So here’s a quick recap of the Bulls’ flurry of last-minute trade movement: John Salmons, Brad Miller, Tim Thomas, Jerome James and Anthony Roberson are in. (Although the last two in name only. They won’t play. Assuming they’re even alive. Can we get any confirmation on that?) The Bulls will also receive a conditional first round draft pick from the Oklahoma City Thunder. Meanwhile, Andres Nocioni, Thabo Sefolosha, Larry Hughes, Cedric Simmons and Michael Ruffin are out. (Did I mention we got rid of Larry Hughes? Because we got rid of Larry Hughes. He’s gone. Hopefully forever. I cannot stress this enough.)
Are the Bulls a better team today? Yes.
Look, Rome wasn’t built in a day. In fact, that McDonald’s down the street? It wasn’t built in a day, either. This wasn’t a dramatic “Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to the Celtics” uber-makeover. (And how often do those even happen — let alone work out — anyway?) No, we didn’t bring in a superstar. Or even a regular star, for that matter. What John Paxson did was address a few of the team’s glaring needs while clearing future cap space for a strong run at a bonafide superduperstar in the [insert dramatic music here] Summer of 2010. That’s win-win, right?
We needed more size up front, some interior defense and a center who can score. We got all that. Miller is hardly a defensive wiz, but he’s at least got the bulk and veteran wiles to body up to opposing big men. He’s not much of a post player, but he can shoot and pass as well as or better than most centers. And he seems genuinely psyched up about returning for a second stint with the Bulls. Said Miller: “I’m pretty happy. It’s a good opportunity in terms they’re right on the borderline of the playoffs. Kind of the same situation Mike (Bibby) went into last year. You go to a team like that where they’ve been kind of like ehh, whatever, a little bit of change like that and get into the playoffs and get some excitement back. I love Chicago as a city so that’s a bit of a bonus for me.”
Miller’s not a long-term answer. But he’s a decent stop-gap. Especially if he’s motivated, and it seems like he is. He also said: “Winning is what matters at this stage of my career.” And after next season, he’s a $12 million expiring contract.
Meanwhile, Salmons can score from both the shooting guard and small forward positions. More importantly, though, he’s tall and strong enough to defend the big, athletic guards who have been menacing the Bulls so often over the last few years. See, that’s been Ben Gordon’s biggest drawback. Yes, he’s valuable for his scoring and streak shooting. But he’s also an Achilles’ heel — or, as I like to call it, a Walton’s foot — on defense. A fifth grader could post him up. It’s not that he doesn’t try, but he’s just undersized at his position. The Bulls have needed a somebody to fill that defensive role. Thabo Sefolosha was supposed to be that guy. But his defense was never better than so-so, and his offense made most Bulls fans want to punch themselves into unconsciousness. Salmons can defend and score. And he’s actually pretty good at both.
The only thing that makes me nervous is that Salmons gets grumpy when he’s not getting shots. And his comments about the trade have been pretty lukewarm so far. So we’ll see.
But, like I said, the Bulls might not have vaulted from lottery team to championship contender. But they should be good enough to make a solid playoff run, and John Paxson has put the team in the financial position to potentially get much better in the next couple years. I’ll take it.