April 15, 2010
What a crazy season.
I mean, think about it. Before it even began, Ben Gordon left for Detroit. Then the season opened with Derrick Rose semi-hobbled by an ankle injury. Four games in, Tyrus Thomas fractured his left forearm during a weightlifting session at practice. Then Kirk Hinrich missed time with a sprained left thumb. John Salmons went through the worst two or three-month slump of his career. Luol Deng broke his left thumb but kept playing.
In the shadow of all that, the Bulls opened the season 10-17. This stretch included a home loss to the New Jersey Nets (who entered the game 1-19) and another home loss to the Sacrament Kings in which the Bulls choked away a 35-point lead. It started to seem as if coach Vinny Del Negro could get fired any day…or, at the very least, at the end of the season. Management, for their part, provided only a token show of support and would not commit to Del Negro beyond the season.
Just as things were looking really bad, Rose — who was becoming the subject of countless “What’s wrong with Derrick?” and “Rose is overrated” discussions – caught fire and the team started to turn things around. The turnaround was symbolized by a January road trip during which the Bulls became the first team in NBA history to ever win five games in a row on the road against plus-.500 teams.
In the midst of Chicago’s surge, Tyrus returned, started playing well, could not regain his starting spot from Taj Gibson, began playing poorly, and then finally had a verbal altercation with Del Negro. In response to that incident, and several others, and the fact that he still had not yet lived up to his amazing potential, the Bulls sent him to Charlotte at the trade deadline. They also sent John Salmons to Milwaukee in order to maximize their cap space for this summer’s free agent bonanza.
By February 26, the Bulls were a season-best four games over .500 and looked like they could end up seeded as high as fifth in the Eastern Conference. Then a nagging case of planta fasciitis sidelined Joakim Noah for 10 straight games. The Bulls lost all 10 of them and fell right out of the playoff race. During that same time, Deng also missed several games with a strained calf and Rose had to leave two different games after being dropped by Orlando’s Dwight Howard. Hinrich also earned an ejection and a one-game suspension for bumping into a referee. Meanwhile, Salmons was single-handedly resurrecting the Bucks and Tyrus was enjoying some success with the surging Bobcats.
Just when it looked like Chicago’s playoff hopes were toast, Noah returned and the Bulls finished the season by winning 10 of their last 14 games. They were helped by the fact that Toronto’s Chris Bosh broke his face, although the Raptors were already starting to fall apart before Bosh’s injury. Before winning their final two games of the season, Toronto lost 18 of 25 games, a stretch that included two five-game losing streaks, a four-game losing streak and a three-game losing streak.
Of course, it still wasn’t simple. Down the stretch, the Bulls lost a crucial home game to the Andrew Bogut-less Milwaukee Bucks and then a road game to the Nets, who had already cemented their place as one of the worst teams in NBA history. In doing the latter, Chicago became the only team to lose two games (and their season series) to the Nets, who finished the season 12-70. And even as the Bulls entered their final — and most important — two games of the season, rumors surfaced that team VP John Paxson might have assaulted and threatened Del Negro. Then it came out that Del Negro may have initiated the physical contact…and that it wasn’t the first time Vinny had done something like that.
Paxson hasn’t been reached for comment. Del Negro won’t comment. Lawyers have been dispatched to investigate the situation, the full details of which may never be fully known to the public. And in the shadow of all that, the Bull beat the Celtics in Chicago and then defeated the Bobcats in Charlotte on the last night of the regular season to eke into the Eastern Conference playoffs with a record of 41-41. They will face the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round.
Whew. Talk about a wild ride.
The Bulls showed a lot of heart last night. It’s true that the Bobcats — minus Thomas, who clearly wanted to have a strong game against the team that had given up on him — didn’t have a lot to play for. After all, Charlotte was already locked into the seventh seed. That isn’t to say they didn’t try, but the ‘Cats brought regular season intensity while the Bulls were bringing playoff intensity.
With their integrity, pride and the entire season on the line, Rose and Noah stepped up big time. Of course, Derrick has been stepping up all month. Check out his April splits: 8 games, 25.4 PPG, 7.0 APG, 4.1 RPG, 54 percent shooting. He concluded the season by scoring a career-high 39 points and shutting down Rajon Rondo in the Boston game and then scoring a game-high 27 points against the Bobcats the very next night. Rose sounded brash and maybe even a little foolish when he guaranteed the Bulls would make the playoffs a few weeks ago, but he did everything he could to make it happen. And it did.
Meanwhile, Noah was amazing. He was like a hurricane in hightops last night. He had 10 points and 6 rebounds in the first quarter, but it felt like he had twice the output. Jo was doing a little bit of everything. Bringing the ball upcourt, shooting jumpers, driving to the hoop, muscling his way inside, hitting putbacks, rebounding on both ends…and erupting in primal screams at every opportunity. Noah finished with 21 points, 13 rebounds, 4 assists and a game-high nine free throw attempts. If Rose is Chicago’s MVP, Noah is the team’s MEP — Most Energetic Player — and its spiritual leader.
Then there was Gibson, who was again solid if not spectacular. Gibson — who in part made Thomas expendable — finished with a double-double of 11 points and 13 rebounds, including 7 on the offensive end. Gibson far exceeded all expectations during his rookie season, and he was one of only two Bulls (along with Brad Miller) to play all 82 games, and he did it despite suffering his own case of plantar fasciitis.
That’s the foundation of the Bulls’ future: Rose, Noah and Gibson. When management is shopping for free agents this summer, those three guys will be prominently featured in the recruiting brochures. And based on the way they all played when healthy, that’s a pretty solid three-man core. Let’s home someone, say a Bosh or Dwyane Wade, agree with that assessment.
I have no idea what the future is going to bring. Vinny might be fired soon. The Cavaliers might easily sweep the Bulls out of the playoffs. Bosh, Wade and other big name free agents might spurn the team this summer. But right now, considering all the crazy circumstances, it feels pretty good to be a Bulls fan. The team never gave up.
Said Noah: “You know what I love about this team? I feel that even when times were hard, we went on a 10-game losing streak, I feel like we never let down. We always believed in each other. To be in this position right now is a great feeling, and I feel it’s really deserving.”
Said Del Negro: “I’m very proud of the way the guys have hung together all year, through a lot of things, and just gutted it out.
Said Bobcats coach Larry Brown (with a smile): “Chicago has not had an easy year. To put themselves in the position they have it’s pretty neat, even with people fighting.”
Yeah. It is pretty neat.
Recap, Box Score, Advanced Box Score, Play-By-Play, Shot Chart, Photos
April 14, 2010
Nobody was stopping Derrick Rose last night. Nobody.
Talk about untimely and unwelcome distractions. Going into last night’s matchup with the Boston Celtics – only the biggest game of the season so far – reports surfaced that, after Chicago’s home loss to the Phoenix Suns on March 30, Bulls executive vice president John Paxson apparently grabbed coach Vinny Del Negro by the tie, jabbed him twice in the chest and challenged him to a fight.
These reports come from multiple sources.
The confrontation seems to have occurred because of “a narrow breach of a management-imposed minutes limit on injured forward Joakim Noah.” This certainly provides new perspective Vinny’s by-the-books approach to Jo’s minutes in Chicago’s recent loss to the New Jersey Nets. Sources say that Bulls have hired lawyers to interview witnesses about the incident.
Major drama. Shocking to say the least. It cast a dark cloud not only over last night’s game, but over the team’s future as well. What does this mean for Paxson’s future? Vinny’s? Will there be actual litigation? Will this effect Chicago’s hunt for a big name free agent? I suppose worse things could have happened at a worse time, but this simply boggles the mind.
Before the game, Vinny wouldn’t bite on the subject: “I’m not going to comment. I go about my job every day no matter what happens. I’m a competitor. I’ve been involved in the game a long time. I love the challenge of it. All the other things that happen pretty much stay internally.”
Say what you will about Del Negro the coach, but Del Negro the man seems almost unflappable. The dude has kept his cool during two seasons’ worth of rumors about his impending doom, and he apparently didn’t retaliate when his boss seemingly tried to bully him into a fight. And despite a season full of injuries — during which all management has done is take pieces off the board in an effort to save cash for this summer’s free agent bonanza — Vinny has his club on the verge of a playoff berth.
Seriously, Del Negro has done about everything anyone could possibly ask of him. And his boss may have tried to fight him over a player’s minutes. Unbelievable.
While this situation was brewing behind the scenes, the Bulls had to fight for their playoff lives against a team with their own agenda. The Celtics have been slumping and were on the brink of losing the third seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Boston coach Doc Rivers went with his starters and made a major push to win this game.
It didn’t matter. Derrick Rose wanted it more.
Rose stepped up to the challenge like a true superstar. You want impact: How about a career-high 39 points? You want efficiency: How about 15-for-22 shooting? You want aggressiveness: How about a game-high 10 free throw attempts. You want leadership: How about a game-best 7 assists. You want defense: How about a co-game-high 3 blocked shots.
Derrick did literally everything his sternest critics could have possibly asked him to do. To me, his effort was embodied by a couple sequences that happened just after the midway point of the second quarter. WIth 4:58 remaining, Rose went way up to block a jumper by Rajon Rondo and came away with the rebound. About a half-minute later, Derrick outjumped Kevin Garnett to rip down a rebound and threw a terrific outlet pass to Kirk Hinrich, whose layup was goaltended.
It’s hard to properly describe the intensity of those plays, which occurred during a big Bulls run. But they showed me that Rose was ready to step up to the biggest challenge of his pro career so far. It was an amazing thing to watch. I mean, Rose may be taking his game to a whole new level while we watch. Keep your eyes peeled, folks.
Speaking of stepping up, how ’bout Kirk Hinrich? Captain Kirk has taken his lumps for years, mostly because he’s overpaid. And you know nobody else in the NBA is overpaid, right? The first half of the last three or four seasons have featured so many Kirk-centric trade rumors that people have made top 10 lists about them.
His response has always been to just keep playing. He did that last night…in spades. Hinrich finished with a season-high 30 points, going 11-for-20 from the field and 4-for-7 from downtown. And Kirk hit two of the biggest shots of the game: a three-pointer with 1:15 left and then an 18-footer right before the shot clock went off on Chicago’s very next possession.
Those were huge, huge shots that stymied Boston’s rally attempt. Yet another example of Hinrich answering the call after being left for dead by a basketball public that’s obsessed with the size of his contract.
Rose scored 17 points in the fourth quarter, during which he almost fouled out Rondo and make an absolute mockery of Nate Robinson’s efforts to defend him. Hinrich had 10. That’s out of 34 total points.
While the Bulls’ starting backcourt was scoring 69 of the team’s 101 points, Joakim Noah (16 rebounds) and Luol Deng (12 boards) were cleaning the glass. Brad Miller was bumping bodies and committing hard fouls. And the Bulls, as a team, were taking another step toward locking up a playoff berth.
There’s more to be done, of course. Chicago’s magic number is one: One win tonight against the Bobcats in Charlotte, or one loss by the Raptors in Toronto against the Knicks. It’s a worrisome prospect. After all, the Bulls might be worn out after their win over the Celtics, while the Raptors get to play a lottery team at home.
I’m not going to bother to hope for Toronto to lose. Who wants their team to back into the playoffs? No, I’m going to hope Rose and the rest of the Bulls saved a little something for the Bobcats.
Recap, Box Score, Advanced Box Score, Play-By-Play, Shot Chart, Photos
May 21, 2009
According to Bulls.com, the Bulls have scheduled a press conference for Thursday at 11 a.m. CT to name Gar Forman General Manager. John Paxson will remain with the Bulls as EVP of Basketball Operations.
John Jackson of the Chicago Sun-Times: “In a move that had been expected since the All-Star break, the Bulls on Wednesday announced the promotion of Gar Forman to general manager. … John Paxson will remain with the organization and retain his title of executive vice president of basketball operations, a position he has held since April 2003. Paxson still will be involved in all basketball decisions and will have the final say on all major personnel matters. … Previously the team’s director of player personnel, Forman has been a major player behind the scenes in the organization for the last few years. He handled much of the day-to-day negotiations last summer when the Bulls attempted to re-sign Luol Deng and Ben Gordon. Forman also took on a larger role around the Bulls this season and went on more road trips.”
K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: “Originally hired as a scout by Jerry Krause in 1998, Forman came to the Bulls with Tim Floyd from Iowa State and also recruited or coached at outposts such as New Mexico State, Cal Poly Pomona and College of the Desert in California. This path contrasts sharply with the very public and prominent role John Paxson always has held within the Bulls’ organization — first as a beloved player, then as a lauded broadcaster and finally as the executive vice president of basketball operations. But truth be told, the two have shared a close working relationship since Paxson succeeded Krause in April 2003. And even with Forman’s promotion, Paxson will keep his title. Indeed, little will change in the Bulls’ decision-making hierarchy other than Forman’s title. Forman will continue to report to Paxson, who still will oversee all basketball operational decisions while working in concert with Forman and behind-the-scenes executives like Jim Paxson, Jay Hillock, Ivica Dukan and Matt Lloyd.”
ESPN’s Chuck Swirsky: “What does this mean? Simply put, Forman will do the nuts and bolts, which he’s being doing in large part with increased responsibilities in player negotiations, evaluation of players, etc. Paxson and Forman will be in the loop on all major decisions. They will work together on major decisions. Being around Forman the past year I can tell you he is a 24-7 basketball man. He eats, lives and breathes Bulls basketball. He loves to scout, loves to deal with agents and loves to find ways to improve the Bulls. He has an excellent reputation in the NBA and is constantly working his Blackberry. If you think I’m a 24-7 fanatic, I don’t think I can measure to Forman’s passion and thirst for the game. He is so well connected that the Bulls will now enjoy the best of both men’s abilities.”
March 27, 2009
In light of the Bulls’ 106-87 win over the Miami Heat — a victory that moved them into seventh place in the East — I think it’s high time for the NBA and everybody who follows it to come to grips with a few suddenly inescapable facts:
1. The Bulls are a pretty good home team: Before Chicago beat Detroit at the United Center on Tuesday night, TNT analysts Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith scoffed — openly mocked, even — at the notion that having more home games than away games to finish out the season gave the Bulls any tangible advantage in terms of reaching the playoffs. Their reasoning was both simple and spurious: That no sub-.500 team has any sort of advantage over any other team. Period.
Well, I’m here to tell you that they’re wrong.
In a lot of ways, this year’s Bulls squad reminds me of last season’s Atlanta Hawks team, a unit that snuck into the playoffs with a 37-45 record. The 2007-08 Hawks were lethargic and unfocused on the road (which explains their 12-29 away record), but they were fire-and-lightning at home (hence the 25-16 standing there). And even the soon-to-be NBA champion Boston Celtics weren’t able to eke out a win at Philips Arena in that classic first-round playoff series.
Well, the 2008-09 Bulls — who as of last night have won nine of their last 10 games at the UC — are 22-12 at home this season. That compares pretty favorably with the current home records of teams like the Spurs (25-11), Hornets (26-11) and Suns (24-13)…three squads that are probably universally considered “much better” than the Bulls. And Chicago has very recently beaten good teams (like the Celtics) and hammered a few others (the Magic, the Nuggets and the Hornets) at home. They even beat the Cavs there back in January.
2. John Paxson’s before-the-deadline trades worked: The deal that brought Brad Miller and John Salmons to Chicago was considered by some to be a surrender trade, a sign that Pax had failed in his efforts to bring in a star to play alongside Derrick Rose. That coulda-been player was, supposedly, Amar’e Stoudemire. (You know, the guy who right before the trade deadline suffered an eye injury that sidelined him for the rest of the season.) Even worse, some people felt that Paxson got fleeced into taking on Brad Miller’s hefty contract.
Well, Miller has been better than expected. He’s a starting center playing backup, which gives the Bulls depth and versatility up front, something they haven’t had in years. And Salmons, well, he’s been fantastic, particularly since Luol Deng went down with that stress fracture. During March, he’s averaged nearly 22 points while shooting 50 percent from the field and 40 percent from beyond he arc. But forget the numbers: Salmons provides a dimension that Bulls have sorely lacked: A player who can create his own shot and consistently get to the basket. That opens things up for everybody else.
Oh, and he’s a pretty good defender, too.
3. The Bulls are (probably, most likely) aplayoff team: I really hope I’m not stat-cursing them here, but check out their remaining schedule: versus Indiana, at Toronto, at Indiana, versus New Jersey, versus New York, versus Philadelphia, versus Charlotte, at Detroit, versus Toronto. That’s nine games, six of which are at home, and only one of which is against a plus-.500 team (Philly). Hold onto your socks so they don’t blow off, but get this: It’s entirely possible Chicago could finish the season at .500 or better…without Luol Deng. Can you believe it?
Think about it. Last night they put the smack down on the Heat. That put their record at 35-38 and dropped Miami to 38-34 (sixth place in the East). For all their struggles and early-season disappointments, the Bulls are only 3.5 games behind a team with a bonafide MVP-caliber superdupertar who, depending on the night, is no worse than the third-best player in the league. Not bad for a team that has been left for dead three or four times (at least) this season.
As for the victory over the Heat, it was yet another in a growing list of all-around team efforts. Salmons led six Bulls in double-figures with a team-high 27 points on 12-for-22 shooting. Tyrus Thomas had his fourth double-double in five games (15 points and a game-high 13 rebounds) to go along with 3 blocked shots (also a game-high). Ben Gordon put in his usual 18 points. Kirk Hinrich got his second consecutive start, contributing 15 points and nailing four of his seven three-point attempts. Joakim Noah had 10 points and 7 boards. Miller finished with 12, 6 and 4. And Derrick Rose came off the bench to score 9 points and dish out a game-high 7 assists.
The Heat hung with the Bulls for a half, but Chicago dropped the hammer in the third, outscoring Miami 32-14. From there, they just coasted in for their sixth win in seven games. Said Salmons: “Just a couple weeks ago, we were out of the playoffs and weren’t playing well. We’ve put a good string of games together.”
They sure have.
Play of the Game: Just watch and enjoy. Let’s hope the Rose-to-Tyrus hookup becomes a regular thing for years to come.
Extras: Recap, Box Score, Play-By-Play, Shot Chart, Photos.
March 3, 2009
From Brian Hanley of the Chicago Sun-Times: “Bulls general manager John Paxson has made it clear to coach Vinny Del Negro that rookie point guard Derrick Rose should be on the court at the end of games. ‘I’ve talked to Vinny about this,’ Paxson said Saturday during the WMVP-AM (1000) broadcast of the Bulls’ 105-102 victory over Houston, in which Rose scored 16 of his team-high 22 points in the fourth quarter. ‘Our future is Derrick. That’s no secret. There are times that I feel — and Vinny knows this — that he should be on the floor at the end of games.’”
Finally! A voice of reason! Or common sense, anyway.
Paxson’s comments were likely a response to Vinny’s claim that benching Rose (in favor of Kirk Hinrich) was his to make as ”the decider.” Then, after the Bulls beat the Rockets — mostly ’cause Vinny didn’t bench Derrick in the fourth – Del Negro went on to say: “The thing with Derrick is people always tend to forget he’s a rookie. He does make mistakes. I have more confidence in Derrick than just about anybody. He’s been fantastic all year. You have to go with the peaks and valleys young players go through.”
Can you imagine if Paul Silas had benched LeBron James in several different fourth-quarter situations during the King’s rookie season…and then went on to defend it to the press? That would have gone over like taco filled with crawling insects. But then, Vinny’s a rookie, too. Which Pax was quick to point out: “We knew when we gave Vinny the job that he had never coached before, so he was going to make mistakes. And that’s the reason we gave him a very veteran staff, to help him organize practices and game situations. He has a very open mind about everything. Vinny’s a smart guy, and he has a lot of ideas. You can’t implement them all. … That will come as time goes on.”
I sure hope so. But the fact that the “veteran staff” didn’t step in (or did and were ignored) and the team’s GM had to step in and point out something so painfully obvious didn’t exactly boost my confidence — which was already shaky to begin with — in Vinny’s ability to guide this team into greatness. Or even pretty goodness. With each passing day, it gets harder and harder to envision Del Negro coaching this team next season.
February 27, 2009
I want to look past the grief of the last 24 hours for a minute or two and talk about something pretty cool: How the Bulls got to hang with President Barack Obama at the White House yesterday. Obviously, this is an honor that isn’t normally accorded during the season to a team that’s only 26-32, but Obama — the “First Fan” if you will — is a Chicago guy, and he wanted to meet his team.
White House social secretary Desiree Rogers said that the idea for the chill session happened a couple of weeks ago when Obama was in Chicago playing basketball and heard the team would be playing the Wizards in Washington soon. (In fact, it appears Obama will attend the game tonight at the Verizon Center. How freaking cool is that?)
The President posed for pictures with a group composed of players, coaches, front office personnel and staff from the team — he asked to stand next to Ben Gordon because “‘Ben’s not that tall” — and was presented with the traditional team jersey with ”Obama” and number 44 on the back. He even chatted with the guys a bit before getting back to that whole “being leader of the free world” thing. (No word on whether the President and John Paxson got the chance to discuss a bailout on Kirk Hinrich’s contract or whether he instructed Vinny Del Negro to stop benching Derrick Rose in the fourth quarter. We can only hope…)
Said Derrick Rose: “It was a great experience. you’re nervous around a person of his stature and power, but he made us feel at ease. He was like one of the guys. He was laughing and joking with us and knew everybody on the team by name. ‘We toured the White House and took pictures with the president. [Assistant coach] Pete Myers gave me a copy of [Obama's] book and he autographed it for me.
“I’m definitely reading the papers and online more often, and my Mom calls me a lot to talk about politics. She’s trying to make me more aware and involved, knowing that it will be good for me to really know what’s going on in the world. … He gives you hope. Just like no one thought he would become President, no one thought that I could grow up and become the first pick in the draft. I think it gives people everywhere a little extra hope.”
Added John Paxson: “Today was a very special day for the Bulls organization, and President Obama was extremely gracious to take the time to visit with us. Given the historical significance of his election, we felt very honored to be afforded this unique privilege.”
Bulls visit with Obama at the White House
President Hosts Hometown Bulls (He’s Got Next)
Bulls hang with Obama
Bulls in awe at the White House
Bulls visit Chicago’s own in the White House
February 20, 2009
Sorry, Peter Vecsey. You were wrong. Again. Pax is still on the job.
From the Chicago Sun-Times Sports Staff: “Before I talk about the last couple of days, I do want to make one statement about the story that was out about a week ago. I have no control over stories and rumors that are printed, and I don’t feel the obligation to have to respond every time something comes up about me or a trade or anything like that. And so I left it alone. I’m the GM of the Bulls. I’m not resigning. I’m here. I’m going to be here. So that puts an end to it. I’m not going to answer any questions about that. It’s over. I’m the GM of the Bulls. That takes care of that.”
It certainly does.
February 13, 2009
Well, I guess. Maybe. Possibly.
According to Peter Vecsey of the New York Post– whose first line is “Do I know this to be fact? No.” — claims Pax will resign as Bulls GM after the trade deadline expires next Thursday and that Assistant GM Gar Foreman will take over for the rest of the season.
Vecsey’s unnamed source also said that “he wouldn’t be surprised if Doug Collins were approached again at the season regarding the coaching job (currently held by Vinny Del Negro) and as GM, or both.”
I’m not quite sure what to make of this. Vecsey has a long and storied history of being wildly, epically wrong. In fact, he was once dubbed “the Isiah Thomas of sports journalism” for incorrectly claiming that Derrick Coleman needed a heart transplant. (Coleman, often thought to be missing during his career, turned out to be fine). Vecsey’s had plenty of other blunders too, like when he insisted that the Pacers were going to trade Ron Artest to Seattle for Brent Barry and guaranteed that Steve Francis (then with Houston) was “going to the Denver Nuggets in the next 48 hours.”
Vecsey was also sued a while back by Danny Fortson for defamation after he wrote in a column that Fortson was a “thug,” a “thugged out player,” a “vacant lot,” a “meaningless mass,” and “gangsta or a wanksta.” I’m not saying that Vecsey is wrong…I’m just saying his credibility, with me if not the Post, is pretty much nil.
I’ll keep watching the situation, though.
Update! The Chicago Sun-Times has supposedly confirmed Vecsey’s story. Meanwhile, Steve Rosenbloom of the Chicago Tribune remains dubious. Mike McGraw of the Daily Herald says that the Bulls are denying the rumors: “…a Bulls insider told the Daily Herald Friday that the report is ‘the farthest thing from the truth’ and Paxson isn’t planning to go anywhere.” Now the Associated Press has stated Pax is still “on the job” and that “team spokesman Tim Hallam said Friday that Paxson had not resigned and was in Phoenix for the league’s competition committee meeting.” NBA.com is running a report that: “Several league sources told TNT’s David Aldridge that Chicago general manager John Paxson has said that health concerns have caused him to consider quitting. Two sources said that they had been told Paxson had an ailment that threatens to become more serious.”
The Latest! Mike McGraw now says it’s all a false alarm. Stay tuned.
February 9, 2009
If you can believe the NBA rumor mill, the Phoenix Suns have apparently jammed a “Yard Sale” sign in front of Amare Stoudemire’s locker. It seems that Suns GM Steve Kerr has finally realized that, despite Amare’s wicked-awesome talent and immense athleticism, he’s still a big man without a post move who couldn’t protect the paint (short of the occasional high-flying swat) if his team’s playoff chances and a $100 million contract extension were on the line. (And they are.)
Huh. An athletic power forward who can’t defend at his position (or at center) and would rather shoot face-up jumpers than execute a move in the low post? We already have that guy. His name is Tyrus Thomas. Look, Amare may be an All-Star – who despite intense lobbying via an Internet marketing campaign barely beat out Bruce Bowen for a starting spot on the Western Conference squad, by the way – but he’s basically an older and much more expensive version of a player the Bulls already have on their roster. And then there’s that whole “his knee was reconstructed through microfracture surgery” thing. I know he’s become something of a poster boy for recovery from that particular procedure, but still…it certainly isn’t going to extend his career.
But let’s forget for a second whether it’s a good move and ask the more immediate question: Could it happen? The Suns want three things in return for Stoudemire: A salary dump, promising young talent (since they don’t have any of their own) and some draft picks. As it happens, Chicago can offer all that. The Bulls have almost $9 million worth of expiring contracts in Drew Gooden (who isn’t even playing) and Cedric Simmons (ditto). Joakim Noah and Thomas (and maybe even Thabo Sefolosha) are the young and talented. And John Paxson could probably be convinced to toss in some draft picks (lottery-protected, of course).
So yes, it could happen. But it really, really shouldn’t. If, you know, Pax wants to actually improve the team. Stoudemire is a random numbers generator, no doubt about it, but he’s not the answer to any of Chicago’s most pressing concerns. The Bulls need a stopper in the paint. Amare can’t (or won’t) do that. They also need somebody who can score with his back to the basket. Amare won’t (or can’t) do that either. He also tends to sulk and stop rebounding when he’s not the number one option on offense. Sounds like a lose-lose-lose proposition to me.
Then there’s the little problem of keeping him around even if we can trade for him. Stoudemire’s contract includes a clause that would allow him to opt out after next season. You’d better believe that he’s going to do it…and then ask for a huge raise. He’ll no doubt be seeking one of those max-outs that go for about six years and over $100 million. That’s what I like to call a cap killer over at Basketbawful. Imagine watching him average 16 points and 7 rebounds after Pax decided to pay him $20 million per year. Wouldn’t that make you want to drink until you couldn’t feel feelings anymore?
Look, in the summer of 2006, Paxson signed Ben Wallace to a $60 million contract that wrecked the team’s salary flexibility and eventually forced a trade for Larry Hughes. In doing so, he gave up on (and subsequently traded away) Tyson Chandler, even though Tyson was younger and could do pretty much everything Big Ben could do…and for less money. Now, Tyson is an All-Star-caliber center (when healthy) and Wallace has one foot in his NBA grave. As blunders go, that was big. Paxson now stands to make the same mistake by potentially dealing Thomas — whom the Suns would almost certainly demand in any trade for Stoudemire — plus other valuable team commodities. Here’s hoping John learned his lesson.
On the other hand, if the Suns are interested in Larry Hughes…
January 28, 2009
Brian Hanley of the Chicago Sun-Times: “A quick glance at Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro’s practice schedule Tuesday showed time set aside for ‘EOG’ situations. ‘End-of-game plays,’ Del Negro said, ‘we work on them all the time, almost every practice.’ The way the Bulls (18-27) have coughed up late leads during their current five-game losing streak, they need the work. They try to turn things around tonight against the Los Angeles Clippers in the second stop of a seven-game trip. Through Monday, the Bulls were 2½ games out of the last Eastern Conference playoff berth, but had four teams separating them from the eighth seed. ‘We’re at a critical time in the season, and we need to make a run as soon as we can,’ guard Ben Gordon said. ‘We have a large area we could improve in. We need to focus on that, then the wins will come. We can’t just say, ‘OK, we want to be a playoff team,’ and not focus on the things we need to get better at.’”
Melissa Isaacson of the Chicago Tribune: “Regardless of the losing streak, which included a game the Bulls (18-27) gave away with less than brilliant play Sunday in the closing seconds of regulation in Minnesota, Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro said he sees progress. ‘Guys know and feel we’re playing better,’ he said. ‘The stats and tapes and everything shows that, but we need to get some results.’”
Mike McGraw of the Daily Herald: “Asked whether he should consider putting the ball in someone’s hands other than Derrick Rose’s in late-game situations, Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro said no. But he also included both Rose and Ben Gordon in his crunchtime assessment. Rose has gotten the call far more often than any of the other Bulls when the team needs a late hoop. ‘Ben and Derrick have consistently played well in the fourth quarter for us,’ Del Negro said following Tuesday’s practice at the Berto Center. ‘But as a team, we haven’t executed as well lately. It’s not one person’s fault or one particular player’s fault, it’s a team.’”
Andrew Seligman of the Associated Press: “Between Ben Gordon’s animated exchange with his coach and Larry Hughes’ ongoing desire to be traded, the Chicago Bulls are having no trouble grabbing headlines. The most disturbing aspect of their season, though, is this: It seems like last year. The Bulls woke up Tuesday in 12th place in the Eastern Conference at 18-27, on a five-game losing streak and looking more like a team headed back to the lottery than the playoffs. Clearly, they need to make a run. But can they? ‘We’ve got a run (in us),’ point guard Derrick Rose said. ‘We just don’t know when.’”
M. Spencer Green of the Associated Press: “With the team’s return to the UC on the heels of an eleven game losing streak not out of the realm of possibilities, does Vinny have anything to worry about? When the Bulls return to Chicago, will he even be with them? While it’s not even a year into his first go ’round as a coach (of any kind, at any level) we wouldn’t mind seeing GM John Paxson pull the plug on this experiment. We questioned the hiring at the time, and Del Negro’s done nothing to pursuade us otherwise. A coaching change may be the only way to shake up this team.”
Aren Dow of the Bleacher Report: “Since the end of the ’06-’07 season, there has been a common theme throughout the Chicago Bulls organization. Underachievement and frustration. The potential has been present since the ’04-’05 season where the key cogs of the current roster where implemented. Rookies Ben Gordon and Luol Deng were to join Kirk Hinrich and their youth could push opposing teams for 48 minutes. Andres Nocioni signed that year, bringing intensity and hustle as well. Fast-forward to the ’07 playoffs where the Bulls finally pushed past the first round and teased the Pistons to six games. Since then, it has gone downhill for John Paxson.”