Friday, July 07, 2006

The Running of Da Bulls: Offseason Edition

The Bullls are clearly the biggest movers and shakers of this early
offseason. They grabbed arguably the best player in the NBA draft
(using the Knicks pick no less, thank you Isiah) in Tyrus Thomas and
then secured another young athletic swingman in Thabo Sefolosha in a
trade with Philadelphia. Supposedly this draft went exactly as John
Paxson wanted it to, which is always a good indication. However,
Thomas was a freshman, and not necessairily the leader of the breakout
LSU team he was on, that was Big Baby. So Thomas isn't quite like
Carmelo Anthony was, a sure shot can't miss draft pick.

Then came the somewhat shocking move of Ben Wallace coming over to the
Bulls from Detroit as a free agent. Wallace was kind of the archetype
of what those Detroit teams were about. All grit, hard work, and
defense. I guess the money was the big thing, and Wallace seemed to
have some issues with Flip last summer. I'm sure the Pistons felt
that $15 million a year is a little too much for a banger who is
turning 32 this offseason. Basically this move equates to trading
away a young and injury prone defensively minded center for an older
and dependable defensive minded center. And this is what is a little
confusing about the move. Chandler is a huge shot blocker and
rebounder when he's on the floor (granted, not as much as he should
be) due to his length and athleticism. Chandler had no offensive game
to speak of, but neither does Ben Wallace. What the Bulls have lacked
is a low post scoring threat akin to Curry. As horrible as Curry was
defensively, he knew how to handle himself in the half court on the
offensive end. Curry was adept at rolling to the hoop and his great
hands combined with his ability to finish strong and with other
offensive moves made him a great pick and roll partner for Heinrich to
work off of. Perhaps Thomas can fill this roll, but Ben Wallace
certainly cannot.

The next rumored move (rumored only because it cannot become official
until after July 12th) is a trade of Chandler for P.J. Brown and J.R.
Smith. Brown I can understand because he brings another veteran
presence to a team of young players, and is somebody who can help
mentor Tyrus Thomas. Additionally, his salary comes off the books at
the end of the year. J.R. Smith is more puzzling because he does not
seem to be a mentally strong player. If he couldn't handle playing
for Byron Scott, it's very unlikely he'll see the light of day under
Scott Skiles. So perhaps they'll move him in another trade.

And that is the latest rumor. Supposedly the Bulls are working to
acquire Chris Wilcox from Seattle. Wilcox is a restricted free agent,
so the Bulls can tender him an offer but Seattle can then match it and
keep him. From all appearances Seattle wants to keep Wilcox, but is
balking at his asking price of 6 years and $60 million dollars. And
the Sonics are right to balk at that. I think Wilcox is a very good
player who can still get better (I was very high on him coming out of
Maryland a few years ago, and had hoped that the Bulls or Celts would
get him back then), but that kind of money would be too much for a
player has shown decent play for only one year. I'm not totally
conviced they need Wilcox though. With Nocionni, Thomas, Brown,
Wallace, and at least Allen (perhaps Songalia and Harrington as well)
the frontcourt is awfully crowded to start with. I'm not totally
sure how Wilcox would fit into that mix. He's a great rebounder and
has decent offensive talent, but if the Bullls are committed to
playing the young Thomas, then Wilcox would seem to be uneeded.

The Bulls offseason has certainly kicked off in an exciting fashion.
I'm not totally convinced this is going to yield big dividends in the
in column though. The Bulls lead the league in field goal % allowed
last year, and it netted them a 41-41 record. They certainly gave
Miami their biggest test in the eastern conference playoffs, but what
was glaringly missing from their game at times was offense. None of
the offseason moves so far seem to address that particular weakness.
The Bulls will certainly be one of the better, if not the best,
defensive teams in the league again. And Wallace should be enough of
an imporvement in the middle to lead the Bulls to around 50 wins. But
what after that? I think a lot of teams feel that the NBA title is up
for grabs, so some aggresive moves are all that may be required to get
a title here and now. And seeing Miami win a title this year with the
likes of Antoine Walker et al. certainly gives credence to that line
of thinking. But without a Dwayne Wade or a Shaq, that road is
awfully tough. And the way the game is called now, you need guys who
can really press the defense at the offensive end. That's not
exactly the way the Bulls are built right now. At the very least
though, the Bulls have to be considered legitimate threats to
challenge for a title.