Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Bulls Eye East Crown Next Year...What Will it Take?

It's taken almost two weeks for the Bulls second round exit to sink in, and I finally feel ready to go back to the drawing board for my team. Tonight's Detroit-Cleveland game and the rest of the series should provide a good barometer for the Bulls, who took the Pistons to 6, and could've taken them to 7 had they not melted down in the second half of game 3.

The Pistons exploited the Bulls weaknesses, most glaringly in the size department. Chicago had no answer for Detroit's arsenal of skilled bigs, and while Ben Wallace was doing his darnedest to pose as an offensive threat, let's be real, Wallace's hands belong in one of the city's meat packing plants. PJ Brown played a stellar series, highlighted by a 20-point first half outburst in game 6, along with his usual solid post defense, but the elder statesman's star is dwindling. Malik Allen, for once, stayed where he belonged on the bench and was a non-factor. Ditto for Michael Sweetney. Tyrus Thomas, as is his way, showed brilliant flashes followed by knuckleheaded traveling violations, turnovers, and post defense. This is the Bulls front line crew, and it ain't gonna get it done next year either. So what should Paxson do?

The Bulls own the 9th pick in the draft, and likely will be able to get a serviceable big like Washington's Spencer Hawes, a slightly stiff but surprisingly polished post presence. Along with Wallace's bruising and Thomas's athleticism, Hawes could be a real fit here. The trio could help mask each other's weaknesses. Draft-wise, the other option would be to trade into the top six, and guarantee that Al Horford, Brandan Wright (whose offense is arguably better than Thomas's), or Yi Jianlin would be available. Rumor has it that Pax is into Yi, who scouts have described along the lines of a Dirk or Bargnani. But Yi is more of a 3/4 and while he has the size to be a back to the basket player, he certainly isn't yet, and may never be. Horford has the passing, defense, and grit that Skiles would love, and would fill the gap in the paint. The next question is what will it take for the Bulls to move up those 3 or 4 spots. My money says Nocioni and the #9 pick would get it done. A team like Boston, with so much youth and unproven talent should be dying to get their hands on a proven commodity like Noce. His game is not perfect, but you're getting someone who can shoot the 3, post up smaller forwards, and harass other teams scorers. Noce's contract is up so the Bulls would have to do a sign and trade and possibly take back some salary to make the #s work.

A free agent option that has to be revisited is Pau Gasol, although he's recently backed off his trade demands and said he wants to remain in Memphis, which I actually find surprising. If I'm Memphis a combination of Nocioni, #9, and maybe Tyrus gets it done. Memphis gets younger, tougher, and deeper and saves some money in the process. For the Bulls, a Gasol deal would vault them to the top of the East with a 1a to Ben Gordon's 1b.

The Bulls have the wings and backcourt of the future, which Pax has repeatedly said is untouchable. Nocioni is not and given the contract situation, we can expect him to be used as bait in any trades before Luol, Kirk, or BG. With Sefalosha waiting in the wings the Bulls 1-3 positions are already set. PJ Brown should be brought back, if he wants, for the veteran's minimum, while Sweets should be let go--to the donut shoppe. Gordon and Deng are up for extensions this summer and expect them both to get around $11 million/year, hopefully with as much up front money as possible.

Either way, the Bulls have an opportunity (thank you Isiah) to take another leap next year. Our young guys are not done improving, and with more size and an aging Detroit, you could be looking at next year's eastern conference champs, which would look like this.

1--Kirk Hinrich, Chris Duhon
2--Ben Gordon, Thabo Sefalosha
3--Luol Deng, Tyrus Thomas
4--(Yi/Horford/Wright/Gasol/Hawes), PJ Brown
5--Ben Wallace

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