Bulls blow out Knicks amidst trade winds


Feb 17

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The Bulls Tuesday played like a team that wanted to stay together in an overwhelming 118-85 victory over the New York Knicks, who played like a team that wants to be with anyone but one another.

And they may soon be.

The latest rumor had the Bulls and Knicks supposedly the leading contenders to break up their teams to acquire Tracy McGrady.


And as the Knicks look broken, it should be them. Because it certainly doesn’t seem like the Bulls are going to be getting McGrady with what is said around the NBA to be somewhat ridiculous demands by the Rockets. Hey, I suppose if someone will fall for it, why not try.

The reported rumor on ESPN is that the Knicks are willing to give up No. 1 draft pick Jordan Hill, their 2012 No. 1 pick, the right to exchange No. 1’s in 2011 (the Knicks 2010 pick goes to Utah), Jared Jeffries and a major expiring contract, that being Larry Hughes. That would make it three No. 1’s and an expiring contract and their only defensive player for a player who likely cannot play this season.

From the Knicks’ standpoint, dealing Jeffries gets them far enough under the salary cap to offer contracts for two max free agents. Their theory has been they get one guy and tell him he can bring a friend. Though neither would get the max they can get from their teams by leaving as free agents and New York is one of the highest tax states in the country. There’s basically no chance the Knicks even with two “slots” would get anyone significant, most believe. But if you go this far, I guess you have to go all the way.

The Rockets supposedly asked for an equivalent deal from the Bulls, which would mean Brad Miller, Taj Gibson, Tyrus Thomas and two No. 1 picks, basically for a rehabbing McGrady. Such a deal would leave the Bulls without much of any front line with Joakim Noah still out with plantar fasciitis and not traveling with the Bulls to New York and Minnesota this week.

The Bulls could end up making a less-than-equitable basketball deal to get farther below the salary cap for free agency purposes this summer, but they are not going to make a deal that bad. They will not be trading multiple players for McGrady’s contract, I am quite certain.

They also are believed to have little urgency to move Thomas given the front court depth problems, and have been in talks about moving a guard to get more cap space, though no deal is certain.

And though the quittin’ Knicks seem little test—yeah, free agents are going to be flocking to join that team. Right.—the Bulls players competed like a group that wants to finish strong.

It was perhaps a pattern around the NBA Tuesday night as the Suns, the main subject of trade talks with Amar’s Stoudemire, got big performances from Stoudemire and Jason Richardson in an easy victory over a tough Memphis team. The feeling now is the Suns likely will keep Stoudemire rather than give up the season, and the Bulls are not about to offload half their team for just the chance to attract a free agent with no guarantee.

And that Bulls team, especially Derrick Rose with 29 points and six assists, looked pretty good in running away from the Knicks. The Bulls set season highs with 60.5 percent shooting and 30 assists, and had a 52-28 dominance on points in the paint over Knicks players on their cell phones to their travel agents in time outs. The Knicks led for only the first 33 seconds of the game.

“We need to buck up and be ready tomorrow,” sighed Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni. “They just took it to us.”

The Bulls also got 18 points from Luol Deng and a terrific all around game from Kirk Hinrich, who had 14 points, eight rebounds and six assists. Hinrich even went diving for a ball with the Bulls leading 100-72 in the fourth quarter, saving it in front of the jogging Knicks—though they looked cool—and getting the ball back in position for a Bulls thrust, as it were.

“Luol and Derrick were very aggressive early,” noted Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro. “In the third quarter, we jumped on them (to go ahead 95-68). The guys did a good job sharing the basketball tonight. We had 30 assists and only 10 turnovers. That’s about the best all year. I like the way we were attacking. Tomorrow night will be different. Whenever you play a team back to back it is difficult to beat them twice, we know that, especially in the Garden.”The win brought the Bulls back to .500 at 26-26 as they are tied with Miami and Charlotte for their last three playoff spots in the Eastern Conference.

Thus Hinrich apparently was making his case that he wants to be a part of that run, though he seems the most vulnerable. The Bulls have made some offers of John Salmons and Thomas without much luck, and might have to put Hinrich in a deal to create the cap space needed to make an offer to a potential maximum free agent, like LeBron James, Chris Bosh or Dwyane Wade. The Bulls are mulling over whether that will be worth it.

Though now you might not need Wade as Rose looks just about as good.

Despite some continued discomfort from his sore hip, Rose was magnificent and at 21 versus 28 for Wade, I know I’d rather have Rose now than Wade. I wouldn’t say no to Wade, but Rose is showing he can do everything Wade does and doesn’t do as Wade is generally regarded as a poor defender as well.

Rose hit his first nine shots on an assortment of jumpers, drives, floaters and fast breaks, though he didn’t get back to dunking yet. He had 15 points in the first quarter in less than nine minutes and 21 by halftime.

“We wanted to come back (from All Star break) and start out on the right track and that’s what we did tonight,” said Rose. “I’m sore a little bit, but I just had to play through it. I bothered it on a lay-up early in the game, but it’s really nothing I’m concerned about. It’s a bruise that will go away and it should start feeling better tomorrow.”Actually, everyone will probably be feeling a bit better Thursday after the trading deadline at 2 p.m. Chicago time.

I don’t get the sense the Bulls have any major deals imminent, and I don’t see that many around the NBA with more teams reluctant at this point to give up star players just to save money. There are a large number of teams trying to move expiring contracts of mid level players, like Hinrich and Salmons. But because there are so many teams trying to do so, the teams willing to take on the contracts generally seem to be making outrageous demands. That seems to be making teams pause. The question is whether calling their bluffs will result in teams lowering their asking prices to make a deal.

The Cavs, obviously, have been trying to make a major move to appease James, but could come up short with someone like Troy Murphy. I read a rumor that said they’d also consider Corey Maggette, which I find amazing given his long contract and that he isn’t a long distance shooter to complement James. Could the Cavs be making a Larry Hughes mistake again? We can only hope.

The Celtics have been putting out word they believe they’ll make a major deal, though are finding Ray Allen’s expiring deal not bringing them as much as they’d hoped, perhaps as with McGrady. Miami also is anxiously desperate as they often are this time of year, though seem to have little of interest as well. The question among most GMs now is whether someone blinks Thursday morning and things change.

As for the Bulls, they didn’t blink much Tuesday in the face of a New York threat for about a quarter.

David Lee, who’ll be a free agent this summer, led the Knicks with 24 points and 12 rebounds and is among those the Bulls will look at. He’s one of those players who likely won’t require a max deal, so the Bulls could make a play for him even if they don’t make a trade and keep this group in tact. Lee would look good on the offensive end the way he’s clever in the pick and roll and physical around the basket. He’s an awful defender, and you’d say maybe that’s because all his teammates now are. But Lee isn’t much of a jumper or that quick laterally on defense.

He had eight points and five rebounds in the first quarter as his play early and Al Harrington’s shooting late enabled the Knicks to stay within 29-28 after the first quarter.

They were doing all they could to hold of Rose, who despite his sore hip looked more confident than ever in his return from his first All Star appearance. He carried himself with a bold aplomb, and the Bulls were up 11 in the first after he’d hit his seventh straight shot before going out for some rest.

“He’s actually a little bit sore,” said Del Negro. “You couldn’t tell the way he was shooting in the 1st quarter. He kind of stiffened up when he went to the basket one time. He stretched out and started grimacing, so I took him out a little earlier than usual. It was good to get him some rest in the second half. He is definitely sore and we will see how he is tomorrow. We will manage it day to day. We will see how he feels and how he loosens up and see if he is grimacing out there. He will be sore, but if he can fight through it and get a little better every day, it will be tough with four games in five nights so tonight was a bonus for us.

“It was a very strong win for us,” acknowledged Del Negro. “We shot the ball as well as we have all year. Our ball movement was very good.”

Indeed, the Bulls began to blow it open in the second quarter with Brad Miller hitting on three drives, the last on a bank shot from his hip. With Noah out, Miller, with 10 points on five of seven shooting, has been crucial, and I doubt the Bulls will give him up so easily. After all, the organization has seen this before when Toni Kukoc missed 25 games with plantar fasciitis in the 1996-97 season and Andres Nocioni missed 28 in the 2006-07 season. Without Miller and Noah, the Bulls basically don’t have anyone really over 6-8 on the roster. Maybe they could prop up Jerome James.

The Bulls had several nice scoring plays out of timeouts with Gibson getting a rolling basket after a pick for Rose in the first quarter and then Deng with a nice baseline reverse in the second quarter on a cross screen. Deng has been the go to guy more often out of timeouts, and he got another score out of one in the third quarter shooting a half hook in a post mismatch.

The Bulls were feeling so good they even went to Tyrus Thomas in the post out of a late first quarter timeout, though Thomas threw away the ball. But Thomas also ran a nice handoff from the post to John Salmons in a play we often associate with the triangle offense, and Thomas played mostly in control and had 11 points, eight rebounds and three blocks. And Del Negro finally gave Jannero Pargo a nice run after Pargo hit a pair of jumpers as he had 12 points in 18 minutes.

You play Pargo when he gets going. If he’s missing, you don’t leave him out long, and even Del Negro conceded he hasn’t done a good job of reading that this season.

“Jannero has kind of been the odd man out all year,” Del Negro said. “To be honest, I have probably not done a very good job with him. He has been a total pro. He works in practice and has been one of our best shooters. Sometimes the matchups are not good for him. He not only shot the ball well, but he made some nice passes and guarded well.” The Bulls broke away late in the second quarter. Leading 49-44 after Lee scored on a clever pick and roll shot, Miller scored on a duck in, Rose hit from the baseline, Deng drove and was fouled and then scored on a runout. Hinrich hit a three from the corner and then Rose closed out the half with a nice pass to set up a trailing Deng and then his own degree of difficulty drive for the 14-point halftime lead.

The third quarter was a terrific Bulls team effort with only Lee seeming to try for the Knicks, and Rose finished it off with a terrific three-on-two break. Because Rose is asked to score so much, some say he cannot run a team or make the passes or get enough assists. But that break showed just how good a floor leader he can be.

“That’s a reason he’s an All-Star,” said Chris Duhon. “He’s one hell of a player.” Rose got the ball after a Knicks turnover and headed out. He had Salmons on his right and Deng on his left. Deng was covered. He looked at Deng while running the middle, then looked back at Salmons and as the defense peeked, Rose dropped the ball off to Deng for the easy layin. And when Hinrich and Pargo closed the third with threes, the starters basically took the fourth off with a 27-point lead.

No, this wasn’t the mighty Kings. But, more importantly, this has been a different Bulls team, and we should know soon whether it will be a different Bulls team.

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