The Bulls begin to move on from the longest-tenured player on the roster and the fourth leading scorer in team history Tuesday night as they host the explosive Suns in Chicago.
After finally achieving some semblance of health, the Bulls managed to string together their best stretch since mid November, winning 5 of 7 and vaulting themselves back into the bottom half of the East’s sorry excuse of a playoff chase, the front office finally deciding to pull the plug in earnest, trading Luol Deng to Cleveland in exchange for Andrew Bynum (already waived), a Kings first round pick (protected until 2017, when it becomes a second rounder), Portland’s second round picks in 2015 and 2016, and the right to swap first rounders with Cleveland in 2015 (if Cleveland’s pick falls out of the lottery). What is potentially a mighty haul is also potentially nothing, if the Cavs and Kings do what the Cavs and Kings do and fail to make the playoffs. Two second rounders is next to nothing in exchange for the fourth leading scorer in franchise history.
That aside, the Bulls have a game to play tonight, and a challenging one at that. Having not beaten a team currently over .500 since dismantling the Heat in early December, the Bulls, once again shorthanded with only nine active players (ten if Boozer plays), stand on a precipice. Rumors are flying about the availability of Kirk Hinrich, and one would have to assume that everyone aside from Butler, Rose and possibly Noah is there to be had as the Bulls try to rebuild on the fly. Will Tom Thibodeau allow his team to lose like this, to roll over and die? If not, it’s possible this season is last.
Despite losing Eric Bledsoe for an extended period, the Phoenix Suns stand at 7th in the Western Conference, a remarkable feat given how hard they appeared to set themselves up to tank this past offseason. With a young team full of unproven talent and a new head coach in Jeff Hornacek, the Suns have bolted out to third place in the Pacific division, only recently succumbing to the healthy and improving Golden State Warriors. It’s the sort of model the Bulls would have you believe they want to follow, cutting costs and getting younger on the fly while staying in the thick of things. Robert Sarver’s cheapness aside, that doesn’t seem to be something the Bulls FO is capable of.
Chicago Bulls (14-18, 2nd in Central, 6th in East)
C- Joakim Noah: 7th season. 10.9 points per game, 10.1 rebounds per game.
PF- Taj Gibson: 5th season. 11.9 points per game, 6.4 rebounds per game.
SF- Mike Dunleavy: 12th season. 10.8 points per game, 3.8 rebounds per game.
SG- Jimmy Butler: 3rd season. 12.2 points per game, 4.2 rebounds per game.
PG- Kirk Hinrich: 11th season. 7.8 points per game, 4.7 assists per game.
Phoenix Suns (20-12, 3rd in Pacific, 7th in West)
C- Miles Plumlee: 2nd season. 9.9 points per game, 9.2 rebounds per game.
PF- Channing Frye: 8th season. 11.4 points per game, 5.5 rebounds per game.
SF- P.J. Tucker: 3rd season. 10.8 points per game, 6.5 rebounds per game.
SG- Gerald Green: 7th season. 13.4 points per game, 2.8 rebounds per game.
PG- Goran Dragic: 6th season. 18.8 points per game, 5.9 assists per game.
Key Matchup: Jimmy Butler vs Gerald Green
Suddenly, Jimmy Butler is THE swingman for this team. His first night under the spotlight pits him against the strangely resurgent Gerald Green, three point marksman and super athlete. If he can win that matchup, the Bulls might stand a shot at beating their first “good” opponent in a calendar month (sorry, Hawks).