Chicago Bulls: Nikola Mirotic

Thibs: Taj Gibson's role won't change

July, 18, 2014
Jul 18
6:36
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- Tom Thibodeau was noncommittal Friday when the topic of his opening night starting lineup came up. He's still not sure how he will divvy up the minutes between a much deeper frontcourt comprised of Joakim Noah, Pau Gasol, Taj Gibson and Nikola Mirotic. But the veteran coach did acknowledge that no matter what happens, Gibson's role on the team will not change.

"I don't think it changes at all," Thibodeau said. "As I've spoken with all three, they're all going to have significant roles. How it plays out, we'll figure that out. We won't know that until they're on the floor and we look at how they work together and what's best for our team. We're always going to do what's best for our team. But they're all going to have a significant role."

Thibodeau was asked specifically if Gibson would be used as a starter to begin the season.

"I'm not ruling it out," he said. "I want to see what happens. I want to see how it works together, what's best for our second unit, what gives us our best chance. How are we going to finish? How are we going to start? How are all the minutes going to work out? But they're all good problems to have."

GM: Bulls offered top-10 picks for Mirotic

July, 18, 2014
Jul 18
6:07
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
CHICAGO -- Bulls general manager Gar Forman admitted Friday that he was offered top-10 picks in last month's draft for the rights to European star Nikola Mirotic.

"To be honest with you, we were offered a couple picks in the top 10 for his rights," Forman said on ESPN 1000's "Waddle and Silvy Show" on Friday. "So I think he's a pretty high-level player. He's got a chance to develop into one. He's 6-foot-10, he's got a motor. He can play inside and out and he can shoot the 3-ball, so that's a good skill set to have as a young player."

Mirotic was officially signed by the Bulls and introduced Friday at the United Center. The organization is hopeful that Mirotic will be able to come in and contribute right away, but the front office doesn't want to put too much pressure on Mirotic too early.

"Obviously there's going to be an adjustment coming from Europe," Forman said. "With that said, he's a little different than the average college player coming in because he's been a pro since he was 16 years old. That's been his job. He's played at a very high level; the ACB league in Spain is the second-best league in the world outside of the NBA and he was the MVP of what they call the Spanish Cup, which is the big tournament they have every year, and he's been the MVP of the Spanish league.

"So I think he's got a chance [to make an immediate impact], it will just be how quickly can he make the adjustment. First of all, coming to the States, coming to the NBA, and then within our system. But I wouldn't want to put a cap on what he can become, but I do think there will be an adjustment period for him."

It didn't sound as if Forman ever seriously considered the offers for Mirotic. The Bulls have always believed that he would be able to have a major impact on the organization because of his length and ability to stretch the floor.

"We've obviously had his rights for three years," Forman said. "We've got a lot invested in him. We've built a relationship over that time and were trying to get him here ... we were hopeful to get him this year. We thought if the buyout didn't happen this year, we were optimistic it would be a year from now. But the sooner the better that he can get over here and play against NBA-caliber players, and I think that's going to help him to continue to develop and continue to grow."

3 Points: East champ from the Central?

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
6:53
PM CT
By Staff
ESPNChicago.com
LeBron James, Derrick Rose, Paul GeorgeGetty ImagesWhose team will emerge as the best in the Central this season?
After a busy start to free agency, ESPNChicago.com's Nick Friedell is joined by ESPN.com's Scoop Jackson and ESPNChicago.com's Jon Greenberg to weigh in on three questions that are on the minds of Chicago Bulls followers.

1. Fact or Fiction: The Eastern Conference champion next season will come from the Central Division.


Friedell: Fact. The Cavs, Bulls or Pacers will be at the top in the end. The Central Division is going to be competitive all season, and it's arguably the most interesting in basketball. LeBron James returns to Cleveland, Derrick Rose comes back from injury and the Pacers try to take the next step toward a title. Milwaukee brings Jabari Parker into the fold, while Stan Van Gundy attempts things in Detroit. It's going to be fun to watch.

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Greenberg: Fact. And with Lance Stephenson's exodus, it's between Chicago and Cleveland. You can't really handicap it until you know what's going on with the Kevin Love rumors. LeBron with Andrew Wiggins, Kyrie Irving and the rest is going to be a tough draw in the playoffs. But if Rose is healthy, the Bulls are going to be nasty.

Jackson: Fiction, but only because I believe the Washington Wizards have a small/real chance of winning the East. Now, if Cleveland pulls off a deal and gets Kevin Love, then all bets are off. They will be the front-runners. Usain Bolt-like. But until that happens, I think the Bulls, the Wizards and the Cavs will finish 1-2-3 in the East. Just can't call in what order.


2. Fact or Fiction: The addition of Pau Gasol is bad for Taj Gibson.


[+] Enlarge Pau Gasol
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesTaj Gibson's clear path to a starting spot has been blocked by the addition of Pau Gasol.
Friedell: Fiction. I don't think it's a bad thing for Gibson. Even if Gasol starts, Gibson is still going to get plenty of time, and he's still going to play the bulk of the crunch-time minutes. Gibson isn't going to complain about his role, and he's going to be able to continue to learn from Gasol.

Greenberg: Fiction. It's not good, pride-wise, for Gibson that he could be a sixth man again, but he's already been paid, so that lessens the sting. Gibson won't be forgotten, though. Basically Tom Thibodeau has 96 minutes to split between those two and Joakim Noah. That's the beauty of this situation, with Gasol and Gibson able to play two positions. Given his salary and his ability, Gibson has to get 30 minutes a game somehow.

Jackson: Faction. As long as Taj is cool with his role as sixth man (and as long as Thibs can continue to sell him on it), then all is good. But after the season he had last season, knowing that the Bulls were possibly going to amnesty Boozer, if Taj was looking at this season as his "come up," as the one where he broke into the starting lineup to shine brighter, then I'm pretty sure he's gotta be PO'd. Which is a bad thing for him.


3. Fact or Fiction: Nikola Mirotic will make a bigger impact as a rookie than Doug McDermott.


[+] EnlargeNikola Mirotic
AP Photo/Darko VojinovicThe addition of Nikola Mirotic gives the Bulls another much-needed shooter.
Friedell: Fiction. I actually believe McDermott is going to have an impact with the Bulls this season. Mirotic may become a better player over time, but the transition from Europe to the NBA can be tough. McDermott is going to have a big learning curve of his own, but Thibs will learn to love him quickly because of his shooting touch.

Greenberg: Fact. I think McDermott will be very good, playing around 20 minutes a game. But Mirotic is used to playing with grown men, at a faster pace. I think he has more impact early. McDermott could catch, and even pass Mirotic, in terms of production. But I think Mirotic nudges him for the entire season.

Jackson: Fiction. That's Stephen King, James Patterson, Nicholas Sparks-level fiction. That's J.R.R. Tolkien and J.K. Rowling fiction. That's Shonda Rhimes fiction. That's Frank Miller, Alan Moore, Stan Lee fiction. That's Michael Bay fiction. Get it?

Photo: New Bulls Gasol and Mirotic

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
2:34
PM CT
By Staff
ESPNChicago.com
The Chicago Bulls will formally introduce Pau Gasol and Nikola Mirotic during a press conference at 11:30 p.m. CT Friday, but on Thursday tweeted out a photo of the new duo together in Chicago:



Gasol announced Saturday on Twitter that he would be joining the Bulls as a free agent. Mirotic was acquired by the Bulls in a draft-day deal in 2011 from the Houston Rockets. He has played the past three years for Real Madrid.

No sulking for Bulls, who move forward

July, 13, 2014
Jul 13
9:59
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
LAS VEGAS -- When the final story of the 2014-15 Chicago Bulls is written, this past weekend will serve as one of its seminal points in time.

It started Saturday afternoon a few hours before the Bulls' summer league team played its first game. That's when the organization came to the realization that Carmelo Anthony was staying in New York for sure and taking all the extra millions that came with that decision.

[+] EnlargeTom Thibodeau
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesTom Thibodeau will have an improved roster to work with in 2014-15 after the Bulls' busy weekend in free agency.
The Bulls were upset. They felt confident Anthony understood and appreciated their direction and the opportunity to contend for championships right away. But instead of sulking over the choice, they went into action with their contingency plans. Pau Gasol announced he was headed to Chicago soon after Anthony made his decision. The Bulls came to terms with veteran Kirk Hinrich on Sunday -- and then a few hours later, prized European prospect Nikola Mirotic tweeted out that he was headed to Chicago. In a 36-hour span, the Bulls improved a roster that was already solid.

Is it a roster that can contend for a championship? Only time will tell -- the Bulls still lack the type of create-your-own-shot scoring that Anthony would have provided -- but it is unquestionably deeper on paper than it was at any point in the past season. Obviously, the health of Derrick Rose hovers over everything the Bulls do, but the front office did a nice job of loading up the rest of the rotation with players who should be able to contribute in several ways.

Rose is the key, but Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, Mike Dunleavy, Hinrich and Gasol are all proven veterans who know how to play. Jimmy Butler is one of the best defenders in the league and, if he develops a consistent shot, will make himself a lot of money. Tony Snell struggled at various points this past season but has played well to start summer league.

Rookie Doug McDermott has also looked solid to start summer league play and is being counted on to help the Bulls stretch the floor with his shooting prowess. Mirotic remains a bit of a question, in the sense that he has never played an NBA game, but the Bulls' front office has always believed he would produce at this level, and his length should help spread the floor for Rose.

That's 10 players Thibodeau should be able to count on to produce in some form this year. What is left for the front office in the coming weeks? They have to decide if they believe second-round pick Cameron Bairstow can make the roster this season. No matter what, they must continue to try to add another backup center to take a little pressure off Noah. Veteran Nazr Mohammed remains interested in playing for a third season in Chicago, but it it's unclear if he'll be back.

The Bulls must continue to evaluate backup point guard options. With their recent moves, they have the ability to wait and see how the market unfolds, but D.J. Augustin isn't an option anymore after agreeing on a two-year deal with the Pistons on Sunday. Bulls GM Gar Forman needs another veteran in the mix for this role and has had good luck filling that need the past few seasons.

No matter how the rest of the roster is filled, the Bulls' have their core in place. These are the players who will decide how far the Bulls go in the playoffs next season. These are the ones Thibodeau must mold into a contender over the next nine months. The Bulls badly wanted Anthony, but they did the best they could, given the circumstances. It's a tired refrain for frustrated Bulls' fans, but the belief within the organization is that this is still a team that has the ability to contend for a championship right away. The pieces are in place -- now it's time to find out if there's enough talent.

Thibodeau hopeful Mirotic is ready for NBA

July, 13, 2014
Jul 13
8:00
AM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
LAS VEGAS -- Coach Tom Thibodeau is hoping that, after three years, prized European prospect Nikola Mirotic is finally ready to come to the Chicago Bulls.

Mirotic recently worked out a buyout with Real Madrid, and the Bulls sound ready to find a way to make it all work. After finalizing the deal for Pau Gasol, their focus will turn back to Mirotic so that he will be ready to come over for the upcoming season.

"[Executive VP of basketball operations] John [Paxson] and [general manager] Gar [Forman] have been in contact with him for a long time because we have his draft rights," Thibodeau said before the Bulls' first summer league game on Saturday night. "Hopefully, something will be worked out. At some point, he will hopefully come, then we'll see where he is."

Thibs happy for James: Thibodeau didn't mention Carmelo Anthony by name on Saturday after being spurned at the altar in free agency, but the veteran coach did sound happy for Anthony's good friend and Cleveland Cavaliers megastar LeBron James about his return to Cleveland.

"It's good," Thibodeau said of James' decision. "That's what he felt was best. The one thing about LeBron, he's always stayed true to himself. So it's good."

Was he surprised by James' choice?

"I didn't really think about it, to be honest with you," he said. "He's a great player. He's been great for the league. It's a great story. [We will] just get ready for next season."

Fraschilla: Mirotic 'top 4' pick in '14 draft

July, 7, 2014
Jul 7
5:51
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
Nikola MiroticAP Photo/Lefteris PitarakisWhen asked for an NBA comparison, Fran Fraschilla likened Nikola Mirotic to a young Hedo Turkoglu.
CHICAGO -- Nikola Mirotic isn't ready to become the next Dirk Nowitzki, according to ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla, but he is still a solid player who would have been a top-four selection in this year's draft had he been available.

"I think he would have been the guy like we said with Jabari Parker, he's the most ready to play in an NBA game right now," Fraschilla said on ESPN 1000's "Waddle and Silvy Show" on Monday. "And we might have even made the statement Andrew Wiggins may have the most upside, but I honestly think he would have been in the top [few picks]. Let's assume a healthy [Joel] Embiid, you're definitely talking about [Mirotic being] a top-four pick."

Mirotic, who was picked up by the Chicago Bulls in a draft day deal in 2011, has worked out a buyout to get out of his deal with Real Madrid, according to reports out of Europe. As the Bulls wait for Carmelo Anthony to make a decision as to where he will play next season, they're also trying to figure out just how much it will take to land Mirotic, who is not bound to the rookie scale because he was drafted three years ago.

When asked for an NBA comparison, Fraschilla compared Mirotic to a young Hedo Turkoglu, a player who can space the floor for Derrick Rose and knock down jumpers. But he also noted that fans should not expect too much too quickly.

"I think the Bulls are getting a really solid player here," Fraschilla said. "But they're not getting Dirk Nowitzki, certainly not at this stage of his career."

Fraschilla used a baseball reference to illustrate his point.

"Playing at the level he has for the last four years, he's hitting .330 in Triple-A," Fraschilla said. "And now you're bringing him up to the big leagues. If you're the Chicago Bulls, for example, you're hoping he's going to be a .290 hitter right off the bat."

(Read full post)

What's next for Bulls after Melo?

July, 3, 2014
Jul 3
7:05
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- Carmelo Anthony remains the apple of the Chicago Bulls' eye. The organization continues to hope that Anthony turns down the financial security of a max offer, or near-max offer, from the New York Knicks as he makes his final decision on where to play in the coming days. While the Bulls remain confident in the recruiting pitch they gave to Anthony, Bulls officials understood that it was always going to be toughest to convince Anthony to leave New York. The feeling from many within the organization after Tuesday's pitch is that this is a two-team race between the Knicks and the Bulls.

The question, as has been the case all along, remains whether Anthony is willing to leave millions of guaranteed dollars on the table in order to chase a championship in Chicago. With the help of ESPN salary capologist Larry Coon, the Bulls' numbers, in regards to an Anthony deal, stack up this way. If the Bulls keep a preferred core of Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson and rookie Doug McDermott intact, they will be able to offer Anthony roughly $17 million next season. What that also means is they'd have to fill up the rest of the roster with a majority of minimum-salary players.

While the Bulls are holding out hope that Anthony decides to join forces with Rose and Noah, the feeling from several sources remains that Anthony will decide to stay with the Knicks. With that in mind, let's take a look at the next few options the Bulls will have if they do indeed miss out on their top target.

1. Make a push for Kevin Love again

The Bulls have kicked the tires on a Love deal with the Minnesota Timberwolves for several years. If they don't land Melo, expect them to make some more calls to Timberwolves coach and president of basketball operations Flip Saunders to see if they can work something out. Since Love wasn't moved before the draft, there's a solid chance that Saunders will try to persuade Love to stay one more time before potentially dealing him before the trade deadline in February.

2. Go for Gasol

The Bulls were scheduled to meet with Pau Gasol on Thursday in Los Angeles as he ponders his own future, according to ESPN.com's Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne. Having made a little more than $19 million last season, Gasol figures to be in line for a pay cut, but interested teams have to figure out just how much of one he's willing to take. From the Bulls' perspective, Gasol would fill a need as a back-to-the-basket offensive weapon and a solid presence in a tight locker room. According to Coon, if the Bulls amnesty Carlos Boozer and deal away veteran Mike Dunleavy, they would have roughly $13 million in available cap space.

With a number of high-quality teams pitching for Gasol's services -- and the fact that the Lakers can still offer big money -- the Bulls need to make a strong financial offer and tie it around the fact that they are ready to contend for a title right away. Even then, that might not be enough depending on the other offers Gasol figures to get.

3. Bring Nikola Mirotic over

[+] EnlargeNikola Mirotic
AP Photo/Darko VojinovicMirotic's Bulls future is bright, but he would be no substitute for Anthony if the team decided to sign him for the upcoming season.
There's been a lot of speculation regarding Mirotic's status in recent days, a fact that hasn't gone unnoticed by the Bulls front office as it tries to figure out its next move. For the moment, Mirotic's status with the Bulls this season is uncertain. The organization had always hoped it could land Mirotic for the midlevel exception, but now, in order to bring him over, it'll have to dip into its cap space to make it happen. Is Mirotic worth $7 million to $8 million per year? How much of an impact would he be able to have during his first season in the NBA? The Bulls remain high on Mirotic, but the idea that his addition would put the Bulls that much closer to a championship in his first season in the league is far-fetched at best.

4. Worst-case scenario

If the Bulls fail in Options 1-3, the frustration of the fan base will permeate throughout every aspect of the organization. Assuming they don't find any takers for a Boozer sign-and-trade, the Bulls could still amnesty the final year of his deal and move Dunleavy -- but what would they do with the $13 million left in cap space?

Lance Stephenson appears to be a last-ditch possibility. I don't believe he would work well in coach Tom Thibodeau's locker room, but he has the type of talent that could continue to blossom in the right situation. The Bulls will keep tabs on Chandler Parsons, a good friend of Noah's, but it's hard to believe the Rockets will let him walk as a restricted free agent -- especially if they don't land Anthony or LeBron James.

The Bulls' biggest problem is the same one it faced as free agency began: There are some solid names and possibilities on this list, but if it doesn't land Anthony or Love, the organization can't feel confident in the notion that it would start the upcoming season as a legitimate title contender.

Bulls draft hits and misses of Forman era

June, 26, 2014
Jun 26
10:00
AM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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BullsGetty ImagesIn their last three drafts the Bulls have had a hit (Jimmy Butler), a miss (Marquis Teague) and a work in progress (Tony Snell).
CHICAGO -- James Johnson's biggest claim to fame as a Chicago Bull had nothing to do with anything he accomplished on the basketball court.

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What grade would you give Bulls GM Gar Forman for his five drafts with the Bulls?

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Johnson, who was Gar Forman's first selection as Bulls GM in 2009, didn't turn out to be the player the organization wanted. But he did serve as Derrick Rose's personal protector one night in Oklahoma City during the 2009-10 season.

The Bulls were staying at the Skirvin Hotel, accommodations with a documented history of ghost activity. Rose, who on the verge of playing in his first All-Star Game, took no chances. He roomed with Johnson because of Johnson's martial arts background.

"We were watching [out for] each other," Rose said with a laugh at the time. "We were just up on the computer, just talking. Just having fun the whole night."

While Johnson's tenure didn't produce solid results, Forman and his staff have hit on several other picks in the last five years.

Let's take a look back at some of the Bulls' recent selections:


2009


James Johnson (16th): Miss
He never flourished under Vinny Del Negro and couldn't find consistent minutes in the rotation. He was dealt early in Tom Thibodeau's first season. Jrue Holiday, Ty Lawson and Jeff Teague were the three players drafted right after him.

Taj Gibson (26th): Hit
He has developed into one of the most consistent defensive players in the game. Gibson is one of Thibodeau's favorite players because of how hard he works on both ends of the floor.


2010



The Bulls didn't make a pick. They traded the rights to 17th pick Kevin Seraphin as part of the deal that sent Kirk Hinrich to the Washington Wizards. The Bulls wanted to clear out as much space as they could in order to land LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and/or Chris Bosh. The Bulls ended up with Carlos Boozer.


2011


Nikola Mirotic (23): TBD
The Bulls moved up to snag the lanky forward from Real Madrid. He has yet to play a game in the NBA, but is considered one of the best prospects in Europe. The Bulls are still hopeful that he will come over this summer and help them next season.

Jimmy Butler (30): Hit
Like Gibson, Butler was a late-round pick who has turned himself into one of the best defenders in the league. Butler has put a lot of heart into his game and is respected by teammates and coaches because of his work ethic. His biggest issue remains the lack of a consistent jump shot. Still, he was a solid pick late in the draft and a player that many teams missed on.


2012


Marquis Teague 29: Miss
The strange part about Teague's selection is that while the Bulls worked out a slew of different players before the draft, Teague wasn't one of them. They liked his upside, but he did not do well in Thibodeau's system. He showed flashes of promise, but he never showed much of a jump shot. He was dealt to the Brooklyn Nets last season after barely playing most of the season.


2013


Tony Snell 20: TBD
This pick could haunt Forman for a while. Snell showed some promise in his first season, but he never got consistent minutes behind Butler. The Bulls badly needed a backup big man, but Forman decided against selecting Gorgui Dieng and Mason Plumlee, both of whom had solid rookie seasons. Tim Hardaway Jr., who was taken four slots after Snell, also had a nice year for the New York Knicks. Snell still has time to turn into a solid piece, but the first returns weren't as promising for a team that was already in good shape with its wings.

Bulls face summer of complex decisions

May, 2, 2014
May 2
2:22
PM CT
Jackson By Scoop Jackson
ESPNChicago.com
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"We have a big summer in front of us. We may have the opportunity to have some flexibility and to address some needs. We'll look into that. I think we'll be able to add to our team this summer. You don't know what direction it could go. When I say we could have flexibility, that's dependent on some different ways that we could go. At this point, it's not definite that we would have a large amount of flexibility. But that's one of the roads we can take. There's so many moving parts that can happen. It will obviously be an active summer for us." -- Bulls general manager Gar Forman on Wednesday

On the front of the credential to the last Chicago Bulls game of the season was Taj Gibson. So appropriate because in the end it was Gibson limping off the court with a sprained ankle that proved to be the end of their season.

Now, where do the Bulls begin?

[+] Enlarge Carmelo Anthony
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty ImagesLanding Carmelo Anthony is a long shot, so the Bulls had better have a good backup plan this summer.
There have been offseasons for the Bulls that held us captive over the past few summers, but none like the one that will begin July 1 at the start of free agency.

So many options, so many opportunities, so many holes to fill. So much can go wrong.

The Carmelo Anthony talk is already getting louder by the hour although the noise of the possibility of Tom Thibodeau leaving to take the Los Angeles Lakers coaching job (note: never gonna happen) has drowned that out for the moment. The demand for the Bulls to go after an elite player this summer will continue to swell until the player at the center of the tempest realizes that the opportunity to play for Phil Jackson far outweighs the chance to play with Derrick Rose.

Truth told, the Bulls are not the type of organization (and never really have been) to play the begging, "Oh, please come play for us" game with max-level players. Yes, Carmelo might under Thibs become the player many believed he would one day become. But that more than likely won't happen in a Bulls uniform. Which means the Bulls -- if they are seriously thinking of going after Melo this offseason -- need to make their Plan B more important than their Plan A.

And the Bulls have more Plan Bs at their disposal this offseason than at any time in recent memory.

Above mid-level players who could turn into All-Stars under Thibs: Players such as the Lakers' Nick Young, who could honestly be the Bulls' Nate Robinson 2.0. Nate had the best year of his life under Thibs; think of what Thibs could do with a player like Young. Depending on the aftermath of the Indiana Pacers' implosion, the Player Formerly Known As "Born Ready" (Lance Stephenson) could slide into a Bulls uni and transform into a player he will never be allowed to become in Indiana. There's a perfect "insurance policy" player in a player like the Mavericks' Devin Harris, who could be just as important as any player the Bulls go after. Not only is he good enough to run the team and score from the point guard position in case Rose goes down again, he's the perfect replacement just in case Kirk Hinrich has seen his last days in the city.

If Taj can play the 3 ...: Can anyone say Zach Randolph? The Memphis Grizzlies star has a player option and can become an unrestricted free agent this summer. Want the low-post problem answered? Want the scoring problem answered? Want an All-Star player who won't conflict or get in the way of Rose or Joakim Noah doing their things? Want to avoid spending Carmelo money and get an All-Star in return? Want to stop Nene and Marcin Gortat from getting back-to-back-to-back offensive rebounds and tap-outs at the end of games? Want to make trading Luol Deng make sense?

The Salary-cap flex: Without Carlos Boozer's contract included, there's about $13 million this summer to play with and make something happen. That's not a massive amount of money, but it can turn out to be smart money if the Bulls are Maxwell with it. The amnesty of Boozer seems inevitable. If not that, then a trade. One call to the Lakers for Pau Gasol or one call to the Knicks for Amar'e Stoudemire could at least calm the fire of fan revolt for at least one year when the existence of that contract could officially be taken off the books.

"And with the No. 16 and 19 picks ...": This could easily be reduced to one pick if packaged along with the possible trade of Boozer. But in case that doesn't come to fruition, two of the five following names should become familiar to all Bulls season-ticket holders, cable subscribers and fans who repeat Stacy King verbologies in public: Shabazz Napier, T.J. Warren, Kyle Anderson, Clint Capela and K.J. McDaniels. All have the ability to be immediate answers to at least two of the Bulls' problems. And none of them will turn out to be the next Marquis Teague.

Eight men in: The Bulls have eight players under contract going into next season. Not saying that all eight will be back, but of those eight there are probably only six that they know aren't going anywhere. Hinrich and D.J. Augustin are both free agents. After gambling on letting Nate go this time last year, it's pretty safe to say that they are going to try to bring D.J. back. Kirk is probably gone, which leaves the Bulls with three roster spots open for bench play. What Forman and executive vice president John Paxson decide to do filling those three spots could be the subtle difference between the Bulls getting past a team like the Washington Wizards next year or not making the playoffs at all.

Then there's Niko: Nikola Mirotic is the mystery that just keeps giving. He's like the fine girlfriend your best friend claims to have but you never see. Even if the next Euro prodigy and Bulls 2011 draft pick decides to leave Real Madrid to come to play in the shadow of Michael Jordan's statue and Toni Kukoc's legacy, there is no promise (at all!) that the skill set he'll bring to the NBA will transfer to what the Bulls will need from him in the playoffs. At least not in his rookie and second seasons. Yes, Nikola is an option worth mentioning in the summer of 2014 conversation. But to be what the Bulls need to get them over the hump in the 2015 and 2016 playoffs, he won't be that. Not right away.

The possibility that they give up on Rose: Someone had to say it. Look there's a chance -- a very small one -- that the Bulls as a franchise have come to the conclusion that they can't continue to go "all-in" on Rose. They've done it twice and both times (by what seem to have been acts of God) they got robbed, as did Rose. Giving that plan a third opportunity from a franchise standpoint would almost be suicidal. But if the Bulls are watching the Toronto Raptors' soon-to-be free agent Kyle Lowry play during these playoffs, they have to be thinking ... I'm not going to say it, but IJS (I'm just sayin').

***

Will he stay or will he go? That seems to be the newest worry surrounding Thibodeau after Thursday's report from ESPNLosAngeles.com that the Lakers plan to ask the Bulls permission to interview the coach. The Bulls aren't that foolish to allow an interview with Thibs this summer. And Thibs -- as contentious as the relationship between him and the front office might be -- isn't that stupid to seek interest in joining the Lakers' dysfunction.

So now, just days removed from a season-ending exit amid talk of Thibodeau "wearing the team down," the Bulls enter this offseason with situations they've never had before.

Both good and bad.

What happens when a team's season ends like the Bulls -- when they run into a team that, as Joakim Noah said, "had no holes" and is young enough to be there as a threat for at least the next three or four years -- beating the defending champs (as has been their mission the last three summers) takes a back seat to finding ways to beat the team that just beat you. Teams start building in the offseason to beat that team, not the one sitting atop the mountain, hoisting trophies and having parades. Focus changes, although the goal remains the same.

Forman asked during his exit news conference, "Now how do we get to the next level?"

The answer is simple, my man: You're about to show us this summer.

3 Points: Bulls' backup plan after Melo?

March, 20, 2014
Mar 20
8:16
PM CT
By ESPNChicago.com
ESPNChicago.com
Nikola MiroticAP Photo/Lefteris PitarakisNikola Mirotic is an expensive -- and unproven -- option for the Bulls this summer.
Every week, ESPNChicago.com Bulls writer Nick Friedell is joined by two other ESPN writers to weigh in on three questions that are on the minds of Chicago Bulls followers.

1. If Carmelo Anthony stays in New York, what's the best Plan B for the Bulls this summer?

Friedell: The next-best plan would be to bring Nikola Mirotic over from Europe and see if he has what it takes to succeed in the NBA. That would mean amnestying the final year of Carlos Boozer's deal, which is fine for the Bulls since Taj Gibson has become a better all-around player. The problem with this scenario is that Mirotic's arrival still won't bring the Bulls that much closer to a championship. Anthony is the only player on the market -- if he decides to opt out -- who could push the Bulls to a championship level, assuming Derrick Rose comes back close to the same player he was before.

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If Carmelo Anthony stays in New York, who should be the Bulls' top priority this summer?

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Discuss (Total votes: 3,768)

Jon Greenberg: Ideally, it's Indiana Pacers guard Lance Stephenson. In some ways, he's a better Plan A, because he could fit in the salary slot vacated by the amnesty of Boozer. Stephenson is a rare find, a future unrestricted free agent at age 23. He doesn't quite fit the Bulls' archetypal player profile, and his past legal issues are troubling, but the former Brooklyn prep star would slide in nicely with this team. He's a defensive hound and an athletic offensive player. He's 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds and, as of this writing, is averaging in the neighborhood of 14 points, seven rebounds and five assists while shooting 50 percent. The Bulls need someone who can create his own shot. Would Stephenson fit in with the Bulls? Absolutely, and having Gibson and Joakim Noah around -- the two best New York City role models in the league -- wouldn't hurt his growth and development.

Scoop Jackson: Patience. Everybody seems to be in a rush to treat the Bulls like a bowl of instant grits: add water (big-name free agent) and championship is won. For other teams it might work that way, but for this team, not so much. Coach Tom Thibodeau needs a player that will give the team an ability to play from behind and make up the difference offensively when it is down by 10. Plan B should be a scorer -- not necessarily a scorer on the Carmelo/Kevin Love level, but someone who can put the ball in the basket at a 20-points-per-game rate. Now, who that Plan B is I don’t know, but that needs to be their Plan B.


2. Is there any scenario in which Boozer is playing for the Bulls next season?

Friedell: Yes. The percentage isn't high, but it's possible. If the Bulls can't land Anthony and they can't convince Mirotic to come over from Europe, they could decide to just keep Boozer instead of eating almost $17 million. At this point, a divorce seems inevitable, but there's still a chance Boozer starts next season on the Bulls roster.

[+] EnlargeBulls/Hawks
Brett Davis/USA TODAY SportsCarlos Boozer likely is playing his last season with the Bulls.
Greenberg: Yes, if the Bulls don't sign Melo or Stephenson and can't convince Mirotic to come over from Spain, they would probably keep Boozer for the final year of his deal or look to trade him during the season. But I don't foresee that situation coming true. Mirotic is the most likely addition this summer, and the Bulls will need to shed Boozer's salary to add him and some other complementary players. Get your fill of Boozer now, Chicago.

Jackson: I’ll reluctantly say "none," but every time I’m around the team, Boozer seems so comfortable (and they keep winning) that I often question whether he wants to be gone, and whether the Bulls want him gone. His contract has been looked at as an albatross for Chicago, when in reality it’s been a blessing in the fact that the Bulls have gotten more out of Booz that the Knicks have gotten out of Amar'e Stoudemire over the same period of time with a similar deal. But for the way the Bulls look at him -- and use him in the fourth quarter -- it’s hard too see him here next season.


3. Is it important for Rose to practice with the Bulls this season?

Friedell: Yes, but not nearly as important as it is for Rose to be healthy this summer and play with Team USA. Rose practiced with the Bulls for several months last season, and it didn't seem to make a difference. The experience, and, more importantly, the confidence, Rose would gain from playing with -- and against -- the best players in the world this summer would be huge as he heads into another comeback season next fall.

[+] EnlargeRose
Dennis Wierzbicki/USA TODAY SportsDerrick Rose hopes to play for Team USA this summer.
Greenberg: Not really. It couldn't hurt, and perhaps it'll just be worthwhile as part of Rose's rehab process, but there aren't that many practices left, and the Bulls are focused on getting ready for the playoffs. Now, I think playing with the national team would be a very good idea for Rose, so he comes into camp with a sharper edge for what will be a very important season. Practicing and working out is one thing, but Rose needs more intense competition this summer, the kind you can't duplicate in open gyms and playgrounds. Like he said, the last time he played for the national team, he won the MVP that season.

Jackson: No. Only because everyone still looks at him as that dude. His nickname among players is still "MVP." They know. Plus, the last thing the Bulls need is people like us (the media) reading into every move Rose makes and passing/placing judgement for not playing even though he's practicing. Derrick shouldn’t give us the satisfaction. His teammates already know what he’s capable of doing, as does Thibs. He’s still the player this team is gonna ride and die with. Unless the Bulls plan on getting him back this season, him practicing with the team would be straight up stupid.

Paxson: 'Still too early' to discuss Mirotic

February, 13, 2014
Feb 13
9:30
AM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
CHICAGO -- The Chicago Bulls still aren't sure when Nikola Mirotic will be coming to play in the NBA.

[+] EnlargeNikola Mirotic
AP Photo/Darko VojinovicLuring Nikola Mirotic to the Bulls next season will be considerably more expensive than a year ago.
But they remain optimistic it will happen sooner rather than later.

"It's still too early," Bulls executive VP John Paxson said Wednesday night, while discussing whether Mirotic may come to the NBA this summer or the next one. "We still have things we have to do. He still has a significant buyout with Real Madrid. So there's still some things we have to [get through] and we can't do it until this summer.

"But going over there earlier in December, [Bulls GM] Gar [Forman] and [Bulls international scout] Ivica Dukan were laying the groundwork to be in the game when we can be."

Paxson sounded optimistic about his discussions with the 23-year-old Mirotic, whom the Bulls made a deal for in the 2011 draft. But he isn't sure if or when Mirotic will decide to try to get out of his deal with Real Madrid.

It remains unclear how much he wants from the Bulls. But the idea of him taking the midlevel exception seems to be a thing of the past given how well he has performed in Europe.

"Our meetings with him were great," Paxson said. "Our intention, as we talked about, is to get him here sooner rather than later. But there's still a process that we have to go through. He's just coming off the Spanish championship, the Copa del Rey, where his team won and he was the MVP.

"There's a reason we went to such lengths to try and draft him a few years ago, and we're hoping to get him at some point."

Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said he has yet to speak to Mirotic but tries to watch his games when he has the chance.

"In the offseason, I try to watch as much as I can," Thibodeau said. "I may watch some over the All-Star break. But I like what I see; he continues to get better. Hopefully he'll be here in the future."

3 Points: Rose or the No. 1 pick?

December, 19, 2013
12/19/13
4:04
PM CT
By ESPNChicago.com
ESPNChicago.com
Derrick Rose and Jabari Parker Getty ImagesWould you pick Jabari Parker over Derrick Rose?
Every week, ESPNChicago.com Bulls writer Nick Friedell is joined by two other ESPN writers to weigh in on three questions that are on the minds of Bulls followers.

1. Take your pick: Derrick Rose or the No. 1 selection in the 2014 NBA draft?


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If you are Gar Forman, who/what would you rather have?

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Discuss (Total votes: 2,327)

Nick Friedell: From a talent perspective, I'm still going with Rose. If you believe what Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said last week when he told SNY.tv that there are no "transcendent" players in the draft, then nobody has the ability of Rose. I choose to side with Boeheim. I think Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker are going to be great players, but will they be superstar players? Nobody knows. I know, nobody knows what's going to happen with Rose, either, now that he has had surgery on both knees. But Rose has proven to be an MVP-caliber player. There aren't many players who have his type of speed and skill. I know I'm in a minority with this opinion, but I believe he can come back close to the level he was at before the ACL tear in April 2012. This draft class may turn out to be unbelievable, but like Boeheim, I don't know if there is a guy like Rose.

Jon Greenberg: The sentimentalist in me says Rose. The realist in me says maybe take the pick. I guess there's a part of me that can't believe Rose's story ends this way. Can you imagine, though, how quickly fans would welcome Parker and act like Rose was some bum, instead of the youngest-ever MVP who had two horribly unlucky knee injuries? It would take like 15 seconds tops, because sports fans are, by design, nuts. Still, Rose is only 25. He might seem like an old 25, partially because, again, he was the youngest MVP in NBA history. Before he tore his meniscus in Portland, he showed that the athleticism, the pure speed, was still there. He just needed the timing. But time ran out and now we're talking about option for a draft pick over him.

Scoop Jackson: Unless it becomes officially known that Jabari Parker is not staying at Duke to play one year with Jahlil Okafor next season then, NO. I'm keeping Rose. Parker is the only player who could fill the all-around void that will be lost if the Bulls decide to give up on Derrick. Other than Parker there is no player -- not Andrew Wiggins, Aaron Gordon, Marcus Smart, Shabazz Napier, Doug McDermott or Russ Smith -- who will be available at the No.1 pick who will turn into over their career what Rose became pre-injury.


2. Aside from LeBron, which free agent would you like to see land in Chicago this summer?


Nick Friedell: The problem for the Bulls is that they don't have the cap space to add any big-name/max-level players. Carmelo Anthony would be a great addition for this team, but he would have to take a huge pay cut. That's not going to happen.

Jon Greenberg: Well, LeBron's not coming anyway, so trust me, I wasn't thinking about him. The Bulls will still have salary-cap problems, even if they amnesty Carlos Boozer, which I don't think is a given. I guess I'd like to see them add a shooting guard and move Jimmy Butler to Luol Deng's spot, if, as many expect, Deng leaves via free agency. Who is going to take a midlevel deal or equivalent "small" money to come play for the Bulls? Expect some more small deals for backup-type players. I have no players for you to get excited about.

Scoop Jackson: To me, there's a difference between someone getting a team over the hump and someone coming in to save a team. I'm not a fan of the latter, so I wouldn't even want LeBron here, to be honest. He's off my list. But to answer the second part of the question, I'd have to say Zach Randolph. After him, I'd still like to see Melo here playing alongside Rose and for Thibs. I really think he'd turn into the player who everyone thinks he has the ability to be.


3. Will Nikola Mirotic play for the Bulls next season?


[+] EnlargeNikola Mirotic
AP Photo/Lefteris PitarakisWill the Bulls be able to finally lure Nikola Mirotic to the NBA next season?
Nick Friedell: Yes. The Bulls will do everything they can to bring him over, but it all depends on how much Mirotic wants. If he wants more than the midlevel exception, it will be interesting to see what they want to do. Still, I think they find a way to get him over.

Jon Greenberg: If they amnesty Boozer and don't re-sign Deng, it's a significant possibility. The Bulls recently met with Mirotic in Spain to talk about his 2 million euro buyout, which is a good sign. They need to do something to jump start this team and it seems as though he would be a very good value for the team's midlevel exception money. The Bulls are a very conservative team, so I just can't bank on them doing anything exciting. But I'll go against my better judgment and say yes. They'll figure out a way to get it done.

Scoop Jackson: Only if there's a guarantee from the Bulls that he will be in their starting lineup next season. And that's hard to determine right now without knowing who's gonna be on the roster at that Deng/Boozer/Taj Gibson position next season. Unless they can convince Nikola that for his first season in the NBA he's going to be a Toni Kukoc/Manu Ginobili-type, where he's the premier sixth man getting around 30-35 minutes a game, then it's hard to see him coming here next season.

Opening Tip: Bulls still excited about future

December, 4, 2013
12/04/13
11:21
AM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
CHICAGO -- Derrick Rose's latest injury may have closed the Chicago Bulls' championship window this season, but GM Gar Forman does not believe the window is closed for good.

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Has the Bulls' championship window closed completely?

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Discuss (Total votes: 1,194)

"From a long-term perspective, we still feel like we're in a really good place," Forman said Tuesday on "The Waddle & Slvy Show" on ESPN Chicago 1000. "I say that because we still feel we've got good players that are in their 20s in Taj [Gibson], Joakim [Noah], Jimmy [Butler] and Tony [Snell], who we're really high on and is playing well. We've got a Charlotte pick coming [from the Tyrus Thomas trade in 2010]. We've got all our picks into the future. [Nikola] Mirotic at some point in the future. And then we will have a level of flexibility that we haven't had under this new CBA because we had a lot of contracts from this previous CBA that put us in a spot where there wasn't a lot of financial flexibility.

"So, long term, there's not a whole lot that changes. We already ... we've planned out some moves that we think we need to make and want to make going forward, and that's something we'll continue to evaluate as far as building this team to what our ultimate goal is -- to compete for a championship year in and year out."

As it pertains to Mirotic, Forman and the Bulls are still confident that the European star will be able to come over to the NBA next summer, but the process to get him out of his current deal is complicated.

"He's still under contract there [with Real Madrid]," Forman said. "But we've talked about once a guy is three years out from his draft class, then he's no longer restricted to the rookie-scale contract for the slot that he was picked. So that begins this summer, which means our hope is we'll be able to have dialogue this summer with the possibility of getting him over."

Cautious with Butler: Butler still has not practiced while he recovers from turf toe, and Forman made it seem like he would continue to be out at least a few more days.

"We'll be conservative with his rehab," Forman said. "So far, he's making good progress. There hasn't been any setbacks. I think if we brought him back too early, it could be something that could linger. But there was nothing structurally wrong. It's turf toe, which is basically a sprain. So the big thing was getting the swelling out and now getting the mobility back and the strength back. It still is a week-to-week process, but he's making good progress."

The last word: Tom Thibodeau, before Tuesday's game, on the progression of Snell:

"I think he's done a really good job, actually, from the point that we drafted him. He worked extremely hard all summer. He did a good job in the preseason, and even when he wasn't playing he was practicing well and he was really preparing himself to play. So, usually what happens with those guys when they work like that, and they prepare themselves that way, when the opportunity does roll around, they're usually ready for it, and he's done that. And he's not satisfied. Each day he comes in, he tries to improve. When he makes a mistake, he tries to correct it and not repeat the same mistake twice. He's done a good job for us."

Opening Tip: Bulls' roster isn't changing

November, 13, 2013
11/13/13
8:00
AM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
CHICAGO -- John Paxson, Tom Thibodeau and Gar Forman sat halfway up on center court at the United Center on Tuesday night dreaming like the rest of the scouts, coaches and personnel directors in attendance at the Champions Classic.

The amount of talent on the floor was staggering. Julius Randle, Andrew Wiggins and Chicago's own Jabari Parker all made NBA people drool.

The reality for the Chicago Bulls is that they won't have access to any of the top-tier lottery players for a while because of their sustained success under Thibodeau.

Which brings up another intriguing question on any potential move the Bulls may undertake down the line: Will they make a deal for another star or future draft pick this season?

The safe money is no.

As much as the Bulls would love players like Randle, Wiggins or Parker, or another scorer in the league, the reality is that the Bulls aren't likely to make any kind of major deal.

The organization believes this team as it's currently constructed can contend for a title this season. Whether fans agree or disagree, the truth is the Bulls don't have a lot of moveable pieces that could bring back talent to instantly make them better.

Luol Deng doesn't have nearly as much trade value, given that he is in the final year of his contract. It doesn't appear any team wants to deal for Carlos Boozer and the remainder of his contract. Jimmy Butler is valuable because he is on his rookie deal, but the Bulls don't want to move him if they can help it.

Forman always points to the fact that the Bulls have assets like Nikola Mirotic and the future first-round pick from the Charlotte Bobcats; but those are far from certainties. Mirotic has all the leverage in negotiations next summer and it's always hard for general managers to deal for a pick, like the Bobcats' selection, that still doesn't become unprotected for a few years.

For the time being, the Bulls’ core is locked in place, and it isn't going to change much no matter how many times the Bulls' front office thinks about it.

What's next: The Bulls practice at the Berto Center in the morning and will be on “hamstring watch.” After an off day Tuesday, it will be interesting to see if the Bulls hold Derrick Rose out for a couple of days due to the right hamstring injury he sustained at the end of Monday night's win over the Cleveland Cavaliers. Paxson said Tuesday that Rose was feeling better, but the Bulls want to see how he feels after reiterating he was day-to-day. Given how cautious the Bulls have been with Rose, it would be surprising if he practiced on Wednesday.

Another shooter? The Bulls worked out veteran swingman Reggie Williams on Tuesday, according to a source. Williams has been in the league for four years and is a career 37 percent shooter from beyond the arc. The Chicago Tribune had earlier reported news of the workout.

The last word: Nazr Mohammed, Mike Dunleavy, Kirk Hinrich, Deng and Boozer were all shown on the JumboTron at the United Center at various points on Tuesday night. Hinrich received the loudest cheers of all from the Kansas fans.

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Derrick Rose
PTS AST STL MIN
15.9 4.3 0.5 31.1
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsJ. Noah 11.3
AssistsJ. Noah 5.4
StealsJ. Butler 1.9
BlocksJ. Noah 1.5