I’ll be the first to admit, I overindulged in the Bulls Kool-Aid after they swept the defending champs in the opening round. Even knowing D-Wade was hobbled, Shaq was taking the year off, and the rest of the AARP Heat were on a farewell tour, I was truly impressed with the Bulls confident approach late in each game and loved the smart aggressive style they finally captured for more than a few spurts. Just like the majority of the Bulls faithful, I also desperately wanted to see this group succeed simply because it was refreshing to see a classy and passionate group of young NBA professionals. While I was well-aware of the individual on-court flaws each of them possessed and didn’t forget how skeptical I was all season regarding their playoff potential, I was starting to believe the postseason hype and wanted back on the bandwagon. Maybe Paxson, Skiles, & Co. were right that an undersized backcourt could survive on the road and that mortgaging the future on Pau Gasol was not the answer. Or maybe, as I realized watching Gordon getting abused by oversized guards and the Pistons 4th frontcourt reserve (Jason Maxiel) having more low post moves than our entire roster, I should have stuck with my pre and mid-season gut.
While I’ve always clamored for Pau Gasol and believe he’d look three times as good alongside Ben Wallace as Hakim Warrick, if Johnny Pax is able to get him this summer for a cheaper price than before…I understand why he is the GM and not me. Gasol is a legit 7-footer, a better athlete than people think, and skill wise, can be compared to a poor man’s Tim Duncan. For most teams, to acquire a player of Gasol’s ability would decimate their roster of all potential young stars. But for the Bulls, it’s actually just a matter of finding the right combination of youngsters to give-up. As for the size in the backcourt, while Thabo Selfolosha is an intriguing talent, he’s definitely a couple years away and comes without a lifetime guarantee for success. Luckily, free agency is usually a little kinder on the wallet when you’re comparing off-guards to the big-boys on the block, not to mention, the Bulls also have the ability to trade their draft picks (and the Knicks pick…Thanks Isiah!) to fill the void.
With that said, I believe Pax witnessed the same things I saw and knows the roster needs more than just some minor tweaking. Unfortunately, in the NBA, roster moves are never as easy as they seem and salaries can often determine a player’s worth more than their actual ability. Case in point, the Ben Gordon and Kirk Hinrich debate we’ve heard throughout the year on sports radio and at the local watering hole. No matter how convincing a Ben Gordon should stay over Kirk Hinrich argument is, nobody is going to trade for Capt. Kirk after he just signed for more than 10 million a year last summer. As for Flash, he’s still in his rookie contract and will pull a lot more weight if the Bulls try to bring Gasol…or even Garnett into the mix. As for the off-guard spot, whether they trade, sign-n-trade, or take the FA route, they will probably have to sacrifice one of their own FAs. And while I hate to say it, and absolutely love his game, I have a feeling that sacrificial lamb may be Andres Nocioni.
NBA GMs are finally looking harder at character and glue guys as they head into the future and are willing to pay star money for players that are maybe a notch below that moniker (see Kirk Hinrich contract). While I’m sure Pax, Skiles, & Co. admire what Noce brings to the court and the locker-room, if Luol and Tyrus are kept out of a potential frontcourt trade, the minutes won’t justify the money that they’d have to match to keep him. Of course, I’ll be disappointed if I don’t see Ben on fire in the 4th next year or have to enjoy my popcorn without the passionate-Argentinean annoying an opponent a head-taller and foot-faster, but as I will explain below…it may not be as bad as you think.
Ben Gordon G 6’3” 200 lbs. age: 24
2006-07: 21.4 ppg 46 fg% 41 3pt%
REGULAR SEASON GRADE: B
POST SEASON GRADE: C
In his 3rd full season, Ben continued to prove he’s one of the best young shooters in the game. When open on the perimeter or given enough room to square-up, he continues to be almost automatic, while also surprising opponents with his ability to get to the rim and finish amidst the big-boys. As far as his ball-handling and playmaking ability, the former Connecticut Huskie will probably never be able to slide over to the point and can actually be liability late in games if teams pressure or trap the dribble. As for the defensive end, while I’ll admit his effort and overall awareness was more impressive than I expected this season, his size and inability to guard the 2-spot was a huge weakness for the Bulls. This was most apparent against the Pistons when they simply isolated Billups or Hamilton, depending on which one Ben was guarding.
WHY HE WON’T BE BACK:
It’s tough to justify an undersized guard that has a poor handle and can’t defend anybody on the wing. Ideally, I feel Ben’s future in the NBA is dependant on the size and ability of the guard playing alongside him. While Hinrich has the ability to play the point and can guard some athletic 2-guards, I believe his game suffers as the season progresses with the heavy nightly assignment, especially when we’re talking about foul trouble. I honestly believe Ben’s most efficient spot in the NBA may be as a 6th man providing instant offense off the bench. While I’d love to keep him for this role, his value may never be higher than it is today and Pax needs to take full advantage. In addition, the combination of Ben hitting the open market soon and the Bulls having so many other youngsters to pay in the near future, a trade this off-season may prevent them from losing him for nothing next year.
Andres Nocioni 6’7” 225 lbs. age: 27
2006-07: 14.1 ppg 5.7 rpg 47 fg% 38 3pt%
REGULAR SEASON GRADE: B-
POST SEASON GRADE: D+
Nobody represents the style and attitude Paxson and Skiles are trying to create on and off the court than Noce. Also completing his 3rd NBA season, he’s continued to expand his game and can be the difference in 3-5 wins per season just on his hustle plays. An above average shooter from long and mid-range, Nocioni still attacks the rim like it’s a gold medal match and has the basketball IQ to make-up for some of his YMCA-style game. Defensively, while quicker wing-players caused him more problems than in year’s past, he still can be trusted on a daily basis to play exceptional team defense and will find the floor twice as much as his opponent. Unfortunately, a foot injury caused him to miss more than 20 games at the backend of the season and prevented him from being the playoff superstar he was for the Bulls the last two years.
WHY HE WONT BE BACK:
Johnny Pax has already paid two non-offensive superstars (Hinrich & Wallace), superstar money! I can’t see how he can afford to do that again, because I honestly believe some team is going to offer him in the range of 6-9 million/year this off-season. Besides the monetary issues, do you trust a 27 year-old power forward in a small forward’s body who plays year-round, and is starting to show some signs of wear and tear? Similar to Gordon, I also think his game is the most effective when he’s coming off the bench…but not coming off the bench for 8.5 million. A prototypical ‘tweener’ in the NBA, I’ll be extremely happy for him when he signs a huge deal this off-season…especially if it’s not going to cost me another dollar with the United Center beer vendors.