Thursday, March 3, 2011Posted: 2:12 p.m. Updated: 11:51 p.m.
By Aggrey Sam
ORLANDO--He may not be the high-profile name Bulls fans longed for, but with all of the buzz in the Windy City about the acquisition of Rasual Butler, one wouldn't know the difference. Truth be told, if the Bulls suited up one of their three assistant coaches that used to play in the NBA--Ed Pinckney or former Bulls Adrian Griffin and Rick Brunson--there would probably be a similar hullabaloo.
That's no knock on Butler, a solid NBA player throughout his eight-year pro career (as were the aforementioned trio), but the state of excitement surrounding the Bulls these days is such that even the signing of a player that saw limited minutes for the Clippers before being bought out--don't read too much into the fact that he averaged only five points per game for a team already out of the playoff chase, as Butler has playoff experience and put up almost 12 points an outing just a season ago, a career-high number--garners significant attention. That's the mark of an acknowledged contender, regardless of some observers continuing to insist they're supposedly flying under the radar.
Think about it: Chicago has the league's MVP frontrunner in All-Star point guard Derrick Rose, a Coach of the Year favorite in first-year head coach Tom Thibodeau and with a fully-healthy roster--specifically the inside tandem of power forward Carlos Boozer and center Joakim Noah--for the first time all season, the Bulls have rightfully become the NBA's "it" team of the moment. Add in Luol Deng having his best all-around (and injury-free) season, a cast of selfless and capable role players, a deeply-ingrained defensive identity, a beautifully team-oriented brand of basketball and a short memory of both highs and lows--which will be tested in the aftermath of Wednesday's disappointing collapse in Atlanta--and preseason prognostications of merely advancing to the postseason's second round seem like an insult.
However, to quote a fictional superhero's uncle, with great power comes great responsibility and as superhuman as Rose appears on some nights, the 22-year-old has just two teammates, ancient veteran Kurt Thomas and little-used fan favorite Brian Scalabrine, that have appeared in the NBA Finals, which has increasingly gained steam as a realistic goal for the Bulls. It's not a now-or-never thing for Chicago, not with a large window for the team's core nucleus--in addition to Rose, Noah and Deng are both only 25, while Boozer, at 29, in his prime--but if indications that the other Eastern Conference powers (Miami, Boston, Orlando and now New York) have exploitable flaws are correct, then, as Rose famously queried on media day, "Why not?"
Which brings us back to Butler. No, the 6-foot-7 swingman isn't a game-changing player on his own, but in the arms race that's occurred in the East since the whirlwind trade deadline and has carried over to lockout-driven buyouts, the sharpshooter could be another valuable weapon.
Opposing defenses will undoubtedly gear up to stop Rose's penetration and clog the lane, which serves the dual purpose of helping to neutralize Boozer and Noah (not to mention active young big men Taj Gibson and Omer Asik) on the interior. While Rose has greatly improved his jumper, Boozer is a threat from the mid-post, Deng has extended his range and Noah can knock down the occasional 15-footer, the Bulls' lone true long-ball specialist is currently Kyle Korver.
The addition of Butler, a career 36-percent shooter from deep, provides Chicago with another deep threat, as well as an adequate defender at both wing spots, something essential if he intends to crack Thibodeau's rotation. While he isn't a great shot-creator, his length, experience and ability to play off elite playmakers--Butler thrived as a catch-and-shoot player with Chris Paul in New Orleans--will, at the very least, give the Bulls added depth for the upcoming battles of the postseason.
Sure, picking up Butler--not the defender Ronnie Brewer is and slightly below the caliber of marksman Korver is, but able to do a little bit of what each backup swingman brings to the table--isn't the big, over-the-top splash some had hoped for, but the Bulls have potentially improved, at little to no risk, without mortgaging their future, namely Gibson or Asik. And in April and May (maybe even June), the benefit of a seemingly small move could be bigger than expected.
Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.com's Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.