Nothing cheers me up more than heavily contrived and extremely implausible hypothetical transactions for the Chicago Bulls.1 Taking a team’s cap situation, and attempting to maximize the basketball assets that they can get from using it, is what I wish to spend my life doing. It is this love of salary cap manipulation and amateurish talent evaluation that has in the past produced seminal works such as the four team 16 player trade that intended to bring Carmelo Anthony to Chicago whilst getting Denver under the luxury tax in the process2, as well as last offseason’s equally well-intended multi-faceted shake-up that sought only to avoid signing Joe Johnson, and which bizarrely predicted that the Bulls would end up with half of the previous season’s Utah Jazz rotation, but not the half that they actually wound up with.
These are my hobbies.
Ironically, Joe Johnson would be a somewhat perfect fit for Chicago right now. But unfortunately, Joe Johnson still has five years and $107,333,589 remaining on his maximum salary contract given to him by the Hawks, whom he just led to 44 wins and an ultimately rather purposeless second round exit. When the 29 year old fourth best player at his position gets the fifth biggest contract in the history of the sport, consider yourselves outbid.3 It’s a shame, in a way, for a player of Joe Johnson’s type and talent level would now be an exact fit to the major problem Chicago faces.
Chicago isn’t exactly a team awash with strife. They just made it to the Eastern Conference Finals, had the best regular season record in the league, won 62 games, won the Most Valuable Player award, won the Coach Of The Year award, and somehow managed to come both first and third in the Executive Of The Year award, the most recent first-and-third place finish since Hacksaw Jim Douglas in The Love Bug. This isn’t a capped-out team that dribbled meekly to a limp 32 wins and a late lottery pick. This isn’t Detroit. Indeed, you could make a case that, aside from Miami, this team has the brightest future in the league. It’s either them or OKC.4
Flaws still exist, though, and they are the reason why Chicago is at home watching Miami in the finals.
The obvious hole is at the shooting guard position, where journeyman Keith Bogans started all 98 games last year, narrowly failing to beat the 102 that Tyrus Thomas started in his entire Bulls career. In a starting lineup featuring all-star Derrick Rose and fringe all-stars Lou Wolding5, Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah, it is easy to point the finger at Keith Bogans and say, “this is all Keith Bogans’s fault.”6 Bogans’s backup Ronnie Brewer was better than him, and played more minutes than him, so it’s not as though Keith Bogans was Chicago’s best option at the position. But the fact that he started 98 consecutive games is nonetheless indicative of a problem.7
The most noticeable flaw is related to the shooting guard hole, and was the one roundly exposed by Miami. In their current guise, Chicago has only one ball handler, Derrick Rose. And if you take the ball out of his hands, Chicago has no other options.
Ronnie Brewer cannot dribble, and nor can Keith Bogans. Deng has never been able to do it unless he is playing for the Great British national team.8 C.J. Watson is a decent backup point guard on both ends of the court, and yet strangely, for a point guard, his handle is not great. You can therefore make a legitimate claim that Chicago’s second best ball handler last season was its starting centre, Joakim Noah, the hands-down best player on the planet. But this is not much of a virtue, because unless it’s his patented driving lefty layup high off the glass, Joakim is not in a position to do much with his ball handling ability, considering that he is no threat to make a shot from the perimeter.
Miami exposed this flaw by either double teaming Rose, or smothering him with bigger defenders, or both. When forced to give the ball up, Rose either turned it over on the jump-pass (which he does rather a lot), or gave it to someone who was quickly contested and who could do nothing with it. Chicago, therefore, lost its entire halfcourt offence.9 A Joe Johnson type alleviates this problem.
Furthermore, Chicago struggles with shooting the ball from the outside. At the angry behest of Tom Thibodeau, Deng has mercifully turned his 22-footers into 24-footers and become a decent three point shooter, while Derrick Rose completely re-designed his jump shot technique last summer and came out of it with a three point stroke that was a slight improvement on what went before it. (Although somehow, in the process, he lost his previously elite mid-range shot. All in all, a mixed return.) Ronnie Brewer can’t do it, except, seemingly, for in the fourth quarters of playoff games. And C.J. Watson, the best 37% shooting backup point guard in the league, had a decent year with his flat-footed high arcing bombs, but hit only half a three a game. (If that makes sense.)
This lack of three point shooting was what ‘necessitated’ Bogans starting all season.10 In addition to his DPOY vote11, Keith Bogans hit 38% of his threes, theoretically providing the defence/shooting role player that Chicago needed at the two. But that 38% came on exclusively wide open attempts. Another way to look at it, a far less flattering one, is to say that Keith Bogans missed 62% of his open shots. And considering that he barely got to foul line, shot only 65% from there when he did, had absolutely no mid-range game, and could not drive to the basket, it is fair to say that Keith Bogans did not help the offence. It is not possible to be a good floor spacer from the perimeter if a defence does not so much as acknowledge your presence on the perimeter.
|Keith’s there, but to the defence, he may as well not be.|
Only Kyle Korver, then, provided good quality outside shooting. Yet he himself was handcuffed by that. Too many Bulls possessions involved Rose or Watson pounding the ball at the top for 14 seconds, waiting for Korver to get over off of staggered screens, then having to improvise after Kyle is unable to do so. By being the only good shooter, he was the only player defences had to play as a shooter. All too often, Korver would come off the screen on the wing, and face a double. All he could do then was refeed the point guard. And nothing would come of it. Korver did his thing anyway, hitting 120 three pointers at 41.5%, but he and the whole offence would have been helped by extra spacers.12 Attempts to get J.J. Redick for this role were an unsuccessful acknowledgement of such.
Such a shooting need encompasses all positions, and not just the backcourt. The Bulls are conscious of it, which is why they had an inactive list of Jannero Pargo, John Lucas and Brian Scalabrine – even Kurt Thomas was signed with his mid-range jumper in mind.13 Kirk and Scal were the closest Chicago ever got to a stretch big, but in this era where such players are increasingly commonplace, Chicago never really had one. Omer Asik can’t shoot at all, and Taj Gibson is not as good as it as commentator consensus would have you believe. Carlos Boozer is pretty good at the fall-away 16 footer when confronted by a shot-blocker he daren’t go at, but the range extends no further. And while Joakim Noah’s Earthball was coming along nicely at one point, he completely lost the shot upon his return from thumb surgery and was once again a non-shooter.14 The Bulls’ “three point lineup” – their only such three point lineup – was always Rose, Watson, Korver, Deng, and either Taj or Boozer or Noah. And that’s no three point lineup at all.
|This presumably went in.|
The three most identifiable flaws, therefore, are a starting calibre shooting guard, improved outside shooting, and a swingman ball handler. These holes must be filled without the defence – ranked #1 in the NBA15 – being overly compromised.
Normally, this would be difficult. But now, it is extra difficult.
Further complicating matters is the impending termination of the current collective bargaining agreement. NBA teams are spending too much on player salaries; ergo, after the result of several weeks of ugly arguing about it, the new CBA will inevitably create an environment in which spending on salaries is harder to do, and in which both player and team salaries will be greatly reduced. The hard cap – the completely unnecessary mechanism which nevertheless seems to be at the pinnacle of the NBA’s priorities list – will make it difficult if not impossible for teams to spend lots of money on lots of players. And for a team like Chicago, who have already have $163 million committed to three players who are not their best, this is a problem.
Put simply, it appears as though they can’t afford to spend much more. This is doubly true when it is acknowledged that, even if they could spend a lot more money on player payroll, history suggests that they won’t.
Therefore, striking the balance between talent acquisition, talent cohesion, and financial outlay, is more necessary than ever.
For the purposes of this post, some assumptions have to be made. The following things are assumed to be true, gleaned from snippets of information regarding the ongoing negotiations and of what is likely to happen. Because we have to assume something.
1a) There will be an one-time amnesty clause in place which allows not only for the removal of a player’s salary from luxury tax calculations (like last time), but which also will remove that player’s contract from the team’s cap number.
1b) The Bulls won’t use it.
2) Despite my staunch belief that it’s completely unnecessary, a hard (or hard-ish) salary cap will be implemented.
3) Its implementation will be staggered throughout the duration of the next Collective Bargaining Agreement, and phased in slowly.
This latter one allows for a team like Chicago – who have one of the largest amounts of future committed salary in the NBA – to still be able to take on shorter term salary in order to plug the shooting guard spot, and make a title push.
It would have to be a short term commitment, though.
The best players in the two guard free agent market are likely to be J.R. Smith, Jason Richardson, Vince Carter, Jamal Crawford, Marcus Thornton, Arron Afflalo, Nick Young, Anthony Parker and Reggie Williams. Give or take, those are your horses. All of those players could serve a purpose on the Bulls, some with their offence, some with their defence, a few with both. But none of them serves the ball-handling, creating role that the Bulls need.16 A prime Vince Carter would have done, but this is not a prime Vince Carter any more. Outside of that, you’re forced try and make a small forward fit, be it someone like the remnants of Mike Dunleavy Jr, or a lower calibre of player and hope they prosper (for example, Chris Douglas-Roberts).
But when it comes to the free agent market, Chicago does have the right to be choosy. By being who they now are, Chicago has given itself a massive advantage. By being young, fun, on TV a lot, and in a big market city, Chicago has (or probably has) become the kind of team that ring chasing veterans will join in order to cakewalk their way to the top. Like it or not, the practice happens, as most recently evidenced by Mike Bibby, who gave up his entire 2011/12 salary of roughly $6.2 million in order to join Miami for their title run. He’s sucked, but that’s not the point.
Furthermore, the amnesty clause (that we’re having to pretend will exist here, but which almost certainly will exist in some form) will further expand the range of available talents. A lot of decent players are going to become available, not because they can’t play the game, but because they can’t justify their contract. A lot of the candidates are obvious and inevitable, some perhaps less so. Here’s a potential list:
– Atlanta: Marvin Williams – Due to their own ill-discpline, Atlanta are pretty capped out. They needn’t have been, for aforementioned Joe Johnson-related reasons. But they are, and the presence of Marvin Williams (three years and circa $25 million remaining) is a further hinderance. Williams stopped improving once he got paid, and is now a mere fringe starter, a man seemingly contented with doing little more than shooting long twos. Trying to trade him would only cost assets.
– Boston: Jermaine O’Neal – Boston is where former all-star big men go to die. Unfortunately, Jermaine was already dead when he got there. With his knees now into their second decade of continued deterioration, O’Neal can no longer rebound, post, or play 500 minutes a season. If it’s not a 12 footer or a weakside shot block, he can no longer do it, and yet he’s on the books for $6,226,200 next season.
– Charlotte: DeSagana Diop, Matt Carroll and Eduardo Najera – Even after the Gerald Wallace and Emeka Okafor trades, and the other thing that we’re about to come to, Charlotte will still be caked in salary. Diop spent most of last season inactive, and has more than $14 million remaining over the next two years. Carroll has only $7.4 million remaining over the same time frame, but is similarly unwanted. And the aging Najera will cost $2,750,000 next season to further prop up the inactive list.
– Cleveland: Baron Davis – Got the #1 overall pick for taking him on, and will be rid of him for almost no penalties. If only the Clippers had thought of that.
– Denver: Chris Andersen and Al Harrington – Neither is a bad player, and both give fairly consistent if highly flawed production. But on a team in the midst of a power re-build, they combine for seven years and $43,286,700 of salary, untenable for two backups.
– Detroit: Richard Hamilton, Ben Gordon, Jason Maxiell and Charlie Villanueva – Joe Dumas’s plan for the new-look Pistons appeared to be piling as many duplicate players onto a roster as possible, and hopefully overpaying them in the process. Didn’t work. Hamilton and Gordon have been busy killing each other’s value, value further killed by the helpful guiding hand of recently fired John Kuester, who had absolutely no idea what to do with any of them. Maxiell is coming off an absolutely terrible season in which, seemingly awash with apathy, he decided to no longer attempt rebounding and sported a PER of 9.4. And Newhouse has taken the rebounding apathy even further, sporting a lower rebounding percentage than Landry Fields last season and wasting a decent start by slowly electing to do little else but take three pointers.17 The four are owed a combined $96,380,000 over the next three seasons, are barely tradeable, and are barely helping Detroit. Pick your poison.
– Golden State: Charlie Bell – Bell’s briefly bright candle blew out a couple of seasons ago, and blown out emphatically at that. Thrown in to the Corey Maggette trade, Bell played only 171 minutes last season, and was bad in them – the only noteworthy thing he did was get arrested for DUI, and get stabbed by his wife.18 Bell has not been a good player for four season, yet nevertheless is owed $4,099,920 for next season.
– Indiana: James Posey – Indiana acquired Posey as salary filler, and his $7,595,600 salary for next season is merely an obstacle in the way of Indiana’s still-flickering cap space dream. In light of Posey’s worst season of his career – 34% shooting in 49 games – this is doubly true.
– L.A. Clippers: Randy Foye and Ryan Gomes – As long as you don’t play him as point guard – a position he simply does not “get” – Foye is not a bad player, as undersized 38% shooting two guards with mediocre jump shots go. But Foye is also being paid $4,250,000 next season to do the work of someone being paid about half that. Meanwhile, Gomes is on the hook for $8 million over the next two seasons, and is coming off the back of a terrible season; a PER of 9.0 with ever-worsening rebounding. The Clippers still don’t have an answer for their small forward hole, but Gomes definitely isn’t it. (Maurice Williams, if he does not already, will have some trade value down the road and ought not be amnestied. Not when there are alternatives.)
– L.A. Lakers: Luke Walton – Probably needs no explanation. Walton is not a member of the rotation, even when he is healthy, and such health is increasingly hard to come by.
– Milwaukee: John Salmons, Corey Maggette and Drew Gooden – Pretty much every dollar Milwaukee gave out last summer is one they would like back. Salmons put up his worst season since his Philadelphia days, while Maggette proved to yet another team who hoped to convert his numbers into production that it wasn’t possible. Meanwhile, Drew Gooden barely played, and shot every time down when he did, hitting only 43% of said chucks.
– New Jersey: Travis Outlaw and Johan Petro – When they weren’t able to spend their cap space on stars, New Jersey panicked and wasted it. These two backups received $45 million in guaranteed money, and yet the Nets got little for it. Petro fouled prolifically on his way to another third-string calibre season, while Outlaw was especially bad, putting up 37.5% shooting and an 8.8 PER in an amazingly generous 2,358 minutes.
– New York: Renaldo Balkman – Despite a few good years, Balkman has been absolutely nailed to both the Nuggets and the Knicks benches in the last two seasons, in part due to injury, but also due to being unwanted. The forgotten man has played only 153 minutes in the last two seasons combined; whether he’s just lost all his skill, or all his coaching love, is unclear. But what is clear is that the unwanted player has two years of guaranteed salary remaining.
– Oklahoma City: Nate Robinson – Warts and all, Nate is not a bad player. But he’s in the wrong situation now, an Oklahoma City team that does not need him. Robinson sits behind Eric Maynor for the simple reason that Maynor is better, and while it may behoove OKC to keep Nate around as a third stringer and trade asset (due to his talent and his expiring contract), they may see fit to work the cap angle instead.
– Phoenix: Josh Childress – Much like Milwaukee, Phoenix felt it was time to spend, and spent it all wrong. Acquired in sign and trades last summer, Childress has five years of outstanding guaranteed salary to go, yet couldn’t even play 1,000 minutes last season. Somehow, Phoenix hadn’t figured out that they wouldn’t have a spot for him, with the acquisition of Hedo Turkoglu and the incumbence of Grant Hill, Jason Richardson and Jared Dudley.
– Portland: Brandon Roy – All the talent Roy once had no longer matters, as he limps horribly around the court, hoping for the occasional pain-free blitz. It’s horrible to watch, but not as horrible to look at as this.
– Utah: Mehmet Okur – Utah pre-emptively signed Okur to a two year maximum extension, and so far on it, Okur has returned only 13 games due to injury. Going into the second season of it, with $10,890,000 still outstanding, Okur may never be healthy again.
– Washington: Rashard Lewis: Only by trading for the third worst contract in the NBA could Washington shift the second worst, Arenas. A Wizards team increasingly stacked with young, raw, rather low IQ talent could use some heady veteran play to temper their enthusiasm and harness their growth. But the jury’s out on whether Lewis – now only a backup calibre small forward – is that player. And even if he was, Lewis is set to earn $21,136,631, with roughly half that guaranteed the year after. Get your heady veterans elsewhere.
Those who don’t get amnestied may also get bought out later in the year, just like Bibby was. Eduardo Najera, for example, will be entering the last season of his contract, and serves no obvious purpose on a rebuilding lottery team. If Charlotte amnesties Big Sags instead – which they ought – then Najera will either expire meekly or take a late-season buyout. He won’t be the only one, either. So not only does the free agent list include all soon-to-be NBA free agents, all the players dotted elsewhere around the globe, those who are already free agents, and the soon-to-be-undrafted free agents, but it’ll also include the amnestied and the bought out. And the draft picks. The Bulls will have the pickings of a bloody enormous Quality Street tin.
But even then, with all those facets to consider, is there anyone out there who fills the aforementioned description of a two guard? No, not really. So then there’s the third19 way – via trade.
With all that in mind, let’s actually name some freaking names now.20
Specifically, for Ronnie Brewer, Keith Bogans, and the #28 pick.22
The cost of trading for Stephen Jackson must be weighted against two things – the abilities of Stephen Jackson himself, and the cost of the alternatives. There is no point paying out the arse for Stephen Jackson in a trade, when signing one of the aforementioned players – arbitrarily, let’s say Arron Afflalo – would cost you no assets in trade and would also not cost as much salary. The player obtained in the latter scenario would not be as good, but they may be only slightly worse than Jackson. Is it better to have Affalo, Brewer and the 28, or just Jackson? Indeed. Or maybe a rebuilding Jazz team would happily gift an aging Raja Bell. A combination of any number of hypotheticals could return similar for less. And thus not much in the way of basketball assets can be traded.
The hypothetical attraction for Charlotte lies in the salary savings. Everything previously stated about the reduced ability to spend is just as true of Charlotte as it is of anyone. Stephen Jackson is not a bad contract, but he is a big one, and twice in recent months has that been sufficient reason for them to trade a starter. In exchange for Tyson Chandler, they got nothing but luxury tax relief; in exchange for Gerald Wallace, they got salary relief, a backup small forward, and two not particularly good first-round picks.
You could argue that, having already done this twice, they don’t need to do it a third time. But I would counter that by highlighting the fact that this team sold for the equivalent of $25 million as recently as last year, and then recorded the perfectly useless figure of 34 wins the season after. If you’re going to lose, therefore, lose cheaply and properly.
In this deal for Jackson – a slightly above average starter, if we’re honest – they would receive another not very good first-round pick, and a good young swingman. Ronnie Brewer doesn’t solve any short term problems for Charlotte, but Charlotte also doesn’t (or shouldn’t) have much in the way of short term priorities. However, the salary relief is expected to be the biggest lure. Whereas Jackson has $19,316,250 in guaranteed salary remaining, Ronnie Brewer has only $4,710,000 owed to him – as detailed at length here, Brewer’s final season is unguaranteed, and for a reason. The combination of the Bulls’s ability to absorb some salary with their residual cap space this season, plus Brewer’s roughly flatlining salary, plus Bogans’s unguaranteed 2011/12 money, means that Charlotte can open up about $5 million in salary wiggle room next season alone, and eight figures worth in 2012/13.23 If this salary saving were coincident with the aforementioned Lasagna Diop amnesty provision usage thing, Charlotte suddenly looks like this:
Doesn’t get much healthier than that.
As for Jackson himself, he fits rather snugly into what the Bulls do. Jackson is a good, big, interested and versatile defender, a description guaranteed to wet Tom Thibodeau’s palate.24 He can handle and pass to above average standards for a wing player, which the Bulls could certainly use, even if he should do slightly less of the former. And he’s a good-enough shooter; at the very least, he’s as good as Keith Bogans, albeit with slightly less judicious selection.
The Bulls need a wing player who defends his position well, can handle the ball, make shots, and double as a secondary playmaker. They also need a wingman who, if called upon, can consistently take and make his own shot in a halfcourt set, particularly in clutch situations. Since precisely four players alive fit that mold, they’ll have to settle for the flawed but helpful Jackson. Jackson’s history of randomly beating up fans and randomly firing guns into the air outside of strip clubs is certainly a sticking point – the Bulls don’t often like to get their hands dirty, which is why they won’t touch Delonte West, despite how neatly of a fit he is into their current guise. However, seemingly every player or coach to have ever worked with Jackson has loved him, for his passion, spirit, and his out-and-out desire. The reprehensibly douchey things that he did can be overlooked if every other box is ticked. The Bulls prioritise “jib,” but that doesn’t mean they are criminal-free.25
The choice of Jackson over the other candidates was deliberate, and only slightly motivated by cost. Andre Iguodala is better at small forward, ball dominant, not nearly as good of a shooter as he thinks he is, and not nearly the calibre of half-court creator he so desperately wants to be.26 A backcourt of Derrick Rose and Monta Ellis cannot stop anybody, and while it would thrive in the open court, it effectively mitigates itself in the half court. J.R. Smith can’t be trusted, and was once traded by the Bulls for Adrian Griffin and Aaron Gray, which is no endorsement at all. Anthony Parker is no longer starting calibre. Michael Heisley has seemingly made the cost of acquiring O.J. Mayo unnecessarily prohibitive, particularly for one so average. Jason Richardson no longer wants to dribble, defend, or do anything much to get open without the ball. Vince Carter is emphatically done. Denver should (or ought) match a full MLE deal to Arron Afflalo. Courtney Lee won’t come for anything less than Omer Asik, which is not a deal worth making. The Daniel Gibson, Jamal Crawford and Leandro Barbosa-types would be most useful, but only as hard-to-acquire backups. And Richard Hamilton is…….well, no.
And so that’s how we’ve arrive at Jackson.27
And no, the Bobcats can’t have their pick back.
The no-headband rule was instituted by John Paxson circa 2004, after Bulls bench player Eddie Robinson was repeatedly seen in practice wearing his headband around his neck. To Paxson, this presented an unnecessary choke hazard, and when Robinson petulantly refused to do anything about it, Paxson felt he had to ban headbands altogether, for that was the only way to get Robinson to stop.28
The rule wasn’t a big deal until Ben Wallace, upping the petulance stakes a little, made it so. Wallace snuck a headband onto the court for the start of an otherwise forgettable regular season game, and when Scott Skiles noticed this, he had little choice but to bench him. Wallace was put back into the starting lineup for the second half of the same game, yet again he had smuggled out a headband, and took the court wearing it. Once again, he was benched, and the scandal of Headbandgate ensued.29 It was a completely unnecessary blight upon the franchise brought about by players being children, and the hierarchy – whose hands were tied – were made to look ridiculous purely for enforcing rules they didn’t want to have even created. It was a bad time.
The petulant guys have surely gone now, though. We’re all adults here. It is time to trust the players to not act like douchebags again. It’s also quite a good time to do it, as, apart from Ronnie Brewer in his Razorbacks and Grizzlies days, and the occasional amusing Scalabrine moment, no current Bulls have previously worn one. Let them eat cake. 30
|Daequan Cook, seen here drowning a small child.|
After a truly God-awful final season with Miami, in which he had a true shooting percentage of only .422, Daequan Cook was salary dumped onto the Thunder, whereupon he stuck 208 points on that percentage. Cook is coming off of what is by far his best season, playing his way into the regular rotation and thriving as a tenth man during the Thunder’s late season push. Doing little else but try hard defensively and take catch-and-shoot threes, Cook returned 5.6 points on 43.6% shooting, almost all of which came via his 42.2% three point shooting (Cook shot only 27 two pointers all season), fully embracing the bench scorer role he was created to fill.
There’s two schools of thought here. The first school of thought suggests that, because a player did very well in his role, he is deserving of a bigger one. The second school states that, because a player did very well in his role, he is already in the perfect one for him.32 In my mind, Cook fits into the latter. Maybe there’s scope for him to start somewhere, in the way that DeShawn Stevenson currently does (or did) for Dallas. But it relies upon a perfect set of circumstances, much like those recently33 enjoyed by Keith Bogans. And frankly, it is not necessary.
Cook’s contract expires this month, and Oklahoma City can make him into a restricted free agent with a $3,126,764 qualifying offer. If they extend that offer, the Cook idea goes no further, because while there’s no rule which states that Cook has to sign a contract that starts at an amount equal to or larger than that, it doesn’t make sense for him to do so. If that were the case, he may as well accept the qualifying offer. Cook is not a $3 million player; useful as he is in his role, it’s a small role. Cook never dribbles, not even employing the step-in that turns a three pointer into a long two any more. He defends the shooting guard spot fairly well, despite being slightly undersized, but that’s it. He is a three point specialist who has only shot the three well in two of his four seasons thus far. Even his very good free throw stroke (84%) is nullified by how little he gets there (once every half an hour for his career). He turns only two tricks.
They’re solid tricks, though, and OKC will likely look to retain him. It is not necessarily necessary they extend the qualifying offer or not, for extending the qualifying offer is not necessarily a necessary step to re-signing him. OKC can not extend the QO for fear of his accepting it, and still re-sign him anyway. If they choose to do this, it only makes sense for Chicago to chase Cook up to roughly the value of BAE money; that is to say, as-near-as-is two years and $4 million. Any amount greater than that becomes subject to the same criteria as did Stephen Jackson above, where overpayment becomes foolish considering the wealth of comparable options. There’s no point paying Daequan Cook more than he is worth for the simple reason that he is Daequan Cook. If it comes to that, you may as well pursue Von Wafer, Maurice Evans, Roger Mason, Willie Green, or some other tenth man shooting guard type. You could also bring back Rasual Butler for the minimum, or try harder to get a higher calibre of player, such as Nick Young or Marcus Thornton. Put more contritely, Daequan the Chef isn’t worth overpaying for. Considering his body of work to date, even the $4 million figure pushes the very upper limit of quite what he ought be paid. And this is especially true if OKC extends the qualifying offer.
For argument’s sake, though, let’s say they don’t do that.
|Between the drafting of Smith and the trading for Jackson, the Bulls improve their overall mouth size this offseason.|
There follows Jay Williams’s statistics from his junior season at Duke.
And there now follows Nolan Smith’s statistics from his senior season at Duke.
There’s not a lot in that. But in terms of stock, they seem to be polar opposites. Jay was the surefire number 1 overall pick who ended up going number 2, while Nolan Smith is fighting to get into the first round. It seems strange.
Smith doesn’t have Williams’s blazing speed, and thus does not have his blazing potential. But he also doesn’t have many weaknesses. The jump shot is OK. The defence is good. The transition game is excellent. The mid-range game is strong, the decision making good, the driving to the basket adept. The ball handling is solid, the point guard size great, the athleticism sufficient. Smith may lack for a true position – he’s not a point guard, nor a shooting guard. He’s either neither or he’s both, depending upon the favourability of your perspective. But he’s a solid NBA player.
More importantly, he’s a Bullsy solid NBA player. Big program, high IQ, defensive-minded, and completely flairless? In their wheelhouse.34
The Bulls also have the 43rd pick in the upcoming draft, unless the Bobcats absolutely demand its inclusion in the Jacko deal. 43rd picks are crapshoots in any drafts, but in ones as shallow as this, finding a player who will even play in the NBA is a challenge. My personal preferences for the pick include, if they’re still there: JaJuan Johnson, who helps with the stretch big problem while also providing some weak side shot-blocking, like a Tyrus Thomas without the expectation; Keith Benson, who would do much the same; Jordan Williams, who may churn out a few years comparable to those of his namesake Aaron; Bojan Bogdanovic, whose NBA potential resides somewhere between Jiri Welsch and Antoine Rigadeau; and David Lighty, a versatile and athletic undersized guard whose best chance is to try and make it as a defensive specialist. I would also fully salute the buying of other picks, just because.
As will be made very apparent in the next section, how to round out the roster is a matter of personal preference. The important thing is that it is done cheaply.
As much fun as it would be to blow up the roster, it doesn’t need doing. And as much fun as it would be to spend every possible dollar to gain every possible asset from all the other teams that are fiendishly dumping assets to save money, that’s not possible. The Bulls turn the most profit in the NBA, and have always been reluctant to spend it. But now that the time has come to spend some of it, they can’t.
The acquisition of Stephen Jackson represents what I consider to be the best balance between talent, fit, and salary. Jackson is signed only through 2013, for a large but not exhorbitant salary. With him on board, Chicago will feel a pinch during the 2012/13 offseason, when the three huge contracts of Deng, Noah and Boozer are still in force, along with the presence of Jackson, while the first season of Rose’s inevitable extension kicks in. In the advent of a hardened and greatly reduced salary cap, this squeeze will be a tight one, and it will mean the waiving of Kyle Korver and C.J. Watson. But in theory, the pinch lasts only one season; Jackson’s contract expires after 2013, after which there should be some breathing room.
This pinch is smaller with Jackson than with Iguodala, simply because he earns less. That’s a big factor. And it’s no longer cheapness on the Bulls part – the rules will have simply changed at the wrong time.35
It is inevitable, then, that the bench is filled out cheaply. Aside from the incumbent money to Watson, Asik and Korver, the rookie scale deals of Gibson and Smith, and the invisible $2 million we just gave to Gok Wan, it’s minimum salary deals from here on out.
How you choose to do this is up to you. The choice, as ever, is endless.
If you don’t think Nolan Smith suffices as a third point guard, you could always get some extra ball handler for stabilities sake – Jason Hart, Anthony Carter, Earl Watson, Chris Quinn, Travis Diener, Marko Jaric, Jamaal Tinsley, T.J. Ford, Sherron Collins, Aaron Miles, Oliver Lafayette, Curtis Jerrells, Antonio Daniels, Andre Barrett, Jon Scheyer, Anthony Johnson, etc, all the way down to the Keith McLeod, Milt Palacio and Mike Wilks types.
If you’d rather have a scorer and/or shooter as a small guard, there’s always scope for the returns of Jannero Pargo and John Lucas. Failing that, there’s always Sundiata Gaines, Eddie House, Patty Mills, Dee Brown, Salim Stoudamire, Blake Ahearn, Juan Dixon, Bobby Brown, Anthony Roberson, Gerald Fitch, Jaycee Carroll, Ronald Murray, Mike Taylor, Mike Bibby, Dan Dickau, Lester Hudson, Damon Jones, Justin Dentmon or Quincy Douby. Or Allen Iverson.
If you’d rather have a point guard or combo guard with average-to-decent defence – which seems redundant with Smith in the fray – there’s always D.J. Strawberry, Donell Taylor, Zabian Dowdell, Acie Law, Orien Greene, Ben Uzoh, Luther Head, Jerel McNeal, Cedric Jackson, Dontell Jefferson, Kenny Hasbrouck, Mardy Collins, Patrick Beverley, Javaris Crittenton, and potentially Charlie Bell and Royal Ivey. There may even yet be Jeremy Lin and Chris Duhon.
If you want to spend some money and get some point guard quality, then sign Bo McCalebb. Someone must do one day. Or you could even ask after Omar Cook.
If you’d rather have Marcus Banks or Sebastian Telfair, then there’s them too.
If you need a decent sized wing with adequate defence and an adequate jump shot, there’s always Rasual Butler, Maurice Evans, Romain Sato, Derrick Byars, Antoine Wright, Ime Udoka, Devean George, Jarvis Hayes, Kyle Weaver, Demetris Nichols, Bobby Simmons, Alan Anderson, Tarence Kinsey, Maurice Ager, Kareem Rush, Quinton Ross, Ronald Dupree, Mo Peterson, Rodney Carney or Kelenna Azubuike. Or Keith Bogans. Or Sasha Pavlovic, if you overlook the bit about shooting.
If you want wing shooters, there’s Sasha Vujacic, Jason Kapono, Casey Jacobsen, Vladimir Radmanovic, Michael Finley, Rashad McCants, Marcus Landry, Morris Almond, Coby Karl, Matt Walsh, Matt Janning or Jeremy Richardson.
If you want a combo forward, there’s always Josh Powell, James Singleton, Linton Johnson, Rob Kurz, Marqus Blakely, Viktor Khryapa, Tony Gaffney, Julian Wright, James Posey if amnestied, Patrick Ewing Jr if waived, Earl Clark, Malik Hairston, Shane Edwards, Dajuan Summers, Jawad Williams, Mike Harris, Dante Cunningham, Jorge Garbajosa or Bostjan Nachbar.
If you want a big who can shoot, there’s always Primoz Brezec, Brian Scalabrine, Earl Barron if Portland waives him, Troy Murphy, Mehmet Okur if he is amnestied and still able to walk, Alexis Ajinca, Jason Smith, Brian Cardinal, Stewie Pecherov, Malik Allen, Darius Songaila, Joe Smith, Yi Jianlian, Shawne Williams, Rasho Nesterovic, Steve Novak, Brian Butch, Sean Marks, Mikki Moore, Shavlik Randolph, Jonathan Bender or Walter Herrmann.
If you want a Graham brother, both Joey and Stephen are unguaranteed next season.
If you want an athletic big man, there’s always Pops Mensah-Bonsu, Chris Johnson, Chris Wilcox, Solomon Jones, Brandan Wright, Maceo Baston, Joe Alexander, Marcus Haislip, Stephane Lasme, Alexander Johnson, Jermareo Davidson or Randolph Morris.
If you want powerful and/or fat power forwards, there’s always Garret Siler, Leon Powe, Darnell Jackson, Ike Diogu, Reggie Evans, Chris Richard, Richard Hendrix, Tiny Gallon or Sean May.
If you want a more conventional defensive centre, preferably with size, there’s always DJ Mbenga, Theo Ratliff, Jason Collins, Jarron Collins, Brian Skinner, Kurt Thomas if he doesn’t retire, Tony Battie, Francisco Elson, Hilton Armstrong, Mohammed Sene, Hamady Ndiaye, DeSagana Diop if amnestied, Melvin Ely, Joel Przybilla, Kyrylo Fesenko, Cedric Simmons, Greg Stiemsma, Erick Dampier, Jamaal Magloire, Joey Dorsey, Shelden Williams, Dan Gadzuric, Hamed Haddadi, Kwame Brown, Sean Williams, Jake Voskuhl, Dwayne Jones, Brian Zoubek or Josh Boone.
If you want someone that’s none of the above, there’s always Trey Johnson, Manny Harris, Marcus E. Williams, Mario West, Juwan Howard, Jamario Moon, Antonio Anderson, Chris Hunter, Pooh Jeter, Mustafa Shakur, Ronnie Price, Damien Wilkins, Nate Jawai, Othyus Jeffers, Larry Owens, Patrick O’Bryant, Adam Morrison, J.R. Giddens, Cartier Martin, Derrick Brown, Alando Tucker, Darington Hobson, Devin Brown, Joe Crawford, Maciej Lampe, Trenton Hassell or Courtney Sims.
And there’s also Antoine Walker, Eddy Curry and Jerome James.
There’s always options.36
|Hornets big man, David Andersen. No, wait, that’s English actor Dexter Fletcher. Ah well, same guy.|
It is hoped that five key points will have come out of this post.
1) The Bulls need one more big piece.
2) They can’t really get that big piece.
3) The Bulls’s ability to spend is about to shrink, even if their desire is finally about to grow.
4) There are lots of cheap if mediocre options available for Chicago this summer.
5) This is good, because they’ll need them.
Eagle-eyed viewers will have noticed that, for all the prognostication about the need for a stretch big, my plan never actually got one at any point. True enough. Most of the available trade candidates – Matt Bonner, Andrea Bargnani, etc – either aren’t easy to get or aren’t worth it. (Or both.) Instead, we’ll turn back to the free agency lists.
If Mehmet Okur gets amnesty claused, he is a logical candidate for the role. Howevever, it is not certain Mehmet Okur will ever play again. Okur played only 13 games last season while recovering from his torn Achilles, as well as nursing a back injury, and when he did play, he was a shadow of his former self. For a man who turned 32 only last month, he has broken down quickly and emphatically. Nevertheless, were he to become available, he ought be explored.
A deliberate omission from the previous list is current Hornets big man, David Andersen. For all of the success he enjoyed in Europe, and the relative expectation that accompanied his overdue arrival in the NBA, Andersen has rather underwhelmed. He’s rebounded OK, and defended slightly better than may have been expected for one so long regarded as soft, but he’s shot only 44% from the field, and has not yet found his touch offensively. Nevertheless, Andersen is a very skilled face-up 6’11 scorer, who can drive, shoot, play pick-and-roll, pick-and-pop, and create his own shot on the perimeter. And while he’s under contract to the Hornets next season for $2,685,185, $2.5 million of it is unguaranteed. He will be cut by the league-owned team, and hence he will be available.
If Andersen thinks another year as a backup in the NBA at the minimum is more desirable than catching on with a EuroLeague team that would carry a much bigger role for him, then Chicago could find a use for him.
In addition to Andersen, this hypothetical depth chart will also feature a forgotten man – Jeff Pendergraph. Pendergraph missed all of last season with a torn ACL, and although the Blazers did not want to lose him, they had to waive him in order to open up a roster spot.37 Pendergraph was billed as a first rounder only two years ago, and although last year was a washout, he showed in his rookie season that he was an NBA player. Pendergraph can finish from mid-range and within like a middle-aged Joe Smith, and take a charge like a thinner Glen Davis. And in such a small role, it needn’t matter how much he fouls.
Pendergraph fills no obvious need for the Bulls, other than to provide frontcourt depth. It’s probably a good idea to have as much front court depth as possible, considering that Asik, Boozer and Noah are all injury prone. Kurt Thomas was much relied upon last year because of injuries, and even if he were to retire next season, veteran big man Tony Battie can slide in and fill the same role. Battie’s always been a solid player, and at 35, he’s still fairly solid; sticking mid-range jumpers, rebounding, and still possessing the shot blocking instincts. If a 35 year old athlete can ever be described as a younger anything, Tony Battie is the younger Kurt Thomas.
After a re-signing of Rasual Butler, the hypothetical depth chart is complete.
PG: Derrick Rose – C.J. Watson – Nolan Smith
SG: Stephen Jackson – Daequan Cook – Rasual Butler
SF: Luol Deng – Kyle Korver – Stephen Jackson
PF: Carlos Boozer – Taj Gibson – David Andersen – Jeff Pendergraph
C: Joakim Noah – Omer Asik – Tony Battie – David Andersen38
With a salary structure of this:
That’s probably a rather anti-climactic conclusion. But it’s unavoidable.39
What we’ve attempted to do is up the talent level, fill the shooting guard hole, and add some shooting, without compromising the financial constraints, both the mandated and the self-imposed. We’ve tried to do so mindful that there are great changes in the NBA landscape afoot, but with little to no understanding of what those changes will be. All we know for sure is what the Bulls need, and who will be available. We don’t know who they will be allowed to get. It is, to be sure, a fairly impossible task. But we tried anyway.
Does that team beat Miami?
No, probably not. But such is the position the new CBA will put us in.
1 – Nothing, that is, except looking at pictures of food and talking about garden sheds as if they were cars. This non-sequitir introduces the concept of footnotes, one which will be liberally drizzled throughout the post. Clicking the number of the footnote will return you to the correct point in the page, to avoid all that irritating scrolling.
2 – A well-intended concept later made to look ridiculous by Isiah Thomas’s involvement in the negotiations, and his subsequent trade offer that roundly crapped on mine. It won’t look like it in hindsight, but there was a time when there was absolutely no way that the Knicks were going to trade both Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari for Carmelo, let alone also get them under the luxury tax and give out every possible future young asset not called Landry Fields in the process. But then an NBA team yielded to the input of the head coach of a Sun Belt Conference team. It’s not who you are in this business; it’s who you were.
3 – Incidentally, included in last offseason’s post was the following sentence: “…….the ludicrously ambitious ‘get LeBron, Wade AND Bosh, and call it an offseason!’ dream.” Turns out that wasn’t too ludicrously ambitious after all. And who saw it coming? No one. No one, that is, except Stephen A. Smith.
4 – Or Dallas, if you only look ahead two years.
5 – The nickname Lou Wolding for Luol Deng came about because of the way Bulls PA announcer Tommy Edwards calls Luol’s name after a basket. I am hoping it is a nickname that passes into mainstream society, just as “Turk Nowitzki” was starting to for Ersan Ilyasova before someone else took the credit. That person knows who they are.
6 – Fun, too.
7 – You know how, when evaluating draft talent, we highlight people’s flaws and say that this is why they will never make it in the NBA? The starting shooting guards in the conference finals were Keith Bogans, Thabo Sefolosha, DeShawn Stevenson……and Dwyane Wade. Of the final eight starting guards in the season, three were contractually obligated to never take a dribble. Four if you count Mike Bibby. Makes you reconsider to what extent that analysis should really stretch; after all, if a head coach likes you enough, it doesn’t matter how flawed you are. Of course, this inability to dribble also rather submarined Chicago’s campaign, as will now be explained.
8 – All countries should start their name with a superlative because it’s just better. No, wait, what am I saying? Only our country can do this.
9 – In one of Keith Smart’s better moves, Golden State triple-teamed Rose as soon as he got over halfcourt for an entire second of a regular season game, one which they ended up winning. You would think that in a league scouted as heavily as the NBA, coaches other than Eric Spoelstra would have known about the success of this strategy, and adopted it for themselves. But then, this is a league in which the Bulls spend $75 million on Carlos Boozer, and then discover that he missed upwards of 45 defensive rotations a game. Perhaps these things are known, yet are overlooked anyway.
10 – Bogans’s whole career has been defined by his uncanny knack for getting undeserved playing time. He was doing that as recently as four weeks ago. He is the Corey Patterson, the Phil Neville, the Adam Sandler of the NBA – he perpetually gets more work than he should, regardless of the quality of his output. Bogans gets minutes like I get women – over 1,200 a year, regardless of the alternatives. Did I say women? I meant freckles.
11 – In the last two years, Keith Bogans and David Lee have now received DPOY votes, with Bogans’s one even laughably being for first place. Meanwhile, in his entire career, Al Horford has never received as much as a third placed vote. I am not about to tell you that Al Horford is the third best defender in the league, but I am prepared to say that, considering the bizarre and frankly nauseous presence of some names that this list seems to attract, it is a travesty that Horford has never received ANYTHING AT ALL. If sports media can’t be trusted with their toy, they should have it taken away from them.
12 – Dallas are a fine example of this. When it’s aired, the Kidd-Terry-Peja-Dirk lineup can score in big bunches purely by spacing out and moving the ball. It is the opposite of Chicago, and if Chicago can implement some of that without compromising the defence, they must.
13 – Tried all year to make the Kirk Thomas joke funny. No one got it.
14 – One of the few good things to come out of the Vinny Del Negro regime in Chicago was Joakim’s development into a shooter. Vinny didn’t seem to do anything with regards to Joakim’s technique – although Scott Skiles had previously changed his thumb position – but he did constantly encourage Joakim to take the open shots he was always given. Joakim started doing so, and subsequently got better as a shooter. This was a good thing that happened.
15 – In the regular season, at least. And then Miami’s surpassed it.
16 – This entire post trusts that you agree with me about this need. If you do not, I implore you to watch the latter three games of the Bulls/Heat series. Even when it was close, it wasn’t, because Miami could always turn the screw.
17 – For this reason, he was briefly in consideration for the aforementioned Bulls-stretch-big role. The fundamentals of the deal would have been Villanueva and the #8 pick for C.J. Watson and the #28, a deal that would have actually saved Detroit more money than the Hamilton-and-#8-to-Cleveland rumour would have done, as well as returning them future assets, if not very good ones. Couldn’t justify it, though. As previously outlined, long term salary is a problem.
18 – Allegedly.
19 – Eighth.
20 – Players considered for this post, in various capacities and for various reasons, include, but are not limited to; Charlie Villanueva, Bo McCalebb, Monta Ellis, Brian Cook, JaJuan Johnson, Marshon Brooks, Terrico White, Linton Johnson, Quincy Douby, the number 8 pick, Damien Wilkins, Willie Green, Peja Stojakovic, Courtney Lee, Reggie Williams, Jeff Foster, Justin Harper, Troy Murphy, Joel Przybilla, James Singleton (obviously) and Eddie House. Indeed, it’s all flexible.
21 – Stephen Jackson was a Bull once before, for a week. True story. He signed for 1998/99 training camp – which was actually held in January 1999 – but broke his foot and was released. Here we are, twelve years on, and the man has become a good quality, healthy, NBA player. And it only took two trips to the Dominican Republic to do it.
22 – Brewer over Korver for one reason and one reason only; the shooting. You can never have enough of it, and the Bulls certainly can’t. However, in the unlikely event that the Bobcats demand it be Korver instead, it’s a price worth paying. And then you bring in Jason Kapono, Vladmanovic or James Jones to replace him. Or, if Andres Nocioni is amnestied, they could bring him back. As has hopefully been proven demonstrably true by now, the options are a-plenty.
23 – Given that the rookie salary scale is one of the things most subject to revision in the current CBA negotiations – for adjusting it downwards would represent a good way to pay players less – it is unknown quite what the cost of the #28 pick would be. However, using the currently available 2011 first-round draft pick rookie salary scale numbers, it would cost $5,662,751 over four years. Relative pittance, really.
24 – It’s about time that head coaches were given nicknames the frequency and calibre of player nicknames. Particularly those who look as though they have a body count.
25 – Case in point – JamesOn Curry, a convicted drug dealer whom the Bulls once drafted and signed for a season without ever actually playing him. Curry is, and has always only ever been, a fringe NBA talent. So why didn’t the Bulls abscond from him and draft a different fringe NBA talent instead? Because everyone has a past, and the Bulls know that too. You’re not being sensible or Christian if you avoid everyone with a past. Had they avoided everyone with a past, they wouldn’t have dealt with Scott Skiles, who regime in Chicago was really rather successful. (Until the end.) Jackson’s past is blighted irreparably after his role in the brawl, but what are we going to do? Remind him of it every day? I don’t think that achieves anything.
26 – To be fair, all of those criticisms apply to Jackson as well, up to a point. But Jackson costs less in both trade assets and salary, the latter of which will likely prove to be very important. And while Jackson may carry the occasional threat of savage, callous spectator beating, he also has heart. A lot of heart. The Bulls like heart, and not just the kind of heart that sees players shout after big plays. Actual heart. They prioritise players that are all heart. They prioritised Rick Brunson.
27 – By uniting the polarising figures of Derrick Rose, Stephen Jackson, Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah, Chicago are making absolutely no effort to create a team made up of players that other team’s fans like.
28 – Allegedly.
29 – The particularly galling part of it all is that, while Ben Wallace has long been synonymous with wearing a headband, particularly when he had his big fro, there have been many, many, many, many games in which he has not worn one, by choice. It does not take much Googling to find pictures that evidence this. Here’s one. Here’s another. Et cetera. Ben needlessly brought up, broke, and eventually won an exception to, a rule that was not a particularly big deal to anyone, not even to him.
30 – To be fair, Eddie Robinson was also responsible for the best headband-related moment in Bulls history. Jamal Crawford missed the first three quarters of the 2001-02 season with an ACL tear, and in the first game after his return, Robinson floated the idea that the entire team wear a headband, like Crawford did, as a show of solidarity of unity and respect for their returning comrade. Fred Hoiberg looked completely ridiculous and took his off at half time.
32 – Case in point = Trevor Ariza, during and after his time with the Lakers.
33 – Perpetually.
34 – The other strongly considered candidate here was JaJuan Johnson. There’s no doubt that Johnson can’t handle the physical nature of NBA interior play. But that doesn’t mean he can’t produce a solid Channing Frye impression.
35 – Remember of course that all this talk of hard caps and resultant salary squeezes is still merely the suppositions that we introduced at the start of the piece, and certainly not gospel. But these suppositions were born out of fact – these are the things that the NBA is insisting upon, and will lock out its players in order to get. So they are fairly solid suppositions.
36 – I really enjoyed doing this bit.
37 – ….a roster spot later used on Fabricio Oberto, Sean Marks, Jarron Collins and Earl Barron.
38 – Only risk here is not enough mediocre veterans. Last year the Bulls broke camp with both Brian Scalabrine and Keith Bogans; the year before that, they rocked Lindsey Hunter and Jerome James on a 13 man roster. In the Paxson era, the mediocre veteran has been a theme, as evidenced by two playing stints each for both Rick Brunson and Adrian Griffin. It is not a coincidence that those two are both now Bulls assistant coaches. But this is my hypothetical. And I am not prepared in it to sign Brian Cardinal and Jason Collins purely for the sake of realism.
39 – And also probably unrealistic. Bulls will more than likely break camp with 13. They’ve done so the last two years, and it’s especially true if they’re going to be a luxury tax payer, as this scenario mandates. And that’s if the luxury tax even exists as an entity any more. But sod it, it’s my hypothetical.