Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Click-a-Bull (Latest Trade Rumors: Magic, Lakers, Spurs; Turnaround, JJohnson, Potential vs. Performance, Slam Dunk Competition)

Bulls talking to Magic about Anthony Johnson
Per KC Johnson:

Magic men: Two league sources said the Magic is one of many teams the Bulls have talked to in their attempts to pare payroll before the Feb. 18 trade deadline. Guard Anthony Johnson has an expiring contract and the Bulls are making John Salmons and Tyrus Thomas available to any takers.

The Bulls remain focused on acquiring at least one expiring contract before the deadline.
For a trade involving Johnson [from the Magic] and Salmons or Tyrus [from the Bulls] to go down, other salaries need to be included. Looking over the roster, the only salary that really fits is JJ Reddick. Everyone else makes too little or isn't expiring.

Working from a base of Reddick + Johnson, you don't have enough salary to match John Salmons, so the obvious trade would be Reddick + Johnson for Tyrus. Orlando would also need to pick up a minimum salary player to meet the minimum roster requirements.


Lakers: Waiting on the Trade Deadline
With both sides anticipating Kobe Bryant extending his stay with the Lakers (be it midseason with an extension or in July with a new contract), it seems counter-intuitive the team would invest so much in the Pau Gasol/Andrew Bynum/Lamar Odom/Ron Artest/Bryant core without a point guard to round out the rotation.

While Brown has shown some ability he's primarily effective against specific defensive matchups and isn't an ideal lead guard in the triangle. The Lakers don't need a true point guard but Shannon doesn't necessarily possess enough combo skills to run the position full-time.

That's why Kirk Hinrich of the Chicago Bulls is so intriguing. He's a strong defender who can rotate up on coverages to small forward. He'd be a capable starter or - if need be - a high minute reserve. He's never been a high percentage shooter but Hinrich has never benefited from the kind of open looks he'd get playing alongside Bryant, Gasol, etc.

Kirk is set to make $9 million next year and $8 million the following season. That's the rub. He'd solve a lot of problems but Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss is already in for more than he ever expected.

A trade of expiring contracts like Adam Morrison, Josh Powell and Farmar may be appealing to the Bulls but Hinrich simply isn't worth $18 million next season - which is what the addition would be including the luxury tax. Including Fisher in a package isn't a consideration for Los Angeles; regardless that wouldn't change next year's economics.

Berger: Spurs Intrigued by Ty Thomas

Two Western Conference teams intrigued by Thomas are the Nuggets, patiently seeking a big man to contend with the Lakers, and the Spurs, who were characterized by two rival executives as desperate to acquire an athletic big man. “They feel like they have to do something, like they’re behind the eight ball a little bit,” one of the execs said. The Spurs have a full complement of expiring contracts that would intrigue the Bulls, who want to avoid losing a significant player with no compensation (see Ben Gordon) for the second straight summer. The Spurs, who dipped their toe across the luxury tax line this season, will have to decide before the end of their annual circus road trip – which continued Monday night against the Lakers – what they’re willing to give up to see that investment pay off.

Rebounding from difficult start

The Chicago Bulls got off to a miserable start this year, one that consisted of bum ankle to their star point guard that altered the team’s fortunes, rumors of the coach’s impending firing, and the search for more offense after the departure of Ben Gordon.

While the ship hasn’t totally been righted, the Bulls appear capable of returning to the postseason, even though the team’s makeup could change by the Feb. 18 NBA trading deadline.

First off, when point guard Derrick Rose injured his ankle early in the preseason, the entire Bulls team felt his pain.

Rose hasn’t missed any regular season games, but he certainly wasn’t his explosive self early on.

“It was frustrating,” Rose said.

Rose eventually worked his way through the injury, but it wasn’t easy.

“He missed the whole month of training camp pretty much and that set him back, getting in condition and from a mental aspect of not being able to push off his ankle the way he wants to,” Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro said. “He has relied on athleticism a lot and when that was taken away from him, that obviously changes things.”

Now healthy, Rose has shown marked improvement after earning Rookie of the Year honors last year. This season he has been named to his first NBA all-star game, something that should become an annual occurrence over the next decade or so.

Not only were the Bulls coping with injuries to Rose, along with Kirk Hinrich and Tyrus Thomas, but Chicago was dealing earlier in the season with rumors of Del Negro’s potential departure.

The low point came when the Bulls squandered a 35-point lead and lost 102-98 to the visiting Sacramento Kings on Dec. 21. The Bulls would lose their next game in New York, 88-81 to drop to a season-high seven games under .500 (10-17). As recently as Jan. 8, the Bulls were 14-20, but then turned things around by winning 9 of their next 11 games.

Before that recent surge, nobody was receiving more heat than Del Negro. It seemed like every day there was a story speculating on his potential successor. Del Negro says when the team was at its lowest, his only recourse was to keep battling.

“I never get too excited or too down if you win or lose, you have to keep fighting and figure things out, especially with young teams,” he said. “Some of our guys are playing at a high level.”

The players, like everybody else were aware of the rumors, but like their coach, they had no choice but to block out all distractions and concentrate on trying to turn around a disappointing season.

“The players really kept together,” Rose said. “We weren’t worried about anything like that and we let the front office deal with that, it’s not our business. Our job is to come in, play hard and make this organization look good.”

Few have done more to make a team look good than Rose, one of the most explosive players breaking down a defenders in the NBA.

The Summer Bowl: Joe Johnson to Bulls?
On the day after the Saints' Super Bowl win over the Indianapolis Colts, this former New Orleans resident feels a bit of pride for the city where I used to live, albeit briefly. It must be something akin to the Bears' last championship, or the Sox more recent World Series title or rather -- as powerful of an affection as New Orleans feels for the Saints -- the Jordan era of the Bulls, and the six wins that came with it.

As the NBA season continues to move forward, I wonder if my current place of residence -- Chicago -- can make a dent in what equates to the NBA’s Super Bowl for the majority of the teams in the league: this summer’s loaded free-agent pool, the Summer Bowl, if you will. Let’s be honest, while the Bulls are certainly playoff hopefuls, there are only a few true contenders for the crown this year and Chicago isn’t among them. However, the Bulls are a team with a shot to be a major player this summer.

The biggest fish in the pond, LeBron James, is a near-lock to remain in Cleveland, despite the Knicks/Nets propaganda that is being fed to the public. The Cavaliers can pay him the most money, they are a contender this year and could still add another piece before the upcoming trade deadline, further appeasing their star. If James does opt to leave Cleveland, it would be a long shot that he lands in Chicago.

The next-biggest superstar name on the list happens to hail from Chicago: Dwyane Wade -- though he looked very much like a mere mortal on Saturday night, as the Bulls snapped their three-game losing streak with a win over the Heat at the United Center in their last game. Unfortunately, while there might be some hometown sentiment and Wade stated after the game, as he has in the past, that winning is his top priority -- he may be dissatisfied with Miami at the moment, as the Heat are currently on a losing skid and aren’t in the same class as other Eastern Conference contenders -- but they aren’t in that much of a different situation than Chicago, with a few key differences.

First, like James in Cleveland, the Heat can pay him more than any other team. Next, it’s Florida -- the “Sunshine State,” for those unfamiliar -- and Miami more specifically. And Wade has stated his preference for the warmer climate after growing up in the Windy City and attending college in Milwaukee, not to mention the tax benefits he enjoys in Florida. Keep in mind that the Heat, with few players under contract for next season, potentially have the ability to bring another superstar to pair with “Flash” (and who wouldn’t want to go to Miami and play with Wade?), and it’s obvious the Bulls are fighting an uphill battle in their quest to put together an all-Chicago backcourt with Wade and Derrick Rose.

At The Trading Deadline: Chicago's Potential Vs. Performance Debate
For years we've seen the Chicago Bulls' mistakes turn into fortune for other teams. We've seen promising players turn into all-stars and headcases turn into defensive specialists. Another case of the organization expecting too much too soon, some may say. Or is it a case of cutting your losses before your time to cash in on them runs out?

What may not have be known then about Brand and Artest, but is clear now, is the impact these players would have on their teams down the road. What we do not know, is how GMs come to these hard decisions of getting rid of players who they once coveted.

Sure, Hindsight is 20/20. We all do some things we wish we could take back. But you take the gamble in the name of the organization and live with it. What do you say to Elton Brand leading the Clippers, who hadn't been to the playoffs since 2005, back to respectability and giving them there first series win in a playoff game in thirteen years? Oops maybe.

Who would have thought that Artest, an unknown second-round pick from St John's University, would win the defensive player of the year award in 2004, and become an all-star in the same year, three years removed from the team that drafted him.

You can make cases for other players that have come through the Bulls organization who later had success and become all-stars, such as Brad Miller. Even J.R Smith has become a top guy for the Denver Nuggets since his release from the Bulls.

High Definition (Click for VIDEO)

A Slam Dunk contest never hurt anyone…

2010 – The Silver Anniversary
This Saturday night marks the Silver Anniversary of the NBA’s annual Slam Dunk Competition. The 2010 installment will take place at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, TX, with high flyers Shannon Brown, Gerald Wallace, defending champion Nate Robinson and either DeMar DeRozen or Eric Gordon competing for the right to be named the L’s best dunker.

(SIDE NOTE: That is, unless LeBron James surprises everyone by becoming some sort of last minute mystery dunker… In fact, it’s not beyond the realm of possibilities to see LBJ come running out from the stands, blocking one of Wallace’s attempts from behind, collecting the loose ball, dribbling (full steam down the court) before taking off from behind the foul line for a perfect two handed windmill – stealing the 2010 title and fulfilling his promise to compete… What? It could happen. A guy can dream, right?)

Before the “Dunk Off”; before Nate Robinson attempts to do what Michael Jordan, Dominique Wilkins, Jason Richardson and Harold Minor couldn’t – win three dunk titles – we felt it only fitting to flick through basketball’s history books and remind ourselves why we care about all 24 NBA Dunk Competition’s and their winners.

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