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Chris Bosh and Joe Johnson sending signals they will leave

While Chris Bosh has done nothing to discourage the thinking he will leave Toronto, Joe Johnson has struggled for Atlanta in the postseason and seems to have said his goodbye to the Hawks.
Sam Smith at Bulls.com

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

Joe Johnson

Put Joe Johnson with a coach who runs an offense with weak side movement or off the ball and a point guard, and he is back to being the 25 point scoring All-Star he’s been.

Well, at least we know one free agent who’s definitely leaving his team. Yes, everyone has long thought it would be Chris Bosh, and he’s done nothing to discourage that thinking with some bizarre social networking behavior in which he’s asked fans to recommend what he should do.

Bosh changed his location on his Twitter account location to “everywhere,” and removed a biography section that noted his status as Raptors captain. These seem fairly obvious hints, and Bosh last week was at a Lakers/Jazz game at Staples Center tweeting about holding the MVP trophy. It seems Bosh is working on his Lakers sign-and-trade. Gasol? Bynum? I assume the Raptors take either, if they have a chance.

But the one I was more thinking of is Joe Johnson, who in this disastrous Hawks playoff meltdown basically bidding goodbye to the booing home crowd after Game 3 when he said the booing didn’t bother him.

“Hopefully, it doesn’t bother our team,” said Johnson. “We’re in this together. Us in this locker room, we could care less if they showed up or not.”

You can assume Johnson, who was singled out for much of the booing, was frustrated. He shot three of 15 as the Magic concentrated on him, which isn’t very hard with the worse offense in the NBA. I don’t know why Vinny Del Negro got so much grief about his offense while Atlanta runs this ridiculous, game long series of isolations that even the players abhor. Johnson is shooting 28.6 percent for the Magic series as the Magic is up 3-0. Johnson opened the playoffs averaging 25.6 points, 5.3 rebounds and six assists the first four games. Since Atlanta makes few, if any, adjustments, opponents have loaded up on Johnson. He’s averaging 13.3 points and 4.3 assists since Game 4 against Milwaukee. The notion is he’s cost himself money in free agency, but it would be a mistake to follow that thinking if you want to improve your team.

Put Johnson with a coach who runs an offense with weak side movement or off the ball and a point guard, and Johnson is back to being the 25 point scoring All-Star he’s been. During the regular season, teams cannot prepare as well and the Hawks score a lot in transition and open the court. The Bucks and Magic, with two of the league’s best coaches, easily figured out the Hawks.

Plus, Josh Smith has pretty much given up. He makes the Hawks go with his defense and open court play, but remains immature and no one holds him accountable. After scoring at least 20 points in two of the first four playoff games, he hasn’t had 20 since. In Game 2 against the Bucks, he had nine assists. He’s had zero assists in two of the last three games. The Hawks will let Mike Woodson go after the season, and don’t have to break things up, as with a strong coach they’ll remain a good team. But Johnson seems to have said his goodbye.

If I were the Bulls, I’d step up aggressively and offer him the maximum deal. I might not do the sign-and-trade, but allow a clause for a year extension or work out an insurance deal for a sixth year. From everything I’ve heard, the Bulls would have to mess it up to lose Johnson.

Those who know Johnson say he is low key and doesn’t want to be in the New York area. His agent is Arn Tellem, who represents Derrick Rose, and Johnson also is close with Rose’s agent/mentor B.J. Armstrong. Plus, it would be ideal for Johnson’s game to play with an up tempo style with a point guard like Rose, and good for Rose to have a shooter to spread the court and big two guard to defend.

Now this part would be just guessing as the Bosh scenario could play out in a dozen ways. But then if you were the Bulls, you’d be in position to offer the Raptors a sign-and-trade of Hinrich, Taj Gibson, a No. 1 pick and the rights to Omer Asik for Bosh, and you figure they’d have to give that serious thought. Even if you can add Johnson and keep Hinrich, Gibson and Luol Deng, that’s a heck of head start on the future. And it doesn’t seem so improbable.

LeBron sizing up his future

-- But what if you could get LeBron? Yes, here we go again. The Cavs and Celtics are now 2-2. It’s advantage Cavs on paper, as they now go home and have to win only at home to advance. Of course, it’s a minimum six game series now and a tough one while the Magic likely blows through its second sweep. But what seems most clear is the Cavs hardly look like a championship team anymore. The so-called supporting cast, as it did even against the Bulls, looks tight in pressure situations. LeBron may or may not have an elbow problem. He looked great in Game 3, which was what he was supposed to do. He looked passive and often ineffective in Game 4. I’d been hearing some interesting stuff of late, namely that—surprise, surprise—even LeBron’s closest friends have no idea what he’s going to do. But he’s expressed interest in the Bulls and he did seem to know a lot about the team during the first round series. LeBron talked in depth about Taj Gibson, and while James is a true student of the game, Taj Gibson? As I wrote in the first round, if LeBron is sizing up his future—how could he see much with Shaq and Z at center, three starters at least 34, Mo Williams again coming up small in the playoffs and almost no bench. Who knows what happens in court with Delonte West’s gun case and his bipolar issues? I heard from someone close to LeBron’s group last week that LeBron covets the triangle offense, which I read to be less that he wants to play for Phil Jackson—I still think there’s no way he leaves to come to Chicago. LeBron with Kobe in L.A?—than he wants some offense as they are pretty scattered in Cleveland. So getting a respected coach with a plan and system is important. Still, it seems a long shot for the Bulls to sign LeBron and I’d concentrate on Joe Johnson if it were me. Though I don’t play for jackpots—I prefer treasuries.

As Wade’s world turns

-- Well, I’m fairly sure now Dwyane Wade’s not coming to Chicago. At least a little more sure than before. I certainly don’t plan to weigh in on one very ugly divorce. But last week Wade’s former wife filed suit against Wade’s girlfriend, actress Gabrielle Union, charging emotional distress to his sons. Wade called the lawsuit “baseless and meritless.” Union’s lawyer also chimed in to discredit the allegations of their actions as a couple harmed the children, ages eight and two. Wade has filed for custody and asked for psychological evaluation of his former wife. This one is plenty bad and likely will play out this summer in court in Chicago. On the obvious part, you’d assume Wade wouldn’t want to be within 1,000 miles of someone with whom he’s been engaged in such a bitter court action. Of course, the other side is if Wade gains custody, could he move the kids? And if he didn’t, would he want to be so far from the kids with someone he obviously didn’t trust? Maybe he wants to be in Chicago. I doubt it, though.

On the basketball side it gets more complicated. Wade, seemingly, wants to stay in South Florida and get that $30 million extra and sixth year, which only players re-signing or getting a sign-and-trade can get. And you can be sure Pat Riley isn’t doing any sign-and-trade, especially to an Eastern Conference team. It’s big for Wade, given he’s 28 and takes a beating… on the court, too. It’s not likely he gets a $20 plus million season from someone at age 34. This figures to be his last big deal and he wants to max it. Makes sense and I would, too. Wade also has let it be known he’ll wait to see what Pat Riley does in adding talent to determine whether he re-signs. The issue again is timing. If you wait for Wade to decide whether he’ll stay as he analyzes Miami’s summer, then you may have lost the chance for a diminishing group of free agents. And then he could decide to stay and you’ve lost out on someone, say like Joe Johnson, who may have wanted to join your team. So Wade probably stays in Miami no matter what they do as they will do something. One ancillary Chicago related benefit, though, is all this likely will keep Wade off the USA Team and insiders say with several stars hesitating on playing in the World Championships this summer, Derrick Rose has an excellent chance to make the team.

Sixers searching for a coach

-- It looks like the 76ers may hire... Vinny Del Negro? Not that he is being interviewed, but the 76ers are doing the 2008 Bulls “We’re-talking-to-everyone” World Tour, which led John Paxson to a chance meeting at the predraft camp with Del Negro, and the rest was history, or at least for now, his story. This occurred to me as the Philadelphia Daily News reported the 76ers are interviewing Bill Laimbeer, which means they must have interviewed everyone already as Laimbeer is the official bottom of the barrel. If you are seriously talking to the most miserable man ever to be in the NBA then you should be nearing the end of your search. The 76ers have interviewed some good candidates, namely Doug Collins, who strikes me as the no-brainer, but that being only if the team wants to get better. Sam Mitchell is good and so is Avery Johnson. They’ve been through. But I’ve heard Laimbeer has so divided things in Minnesota that Kevin Love can’t wait to get away. Of course, I assume Laimbeer is getting plenty of recommendations, as opponents knows if the 76ers hire him they are done for the next decade. The fear is Collins. Everyone knows the team was a massive underachiever last season, and with Collins, likely would be back in the playoffs. The Bulls and Collins, by the way, have pretty much mutually agreed to go separate ways after their talks in 2008. Names you hear regarding the Bulls don’t mean much at this time since the team is only doing background work on dozens of candidates before conducting a narrow set of interviews for targeted candidates. The interviews will probably begin around the time of the predraft camp in two weeks.

Nets may attract Pippen

-- Could Scottie Pippen’s basketball future be in the Nets’ front office? Pippen, who will be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in August, has talked vaguely about getting into coaching, but never has shown the willingness to spend the time traveling. When Pippen’s aborted comeback with the Bulls went bad from injury in 2004, the Bulls asked Pippen to help coach. He declined. Pippen has since done ambassador work for the NBA in Europe and Asia, and one of the highlights was playing in a celebrity game in Moscow at Moscow State U. last year. One of Pippen’s teammates was a fairly adept player about the same height as Pippen. His name: Mikhail Prokhorov. Now, he’s known here more as the real Most Interesting Man in the World, the Russian oligarch and sportsman who owns the New Jersey Nets. The Nets, with minority owner music impresario Jay-Z, could become one of the league’s glamour franchises with the expected move to Brooklyn in a few years. Meanwhile, they have a good base of talent and a chance for the top draft pick. Friends say Pippen is interested in NBA front office work, more like Michael Jordan. Since that game, Pippen has made several trips for the NBA to Russia and supposedly has gotten to know Prokhorov, and Pippen always has liked to run in high level crowds.

NBA news and notes

-- Deron Williams has been terrific this season and could claim being maybe the best point guard in the league. But the playoffs are about matchups, and the Lakers and Derek Fisher don’t have nearly the problem with Williams as they did with faster Russell Westbrook. The result is Fisher has been able to stay in the game, and knocked out the Jazz Saturday with still another big three as he’s now his 14 of his last 30 threes. Fisher has drew the more deliberate Williams into a pair of offensive fouls in Saturday’s game going up 3-0. … How laughable is it Nate Robinson’s representatives are suggesting they could file a grievance because Robinson was benched late in the season and lost gaining a $1 million bonus by two games. Given Robinson’s history of being benched for outlandish behavior, the Celts should be lucky they weren’t fined by the league for playing him the first 21 straight games after the deal. … Did Paul Pierce retire? Actually, LeBron James deserves credit for concentrating on Pierce, who is shooting just 32 percent and averaging 11.8 points as Rajon Rondo has been carrying the Celtics with some terrific performances. … James said after Sunday’s Celtics win he’d be willing to guard Rondo, whom James said has been “dominating the series,” though it would be difficult, James added, with the Celtics having the likes of Piece on the floor. Rondo had a triple-double with a stunning 18 rebounds Sunday. James said he was able to switch to Derrick Rose against the Bulls because the Bulls had mostly non-offensive matchups with Kirk Hinrich and James Johnson on the floor, who could be defended by the Cavs smaller guards.

-- Since breaking his nose in Game 3 against Dallas, Manu Ginobili shot 36 percent in the rest of the playoffs, though the big issue for the Spurs was Tim Duncan. He’s now over 40,000 minutes played in his career and the difference in this series was the way the Suns took advantage of Duncan. He still averaged almost 20 points and 10 rebounds in the playoffs, so he’s not quite retiring. But it used to be when the Suns played small and spread the court, Duncan would abuse the Suns small front court. He couldn’t do it this time as the Spurs kept playing small to try to match the Suns. Plus, Duncan had no other bigs to join him. The Suns took turns going at Duncan with Channing Frye shooting threes and the Grant Hill beating him on switches. Duncan also missed several point blank layups in Game 4. He’s never been a big leaper, but he always was a finisher and couldn’t even against the smaller Suns. You wonder if the Spurs now regret the extension for 33-year-old to be Ginobili. The Spurs were tough, but not quite athletic enough, a bit slower and without enough shooting range. This time the Suns had Bruce Bowen in Jared Dudley, they had Robert Horry in Frye. It was amazing to watch as the veteran Spurs had no answers for virtually everything the Suns did, whether it was Goran Dragic looking like Nate Archibald one game, the Nash/Stoudemire pick and roll (which now Duncan couldn’t play instead of usually Stoudemire vs. the Spurs) or Grant Hill closing down Ginobili. With more athletic teams like the Thunder, Trailblazers and even Grizzlies coming, the Spurs seem at a crossroads. With Duncan having two years left on his deal and Ginobili’s extension, the Spurs will continue on, most likely. But the way the Spurs have to nurse Duncan through the season, it seems the beginning of the end. Which we have heard before. But all good things do come to an end.

-- Despite the bitter series over the years, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich gave old friend Alvin Gentry, the Suns coach, a case of wins from Popovich’s own vineyard before the series started. If it was a plot to get the Suns tipsy, it didn’t work…I don’t disagree with a lot of the sentiment regarding the still unclear Arizona immigration law. We are not a country that should permit any police state overtones. But the NBA made an error in judgment in allowing the Suns to protest the law by hiding behind the alleged Cinco de Mayo celebration. It’s fine for players to make statements, like Steve Nash’s antiwar sentiments with the Iraq war. But to permit teams to make political statements opens the door to, say, a conservative owner placing anti abortion messages on uniforms. I suspect the NBA eventually figured that out as the Spurs were planning to wear Los Spurs jerseys if there was a Game 5 and supposedly were told not to. … When you lose and much is expected, you have to beware the overreaction. Some Dallas columnists have been suggesting the Mavs trade Dirk Nowitzki, who can opt out of his contract, but whom owner Mark Cuban insists is likely to return and the Mavs want him back. It suggests Nowitzki will get the max extension he wants, which only comes in Dallas. "Well, I can see the circumstances where he would opt out, but not necessarily leave the franchise," Cuban told Dallas reporters. "Dirk and I and a bunch of guys spent the weekend together and spent a lot of time talking about it, and we all recognize that we want to get even better and do things to improve the team even more. Dirk told me that if he can help the team get better, he would sign a different deal. So we made the decision to see what was going to be out there and how things played out and work together. I don't think Dirk's going anywhere. I said the same thing about (Steve) Nash, but I don't think this is a similar situation. Dirk's been with this team more than 10 years versus four or five when Steve left, so it's a different situation. And I think Dirk is as committed as I am to bringing a championship to the Mavericks.” But what if you could get LeBron for Dirk? Nah, that wouldn’t make sense for the Cavs if they were forced by LeBron into a sign and trade. But if the Cavs do go out in this round, you can see just about every team with a star making a sign and trade offer for LeBron. Pau? Brandon Roy? Derrick Rose? John Wall? Actually, come to think of it there aren’t too many. Alonzo Mourning supposedly is telling people around the NBA the Heat will get James to pair with Wade. Yes, let the bad rumors and speculation continue. … Really, how bad has this second round been? How about some drama? Isn’t it time for Paul Pierce to be carried off on a stretcher or LeBron to play while operating on his elbow? Though that was some finish by Steve Nash with one eye closed from six stitches after a Duncan elbow making threes and floaters to close out the Spurs. Now, that was good stuff.