The Starting Five: Bulls vs. Thunder

The Starting Five: Bulls vs. Thunder

Monday, Dec. 6, 2010
3:55 PM

By Aggrey SamCSNChicago.com

1. As valuable as Westbrook and Durant are to the Thunder, underrated power forward Jeff Green's contributions can't be ignored. The most-overlooked (and oldest, at the old age of 24) member of Oklahoma City's "Big Three," the fourth-year Georgetown product, acquired on the draft-day deal that sent Ray Allen to Boston, is averaging 18.9 points and 6.6 rebounds per game in 14 games--he missed seven contests with an ankle injury--on the season. Green, who was cut from the USA Basketball squad his aforementioned teammates played on in the offseason, wasn't among the class of 2007 players who received a contract extension--Durant, Bulls center Joakim Noah, Atlanta's Al Horford, Memphis point guard Mike Conley and Phoenix reserve Jared Dudley were the only five players who did--this fall. It can be argued that since Green isn't a true post player and doesn't rebound exceptionally well for his position, it's wise for the Thunder to let him test the free-agent market, especially with likely changes to the league's Collective Bargaining Agreement, as well as the fact that they can match competing offers for him. However, while it's easy to say Oklahoma City would be better off with a true low-post anchor, Green's versatility--he has 3-point range, can guard multiple positions and handles and passes the ball like a small forward--might work best for the Thunder, as his ability to step out gives Durant space to operate and frees up driving lanes for Westbrook. On top of that, the undeniable chemistry of the trio--Green's known Durant since they were children in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C.--and the young team as a whole could be significantly altered without Green, whose athleticism and understated style seem like a perfect fit.

2. Thunder big man Serge Ibaka has made huge strides in his second season. Oklahoma City's best interior defensive presence, Ibaka is one of the most athletic big men in the league, as evidenced by his 2.2 blocks per game in only 27.4 minutes a night. However, while a still a bit raw offensively, the native of the Congo (via Spain, where he played professionally before coming to the NBA) has developed as a scorer, averaging 11 points per game to go with his 6.7 rebounds an outing. The young team's fast-paced transition game and Ibaka's willingness to do the dirty work make him an excellent complement to Durant, Westbrook and Green, as the high-energy 21-year-old doesn't need the ball to be effective and battles opposing post players in the trenches, despite often giving up both weight and height in the matchups.

3. Much has been made of the Thunder's contract extension for backup big man Nick Collison. Oklahoma City general manager Sam Presti, considered one of the more astute executives in the NBA, structured the deal so that Collison saw a big bump in his salary this season--giving him the 6.5 million the team had under the salary cap, according to reports, so that he's now making over 13 million this season--while making much lower, de-escalating totals for the final four years of the deal. The veteran, known for his rugged defense, is important to the young team as a role-playing glue guy, but also is a valuable locker-room presence.

4. So far this season, the Thunder have an improbable three one-point victories--and a sole loss by a lone point--and two overtime wins, including a triple-overtime triumph over New Jersey on the first of this month. Although it's not ideal to have so many close calls, the fact that the youthful squad has shown the poise--perhaps first showcased in that first-round playoff series lost to the Lakers last spring, after which their passionate home fans gave them a standing ovation--to be victorious in the clutch is a good omen--and a scary one for Western Conference foes.

5. Don't forget to follow me on Twitter at @CSNBullsInsider.

Bulls Talk Podcast: Gar Forman defends Jimmy Butler trade

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AP

Bulls Talk Podcast: Gar Forman defends Jimmy Butler trade

On the latest Bulls Talk Podcast, Mark Schanowski, Will Perdue and Vincent Goodwill recap the Bulls' busy NBA Draft and the decision to trade Jimmy Butler to Minnesota. 

Bulls general manager Gar Forman joins the panel for an exclusive interview. He breaks down why the organization decided to move the three-time All-Star. 

Click here to Bulls Talk Podcast.

Nikola Mirotic and why the Bulls traded their second-round pick

Nikola Mirotic and why the Bulls traded their second-round pick

The Bulls entered rebuild mode on Thursday night after they dealt Jimmy Butler to the Minnesota Timberwolves. They acquired a pair of guards in Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn, and the No. 7 pick which they used to select Arizona power forward Lauri Markkanen.

But the Bulls opted not to continue adding youth to their roster when they sold their second-round pick, No. 38 overall, to the Golden State Warriors. That pick was Oregon power forward Jordan Bell, who many considered a late first-round prospect.

The move was perplexing for a team that hours earlier had traded away its franchise player to start a youth movement. But VP John Paxson said after the draft that the decision to move the pick was based on team depth, hinting at a significant move the Bulls will make in free agency.

"We had some wings on our board that we had targeted that were the only way we were going to keep that (No. 38) pick, and they went before us. And drafting Lauri (Markkanen), and the fact that we have, Niko’s a restricted free agent we intend to bring back, Bobby Portis, we didn’t want to add another big and that’s really all that was left on our board."

Both Paxson and general manager Gar Forman have said since the season ended that Mirotic, who will become a restricted free agent on July 1, is part of their future plans. The Bulls will be able to match any contract that another team offers Mirotic, and they intend to keep the 26-year-old in Chicago. After Butler's departure, Mirotic is now the longest tenured member of the Bulls. He's been with the team for three seasons.

The wings Paxson may have been referring to include Miami's Devon Reed (32nd overall to Phoenix), Kansas State's Wesley Iwundu (33rd overall to Orlando) or SMU's Semi Ojeleye (Boston, 37th overall). Point guards Juwan Evans (Oklahoma State) and Sterling Brown (SMU) were still on the board and potential options, but the Bulls were set on looking for wing help after receiving point guard Kris Dunn and shooting guard Zach LaVine in the Butler trade.

The Bulls frontcourt depth looks filled, as Cristiano Felicio is expected to return behind Brook Lopez. Mirotic, Portis, Markkanen and Joffrey Lauvergne should make up the power forward depth chart. Opting against using the 38th pick, which Golden State bought for a whopping $3.5 million, also leaves the Bulls with room to add a 13th player in the fall.

"It keeps us at 12 roster spots and gives us real flexibility for our roster," Paxson said. "So we didn’t just want to use up a roster spot on a player that we probably wouldn’t have kept."