Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2010
by Mark Schanowski
As we near the midway point of the NBA season, most teams have a pretty good idea of what kind of roster improvements they'll need to make both short-term and long-term. So, with that in mind, is it time for the Bulls to do something to improve their prospects for the rest of the season? Or, do they just ride it out with the current roster, and wait until the summer to make their big moves?
Please post your comments in the section below, or send me an e-mail if you prefer.
For those of us who watch every minute of every game, it's hard to see the same weaknesses show up night after night and say let's just continue on with the same roster. The Bulls continue to be one of the worst offensive teams in the league, ranking near the bottom in scoring and field goal percentage. So, if it's true that the Washington Wizards are willing to trade anyone on their roster, why not pursue a deal for high-scoring swing man Caron Butler? I've been told there was nothing to the recent report suggesting a Kirk Hinrich-Jerome James for Butler-Mike James deal, but you can bet John Paxson andor Gar Forman have talked to the Wizards. Butler isn't really a shooting guard, and might have some of the same issues John Salmons has experienced trying to play out of position. Still, Butler is averaging around 17 points a game and made the All-Star team a couple years ago. He makes basically the same amount of money as Hinrich and has one less year remaining on his contract than Captain Kirk. The Wizards could be interested in acquiring a steady point guard like Hinrich, since Gilbert Arenas has been suspended indefinitely by the league because of his recent gun violations. And Hinrich is playing out of position with the Bulls at shooting guard. He's a career 41 percent shooter, who's dropped down to 37 percent this season. Playing Hinrich together with Derrick Rose has given Derrick more freedom on the offensive end, which is a positive, but the lack of a legitimate three-point shooter has really killed the Bulls' half-court offense.
Butler wouldn't be the answer to that problem. He's a career 44 percent shooter, and only 31 percent from three-point range. But he is a proven scorer in the league, and would give the Bulls another option in late game situations. We saw what happened in the Charlotte game when the ball wound up in Hinrich's hands late. He missed two key jumpers which would have either tied the game or given the Bulls a lead. And even though Hinrich is given a lot of credit for his defensive ability, he had no success at all in trying to slow down Bobcats' reserve guard Flip Murray, who killed the Bulls with 25 points. So, if Hinrich's defensive ability has fallen off and he can't make outside shots consistently, maybe it's time to find a better option. If the Bulls can't get Butler, maybe they make a play for veteran Washington swing man Mike Miller, whose contract expires at the end of the season. Miller is a career 40 percent shooter from three-point range, and he also makes about the same amount of money as Hinrich. Getting Miller would give the Bulls the three-point shooter they so desperately need, and also give them added salary cap room for the summer free agent chase.
Another team to watch in the days and weeks ahead is Utah. The Jazz have fallen out of the playoff picture in the West with a payroll above the NBA's luxury tax line. If they decide to make Carlos Boozer available, the Bulls should make an aggressive bid. They've been lacking a low post scoring option ever since Eddy Curry left town, and Boozer is back to his All-Star form after a couple of injury plagued seasons. If the Bulls could acquire Boozer for Hinrich and Tyrus Thomas, they could get a half-season look at how he fits in with their system, and then have the ability to sign him to a long-term deal. If they decide they don't think he's the right guy, they'll have additional cap room to offer a maximum contract to LeBron, D-Wade, Chris Bosh, Amare Stoudemire or Joe Johnson. Don't get too infatuated by the occasional strong game from Tyrus. He's just too inconsistent with his performance level and attitude, and won't be back with the Bulls next season unless all of their free agent plans fall through.
The other player who might be on the move is John Salmons. Although he's done a much better job off the bench in recent games, the Bulls don't want to get to the end of the season not knowing if Salmons will exercise his six million dollar player option for next season. If Salmons decides he can't do better on the open market, and opts in for next season, the Bulls won't have enough cap room to make the max offer they've been planning since last February. So, in order to eliminate that risk, they might deal Salmons to a contending team looking for scoring off the bench like the Lakers, Cavs or Celtics. The key will be finding a team that's willing to send back expiring contracts andor draft picks.
Any way you look at it, the next six weeks will be filled with trades and trade rumors around the league. So many teams are trying to position themselves for the summer free agent derby, that the deal of a lifetime might present itself for a lucky team. The Bulls' front office has to be ready to cash in their expiring deals if something unexpected comes up before the deadline on February 18th.
One thing's for sure......we'll all be watching. I'll see you Friday night at 7 for Bulls Pre-Game Live, just ahead of the game in Milwaukee on Comcast SportsNet.
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.