Bulls need to improve first half report card


Jan 22

The Bulls reach the halfway mark in the 2009-10 season Friday in Phoenix with Game 41 and an 18-22 record, the same as last season after 40 games and headed in the same direction as the Bulls would lose their next five last season to fall to a season low of 18-27

Help was on the way, however unknown at the time, with the trade for John Salmons and Brad Miller, and who knows what’s ahead for this Bulls team with the trading deadline less than a month away and GM’s around the league saying the Bulls have been one of the more active teams in discussions.

Try to bring in a potential star now? Like the Suns’ Amar’e Stoudemire, whose fate could rest on this week starting with Friday’s game against the Bulls.

Once one of the league’s hottest teams and early surprises, the Suns have lost five of seven and fallen to sixth in the Western Conference, just one game out of ninth.

Stoudemire will be the starting center for the West All Stars and is averaging 21 points and 8.7 rebounds. But he also has an opt out clause to become a free agent after the season, and if the Suns determine they are not a playoff team or likely first round ouster, the speculation is they will try to trade Stoudemire now rather than risk losing him.

As a result, GM Steve Kerr conceded this stretch with Friday’s game against the Bulls is somewhat crucial for the Suns, who recently shook up their lineup to start Robin Lopez and Leandro Barbosa.

“It’s a huge week for our season.” Kerr said. “We’ve got three winnable home games. We got the first one (Wednesday over the Nets). We need to get the next two, gain our confidence back and get some rhythm and flow to our game. If we can do that and win a few in a row we can get back on the right track. That’s the main thing. As it pertains to what happens to in the future, I can’t say. It’s not like I’m saying, ‘Oh my god if we lose a couple of these games we’re blowing this whole thing up.’

“Even if we win a couple of these games if something really good comes along, we’re still going to do it,” said Kerr. “That’s what we do. We look for things. We look for ways to get better. We’re probably where we should be record wise. We won a couple early we didn’t think we would win. We lost a couple recently we should have won.

You usually are what you are record wise. Now it’s up to us to recover. We have a favorable schedule of home games and we have to take advantage of that. It’s business as usual in the NBA. A player has his options. We go from there. The big thing is (Amar’e’s) played hard and well and been a great teammate. So we’ll see what happens.”

There are all sorts of scenarios which mostly are speculation, and while the Bulls are not huge fans of Stoudemire, there have been suggestions maybe Toronto with former Suns GM Bryan Colangelo would be interested and then ship Chris Bosh to the Bulls in a three way deal, or maybe even to the Suns or Lakers to get back at the Suns for letting him go. It’s all guesswork now, including what will happen over the next few weeks.

As far as what’s happened over the first 12, here’s a first half grading for the Bulls:

— Joakim Noah: A-. He’s played just about as well as he’s capable. He’s hustled and worked, developed a bit of an offensive game with a left handed move and has ranked among the league leaders in rebounds all season. He should be a leading candidate for league Most Improved.

— Derrick Rose: B+. Rose had a slow start in November with his ankle injury, but he played through it and didn’t miss a game. He’s had to take over the scoring responsibility with Ben Gordon’s departure and leads the team in scoring. His shot is better, though he doesn’t have three-point range yet and his defense needs to improve. With Allen Iverson named an East All Star starter, but Mo Williams out injured, Rose has a slight chance to be named an East All Star. It’s possible with Noah’s improvement they could split the Bulls vote and neither make it. Though Rose is more deserving given how much he has to do for the team.

— Luol Deng: B+. It’s never even mentioned anymore, though the story of the preseason was whether Deng could even play given his stress fracture from last season. But he hasn’t missed a game and even though he isn’t much involved in the offense, he’s the second leading scorer and gets tough rebounds in traffic regularly, second to Noah in rebounding for the league’s best rebounding team. He’s made a terrific comeback.

— Taj Gibson: B. A solid one as the surprise rookie. Not much ever is expected of low first round draft picks. But Gibson has been thrust into the starter’s role and proven a capable defender and shooter you have to guard. He needs to improve his free throw shooting, but already plays like a fifth year pro.

— Kirk Hinrich: C+. He missed six games with a left thumb sprain and probably came back too soon, which hasn’t helped his shooting. It has been a career low this season, though improving of late. But the team got better when he went into the starting lineup and facilitated better ball movement. Plus, he usually defends the best guard.

— John Salmons: C-. It’s been a disappointing season for Salmons, who has shot well below his career averages and lost his starting job replacing Gordon. Salmons hasn’t fit as a shooting guard and seems more comfortable at small forward. He’s also shot better of late and, like Hinrich, can improve that grade with a better second half, which he had last season when he came to the Bulls.

— Brad Miller: C. Miller also has shot well below his career averages and currently is easily at a career worst. His usually reliable pick and pop jumper has been missing. He’s another player who generally improves later in the season, but he has battled and came within a tenth of a second of the biggest play of the season when his prayer shot almost beat Denver.

— Tyrus Thomas: D. It’s been a rough season for Thomas, who already was falling into the coach’s dog house and was benched just before he suffered a broken arm in a freak training incident. He came back strong the end of December for three games, but since has played indifferently and often out of control, the Bulls uncertain when or if he’s going to contribute. He’s had brilliant moments, and then long streaks of frustrating inactivity.

— James Johnson: C. It’s probably a bit of a generous grade, if only for one incident. Johnson has struggled mightily with his game, unable to fit in anywhere as a shooter, ballhandler, passer or defender. He’ll have a good moment and three bad ones. But little noticed was when Joakim Noah had that incident with LeBron James when James was dancing around late in a blowout win. James walked toward the Bulls bench to confront Noah, but when Johnson moved toward the scene, a martial arts expert who once was said to have cleaned out an entire room in a fight, Cleveland players began to back away. Now if only Johnson would play that way the Bulls might have something.

— Jannero Pargo: C-. And you wonder why the Bulls can’t score. Pargo also is at a career low in shooting, though hasn’t had much playing time, to be fair. He’s a streaky shooter who can have a big run, but hasn’t been used enough that way.

— Aaron Gray: D. He’s barely played and generally only at the end of blowouts, so he probably should get the incomplete. But I’ll pass him because he hasn’t had the chance to do much. He was injured, but hasn’t helped himself trying to get back in shape. It could be a lost season for him.

— Lindsey Hunter: D. Likewise with Gray, though he wasn’t brought in to play as much to be a mentor to the young players. It is a pretty good job, I’d say, with nice perks.

— Jerome James: Won the lottery. He’s making $6.6 million this season and won’t play due to injury. He doesn’t travel, but has a great seat at all home games, which probably sells for $1,000 a game. He seems to be happy and we can see why.

— Vinny Del Negro: C+. It hasn’t been always an artful season, and the team has had some huge collapses, like the 35-point blown lead at home to the Kings, the loss to the Warriors with just four NBA players and that devastating sequence of by 32 at home to Toronto, at home to the then 1-19 Nets and then by 35 in Atlanta. And the road record is a 4-15 disaster. But Del Negro has remained professional and maintained his composure with rumors and questions constantly about his job status. Noah has improved and Gibson has produced, and Rose has gotten better, so there is some development. And he has been without his leading scorer, Gordon.

— Team: C-. They should have been a bit better, but perhaps we all misjudged. Salmons should have fit better at shooting guard and Deng’s return combined with Rose’s improvement should have made up for the loss of Gordon. But the lack of consistent—or any real—three point shooting combined with no post play ahs made scoring more difficult than expected. Most picked the Bulls to win between 40 and 45 games and fight for one of the last three playoff spots in the East. Now, they’re battling for eighth and on a pace to win 36 games. Last year’s thrilling, overtime filled first round playoff series with the Celtics probably raised expectations unrealistically, and everyone is paying for it now with perhaps a harsher judgment than it should be.

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