Bulls to Begin Summer Games Tuesday


Jul 14

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LAS VEGAS— The Bulls get their first real look at their two No. 1 draft picks Tuesday in games with the team opening summer league play against Golden State and Stephen Curry.

I watched Curry Monday night and he’s going to be fine with Don Nelson. Curry doesn’t seem to be concerned that any shot is out of his range and was firing, seven of 19 for 23 points and three of seven threes, though I will say they all look like they’re going in. Playing with Monta Ellis, the Warriors may make Mike D’Antoni blush.

The Bulls seem excited to get a look at their guys, James Johnson and Taj Gibson, coming off an interesting three days of practices and scrimmages. Johnson surprised some around the team with his effort, which was the question mark hovering over him in dropping him to 16. Coaches were marveling over his playmaking and interior passing and said he pushed himself hard in the sprinting and conditioning drills.

Perhaps the most subtle find was in the words of one staffer who said in Johnson the team probably has its first true inbounds passer since Toni Kukoc, a tall player who with a feel for the pass. Johnson seemed to most enjoy being a playmaker in the team scrimmages, and as we saw in the recent playoffs, having someone who can see over the defender and make an inbounds pass is a lost art. At 6-8, Johnson could be a nice find in that area. For Gibson, the coaches seemed most impressed that his motor never went off, that he never seemed to allow his level of effort to recede.

But can you bring it to the game? No. 1 overall pick Blake Griffin did in his opener Monday. I’m casting my Rookie of the Year vote now. Griffin. The guy was terrific. He had the numbers, 27 points and 12 rebounds in 29 minutes, which doesn’t mean a whole lot in summer league mostly against guys who won’t be in the NBA.

Griffin was impressive in his relentless play, constantly talking on the court, running the floor, finishing and even hitting a three. He stayed on the floor on defense and didn’t go for shot fakes, but held his position and helped from the weak side as the Clippers beat the Lakers. It was like watching a clinic. Bucks coach Scott Skiles was watching as his team had next game and said it wasn’t a question of Griffin being great, but “how great he wants to be.”

One veteran coach was saying if you wondered what the late Len Bias may have been like, take a look at Griffin.

Later in his team’s game, Skiles’ Bucks outlasted the Kings in a good finish with Brandon Jennings making several big plays in the last minutes to secure a Bucks win. Though advertised as a shooting point, Jennings ran the team well, had 14 assists, seven steals and a late three to clinch the game. He looks like he’ll be good, though he’s not going to score as much as his opposing guard Monday, the Kings Tyreke Evans. Evans had 33 points and shot 19 free throws as with his size he simply blew by every guard. He’s going to get to the rim and score and figures to have plenty of opportunity with a bad Kings team.

Austin Daye with the Pistons looked way overmatched while Gerald Henderson, with the Bobcats not fielding a team, went to the Timberwolves to get some time but didn’t get in the game. Jeremy Pargo for the Pistons did a nice job with brother Jannero watching. Jannero’s signing was officially announced by the Bulls Monday and Jannero came with the team to Las Vegas to work out and practice, though not play in the summer league games.

The Bulls worked out a buyout with Tim Thomas, which freed up enough money to pay Pargo the biennial exception of $1.99 million for one year. Thomas didn’t figure in the Bulls plans, though the buyout doesn’t affect the expiring contract situation for 2010 with Pargo on a one year deal.

Pargo has some two year offers, one believed from Dallas, but liked the idea of getting more time with Ben Gordon gone and going into free agency next summer as well.

Though the Bulls lost Gordon, they are quietly looking good in the 2010 sweepstakes. Cavs GM Danny Ferry supposedly has been saying to watch for the Bulls because of their ability to sign a max free agent and have veterans in place, as well as a potential All Star pint guard whom players will want to play with.

As for Pargo, he split last season between Russia and Greece after, effectively, being taken advantage of by the Hornets, who made him an offer and then pulled it. By then, Pargo had lost chances to sign with the Spurs or Hawks and left the NBA behind with some bitterness. But he said he enjoyed the experience of playing overseas, though the most disturbing thing I heard was when I asked him about Moscow’s winter and he said it was about like Chicago’s. Have you noticed the days getting shorter?

The Bulls also will bring back Lindsey Hunter as a fifth guard and something of a mentor and unofficial coach. Hunter has pretty much been around the team the last month and had moved his family to Chicago. But with the buyout of Thomas, the team also has enough room to add a free agent big man who might be available later in the summer at the veteran’s minimum. That also depends on whether the team ends up signing Aaron Gray.

The buzz about free agency is beginning to abate with most of the major players signed, though Detroit made a bit of a move Monday in sending Aaron Afflalo to Denver. It opened up some cap space to sign a forward with the possibility former Bulls Drew Gooden may end there.

The Pistons have been one of the team’s mentioned regarding Carlos Boozer, though some speculation here was Boozer may end up in Miami in a deal involving Udonis Haslem. Miami was mentioned as a possibility for Allen Iverson along with the Clippers and Grizzlies. Though I can’t see him working anywhere.

The Bulls play the Knicks later in the week, but won’t see old pal Eddy Curry, who headed back to Detroit for further workouts. The Knicks wanted him in to see how he was progressing as Curry is said to be down to about 330 now from more than 360. The word also was that one of Curry’s former coaches, Tim Floyd, was talking to a team in Russia about coaching. Though I heard Tim doesn’t have to leave the country.

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