Bulls ready for LeBron and have some support


Apr 16

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Oak is bullish on the Bulls.

Charles Oakley, the former Bulls first round draft pick and longtime NBA enforcer, says he can not only see the Bulls making it a series with his home state Cavs when the playoffs open in Cleveland Saturday, but Oakley says if LeBron James is leaving Cleveland and serious about winning, his best destination might be Chicago.

“I don’t know what he’s going to do,” Oakley admits about the potential top free agent and soon-to-be league MVP. “But if they (Bulls) get LeBron, they’re the team to beat. Or Joe Johnson, they win 55 games, easy. All they (Bulls) need is one player.

“(Derrick) Rose is getting better. Joakim (Noah) is getting better,” Oakley noted. “Cleveland has maybe two more years (as a competitor). Shaq is done. (Zydrunas) Ilgauskas is done. (Antawn) Jamison maybe another year.

“He’s not going to New York,” said Oakley of James and all the Knicks talk. “They don’t have the talent. New Jersey would be better (if James does decide to leave). They have a point guard and a center. Miami has (Dwyane) Wade. Chicago’s got Rose, they have a center, they have (Taj) Gibson, a good utility guy, (Luol) Deng. Noah. He’s shooting with both hands, he’s a leader, he stands up for his teammates.”

That is one reason Oakley likes what he sees. He’s a big fan of Noah, whom he’s known since Noah was 11 and Noah’s family had a restaurant Oakley frequented when Oakley was with the Knicks. Oakley’s obviously an admirer of Noah’s aggressive and energetic playing style and defending his team, as Noah did when LeBron James was dancing around during that Cavs rout of the Bulls earlier this season.

“They’re going to give the Cavs trouble,” Oakley was saying when I caught up with him in Charlotte Wednesday after the Bulls win to get into the playoff. “Rose is a big time killer athlete. They’ve got Deng. He can (offset) Jamison. You’ve got (Kirk) Hinrich doing his thing. Brad Miller is a X-factor off the bench. They’ve got a pretty good defense. They have an opportunity.

“They don’t have a great coach,” noted Oakley, the league’s legendary enforcer and alltime straight talker who began his career with the Bulls and remains close with now Bobcats owner Michael Jordan. “But they have a great understanding of the game. That is the big thing. They’re smart, understand the game and play their roles.”

Obviously, the series for the NBA world is about LeBron as the Cavs are the favorite to win the championship coming into the playoffs.

And the guy who will be asked to be on TV trying to do something about James is Deng.

Deng had a tough finish with his calf injury acting up, but played through it in the big three game winning streak finish. Now, Deng says he’s looking forward to this series.

Deng did play 70 games, his most in three years, after not being able to play in last year’s playoffs and late season with a stress fracture. His health was one of the team’s major question marks coming into the season with the possibility of him needing another operation if he had difficulty again.

He had that little hiccup with his calf last month, but finished the season second to Rose in scoring at 17.6 and third in rebounding at 7.3 with Noah first at 11 and Gibson next at 7.5. Deng had his best season shooting threes at 32 of 83 for 38.6 percent and averaged a team high 37.5 minutes per game.

Still, Deng knows there always are questions about him and he’s ready.

“When I came back (from injury), the goal was to be 6-2 and we did that and it’s what it took to make the playoffs,” said Deng. “Last year, for me personally, being out so long and not able to touch the ball or even run, to come back and have this healthy a season (was good). When I had that injury (last season), the doctor said I might need a rod (and miss this season). It was pretty scary. I just give thanks to God I got through this season and it’s great in the playoffs you can shift your focus to one team.

“To be honest with you, since the series with Miami after they won the title and going to Detroit, this is the most excited I’ve been,” said Deng. “I want to lock in and focus and want to show everyone when the playoffs come how much I’m looking forward to it.

“Every possession I’m going to try to make it hard for him,” said Deng of being the primary defender on James. “I’ll tell you this. Every possession down it will be hard for him.”

Obviously, James is the key. So it starts with Deng.

But there also are some sweet story lines, like the Cavs with the superstar and MVP like the Bulls of the late 1980s and early 1990s and the Bulls with the more versatile, but flawed team on the rise. Can it be sweet payback for the Cavs?

And then there’s James, the big potential prize of the 2010 free agent class. Maybe he gets a closer look at Chicago in spring and Rose and Noah and a youngster like Gibson and his aging teammates and sees some spunky play from the Bulls and decides, “Hold on, maybe I ought to rethink this free agency thing.”

Oak could buy into that. It should be a fun couple of weeks.

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