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Bulls draft picks, hopefuls begin auditions

The Bulls begin the preliminary stage of preparing for the 2009-10 season today with the tip-off of summer-league play in Las Vegas.

With first-round draft picks James Johnson and Taj Gibson alongside a cast of roster hopefuls, the Bulls take the court against rookie sharpshooter Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors.

“We’re looking for any guys who stick out,” Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro said. “This is a real good time to get a good look at our rookies and get them [familiar] with the terminology … try to get them to grasp that as soon as possible.”

As is the custom with most NBA head coaches, Del Negro will watch summer-league games from the stands. Assistant coach Bob Oceipka will run the squad.

The coaches’ top priority is to help Johnson and Gibson become familiar with the Bulls’ playbook and a brand of basketball that is roughly NBA caliber.

“I just don’t want to lose,” Johnson said. “That’s the main goal, just win as many games as we can. Drive, kick, getting everybody else open and scoring well.”

Other roster members will try to earn an invitation to training camp in October.

Three players spent time with the Bulls last season – guards Anthony Roberson and DeMarcus Nelson and forward Linton Johnson.

Others, too, have pro experience. Center James Augustine played on Illinois’ national runner-up team before spending two seasons with the Orlando Magic.

Taurean Green, a guard, was a member of Florida’s 2006 national championship team alongside Bulls center Joakim Noah.

Julius Hodge, a swingman, is a former first-round draft pick of the Denver Nuggets.

Regular-season roster spots will be scarce because the Bulls cannot sign more than one player without entering into luxury-tax territory. But players get a chance to audition for a spot somewhere.

“That’s why I’m playing,” said Augustine, who spent last season playing in a Spanish league. “Just to show other teams that I’ve become a better player.”

The Bulls will be keeping an especially close eye on Johnson and Gibson, both of whom impressed the coaches during last week’s mini-camp at the Berto Center.

“James has a nice feel,” Del Negro said. “For his size, he handles the ball better than you think. I thought he made some good passes, a couple of real nice passes underneath.

“He can move his feet when he wants defensively. Now he’s got to get in better condition and learn every day.

“Taj is long, runs the court pretty well, blocked some shots, got some nice putbacks around the basket. They’re still young and make mistakes, but they’re good guys and are going to improve.”

Johnson and Gibson, both forwards, have been working out together since soon after the draft and seem to have developed a rapport.

Their chemistry was evident during intra-squad scrimmages.

“He threw me some great passes and it worked well,” Gibson said. “We hooked up well with one another.”

“His game is above the rim and he’s explosive,” Johnson said. “He’s easy to pass to. He gets himself open a lot.”

SCHEDULE (all games in Las Vegas)

Today, 5 p.m. vs. Golden State

Wednesday, 3 p.m. vs. Milwaukee

Friday, 5:30 p.m. vs. Oklahoma City

Saturday, 3 p.m. vs. New York

Sunday, 3 p.m. vs. Minnesota


2    Bryan Mullins    G    Rookie, Southern Illinois

3    Josh Shipp    G    Second-year pro

5    Anthony Roberson    G    Fifth-year pro

6    Chris Davis    G    Rookie, Southern

11    Taurean Green    G    Fourth-year pro

14    Lorenzo Mata-Real    C/F    Rookie, UCLA

16    James Johnson    F    Rookie, Wake Forest

21    DeMarcus Nelson    G    Second-year pro

22    Taj Gibson    F    Rookie, USC

25    Julius Hodge    F/G    Fifth-year pro

32    Brandon Costner    F    Rookie, N.C. State

35    Tyrell Biggs    F    Rookie, Pittsburgh

40    James Augustine    F/C    Third-year pro

42    Nick Lewis    F/C    Rookie, San Diego

44    AD Vassallo    F/G    Rookie, Virginia Tech

50    Luke Zeller    C    Rookie, Notre Dame

54    Linton Johnson III    F    Seventh-year pro

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