Archive for October, 2007

31
Oct
07

10/31/07 – Bulls vs. Nets preview

A quick preview of tonight’s action. 

6:30 Bulls’ time – Comcast Sports Net – Bulls vs. Nets

Joakim Noah is out for tonight’s game.  As far as we know at this point Ben Wallace is expected to play.  The Tribune is interestingly projecting Joe Smith to start at PF.  I would have guessed it would be Tyrus.  Everything else should go according to the default plan.  If Wallace doesn’t play I’m guessing Smith moves to C and Thomas starts at PF, but it could always be Noce too.

The New Jersey Nets aren’t, in my opinion, anything for the Bulls to worry about this season.  They haven’t played well against the Nets in the recent past, but the both teams are a year older this year and that’s a good thing for Chicago while it’s a bad thing for New Jersey.

The Nets have Nenad Kristic back this season which should make a huge difference.  He showed some great progress in his young career before missing last season with an injury.  They also added Jamaal Magloire who is a solid big man if not spectacular and should add much needed depth up front.  Mikki Moore is gone, but shouldn’t be missed too much.  He had a decent season statistically because he had a lot of playing time for a guy with his limited talents.  Overall, the Nets are a more complete team this season than they were last season but they’re also getting old.  Jason Kidd is 35 and his age is going to show up in his play sooner rather than later.  He looked good in the Tournament of the Americas this summer, but in the NBA he’ll be playing with far less talent around him and far more on the opposing teams.  Vince Carter, coming off of a great year statistically, also isn’t as young as he once was and, more importantly, isn’t in a contract year.  Vince has shown himself to be the Randy Moss of basketball, an amazingly talented player who only tries when it suits him. 

The Nets suffered a lot of injuries last season and very well could again this season.  If they don’t, they should have a decent record.  If they do, they’re done for.  I think the age of Kidd and Carter will become more and more evident as the season progresses.  However, they should be fresh enough on opening night.  I think this game will be close for a long time and then one team will pull away.  New Jersey is a -2.5 favorite.  I’m not sure who will win, but I think it will be by more than three points.  Since it’s the first game of the season and I don’t have much to work with, let’s say Chicago wins and covers the spread.

I plan to do a mini diary during the game and post it afterwards, so look out for that later tonight.  Go Bulls!

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29
Oct
07

Kobe Bryant, Ben Gordon & Luol Deng – Trades and Contracts

So the internet is buzzing with Kobe trade speculation again after ESPN’s Chris Sheridan reported the Bulls and the Lakers are talking.  While I think it’s Chris’ job to write this type of article and am not blaming him for doing so, everyone else needs to calm down.  I’d say the odds of this trade happening anytime soon are 100:1 and the odds of it going down before the season starts are 10000:1.

Hopefully the Bulls and the Lakers are talking.  Fans of every team in the league should hope their GM is talking to the Lakers.  That doesn’t mean anything is actually going to happen.  I can guarantee you that the Bulls are not giving up Deng, Gordon, Thomas and Noah.

I’ve gone in to more depth before about what the Bulls should or shouldn’t give up for Kobe and you can see that here.  If you know more details about who can and can’t be traded because of contracts please post them as comments.  I know Nocioni can’t be traded for a while since his contract is new.  I don’t think that would be true about Gordon or Deng if they get extensions because those wouldn’t kick in until next year (right?). 

Until some actual news or new developments happen regarding a Kobe trade let’s all focus on contracts for Gordon and Deng.  I think this situation provides an interesting dilemma for Pax.  Very few players from the class of ’04 have signed extensions despite being able to for the first time in their careers.  I think GM’s are unwilling to risk overpaying after seeing guys like Varejao and Pavlovic unable to do much with their restricted free agency.  For all the drama that accompanied Mo Williams’ restricted free agency, he’s still on the Bucks, right?  The strategy is to let the market set the price for players instead of paying them based on speculation of what they’ll produce. 

I think this strategy is unwise for the Bulls when it comes to Deng and Gordon for two reasons:

1 – They’ll be much more expensive next season than they are today.  Sure, they could get hurt this year and then may have to take less, but barring an injury they’ll both likely put up better numbers than they did last season and thus demand larger contracts.  This scenario is particularly likely for Deng.  Gordon probably will produce more this season, but his inability to guard bigger SGs may be exposed even more and hurt his perceived value.  Either way, if you’re not trading for Kobe, locking these guys up is an absolute must do for the franchise.

B – We’re not talking about Varejao and Pavlovic here.  I think it’s clear that the Lakers would have been willing to go over the cap this past offseason to sign a restricted free agent like Deng to a huge contract if it would have kept Kobe happy (or at least quiet).  Next year who knows which teams will be in the same situation.  If the Lakers can somehow make it through the season with Bryant still on the roster they could pick off a Bull with a big contract then.  Gilbert Arenas is keeping his options open and the Wizards may need to replace him if he leaves or need to add a player to placate him if he demands a stronger team.  The point is, these guys are desirable talents that other teams will want.  Pax needs to be thinking about the summer Rashard Lewis had much more than the summer Sasha Pavlovich had.  

K.C. Johnson wrote today:

Paxson's negotiating philosophy follows the belief
that an extension two seasons before it's mandatory
has to involve some give-and-take. The money is
guaranteed. A player's health and production isn't.

His philosophy is probably appropriate in most situations.  However, the agents representing Gordon and Deng should see the Bulls are somewhat backed into a corner.  The bottom line is the Bulls need Luol Deng and Ben Gordon.  We know they’re not going to sign a high-impact free agent from another roster in the summer of 2008.  Paxson has shown that he’s unwilling to trade these players for another star.  Given that he won’t add a star player via trade or free agency, what choice does he have?

I say he should just pony up and pay the men.  Give them a bit more than he wants to and the line he gave Hinrich about taking one for the team so they can have the flexibility to continue to get better with minor tweaking.  Shape the contracts so they increase over the years as Ben Wallace’s decreases and other free agents come off the books.  All that means is in a few season instead of having solid veterans on the bench like Adrian Griffin and Viktor Khryapa  they’ll have undrafted rookies on minimum contracts.  They’re not going to play anyway, so isn’t that stomachable?  Isn’t locking up Ben and Luol worth practicing with a Thomas Gardner instead of a Grif?

Winning in the NBA costs a lot of money, but it also makes a lot of money, especially in a market like Chicago.  You’re either going to have to pay potential future all-stars like Gordon and Deng or you’re going to have to pay current all-stars like Kobe.  The Bulls need to pick one and move forward.   

23
Oct
07

Start Gray? Think about 2004-05

K.C. Johnson wrote today that the Bulls may start Aaron Gray.  I know he started with some success in Friday’s Pacers game, but I thought that statement wis ridiculous when I first read it.  The Bulls are a team that prides themselves on defense.  They’ve been the number 1 or 2 D in the league for the past three years.  Now we’re supposed to believe that they’d start a guy who, for all the good things he does in the post, can hardly move when he’s not using at least one foot as a pivot.  Not to mention he’d be starting over the experience of Joe Smith, the outstanding athleticism of Tyrus Thomas, or the intensity of Joakim Noah when he doesn’t posess any one of those three qualities (yet)?  Then I started thinking about how the Bulls used Eddy Curry in the ’04-’05 season and Skiles’ potential plan started to make a lot more sense to me.


This guy might start for the Bulls?!?  If you remember 2004 you’ll see that Gray starting might not be so bad.

In ’04-’05 the Bulls consistently threw the ball down low to Curry to start the game.  Often he’d get the ball in the post four of the first five Bulls possesions.  Usually he’d score.  He’d rack up 10 quick points in the first quarter and Skiles would pull him.  He’d play consistently, though somewhat sparingly, through the second and third quarters and then see little to no time in the fourth.  This strategy for using Eddy Curry originally drove me crazy becuase I couldn’t see why Skiles didn’t want the easy points Eddy could bring.  Later I came to realize its beauty.


Eddy was a one trick pony with the Bulls,
but what a trick it was.  Chicago’s lacked
lacked a player with anything resembling
that trick since they shipped Curry out in
2005.

Curry was an even less complete player that season than he now.  Sure, he could score with ease because of his wide body and soft touch.  However, he brought next to nothing to the table in terms of defense and rebounding.  A center who doesn’t rebound is simply a liability when the game is on the line.  The worst part was that he didn’t even seem to exert effort in those areas.  I believe I remember Skiles once responding to the question, “What could Eddy do to become a better rebounder?” by saying, “Jump.” That’s what I call a lack of effort.

Nevertheless, the team with the most points wins the game and Curry could score points.  Hinrich, Nocioni, Gordon and Deng all averaged a combined 20.0 points fewer that season than they did last season.  Scoring was something the Bulls desparately needed.  However, if they were say down by 2 with a minute to go in the fourth quarter and Jeff Foster grabs an offensive rebound because Eddy didn’t jump, well let’s just say Skiles wasn’t about to let that type of situation ever happen.  So he used Curry very early in the game to get the offense going before Curry’s liabilities and lapses would hurt the team too much.

Curry’s inside scoring opened up opportunities for the largely perimiter-oriented rest of the team.  Of course, that’s what effective post players add to any team.  Skiles coaching brilliance came from his balance of using Curry early and more well-rounded players later.  I’d compare it to an NFL team committing to the run early in order to open up the play-action plays later in the game.  The opposing team would know that the Bulls are willing to go down low, have plays designed to do so and, even if Curry isn’t in the game, his efforts in the first quarter proved the Bulls are willing to try it.  That means the opposing defense has to respect the player under the hoop at least a little bit – just like an opposing secondary would have to at least watch out for a run istead of going directly into pass coverage – and couldn’t swarm to the perimiter players quite as quickly.  The smidgen of extra space that this respect created for guys like Ben Gordon, Kirk Hinrich and Erik Piatkowski was just enough to help the Bulls win a shocking 47 games that season.

Now, to get back to the Aaron Gray situation, I believe Skiles is thinking about the ’04-’05 season while mulling the possiblity of starting Gray.  Is Aaron the most complete PF/big man on the team not named Ben Wallace?  Not by a long shot.  However, has he shown he can be an effective low post scorer as well as a better rebounder than Curry was?  Absolutely.  So when Skiles is thinking about how well his Curry strategy worked three seasons ago and looking at a current roster that features highly improved and deeper offensive forces, how can he not put two and two together.  I’m not saying whether or not he should start Gray, just that the idea makes sense when you look at the late Eddy Curry era Bulls. 

Some good quotes and info from K.C.’s article:

Benny the Bull might be faster baseline to baseline.

"We liked what happened at the beginning of the game the other night,"
Skiles said. "We thought Ben Wallace and Aaron played well together.
Ben is a good passer. And he found Aaron once the other night. Ben
also knows our offense well. 
"We have to decide, balancing both units, do we want a couple of
defensive players in the starting lineup or do we want more offense.
Aaron has shown—and I think he will in the regular season—that he
can score. Do we want to use that to start a game? It's something we
have to think about."

Despite fouling out against the Pacers, most infractions coming from
poor or slow defensive rotations, he's averaging 10.8 points, 5.8 rebounds
and 3.8 fouls in 18 minutes per exhibition. He's also shooting 61.3 percent
in five games.
19
Oct
07

Oak Park – Shumpert Declares

Iman Shumpert of Oak Park River Forest High School – my very own alma mater – announced the he will attend Georgia Tech next year. 

He was recruited by most of the biggest programs in the country, but narrowed the schools he was considering down to GT, Marquette, and North Carolina.  In the end not even Dwayne Wade’s personal recruiting phone calls could convince him to head to Marquette.  Georgia Tech will hopefully be a great fit for him.  Congratulations Iman!

I’m good friends with Iman’s brother, Odis, and while I don’t know Iman personally, I’m excited for him and his family.  I’m also excited because he’s by far the biggest thing to come out of OPRF since I was a freshman there back in ’97, and probably long before that.  I remember going to games and watching us get blown out by Corey Maggette back in his Fenwick days and Dee Brown back in his Proviso days.  I’ve watched Iman and the Huskies a couple of times over the last two seasons, but will definitely have to make it back for more games this season. 

Here is a good article about his decision.  Check it out.  It says he announced on Chicago Tribune Live.  I missed that, but if anyone knows where I can see that online please send me the link.

17
Oct
07

Bulls Discourse – To trade or not to trade

A reader by the name of Joe P. has been leaving some good comments lately, while apparently not paying attention in class.  I was responding to his most recent comment and my response got so long, and included so much that I feel passionate about, that I thought I’d make our discourse a post of it’s own. 

Joe, I hope you don’t mind that I’m doing this.  If you do, please let me know and I’ll take it down.

You can see Joe P’s comments attached to the previous post.

Joe P, October 17:

Alright Cam. Quickly going to talk about Da Bears (or should I say Da Bums) then I am going to move onto the Baby-teen Bulls.

I am starting to lose my faith in Lovie. I don’t think he is a very good game planner. I am angry that Hester isn’t involved in every play. Aside from my long-snap idea (see above), which apparently is not original only to me, Hester is ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS the fastest guy on the field. Tell me that the New England Belichicks wouldn’t game-plan him in more than four plays a game. All you need to do is run him on a fly route on almost every pass play. If the safety comes over to help, then you have taken out two defenders with one receiver, advantage Bears. If the safety doesn’t come over to help the CB, throw it really really far, because, similar to what Steve Smith told Testaverde, you can’t overthrow Hester. And, even if you do, it won’t be an interception and it spreads the D.

Let’s be serious. The Bears O sucks. It has to be creative. The whole 60% run, 40% pass game plan isn’t cutting it. The D also has been crappy, but their crappiness isn’t as palpable.

Okay, onto the Bulls. This is really an important first quarter season. We have an unsigned Gordon. We have an unsigned Deng. And, we have a bona-fide, championship hungry superstar that wants to come to Chicago in Kobe. More importantly, we have an immediate threat in the Boston Celtics Ceatles (the dumbest nickname in the history of professional anything), and the future threat of whatever team LeBron jumps ships to (maybe Chicago).

One way this whole situation could shake out is that the Bulls resign both Gordon and Deng, which we can do. The problem is we can’t do much else. Based on what I have seen so far, the Bulls will probably be good, but not great. Good-ness is what management needs because it keeps the seats full, Greatness is what fans want because it wins championships. I might be wrong. Maybe the Bulls turn the corner and are able to play perfect team basketball. Maybe Gordon or Deng or both become the superstars we need and the Bulls become insanely good.

The second way this whole thing shakes out. The Bulls are competitive, but not great. We then get rid of everything we can, with the exception of Deng, to try and get Kobe. I think a trade for Kobe is possible if Gordon is signed, with the Laker’s understanding, to an amount high enough to make the trade legal. Kobe would be a good starting point, and with Deng, Wallace, Thomas/Noah(whichever isn’t included in the trade) the Bulls would be a very talented starting group.

Finally, the Bulls could resign everyone, see how everything shakes out, risk mediocrity for the next couple years, and try to lure LeBron onto the favorite team of his childhood.

Basically, I think that these Bulls, as they are constructed now, are not going to be able to compete with a healthy Celtics or Cavs team. Certainly, the Bulls cannot compete with a healthy Suns or Rockets team. The Bulls need to either emerge from their proverbial cocoon and kick ass as a team re-born or restructure for the present or the future.

Cameron Watkins, October 17:

Joe P.,

I haven’t lost any faith in Lovie, but I don’t think I ever had as much faith in him as others did.  It has always seemed to me that when he’s matched up against a great coach he’s inevitably out coached.  He is, in my opinion, a very good but not great football coach.  This is evident even when he’s goes up against another very good coach because in that situation whichever team has more talent on the field that day always wins.

I’ve heard multiple reporters claim that Hester actually isn’t the fastest Bear (apparently it’s Danielle Manning) and thus it would stand to reason that he isn’t always the fastest player on the field.  However, he is VERY VERY VERY fast.  Bernard Berrian is pretty darn fast too.  Let them both run fly routes, send Moose across the middle, and put Olsen or Clark 15-20 yards out while being covered by a linebacker and somebody is bound to be open.  I’m no football expert, but I don’t see how this could fail.  The difference between what I’m proposing and what the Bears are running is – like you’ve proposed – keeping Hester in the game on offense.  That change would make the difference.  I don’t understand why they don’t do it.  He’s proved he’s at least acceptable at catching and blocking, so why can’t he be an every down receiver?

The D is hurt but something has to change nevertheless.  Far less talented teams are giving up less points every week.  Maybe it’s too much Cover 2, I don’t really know. 

Okay, on to the Bulls.  I find it amazing how badly Kobe wants a chance to prove he’s Michael Jordan 2.  I’m not sure if I want him to be a Bull or not – it of course all depends on what it takes to get him – but I can’t say I’m disappointed that Chicago is clearly his dream location and the only team out of the three he’s pinning for that the Lakers will ever trade him to.

I truly believe that if they re-sign Gordon and Deng and hold on to all the players currently on their rookie contracts for as long as possible they will have multiple very good shots at a title.  Think of the Pistons over the last five seasons, but younger and less arrogant/dismissive/overconfident/lame.  I don’t believe they will ever need superstars to win it all because they are soooooo deep and talented.  Injuries won’t stop this team.  Very few if any other teams in the NBA can say that.  One injury to a big three player on the Celtics and they’re done.  Steve Nash, Dirk Nowitzki, Kobe, Tim Duncan, any of these players are out for a long part of the season or any of the playoffs and their team is done.  The Rockets could be the one exception.  I think they could weather an injury to Yao or McGrady.  Their not as deep as the Bulls, but they’re deeper in all-stars and still have good overall depth.

Kobe and Luol are not enough to win a championship.  I’d love to have Kobe, but if we have to give up too much to get him it’s just not worth it.  Most I think I’d give up is Gordon, their choice of Tyrus or Noah, Chris Duhon, Ben Wallace if they wanted him, and every future Bulls draft pick for the next 10 years.  The problem is, unless they take Wallace I don’t think the salaries match up.  The Bulls would probably have to give up two starters (assuming they extend Gordon and Deng for more money) and change to make salaries work.  Plus, I don’t even think that would work because the bumps in the salaries that would come from the extensions wouldn’t even come into play until next season (I believe).  

If the Bulls keep everybody they will not be mediocre.  They will be a top 5 team in the power rankings for the next 3-4 seasons.  The only reason their window will be that small is they won’t be able to keep guys like Thomas, Sefolosha and Noah when their rookie contracts run out because they’ll be too close to the salary cap already.  It’s too bad, because if this team could stay together for 10 years I am sure amazing things could happen.  When Ben Wallace’s contract comes off the books in a few years they’ll have room for 1.5 out of the three I mentioned, but that still means losing two of them.  Suddenly the Bulls aren’t so deep.  

If LeBron does decide to leave Cleveland, the only way the Bulls are going to be able to get him is with a sign-and-trade.  I don’t see why Cleveland would ever do that with a team in it’s own division.  The Bulls won’t have anywhere near enough space under the cap to sign him straight up.  There is always the chance that LeBron will decide he already has enough money and will take a smaller contract to make things work out for whatever team he picks, but I highly doubt that will happen.  

Finally, I have to take issue with your assertion that the Bulls will not hang with a healthy Celtics or Cavs team, particularly the Cavs.  BronBron is an amazing talent.  No doubt.  However, the Bulls are superior to the Cavs at every other position.  With the outstanding D the Bulls will have LeBron won’t be enough.  Also, as I’ve well documented in previous posts, I don’t believe the Celtics will be able to hang with the Bulls in a 7-game series.  To avoid redundancy I, and pissing off more Celtics fans, I won’t go into that again.  

The other issue I see facing the Bulls right now is how they’re going to sort out the guard situation.  Hinrich, Gordon, now Deng, Sefolosha, Duhon, Curry and Gardner all are worthy of playing time as guards.  Hinrich, Gordon and Deng aren’t going anywhere this season unless something happens with Kobe (or a big man to be named later, but I doubt that).  Sefolosha is likely to get a lot of tic as well unless he shows he hasn’t improved from last year.  Then you have Duhon, Curry and Gardner.  There’s space in the rotation for one of them, and not much space at that.  Duhon brings the veteran experience and probably better defense than the other two.  Curry and Gardner both bring more athleticism and scoring ability, which are both valuable traits off the bench.  If I’m Paxson, I’m tempted to trade one or two of them to a team needing guards.  The only problem is you’ll get a role player back in exchange and what role on the Bulls can be improved upon by anybody short of an all-star?  Oh well, too much talent is a very good problem to have.

In closing, the Bulls are going to be VERY good this season.  They may start slowly, as they seem to do every year, but they will finish the season strong, go deep in the playoffs, and have a good shot at a title.  The future is bright as well.  Steve Nash can’t play like an MVP until he’s 40.  The Pistons are aging quickly.  I think the Mavs are going to break down this season after two years of huge playoff disappointments.  The Spurs will decline with Tim Duncan because Tony Parker and Manu Giniobili are as good as they are because they play on the same team as Tim Duncan.  The Rockets and Jazz will be the Bulls’ primary foes in the coming seasons, but the Bulls match up well against both teams.  Exciting times are ahead for us Bulls fans. 




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