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Paul M. Banks a.k.a. The Sports Bank, NBC Chicago Street Team Last season, the Chicago Bulls experienced a dramatically positive growth spurt. A team that actually lost at home to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the early part of the season grew together and gelled enough to qualify for the postseason. And in those playoffs, they gave the defending World Champion Boston Celtics all they could handle in a physical seven-game series that featured more overtime sessions than any other series in NBA history. It was probably the most exciting playoff series that the professional hardwood has ever seen, but a first round exit is still a first round exit, so 2008-09 was not exactly the most memorable season in Bulls history. But after building some positive momentum last season, what will the Bulls do with it now?

Their sophomore Head Coach Vinny Del Negro is as good a clue as any. Here are some of the highlights of what he’s told the media this preseason

About taking it to the next level…

“The 2nd half of last year I think we started to come into our own a little bit, kind of me feeling the guys out, them feeling me out how we’re gonna play. Now there’s a familiarity…now we just have to improve, you have to put the work in on the practice court and hopefully execute in games.”

On how little you can read into the Bulls 5-2 preseason record…

“Every time you’re keeping score, you always want to win, but sometimes there’s a lot of young players out there and that usually dictates some mistakes and the flow of the game can get changed a little bit when you’re trying to conserve some guys’ minutes, so the rotations aren’t down and that throws guys into different positions sometimes.”

On Tyrus Thomas, and his convalescence…

“He needs to get back in shape, he’s been out a little bit, and get the flow back offensively, defensively, be our shot blocker back there, and make open 15 footers. If he runs the court with his athleticism and gets after it defensively, it’ll give us a big boost. He knows what he needs to do, he just needs to go out and do it consistently.”

On improving the team’s much maligned defense…

“We have to find a way to get stops at key times, but also we need to rebound better defensively. Some times we’re getting key stops, but not getting that basketball, hopefully with a little more size the rebounding numbers will get better.”

The subject on everyone’s mind, the health of Derrick Rose…

“He needs to get back. It is a day-to-day thing. He’s been doing some running and he’s been on the bike. We may have him in shooting drills, but not full-contact drills…It is possible he will not be ready for the opener against San Antonio. I hope he practices tomorrow but it is really day-to-day.

Season tips off October 29th.

See more of Paul M. Banks’ sports-writing at:

-the site he founded The Sports Bank.net

-NBA analysis at Walter Football.com

-“Patrick Kane Chronicles” at Buffalo Sports Daily

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adrienenAdrienne Irmer, NBC Chicago Street Team

Last Thursday (August 6th, 2009) was the 6th Annual Golf Outing to benefit the Otis Wilson Foundation. A relatively long trek out to the Bolingbrook Golf Club opened into a vast sea of greens and fairways– quite a lovely course– although if you asked some of the participants it certainly wasn’t an easy 18 holes. With team scores as low as 56 and others as high as… well, let’s not go there, its all for the kids anyway, right? And what an event this turned out to be! This is the biggest fundraiser for the organization, and clearly ’twas the case with an auction block of sports goodies that’d make the ESPN newsroom drool! From autographed jerseys of Hall of Fame inducted Chicago athletes like Dick Butkus and Otis Wilson (of course), to a Diamond Suite Sox Game against the Red Sox with Otis Wilson AND Richard Dent in attendance! SWEET!

Needless to say, the fundraiser was a success and the sole benefactors were the kids. The Otis Wilson Foundation works with at-risk youth, after school, and teaches them the benefits of playing sports and eating right, but not until after their homework is completed with the help of staff tutors. The discipline Otis learned with athletics is being passed along to these youth to “start them on the right path to becoming a productive adult.”

For those readers who know me, however, they’d laugh at the thought of me being at a golf outing because it takes me roughly five hours to play 9 holes, but alas, I did not play– maybe when I step my game up… one of these days. I was actually invited (by my mom, via Mr. Wilson *cough*) to attend the closing dinner where I met a few of the Foundation’s board members, the former Director of Athletics for UIC (who happens to announce the Chicago Bulls from time to time) and, of course, the man of the evening, Mr. Otis Wilson and his fellow 1985 Superbowl Champion (and MVP) Mr. Richard Dent. TOTALLY AWESOME! So here’s what you’ve been waiting for: you, too, can make your way onto the green with sports icons Thursday, August 5th, 2010. For more information about the organization or the next golf outing check out : www.otiswilsonfoundation.com

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Paul M. Banks a.k.a. The Sports Bank, NBC Chicago Street Team

Did the Chicago Bulls send a message to incumbent starting power forward Tyrus Thomas Thursday night by drafting two power forwards? By using both of their first round draft picks on prospects who play the four, the Chicago front office seems to be telling us one of two things. Either a.) Coach Vinny Del Negro, GM Gar Forman and company are unhappy with Thomas (who desperately needs to develop a post move) and are attempting to motivate him, or b.) Ty is being aggressively shopped to other GMs in the league. Maybe we’ll learn more once NBA free agency starts on July 1, when more transactions are like to start happening around the association.

But we can worry about that later, for now let’s focus on who the Bulls did pick up with the 16th and 26th overall picks.


Wake Forest, Forward, James Johnson

In college, Johnson was able to muscle weaker defenders down low while also using his ability to drive and finish. His range from deep leaves plenty of room for improvement, but he did develop a more consistent mid-range game as a sophomore. “We love his versatility he can play the four, he can play the three, he can play inside, he can play outside, at his size 6’8” 250 he can put the ball on the floor, he can rebound and put it out in transition. He’s a very big passer for a big guy,” Forman said to the media present at the Berto Center.

USC, Forward, Taj Gibson

Gibson is already 23 years old and should be able to contribute off the bench right away. He will likely make a living as a professional thanks to his rebounding and shot-blocking ability. 6’10” with a 7’2” wingspan, Gibson had the second longest reach of anyone in this draft. (Only the 7’3” Hasheem Thabeet was longer) “His wingspan was amazing, he’s long, he can block shots in the lane and he has a developing inside-outside game,” Forman said of Gibson on draft night.

See more of Paul M. Banks’ work at the Washington Times, Walter Football.com and The Sports Bank

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Paul M. Banks a.k.a. The Sports Bank, NBC Chicago Street Team

Two Days before the NBA Draft, the Chicago Bulls got great news about their small forward depth. Luol Deng, out since Feb 28th with a fractured tibia, started running and looks to make a full recovery without surgery. If only the Bulls’ salary cap space could recover from the massive wound inflicted by Deng’s contract. It will be interesting to see how this news affects the Bulls’ plans. New General Manager Gar Forman will likely use one (or maybe both) of the team’s two first round draft picks on someone who played at least a couple years at a big name program. It’s how former GM and current VP of Basketball Operations John Paxson operates. Here are three candidates fitting that bill.

Arizona’s Chase Budinger

The name value is there and he could potentially be gone when Chicago’s on the board at #16 but more than likely falls into the mid-20s, so maybe the Bulls can grab with their second pick at #26. He likely would have been a lottery pick if he declared after his freshman or sophomore seasons. This past year however, Budinger stock fell like the Dow Jones. Budinger spoke about the meaning and prestige of being drafted high.

“There is some status, but I try to look past that. When they get to the NBA, every rookie is going to be on the same level. Look at a guy like {Orlando Magic F} Courtney Lee, who was picked later. He became starter and he’s getting a lot of minutes on a very good team,” Chase said.

Louisville’s Terrence Williams

One of this draft’s top small forwards, Williams was very candid at the combine about Draft workouts. “Some other players don’t really work out because they feel they’re already secure in a certain spot, and that surprises me because you’d think that people who love basketball would play regardless,” Williams said. He also expressed his love for the idea of playing for the Bulls. When a reporter reminded him how rare that is (a player so honest about wanting to play for a specific team) he didn’t back away from his comments. Will Chicago reciprocate?

Pitt’s DeJuan Blair

He only measured in at 6-6.5 in shoes which is far from the ideal size for an NBA power forward. But his physicality and 7-2 wingspan will help wipe away any doubt teams have about his future productivity. Blair is pretty confident: “I don’t think there was a better offensive rebounder by far in this class at all. There’s something about that ball, I go get it,” he said at the combine.

In addition to his rebounding, NBA Draft aficionados also buzz bout Blair’s astonishing weight loss (40 pounds in three weeks). Blair had a sense of humor about it. “I told my mom about it this morning, she said did you cut off your leg off?” Get ready for the next best-selling book: “The DeJuan Blair Diet.”

See more of Paul M. Banks’ work at the Washington Times, Walter Football.com and The Sports Bank

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Bulls Draft Moving Forward?

Paul M. Banks a.k.a. The Sports Bank, NBC Chicago Street Team In the NBA Draft, lying is the only truth. NBA GMs often tell the media they’ll be focusing on guards with their draft choices. Before they say they’re focusing on forwards. Or maybe centers. Others just go the “best player available” route. In this environment of doublespeak, it’s good to focus on need when attempting to predict where a team will go. And the Chicago Bulls need a scoring big man like a newbie author needs an Oprah’s Book Club recommendation. Unfortunately, there are very few legitimate 4s and 5s with offensive game in this draft after Blake Griffin.

Therefore, when the Bulls possibly pick a forward with their two first round picks (#16 and #26, they have no picks in the second round this year) it may be at the 3, a.k.a. small forward or swingman. One of those could be North Carolina’s Danny Green, who had a physical workout at the Bulls practice facility before the NBA Draft Combine. At combine media day he spoke about his experience at the Berto Center. “They were really cool guys that I knew from last year when I met, sat down and talked with them. I saw Joahkim Noah there, I did high school ball at AAU with him,” Green said.

Partially due to the ridiculous amount of unnecessary hype surrounding his teammate Tyler Hansbrough, perhaps no player in college basketball did more for his team and received less attention for it than Green. He isn’t going to blow you away with any particular part of his game, but he does a little bit of everything- truly earning the title “glue guy.”

Perhaps this statistic solves the Chicago draft riddle: about three-quarters of the players who have worked out for the Bulls were forwards. Including: UConn’s Jeff Adrien, Gonzaga’s Josh Heytvelt, LSU’s Chris Johnson, Georgia Tech’s Gani Lawal, USC’s Taj Gibson and Wisconsin’s Marcus Landry.

See more of Paul M. Banks’ work at the Washington Times, Walter Football.com and The Sports Bank

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Paul M. Banks a.k.a. The Sports Bank, NBC Chicago Street Team

If there’s one position the Chicago Bulls don’t have a pressing need at, it’s point guard. The incumbent starter, Derrick Rose is the only player on the roster even remotely close to developing into a franchise player, and (SAT scandals and gang sign gestures aside) is the guy to build the team around. But the Bulls might see backup Kirk Hinrich move on soon and in today’s NBA, the “Golden Age of Point Guards” that we currently live in, it’s good to have two reliable point guards.

As former UCLA point guard and current draft prospect Darren Collison said at the NBA Draft Combine: “This is the draft you want to be in right now if you’re a point guard. Everyone’s getting so much credit, from Jonny Flynn, to me, to Eric Maynor right on down the list because everyone knows they need point guards to win ballgames, to take that next step. And teams need a first string and a second string the whole game to be solid, and all the point guards in this draft have the potential to do that.”

For teams currently needing a point guard, this crop of prospects is deeper than any draft this decade, possibly all-time. It could produce a couple players with the same impact as current young NBA floor generals Rose, Chris Paul and Deron Williams.

On Tuesday, the Bulls looked at (among others) Maynor, Wake Forest’s Jeff Teague, Greece’s Nick Calathes, St. Joseph’s Tasheed Carr, the 5’6” David Holston from Chicago State and Bryan Mullins from Southern Illinois via Downers Grove High School.

UCLA’s second, and more hyped point guard prospect, Jrue Holiday has also met with the team and expressed a strong interest to join the team at combine media day. However, he should be long picked by the time the Bulls are on the board.

bullscourt

Syracuse’s Jonny Flynn, one of the hottest point guard prospects around, figures to likely be gone by the time the Bulls pick at #16 on June 25th, and long gone when the Bulls pick again at #26. However, he worked out for the Bulls, met with the front office and was extremely vocal about his desire to play for the Bulls at the NBA Draft Combine. Flynn told the media how much he enjoys the Bulls up-tempo system and their young nucleus. He also described his game:

“I think I have some characteristics of Chris Paul. His tenacity, he’s hard as nails, fiery, fires his teammates up, he really knows how to get his teammates in position to where they can score, where they don’t have to do much to score. Look at David West and Tyson Chandler; where would they be without Chris Paul?”

As much as the Bulls need a scoring big, as much as point guard is the team’s strongest position, they have needs at guard- especially someone to be a backup running the point and/or provide scoring at the off guard position given the (increasingly likely) case that Ben Gordon departs.

See more of Paul M. Banks’ work at the Washington Times, Walter Football.com and The Sports Bank

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Paul M. Banks a.k.a. The Sports Bank, NBC Chicago Street Team 

When the NBA Draft Combine rolled through Chicago this week, you could have mistaken the Second City for Beverly Hills. Strolling through Michigan Avenue’s Westin Hotel where the draft combine’s media activities were held, we encountered some of basketball’s heaviest hitters, including the entire Chicago Bulls front office, Detroit Pistons GM Joe Dumars, NBA coaches Mike D’Antoni and Mike Dunleavy, legendary talk show host Larry King (twice) and former Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda. And that was just the first hour.

During the actual interview sessions, a draft combine reporter gets up close and personal with every former college basketball star soon to be drafted in a couple weeks. Each player gets his own table in the conference room and journalists rotate like speed daters to obtain quality face time with everyone. Conversation is much more in-depth than post-game press conferences. It’s about the big picture here — no time to waste on the boringly banal queries from newspaper beat writers.

Click here to read the rest of this post on NBCChicago.com.

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