With nothing happening thus far on the Carlos Boozer trade front, the Bulls last week got to evaluate two potential contributors at forward.
First-round draft picks James Johnson and Taj Gibson displayed their ability during NBA summer-league play in Las Vegas, where the Bulls won their last three games to finish 3-2.
Both rookies flashed impressive skills at times. Neither necessarily looked like an immediate star, but the Bulls figured both mid-round picks would be works in progress.
Johnson led the team with an average of 16.6 points in five games, to go along with 7.0 rebounds and 3.6 assists a contest. However, he shot only 39.7 percent from the field.
According to eyewitness accounts, Johnson’s strengths in Vegas were his athleticism and ball-handling skills. He looked almost like a point forward.
“There’s a lot of things I need to work on still,” Johnson said. “I’m just glad I could go to something like that and play against top-notch players and see where I really stand.”
The “top-notch players” statement could be questioned because summer league rosters consist of rookies and second-tier sophomores, along with peripheral veterans in search of roster spots.
More than anything, the Bulls were glad to begin getting Johnson and Gibson familiar with the playbook and principles.
“They’re coachable,” said coach Vinny Del Negro, who watched summer league play from the stands while assistant Bob Oceipka ran the team. “Their work ethic has been tremendous.
“Taj is relentless, gets his hands on a lot of balls. James can really put it on the floor, make good decisions, has great versatility. There’s a lot of positive things, but it’s a long process. There’s a long ways to go.”
Gibson’s summer league stint was brief. He sat out the final three games to rest a foot injury, primarily as a precaution.
When he played, Gibson was energetic while averaging 13.0 points on 55-percent shooting and grabbing 10 rebounds a game.
The trouble was fouls. Gibson committed 19 in two games (10 fouls is the limit in summer league play).
Among the other players, who were vying for roster spots with the Bulls or elsewhere, guard DeMarcus Nelson had a standout week. He scored 13.8 points a game and shot 48.1 percent.
Nelson might have a hard time sticking with the Bulls, whose backcourt seems set after signing Jannero Pargo and Lindsey Hunter.
Center James Augustine tailed off after a strong start, finishing with averages of 9.6 points and 8.6 rebounds a game.
It remains to be seen whether Augustine’s performance was enough to merit consideration for a roster spot. In all likelihood, it would happen only if the Bulls decide to rescind their qualifying offer to restricted free agent Aaron Gray by Thursday’s deadline.
Of course, a trade for Boozer, the Utah Jazz power forward, would shake up the roster. Tyrus Thomas almost certainly would depart in such a deal.
“We’re always trying to better our team,” Del Negro said. “There’s always opportunities out there and we want to look at them. We’re not only looking at that, but a lot of other things to try to make us better.”
Roster move: The Bulls waived guard Anthony Roberson, who spent time on their roster last season and was part of the summer league squad.
Roberson had one year left on his contract. His salary was not guaranteed if he was waived by a certain date.