Monday, Feb. 21, 2011
By Mark Schanowski
Don't be misled by the fact the Bulls put together a 22-8 record without injured center Joakim Noah in the lineup. The truth is, the team isn't nearly as good without the 4th year pro from Florida protecting the paint, grabbing rebounds and finishing on the fastbreak.
Kurt Thomas and Omer Asik have done a good job filling in, but Thomas is 38 and Asik is an untested rookie still trying to adjust to a new country and the speed of the NBA game. Noah has developed into one of the league's most versatile big men. Sure, his jumper looks funny and he's not going to command a double team when he catches the ball in the low post, but Noah makes the Bulls a much more dangerous team on both ends of the floor.
You all know Joakim is one of the NBA's leading rebounders, but his uncanny ability to grab loose balls and offensive rebounds gives the Bulls a handful of extra possessions every game. And, since the Bulls are not a good shooting team, those extra possessions are crucial, especially in close games against quality opponents.
Noah's presence also upgrades the Bulls' overall defense. Right now, Tom Thibodeau's squad ranks 2nd in the NBA in both points allowed and opponents' field goal percentage. And they're doing it without a legitimate shot blocker in the starting line-up. Noah's return will give them an elite low post defender who can cover up for some of Carlos Boozer's weaknesses on that end of the floor.
If you've been watching the games closely, you'll see that Boozer has trouble staying with quicker power forwards, and doesn't do a great job of sliding over to help against penetration. With Noah back, that weakness won't be as big of an issue. Thibodeau often turned to Taj Gibson to help out against high-scoring power forwards over the last few weeks, sending Boozer to the bench. Now, Noah will be there to help Boozer, who's low post scoring ability is so important to give the Bulls some balance on the offensive end.
BULLS MIGHT SIT OUT TRADE DEADLINE FRENZY
Speaking of offensive balance, Gar Forman and John Paxson would love to add another perimeter shooter before the February 24th trade deadline, but it doesn't look like they have the ammunition to make a significant deal.
You've already heard the names. Houston's Courtney Lee, Portland's Rudy Fernandez and Memphis' O.J. Mayo are probably the three guys who best fit what the Bulls are looking for in terms of affordability and potential impact. But Houston wants a big man in any deal for Lee, and the Bulls don't want to give up on the potential of Asik, who turned in some strong games off the bench before the All-Star break.
Fernandez might not be available either because of Brandon Roy's knee problems, and Memphis may have to reconsider their plan to trade Mayo because of an injury to Rudy Gay, which could move Mayo back into the Grizzlies' starting line-up.
There are shooting guards available like Cleveland's Anthony Parker, Denvers J.R. Smith, Detroit's Richard Hamilton and Charlotte's Stephen Jackson. But Smith, Hamilton and Jackson are too expensive, and as far as Parker is concerned, is he really that much of an upgrade over Keith Bogans and Ronnie Brewer?
In case you haven't noticed, Bogans has really turned around his game since the calendar flipped to 2011. He's shooting 48 percent from beyond the arc since January 1st, and has done a solid job defensively against some of the league's most athletic players.
Brewer has been exactly what the Bulls hoped for when they signed him to that free agent contract back in July. He's a rangy, active defender who knows how to get into passing lanes and create fastbreak opportunities. He's also done a nice job of working the baseline for momentum changing dunks, and knows his limitations on the offensive end.
Bottom line, unless the Bulls can get Lee from Houston for James Johnson and a draft pick, or work out a package for Mayo that doesn't destroy their frontcourt depth, they're probably better off standing pat at the deadline.
Ask anyone who's close to the team, and they'll tell you the Bulls' chemistry is as good as they've seen around the league in recent years. There's no sense disrupting that chemistry to add another player who isn't likely to make a significant impact this season. If the Bulls acquire another shooting guard, that could mean Bogans goes from starter to the inactive list, and how will that be received in the locker room?
The Bulls' front office is well aware they could use more scoring, and they're probably still one impact player away from contending for championships. But with a new collective bargaining agreement coming, and the possibility of a hard salary cap, the Bulls don't want to make a bad short term move that might impact their ability to sign Rose to a long-term, maximum contract extension.
You can bet Forman and Paxson will be on the phone this week, but don't expect a big money veteran to join the Bulls for the stretch run. So, what do you think? Should the Bulls make a trade before the deadline, or are you content with the team they have in place now that Noah is healthy again? Can the Bulls contend for the Eastern Conference Championship right now?
Please post your comments in the section below, and we'll see you Wednesday, when the Bulls start the 2nd half of the season against the Toronto Raptors. It's a 6 p.m. tip-off on Comcast SportsNet.