Thomas had one year remaining on his contract at $6,466,600, which was about $6,466,000 more than he was worth. Don’t get your hopes up or anything. This wasn’t the precursor to a major move. The Bulls bought out Timmy’s contract so they wouldn’t go over the luxury tax threshold after the Pargo and Hunter signings. With a front court that includes Joakim Noah, Tyrus Thomas, and Brad Miller as well as rookies James Johnson and Taj Gibson, the best Thomas could have hoped for was garbage minutes here or there. Ergo, he had become even less than useless.
I’m not sorry he’s gone. Tim Thomas isn’t exactly synonymous with winning. He is, however, synonymous with selfishness, laziness and horrific shot selection. Hopefully, this is the last we’ll see of him. Two stints in Chicago is about three stints too many.
Hello Dr. Jekyll, meet Mr. Hyde. I really wasn’t sure what to expect after that disjointed and disappointing loss to the Pacers. And after the way Indiana’s Troy Murphy lit us up, I was terrified of what Dwight Howard was going to do: 30+ points and 20+ rebounds didn’t seem out of the question. Howard did end up having a reasonably strong statistical performance — 26 points (10-for-18), 12 rebounds — but the Bulls’ very unexpected 120-102 win was more about what they did than what Howard and the Magic did not.
The Bulls’ shooting was phenomenal: Almost 60 percent in the first half and over 56 percent for the game. Seven Chicago players scored in double figures. As a team, they scored 30 or more points in every quarter but the third. They won the rebounding battle 44-38. They limited their turnovers to 11 (and the Magic scored only 12 points off those miscues).
Derrick Rose didn’t suffer any mysterious benchings…until the start of the fourth quarter that is. (By the time Vinny put him back in, the Bulls were already up 17.) But he still scored a team-high 22 points (11-for-20) and shared the lead in assists (5) with Brad Miller. And speaking of Brad, he had the play of the game, pilfering a pass and then shambling the length of the court for a “slow break” dunk. You’ve got to see it. And if you’ve already see it, watch it again:
The new guys are already having an impact. In addition to the 5 dimes and that steal-and-dunk, Miller contributed 9 points and 7 boards. John Salmons did a little bit of this, a little bit of that: 11 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 blocks. And, most surprisingly, there was Tim Thomas — the guy who wasn’t even allowed to practice let alone play during his last stint with the Bulls — who scored 17 points and drilled four three-pointers in his 24 minutes. And if you’re a fan of advanced stats, Timmy also had the highest plus-minus score of the night (+19).
As I was drinking Hurricanes and watching the game — happy belated Fat Tuesday, by the way — what struck me about John Paxson’s last-minute before-the-deadline deals is that they made the Bulls a solid nine men deep. Before, with Larry Hughes banished and Drew Gooden on the injured list, our reserve corps consisted of Kirk Hinrich, Andres Nocioni and Aaron Gray. Seriously, that was it. Now we have a four-man second unit of Hinrich, Miller, Salmons and Thomas. Three of those guys could start, and now Vinny has the luxery of bringing them in off the bench. All four of those guys can shoot. Miller can rebound. Salmons can defend and swing between shooting guard and small forward.
As Tim said: “We have guys coming off the bench that know how to play. That’s very helpful. You’ve got guys in their second, third year that are out there with energy. When they get stuck, you bring in guys like myself, John and Brad, who understand how to get the job done. That’s a huge thing.”
It really, really is. Seriously, the Bulls are suddenly kind of loaded (for the East) and much more versatile. I know this is only one game, and I’m trying to keep things in perspective — the Bulls aren’t going to beat a team as good as the Magic by 18 points every night — but last night’s win got me really juiced up. The Bulls are only a game behind the Milwaukee Bucks for that final playoff spot, and with them missing Michael Redd and Andrew Bogut, you have to figure that Chicago is the better team. We’re only a game ahead of the Nets, and we play them tonight in New Jersey. Big game. BIG game…
When a team has to work new players into the rotation, it usually helps to do it against an inferior opponent, particularly if that opponent is going through hard times. And so the Bulls’ matchup against the Pacers should have been the perfect opportunity to mix Brad Miller, John Salmons and Tim Thomas into Vinny Del Negro’s magic sauce. After all, Indy is a solid sub-.500 team (with a 23-34 record coming in), and they were playing without Danny Granger (their best player and the league’s sixth leading scorer) and Mike Dunleavy Jr. (who means more to the Pacers than a lot of people realize).
It was a game the Bulls should have won, particularly considering their spirited win over the Nuggets on Friday night. But, of course, they did not, losing 98-91 at Conseco Field House.
So…what happened? Well, basically, it was the same old story. Troy Murphy (27 points, 14 rebounds) joined the growing list of not-so-great big men (along with Anderson Varejao, Joel Przybilla, Nick Collison, Zaza Pachulia, et al.) who have notched their season-high in scoring against the welcome mat that is Chicago’s defense. The Bulls also once again failed to contain an opposing guard: T.J. Ford (19 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists) scored 9 huge points in the final four minutes, which pretty much sealed the Bulls’ fate.
In fact, let’s take a closer look at what T.J. did: With 3:56 remaining, Ford hit a 27-foot three-pointer to put the Pacers up 87-84; with 1:58 left, Ford hit a 19-footer to put Indy ahead 91-88; at the 1:23 mark, Ford hit from nine feet out to make it 93-88; and with 1:08 left Ford dunked to make it 95-88, effectively putting the game out of reach. And it’s not like Ford was doing anything special. Three of those buckets came off simple pick-and-roll plays.
Chicago’s problems weren’t limited to the defensive end, either. Their field goal percentage went south in the second half — and they hit only 27 percent in the fourth — mostly because the game was an outside brick-a-thon: 64 of their 79 shot attempts were jumpers, and they scored only 14 points in that big rectangle known as “The Paint.” And yes, that’s the fewest by a Pacers opponent this season. It’s a little bit hard to understand Chicago’s inability to score against and Indiana team that allows almost 107 PPG, fourth-worst in the league behind the Warriors, Kings and Knicks. Worse yet, Chicago’s “clutch offense” (prepare to be very not surprised here) was Ben Gordon jacking it up from the perimeter. He was 0-for-4 in the final 1:39, missing from 25, 23, 16 and 26 feet.
That was sort of the story of Ben’s second half. Gordon scored 22 points on 9-for-11 shooting in the first two quarters, then only 6 points on 3-for-9 in the third and fourth. Speaking of disappearing acts, where exactly was Derrick Rose? He had a game-high 8 assists but scored only 3 points on 1-for-9 shooting and played the fewest minutes of any starter (28). Is it just me, or does it seem like Vinny’s been keeping Derrick on a pretty short leash lately?
Okay, so how’d the new guys do. Not bad, I suppose. Salmons scored 12 points (4-for-8) in 25 minutes, Miller grabbed 10 boards in 20 minutes and Thomas scored 5 points (2-for-4) in eight minutes. More telling, though, might be their plus-minus scores. Thomas (+12), Miller (+9) and Salmons (+7) had the only positive scores on the team. That was mostly because they were all on the floor together as the Bulls were scrambling back from a 14-point third-quarter deficit. Still, I couldn’t help but notice several miscues and some general confusion when those guys were on the court, particularly in the final few minutes. (Like when Miller didn’t rotate correctly on Ford’s game-deciding dunk.) That should change in the near future. Hopefully.
It was a bummer of a loss. And, to make matters worse, Milwaukee beat Denver today, which puts the Bulls a full game behind the Bucks for the East’s last playoff spot. And next up is (gulp) Orlando on Tuesday. If Troy Murphy lit us up, what’s Dwight Howard going to do…?
Stat of the game: Chicago barely lost the rebounding battle 49-46, but the Pacers grabbed 17 offensive boards. In fact, Murphy alone equaled the offensive rebounding output of Chicago’s starting frontcourt of Joakim Noah, Tyrus Thomas and Luol Deng. That was a backbreaker.
ESPN’s Marc Stein has reported that the Bulls are sending Larry Hughes to the Knicks for Jerome James, Tim Thomas and Anthony Roberson. This is a classic case of pass the trash, since it’s not a straight-up salary dump for either team (Hughes makes $12.8 million this year; James and Thomas make $12.2 million combined). But the Bulls don’t need Hughes (especially with John Salmons coming to Chicago in the deal with the Kings), and they don’t want him. At all. I mean, they wouldn’t even use his body to put out a fire.
Next season, James and Thomas are on the books for $6,600,000 and $6,466,000, respectively. (James has a player option which he’s sure to accept.) Roberson has a team option for $855,189 and the Bulls will most likely reject it as soon as contractually possible. By comparison, Hughes is going to make $13.65 million next year. So the Bulls will save a little cash. (Very little.) But this is a classic case of addition by subtraction, since Hughes was as welcome in Chicago as swollen, itchy rash that can’t be treated or even lasered off. And, of course, no matter what happens, all three of these new contracts will be off the books by [insert dramatic music here] The Summer of 2010. I’m already looking forward to our failed attempts at signing LeBron, D-Wade and Chris Bosh!
I doubt James or Roberson will ever actually appear in a game. For the Bulls, anyway. Thomas might, I suppose. According to Vinny Del Negro: “I played with Tim a couple years [in Milwaukee]. I enjoyed playing with him, I didn’t have any problem with him. I’ll sit down and talk to Tim and tell him what I expect of him; what his role is. I expect him to be professional and do his job. He has the ability and skill level to help us in certain areas. I’ll wait to have those conversations but I have a good mindset with Tim and that’s why I think it’s a positive move for us.” Translation: Timmy might get some random playing time here or there, but don’t expect much. (In fact, don’t expect much even if, by some miracle, he does get significant PT…)
Grade:I give this trade a “Meh, whatever.” Actually, I’ll upgrade that to “Eh, really?” since we managed to get rid of Larry Hughes. But that’s the best possible score any deal involving the acquisition of Jerome James could possibly get. Unless we got to dress Jerome up as a giant piece of fruit.