Before I get to my Friday Night Picks & Bikinis, I had to get this Chicago Bulls trade off my chest. While I hated it at 1st, I think I know why GM Johnny Pax made the move:
BULLS TRADE MEANS PAX IS CRAZY...OR GETTING BRAND
When the buzz from a new text hit my pocket near the NBA Trade Deadline, I knew GM John Paxson had found somebody to take Big Ben Wallace. What I never expected was to read the name Larry Hughes as the main chip in return. In an era when salaries rule the NBA landscape, the Bulls traded their overpriced fan-hated center for the Cavs overpriced fan-hated guard with virtually identical expensive and long-term contracts. As for the rest of the pieces, while veteran Joe Smith was one of the lone bright-spots in a horrendous season, most would admit PF Drew Gooden is an up-grade because of his youth, rebounding prowess, and an addition year on a reasonable contract. Throw-in 22-year old PF Cedric Simmons by sending Adrian Griffin to Seattle and the Bulls frontcourt continues to get younger and more athletic. Still, at first glance the addition of Hughes was a huge head-scratcher. With Hinrich already providing a similar role as an overpriced underperforming combo guard, Ben Gordon looking for more than 11 million this summer, and Thabo Sefolosha looking impressive as a starting 2-guard over the last month, I couldn’t figure out where he fit and assumed Johnny Pax had somehow lost his marbles overnight.
Initially, with Hinrich making around 10-million a year for the foreseeable future (until 2011-12) and Hughes owed around 13-million for this year and two more, the local scribes and 12-oz curl GMs at the watering-hole assumed Gordon would be the odd man out next year. Whether Pax would work out a sign-n-trade or just let him walk, it seemed inconceivable the Bulls could have three guards making 8-figures apiece (to be fair, Hinrich’s deal decreases each year and he’ll be making 8-million by 2011-12). But after further review and a little faith that my favorite GM still knows what he’s doing, I started to see a different angle from this trade. With the addition of Drew Gooden, maybe the still valuable chip known as The Tyrus Thomas Project could entice a GM to take on Kirk Hinrich’s deal and then Reinsdorf would sign-off a long-term deal for Ben Gordon. Think about it, the Bulls have tried for years to make the Hinrich/Gordon combo work, but Gordon’s inability to defend the 2-spot or handle the playmaking duties has left them in a quandary. Under this theory, a Hughes/Gordon combo makes much more sense as Hughes can handle the point as he did in Cleveland and has the size to guard the scorers on the wing.
The problem with a Hinrich/Hughes combo is that it’s impossible to win in the Association without spot-up shooters. While both can knockdown the occasional jumper, neither strikes fear enough to cause opponents to alter their defense. Not to mention, with the Hughes/Gordon combo, the Bulls can still develop Thabo with plenty of minutes as he can fit alongside either.
As for the frontcourt in my brilliant theory, while the two-headed monster of Deng and Noce is one of the best small forward duos in the league, Noah and Gooden need Paxson to hit a homerun for what he can pull-off for T-Time and Capt. Kirk…and I think I’ve found it. Welcome Home Elton Brand! A sign and trade between the Bulls and Clippers makes sense both financially and strategically for both teams. For the Clippers, Chris Kaman has been unbelievable in the middle this season and is starting to prove he can handle the bulk of low-post opportunities. Unfortunately, the combo of Kaman and the “soon-to-be-free-agent” Brand is their lack of athleticism. With Tyrus Thomas, the lottery bound Clippers get another rising-star with the athleticism to play alongside Mr. Kaman. As for Hinrich, with Cassell trying to win a championship in Boston (or elsewhere) and the unexpected recovery of Shaun Livingston after a devastating knee-injury, the Clippers would get some stability at the guard-spot, with a contract that gets smaller by the year.
And now, onto the new look Bulls. A starting line-up of Hughes, Gordon, Deng, Brand, & Noah, with a solid bench of Noce, Gooden, & Sefolosha…I think we’re getting some-where. While Noah is still young, he does all the dirty work in the paint and has the size to look perfect alongside Elton. Throw-in a backcourt that will no longer be criticized for having more value at Great America as the determining factor in how tall you have to be to ride a roller-coaster, and this Bulls fan is starting to smile. Call me crazy, but in the abysmal Eastern Conference, besides the Celts, Cavs, & Pistons, I’d put the 2008-09 Bulls as candidate for homecourt in the 1st round and designed to make some noise for years to come. Of course, I could be completely wrong about all of this, but after becoming a stockholder in Ibuprofen from my trips to the United Center this season…one can only hope.
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GOLDEN ST WARRIORS (-5) @ MIAMI HEAT
After blowing-out the Hawks on the Tuesday, the Warriors were upset in Charlotte the following day and might be playing with desperation tonight as they barely hold onto the 8th playoff spot in the West. Baron Davis and Monta Ellis have been ridiculous to start this trip with 117 points in the 1st two games, and tonight, they match-up with the likes of Jason Williams, Marcus Banks, & worn-out D-Wade. Not to mention, with Dorell Wright now out for the season, the Heat’s roster is getting shorter and shorter, and should have all kinds of trouble staying with Nellie’s highfliers on the wing. Also, as seen in the MIA’s 25 point home-loss to a Bosh’less Raptors squad, I honestly believe Coach LA Looks has mailed in the season and wants to make sure D-Wade is healthy to make a run with the Matrix and, hopefully, Michael Beasley next year…Warriors by 8-12 points
WASHINGTON WIZARDS @ TORONTO RAPTORS (-4.5)
After the initial shock of playing without His Bosh’ness and getting destroyed at Charlotte and Orlando, the Raptors bounced back Wednesday Night and rolled the Heat 108-83. With a deep roster and plenty of experience, the Raptors finally realized they needed to take advantage of the injury and start to trust each other instead of just their superstar. As a result, nine players scored 7 points or more and they dished out 27 assists to only 9 turnovers against MIA. With a combo of Jose Calderon & T.J Ford finding the open man, a plethora of shooters spreading the floor (Kapono 50-3pt%, Parker 46-3pt%, Delfino 40-3pt%, & Bargnani 38-3pt%), and the disciplined inside-play of Jamario Moon & Rasho Nesterovi (30 pts, 19 rebs on Hump Day), Coach Sam Mitchell saw a squad that grew with confidence each quarter. Tonight, they’ll try to continue their Bosh’less journey back home against a Wizards squad that was crushed at home by Orlando Wednesday and seems to be counting the days until Agent Zero and Caron Butler return. Especially with the Wiz having to fly back immediately following the game for Saturday’s home-tilt with the Bobcats, I’m guessing they may struggle out of the gate and might even mail-it-in early if things start to open up…Raptors by 7-11 points
DETROIT PISTONS (-8.5) @ NEW YORK KNICKS
After the disappointing loss to the Celtics Wednesday, I have a feeling the Pistons will take out a little anger on the lowly Knickerbockers tonight. Just like after losing an emotional game in Utah last week, Detroit bounced back in LA against the Clippers with a 30-point ass-pounding that would’ve made T.T. Boy proud. As for the Knicks, they’ve lost their last two at home by 26 and seem to be ignoring Isiah’s disapproving-stare more and more. While Zach Randolph may return from his foot injury tonight, I’m guessing it won’t matter as the disciplined Pistons run circles around the lazy underachievers, and finally have a deep bench to continue these blow-outs. Especially with everybody in The Garden just waiting for Zeke to get fired, I wouldn’t even say the Knicks have a home-court advantage tonight…Pistons by 12-16 points