Bulls Keep Losing in Las Vegas


Jul 16

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LAS VEGAS — Yes, that would be the Summer League version of coming up snake eyes Wednesday for the Bulls kids.

“We got out toughed, including myself,” agreed James Johnson, who had 16 points, but shot four of 15 with a half dozen turnovers and perhaps a dozen defensive deficiencies in the Bulls 87-72 loss to Milwaukee. “We can’t have that. We’ve got tough and competitive guys and that’s how we want to be. They got the best of us.”

It was Rookie 101 for Johnson and Taj Gibson, the latter who fouled out, a rare Summer League occurrence, with 10 fouls, six in the first half in less than eight minutes.

“I got a lot of fouls early,” said Gibson, who just missed a triple double with 12 points, eight rebounds and 10 fouls (I thought the 10th was questionable). I should have been a little smarter. The coaches told me to keep up the intensity, keep playing. It was for me helping (on penetration breakdowns). Our guards were getting beat a lot and I was picking up a lot of nonsense calls. The coaches said I’m not going to get (those calls) with the higher level referees. I’ve just got to learn.”

The Bucks, who are 4-0 here while the Bulls fell to 0-2, gave the Bulls kids a good lesson. The Bucks were a more veteran team with Amir Johnson, Joe Alexander and Luc Mbah a Moute starting, and it looked like Johnson came in not having heard much about Mbah a Moute and how tough he is. Plus with assistant Adrian Griffin coaching, the Bucks played similarly to how they play in the regular season with more of a defined defensive game plan compared to the Bulls’ experimenting with mostly youngsters.

Though in the relatively limited history of the Las Vegas Summer League, no first place team ever has won an NBA title. So the Bulls needn’t worry yet.

As was suggested to me, this was one of those Vegas ads that it was better what happened in Vegas Wednesday for the Bulls stay in Vegas.

It was your classic wakeup call, especially for the highly touted Johnson after a nice debut in Tuesday’s loss to Golden State.

Johnson was played physically by Mbah A Moute and began to retreat to the perimeter, where he fired up several bad threes, missing all four attempts with an air ball. The shots were often too quick and without much ball movement.

There’s been much talk about Johnson being a kick boxer and martial arts champion. But he got pushed out to the place of least resistance and was poor on defense as he rarely contested shots.

The Hall of Fame nomination is now on hold.

“I didn’t think we moved the ball as well,” said Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro. “I didn’t think our shot selection was as good. I thought Milwaukee’s penetration hurt us. We didn’t share the ball. Our spacing wasn’t as good. It was one of those things, young guys trying to find themselves in a short period of time. We’ll have an opportunity to practice a little. We play the D-League All Stars tomorrow (Thursday).

“This is a whole learning experience for the young guys, for Taj, and James, especially,” said Del Negro. “This is what it’s all about. How do guys respond? How do guys make adjustments? This is a good test for these young kids.

Alexander is athletic and shoots it. Taj got in foul trouble again, early and often. I think there was too much holding the basketball.

Those are things you can’t fault. They are so young haven’t been together. You have to see how you bounce back and keep your confidence, keep your attitude right, keep working and find ways to get better.”

Gibson did after that gruesome first half when he had six fouls in 7:58 and the Bucks pounded the Bulls on the boards with 11 offensive rebounds. Though the highlight for the Bucks was point guard Brandon Jennings, who looks like he’ll be a special player.

The No. 10 overall pick is a jet with a flair for passing. He had 14 points and nine assists and is clever with the ball, cupping it often for passes in a variety of directions. He’ll be fun to watch.

Johnson will be as well, though he wasn’t Wednesday.

The game was close in the first half until the Bucks pulled away near the end of the half and led 47-38 at halftime. Jennings was constantly pressuring in the backcourt, and Johnson was helpful with pressure release in often bringing the ball up.

Johnson is fond of a spin dribble and the Bucks were ready, picking it off several times as he turned. The Bulls didn’t get much help in he backcourt with no true point guard playing and Anthony Roberson missed all five shots. With Taureen Green, the son of former Bull Sidney hitting a pair of threes, I wouldn’t be surprised if Green gets to start with DeMarcus Nelson. I thought James Augustine played another solid game, working his way to 10 points and seven rebounds though Amir Johnson was bigger and quicker. I can see Augustine giving the Bulls some second thoughts about whether they’d want to retain Aaron Gray.

Johnson came out in the second half with a hard drive without the spin and Gibson began to make plays, getting to some loose balls and scoring and finding a nice turnaround jumper range from about 15 feet on the baseline. Gibson also ran a nice inbounds play for a dunk, but everything else went down (hill) from there.

Johnson passed ahead to Nelson not looking for a turnover, shot a long three early in the clock, missed Augustine badly on a lob, not a great play choice, anyway, and then began firing bad threes in the fourth. The Bulls were four of 23 on threes and shot 34.7 percent whole the Bucks shot almost 52 percent. Alexander led them with 18, and if it were a regular season game the Bulls probably wouldn’t have left Gibson in that matchup as Alexander was too quick.

Johnson did draw 11 free throws and again showed quickness in beating his man and being fouled, and with all the misses the Bulls did finish with more offensive rebounds. Still, it’s a basketball lab not unlike a minor league baseball team with 20 guys hired so one guy can have someone to play with to get to the majors. The testing for Johnson and Gibson goes on.

It’s also Day 8 of Carlos Boozer held hostage.

There wasn’t anything much new on the Bulls front, though Boozer’s agents are said to have talked with several teams, including the Bulls, as the Jazz apparently have suggested to Boozer he find a team.

The buzz was the Heat, looking to appease a growing restlessly Dwyane Wade, were involved along with the Pistons. The other big name as David Lee seems to have faded is Lamar Odom. The Lakers confirmed they pulled an offer to Odom of $36 million for four years. Odom is an unrestricted free agent and the Heat is also said to be interested. Miami only has its midlevel exception starting at about $5 million, so the Lakers’ offer was substantially more. There was some talk maybe Odom would take a one year offer and then part of Miami’s big salary cap room next summer to provide a core for Wade.

The issues with Boozer are more complicated because of his past. He has been saying he’d sign an extension with the new team if he is traded. But he also told the Cavs if they allowed him to become a free agent on a technicality for a day or two so he could make more money from them he’d resign. When they did it, he jumped to the Jazz. Could you ever trust him? And how much would it be worth to give up to get him given that history?

Although the Bulls are always mentioned now prominently in Boozer rumors, the odds of a deal seem small to me. I’ve long said I’m no big fan of his game, and I think it’s clear the Bulls this season will need to improve their defense, which is Boozer’s weakness. It seems, even without Ben Gordon, they can score enough, though there remains the question of who’ll occupy the defense in last shot situations. Boozer isn’t exactly that guy, either, though in Miami’s case the theory is perhaps he entices Wade to stay. Would he entice Wade to go to Chicago? It could be a heck of a risk given his history and how much you might have to give up to get him.

I can see where there would be appeal to a team with Boozer and Derrick Rose. Though dealing with the Bulls gives the Jazz no salary or luxury tax relief since Boozer is on an expiring deal. The belief is the Jazz match the Portland offer for Paul Millsap. Then Portland has salary cap room again and could absorb Kirk Hinrich’s salary if the Bulls just wanted to create more potential salary cap relief for next summer to try to sign two free agents or, maybe, Boozer and another.

You figure if you get Boozer, Tyrus Thomas would be part of any deal. So then you may be looking at no Thomas and no Hinrich and Boozer walking on you and then not much of a core to attract a free agent. The Bulls are in Las Vegas for the week, but do you want to gamble that much, and on a player who has a career filled with injuries and missed games?

Would you do it? And then accept the consequences of a team that might not compete for years?

But if the Jazz match on Millsap, I can see the Trailblazers making a bid for Odom, though the rumors are Odom only wants to play in Los Angeles or Miami (smart guy. Warm weather). Odom really made more sense for Portland from the beginning. If the Jazz matches on Millsap, Portland would have the biggest contract to offer Odom. Could the Bulls get in on that? Odom would have to agree to a sign and trade that probably would cost Hinrich and another player, perhaps Tyrus. I like Odom, but he has a reputation for not showing up for maybe 20 games a season (in a figurative sense), and I doubt Chicago looks like Los Angeles or Miami to him. Plus into his 30’s, is that the way for the Bulls to go now?

Tough times for longtime former Bulls assistant Tex Winter, who suffered a severe stroke during the playoffs. If you haven’t seen it, Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times had a nice story Wednesday on Winter from Winter’s sons and included an address to write Tex at: 32100 SW French Prairie Road. No. 228. Wilsonville, Ore. 97070. Winter, a former Northwestern coach among many college jobs and offensive guru with the famed triple post offense, joined the Bulls when Jerry Krause was hired and left with Phil Jackson when Jackson went to the Lakers.

Also, former Bulls coach Doug Collins will receive the Curt Gowdy media award from the Basketball Hall of Fame during induction ceremonies in September when Michael Jordan is among those inducted. The John Bunn award for contributions to the game will also be officially given that weekend. It goes this year to the late Bulls broadcaster Johnny “Red” Kerr.

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