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Without forward(s), Bulls face Hawks on CSN

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Without forward(s), Bulls face Hawks on CSN

Friday, March 11, 2011
Posted: 2:52 p.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

After waiting until the season's stretch run for a fully-intact roster, Carlos Boozer's sprained left ankle put a slight damper on the increasingly optimistic Bulls' title hopes. Boozer's injury is similar to sprain the power forward suffered Jan. 15 against Miami, according to Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau.

Additionally, the Bulls' other starting small forward, Luol Deng, may not suit up Friday, due to a bruised left thigh. Deng's injury also happened against the Bobcats, when fellow Duke product Gerald Henderson caught him while making a wild circus shot underneath the basket.

The difference between Boozer's previous injury--after which Boozer missed Chicago's next three games--and this one is that not only is the national spotlight aimed directly at the surging Bulls, but in the midst of late-season jockeying for playoff position, the team simply cannot afford to lose their best low-post scoring option for an extended period of time. On the heels of the Celtics and just ahead of the Heat, Chicago is striving to overtake Boston and garner the Eastern Conference's top seed, but also has to be cautious of slipping to the third, which would pit them against a dangerous, new-look Knicks team in the first round of the playoffs if the postseason were to begin today.

That means they can't afford any hiccups along the way--such as the one they had last week in Atlanta against Friday's visitor to the United Center, the Hawks--and despite Boozer's recent offensive struggles, the mere scoring presence of the two-time All-Star at least gives opponents pause and consideration to double-teaming, something that can't be said about the Bulls' other post players. Although the Bulls' late-season slate isn't the most challenging, this time of the year is when teams with slim playoff hopes pull off upsets and lottery-bound squads play loose and turn to the future, with young players that haven't been extensively scouted getting the opportunity to showcase their games and perhaps surprise a contender.

As for Deng, after a career that's been marred by injuries, he's been a iron man all season. The native of Sudan is the team's leader in minutes--and among the league's leaders--and hasn't missed a game the entire campaign, prompting Thibodeau to alternately call him the team's "glue" and joke with reporters about Deng's usage, something of a sore spot for the coach earlier this season.

While Deng would never admit it, he's motivated by past criticism of his health and playing all 82 games was a goal coming into the season, especially with the more versatile role he's played for this year's Bulls team. Under Thibodeau, the eighth-year pro's versatility has been maximized, as he's guarded power forwards in Boozer's absence, been given defensive-stopper responsibilities, served as the go-to scorer when paired with the team's underrated second unit and with his extended shooting range, has thrived in as a third scoring option and has been particularly valuable to All-Star point guard Derrick Rose's drive-and-kick game, but also to the entire squad, in all facets of the game.

That being said, the tough-minded Bulls have been through this before and are unlikely to fold just because they're a man (or two) down, an occurrence they've obviously experienced before. With a game-changer like league MVP favorite Rose, a no-excuses coach like Thibodeau and a focused supporting cast always eager to prove their worth when they have an opportunity to shine, a letdown due to any absence from Boozer is something that should be counted on.

Never have two three-word phrases--"day-to-day" and "game-time decision"--meant so much and so little. Here's banking on the Bulls, with revenge on their minds, using the adversity to their advantage.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.com's 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.

ICYMI: Craig Kimbrel's next steps; White Sox reportedly promoting Zack Collins; Six thoughts on Olli Maatta

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USA TODAY

ICYMI: Craig Kimbrel's next steps; White Sox reportedly promoting Zack Collins; Six thoughts on Olli Maatta

The Cubs mapped out the next steps for closer Craig Kimbrel, the White Sox are reportedly promoting Zack Collins from Triple-A and how does the Anthony Davis trade affect the Bulls? Here's what you may have missed from the weekend in Chicago sports:

Cubs

Craig Kimbrel will officially join Triple-A Iowa this week, the latest development in his buildup towards joining the Cubs' 25-man roster.

A small change in interactions with his teammates has paid huge dividends for Kyle Hendricks. However, Hendricks landed on the 10-day injured list Saturday due to shoulder inflammation.

The Cubs wrapped up another tough road trip, finishing 2-5 against the Rockies and Dodgers this week. They did pick up a huge victory on Saturday behind Yu Darvish, however.

Brandon Kintzler joined Kelly Crull on the latest Cubs Talk Podcast to discuss his ongoing prank war with Steve Cishek, his growing role as a leader and mentor inside the clubhouse and more.

White Sox

According to a report, the White Sox are promoting top catching prospect Zack Collins from Triple-A Charlotte, adding another piece to their rebuilding puzzle.

The Eloy Jimenez Show is headed to the North Side this week, as the first act of the Crosstown Classic commences at Wrigley Field. In Jimenez and Lucas Giolito, the faces of the White Sox franchise might just be emerging. Jimenez even got a rave review from Yankees All-Star Gleyber Torres.

Although the White Sox are on the rise, learning to win also means the team has to learn how to lose.

Yoan Moncada's ongoing back issues continued this weekend.

Blackhawks

The Blackhawks acquired defenseman Olli Maatta from the Penguins for forward Dominik Kahun. Here are six thoughts on the deal and what's next for the Blackhawks.

NBC Sports Chicago's Blackhawks beat writer Charlie Roumeliotis answers fan questions in the latest Blackhawks mailbag.

Roumeliotis discusses how Matthew Boldy and Kaapo Kakko would fit with the Blackhawks in his latest NHL Draft profiles.

Other

The Bulls weren't part of the Anthony Davis trade to the Lakers, but the deal could have an effect on the NBA Draft. And while the Bulls don't currently have salary cap space to sign a max player, here's how they can make room for one.

The Bears are on summer break for the next five weeks. Here's what they'll be up to.

How the Bulls can land a max-salary free agent

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USA TODAY

How the Bulls can land a max-salary free agent

The Bulls will enter free agency with approximately $20 million in cap space. That’s far short of the amount needed to sign a max-salary player, but there is a path for the team to land a star — if one chooses to play in Chicago. With rumors out of Brooklyn that D’Angelo Russell would be on his way out if the Nets sign Kyrie Irving, coupled with the uncertain futures of both Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant, Bulls fans are wondering “what if.” I’ll let much wiser people debate if the Bulls should extend an offer to any of these players; I’ll outline how it could happen.

In terms of this discussion, it’s very important to note that not all free agents are eligible for the same max salary. The league has three tiers of max free agents, broken up by years of service. Players with 0-6 years of service are in one tier, 7-9 years in another, and 10+ years of service in the last.

Players in the more experienced tiers can get a much larger contract over players coming off their rookie contracts. The wonderful Larry Coon explains this in detail in his CBA FAQ. The exact 2019-20 salary cap will be announced at the end of the month. It’s currently projected at $109 million, and for this scenario, we use that number. Essentially, tier 1 players can get 25 percent of the cap, tier 2 30 percent and players with 10+ years of experience can get 35 percent of a team’s cap.

Russell would fall into the 0-6 years tier, earning him a first year salary (the one that matters in terms of cap space) of approximately $27.2 million. Klay Thompson has eight seasons of experience and is eligible for a first-year salary of about $32.7 million. His teammate Kevin Durant can sign a max deal starting at $38 million.

Step 1- Get medical waiver on Omer Asik’s $3 million cap hit.

The Bulls will find out by June 30 if the league approves their waiver request on Asik. The former Bulls big has a $3 million cap hit of guaranteed money on the books for the 2019-20 season. The team waived Asik back in October and it looks like his NBA career may be over after dealing with arthritis and Crohn’s Disease. The NBA is likely to approve the Bulls request, and they’ll get that money back in cap space for free agency.

Step 2- Waive and stretch Cristiano Felicio

The league allows teams to waive players and stretch their contracts over several years to lessen the immediate cap hit a team takes. Felicio is owed approximately $15.7 million over the next two seasons. The stretch provision means teams can spread out the cap hit of a waived player twice the years remaining on the deal, plus one. This translates to a cap hit of approximately $3.1 million over the next fives years instead of the amount he’s owed. This means the Bulls would gain an additional $5 million in cap space this summer.

Accomplishing steps 1 and 2 will clear enough cap space for the Bulls to sign a 0-6 year free agent, so if Russell wants to play for the Bulls and the front office feels he’d be a good fit, it would only take these two steps to sign him. It gets more complicated for the more experienced free agents.

Step 3- Trade Kris Dunn for a 2nd round pick.

Dunn is owed $5.3 million for the 2019-20 season. Trading him for a second round pick would net the Bulls a cap saving of $4.4 million. The reason the Bulls don’t get to keep the full amount is that teams have to account for a roster spot against the cap when they go below 12 players. Trading Dunn would get them into the 7-9 years tier and allow them to sign Klay Thompson (or any of the other free agents at that tier).

Step 4A- Trade out of the first round of the 2019 draft

Here is where it gets a lot more difficult for the Bulls if they want to sign a 10+ year free agent. They have to clear about $5 million more in cap space. Let’s safely assume they aren’t going to trade Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen or Wendell Carter for pennies on the dollar just to clear cap space. Otto Porter’s contract makes him a very unlikely trade candidate as well. Trading the No. 7 pick for a future first nets them another $4.4 million, close enough to get to that max slot with other small moves.

The major flaw with this is the draft is June 20 and free agency starts 10 days later. You’re not going to get a commitment from any superstar worth this amount until June 30, so essentially this option is off the table.

Step 4B- Trade Denzel Valentine and Chandler Hutchison for second round picks

This option is a lot more likely if the Bulls can sign a superstar in the 10+ years tier. Hutchison showed promise in his rookie season, and despite missing all of last season, Valentine should be able to get you something (especially if packaged with Hutchison). I doubt the team wants to punt on Hutchison after one season, but they'd have to, if this was the only thing in the way of signing a franchise changing star.

If you want to dream for the Bulls, our friends at NBC Sports Boston put together a list of the top free agents available. The likelihood is that the Bulls will use their cap space to sign a few veteran free agents to give them some much needed depth, but should they dream big, there is a path to be in play for a star.

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