Thursday, May 17, 2007

Thursday Night Wrap-Up

Two words can sum up Game Six of the Bulls-Pistons series:

Pau. Gasol.

Kidding, kidding. I'm not going to head down that road again. I think my feelings on that topic have been adequately expressed.

Too Many Minutes for Wallace?

In fact, I think Chicago could have won tonight had Ben Wallace been healthy. He clearly wasn't able to do much of anything with his bad back, which hurt the Bulls dramatically. Not only was he ineffective, but he played far too many minutes (28 doesn't sound like a lot, but trust me, it was). He was out of position, couldn't secure rebounds, and was able to be fouled and shank free throws for far too long on Thursday night. That is the tough thing about a proud veteran being injured: it is hard for a coach to take him out.

That said, Skiles should have had quicker hook (which is ironic, because as any fantasy basketball owners can attest, Skiles has one of the quickest hooks in the biz). Wallace isn't a T-Mac or Jason Kidd type player, that can overcome a tough injury with pure skill. Guys that are the central focus of an offense do their teams a service to gut it out and keep trying. But players that create value through hustle, defense, and rebounding just can't get much done when merely bending over looks like mission impossible. And we all know that Wallace is in the latter group of players, not the former. It seems the Bulls would have been far better off going with Thomas or Brown at the 5 and then playing small (which has been their best tactic all series anyway).

Pistons Get Job Done

That is not to say that Skiles cost his team the series. If anyone on that Chicago bench did, I would argue it was the coach, but the fact is that the Pistons won the game more than the Bulls lost it. In this day and age we are always quick to blame someone (the losing team, the refs, the NBA) rather than credit the other side, and I am as guilty of that as anyone. But here I think we have an example of a veteran team digging down deep and doing what needed to be done. Rasheed Wallace was active and crazy (but mostly the good kind, up until he displayed what Mike Tirico called "a ridiculous lack of self control"), Hamilton was hitting shots, Prince was dominating Deng at both ends, Webber was cleaning glass, and Billups was constantly striking fear into the hearts of the Bulls players and fans. How many NBA players are more terrifying to the opposition than Mr. Big Shot? And that's not just because he looks like Nicodemus from The Secret of Nimh.

Bulls Need Low Post Scorer (Duh)

Anyway. The Bulls will need to go back to the drawing board this summer and find a way to (finally) bring in a low post scorer. I don't blame them for trading Eddy Curry a few years ago and still think they fleeced Isiah, but the fact is that their best low post option since Curry left town was Othella Harrington. Ouch. They never made their move for KG, they left Gasol in the windowsill, and now it is time to pay the piper and round out this team. For all the talk of their "young nucleus," all of those guys are at the three perimeter positions (even Ty Thomas is really a small forward). Their bigs are aging and severally limited offensively (P.J. Brown's 20-point first half notwithstanding). In many ways, this is one of the most poorly balanced team in the league. All of their scoring, youth, and trade value is tied up in 60% of the positions on the court, leaving serious issues throughout the rest of the roster. They would be wise to use cap space and surplus assets (no matter how much it might pain Proud Papa John Paxson to deal the guys he drafted) to balance out this roster.

Is Randolph a Fit?

The problem? It won't be that easy. Even with Brown's contract coming off the books, Chicago will only be $9-10 million under the cap (thank you, Ben Wallace), which doesn't give them that much of an edge over capped out teams that have approximately $6 million to spend on the midlevel. P.J. Brown's expiring deal has far less value for the Bulls than it did for teams they could have traded it to. Not only that, but the free agent class has a serious lack of post scorers. Which means Chicago will have to find a trade partner. It is doubtful they can get back into the Gasol Sweepstakes now that Memphis is going to be good again (as long as the ping-pong balls bounce the right way). I don't see the Pacers trading Jermaine to a team within the division. The Wolves say KG isn't going anywhere. Who is there to deal for? Keep in mind that Chicago needs a stud post scorer, not just a "good big man" (there are about 10 of the former and dozens in the latter category). The only real option seems to be Zach Randolph. The Blazers could really use Nocioni and an upgrade in the backcourt. Would Chicago be willing to give up Nocioni and Gordon? It is a steep price, but one that could put them in the driver's seat in the Eastern Conference. Randolph would be a perfect fit next to Wallace and would be surrounded by Deng, Hinrich, and an emerging Sefalosha. Randolph might not be a "Skiles Guy," but so what? Skiles needs scorers, not boy scouts.

As for Portland, they could turn the interior game over to LaMarcus Aldridge (who will surpass Randolph in two years at the latest, and who, ironically, could have been a member of the Bulls and probably solved all their problems ... whoops) and play Roy, Gordon, Nocioni, and Jack on the perimeter. And rather than feeling like they have to take a small forward in the draft, they could take the best available or even dangle the pick.

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