Bulls may need better shooting guard to make a run

Sam Smith provides his list in order of whom he would pursue as shooting guard with the idea that these are players you theoretically could get instead of, say, Ray Allen or Kobe Bryant.

Well, that was an exciting first 10 percent of the NBA season.

Whew! Just five months to the playoffs.

And if the Bulls are going to make a run—which, who knows, maybe they can watching Miami and Orlando early on and with Carlos Boozer not having played yet—the conventional wisdom has been the need for a higher quality shooting guard.

Whatever the team’s issues have been, actually Keith Bogans and with Ronnie Brewer coming on have done reasonably well. No, they don’t create shots and won’t have a big scoring game, but that’s not who they are. Coming into the season, shooting guard was the biggest potential issue in the starting lineup, but, frankly, it’s not like the Bulls have much in the way of assets to do much about it.

It’s one of the overlooked factors of going into free agency: You have to pare down your roster and remain below the salary cap of about $58 million. Orlando, for example, has a payroll exceeding $90 million. The Lakers’ is about $95 million. Assets generally are defined as something of value someone else might want. It’s not like the Bulls have much of that remaining. Yes, you might consider moving Taj Gibson for a high level player like Carmelo Anthony, but not for a shooting guard. And the way he’s playing and with Boozer’s health uncertainties, how can you afford to lose him? And you are not trading Luol Deng to get a shooting guard. Then who plays small forward? Plus, Deng has been awfully good, averaging 20.3 point and 5.1 rebounds and shooting 43 percent on threes and leads the team in made threes. That’s what you’d hope from a high level shooting guard. But circumstances develop around the NBA because of internal issues, teams changing directions and reloading or financial concerns. So here’s my list in order of whom I’d pursue as shooting guard with the idea that these are players you theoretically could get instead of, say, Ray Allen or Kobe Bryant.

1. O.J. Mayo, Grizzlies: There’s a lot of guessing there on whom they’ll pay with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph free agents after giving extension to Rudy Gay and Mike Conley. Mayo is averaging 15.8 this season but shooting only about 40 percent. He’s been benched of late for Tony Allen and rookie Greivis Vasquez. They have rookie Xavier Henry, who doesn’t play much yet. Since Mayo is cheap, it probably doesn’t make much sense to move him now, though you could overpay with future No. 1 picks, which any such deal would likely require now.

2. Stephen Jackson, Bobcats: You know things could come apart there any time with a losing record. Jackson is a risk given his history of erratic behavior, though he’s always been popular with teammates and I believe if you have a good group, which the Bulls do, you can absorb a potential problem guy. Jackson is a classic two with post up ability, a big time player. But he has two years left after this at about $10 million per. The issue with the Bulls is the new collective bargaining agreement. If the league goes with a hard cap type formula, they conceivably could be prevented from extending and keeping Derrick Rose if they take on too many long commitments now. It’s a risk, though you figure Charlotte would like to have its pick back from the Tyrus deal.

3. Rudy Fernandez, Trail Blazers: He’s been the center of a lot of speculation, though now the notion is he’s off the table with Brandon Roy’s knee problems. But maybe the Blazers realize without Roy they aren’t going anywhere and start trying to collect draft picks for a later run. Maybe he becomes available again.

4. Corey Brewer, Timberwolves: He’s coming off a breakout season when he averaged 13 and shot about 35 percent on threes, a former Noah teammate. When Martell Webster returns from injury, he’s probably out of the rotation with rookie Wesley Johnson starting. Maybe a pick would do it.

5. Marcus Thornton, Hornets: He’s basically fallen off the map there and inactive with the emergence of Belinelli and trade for Willie Green. He came on strong in his rookie season to shoot 37 percent on threes as the team stumbled without Chris Paul. Though my guess is they’d want to use him along with Peja to get something big and having the start they did are hardly interested in draft picks and reserves not playing elsewhere.

6. Courtney Lee, Rockets: He doesn’t play much with Kevin Martin eating up the shooting guard minutes. But he’s a big, tough guard who can make threes, one of the more overlooked twos as he’s bounced around. But the Rockets are tough to deal with as they usually make exorbitant demands. I wouldn’t be surprised if they’d rather move Martin, but he makes more than $10 million with two more seasons. That’s the issue with some of the bigger names you could get, like Jamal Crawford and Richard Hamilton. They make way too much to match salaries, forcing you to give up way too much.

7. Francisco Garcia, Kings: He’s been down the list with Tyreke Evans really a scoring guard and Luther Head getting time, though playing more of late. He’s got a few years left on an exception contract the Kings wouldn’t mind moving. He has size and can make a three. So maybe, but it’s never clear the direction with that organization.

8. Mickeal Pietrus, Magic: There’s plenty of potential for something there with a rough start and Pietrus going from not playing to 30 minutes to who knows. But he’s more a spot up shooter who doesn’t create and the Magic is looking for talent to overtake the Heat and Celtics, not the future.

9. Anthony Parker, Cavaliers: Sort of in the why bother category at age 35. He’s a good three point shooter, but not really worth giving up much for. Same with the Pacers’ Dahntay Jones. I suspect the Bulls will be holding out their few remaining assets to see if by some stroke of good fortune someone like Anthony falls into their lap. It’s not likely, but better to be prepared, I agree.

10. Andre Iguodala, 76ers: For Deng, sure, I believe they’d love to do it. But what a step backward that would be for the Bulls. After all these years, yes, they picked the right guy in that draft. In his category of, c’mon, is J.R. Smith and, of course, Gilbert Arenas.

Heat in need of an edge

-- I think Erick Spoelstra is a really good NBA coach, though he shouldn’t be coach of the Miami Heat very much longer. That’s not to say I have heard anything or more of the daily joke with every loss that Pat Riley is ready to resume coaching. I truly believe Riley doesn’t want to coach. But I was talking to a veteran player the other day and he was explaining the mentality of players. He said respect for a coach is one thing, which he believes Heat players have for Spoelstra, though running through a wall is another. It’s a fine and subtle line. It’s sort of the difference between playing hard and playing hard. Guys generally do play hard no matter what you might think time to time. But then there’s another level you see for coaches like Jerry Sloan and Phil Jackson and Gregg Popovich where you not only play hard, but you don’t want to let them down. That exists for a coach like Riley, but the player said he could see it doesn’t exist with Spoelstra. It’s easy and reasonable to say it’s early, though rumors around the league suggest Spoelstra has an awkward relationship with his new (and old) stars.

James has been doing a lot of explaining and backtracking lately, first Saturday with saying he wasn’t indicting Spoelstra when he said he and Wade were playing too much after he played 44 minutes in the loss to Boston. That was the latest Case # 16: He’s no Michael. I covered more Jordan games than any media person anywhere and never once did he complain about playing too much. Then blame the messenger, of course. “You kind of understand sometimes what Randy Moss was talking about when he said, 'I will not be answering any more questions,’” James told ESPN. James had previously complained of teams being “chippy,” which came out as a “how dare they” try to muss up our talents in South Beach.

Earlier, after Miami lost to Utah, he said, "Jerry Sloan is one of the best coaches we have in our league. He kind of figured out what we wanted to do." I saw coaches around the league wincing in unison for Spoelstra for everyone knew what that meant. The larger reason why the Heat need Riley so badly is that James basically never has been coached. He came from running his own high school program at a smaller school so his friends could make the team to the Cavs and what they acknowledged later was seven years of indulgence. Stories of basically running the organization were legend and it was not unusual to watch former coach Mike Brown during the playoffs watching others diagram plays. What’s lesser acknowledged is how much Dwyane Wade has changed over the years from a hustling, hard working star to more of a diva who you can see spends half the defensive possessions arguing with referees about the previous offensive play and rarely even runs back with the defense after a drive because he’s staring at officials. Riley got on him a bit last year for being out of shape, and though Wade seems to like Spoelstra, he needs to be coached again by someone much tougher and whom he’ll run through a wall for. The Heat with those two still can be a serious Eastern Conference challenger. They just need a bit more of an edge they likely cannot muster on their own.

Gibson having breakout season

-- So maybe Carlos Boozer can win the Sixth Man of the Year award. One of the biggest surprises not just of the Bulls season but in the NBA this season has been the continuing growth of Taj Gibson, one of the early season surprise players, along with the likes of Roy Hibbert, Eric Gordon, Elton Brand, Luis Scola, the modern day Kevin McHale, Dorrell Wright and Marco Belinelli. Consider this start: Gibson is averaging 15 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.1 blocks while shooting 61.3 percent. Bosh is averaging 14.5 points, six rebounds and 1.1 blocks on 48 percent shooting. If Bosh is an All-Star, Gibson is a Hall of Famer. Yes, early season results can skew statistics, and the Heat is a work in progress mess for now. But Bosh, particularly on defense where Gibson excels, has had his career reputation for softness and avoiding contact exposed because Dwyane Wade and LeBron James are not about to be blamed and not expected to be interior stoppers. It’s the risk when you take a No. 1 scorer, who can get away with not defending as he did (or didn’t do) in Toronto with the excuse that he has to be responsible for so much scoring. Now, he doesn’t have to be. So can Bosh become who he never has been, a tough, interior role playing defender and presence? Of course, no way. Bosh was again little impact when the Heat beat his former team, Toronto, Saturday. And Toronto still was having a good laugh after Bosh’s comments last week he was glad to be in Miami because he never could get good cable TV, namely the NBA’s League Pass package, which, of course, he could have gotten but was unaware how and never asked anyone. I view that as one reason for his career poor defense as he never was able to watch other games and players’ tendencies. The Toronto Star reported one Raptors’ staffer saying, “We could have got (Bosh) for the League Pass? We didn’t even have to give him a big contract!” Bosh previously had said he was glad to be in the U.S. so he could get more exposure and publicity. As the saying goes, better watch out what you ask for because you may get it. People are watching Bosh now, and he hasn’t exactly impressed anyone. Though my favorite Boshism of the week was him telling the Toronto Star of all the commentary on the Heat: “I didn’t know there were so many opinionated people.” Turns out he probably can’t get U.S. cable, either, certainly not Fox News or MSNBC.

Amar’e and Knicks off to slow start

-- By not playing, Boozer is turning into the prize of the 2010 free agency forward class. Amar’e Stoudemire is averaging 20.3 for the 3-7 Knicks, but below his career averages—despite playing for high scoring Mike D’Antoni—in scoring, rebounding and shooting. Stoudemire was the victim of most of Kevin Love’s 31/31 game last week with a good view of the ground based Love’s rebounding record and the Knicks are starting to make excuses for Stoudemire, averaging more than four turnovers per game. D’Antoni last week said guard Landry Fields was cutting too much and bringing defenders toward Stoudemire. Now, that’s one we don’t hear much. "I'm definitely not used to this," Stoudemire said. Help! Anyone seen Steve Nash? … They’re even picking on Stoudemire. Remember, he was the one who figured in Andrew Bogut’s season ending injury last spring. When the Bucks beat the Knicks last week, Stoudemire grew angry at some timely Bogut elbows and got into it with Scott Skiles at the Bucks bench. Not very smart. That one I’d like to see, though Stoudemire stood far away from the Bucks bench yelling. He accused Skiles of condoning rough play. Though Stoudemire didn’t cry, tough guy that he is. Why is it they call them power forwards in this NBA? … Meanwhile, watch out for the Bucks with John Salmons and Corey Maggette getting healthy and Skiles’ defensive demands winning over. The Bucks quietly moved back to .500 and rank first in opponents points, second in opponents shooting and ninth in opponents’ three point percentage, where the Bulls are a disappointing 20th. The Bucks defense rank probably behind only the surprising Hornets under new coach Monty Williams. The Hornets rank second to the Mavs in overall opponents’ field goal percentage and first overall by a large margin in opponents threes, holding three point shooting below 30 percent, a rarity in this era.

Van Gundy speaks his mind early

-- Quite the damning statement from Tayshaun Prince to local TV that "Even our wins didn't feel like wins. When that happens, you know it's a problem." Though they just won two straight out west. … Stan Van Gundy volunteered, he said unprovoked, to the Orlando Sentinel that in the Magic’s uneven start, “I think I can help ‘em a little bit by getting off their backs a little bit. I’ve been frustrated with our energy and defense, but I think I’ve actually made it worse by the constant harping. Guys know what they need to do, and I need to just coach ‘em. It’s a thing I fall back into a lot and need to correct a little bit. I can help ‘em a little bit by still coaching ‘em – correcting ‘em — but getting off their backs a little bit.” Van Gundy usually offers this every season, but this is unusually early. He had offered the loss to Utah was “ridiculous professional basketball.” Ouch, in the first month of the season. Orlando looks nothing like a serious contender as Van Gundy has changed the lineup almost quarterly and now has Rashard Lewis, who has been awful averaging 10 points on 37 percent shooting, back at power forward with Ryan Anderson going from starting to out of the rotation. And Dwight Howard already has five technicals in nine games with 16 getting you a suspension. It appears a team ready to bust. As the Jazz showed last week, so much for that deadly Florida road trip. … Now if they only hadn’t brought back Darko. But for all the grief the Timberwolves have taken, they did beat out a lot of teams for Michael Beasley, who is the player we thought he could be. No, not better than Derrick Rose, but better than O.J. Mayo. Beasley, freed from the nagging of Dwyane Wade and strait jacket of Miami, is averaging 20 for the season and 34 for the last three and 55 percent basically on jumpers. He’s no post player and won’t pass often, if at all. But he can fill it up. And with 22 and 17 in Sunday’s loss to Atlanta, Kevin Love is now averaging 18 points and 14.6 rebounds in fewer than 30 minutes per game. Perhaps the biggest issue now facing the team is avoiding being hurt as assistants Reggie Theus and Bill Laimbeer wrestle to see who’s first in line to replace Kurt Rambis.

Yao sidelined again

-- The Bulls open the Western Conference road trip Tuesday in Houston, where Yao Ming will not play as he’s out with an ankle injury, though minor for now. It happened just after the struggling Rockets had talked about perhaps easing the limitation on Yao’s play after numerous leg and foot problems. He was limited to 24 minutes and not playing back to backs, which led to the mess Houston finds itself in. It’s not Yao’s fault, and I find him one of the most decent and classiest people in the NBA. But for one you cannot have your so called star player on such a limitation and have continuity. Also, without Yao the Rockets probably are a better team when they play fast, though speedy point guard Aaron Brooks is out now with a sprained ankle. But if you are going to maximize what Yao can give you, you have to play through him, which is playing slow. Yao’s contract is up after this season, and the basketball thing to do would be to amicably part ways and let him finish his career playing in China, where he is a Jordan-type icon. But here’s the rub. Having Yao makes the Rockets and their players more profitable even with paying him $17 million. That’s because the China market with advertising and interest supports the Rockets over any other NBA team and players have major endorsement deals with Chinese companies by playing with Yao. Even though Yao essentially assures the Rockets cannot compete for a title, he’s probably too valuable, Houston insiders concede, to let go. Quite the conundrum.

Beasley joins elite group

-- It’s not easy finding a backup point. Former Bull Acie Law, who moved on to Memphis to back up Mike Conley, is shooting 17 percent on the season and zero for six on threes. … There’s usually a reason guys are not in the NBA. I know fans scream for a backup point guard every time C.J. Watson has a bad game. But one of the better free agent players, a guy with experience the Bulls looked at, Sundiata Gaines, signed with Minnesota. He’s zero for seven averaging a half point in 20 minutes in two games. No, it’s not so easy. … When Michael Beasley scored 42 last week, it provoked thoughts of the ‘Wolves glorious 40-club, which is comprised of Tony Campbell, Wally Szczerbiak, Isaiah Rider, Randy Breuer, Stephon Marbury, Al Jefferson and Kevin Garnett. Oh, the memories. … How about Hakeem Warrick averaging a career-high 13 points on 63 percent shooting in 26 minutes per game. Steve Nash helps create another multi millionaire. Though someone made up some Nash rumors last week, you can forget that as the Suns hit 22 threes Sunday night in winning in L.A. against the Lakers. No way the Suns are letting Nash go unless he begins demanding a move, which seems unlikely. The obvious places would be New York, where he maintains a summer home, and Toronto to finish in his native Canada, though both teams are far less competitive than his Suns. So why bother? … Want to know why the Thunder isn't what everyone thought they were? They are last in the league in assists as Durant and Westbrook, neither of whom is a point guard, take turns going one on one.

Are the Blazers cursed?

-- If you are the Portland Trail Blazers or their fans, you have to feel cursed. There’s been much over the years of the failed center drafts from Loyola’s LaRue Martin No. 1 overall over Hall of Famer Bob McAdoo in 1972 to Sam Bowie over Michael Jordan in 1984 to still injured Greg Oden over Kevin Durant. And now it looks to be the end nearing as the player he was for Brandon Roy, suffering with worsening knee problems. I heard a comparison to Ron Harper after the explosion was gone following surgeries and it sounds right for Roy, now in the first season of a five-year $82 million extension. He’ll play on, but not as that Roy we’ve seen before as already with four previous knee surgeries, two as a pro. It’s why he was so-called red flagged in the 2006 draft and why players like Adam Morrison, Shelden Williams and Tyrus Thomas went before him, and why he was traded for Randy Foye. According to several executives and agents around the NBA, the Blazers were quietly trying to move Roy the past few months. Forget that now. With Roy in decline and Oden uncertain, you’d have to say the Trail Blazers took their shot and maybe it’s time to start offloading assets for draft picks. After all, with their top players in that condition, they no longer can be considered serious contenders, so why bother pushing with them for two or three more years and fooling yourself? It’s not their fault, but it happens in sports and you have to adjust and accept your fate. The fault is if you pretend not to notice.

Road trip? No problem for the Jazz

-- Utah’s terrific run of four wins in five games on the road against top teams like Miami, Orlando and Atlanta is the lesson Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau has been trying to get across to his team with talk of the so-called unfair trip while the circus is in the United Center and depleted roster without Carlos Boozer. So look at the Jazz: Raja Bell and C.J. Miles are the shooting guards. Is that better than Keith Bogans and Ronnie Brewer? Earl Watson, averaging a point, is the backup point guard. Better than C.J. Watson? Kyrylo Fesenko is the backup center. Better than Omer Asik? Is Kirilenko better than Deng, Jefferson better than Noah? And the Bulls will take Rose over anyone. The point is if you defend, rebound and get out and run, play your right way, there’s no reason to fear any such trip. Losing is giving in. And the Bulls are not playing teams as good as the Jazz played. Consider that Houston loss to Denver at home and the Kings and Wizards on the road, the Spurs lost to the Hornets at home, the Mavs lost to the Grizzlies at home, the Lakers lost to the Suns at home, the Suns lost to the Spurs at home, the Nuggets lost to the Mavs at home and the Kings just lost to the Pistons at home. It’s not like you are playing the ’96 Bulls or ’86 Celtics. These are hardly even close to dominant teams, even at home. Losing would just show you are not good enough.