Schanowski: Free Agency Not an Automatic Cure

89311.jpg

Schanowski: Free Agency Not an Automatic Cure

Sunday, Jan. 10, 2010
6:26 p.m.

Will the addition of one player from next summer's free agent class automatically make the Bulls a contending team in 2010-2011? Please post your comments in the section below. If the Bulls are able to sign LeBron or D-Wade, the answer is yes. If it's somebody else, the answer is a lot more uncertain.

For a concrete example of how cap room isn't always a quick fix, just take a look at Monday's Bulls' opponent, the Detroit Pistons. Joe Dumars has long been regarded as one of the NBA'S best general managers. But with nearly 20 million dollars in cap room last summer, Dumars wouldn't commit to offering enough money to entice Carlos Boozer to opt out of the final year of his deal with Utah. Then he looked around at what was left in a shallow free agent market, and wound up blowing all his cap room on Charlie Villaneuva and former Bulls' star Ben Gordon. Granted, both players are nice additions, but hardly worth the 18 to 20 million Dumars committed to the tandem over the next 5 seasons. Now Detroit is capped out, and has too much duplication at their perimeter spots. Dumars would love to trade Rip Hamilton or Tayshaun Prince for a low post threat like Boozer, but so far, he hasn't found any takers. So, Detroit is loaded with small guards like Gordon, Rodney Stuckey, Chucky Atkins and Will Bynum and small forward-types like Hamilton, Prince, Villaneuva and top draft pick Austin Daye. Their centers? How about former Bulls' free agent bust Ben Wallace and one of the worst number one overall picks in the history of the NBA Draft, Kwame Brown! When you add this roster mess to the infamous decision to draft Darko MIlicic instead of Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh with the 2nd overall pick back in 2003, maybe Dumars isn't as smart as most NBA people think.

The Pistons have lost 12 games in a row, and there aren't any easy solutions out there. First year coach John Kuester has been dealt a bad hand because of long-term injuries suffered by Hamilton, Prince and Gordon, but even with a healthy roster over the last half dozen games, the Pistons have been brutal. At some point, Dumars has to help his coach out by trading Hamilton andor Prince to get some much-needed frontcourt help. But both players are overpaid, and Hamilton is definitely on the downside of his career. It will be interesting to watch the Detroit situation over the next few months to see who takes the fall for Dumars' ill-conceived summer spending spree.

BULLS STILL TREADING WATER

Meanwhile, back here in Chicago, the Bulls are still underachieving. They followed up an encouraging 4 game winning streak by going 1-and-3 last week against the likes of Oklahoma City, Charlotte, Milwaukee and Minnesota. You can rest assured John Paxson and Gar Forman are working the phones, looking for a trade that will add some much needed scoring punch. If the Bulls struggle for the rest of the month, the focus may change to trading veterans like Kirk Hinrich and John Salmons for salary cap relief. At some point, the Bulls front office will have to decide how badly they want to make the playoffs this season. If that's the goal, they might consider bringing in established players with remaining years on their contracts like Antawn Jamison, Caron Butler, Corey Maggette, Elton Brand and David West, and say goodbye to the possibility of entering the free agent market. But if they decide to wait until the free agent chase begins on July 1st, we might be saying goodbye to Captain Kirk andor Salmons before the trade deadline hits on February 18th.

The Bulls' problems are essentially the same ones we've observed all season. Without an inside scoring threat or a reliable 3 point shooter, they're prone to long stretches of offensive futility. And, since the promising 6-4 start, their commitment at the defensive end seems to come and go. Derrick Rose has picked up his offensive production over the last 6 weeks, but Luol Deng is struggling right now with a fractured left thumb, and the Bulls are still searching for a reliable 2nd scoring option. They've been able to defend their homecourt pretty well with a 12-7 record, but their weaknesses become too much to overcome on the road, where they are 3-13.

With home games coming up against Detroit and Washington this week, along with a quick trip to Boston, it's important for the Bulls to go 2-1. Otherwise, that 7 game western swing that begins on January 18th starts to look even more difficult than it does right now. We haven't heard much about Vinny Del Negro's status over the last couple weeks, but a bad road trip could make Vinny and the Bulls one of the NBA's hot topics during All-Star weekend in Dallas in mid-February.

Your feedback and suggestions are always welcome. It's supposed to get warmer here in Chicago this week, and as we all know, the Bulls are long overdue for a sustained hot streak!

Bulls have emerged from a ball of confusion to parts unknown

Bulls have emerged from a ball of confusion to parts unknown

The big red button was pressed and Jimmy Butler was ejected from the Chicago Bulls’ present and future as they finally made the decision to rebuild after two years of resisting.

Trading Butler to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and the ability to draft Lauri Markkanen represents the Bulls committing to the draft lottery and fully going in on the Fred Hoiberg experience for the foreseeable future, as the prospect of trying to improve through shrewd moves in the East while also facing the likelihood of Butler commanding a $200 million contract wasn’t palatable to their pocketbook or their sensibilities.

On one hand, making a decision — any decision — can be applauded on some levels after years of their relationship with Butler being complicated at best. But the idea of rebuilding and the application of it are often two separate ideals, because the evaluation of a rebuild can often be as murky as the land the Bulls just left.

“What we’ve done tonight is set a direction,” Bulls Executive Vice President John Paxson said. “We’ve gone to the past where we make the playoffs, but not at the level we wanted to. You know in this league, success is not determined that way. We’ve decided to make the change and rebuild this roster.”

“We’re gonna remain patient and disciplined. The development of our young players is important. The coaching staff has done a phenomenal job. We’re gonna continue down that path. We’re not gonna throw huge money at people.”

The Bulls aren’t exclusive to this territory, the land in which they’ve inhibited for the last couple seasons, which makes the Butler trade about more than one thing.

Not equal parts but part basketball, part fiscal, part narrative and finally, masking some mistakes that have been made over the years but are not as easily rectified. Trading Butler seemed to be the easiest vessel used as an elixir to wash away missteps. Trading a star in Butler is also the easiest way to get heat off a coach or front office in today’s NBA, because few franchises like to make wholesale changes midstream or early in it.

Trading Butler — along with shipping their second-round pick in a box marked for the Bay Area — was also financial, considering many felt if he made it through the tumultuous evening that he would finish his career as a Bull, raking in a hefty sum of cash on the back end.

It’s because of these factors that the evaluation of this trade and subsequently, a painful rebuild, cannot be in a vacuum. (Note: No rebuild is painless, it’s the size of the migraine a team can endure that determines the type of aspirin necessary).

Just taking a look at the players the Bulls got back in the Butler trade illustrates the gray area they’ve now immersed themselves into. The Bulls fell in love with Dunn before he came to the NBA, and aren’t as bothered by him being a 23-year old second-year player who struggled mightily in his rookie year.

Zach LaVine is an explosive athlete who can put up 20 every night — when he’s on the floor. Recovering from an ACL injury is no given, as evidenced by a young phenom who once graced the United Center hardwood before his body betrayed him.

And Lauri Markkanen is a rookie with promise, but nobody can make any promises on what type of career he’ll have, or if he’ll fulfill that promise with this franchise in the requisite time.

“There’s always risk in anything,” Paxson said. “But here’s a guy that’s 22 years old and averages 20 a game (LaVine). He can score the basketball, he can run. He can shoot the basketball. He shot over 40 percent from three. That’s an area we’re deficient in. Markkanen shot over 40 from three in college. Again, it’s an area where we’re deficient. It’s trying to find the type of player that fits the way that we want to play going forward.”

[RELATED: Jimmy Butler bids emotional farewell to Chicago]

General Manager Gar Forman stated after the announcement of the trade that the Bulls would have to hit on their next few draft picks to stop this rebuild from being elongated, but even then there’s no guarantee.

The Sacramento Kings drafted a rookie of the year, then two future max contract players in the same year, followed by another player who’ll command close to max money very soon. But nobody remembers Tyreke Evans, DeMarcus Cousins, Hassan Whiteside and Isaiah Thomas leading the Kings from the wilderness and into glory, unless recent memory has been scrubbed away from everyone.

Inconsistencies in organizational structure combined with multiple coaching changes and an inability to develop the right young players kept the Kings on the dais of the draft lottery every April.

The Timberwolves, heck, nobody could say they missed when selecting LaVine, Karl-Anthony Towns and getting Andrew Wiggins in a trade for Kevin Love. It’s because it takes more than the right draft picks, or in the Sacramento Kings’ case, the right infrastructure and environment, to foster an atmosphere of winning.

The Bulls were ready, despite their claims that this was a decision that came across their table right before the draft, because common sense has to be applied. No team makes knee-jerk, franchise-altering decisions that will have reverberations for years to come on the whim of a trade offer from Tom Thibodeau. This was likely decided when the Bulls went out with a whimper in the first-round after shocking the NBA world in the first two games against the Boston Celtics, when their fortunes changed on the trifle of Rajon Rondo’s broken wrist.

It was decided that Hoiberg, the man who endured chants calling for his firing in the second half of the decisive Game 6 loss, needed to have the right type of roster to be accurately judged as a successful hire or failure, and Butler couldn’t be part of those plans.

And just as Hoiberg has been dealt an uneven hand, Butler wasn’t given the type of roster that would accurately judge how he could flourish as a leader, max player and face of the franchise — and probably had less time to show one way or the other relative to his coach.

The longer Butler stayed, the more empowered he would become as his individual accomplishments would rack up because of the dedication he applied to game, the drive he had to place himself in the upper echelon of NBA players.

The better Butler got, the more pressure Hoiberg would be under to mix and match his roster and to foster a relationship with Butler he might’ve been ill-suited to fix. The better Butler got, the more pressure the front office would be under to maximize a prime it didn’t see coming, a prime they can’t truly figure when there’s an expiration date on given Butler’s unlikely rise to stardom.

So getting rid of Butler was the solution and the Bulls have now chosen their path, definitively and with confidence. Emerging from a ball of confusion to parts unknown, from one land of uncertainty to another.

Watch some of new Bull Zach LaVine's best dunks

Watch some of new Bull Zach LaVine's best dunks

Zach LaVine quickly made a name for himself as a prolific, epic dunker.

The recently acquired Bull won both the 2015 and 2016 Slam Dunk Contests and has plenty of awe-inspiring in-game dunks as well.

The video above has a few of LaVine's best efforts.

His signature dunks in the dunk contests were the 2015 dazzler when he caught the ball from behind the backboard and went through his legs before slamming it and the through the legs from just inside the free throw line dunk in 2016.

For in-game dunks, the time he posterized Alex Len in November was an instant-classic. It's not everyday a 7-footer gets dismissed with such authority.

Of course, LaVine's ability to dunk at this prodigious level is in question after he tore his ACL this past season. If LaVine can come back to anywhere near full strength, look for some impressive highlights from the former dunk champ in a Bulls uniform.