Monday, Dec. 20, 2010
By Aggrey Sam
As much as Joakim Noahs injury affects the Bulls, the pair of trades made by Orlando over the weekend has even bigger long-term ramifications on the Eastern Conference. By acquiring former All-Star guard Gilbert Arenas from Washington in exchange for forward Rashard Lewis and swapping swingman Vince Carter, backup Mickael Pietrus and big man Marcin Gortat for the Phoenix trio of shooting guard Jason Richardson, youngster Earl Clark and forward Hedo Turkogluwho returns to Orlando, where he last experienced success, after disappointing runs with the Raptors and Sunsthe Magic dramatically altered the makeup of their team, opting to shake things up rather than accept being a pretend contender without the juice to be a truly elite squad.
In Arenas, reunited with Magic general manager Otis Smith (who was in the Warriors front office when both Arenas and Richardson were NBA neophytes), Orlando gets a shot-creator, something they lacked to take pressure off big man Dwight Howard. While Richardson isnt on the same level as LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Paul Pierce, hes a legitimate secondary perimeter scorer with athleticism and range to go alongside Arenas and point guard Jameer Nelson.
Whether or not Turkoglu regains the form that helped him lead Orlando to the 2009 NBA Finalsand subsequently prompted Toronto to shell out big bucks for him on that summers free-agent marketis a question mark, but he clearly has a comfort level with Howard and with the emergence of undersized power forward Brandon Bass (after being underutilized since the Magic got him that same offseason), Lewis, and his bloated contract became expendable. As vilified as Arenas has been, perhaps no player has been panned as being overpaid as Lewis, whose dwindling production and rough readjustment to small forward was pinpointed as a reason for Orlandos stagnation.
If everything breaks right, Arenaswhose closeness with Smith supposedly prompted the executive to make the deal when most of his league counterparts were understandably reluctantwill accept a possible bench role (assuming Richardson starts at shooting guard next to Nelson in the backcourt), give them a go-to scorer in clutch situations, boost their already-potent arsenal of shooters (even with reserve sharpshooter J.J. Redicks surprising struggles, Richardson, Nelson current starting small forward Quentin Richardson and reserve forward Ryan Anderson make up a potent bunch of deep threats) and give Howard a little more to think about as his 2012 free agency approaches. If not, some observers will likely blast Smith for blowing up a solid team, but since nobody (including, apparently the organization itself) thought they actually had a chance to win a title, let alone surpass Boston and Miami, the risk he took is worth the potential reward.
Will Bulls flounder during Noahs absence?
With the aforementioned Noah out for a scheduled eight to 10 weeks following successful surgery last Thursday on the ulna collateral ligament on his right thumb, the first game of his extended absence wasnt pretty. While the Bulls acknowledge how much theyll miss Noahs presence, they insist theyll survive until he gets back on the court, despite their performance in Saturdays loss to the Clippers.
Well just keep playing. I thought the guys that came inTaj did a good job, Big O Asik did a good job, O.G. Kurt Thomas did a great job, Scal did a great jobweve just got to keep playing. Obviously it goes without saying that we miss Jo out there. That goes without saying, but we cant cry over it. Weve got to find ways to win, power forward Carlos Boozer said after Saturdays loss. Well continue to get better and weve got another against Philly, so we cant sit there and cry over it, feel down and feel sorry ourselves because theyre not. The Clippers didnt feel sorry for us. Philly isnt going to feel sorry for us, so weve got to pick ourselves up and keep playing.
Added Luol Deng: Were going to miss him. He gives us a double-double every night and he does a lot that people dont seedefensively, a lot of tips, a lot of rebounds, his presence aloneat the same time, weve got enough guys here to do well. Were disappointed about Saturday, but guys have just got to keep their heads up. Its a long season, we didnt play too well, but we know that were a good team. Weve just got to bounce right back. Nobody is happy with the way that we played, but its over.
Everyones going to have to rebound. Not every team is the Clippers. I think the Clippers dont have a good record, but theyre talented. Theyve got a lot of guys. With Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, its a tough matchup for anyone, just how athletic they are. Not every team is like that, but its something that we talked about and everyone just has to step it up a level. Just try to bring in what Joakim brings. Not one person is going to do it, but everyone has to chip in.
In Dengs case, that means playing more minutes at power forward, something hes proven to be effective at doing earlier in the season.
When Boozer was out, I was playing a lot at the four. When he came back, I had to make that adjustment to play back at the three and just stay there, but now that Jo is out, Ive got to make that adjustment again and Im okay with it. Sometimes it takes a little bit, just to get used to it again, but its totally fine. Weve got a lot of guys who can step up.
Sources tell CSNChicago.com that the Bulls arent looking to make any hasty moves to compensate for Noah being out. Taj Gibsonwho suffered a concussion in Saturdays gamestarted the first sans-Noah outing at center, but rookie Omer Asik, who management wants to see develop, will also see significant playing time.
Of course, 38-year-old Kurt Thomasthe second-oldest player in the leaguewas brought on in the offseason for specifically this type of situation, having shown hes capable of filling in at a high level late last season in Milwaukee, after Bucks star center Andrew Bogut suffered a season-ending injury. It doesnt hurt that Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, who was an assistant in New York when a much younger Thomas played for the Knicks, trusts Thomas.
We were searching. I was confident in Kurts low-post defense. I wanted to give Griffin a different lookhe was having his way with usso I knew that might help and then we were so flat, said Thibodeau of Thomas defense (he would eventually foul out, despite not seeing any action in the first half) against the superstar rookie Saturday. We were looking for any kind of spark that we could get. I thought Kurt did a good job for us.
Still, even if Thomas, Gibson and Asik perform capably, theres still no replacement for the intangibles Noah brings to the table.
Energy. Of course, rebounding. Just almost everything. He puts a lot into the gamelittle things like his passing, his talking, rattled off Rose. Youre definitely going to miss somebody like Jo, but theres no excuses. Weve just got to go out there and play these games.
Of course teams are going to try to go big against us, especially when we have our three at the four, but weve got to know that as a team and rebound with all five players or help the guy when theyre trying to go in the post on him. So, weve got to see that and talk and communicate on the court, and rebound and make sure that the guy sees a double team.
Roses hard-driving style still not yielding trips to line
Dwight Howard. Kevin Durant. Dwyane Wade. LeBron James. Its no surprise that those names are at the top of the NBAs most frequent visitors to the free-throw stripe. Even the second tierEric Gordon, Kevin Martin, Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony, Kobe Bryant, Amare Stoudemiremake sense. But upon examining some of the other players who rank ahead of Derrick Rose in average free-throw attempts per game this seasonHakim Warrick?its almost mind-boggling that Rose doesnt get to the line more than 5.1 times a night.
For whatever reasonbe it the fact that he naturally avoids contact because of his exquisite body control; his low-key demeanor not exactly facilitating communication with referees; his strength and allowing him to absorb punishmentRose simply doesnt get the same benefit as other players of his caliber. Rose plays in the vein of players from a past era, who forced officials to make calls because they wanted to both score and get to the line, not just throw up a garbage shot at the basket with hopes of getting bailed out.
Ive just got to play through it. Hopefully they see it, Rose, who ranks 32nd in the league in free-throw attempts, said Saturday. If they dont, Im not going to cry about it. Im going to continue to play and make them call the calls.
His game-ending missed foul shot Saturday notwithstanding, Rose obviously relishes those moments in the clutch, but the pounding hes been takingmost evident in last Mondays win over Indiana, in which he suffered a sprained right wrist and bruised right elbow, as well as lingering damage to his right hipis arguably the most of any small guard since Allen Iverson. Its not in his nature to respond confrontationally to a hard foul, whether to opponents or referees, but Thibodeau was posed with the question of what to do in the future.
To me, youd like to think there would be more awareness and again, the thing about Derrick is that he plays with so much poise, too. So, he rarely says anything to the officials. I dont want him to get caught up in that. I want him to keep attacking and I think hes playing great for us. Im hopeful as he continues to drive that he will get more calls, Thibodeau said Saturday. I see the way he attacks, he doesnt shy away and hell continue to go. He continues to drive with a lot of force, I know that, and when hes getting hitmaybe he has to exaggerate the contact a little bit morebut hes going right at the basket.
Clippers guard Gordon, a summer teammate of Roses in a high-powered AAU backcourt prior to their senior year of high school (not to mention with USA Basketball in the offseason), has his own thoughts on why Rose doesnt get to the line as much.
Hes different. Hes already up in the air, hes pitching it up there. I usually just look for the contact every timeI just play more physical, Gordon said Saturday. He doesnt play real physical. Hes more of a finesse guy that gets around people. Hes very fast and sometimes he beats you to the rim or he just glides in the air and seeing if anybody runs into him.
Same old Del Negro in L.A.
As cold as a city as Chicago can be, even the harsh Windy City winters have nothing on the rough treatment Vinny Del Negro has received in sunny Southern California. Even with the services of brilliant rookie Blake Griffin, the former Bulls coach has led his Clippers to a dismal 7-21 record after Saturday night's win over his old team.
Del Negro's leadership came under scrutiny from the Los Angeles media from almost Day 1 of his tenure with the city's second team, as disparaging newspaper columns and pregame press conferences that included questions like "Why are you guys so crummy?prior to one of the team's few wins, over the then-soaring Hornets, a day before the Bulls faced the Lakers in the same building, the Staples Center--surfaced as early as last month.
Now, even the most ardent Del Negro supporters have to admit the Bulls made a significant upgrade with Tom Thibodeau (who, ironically, was an assistant coach in San Antonio under John Lucas, the father of the Bulls reserve point guard, when Del Negro played for the Spurs), an experienced coaching lifer, but at the same time, even those that wanted Del Negro to vacate the premises in the middle of last season must acknowledge that under his two-year stewardship, the team made the postseason both springs, with neither playoff berth being a guarantee.
Sure, Del Negro didn't make the sharpest in-game adjustments, run the most sophisticated offensive scheme or initially seem to possess the necessary chops for the job. But he improved as time went on and his players usually lived up to one his favorite catch phrases, "Gotta keep fighting." There were definitely bumps along the road--most notably the Joakim Noah minute-limit controversy that led to the infamous altercation with top Bulls exec John Paxson--but Del Negro was also the coach under whom Noah, Derrick Rose and Taj Gibson first thrived and developed under.
Im very proud of what I accomplished in two yearsthe team is in a much better position, said Del Negro. Was it easy at times? Of course not.
All I can say is I worked as hard as I could here, he continued. Its just part of the business, part of the environment."
While he again has a potential superstar and likely Rookie of the Year in Griffin, he's also saddled by veterans Chris Kaman and Baron Davis being hampered by injuries (in the latter's case, his ailments were caused by reporting to training camp out of shape), an extremely young squad and the so-called "Clippers curse," brought on by decades of losing and the tight-fisted ways of owner Donald Sterling, who reportedly has been heckling the aforementioned Davis from his courtside seat.
Some suggested Del Negro would have been better off in the television booth this season or perhaps back in a team's front office (being an assistant coach doesn't necessarily suit him), just decompressing from a tumultuous final year in Chicago. But as he told the small contingent of Chicago reporters present, he loves coaching and even looked forward to the challenge of trying reinvigorate the long-suffering Clippers franchise.
Better said than done. Still, the Clippers have been giving an honest effort, as evidenced by Saturdays win, and the ever-positive messages Del Negro was known to espouse in Chicago have become a staple in Los Angeles.
Hes been the same, real positive for the most part. Hes just trying to get guys to play hard all the time. Hes been doing a really good job of working with the younger guys, making sure theyre developing at a rapid pace. Were practicing almost every day, just trying to get accustomed to the style of basketball that he likes for us to play, veteran sharpshooter Rasual Butler told CSNChicago.com. Were just trying to hang our hat on hard work right now and having a defensive personality. Were trying to work on figuring out the type of offensive team well be.
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.