (if Milwaukee, as expected, opts to swap picks with Chicago as a condition of the deal), which may not be high enough to grab an elite prospect, but can certainly net them an impact player, as evidenced by the selection of the aforementioned Gibson, a first team NBA All-Rookie choice, last year. Depending on their workouts leading up to the draft and the results of measureables such as height, weight, wingspan, speed, strength and leaping ability at the NBA Pre-Draft Combine--held in Chicago from May 19-23--certain players that might fit Chicago's needs, but are currently expected to be at least borderline lottery picks, may slip and become available to the team.

Since outside shooting on this season's team was such a major issue highly-acclaimed perimeter snipers like freshman wing Xavier Henry of Kansas and Oklahoma State's James Anderson, a polished scorer, may be intriguing to the organization, with Final Four hero Gordon Hayward and less-ballyhooed prospects Paul George of Fresno State and Nevada's Luke Babbitt also potentially fitting the bill. If the Bulls were to opt for the best available, high-risk, high-reward approach, fast-rising center Hassan Whiteside of Marshall--a talented, but raw offensive player and a force defensively and on the glass--could be an option, if he were to slip leading up to draft day, while versatile big man Ekpe Udoh of Baylor could provide an added dimension in the frontcourt as a reserve. Texas combo guard Avery Bradley, despite being somewhat of a tweener on the pro level, also is a capable outside shooter and possesses a strong defensive mindset, while teammate Damion James brings experience, versatility and toughness to the table. Yet another direction Chicago could choose is finding a reliable backup for Rose; sources tell CSNChicago.com that Kentucky's Eric Bledsoe--a natural point guard forced to play off the ball because of the presence of freshman teammate John Wall, regarded as the consensus top pick in the draft--came in for an unannounced workout (which went well, according to the source) at the Berto Center over the weekend. Others who may be considered by the franchise include Memphis guard Elliot Williams, South Florida scorer Dominique Jones, Nevada point guard Armon Johnson, Washington forward Quincy Pondexter, fiery Maryland guard Greivis Vasquez and Latavious Williams of high school-to-D-League fame.

Still, even with the deadline for college underclassmen to decide if they would stay in the draft rather than return to school occurring over the weekend, it's far too early for anybody--let alone the organizations making the decisions--to know exactly who they want, who will potentially be available or even the order of the NBA's draft lottery, which will take place later this month. Currently, the Bulls don't own a second-round pick in the draft--as a result of the trade that acquired the rights to Turkish center Omer Asik, a highly-touted big man whose expected presence on the team next season may pave the way for veteran free agent Brad Miller's departure--but draft choices are bought and sold like candy by teams on draft day, so it's not out of the question that Chicago could end up acquiring late picks to add inexpensive depth.

A more immediate means of adding help obviously comes in the form of free agency, something anticipated as a major part of a summer that could propel the franchise back into the upper echelon of NBA teams. The top available player is also the league's best--LeBron James--and while some observers continue to insist that he may leave his home state Cavaliers, it seems increasingly unlikely that the now two-time MVP will depart Cleveland, regardless of the outcome of this season. The consensus second-best free agent is Heat guard Dwyane Wade, a Chicago native. As exciting as a backcourt of hometown products Rose and Wade sounds, Wade has made it clear that although he's immensely disappointed with Miami's performance over the last few years, he would like to remain in South Florida. The onus is on top Heat executive Pat Riley--whose recent statements regarding his willingness to return to the sidelines, if necessary, show his commitment to retaining the superstar--to surround Wade with a much-improved supporting cast, something Miami is capable of doing. Another top free agent, Phoenix's Amar'e Stoudemire, also seems increasingly likely to stay put, as the resurgent Suns (who became the first team to advance to the conference finals by sweeping San Antonio) are again on the upswing after a hiatus from the postseason, due to improved chemistry and a renewed focus on the defensive end under Alvin Gentry's guidance. Plus, it doesn't look like Steve Nash is slowing down anytime soon.

While he's a distant third behind James and Wade, Toronto's Chris Bosh (like Stoudemire, a power forward, a position regarded as in need of an upgrade by the Bulls, despite Gibson's stellar rookie campaign) is also a highly-coveted addition, and with his recent Twitter posts referring to his free-agent status, it seems as if he would be unlikely to return to the Great White North. Top Raptors executive Bryan Colangelo, in a practical move, acknowledged Bosh's options and indicated his willingness to help assist with a sign-and-trade scenario (Colangelo also discussed the Toronto's desire to keep Bosh in Canada), which would provide Bosh with the contract he wants, while ensuring the Raptors don't lose their star without receiving something in exchange.

Atlanta's Joe Johnson, perhaps the top perimeter option behind James and Wade, spoke of his desire to remain with the high-flying Hawks toward the end of the regular season. However, after barely surviving an undermanned Bucks squad in the first round and now in the process of being thoroughly humiliated by Orlando--Johnson made some less than favorable remarks about the home crowd booing the team in Atlanta after their embarrassing Game 3 home loss on Saturday--the talented swingman again sounds like a man ready to pack his bags. Johnson hasn't played particularly well in the postseason, but with the Hawks' offense reliant on him creating for himself in isolation situations, imagining him spotting up on the wing or receiving passes from a playmaking floor general like Rose is a much more palatable thought.

Other teams in the league--the Clippers, Knicks, Heat and Nets are a few with the cap room to also sign a top-tier free agent--have money to spend, but an advantage in Chicago's favor is having assets to work out a sign-and-trade deal for the likes of Bosh, Johnson or even Utah power forward Carlos Boozer, another free agent possibility. While the organization is excited about their returning nucleus, it's no secret that players like Hinrich, Deng and even Gibson (who the team would be loathe to part with) could help them acquire a player of even more magnitude.

First, however, the Bulls need a coach. Add former Toronto head coach and ex-NBA coach of the year Sam Mitchell to the seemingly ever-growing list of candidates, with Dallas assistant Dwane Casey, former New Jersey head coach Lawrence Frank, Oklahoma City assistant Maurice Cheeks and former Minnesota head coach Kevin McHale already having been vetted by the organization, according to reports. And while the University of Kentucky's John Calipari continues to be linked to the Chicago job, don't expect that option to gain more traction as time wears on, regardless of any tenuous connections to free agents like James. All in all, as the Bulls continues their methodical pace in the search for a new sideline leader, desirable candidates could start to dwindle as other teams--the Clippers, Hornets, Nets and 76ers also currently have head-coaching vacancies, as well as head starts on Chicago--threaten to make the dominoes fall with new hires. Yet another factor that could impact the process is the fact that at least a handful of assistant coaches for teams still in the playoffs--Boston's Tom Thibodeau, Utah's Tyrone Corbin, Phoenix's Dan Majerle and Brian Shaw of the Lakers--are candidates for head jobs, while rumors persist that Atlanta's Mike Woodson may not have his contract renewed in the aftermath of the Hawks' postseason showing, potentially further complicating matters.

Speaking of the playoffs, a relatively exciting first round, filled with young players staking claim to prime-time performer status, has given way to a ho-hum second round, with the aforementioned Suns' sweep of the Spurs and two other possible perfect outings from the Lakers and Magic. The Cleveland-Boston series is the only series still up in the air, but if the Cavs win, it will result in the top two teams from each conference vying for an opportunity to play in the Finals, with a Lakers-Magic repeat looking more and more possible. No matter what anyone says, it looks like the regular season really does matter.

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’ unconventional leadership committee will 'have input on what we do and how we operate’

usatsi_11789963.jpg
USA TODAY

Bulls’ unconventional leadership committee will 'have input on what we do and how we operate’

The latest development in the clearing of the air between head coach Jim Boylen and his Bulls players is a leadership committee.

Details of the committee first surfaced on Monday when ESPN’s Malika Andrews and Ramona Shelburne reported that Zach LaVine had spoken with Boylen 1-on-1 following the infamous Sunday meetings at the Advocate Center.

Those discussions led to the creation of the leadership committee, which both LaVine and Boylen spoke about on Tuesday before the team departed for Mexico City for their Thursday game against the Orlando Magic.

"We had a situation over the weekend that could have been handled by a leadership group walking into my office and saying, ‘You know what, Coach? This is how we feel today. What do you think?’ That was the teaching moment,” Boylen said. “I’m juiced, man. I’m jacked up about it."

It’s certainly unconventional of a professional team, but the Bulls are also the second youngest group in the league. Nine of the 13 players Boylen played on Monday are 24 years or younger, and if Boylen’s first week on the job showed anything it’s that there’s disconnect between coach and players.

The Bulls have individual leaders to be sure in players such as LaVine, Kris Dunn, Bobby Portis and veterans Robin Lopez and Justin Holiday. But there isn’t a dominant presence in the mold of a Joakim Noah, Luol Deng or Jimmy Butler that there’s been in years’ past. Such is life in the midst of Year 2 of a slowly moving rebuild.

“We’re putting it together within the team and we’re just trying to figure out the right dudes to lead the team, who will be with us moving forward,” LaVine said. “I think that’s the main thing. But I think it’s a great thing, especially with a young team. It’s not a dictatorship.

“We don’t have a straight-up old-school vet on the team, like a Kevin Garnett to where you know he’s the exact leader.

“With a young team I feel like we can all have a voice, especially the ones that are going to be on the team [moving forward] and dudes that’s voices are respected.’’

The hope is that eventually the 23-year-old LaVine will become that player. It’s why he went to Boylen in the first place as the spokesperson for the team. He’s months removed from signing a four-year, $78 million contract and despite his age is one of the most experienced players on the roster. The likely All-Star has been front and center during the tumultuous 48 hours and wants to take on more responsibility for a team that to this point has relied heavily upon him.

LaVine said the last 48 hours have brought the team closer – something he felt on the court Monday despite the second-half struggles in a loss to the Kings – and that it’s also given him a better understanding of Boylen and how they both have competitive streaks. The next step for LaVine is to transform and mold into a leader who brings it every day. It’s a tall order, but so is building a successful team in the NBA.

“I’ve always been a leader in my own way. I think right now I’m trying to be more vocal. I’ve always been somebody that’s tried to lead by example, hard work and stuff like that. Try and go out there and play the best I can.

“There might be times you’re lazy or you have a play off or whatever, that’s taken into account, but I’m trying to work that down, but you can’t ever question how hard I work and how much the game means to me. I can say that I know I’m a natural leader, but there’s always things you can work on. I’m doing that now.’’

The leadership committee won’t undermine Boylen – remember, “this isn’t a negotiation” – and the head coach said he’s still responsible for and making sure every player knows his role. It’s something he spoke to each player individually about prior to his first game as head coach in Indiana, but even Robin Lopez admitted Monday that some guys are still trying to figure out where they belong. That will fall on Boylen to get each of his players ready on a daily basis.

“A guy isn’t going to go to the leadership committee when he doesn’t understand his role,” Boylen said. “These are about the soul and spirit of the team. What I expect the leadership group to do is respect and honor the soul of the team.”

With LaVine and emotional and vocal leaders in Kris Dunn and Bobby Portis back on the floor, the leadership committee is in good hands. Even 19-year-old Wendell Carter Jr. has been vocal about where the Bulls have struggled and how they can work their way out of them.

With Boylen and the Bulls seemingly on the same page and a leadership committee formed, they’ll turn toward on-court improvements. They’re currently sitting at 6-22 with the worst net rating in the NBA, and the offense hasn’t gotten any better under Boylen. A healthy roster – minus Denzel Valentine – will help smooth things out, but there’s a lot to get right before the Boylen Bulls are all the way back on the right track.

Report: Zach LaVine had solo meeting with Jim Boylen

1204boylenonbrown_1920x1080.jpg
USA TODAY

Report: Zach LaVine had solo meeting with Jim Boylen

In a story published on Tuesday afternoon, ESPN reported that Zach LaVine had a one-one-one meeting with Jim Boylen on Sunday.

This meeting apparently came on the heels of the "near mutiny", when Bulls players discussed skipping out on practice.

The one-on-one between Boylen and LaVine was for both sides to "clear the air" and work on forming a solid working relationship, which included the idea of forming a "leadership committee" to act as a mediator between the coaches and players.

LaVine stated that he considers himself one of the leaders of the Bulls, thus he wanted to make sure his voice was heard.

This is a business, this isn't a dictatorship. We are all grown men, so everybody has a voice.

The story filed by Mailika Andrews and Ramona Shelburne went on to reiterate that the front office supports Boylen's tough coaching style, but most concerning was the apparent disconnect over what was the team's initial plan for the week:

Boylen told reporters that initially he had planned on having a tougher practice but after thinking it over, changed his mind. He said that his change in plans had nothing to do with getting wind of players' plans to not show up.

"I have the prerogative to change my mind," Boylen said on Monday night before the Bulls' 108-89 loss to the Kings.

Boylen is obviously 110 percent correct. He has the right to change his mind about practice plans—or anything else for that matter—but it of course becomes a serious issue if he is telling the players one thing and then doing something completely different. No matter what took place on Sunday, it is clear that the two sides—Boylen and the players—are trying to make things work.

It has been a tumultuous start to Jim Boylen's NBA head coaching career, but his one-on-one meeting with LaVine is a huge step towards normality for a Bulls franchise that has been anything but in 2018.