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Columnist
Draft was just another step in Bulls' quest for big splash
By Mike McGraw | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 6/27/2009 12:00 AM

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No need to read too much into the Bulls' two draft picks, 6-8 forward James Johnson and 6-10 forward Taj Gibson.

The Bulls simply fulfilled their strategy of taking the best players available (in their opinion, of course).

This was not a message to Tyrus Thomas. Gibson is the 26th pick, for goodness sake - he's not being brought in to replace Thomas. Neither is Johnson. With his long arms, Gibson probably has more in common with ex-NBA journeyman Chris Gatling than anyone on the Bulls' roster.

And there was no reason to expect a blockbuster trade on draft night, because there is time for that later. The Bulls need more help, but it's reasonable to think they can bring back the same nucleus next season and challenge for a top four seed in the East.

Recent history has shown there are two ways to reach the NBA Finals - be lucky enough to draft a superstar (Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Dwyane Wade, Dirk Nowitzki) or execute a big-splash trade that brings in a player ho can put a team over the top (Pau Gasol, Kevin Garnett, a younger Shaquille O'Neal, Rasheed Wallace, Jason Kidd with the Nets). Notice that the Lakers and Heat struck in both categories.

The Bulls got lucky by winning the Derrick Rose lottery. Now they need a big-splash trade, not a roster tweak.

By adding to their pile of assets and expiring contracts, the Bulls are hoping to be in position to get Toronto's Chris Bosh at the trade deadline or next summer. There may be other targets, such as Carlos Boozer or Amare Stoudemire.

That raises another question: If the Suns have discussed moving Stoudemire to Golden State or Houston, why aren't the Bulls getting involved? They probably would if Stoudemire agreed to a contract extension worth $14-15 million per season. The Bulls don't want to make the trade and then pony up $20 million per when Stoudemire becomes a free agent next year. They'd feel better paying Bosh that kind of money.

If the Bulls don't make a big move this summer, their roster could get crowded with Ben Gordon, Kirk Hinrich, John Salmons, Luol Deng, Thomas and the draft picks vying for three spots. Then again, Gordon could leave as a free agent, Deng could have more injury woes, and they would happy with extra pieces.

Big night: James ohnson spent draft night at Jackson's All-American Sports Grill in his hometown of Cheyenne, according to the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. Since his teleconference at the Berto Center was short and nearly inaudible, here's what Johnson had to say live and in person:

"I'm happy to be going to Chicago," he said. "They're a good team, a young team and I'm excited to go in there and put my stamp on it as best I can. I feel like I can get in the rotation and help out.

"Derrick Rose is a winner, I feel like I'm a winner. Going to Chicago is great for me."

Then there was this quote from Johnson's father, Willie, a former kickboxing champion who runs a martial arts facility: "Holy-moly, this is the biggest thing that's happened to our family other than fighting."

Punishing moment: A story in the Raleigh News & Observer a few months ago chronicled the time Wake Forest guard Jeff Teague watched John Johnson, a martial arts black belt, punish a bag in the gym.

"I thought somebody could really get hurt," Teague said. "I don't want to challenge him."

Added Wake guard Ishmael Smith, "You look at this man who, if he wanted, could break you apart with one kick, but that's not him at all. He's such a nice guy."

And here's his father on how martial arts can play a part on the basketball court: "I think it helps a ton," Willie Johnson said in a story on the ACC Web site. "Most guys 6-8 don't have the ability to move so gracefully and effortlessly. You can see it in his timing, the way he can pivot and turn, how he can stretch and stay limber."

Sizing up Blair: The Bulls really did like Pitt power forward DeJuan Blair and were sad to see him drop to round two. So why didn't they take him?

Well, lack of height and a history of knee issues led them to favor Johnson. Then, when the 26th pick came along, the Bulls didn't want to take two similar sized players. Gibson, at 6-10, should give them more length on the inside.

Kerr, line two: The Arizona Republic suggested the Bulls inquired about Shaquille O'Neal before he was sent to Cleveland. A team source said denied it. The Bulls received a courtesy call from Steve Kerr asking if they had interest, but there was none.

Tweet welcome: Here's Taj Gibson's first tweet after the Bulls picked him: "Feels great to be a first round pick on a team with great tradition!"

His follow-up message, sent Friday afternoon: "By reading some of the Bulls fans tweets I can tell they haven't seen many USC or Pac-10 games."

These days, an athlete can be in a different city and still feel unhappiness from fans.

mmcgraw@dailyherald.com