Thursday, April 22, 2010

Click-a-Bull (Silver Lining; Playoffs as Recruiting Tool?; + FA Update: Bosh, Wade, JoeJo, Boozer)

NBA Playoffs: A Silver Lining in the Cloud of Chicago's Game Two Loss

For more than three quarters Monday night in Cleveland, the Chicago Bulls matched the Cavaliers blow for blow as they tried to steal Game Two of their first round playoff series.

Almost inevitably, however, the Cavs put together a late-game run—fueled by another transcendent performance from LeBron James—to claim a 112-102 win.

There were no surprises, here. (Well, Jamario Moon’s three-point shooting, perhaps.) It’s a story that’s played out many times in postseason history.

The Bulls played spirited basketball, executing on offense and swarming on defense. Joakim Noah, Derrick Rose, and Luol Deng matched everything that James and company had to offer.

However, as well as those three played, it was clearly all Chicago could do just to stay even with the deep and powerful Cavaliers.

Cleveland, meanwhile, looked calm and confident, even when the Bulls carried the lead into the fourth quarter.

There was no panic. The Cavs were puzzled, perhaps, and even a bit irritated; but there were no signs of worry, no indications that they were about to come unraveled.

Sure enough, Moon stepped up to deliver three three-point daggers in the final period, and James flipped the switch that launched his latest late-game heroics.

The Bulls were deflated, and the game was over.

As the series moves to Chicago with the Bulls in a two-game hole, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. This is clearly a team on the rise.

Noah grew up a little Monday night. He relished the challenge of wrestling with Shaquille O’Neal, and he used his youth and quickness to outplay the Cavs’ elder statesman—and anyone else Cleveland threw at him.

Noah’s 25 points and 13 rebounds paced the Bulls. He’s been outspoken with his comments about this series (and others), and backed them up with intensity and focus.

Rose, meanwhile, gave the Cavaliers fits with his explosiveness, finishing with 23 points and eight assists. Deng chipped in a workmanlike 20 points.

Another bright spot: rookie forward Taj Gibson, who had 11 points and seven rebounds in just 23 minutes.

Could not agree more, Noah and Rose have made it clear to any potential FA (notably Bosh or Wade) that this is the place to come if you want to win right away. I doubt Wade leaves Miami, but if he does - we have created the perfect situation for him, in stark contrast to the terrible team he has with the Heat.

My fear is that Taj is playing TOO WELL right now, which will cause the Bulls front office to overrate him ... and think we don't have to go after a power-forward like Bosh. Then Wade stays in Miami, and the Bulls go after the next best 2-guard option ... Joe Johnson. He's good, but I'm not sure he puts us over the top for title contention the way the Wade or Bosh would.

Bulls playoffs a recruiting tool?

Mission accomplished!

Really, though, they've already accomplished the most important goal, just by making the playoffs and producing some nice highlights.

Derrick Rose has been knifing through two, three, sometimes four defenders and still finding ways to score. Joakim Noah put the wrath of Cleveland on his shoulders, then stepped up under pressure to deliver 25 points and 13 rebounds in Game 2.

I agree that making the playoffs gave us a heck of a lot more credibility than missing them. I've been arguing that point with those who've been hoping for a 2% chance at a top three pick for awhile.

I don't think our play against Cleveland ha raised the bar any though. We've done a nice job of not embarrassing ourselves, but it's going to take more to leave a lasting positive impression on free agents this summer.

Two wins, and I think free agents will say "wow they played Cleveland as tough as anyone" after Cleveland wins the title later this year. One win, and I think we'll be respectable. Zero wins, regardless of how hard we fight, won't earn us anything more than we've already earned in terms of respect.

McGraw also adds this scary tidbit:

One thing that appears certain this summer is it will take a maximum contract to get Bosh or Johnson. The Knicks didn't create all that cap room to park it in a mutual fund. They've geared up for a spending spree and likely will offer massive deals to both players.

I can't disagree with that speculation. It's going to take a max contract to get Joe Johnson. If we're willing to throw down that money on Joe Johnson then we'd better be willing to go into the tax, or this team's in real trouble going forward, and history doesn't support us going into the tax. Maybe the prime of Derrick Rose's career will be different. We can only hope.


NBA Free Agency Watch: The Top Three Destinations for Chris Bosh

What an unceremonious way to go.

Chris Bosh's facial injury will probably end up damaging much more than just his nose. In all likelihood, it not only ended Toronto's chances of making the Playoffs this year—as Chicago now has more momentum for the 8th and final spot in the East—but it also was probably the end of Bosh's tenure in a Raptors uniform.

Unlike Joe Johnson, (discussed last week,, Chris Bosh is not only the most likely to leave of the free agents we'll discuss, but he also would probably be the smartest to do so.

While Toronto didn't make my list of teams that were stuck in neutral, (found, they probably would have an automatic berth on that article if it were updated today.

When it comes to the Raptors, a lot of money has been spent on a squad whose chemistry never really clicked, whose toughness has been painfully lacking for yet another year, and who has underachieved beyond even the realistic expectations of a 4th or 5th seed in the East.

What's worse, the Raptors basically painted themselves into a corner while trying to convince Bosh to stay.

That things have turned out so poorly, while also limiting the chances for meaningful change, should probably convince Chris Bosh to cash out early in Toronto and avoid recreating the career arc of Kevin Garnett's painfully frustrating first 12 seasons.

So, with our second installment, we ask the question: "Where's the best place for Chris Bosh to wind up by the time this summer is over?" We answer in descending order:

1. Oklahoma City Thunder

The similarities between Chris Bosh and Kevin Garnett cannot simply be limited to the fact that they both have tirelessly labored for highly appreciative, but ultimately mismanaged franchises.

Both Bosh and Garnett have not only been blessed with freakish wingspan and leaping ability, but also with unparalleled athletic timing and work ethics. Both players are technically superior defensive anchors, who are also multi-dimensional offensive players as well.

Unfortunately, there is an unquestionable amount of evidence that both are also only true No. 1 players until crunch time reveals that they really are more comfortable in the No. 1a category. When it comes down to it, both players have been most successful when they can rely on someone else to take the big shots and close the game.

Can you imagine an already loaded Thunder roster adding one of the game's best defensive big men? Can you imagine a team-first veteran like Bosh patrolling the boards, while steadying this upstart squad with his deadly mid-range jumper and finishing ability?

This would be the best destination for Chris Bosh by far. A starting lineup of Russell Westbrook, Thabo Sefolosha, Kevin Durant, Chris Bosh, and Nenad Kristic would have one of the highest ongoing ceilings in the league.

Keep in mind that Jeff Green would be the 6th Man and crunch time replacement for Kristic, since Bosh could spot time at Center. Then, Serge Ibaka, Nick Collison, and James Harden could fill out the rest of the rotation.

Would you want to mess with that group next season? Didn't think so.

Are they a candidate to perennially win 60 games by adding a proven veteran superstar like Bosh? Absolutely.

Teaming up Chris Bosh with Kevin Durant is the type of no-brainer pairing that even a New York or New Jersey would have trouble providing.

Kevin Garnett didn't get an opportunity to play with fellow stars who completed his game until the tail end of his career. How could Bosh or Oklahoma City pass up the chance to make things right, right now?

2. Chicago Bulls

While the 2008 Beijing Olympics are mostly remembered for LeBron's unparalleled finishes, Kobe Bryant's veteran clutchness, Carmelo Anthony's new-found motor, and Dwayne Wade's triumphant comeback, it's actually Chris Bosh's defense that has remained an enduring memory for me.

Bosh not only was a steadying factor coming off the bench for the Americans, but he also was the glue guy who seemed to do all the little things at the exact right moment.

While Bosh did provide timely post play on offense, it was his defensive communication, mobility, and technical perfection that unquestionably made him the most effective big man for the U.S. during the entire tournament.

Can you imagine pairing him with Joakim Noah and Luol Deng on the Chicago front line? Would you want to try to score inside against that group?

Every single one of those guys is not only a fantastic one-on-one stopper, but a terrifying help defender as well!

Like the Thunder, the Bulls are another attractive fit for Bosh, since they are also already pre-built.

Bosh would be able to blend into an offense without having to absolutely carry it. He would be able to concentrate on the strong points of his game, while deferring to a fellow star, Derrick Rose, for the big shots.

Chicago's lengthy and well-publicized search for post help would be more than adequately addressed with a Bosh signing. While he's more of a jump-shooter than a back-to-the-basket player, he would undoubtedly provide enough across the board to push the Bulls into the East's upper echelon.

NBA Free Agency Watch: The Top Three Destinations for Carlos Boozer

While Carlos Boozer may not have quite the impact or clout of a LeBron James or Dwayne Wade, he certainly stands to benefit from the bidding wars that will surround those elite players this offseason.

Still, let's not diminish this guy's accomplishments either. When healthy, Boozer is one of the few automatic low-post scoring threats in the league. He's a "20 and 10" machine whose finishing and off the ball movements have meshed perfectly with super-point teammate, Deron Williams.

What's more, in addition to typically averaging a steal per game, Boozer has quietly become an effective passer at this stage of his career, racking up three assists per contest this season.

On the flip side, Boozer's limitations are also well defined. They are the reason why, right or wrong, he is oftentimes still not considered in the same stratosphere as other high-profile free agents-to-be like Chris Bosh ( ) and Joe Johnson ( ).

When it comes down to it, Carlos Boozer is an extremely gifted offensive player who is an average defender. He has never been able to protect the rim—probably due to a lack of height. He has also been susceptible to a myriad of nagging injuries and given plenty of reasons to be perceived as a mercenary for hire.

It is probably karmic payback that Carlos Boozer's stay in Utah has turned out like this, given the sketchiness of his signing heist away from Cleveland six seasons ago.

Boozer fought through a host of long-term injuries after signing, only to distract a deep Jazz team last year with his impending departure, and then to ultimately disappoint them when he opted-in to his contract anyways.

In the end though, Carlos Boozer has absolutely produced when on the floor. He has been an integral part in yet another successful Jazz season, and his skillset is the kind coveted by nearly every team in the Association.

Not every franchise with cap space can get LeBron or Wade, but Boozer stands to make a lot of money as a running mate for those that do, or as a consolation prize for those that don't.

Here are the top three possibilities, in descending order, for Carlos Boozer this offseason:

NBA Free Agency Watch: The Top Three Destinations for Joe Johnson

Is it too early to be doing this? I mean, we haven't even made it to the Playoffs yet. Aren't we supposed to be looking forward to those first?

Of course, if we're talking about LeBron however, this conversation is already two-plus years old!

So, let's begin to speculate, prognosticate, and even commiserate with those players not named LeBron—maybe we'll get around to him eventually—who are facing tough decisions about their future locations.

We don't have to limit our conversations concerning these top-flight free agents simply to the teams with loads of offseason cap space—as sign and trades are certainly always possible—but we must give them special consideration, as the odds are in their favor to make a big splash.

So, with our first installment, we ask the question: "Where's the best place for Joe Johnson to wind up by the time this summer is over?" We answer in descending order:

1. Atlanta Hawks

It's not that I'm opposed to change. Far from it, actually.

In this case however, Joe Johnson's smartest choice would be not to mess with the good thing he's already got going.

If you're Joe Johnson, why would you want to move on to a rebuilding team like the Nets and spend a couple of years trying to gain traction? Didn't you just get done doing that in Atlanta?

Would you really want to pair up with another superstar in New York, have to become the team's second gun, and probably play on a roster devoid of role players and depth?

Why do that when you are the undisputed top dog on your current team, which also happens to feature some of the most athletic and developed young forwards in the league?

Joe Johnson's three position versatility is rightfully going to be a coveted commodity this offseason. However, his skill set has developed alongside a cadre of players who complement each other so well in a hierarchy that is already established.

True, there might be a few extra dollars involved to leave, but the actual chances of personal and professional success are greater alongside the likes of Al Horford, Josh Smith, and Marvin Williams.

I would hate to see Joe cash out early on his investment of the past five seasons. He came to Atlanta during one of the franchise's lowest points. He has been a part of the Hawks' ascension to the NBA's near-elite. Why leave now and miss out on the payoff?

2. Chicago Bulls

Could Joe Johnson thrive as the second fiddle to a LeBron or Dwayne Wade? His versatility and relatively unassuming manner indicate that he very well could.

However, as stated above with the Hawks, I believe that Joe Johnson will be most successful as a No. 1 star surrounded by a talented supporting cast of 1a. and near-star players.

Like Atlanta, the Chicago Bulls have an intriguing roster that is filled with legitimate near-stars in Luol Deng and Joakim Noah, while also possessing a player in Derrick Rose who could alternate with Joe Johnson as the lead on a nightly basis.

Add Taj Gibson, Kirk Hinrich, and James Johnson as the other Bulls scheduled to return next year, and Chicago could field a very potent eight-man rotation, while filling out the rest of the roster with adequate depth after Joe Johnson's signing.

A starting lineup of Rose, Joe Johnson, Deng, Gibson, and Noah would be more than athletic and multi-faceted enough to make up for the continuing lack of a post-up player.

It's entirely possible that Chicago could still address that lessened need via a trade or reasonable free-agent signing. With Johnson aboard however, a low-post signee no longer needs to be a star-caliber acquisition. Instead, he just has to be a "different look" role player.

The Bulls will rightly make a big play for hometown hero Dwayne Wade, but in the event that he opts to go elsewhere, Joe Johnson is a perfect fit to step in and round out a Chicago roster that has always seemed just one piece away.

Raptors hoping to re-sign Bosh

The Toronto Raptors are going to make a last-ditch effort to re-sign franchise forward Chris Bosh with a pitch that includes not only a maximum contract offer, but also a promise that the club is willing to spend considerable luxury-tax dollars for the first time in an attempt to compete with the top teams in the Eastern Conference.

“I fully embrace the notion and still fully intend to talk about him staying a Raptor,” Raptors president Bryan Colangelo said Monday while going over the entrails of a second straight playoff-less season, “and the things that might happen with this team should he stay, the success we could have here and why Toronto is the right place for Chris Bosh.”

Colangelo also committed his ownership group – Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd., the multi-billion-dollar conglomerate that counts profits if not playoff berths from the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs and Major League Soccer’s Toronto FC – to go further into the NBA’s punitive luxury tax than it ever has before in order to secure the NBA team its first 50-win season heading into its 16th year.

“The plan … is to win basketball games at whatever cost and whatever extent,” he said. “The board is fully committed to doing whatever it takes to put a winning team on the floor. That includes re-signing Chris Bosh. That includes exceeding the tax limit.

“… I’ve got scenarios where we’ll be a $3-million [all currency U.S.] tax team and a $7-million tax team. And I’ve got scenarios where we’ll be higher than that.”

Wade looking for show of support

Dwyane Wade(notes) trudged off the court late Tuesday, his Miami Heat trailing the Boston Celtics by 33 points and more than six minutes still remaining in the game. The scene was unmistakably clear: If Wade wants help – if he hopes to build these Heat into anything close to resembling a contender – it will have to wait until the summer.

Wade scored 29 points, but, yes, this was mostly a game of one-on-five. The Heat’s lone All-Star was no match for the Celtics, even with Kevin Garnett(notes) suspended. The Celtics rolled to a 106-77 victory to take a 2-0 lead in the first-round series and this was the message they sent: Wade might be one of the three best players in the game and the best player in this series, but even he can’t beat Boston by himself.
More From Marc J. Spears

”We don’t win unless everyone is playing well,” Wade said. ”I don’t care if I score 50, we don’t win the ball game. It takes more that that to beat this team. I got confidence in my guys. They struggled tonight.”

Garnett was likely laughing while seated on the couch at his home. So much was made of his suspension for elbowing Quentin Richardson(notes) in the jaw in Game 1, but neither Richardson nor anyone else with the Heat made Garnett pay for his actions. Wade made 11 of his 18 shots, but the rest of the Heat combined to miss 40 of their 58 attempts.

The Celtics have won all five of their meetings with the Heat this season, including two games in which they didn’t have Garnett. Wade has averaged 31.2 points in those five games, but it hasn’t mattered much.

”One player can’t win it,” Wade said. ”We need everyone who comes in to be positive and have a positive input. We’ve got a couple guys who are struggling right now. As we always do as a team we’re going to stick together. That’s the only reason we’re here now, the only reason we have success.”

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