Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2010
By Aggrey Sam
A historic summer for the NBA has passed and for the Bulls, while they didn't acquire quite the star power many expected andor hoped for, optimism runs high, both within the organization and throughout the team's fan base. With the offseason coming to an end, the time to fully delve into the upcoming NBA season is here. Instead of a traditional season preview, issues both throughout the league and in Chicago will be probed daily here on CSNChicago.com up until the squad officially convenes for training camp toward the end of September.1. Is the Bulls' offseason deserving of the league-wide praise received, what are the new-look roster's strengths and weaknesses and what should the new guys be expected to do?
Yes, the Chicago front office is absolutely worthy of the platitudes that have come its way -- especially in the wake of not acquiring LeBron James, Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh, yet still pulling it together to salvage the summer and be considered a force to be reckoned with in the same conference as the Heat, Magic and Celtics -- for now. Not to hedge bets, but obviously chemistry is a big part of the equation. First, let's run down the new acquisitions: the ex-Jazz trio of power forward Carlos Boozer, shooting guard Ronnie Brewer and small forward Kyle Korver, as well as backup point guard C.J. Watson, veteran big man Kurt Thomas and reserve swingman Keith Bogans, as well as 2008 second-round pick Omer Asik, a rookie center from Turkey.
As new head coach Tom Thibodeau is consistently lauded for his defensive mindset, the new additions to the team should fit in well. After playing for the legendary Jerry Sloan, the former Utah triumvirate will know how to compete on that end of the floor in a team concept. Boozer, for all of his offensive abilities -- he's capable of scoring in the post, adept at pick-and-roll offense and can knock down jumpers with range, as well as being known as a tenacious rebounder on both ends -- isn't considered a stout defender, although he does bring some physicality. Most importantly, however, Boozer provides Chicago with a high-caliber power forward (don't forget, "Booze" has been a Western Conference All-Star, at the loaded power forward position and may find the competition less stiff in the East) who can produce 20-and-10 on a nightly basis and finally gives the Bulls the sorely-needed low-post scoring threat they've been seeking for years. Sure, he didn't exactly come cheap, but it says here that for what he does that Boozer could prove to be more valuable than a more perimeter-oriented Bosh or a inconsistent-rebounding Amar'e Stoudemire. His injury issues are acknowledged, but if Taj Gibson could play in all 82 games as a rookie, start for the vast majority of the season (Tyrus who?) and go from the 26th overall pick to the NBA all-rookie team, it seems possible that he'd be a top-tier reserve.
Korver, who has strived to expand his game past being a one-dimensional shooter (the natural small forward is now at least a competent ballhandler and passer, who can slide over to shooting guard at times), isn't the defensive liability he was as a neophyte pro -- relying on a strong work ethic and desire, good footwork against athletic small forwards and decent size against smaller guards -- but he'll never be confused with Bruce Bowen. But that isn't why the Bulls braintrust brought him in. Korver is the one player on the roster who can be considered a lights-out shooter, something the Bulls didn't possess last season, so his role in opening up the floor for Derrick Rose.
The final Jazz expatriate, Brewer, won't be expected to put up gaudy offensive numbers. In fact, while he has an extremely versatile skill set -- long and athletic, good size and slashing ability from the wing, capable ballhandler and rebounder -- his one major deficiency is shooting the ball. On the other hand, if he's to start alongside Rose, Boozer, Luol Deng and Joakim Noah, it's not necessarily a bad thing to have a selfless player who doesn't require a lot of shots in order to be productive, something Brewer has been praised for throughout his career. In addition, he'll function as a defensive stopper on the wing (taking pressure off Deng), as well as a secondary ballhandler, who can also get up and down the court with Rose for transition opportunities.
Joining Korver off the bench will be veteran role players Watson, Thomas and Bogans, who each have fairly clear-cut responsibilities. Watson will back up Rose and provide a different look at the point guard as an outside shooter (don't be surprised to see him play in tandem with Rose on occasion), and hopefully will be an offensive spark on the second unit. Thomas, the team's elder statesman, will do much of what he's done throughout his long NBA career: provide toughness. A strong defender and locker-room presence, Thomas will begin the season as Noah's primary backup at center. He's still a solid rebounder and with the accuracy of his mid-range jumper, he adds another dimension offensively. Bogans, like Brewer, will be looked at as a defensive-minded swingman, and while he isn't a prolific scorer, he does have the ability to knock down open outside jumpers. The last new addition guaranteed to be on the roster (excluding, at this point, point guard John Lucas III, who was invited to Chicago's training camp) is Turkish center Asik. The team's 2008 second-round draft pick, while he has demonstrated flashes of potential in the FIBA World Championships, should be brought along slowly in his rookie season.
All in all, while Chicago's offseason haul isn't as overwhelming as, let's say Miami's, it is indeed both an impressive group and a significant upgrade from last season (as maligned as Vinny Del Negro was, can anyone positively say that team would have advanced past the first round with any coach short of Phil Jackson or Red Auerbach?) -- not to mention it leaves them with the flexibility (a favorite buzz word of the front office) to further maneuver during the season (Carmelo Anthony, anyone?) and beyond. That said, adding the aforementioned pieces to the young nucleus of Rose, Noah, Deng, Gibson and small forward James Johnson obviously raises expectations, but the team isn't without its flaws.
With the exception of Korver (and Watson, to an extent), the squad is still pretty devoid of long-range shooting. The respective injury histories of Boozer and Deng leave room for concern, although their backups are very capable. Finding an offensive identity, however, is the primary concern. Thibodeau's defensive chops are considered top-notch and while it's reasonable to expect it to take time before the squad is locking down to his standards, it should happen in time. But even assuming Rose continues his ascendancy, incorporating the new players into the mix will be a delicate process, and finding a way to play to his strengths (up-tempo) while utilizing Boozer correctly (in the half-court) will have to be fine-tuned. Still, as the old cliche goes, these are good problems to have.