Thursday, Feb. 4, 2010
by Mark Schanowski
So much for building on that five-game road winning streak! Actually, the Bulls played well enough to win Wednesday night in Philadelphia, but they were done in by some incredible shooting by Philadelphia.
The Sixers have been a bad homecourt team all season long, but they shot 52 against the Bulls and hit some pretty unlikely shots down the stretch, including Elton Brand's 12 foot left-handed hook and poor-shooting Royal Ivey's three pointer to beat the shot clock that turned out to be his only basket of the night. Andre Iguodala also had one of his better games of late, victimizing John Salmons and Luol Deng with aggressive drives to the basket when the game could have gone either way. Iguodala has been the subject of trade rumors lately, with Cleveland among the teams interested in adding his scoring ability for the playoffs. Iguodala would certainly help the Cavs' championship hopes, but I'd rather see Cleveland get him instead of Washington forward Antawn Jamison, who would be a perfect fit with LeBron James. If the Cavs add an All-Star caliber player like Jamison or Amare Stoudemire before the trade deadline, you can forget about James changing teams this summer. The Cavs would probably own the Eastern Conference for the next few seasons.
But I digress. Back to the Bulls, who are facing some serious injury concerns right now. If you watched the Sixers' game closely, you noticed Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson were on the bench for most of the 4th quarter and the overtime. No offense to Brad Miller, who has really stepped up his play in recent weeks, but there's no way a small frontcourt of Miller, Deng and Salmons can compete with 7-foot Samuel Dalembert and Brand for those key rebounds in a tight game.
Both Brand and Dalembert were able to get offensive boards that gave Philadelphia extra possessions in the closing minutes. And even though Miller battled for rebounds and loose balls, he can barely get off the ground at this stage of his career, and has trouble matching up with taller, more athletic centers.
Vinny Del Negro certainly wanted to use Noah and Gibson down the stretch, but their foot injuries rendered them ineffective. Noah was extremely downcast after the game, saying the plantar fasciitis in his foot is causing him a lot of pain, and the condition is only getting worse. Noah insisted he won't pull himself out of the line-up to rest the injury since it normally takes several weeks to notice any improvement. Gibson has been playing through the injury all season, but he also says the pain sometimes is so bad he has trouble walking when he gets out of bed in the morning. Noah and Gibson have been the anchors of an improved Bulls' defense all season long. The Bulls rank among the league leaders in opponents' field goal percentage, which is widely viewed as the key stat to measure defensive effort and efficiency. If one or both of the Bulls' big men are forced to miss a long stretch of games, the chances of moving up from the 8th playoff seed in the East are slim at best. And, there's a chance Scott Skiles' Bucks could pass the Bulls for that final playoff spot. Noah has been the inspirational leader for this team all season long with his all-out effort and improved play on both ends of the floor. You can bet he'll keep playing as long as it's physically possible, but right now he's only at about 50-60 percent, and that's not nearly good enough for the Bulls to win consistently.
Which leads us to another issue. Where's Tyrus Thomas? Full disclosure, I'm not a big Tyrus fan, and there's a good chance he'll be traded before the February 18th deadline, but as long as he's with the team and healthy, why isn't he playing more? Thomas gave the Bulls a big lift in the 2nd quarter against Philadelphia, grabbing a couple of loose balls and throwing down a pair of two-handed slams.
It was largely because of Thomas' hustle that the Bulls were able to build a six-point halftime lead. But Tyrus barely played in the 2nd half and overtime, finishing with a grand total of 15 minutes. You mean to tell me with Noah and Gibson hobbling with foot injuries, you can't get your most athletic frontcourt player into the game for more than 15 minutes? And when you're getting killed on the offensive boards with Salmons and Deng at the forward spots, you can't change things up and put Thomas in the game? I know Vinny doesn't have much confidence in Tyrus, but sometimes you have to acknowledge the obvious, and put in a 6-9 high jumping forward to grab some rebounds and help your defense control the paint.
BULLS ACTIVELY LOOKING AT TRADE OPTIONS
As I just mentioned, Thomas is one of several players who could be traded in the next two weeks. John Paxson and Gar Forman are aggressively working the phones, discussing a wide variety of trade scenarios with teams around the league. At the very least, look for Salmons to be traded for an expiring contract andor draft picks. The Bulls don't want to risk the possibility he will exercise his 6.7 million dollar player option for next season and mess up their ability to offer a maximum contract to one of the premiere free agents this summer. There's also a chance the Bulls could package Salmons with Thomas and Brad Miller to grab one of the two big expiring contracts that are available right now, Tracy McGrady and Ray Allen. McGrady's here in Chicago right now, working out with Michael Jordan's former trainer, Tim Grover, and would welcome a deal to the Bulls. It's unlikely McGrady can come close to re-capturing the skills that made him a perennial All-Star, but that 23 million dollar expiring contract would be a heck of a consolation prize for Pax and Forman. The Celtics are also anxious to make a move given their recent struggles and mounting injuries. Allen is available, but he's having one of the worst seasons of his career, shooting only 34 percent from the 3-point line. Boston would probably insist that Kirk Hinrich be part of any package, and I'm not sure the Bulls would be willing to trade one of their most valued players to a conference rival, especially since they might see Boston in the playoffs again this season.
As for the possibility of swinging a deal for Phoenix All-Star big man, Amare Stoudemire, that doesn't look like a realistic option right now. Stoudemire is saying he's leaning toward exercising his 17.7 million dollar contract option for next season to stay in Phoenix, rather than enter this summer's crowded free agent market.
It doesn't sound like any team is anxious to offer the injury prone and sometimes indifferent Stoudemire a maximum contract, so he's starting to see he might be better off taking a sure thing for next season, much like Carlos Boozer did in Utah last summer.
There are countless other possibilities that the Bulls are looking at in the trade market, including sending Hinrich to Phil Jackson's Lakers for a package of expiring contracts. So, don't be surprised if Hinrich, Salmons and Thomas are gone before the deadline, and either McGrady or Ray Allen winds up in a Bulls' uniform. A trade like that won't make the Bulls a better team this season, but then, it's never really been about this season. Paxson and Forman truly believe they can land Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh or Joe Johnson this summer, and if they're successful, the Bulls will instantly join the ranks of the Eastern Conference's elite teams.
What do you think the Bulls should do? Stand pat, or make a major trade to free up salary cap room for this summer? Please post your comments in the section below, or send me an e-mail. I'll see you Friday night at 6:30 during SportsNite. Kendall Gill and I will preview the match-up against the Atlanta Hawks that you can watch on Comcast SportsNet at 7 p.m. I'll see you then!
Mark Schanowski hosts our Bulls pre- and postgame studio coverage with 15-year NBA veteran Kendall Gill. You can also watch Mark on SportsNite, Sunday through Thursday at 6:30 and 10.