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Running with the Bulls: Offseason won't be idle

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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.

Why Coby White is the most important Bull to watch down the stretch

Why Coby White is the most important Bull to watch down the stretch

The All-Star break has come and gone, and the Bulls’ rebuild remains in relative disarray. A combination of injuries, individual regression and daunting opponents on the horizon leaves little hope for a playoff push in the short-term, and uncertainty regarding crucial pieces in the long-term.

For those reasons, all eyes will be on Coby White down the final 27-game stretch of the season. Or at least, they should be.

The Bulls, after all, are just eight months removed from investing the No. 7 overall pick in the 2019 draft on White — the same number selection they used on Wendell Carter Jr. and Lauri Markkanen in each of the two years prior. At the time, White profiled as a perfect last addition to a burgeoning core four of Zach LaVine, Markkanen and Carter — a lightning-rod scorer the team could bring along slowly off the bench with veteran Tomas Satoransky in tow. All while straddling dual objectives of winning and developing.

But, to borrow an old quarterback adage: Sometimes if you have two objectives, you really have none. The Bulls haven’t won. And White’s rookie season has been turbulent. In flashes, he’s inspired attention, respect and even awe — his first month in the NBA featured a record-smashing seven 3-pointer (all in the fourth quarter) performance against the Knicks, a six 3-pointer outing his next time on the floor and four 20-point games, overall. Seventeen games in, averages of 13.9 points, 3.6 rebounds and 2.4 assists with 35.6% long-range shooting (on good volume) seemed an exciting base from which to work.

Since the early going, however, those aforementioned outbursts have become fewer and farther between. White has just one 20-point game since Nov. 23 (averaging 9.9 points per game), and his numbers across the board have cumulatively either stagnated or dipped. A perusal of his basic month-to-month offensive splits reveals noticeable choppiness, both in production and opportunity:

Month Games Minutes per game Points per game Assists per game FG% 3P%
Oct. 5 23.3 12.6 2.8 40 30.8
Nov. 15 26.1 13.1 1.9 35.7 33
Dec. 14 22.6 9.4 2.4 37.7 40
Jan. 17 23.3 10.3 1.9 39 33.3
Feb. 4 29.1 11.5 6 30.8 27.6

“I think today's natural point guard — scoring, playmaking, being a leader, and just holding everybody accountable,” White said, when asked what his vision for himself as a lead guard is.White pointed to his on-ball work as the area he most wants to see improvement from himself for the rest of the season. Evolving into a true point guard is a strident aspiration of his. The Bulls, for their part, would gladly sign on for that outcome.Some of that is out of White’s hands. When Kris Dunn was forced into the starting lineup by injuries to Otto Porter Jr. and Chandler Hutchison in November, White was asked to play the part of a lead-guard and facilitator with the second unit to varying success (his most efficient offense comes in spotup scenarios). Coming off the bench all season, his running mates have been in constant flux, which has undoubtedly hurt his severely unflattering on/off splits. Still, White has handled every challenge hurled at him with unflinching professionalism, humility and determination.

“At the beginning it was kind of difficult,” White added of finding the balance between scoring and playmaking for others at the NBA level. “But now I'm starting to get better at it and making the right reads and just making the simple plays. I think ultimately, it's just making the simple plays and reading the defense.”

Here lies an area he has improved recently. Small sample size alert, but in the five games since Dunn sprained his MCL (including the game in which the injury occurred), White is averaging five assists per game — leagues above his season-long average of 2.4 — and his body control, patience in the halfcourt and finishing through contact have all steadily improved over the course of the season. The game is beginning to slow down for him.

 

“I think just playing consistently has been big for me. Being on the floor as a rookie and whatnot,” said White, who is averaging 28.2 minutes since Jan. 31. “I've made a lot of progress from when I was at Summer League until now. I think controlling the game a lot better, putting my teammates in position to succeed. So I feel like I've been doing that a lot better. I still have a long way to go, but I'm continuing to work at it.

That “long way to go” is mainly in shooting efficiency, a point White acknowledged. Of 272 players that have taken 200 field goal attempts this season, White is 261st in true shooting (47.7%) and 257th in effective field goal percentage (45.2%). In his last 11 games, he’s reached 50% shooting from the field only once, when he shot only six times in 19 minutes against the Pacers on Jan. 29. Generally speaking, the Bulls are 8.4 points per 100 possessions worse with him on the floor, per Cleaning the Glass, by far the lowest on the team of those that have logged over 1,000 minutes this season.

So is the song and dance of analyzing White. His virtues are tantalizing, the areas to improve inescapable. But if the Bulls make one thing their priority over the last 27 games of the season, it should be clearing up as much murk as possible around evaluating him. White and Markkanen represent the two players on the team that are simultaneously the most important to the Bulls’ future while also being shrouded in the most uncertainty, at present. They can’t afford to go into year four of this rebuild without clarity on both.

And in terms of White, specifically, the Bulls owe it to themselves to have as much information as possible at their disposal with another top-ten draft pick likely in the cards, and a top-heavy, guard-heavy 2020 class looming.

The opportunity to collect that information is nigh. As of Thursday, Dunn is set to miss at least four to six more weeks with an MCL sprain before being reevaluated; Hutchison will miss the team’s first game back post-All-Star with a flare-up in his shoulder; Carter and Porter are inching closer to returns, but neither have concrete timetables; and Markkanen and Denzel Valentine remain out, ambiguously. White, meanwhile, is one of just three Bulls — along with LaVine and Satoransky — to appear in all 55 games this season, though he has yet to make a start.

For now, Boylen said his development plan for White hasn’t changed in light of that brutal spate of injuries. But one way or another, he’ll get his shot.

“He cares, he wants it,” Boylen said. “Like all young players he's trying to establish himself in the league, and I just keep telling him he's doing that and just keep it simple and keep playing… He's a high character dude, so the future's bright.”

“The rookie experience is definitely humbling. It humbles you. It's up and down,” White said. “Patience – a lot of people just tell me patience, my time is coming.” 

Whenever that time comes, it will be worth watching.

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John Beilein reassigned to a different role within Cleveland Cavaliers organization

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USA TODAY

John Beilein reassigned to a different role within Cleveland Cavaliers organization

Coaching in the NBA is hard, even if you are one of the best college basketball coaches in the nation. It is something that basketball fans—especially those in Chicago—are reminded of time and time again, and John Beilein is the latest in the line of NCAA-to-NBA head coaches to make a failed transition. Shams Charania of The Athletic reported on Wednesday that the Cleveland Cavaliers and Beilein were parting ways after he resigned as head coach of the team. Charania later added that for the time being, Cleveland will be reassigning Beilein to an alternate role within the franchise. 

Beilein's NBA coaching career lasted 54 games, 216 games less than current Nebraska head coach Fred Hoiberg, who lasted 270 games with the Bulls after leaving the Iowa State program in 2015. Beilen's struggles were similar to Hoiberg in the fact that they both struggled to transfer their college coaching styles to the NBA, where they would be dealing with grown men rather than young college students. During Hoiberg's tenure with the Bulls, Jimmy Butler infamously called him out, stating that the Bulls needed to be "coached a lot harder at times," and that incident looks a lot like the dispute between Cavs center Tristan Thompson and Beilein, which boiled over during a game this season. 

There was also an incident this season in which Beilein mistakenly referred to his Cavaliers players as "thugs" in a film session, reportedly leading to the team intentionally playing songs with the word "thug" in it, further exacerbating an already difficult situation.

The big takeaway here is that there is a lot more than the X's and O's that goes into NBA coaching, and with player movement at an all-time high, college coaches are finding NBA roles more challenging than ever.

Beilein was one of the hottest coaching names in the business in 2019, coming off yet another successful season at the helm of the Michigan Wolverines, who were coming off of an Elite 8 appearance after making the National Title game the year before. Now Beilein is back out of NBA coaching, and the Bulls' rivals in Cleveland are now even more firmly entrenched in the rebuilding phase than they were before with relatively young (40 years old) J.B. Bickerstaff taking over. 

Beilein has three years and $12 million left on his Cavaliers contract, and sources have told ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski previously that the Cavaliers and Beilein have agreed on a deal to pay him a portion of his 2019-20 salary. It has not yet publicly been stated what Beilein's new title within the Cavaliers organization will be. 

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