Bulls will do what they can, and move (sigh) Carlos Boozer and David Lee to the top of their wish list

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Coming into free agency, the Chicago Bulls seemed to have it all: an up-and-coming point guard, a solid big man, one of the market’s most coveted coaches, decent role-playing talent, and oodles of cap space. The world was theirs, though now there’s a slight problem — it isn’t. Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade have both reportedly spurned the Bulls to sign with the Heat, Amar’e Stoudemire is already committed to the Knicks, Joe Johnson has agreed to stay with Atlanta, and LeBron James seems to have pared down his options to Cleveland and Miami. That means the top five free agents have all chosen to ignore Chicago’s incredible potential, which will cause the Bulls to shift gears a bit.

According to K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune, the Bulls will now focus on acquiring either Carlos Boozer or David Lee (presumably in that order), while trying to pick up a few shooters and acquire more talent via trade. All of those moves make a hell of a lot of sense for Chicago. The Bulls were 19th in the league in three-point shooting percentage last season, and their two most productive long-range threats (Kirk Hinrich and John Salmons) have been traded. Power forward has long been a position of weakness for Chicago, and though Bosh and Stoudemire have already been swept off their feet, Boozer and Lee are still incredibly talented and productive.

Without a premier free agent in tow, the Bulls will have plenty of money to spend on shooters. Ray Allen (unrestricted), J.J. Redick (restricted), Anthony Morrow (restricted), Kyle Korver (unrestricted), Roger Mason Jr. (unrestricted), and Wesley Matthews (restricted) are all solid free agent options for Chicago, and none of those players are expected to break the bank. Redick and Morrow are among the more intriguing long-term options, but their restricted free agent status will make it fairly difficult to pry them away from their respective teams without seriously overspending.

It’s tough to anticipate how the Bulls would work the trade market, but I think it could safely be assumed that they’ll try to fill both of the aforementioned needs (power forward and wing shooter) through that channel while possibly trying to deal away Luol Deng. Without the dual-max contract possibility hanging overhead, there’s no urgency to trade Deng. However, I’m sure the Bulls still wouldn’t mind climbing out from underneath the $51.3 million Luol is owed over the next four seasons.

Missing out on the top free agents is tough luck for Chicago, but they can still be off-season winners. As long as the Bulls address their weaknesses by signing quality players to reasonable contracts, second-tier talent could be enough. Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah are still growing into their own talents after all, and could just be a solid PF and supporting cast away from making things interesting in the East.

John Wall scores 37 as Wizards down LeBron James, Cavs 127-115

Associated Press
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CLEVELAND (AP) John Wall scored 37 points, Bradley Beal added 27 and the Washington Wizards began a challenging road trip by beating LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers 127-115 on Saturday night.

Wall scored 18 in the first quarter, when the Wizards shot 82 percent, and Washington held on down the stretch to avenge an overtime loss to the NBA champions last month.

James, who briefly wore goggles to protect an eye injury sustained Friday night, scored 24 and added 11 rebounds and eight assists. Kyrie Irving added 23 points and Kevin Love 17 for Cleveland, playing at home for the only time in a seven-game stretch.

Washington’s victory cut Cleveland’s lead in the Eastern Conference to a half-game over idle Boston.

Rudy Gobert calls out Jazz teammates after loss: “We’ve just got to compete. We’re too nice.”

Associated Press
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Utah and the L.A. Clippers are almost locked into a first round, four vs. five battle in the Western Conference. The only question is which team will have home court, and the Clippers took a big step towards that beating the Jazz at home Saturday. While the Jazz still has a half-game lead, the Clippers have a much softer schedule the rest of the way.

After that loss, Jazz center Rudy Gobert was ticked off and called out his teammates. Via Tim MacMahon of ESPN.

“We’ve got guys that compete, but some of us don’t compete. Some of us just think about scoring. That’s what it is. … Coach keeps repeating it: We’ve just got to compete. We’re too nice. Those guys, we know they’re going to get calls. We’ve just got to come out aggressive and ready to fight.”

Interesting comments for a team that is third in the NBA in defensive rating and 13th in offense.

Gobert is frustrated as Utah has dropped four of its last five, and the slump has been on both ends of the court. The defense has struggled, but if guys are looking to score too much they aren’t doing it efficiently because the offense has been worse.

This slide likely costs Utah home court in the first round, which could matter in what will be a tight matchup with Los Angeles. Utah needs to find its grinding rhythm again heading into the playoffs, at their best they can knock off the Clippers in the first round. Just not like they are playing now.

One thing to watch, Utah’s Gordon Hayward asked out of the game in the fourth quarter due to what is being called a bruised muscle in his leg. If he misses any time or if this lingers, it could be trouble for the Jazz in the postseason.

 

LeBron James starts game with protective goggles. That lasts about a minute.

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LeBron James suffered a scratched cornea Friday night when he went up for a layup late in the third quarter and Jeremy Lamb tried to contest and caught him clean across the face. LeBron got the and-1, but had trouble keeping his eye open in postgame interviews Friday.

Saturday he did play — wearing protective goggles. As you can see above.

That lasted about a minute.

LeBron was likely frustrated as the Cavaliers defensive woes had the Wizards up double digits much of the first half.

Kobe Bryant says he’s “only a phone call away” if organization needs his advice

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For the first time since he walked off the court in his final game, Kobe Bryant was back at Staples Center Friday night.

The reason was Shaquille O’Neal was getting a statue out in front of Staples Center (a building that may not have gotten built without the two of them). The two famed feuders sat next to each other and joked around through the ceremony. Time heals all wounds.

With the new management of the Lakers — specifically Kobe’s former agent Rob Pelinka as GM — there has been speculation Kobe could take on a role. He’s not looking for something formal, according to reports, but he didn’t say no, either, when asked.

I picture Kobe as a guy who someday buys a team, not a guy who wants to haggle with agents over the details of a contract. He’s not going to take on a day-to-day role, he likes the retired life and what he is building with the Kobe brand.

That said, the Lakers front office can use all the smart voices it can get as they try speed up a rebuild. They should give him a call every once in a while.