Bulls look good against the Knicks and in free agency


Feb 18

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NBA free agency for the summer of 2010 may have changed dramatically with the series of apparent and imminent trades Wednesday night, and the Bulls were right in the middle among those who could be major beneficiaries.

With the Bulls expected deal of John Salmons, rumored to be to the Milwaukee Bucks for a pair of players mentioned in various national and reports out of Milwaukee from among Kurt Thomas, Francisco Elson, Hakim Warrick and Joe Alexander, the Bulls will gain enough salary cap room for this summer to offer one maximum contract to a free agent.

The trading deadline is 2 p.m. (Chicago time) Thursday, so more deals are possible.

But the big deal with the biggest ramifications was the Cavs’ acquisition of Washington’s Antawn Jamison. The Cavs were in talks with the Suns regarding Amar’e Stoudemire. But LeBron James was said to prefer Jamison, and the Cavs were able to accommodate him in a three-way deal with Zydrunas Ilgauskas, the Clippers Al Thornton and a No. 1 pick to Washington, now also a potential free agent player, Sebastian Telfair to the Cavs and Drew Gooden to the Clippers. It is much anticipated Ilguaskas will be released and choose to return to the Cavs. Though Ilgauskas is said to be upset about the deal and could choose to go a different contender.

Still, the significance was that the Cavs look like the heavy favorites to get to the Finals and perhaps win the NBA championship (they already defeated the Lakers twice without Jamison). It would suggest with the Cavs making the move James preferred and Jamison under contract for two more seasons after this that James is virtually certain to remain with the Cavs.

James was generally not thought as a strong possibility for the Bulls. But it would be devastating for the slim hopes of the Knicks, whom the Bulls came back from 15 behind Wednesday to finish the back to back wins with a 115-109 victory to move above .500 on the season.

Derrick Rose led the Bulls with 27 points and six assists with Luol Deng with 23 points and seven rebounds, Brad Miller with 21 points and 10 rebounds and Taj Gibson back home with a rugged 14 points and career high 16 rebounds, 11 on the offensive boards.

The Bulls were soft on the perimeter early as the Knicks pulled ahead at halftime by 11 on 53 percent shooting. But the Bulls got a huge third quarter from Miller with his new crew cut after trailing 74-60 with Gibson dominating on the boards. Apparently Miller’s hair wasn’t his strength.

The Knicks played a sort of zone as they switched everything on Rose and doubled behind, but Rose on one occasion in the first quarter beat the Knicks full court on and end to end fast break after a made basket. I timed it at barely over three seconds, and no one in the NBA may be faster with the ball. And Rose took over again down the stretch.“Yesterday we were contesting all of their shots, making their bench perform and making them put the ball on the floor and in the first half today, we weren’t doing any of that,” said Rose. “So in the second half, we came out more aggressively, pushed the ball and attacked the rim. We came out more aggressive. In the first half we weren’t contesting their shots like we were supposed to and like we did yesterday and they were getting wide open looks. In the second half we were contesting their shots, rebounding the ball and playing our regular, up-tempo game.”

The Knicks pulled within 104-102 with 3:24 left, but the Bulls got a Rose driving layup between three Knicks, a nice roll to the basket by Deng on a pass from Rose, an impressive drive through four waving Knicks by Hinrich after he ran down a loose ball and a fancy baseline driving slam dunk from Thomas, finishing the game with flair. The Knicks had a last chance to go for a tie but missed a pair of threes and Rose stole a Lee pass and the Bulls shot free throws to close it out.“That’s all that matters, we won,” said Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro. “We stunk in the first half (down 64-53). Brad had a nice solid game for us. First half they shot the ball really well. We weren’t really up on shooters. We weren’t really in. Second half we made some adjustments. We started to get after a little bit more, started being more aggressive offensively, which opened up the court a little bit where we got some easy scorers. I felt good about our energy there in the third quarter. Then figured we would hopefully be able to sustain that in the fourth which we did. We had a lot of good performances. Derrick made a lot of good plays. Taj (Gibson) was real solid with his rebounds. Tyrus (Thomas) gave us good minutes. It was a nice team effort and that’s what we need right now with a couple of guys being out.”

One of those was Salmons, who was asked to remain back in his room at the hotel while the trade was worked out. Joakim Noah remained back in Chicago with plantar fasciitis.

It’s still possible the Knicks will try to make a deal with the Houston Rockets from Tracy McGrady that would open two free agent slots for the Knicks this summer. They’d hoped to lure James and either Chris Bosh or Dwyane Wade. That seems unlikely now, and the Knicks were leaning against the deal because Houston was seeking so many draft picks and young players. The Bulls also moved away from talks with Houston after the Rockets proposals apparently would have broken up much of the Bulls starting lineup. The Bulls were not about to give up on this season for salary cap room.

The Knicks, though, were still considering a potential deal of the Bulls Thomas for Al Harrington, who led the Knicks with 27 Wednesday. Wilson Chandler added 26 and potential free agent David Lee had 23 points and 12 rebounds, a second solid game against the Bulls as he battled Miller and Gibson.

“Coach was just telling me to be prepared, because the Knicks were kind of mad about how our score turned out last night,” said Gibson. “Coach had a lot of faith in me to just go after every board.” The Cavs’ and Bulls’ moves likely puts the Cavs in position to retain James and the Bulls in stronger free agency position.

Miami had hoped to lure James to join Wade, and that seems unlikely now. The Heat have been pushing for Amar’e Stoudemire, though he might remain in Phoenix now as the Suns don’t seem to have interest in any of the Heat’s offers.

Also, the Raptors have played better of late amid indications Bosh could choose to stay and Bosh’s comments at the All Star break that people assume he will join another free agent but they should look to be building around him. Which basically only Toronto has contemplated.

It seems to leave open a stronger possibility that Wade could choose to leave Miami. Of course, Miami could make a last minute deal for Stoudemire, though there’s no guarantee Wade would even want to stay and play with Stoudemire. And Stoudemire still has the option of making $17.7 million next season instead of opting out.

New York also, thus, makes a lesser case as with their skeleton roster, the high state and city tax rate and the liklihood they cannot attract James they become that much less a desired destination. Their roster probably becomes less appealing than the Nets’ since the Knicks don’t even have their No. 1 draft pick this season.

The Knicks made a few minor deals to trade Nate Robinson to Boston and Darko Milicic to Minnesota and got back Eddie House and Brian Cardinal. Jared Jeffries did get pulled early in the Bulls game, so there was talk something could be up as Houston later apparently made a deal with the Kings for Kevin Martin and McGrady’s deal perhaps moving to the Kings after the Rockets apparently demanded too much of the Bulls and Knicks.

It’s certainly possible Bosh could join Wade in Miami. But the way Rose is playing and with the Bulls pulling above .500 at 27-26 and now having the room for a maximum salaried free agent, it would vastly seem to strengthen the Bulls position in the market given they didn’t disturb their core of Noah, Gibson and Kirk Hinrich along with Rose. Hinrich, by the way, seems likely now to get a shot at breaking Ben Gordon’s Bulls record of three pointers made. He needs to make three more and there were rumors he could be traded. It seems now the Bulls will keep their starters.

Which also would seem to enhance the Bulls’ free agent desirability.

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