Friday, Feb. 19, 2010
By Mark Schanowski
Now that the dust has settled from the two trades engineered by John Paxson and Gar Forman, we know the Bulls will have enough salary cap room to make a bid for one of the top free agents in this summer's star-studded class. But the question remains, is the roster that's left good enough for a return trip to the playoffs?
Assuming that Joakim Noah can return at close to full strength in the near future, my answer is a definite yes. The Bulls didn't have to trade any of their starters to get the payroll room they needed, and they acquired a pair of proven scorers in Hakim Warrick and Flip Murray who should come close to equaling the production off the bench they got from Tyrus Thomas and John Salmons. Basically, Warrick is almost a carbon-copy of Thomas. Both are wiry, high-jumping 6-9 players who can drive coaches crazy with their inconsistency. Warrick is a better offensive player than Thomas, averaging just over 10 points a game in his NBA career, while shooting almost 50 percent from the field, but Thomas has the edge in the rebounding and shot-blocking departments. Given the Bulls already have a solid, defensive oriented starter at the power forward spot in Taj Gibson, Warrick's ability to score off the bench and run the fastbreak with Derrick Rose and Kirk Hinrich should be a nice addition.
As for Murray, he looked like an All-Star in putting up 25 points in a win over the Bulls back on January 5th in Charlotte. But over his career, he's been a very erratic shooter, hitting only 40 percent from the field and just 30 percent from beyond the arc. At 6-3, Murray doesn't have the ability to get to the basket and shoot over defenders like Salmons, but he is capable of scoring points in bunches, and gives the Bulls the kind of player they thought they were getting when they signed Jannero Pargo in the off-season. Once Noah returns from his foot injury, look for Vinny Del Negro to pretty much go with an 8-man rotation with Warrick, Murray and Brad Miller getting almost all the playing time off the bench. We'll probably see Pargo and disappointing rookie James Johnson on occasion, but that will be about it. Devin Brown left his shooting touch in New Orleans, and Acie Law has been a disappointment ever since Atlanta drafted him with a high first round pick in '07. The other guy the Bulls acquired, Joe Alexander, was the 8th overall pick by Milwaukee in the '08 draft, but Scott Skiles thought so little of his ability that he sent him to the Developmental League to play for the Fort Wayne Mad Ants. Figure Alexander, Lindsey Hunter and Jerome James to be the 3 inactive players on most nights.
With 29 games left in the regular season, the Bulls have the benefit of a very favorable schedule down the stretch. 16 of their remaining games are at home, and they've already got their 2 long Western trips out of the way. They'll get multiple chances to square off against the teams they're battling for playoff position like Charlotte, Milwaukee, Toronto and Miami, plus a couple of games each against teams that have cashed in their chips for the season like Philadelphia, Indiana, Washington and New Jersey. There's no reason why the Bulls shouldn't finish with a better record than the 41-41 mark that earned them the 7th seed in the East last season.
FREE AGENT MARKET MORE COMPETITIVE THAN EVER
The other big development from the trade deadline was the addition of at least 3 more teams, the Clippers, Kings and Wizards into this summer's free agent bidding war. And, with only 5 or 6 elite players available, several teams are going to be bitterly disappointed when the music stops and all the top guys pick a chair. Don't discount the Clippers becoming a player in the battle to land one of the top stars. Yes, I know the history of the franchise is laughable, and they've been haunted by bad luck and bad decisions more than any other NBA team. But it is L.A., and we know how much NBA players love warm weather, night life and marketing opportunities. And, believe it or not, the Clippers have a pretty good nucleus of talent with All-Star center Chris Kaman, Baron Davis, Eric Gordon and the top pick from last year's draft, Blake Griffin, who's been forced to sit out his rookie season because of a knee injury. The Knicks are the only team that has enough cap room to bring in two max contract free agents, but keep an eye on L.A.'s "other" team when the bidding starts on July 1st.
As for the Bulls, not much has changed on the free agent front. They'll be in there swinging for all the top guys, and figure to zero in on Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. The popular belief around the NBA is that Wade will stay in Miami, but you know he has to be disappointed that the Heat failed in its attempts to trade for either Amar'e Stoudemire or Carlos Boozer before the deadline. With Wade currently slowed by a calf injury, it's not beyond the realm of possibility that Miami could miss the playoffs altogether. Of course, Pat Riley will promise Wade he'll bring in one of the top free agents this summer, but after wasting two seasons in the prime of his career playing for .500 teams, does Wade really have faith in Riley's ability to build another championship team? You would have to think playing for his hometown Bulls with an unselfish All-Star guard in Rose and solid frontcourt players like Noah and Luol Deng is a solid 2nd option if Wade decides to look for a better situation.
As for Bosh, he's really taken his game to the next level this season. In the past, he was viewed as a "soft" perimeter shooting big man, but now Bosh has improved his back to the basket game, he's a better rebounder at both ends of the court, and as a result, he's probably the best power forward in the game. A frontline of Bosh, Noah and Deng to go along with Rose and Hinrich would move the Bulls into contending status in the East. But no one really knows what cities Bosh is most interested in. He's from Dallas, and we've been hearing he really doesn't want to go to another cold weather city. Hopefully a visit to Chicago in early July we'll show him everything our city has to offer! Maybe the Bulls can take him to Taste of Chicago, but they should probably leave Benny the Bull at home.
Bottom line, July 1st is still over 4 months away. Let's focus in on the final 29 games of the regular season and a likely return trip to the postseason. It starts tonight in Minnesota, and you can watch that game on Comcast SportsNet, starting at 7 p.m. I'll see you at halftime and after the game with Kendall Gill. Enjoy the hoops!