No KG? It’s a Little Bit Rosier for the Bulls

kevin-garnett-sports-illustrated-boston-celtics-farragut

Last night, when the Bulls got locked into the seventh-seed position in the Eastern Conference for a first round matchup with the defending champion second-seed Celtics, I was pretty sure that we would have been witnessing a Boston sweep. Of course, this was assuming that Kevin Garnett (even a 50% healthy one) would be on the floor. With today’s announcement that KG will likely be sitting out of the entire playoffs, though, the Bulls’ loss to Toronto on Wednesday night (which prevented them from moving up to the sixth-seed) now looks fortuitous since they get a banged-up Boston team having to play the third-seed Magic and a healthy Dwight Howard. Granted, I still think that the Celtics have a substantial upper-hand since Paul Pierce will still be the best player on the floor and Ray Allen is what Ben Gordon could be if you added a heavy dose of consistency, but this has at least turned a series that was a virtually guaranteed sweep 24 hours ago into a scrum that could reasonably go up to 6 or 7 games.

The Bulls’ best chance to be competitive is to use their relative athleticism to push the tempo against a half-court-oriented Celtics offense and downgraded KG-less defense. This would be similar to the method employed by Scott Skiles’ Bulls team that swept the Heat (who happened to be that season’s defending champs) in the 2007 playoffs, albeit Vinny Del Negro’s group has better offensive weapons counterbalanced by a significantly worse defensive unit. After having a little bit of a lull in January and February, Derrick Rose has been rejuvenated in March and April (to the point where the point guard winning the Rookie of the Year is the biggest lock out of any of this year’s NBA individual awards) and John Paxson’s trade for John Salmons and Brad Miller has been a relative success. I’ll admit to having known virtually nothing about Salmons when he got sent over by the Kings (and I watch a lot of basketball), but his cockeyed jump-shot has grown on me to the point where his apparent recent injury issue has me much concerned than the fact that Luol Deng has been shut down. Salmons is one of a rare breed in the NBA: he’s a solid contributor and scorer that’s getting paid commensurate with the value he provides to the team. This means that he’ll be getting a Deng-like overpayment by the Bulls or some other team after next season (see also Kirk Hinrich and Ben Wallace). Regardless, I can’t believe that I’m writing that the health of some guy that I thought was the name of an entrée at Red Lobster a couple of months ago will end up swinging a game or two for the Bulls one way or the other against the defending champs, but it sure looks that way.

I still say that the Celtics will take the Bulls in 6 games (as opposed to 4 if Garnett were playing), although I also envision Derrick Rose having a couple of games that will serve the general public notice of his phenomenal skills (to the extent that it doesn’t know already) at the most difficult position to play in as a rookie in sports outside of quarterback. While D-Rose won’t put on a performance on par with Michael Jordan dropping 63 points in the old Boston Garden in the 1986 playoffs (against a Celtics team that would go on to win the NBA title that year), which led Larry Bird to famously proclaim that MJ was “God disguised as a basketball player” (and if Basketball Jesus makes a statement of that nature, you know it to be true), I think that it’s great that young point guard is going to get some playoff experience right away against a veteran club. From the moment that the Bulls won the NBA lottery last year, the focus of the organization has been to build around Rose to create a legitimate championship contender two or three years down the road. Outside of having Vinny Del Negro as coach (unfortunately, it’s 99% likely that we’re stuck with him for at least another season – I’m sure I’ll be posting a long overdue rant on this subject sooner rather than later), the Bulls are at least on the ascent where they should be set up nicely when the all-important 2010 free agent class hits the open market. Until then, I’ll enjoy some playoff basketball back in Chicago after a one-year hiatus.

(Image from Sports Illustrated)

Another Day, Another Bulls Trade Rumor

amare-stoudemire-suns-bulls-trade

There were two main choices for topics of today’s post: A-Rod’s positive 2003 steroid test and half-assed admission or unsubstantiated rumors of the Bulls pulling off a trade with the Suns for Amare Stoudemire.  If it took you more than two seconds to figure out which direction I’m going, you must be a newbie.  This blog wouldn’t exist without posts about Bulls rumors that I ruminate on for several hours and then are made obsolete within three days.  (Please see Exhibits A and B.)

On the scale of trade rumors, though, this one is a relative biggie.  There are some knocks on Stoudemire – he’s not a great defender and supposedly he has some attitude issues.  I’ll be the first to say that he’s not a perfect player, but if the Bulls are giving up Tyrus Thomas (the young athletic big man with upside), Drew Gooden (with the magical expiring contract), and Cedric Simmons (another expiring contract) in this situation, John Paxson needs to pull the trigger pronto.  The fact that this trade works on the NBA Trade Machine (which basketball fans understand is the most difficult hurdle to overcome in any trade) almost means that it’s destiny.  Even if the Bulls had to throw in a first round draft pick on top of all of that, I think that they have to do it.

The reasons are pretty simple: 6′ 10″, 26 years old, and career averages of 21 points and 9 rebounds per game over six seasons in the NBA.  Stoudemire is the Bulls large scoring presence (even if he’s not a true post player) that they have been looking for since trading Elton Brand.  It’s incredulous that some Bulls fans are starting to be hesitant on moving Tyrus Thomas since he’s had a good road trip averaging around 15 points per game, but let’s note that this is the very best stretch of basketball that we’ve ever seen him play and it’s still 5 points less per game than Stoudemire’s career average.  I would much rather see Joakim Noah moved (although Steve Kerr knows better) and absolutely love Thomas’ athleticism and potential, yet I have an extremely hard time envisioning him ever becoming close to a 20/10 player.  If John Paxson’s professional analysis yields the same conclusion, I can’t see how he could possibly not move forward with this type of deal.

Players of the caliber of, say, LeBron James or Dwight Howard are rarely (if ever) traded, so Bulls fans that are against Stoudemire coming to Chicago because he has a couple of holes in his game are failing to see the proverbial forest for the trees.  Every guy on the trading block is going to have some issues, but Stoudemire is about as good of a player that you’re going to see get reasonably traded in this day and age.  The Bulls were looking at moving Luol Deng in exchange for Pau Gasol over the past couple of years.   Well, Thomas isn’t nearly as valuable to this team as Deng, while Stoudemire is arguably a more dominant player than Gasol.  Pairing Stoudemire up with Derrick Rose makes the Bulls at least a top 4 team in the Eastern Conference almost immediately.  They wouldn’t beat the Cavs, Magic, or Celtics this year, but I’d take my championship chances two to three years from now when both Rose and Stoudemire are in their prime years at the same time over any combination that the Bulls have on their current roster.  Plus, if the Bulls are still looking to make a legitimate run at one of the marquee 2010 free agents (assuming that they can make the salary cap situation work since Stoudemire himself will demand a max contract), offering a Rose/Stoudemire/Deng nucleus is going to look about as enticing as what any other team could offer.

Don’t dash my Bulls trade dreams for the umpteenth year in a row, Pax.  It’s time to make a move and it looks like the pieces are there where it could legitimately happen.

(Image from All NBA All Basketball)

Bulls Should Make the NBA Draft a Rose Bowl

One would think that there would be a raging debate in Chicago for the next month about how the Bulls should use the first pick in the NBA Draft that fell so fortuitously in the lap of Steve Schanwald last week, considering that this is a two-player draft between Derrick Rose and Michael Beasley.  Having been too young to have watched the Hakeem-MJ draft of 1984 even if it had been televised, this will be without question the most important draft that I’ll personally witness for a Chicago sports team.  As a result, you would think that the sports radio talk show hosts in town would have a great incentive to milk this out for as long as possible.  However, a consensus has quickly built around Rose as the choice on both the national and local fronts with only a smattering of exceptions.

Fortunately, I’m whole-heartedly in the Rose camp.  This is partly based on all of the standard arguments that point guards are becoming more valuable than ever in the NBA while it’s “easier” (not easy) to get a power forward in the manner of Beasley.  Look at how Chris Paul and Illini great Deron Williams have respectively turned around New Orleans and Utah over the past couple of seasons with relatively average talent around them.  In particular, CP3 has turned Bulls retreads Tyson Chandler and Jannero Pargo(!) into viable NBA players on the offensive end of the floor.  When considering that Rose is more fully developed at 19 than either CP3 or Deron were at that age with almost a combination of Paul’s slashing ability and Williams’ size and strength, it’s not crazy to surmise that Rose has the potential to be the preeminent point guard in the league for the next decade.

(By the way, let’s quickly go over two things that DON’T matter in this draft.  First, the fact that Rose is from Chicago is inconsequential.  It’s great for the headline writers in town for the next month trumpeting the return of the hometown kid to lead the favorite team from his childhood out of the dumpster, but draft picks in any sport need to be made in a vacuum with respect to where such draft picks grew up or went to college.  If Rose was from American Samoa, I’d be just as excited.  Second, whether Rose or Beasley is picked, no one should care one bit with how either one would fit with the Bulls’ current players.  The team needs to be built around this draft pick as opposed to the other way around.  John Paxson’s ability to restore the fans’ confidence in his management skills is not going to be based on this draft pick, which is essentially idiot-proof, but whether he’ll be able to package Kirk Hinrich and/or others to obtain a solid scorer at power forward (organizational mea culp on Elton Brand, anyone?) assuming that he takes Rose.)

More importantly, while I think that Beasley will become a star in this league, I just think that Rose has a certain jen a se quas that I believe will make him a superstar.  Rose already has enviable passing, driving and defensive skills, so if he’s able to develop a consistent jumpshot, there’s not much this guy can’t do on the floor.  I hate going back to the “upside” term, but the ceiling seems higher for Rose and it’s not as if though he’s substantially more of a risk than Beasley considering that Rose was able to lead Memphis to the national championship game as a freshman point guard.  The more I think about the image of Rose stepping out onto the United Center floor in a Bulls uniform in November, the more giddy I get about the state of our basketball team.  This is by no means any disrespect to Beasley, who I believe will be every bit of the impact player that he’s been advertised as for the past year, but Rose is the right pick for the Bulls.

(Image from Zimbio)

Meet the New Boss… Same as the Old Boss

Usually, I’m pretty much right in line with Blog-a-Bull on the state of our fair NBA team, but I’ve been feeling the exact same sentiment as Greg Couch (who is criticized heavily by Blog-a-Bull with a comparison to Chicago’s most evil columnist) toward the prospect of Rick Carlisle as the new head coach. For those who watch the NBA, Carlisle is someone that is known as a strict disciplinarian – essentially, a less-sarcastic version of Scott Skiles. Now, my track record of making predictions on this blog has been so horrific that I’m pretty sure the sports book at Caesars Palace has a standing rule to set their lines in inverse proportion to what I believe that’s going to happen. That being said, when I looked through some of my old posts recently, I was predicting that the love of Skiles as Bulls coach would end badly over two years ago (before the 2006 playoff series with the Heat and when everyone was drinking the Bulls kool-aid as an upper tier team in the Eastern Conference). He’s great for a young team that’s trying to find its identity (so he’ll probably do well with his new employer in Milwaukee and, if he’d ever consider it, I’ve always thought he’d be a terrific college coach), but that type of coaching can only work for a short period of time in today’s NBA. Carlisle has almost the exact same track record as the Skiles. Think of it this way – John Paxson has modeled the Bulls after the Pistons, yet the players on the Pistons got so sick of Carlisle that they revolted against him (and then won the NBA championship after he left the very next season).

I guess the quandary that the Bulls find themselves in is that they don’t have the talent that would make a Phil Jackson-type “players coach” beneficial, yet they’ve already had a hard-nosed old school coach at the helm for several seasons, so a turnaround artist of that nature probably wouldn’t work, either. At the end of the day, a coach can only do so much without the proper personnel. Somehow, a team that was supposedly a favorite to win the Eastern Conference this season has been exposed as a roster completely composed of undersized shooting guards and power forwards that can’t score. I liked the team last year, yet I’ve known for a long time that they needed a go-to-guy in the clutch (which is why I was immediately begging the Bulls to grab Kobe Bryant when they had the opportunity while, as many people seem to forget, the majority of the yokels calling the Chicago sports radio shows didn’t want a “problem child” to mess up the team’s “chemistry” – for as great of a sports town this city is, I’m continuously amazed at the ineptitude and blind loyalty to “grindy” guys of our fans to the detriment of our franchises). The upcoming draft looms large for the Bulls, but unless the ping-pong balls yield one of the top two picks (meaning the addition of Michael Beasley or Derrick Rose), the team stands gain yet another solid-but-not-impact-type of player. I look back at last summer with a lot of pain, since the Bulls had a chance to grab both Kobe and Pau Gasol. In the infinite wisdom of the organization, it decided that Luol Deng and Ben Gordon were too valuable to give up. Now, the Lakers got Gasol at a garage sale price and rode him and a ridiculously rejuvenated Kobe to the top record in the Western Conference (even without the benefit of Andrew Bynum’s presence for much of the year) – just imagining what the Bulls could have done in the East with that pair is one of the biggest unrealized-yet-realistic dreams that I can ever remember for one of my teams. The upshot is that the Bulls seem to be getting ready to hire a coach in Carlisle that probably will do little to help this club unless there is a massive overhaul in personnel.

(Image from Chicago Sun-Times)