Tuesday, December 1st
by Mark Schanowski
I know, I know, it's too easy to blame the Bulls' slow start on the loss of Ben Gordon in free agency, but honestly, don't you think the Bulls' 6-9 record would be 9-6 or better if they still had Gordon's quick strike scoring ability? The biggest issue so far has been the lack of consistent offense because of terrible shooting from the field. Gordon led the Bulls in scoring each of the last 4 seasons, averaging almost 21 points a game a year ago. His ability to score points in bunches is exactly what the Bulls are missing right now.
What it came down to for the Bulls' front office is basically this, Do you re-sign Ben Gordon at an average of 12 million dollars a season, or roll the dice on possibly replacing him with an all-star guard like Dwyane Wade or Joe Johnson in the summer of 2010? The Bulls obviously decided on the latter option, and they will do everything possible to free up enough money to make a max offer once the clock strikes midnight on June 30th of next year. The thought of Wade, Johnson or (do we even dream!) LeBron wearing Bulls colors next season should have fans legitimately excited, but it doesn't do much for anyone this season.
Which brings us back to Gordon, who makes his return to the United Center Wednesday night. Gordon rolled his left ankle last week, and is listed as questionable for the game, but you have to think he'll try to play against his former team. Detroit has been one of the league's early season disappointments after signing Gordon and Charlie Villaneuva as free agents last summer. They're currently in last place in the Central Divison, but their 6-11 record can be blamed more on injuries to Rip Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince than a lack of talent on the roster. Former Bulls' free agent bust Ben Wallace is actually trying again in Detroit, and has given the Pistons some solid defense and rebounding in the post. Once Detroit gets all its players healthy, they'll most likely be one of the teams battling for the final 2 or 3 playoff spots in the East.
The Bulls figure to be in that mix of teams as well, along with Milwaukee, Toronto, Washington, Charlotte and Indiana. Really, at this early stage of the season, only the Nets and Knicks are definitely out of playoff contention in the East. The Bulls should benefit from playing 11 of their 15 games at home in December, and they also have a very favorable schedule for the first half of January. But the larger issues of poor outside shooting, and a suspect interior defense won't go away overnight. Getting Tyrus Thomas and his shot blocking ability back in the line-up will certainly help shore up the defense in the paint, and Kirk HInrich should return from his thumb injury within a week or so. But where is the scoring going to come from?
Luol Deng has been pretty consistent, especially lately, and that's a welcome sign for the Bulls' coaching staff. Derrick Rose has picked up his scoring, plus even more importantly, his trademark quickness is back after a slow recovery from that pre-season ankle injury. But, John Salmons has struggled trying to replace Gordon. Salmons is shooting 37 percent from the field, and looks really tentative at times trying to figure out whether to drive to the basket or settle for another long jumper. Hinrich has been an inconsistent shooter his whole career, and the Bulls really can't expect to get much offense in the post from Joakim Noah or Taj Gibson.
So, barring a trade, the Bulls pretty much are what we think they are (apologies to Denny Green). They will struggle to score at times, and have trouble defending teams with dominant low post scorers. But Rose will continue to get better, and eventually Salmons and Hinrich should improve their shooting percentages. The heavy dose of home games should allow the Bulls to get above the .500 mark by New Year's Day, then it's a question of how well they can compete in head to head games against the other playoff contenders in the East.
How many games do you think the Bulls will win in December? And, are you okay with waiting until next summer for the big roster move(s)? Please post your comments in the space below or send me an e-mail with your thoughts.
I'll see you Wednesday night from the United Center with Kendall Gill during SportsNite at 6:30. And, don't worry, I'll be sure to tell Ben Gordon how much Bulls' fans miss him!
Mark Schanowski hosts our Bulls pre and post game studio coverage with 15-year NBA veteran Kendall Gill. You can also watch Mark on SportsNite, Sunday through Thursday at 6:30 and 10.