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Schanowski: Bulls Holiday Wish List

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Schanowski: Bulls Holiday Wish List

Tuesday, December 22nd

by Mark Schanowski
CSNChicago.com

In the spirit of the holiday season, let's try to put the ugly memory of that 35-point collapse against Sacramento out of our minds, and come up with some much-needed Christmas gifts for the beleaguered Bulls. As always, your input is welcomed. Please post your gift ideas in the comments sections below.

JOHN PAXSONGAR FORMAN: MORE CAP ROOM.

As we've written consistently since the start of training camp, Paxson and Forman decided Ben Gordon was not worth 11 or 12 million dollars a season over 5 years. They decided to let Gordon walk, and try to get into position to offer a maximum contact to one of the top players available in the free agent class of 2010. My speculation is that Dwyane Wade is their number 1 target, but they will bid on Chris Bosh or Joe Johnson if Wade decides to stay in Miami. The problem is, the salary cap is expected to take a major drop next summer, from 57 million down to about 53 or 54 million. That means the Bulls are short of the cap room they need to make a maximum contract offer, unless John Salmons opts out of his 6.7 million dollar salary for next season. And with the way Salmons has struggled this season, that's looking more and more unlikely. He's unlikely to get a higher salary from another team in an overcrowded free agent market. So, the only way for the Bulls to free up more cap room is to trade one of their veteran players for an expiring contract andor draft picks. Paxson looked into trading Kirk Hinrich for cap space last season at the deadline, but changed his mind at the last minute. Hinrich could go this time around, but don't be surprised if the Bulls decide to trade Salmons instead. He looks like a player who's lost his confidence, and seems to be overwhelmed by the constant questioning from the large Chicago media contingent.

VINNY DEL NEGRO: AN INSIDE SCORER & A CONSISTENT LONG-RANGE SHOOTER

It would have been easy to say job security for Vinny, but when you think about it, he's been forced to operate with a flawed roster all season long. The loss of Gordon has hurt the Bulls in so many ways. They currently rank near the bottom of the league in scoring, field goal percentage and three point shooting. Without a true low-post scorer or consistent three point shooters, the Bulls have been easy to defend. Opposing teams just pack the lane to keep Derrick Rose from getting to the rim, and they challenge the Bulls perimeter shooters to beat them. So far, the Bulls haven't come up with any answers. Salmons and Hinrich have struggled to find their shooting touch this season, and free agent addition Jannero Pargo has been a non-factor because of nagging injuries and limited playing time. Vinny has been going with a seven man rotation in recent weeks, and he runs the risk of burning out his key players. Getting Tyrus Thomas back from injury will give the Bulls another rotation player, but Tyrus won't solve either of the two biggest problems facing the Bulls' offense.

BERNIE BICKERSTAFF: A FEW NEW SUITS

If the Bulls decide to make a coaching change, Bickerstaff is the most likely guy to take over on an interim basis. He's been a head coach and general manager in the league, and has the experience to make some changes in the way the Bulls run their practices and execute in games. Maybe he has some ideas on using Derrick Rose more effectively.

DERRICK ROSE: A BOOK ON HOW TO BE AN NBA STAR

There's no questioning Derrick's ability. He has all the qualities to be one of the best point guards in the league. The problem is that he's TOO unselfish. He says the job of the point guard is to pass the ball to open teammates, and let them do the scoring. Unfortunately, that doesn't work on this Bulls' team, especially with Ben Gordon not on the roster anymore. Derrick needs to decide the Bulls will only go as far as he can take them, and look for his opportunities to score every second he's on the court. Rose is the biggest attraction for potential free agents to come to Chicago, and he needs to show his peers he can handle the responsibilities of being the best player on the team.

JOAKIM NOAH: ANOTHER SUMMER OF OFFENSIVE WORK

No player on the Bulls roster has improved more than Noah. He dedicated himself to getting stronger and working on his offensive game this past summer, and the results have been amazing. With another off-season of work on his low-post game, Noah just might be able to make the jump to an all-star caliber NBA center. He has been the Bulls' MVP. so far this season.

LUOL DENG: GOOD HEALTH

Deng has also been a pleasant surprise this season. No one really knew what to expect from the 6th year forward coming back from a right leg stress fracture, but he has been a consistent scorer and also has done a good job rebounding. Deng is playing through a chip fracture of his left thumb, and so far, it hasn't affected his performance. If he can stay healthy, Deng gives the Bulls a solid insideoutside forward to go along with Rose, Noah and whatever free agent the Bulls are able to sign next summer.

JOHN SALMONS: CONFIDENCE

Salmons played the best basketball of his career last season, averaging 18 points a game for Sacramento and the Bulls, and then reaching an even higher level in the playoff series against Boston. The front office believed he would be able to move into the primary scorer role vacated by Gordon. But for whatever reason, Salmons got off to a terrible start this season, and he's been battling his confidence ever since. He needs to attack the rim more and try to get to the free throw line, instead of settling for so many standstill three-point jumpers that rarely go in.

BRAD MILLER: A DRINK FROM THE FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH

Miller gives it all he's got every night. Problem is, I'm not sure there's a whole lot left. Miller has been an over-achiever throughout his career, even making a couple of all-star teams. But too many times this season, he's been rooted on the floor, while younger more athletic players jump over his back for rebounds or beat him to loose balls. It was great to see him take out Rajon Rondo with that hard foul earlier this month, but you get the feeling Miller's court time will be reduced greatly with Thomas back in the rotation.

TYRUS THOMAS: COACHABILITY

We know Tyrus' athletic skills are off the charts, but so far, he hasn't been very receptive to taking advice from the Bulls' coaching staff. Thomas will be a restricted free agent at the end of the season, and you get the feeling he'll probably start to blossom on his next NBA team. But there is still four months left in this season, and Thomas needs to show the rest of the league that he can be an impact player at the power forward position, not just a guy who makes the highlight shows with an occasional dunk or blocked shot. If Thomas can take his game to another level, the Bulls should be an improved team during the second half of the season.

KIRK HINRICH: IMPROVED THREE POINT SHOOTING

Back in his days at Kansas, Hinrich was a deadly three point shooter who did some of his best work with the game on the line. So far in his NBA career, Hinrich has been an erratic shooter, who earned a big contract with his ability to run a team and play solid defense. But with Rose now entrenched at point guard, Hinrich needs to be more of a scorer, and his biggest contribution right now would be to hit his perimeter shots more consistently.

TAJ GIBSON: A SUMMER IN THE WEIGHT ROOM

Gibson has been terrific as an unheralded rookie out of USC. Whether he's used as a starter or a reserve, Gibson brings all-out effort, solid rebounding and a nice mid-range jump shot to the table. But he's still a little thin for the NBA game, and sometimes gets pushed out of position in the paint. Another summer with Erik Helland and the Bulls' weight training staff should help him tremendously. With Tyrus Thomas likely to leave the Bulls after this season, Gibson should have a long and successful run with the Bulls.

JANNERO PARGO: PLAYING TIME

It seemed like a smart move when the Bulls signed Pargo to a low money, free agent deal last summer to provide some instant offense off the bench. But Pargo hurt his back and hip early in the season, and fell out of the rotation, and he hasn't been able to find his way back in. With the Bulls struggling to find an outside shooting threat, it might be time to give the Chicago native some consistent minutes.

JAMES JOHNSON: AN INTRODUCTION TO THE HEAD COACH

Johnson is the forgotten man on the roster, which is kind of surprising considering how the front office talked about him up on draft day. Del Negro doesn't have any faith in Johnson right now, and it looks like his rookie season will be pretty much a lost year. In his limited time, Johnson has been turnover-prone and frequently out of position, but on a Bulls' team pretty much waiting until next year, he should get some developmental minutes so the front office can see if he figures in their future plans.

AARON GRAY, LINDSEY HUNTER & JEROME JAMES: SOME READING MATERIAL FOR THOSE LONG NIGHTS ON THE BENCH

Hard to picture any of these players being on the team next season, unless Hunter moves into an assistant coach's role. And yes, Jerome James does come to the games. He's the seven foot guy wearing a casual suit without a tie. James ruptured his Achilles tendon about a year and a half ago. It could be the longest rehab in NBA history.

So, what would you suggest for the team that needs just about everything? Please post your comments in the section below or send me an e-mail. Have a safe and enjoyable holiday season, and let's hope for better basketball from the Bulls in the New Year!

Mark Schanowski hosts our Bulls pre- and postgame studio coverage with 15-year NBA veteran Kendall Gill. You can also watch Mark on SportsNite, Sunday through Thursday at 6:30 and 10.

NBA Power Rankings: Certain franchises at a crossroads

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USA TODAY

NBA Power Rankings: Certain franchises at a crossroads

The NBA trade season is heating up (again) as the February 7 trade deadline nears, and certain franchises have major decisions to make.

According to Adrian Wojnarowski, the Memphis Grizzlies have started to take trade offers for franchise cornerstones Mike Conley and Marc Gasol. Any trade involving those two would be the end of an era for the Grizzlies, who are currently second-to-last in the Western Conference. Last season the Grizz missed the playoffs for the first time since 2010, netting them young talent Jaren Jackson Jr. Now Memphis is almost sure to go into full rebuilding mode.

The Warriors are at the other end of the spectrum, finding a way to extend their dynasty. DeMarcus Cousins has looked surprisingly athletic in his return to action. Cousins is putting up 11 PPG, 7.5 RPG, and 4 APG in just 18 minutes per game this season. His passing from the post has been great and his perimeter shooting from the center position adds a new dimension to the already dangerous Warriors offense.

Chicago, not wanting to be left out of the action, recently made a trade with the Houston Rockets to rid them of the Carmelo Anthony salary. It is another cash-influenced move by the Bulls, but one that could help lend flexibility moving forward.

The Bulls will still look to unload the contracts of Jabari Parker and Robin Lopez in the meantime, but just like other rebuilding teams, giving big minutes to the younger players om the roster will be more important than anything else. 

See where the rebuilding squads, title contenders and everyone in between ranks in our latest power rankings here

NBA Buzz: Bulls will be in evaluation mode over final 2 1/2 months

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USA TODAY

NBA Buzz: Bulls will be in evaluation mode over final 2 1/2 months

Outside of maximizing their draft lottery odds, what exactly are the Bulls playing for over the final 35 games of the NBA season?

Wendell Carter Jr.’s rookie season is most likely over after going through surgery to repair ligament damage to his left thumb, so the 19-year old center won’t be able to continue to develop his offensive game. Carter did show enough in his 44 games to convince the front office he will be an important part of the team’s future.

Before we hit the trade deadline on February 7th the Bulls could ship out two of their veteran players in Robin Lopez and Jabari Parker which would move largely unproven players into backup roles.

Still, with almost half of the schedule left to be played there are several important things for the front office to learn about the roster and the coaching staff.

1. Should Jim Boylen be brought back next season? Bulls Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations John Paxson told reporters the plan is for Boylen to be the coach next season, but as we all know, plans can change. Zach LaVine’s comments last weekend about the team getting blown out too often after playing competitively early in the season had to resonate with the front office. If the Bulls limp to the finish line and fall short of the 20 victory mark, Paxson and general manager Gar Forman will have to take a long, hard look on whether they can start Year 3 of the rebuild with the same coaching staff in place.

2. Is Kris Dunn the PG of the future? The Bulls were high on Dunn dating back to the 2016 draft when he was selected 5th overall by Minnesota. They thought about swinging a deal for the Providence All-American that year, and eventually did acquire him on draft night 2017 in the Jimmy Butler trade. Dunn has shown flashes of being a solid NBA starter, especially on the defensive end, but his lack of consistency and availability (due to injuries) will probably bring considerable debate in the Advocate Center offices on whether to offer the 3rd year guard a big money extension of his rookie contract this summer. Forman has already been seen in college arenas twice over the past week scouting Murray St. PG Ja Morant, who could wind up being the 3rd pick in the 2019 draft. Dunn needs to have a strong finish to the season to convince the Bulls’ decision makers that he’s the right man to direct the offense long term.

3. Can Dunn, LaVine & Lauri Markkanen co-exist? The three players acquired in the Jimmy Butler trade with Minnesota haven’t had much time to play together because of injuries, but the analytics show they aren’t very successful over the minutes they have shared the court. Both Dunn and LaVine are at their best when playing on the ball, which means all too often Markkanen has a tough time getting consistent touches. The Bulls’ coaching staff and front office will be watching closely over the final two and a half months to see if the threesome can co-exist or if a trade might be necessary to improve offensive efficiency.

4. Is Bobby Portis still worth a lucrative contract extension? The Bulls worked with Portis’ agent right up to the opening night deadline with hopes of extending the 4th year forward-center. Reportedly, the Bulls made a very competitive offer on a 4-year contract, but Portis and his agent decided to roll the dice and see if he might do better as a restricted free agent this summer. Problem is, Portis has already missed two long stretches of the season because of knee and ankle injuries, which could hurt his value in a crowded 2019 free agent market. The Bulls will have to evaluate his play over the final 35 games and decide if a good shooting 6th man is worth a 4 year contract that could fall anywhere from 48 to 64 million dollars.

5. Is Chandler Hutchison a starting caliber SF? The Bulls are happy with Hutchison’s growth over the first half of the season, but questions remain about his ability to shoot consistently from the outside. On a team lacking consistent 3 point shooting, can the Bulls afford to start a non-shooter at a position that normally features a primary scoring threat? With the Bulls hoping to land Zion Williamson or R.J. Barrett in the draft and possibly making a run at free agent SF Tobias Harris, they’ll want to have a better idea of where Hutchison fits in the rebuilding puzzle by season’s end.

So, when you’re watching the final 35 games and our pre and post-game coverage on NBC Sports Chicago and the My Teams by NBC Sports app, these are some of the areas to focus on that go far beyond winning or losing that night’s game.

AROUND THE ASSOCIATION

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When training camp began in late September, Paxson told the assembled media the Bulls were healthy and 2 deep at every position. As we all know, that blew up almost immediately with Markkanen suffering a serious elbow injury in one of the first practices, Denzel Valentine being lost for the season to ankle reconstruction surgery and Dunn and Portis going out in the opening weeks of the regular season with knee sprains.

The Bulls were hoping to show the kind of progress we’ve seen in Sacramento and Brooklyn this season. Both of those teams have gone through long stretches of losing basketball, but they’re finally coming out on the other side. Sacramento is over the .500 mark for the season with 2nd year PG De’Aaron Fox looking like a future star, Buddy Hield and Bogdan Bogdanovic scoring on the wing, and young forwards Marvin Bagley III and Justin Jackson still in development mode. Kings’ coach Dave Joerger has done a terrific job getting his young squad to play with pace and believe in each other. Plus, Sacramento will have significant cap space this summer to try to add a veteran star to a team on the rise.

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The situation looks even brighter in Brooklyn, where the Nets currently hold the 6th playoff spot in the East, own two 1st round picks in the upcoming draft and have the potential to offer two max contracts in free agency,

In case you didn’t know, the Nets have won 17 of their last 22 games and their improvement hasn’t been lost on the rest of the league. Head coach Kenny Atkinson told Newsday’s Barbara Baker, “Hopefully, there’s really talk among players in the league, like ‘hey that’s a neat place to go to.’ “They care for their players. It’s a positive culture, a collaborative culture. You really want players to talk about that, to say that’s a place I’d love to go.”

Baker wrote dramatic improvement engineered by Atkinson in his 3 seasons in Brooklyn could outweigh the lure of Madison Square Garden when the Nets and Knicks compete for the elite free agents available this summer. If Kevin Durant would seriously consider signing with the Knicks, why wouldn’t he jump at the chance to bring another elite free agent with him to a team on the rise in nearby Brooklyn?

The progress made by organizations like the Kings and Nets will only make things more difficult for the Bulls when they try to recruit free agents in July.

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Klay Thompson was at it again Monday night in Los Angeles, making his first 10 three point attempts against the Lakers to tie an NBA record and finishing with 44 points in just 27 minutes.

Bulls’ fans witnessed another Thompson explosion back in October when he knocked down an NBA record 14 threes and didn’t play in the 4th quarter. Surprisingly, Thompson hasn’t shot the ball exceptionally well for the season, but it looks like he and Draymond Green are back in peak form after slow starts.

The Warriors have won 8 in a row, Steph Curry and Kevin Durant are playing at MVP level, they’ve got another former All-Star in the line-up with DeMarcus Cousins at center and they’ve taken over 1st place in the West.

Barring injury, it’s hard to imagine any team beating Golden State in a best of 7 series come playoff time.

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Finally, January 22nd holds special significance for a couple of recent events. Back in 2006, Kobe Bryant exploded for 81 points against the Raptors, which ranks as the 2nd highest single game total in NBA history, trailing only Wilt Chamberlain’s incomprehensible 100 point performance.

Closer to home, January 22nd, 2010 is the night Derrick Rose unleashed that iconic two hand thunder dunk on top of Suns’ guard Goran Dragic. It definitely ranks as one of the signature moments in Rose’s career and the classic call by Stacey King has been replayed locally and nationally hundreds of times. Check it out on our website when you get a chance. I guarantee it will still bring a smile to your face.