Bulls game day
Bulls vs. Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena, 7 p.m.
TV: Comcast SportsNet, ESPN
Radio: WMVP 1000-AM
Update: Ugly doesn't even begin to describe the Bulls' last visit to Atlanta. They lost 118-83 on Dec. 9, the night after losing at home to New Jersey. That was also the night Kirk Hinrich first returned from a thumb injury and went 0-for-9 from the field. The Hawks (31-17) have a pair of all-stars in SG Joe Johnson (22.0 points per game) and C Al Horford (13.4 points, 9.5 rebounds). On Wednesday, PF Josh Smith became the youngest player in NBA history to block 1,000 shots. Atlanta has gone 10-9 since Dec. 29, but has won eight of its last nine home games.
Next: Saturday vs. Miami Heat at the United Center, 7 p.m.
- Mike McGraw
Less than two weeks remain before the NBA's trade deadline on Feb. 18. This is when the exchange of ideas begins to fade and general managers find out which teams are truly serious about making a deal.
These next two weeks could also shape the Bulls' future. All indications suggest the Bulls are intent on clearing enough salary-cap space to sign two top-level free agents this summer.
Word is, the Bulls feel confident they can pull it off if the right trades are made now. It might be a risky proposition, but the rewards could be enormous.
Basically, the Bulls want to plug in LeBron James, Dwyane Wade or Joe Johnson at shooting guard, and add Chris Bosh, Carlos Boozer or David Lee at power forward. In theory, the two acquisitions would join Derrick Rose, Luol Deng and Joakim Noah in a title-contending starting lineup.
Maybe James or Wade joining the Bulls is a long shot. But it's an option both players figure to at least consider. Kobe Bryant continued the Lakers' legacy of success, so why couldn't James pick up where Michael Jordan left off?
Otherwise, the Bulls might ask Johnson and Bosh to ask themselves if they're confident they'll reach the NBA Finals in their current situation. If the answer is no, then teaming up in one of country's largest markets is bound to be appealing.
Of course, the last time the Bulls tried this plan, it failed miserably in the summer of 2000. Former general manager Jerry Krause admitted later he thought Tracy McGrady was headed to Chicago. But when the time came, McGrady opted for Orlando.
Back then, though, the Bulls didn't have a 21-year-old all-star point guard in the fold. Or the league's second-leading rebounder. Or a team that seems likely to reach the playoffs this season.
The two main competitors in the free-agent chase - along with the obvious option of everyone sticking with their current team - figure to be Miami and New York. The Heat has the ability to re-sign Wade, chase a big-name power forward and still have money left over to sign some spare parts. The Knicks offer a bright stage waiting to be conquered, but don't have the players in place like the Bulls.
What needs to happen for the Bulls to clear more cap room is trade Kirk Hinrich and John Salmons for expiring contracts. It may not be easy, because Hinrich still has two years left at a total of $17 million, definitely starter's money. Salmons can opt out of his deal this summer or stick with the final year of his contract worth $5.8 million.
Moving both players would leave the Bulls with around $30 million to spend during the off-season. That probably won't be enough to offer two maximum-salary contracts. But the Bulls hope the potential of marketing dollars and title contention will be persuasive.
The Bulls would gladly send Hinrich, Salmons and Jerome James to Boston for Ray Allen and filler. The Celtics may feel a need to get younger now, and the Bulls are hoping general manager Danny Ainge says yes before the deadline.
The Lakers could be a potential partner because Bryant has long been a fan of Hinrich and may think his defense can help ensure another championship. The Bulls would want Adam Morrison and other expiring deals in return.
There are plenty of rumors being tossed around, such as Salmons to Orlando for J.J. Redick and Anthony Johnson; or Salmons to San Antonio for Michael Finley and Matt Bonner. Houston has McGrady's enormous expiring contract to peddle and might warm to the idea of adding at least one of the Bulls' guards. Oklahoma City has a number of expiring contracts.
A league source suggested 80-90 percent of the rumors involving the Bulls have probably been discussed in some form.
Another possibility is making a trade now to fill one of those open spots. James, Wade, Johnson and Bosh are untouchable at the moment. But there have been discussions about using Deng as the main piece to get Boozer from Utah or pry Al Jefferson away from Minnesota.
Whatever the combination, the Bulls have a specific game plan for these next two weeks and it's to go "all in" on free-agency. Bulls fans should keep their fingers crossed that John Paxson doesn't misplace his cell phone.