Forman and Del Negro optimistic about season


Jul 25

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LAS VEGAS—Introducing your Chicago Bulls, 2009-10.

G: Derrick Rose
G: John Salmons
G: Kirk Hinrich
G: Jannero Pargo
G: Lindsey Hunter

F: Luol Deng
F: Tyrus Thomas
F: James Johnson
F: Taj Gibson

C: Joakim Noah
C: Brad Miller
C: Jerome James
C: Aaron Gray

With USA Basketball wrapping up its tryout camp here with a public
scrimmage game Saturday, summer leagues completed and just about all
the free agency musical chairs filled with only David Lee with nowhere
to land and Carlos Boozer seemingly in Utah for at least awhile, the
Bulls roster seems complete for at least the opening of the season.

“The roster (is set) as of now,” said Bulls general manager Gar Forman,
who is here with coach Vinny Del Negro to watch Rose’s play in the USA
Basketball mini-camp. “We talk to a lot of teams to see if we can make
ourselves better. Outside of a major type trade, I really don’t see us
doing anything. We would anticipate we will carry 13 players.

We have
a qualifying offer out to Aaron Gray and all indications are that he
will sign it and return.
 I like our roster. We like our young core and
where we’re at. We feel pretty good going into the season.”

The Bulls, according to sources, have engaged in preliminary
discussions about numerous players, including Boozer and Lee. As a
restricted free agent, the Knicks are said to be prepared to match any
offer around the $8 million range for Lee. Lee is seeking a contract
worth as much as $12 million a season. No team can or is willing to pay
anywhere near that, sources indicate. And the Knicks have pretty much
said no to all sign and trade possibilities. Lee probably will return
to the Knicks with a qualifying offer and become an unrestricted free
agent after next season, when the Knicks say they would have the money
to sign him. As for the Jazz, they apparently are holding out for a top
starting player and substantial cost savings, which they have been
unable to get for Boozer. They are saying they’ll be patient and could
now wait until well into the season to make a deal. Or just allow
Boozer to play out the season and become a free agent and save his
$12.7 million salary then.

Both Forman and Del Negro sat for interviews Friday after watching Rose
help lead his scrimmage team to a narrow victory in a highly
entertaining game involving some terrific young talent.

You could make a heck of a team of the players here hoping to gain one
of the three or four spots likely to open for the 2010 USA Basketball
team in the World Championships.

Among the most impressive have been Rose, Kevin Durant, Rudy Gay, Kevin
Love, Russell Westbrook, Eric Gordon, Devin Harris and Andre Iguodala.

Rose is definitely in contention for a spot as the team is looking for
a point guard, presumably to replace Jason Kidd. It seemed clear
watching Rose for the first time since the playoffs he’s been working
hard on his shot and his body, looking thicker but without losing any
of his quickness.

“It looks like Derrick has taken another step with his maturity,” said
Forman. “It looks like he believes he belongs and he does. He’s been
more vocal. He’s been extremely unselfish, which is unusual in this
setting, which I think is a real positive. You can tell he’s spent a
lot of time working on his shot. It seems like he’s got kind of a
swagger to his game.

“It’s part of his growth,” said Forman. “He knows this. He’s got to
become more of a leader, more vocal. A lot of people have commented in
losing Ben (Gordon) that Ben was a guy who can go make plays at the end
of a game. For Derrick to continue to develop and his game to grow he’s
got to take on more responsibility in that area.”

“Derrick looks like he’s been lifting (weights), which we talked
about,” added Del Negro. “He looks stronger. He’s such an excellent
athlete. He’s working on his shot a lot. His progression will continue
to go north.”

Which is what the Bulls are hoping can lead them into contention at
least in the middle of the playoff pack in the Eastern Conference
despite losing Gordon to the Detroit Pistons in free agency.

“There’s no question we’ll miss some of the things Ben gave us, the
ability to have big scoring quarters, his ability to make shots,
especially at the end of games,” said Del Negro. “Other guys have to
step up. It’s a big year for Joakim and Tyrus, for Derrick’s growth.
John Salmons and Brad Miller will be with us from Day 1. Get Luol Deng
to the level we need him. We’re going to miss Ben in certain
situations, but I feel the rest of the guys can pick up and hopefully
we can be better defensively and rebounding.”

Del Negro insisted the starting lineup isn’t final, though it seems it
will be Rose and Salmons in the backcourt with Deng and Thomas at
forward and Noah at center.

“I don’t know if the starting lineup is set,” Del Negro insisted.
“There are things we’ll do a little differently. We should have a good
rotation, deeper. I thought our rotations at times got a little short
at the end of the season. So hopefully I can get a comfort factor with
the young guys and guys we added to have a deeper rotation. Jannero can
score. Kirk will push Derrick. John and Luol at three. Luol can play
four. James Johnson can play three and four. Without having our leading
scorer, we’re going to have to have other guys producing those points
and also making plays down the stretch for us. We expect a lot for

The general consensus has been the Bulls may have taken a step back
with the loss of Gordon. But Rose was very impressive here and could
take a big step forward. Salmons gives the Bulls that bigger shooting
guard, though some feel he’s better suited at small forward. Del Negro
says he’ll expand the rotation and mix and match more with Salmons and
Deng up front at times and Rose playing with Hinrich or Pargo.

The deadline passed Thursday for the Bulls to lift their qualifying
offer to Gray. So it seems they are intent on bringing him back and it
isn’t likely he gets a bigger offer with few teams going beyond
13-player rosters or spending more free agent dollars.

The Bulls believe having Salmons and Miller all season instead of the
drama with Larry Hughes last season will help. They note Hinrich missed
most of the first half with a thumb injury and Noah was out of shape
and ineffective due to summer and camp injuries. And Thomas is playing
for a new contract and working hard this summer, the Bulls say. Of
course, much depends on Deng’s return to good health and a prior level
of play. But summer is still the time to feel good.

“There’s more continuity having Brad and John going through camp,” said
Forman. “Also with the coaching staff. The players were new to the
staff, the staff to the players. The staff was still trying to figure
out some of their roles. I think they’ll be more comfortable. We
basically have the core of the team that finished last year with some
pretty good depth and feel the two rookies can help us.

“James showed in summer league he is a talented kid,” said Forman. “He
still has a lot to learn and has to get in better shape. But he showed
the versatility he had in college. And Taj. He’s steady and it’s
realistic he can (also) have a role. It depends on how deep Vinny is
going to go with the bench, but there a chance both can get consistent

“Lu is healthy,” said Forman.

The last CAT scan there was no sign of the stress fracture. He’s put on
10-12 pounds of good weight, muscle. He’s been doing a lot of drill
work and he’s stepping up to where now they cleared him to start
running and playing some. We’ve been real cautious but he seems like
he’s fine. Tyrus has had a good summer. He’s been in the gym twice a
day, once in the weight room and once on the floor. He’s really
committed himself to that. Tyrus is trending up. I thought he had a
better year last year. He knows he has to get stronger, continue to
work on his shot. And we’re going to need him to step up and have a big
year for us.

“Joakim, he’s coming back this week (from France),” said Forman. “He
was going to play, I think, in a couple of exhibition games. But the
plan was for him to go over for two weeks and kind of get acclimated to
their system with an eye to the Olympics down the road. But he knows,
like Tyrus, he needs to be in the weight room and get stronger. It’s a
big developmental summer for him. So he’ll be back to work on his
strength and conditioning and skill work. He’s getting bigger. I think
he will be more confident the way he finished the year and the great
summer he’s having. With his game he’s got to be in top condition
because he’s an energy type player. We’re expecting him to progress and
have a good year.

“We’ve had a lot of talks with a lot of teams,” said Forman. “We have
players teams have shown interest in. But most of the stuff out there
has been pure rumor and I don’t know where it’s come from. You can’t
control rumors. You read them but you don’t want to respond to every
one because there are so many. Then what if you don’t respond, do
people think it’s true?

“It’s an important year for us because we want to grow,” said Forman.
“We think we’ve got a team that will compete. We don’t want to solely
look at 2010. We feel we have a chance to have a good team on the floor
this season, but we also feel we will have flexibility moving forward.
You’re seeing a lot of teams making deals for financial reasons and we
are sitting on 20 some million (dollars) of expiring contracts. So
that’s an avenue we can explore. We will be active exploring those into
February and carrying over into the summer depending on how that goes.

“Chicago (is) a great city. We’ve got a great fan base. We’ve got, I
think, some nice young pieces,” said Forman, “that will be attractive
to players (who are free agents) and Derrick Rose is a player, I think,
guys want to play with because he’s so talented yet unselfish and a

Vegas odds generally have the Bulls around 50-1 to win the NBA title
and behind Boston, Cleveland, Orlando and Miami in the East, meaning
most believe the Bulls are a playoff team with similar odds to the
Bulls for the Pistons, 76ers and Hawks. The Raptors and Wizards believe
they’ll have something to say about that. Only about three months to
go. We can hardly wait.

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