I’m ok now.
I officially talked myself off the ledge last night and resealed that prescription bottle that I cracked open following the Chicago Bulls’ meltdown during which the Miami Heat came back from 12 points down with a little over 3 minutes to play. However, I know that this one is going to sting all summer as the Chicago Bulls’ 2011 offseason begins.
After soundly winning Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals, and offering every indication that the Bulls/Heat series would go at least 6 or 7 games, the Bulls failed to execute during 4 consecutive fourth quarters, and have been officially eliminated from Playoffs.
Too many errors, too many lapses, and in the end, too much Lebron James, who the general public has suddenly anointed as “clutch” after years of labeling him “unclutch”, despite the fact that the game tape and every advanced metric showed otherwise. Newsflash people……Lebron’s big 4th quarters have been going on for past 8 years, only now, you are beginning to acknowledge it because he has a championship level supporting cast. Amazing how a player’s reputation can suddenly change once they have help and start winning, isn’t it? You mean having Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Udonis Haslem to alleviate the pressure instead of Mo Williams, Antawn Jamison, and Boobie Gibson has absolutely nothing to do with it?
Regardless, this article is not about Lebron James or the Heat. It is about my beloved Chicago Bulls, and after being eliminated, we can finally put their accomplishments in perspective. In sum, we can now acknowledge that the Bulls overachieved just as many of us had suspected. They won 62 games during a year in which most pundits predicted that they would win no more than 50, achieved the best record in the NBA, and established a team oriented identity that consisted of unrelenting hustle, strong chemistry, and a stalwart defense… Or in other words, they were a better version of the 2001 Philadelphia 76ers.
- A 6’3 (or under) Alpha Dog who won MVP honors and served as the team’s sole facilitator and primary source of offense.
- A defensive minded coach that won Coach of the Year Honors
- A Center whose game was predicated on defense, rebounding, and hustle
- A cast of scrappy role players who gave 100% on each and every possession
Unlike the 2001 Sixers however, the Bulls have a better Alpha-Dog, are much younger, and have far more upside with their core of Derrick Rose, Luol Deng, and Joakim Noah entering next season at only 23, 26, and 26 years old respectively.
It is said that experience is a great teacher, and as such, the Bulls are destined to improve. However, even with incremental progress in 2012, they still do not have enough to beat the Miami Heat and Gar Forman/Jim Paxson must now begin making improvements since unlike this season, the Bulls will not be able to catch the league by surprise. Moreover, depending upon the new CBA, the Heat may still have an opportunity to become even better by making enhancements to their point guard and center positions.
Therefore, here are 7 things that the Chicago Bulls must do during the 2011 offseason to contend for a championship:
1. Somehow, Some Way, Get A Second Superstar
I know…. much easier said than done.
But Derrick Rose needs help, and specifically needs that second player who can help alleviate the pressure by either creating offense off-the-dribble, or in the post.
History has shown that blueprint for success in the NBA consists of building with at least 2 stars who can create offense for others. If the Heat and Celtics have taught us anything, it is that you should first acquire the superstars, and then worry about depth and role players later. In other words, if you build it, they will come.
Therefore, if I’m Gar/Pax, everyone, and I mean everyone, other than Derrick Rose, is available in a potential trade for Dwight Howard or an equivalent superstar. This includes Joakim Noah. If you have an opportunity to pull the trigger in acquiring the best big man in the NBA, you do not stop, you do not pass go, and you do not collect $200. You pull that second piece in and worry about the rest later.
Personally, I think Dwight Howard will re-sign with the Magic once he realizes how much money he is walking away from under the new CBA. However, should the Bulls have a shot, they need to put all of their chips on the table since Howard would provide them with that second star that would make them a title contender for years to come.
2. Do the Impossible – Trade Carlos Boozer
If the bane of Dave Sheridan’s basketball viewing existence is Chris Bosh, then the bane of mine is Carlos Boozer. I don’t care if they only get 50 cents on the dollar, the Bulls need to somehow move him.
We always knew that he was a defensive liability who executed his own version of the “matador” defense….. in which he literally emulated a matador – but we all agreed that it was just something that we had to get used to. However, his Houdini act on offense during the playoffs, in which he averaged only 12.6 points and 9.7 rebounds on 43% shooting, was simply unacceptable.
I know that Boozer won’t be easy to move since he has 4 years and approximately 60 million dollars left on his contract. However, that contract is uniquely structured in that his salary actually decreases in 2012 at 13.5 million (unlike most contracts that increase in subsequent years) before increasing back to the 15 million dollar range in 2013 and 2014. If the Bulls are to have any chance at moving him, it would be next year, and preferably before the season begins.
When the Bulls signed Boozer, they thought that he could fill that #2 role that the Bulls so desperately needed by providing the team with a second facilitator via the low post. However, anyone who has followed Boozer’s career knows that he never really had a low post game to begin with. Boozer’s game is more on the high post, and entirely dependant on point guards to create space for his shots.
Boozer was supposed to be that #2. However, he’s not, and never will be. Trading for another PF that offers more defense and less offense should be a more than acceptable scenario for Chicago.
3. If Boozer does not get traded, he needs to learn from (drum roll please)……..Charles Barkley
I’m serious on this one.
I know that Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard were mentored by Hakeem Olajuwon in consecutive summers, and saw tremendous growth in their low-post games. While Charles Barkley is not Hakeem Olajuwon, and may not be a suitable on-court mentor given his propensity for Cheeseburgers and Krispy Crème doughnuts, he is nonetheless the premier standard for all successful undersized power forwards who are interested in developing a strong low-post game. And should Boozer stay, he needs to do just that.
Barkley, despite being only 6’5, was an athletic freak who not only played the power forward position but could run the floor like a guard. He had excellent foot work, and a unique and uncanny ability to generate offense in the low post by using his lower body while keeping his defenders off-balance by either attacking the basket with either hand, or fading away. Most importantly, Barkley rarely ever got his shot blocked, a problem that Boozer seems to encounter repeatedly.
I understand that Boozer will never be as athletic as Barkley, but as an undersized power forward, he can certainly afford to improve his footwork and low post game, which will give the Bulls an additional option for facilitating offense.
4. Acquire a Defensive Shooting guard with 3-point range
Before I elaborate, let me first boldly declare that I believe Ronnie Brewer is arguably the best on-ball defender in the NBA, and certainly one of the top 3. Did anyone else notice his play? I for one was blown away. If you have a chance to watch the tape of the Miami/Chicago series, watch Brewer take turns defending both Lebron and Wade. Though the Big-2 had their share of success, it was rarely on Brewer, and his length, footwork, and quick hands enable him to stay with almost anyone.
Amongst the many puzzling coaching moves by Tom Thibodeau was not playing Brewer enough minutes. Regardless, the Bulls can no longer rely on one-dimensional guards at the Shooting Guard position. They need to acquire a player that can play on both ends, while spreading the floor for Derrick Rose.
2 free agents come to mind: Jason Richardson and Mickael Pietrus. Richardson is an unrestricted free agent who shot nearly 40% from three point land while I have always felt that Pietrus, who can also shoot the 3 and spread the floor, can flourish if in the right system.
One guy the Bulls should definitively stay away from is J.R. Smith who has essentially become the second coming of J.R. Rider. Two J.R.s over the span of 10 years in the NBA is more than enough.
5. Rose Needs To Develop His Game At The Elbow
I am perplexed over why Tom Thibodeau insisted on repeatedly putting Rose in screen/roll situations late in the game instead of resorting to isolations. I imagine that part of the challenge is that Rose has yet to develop his game at the ‘Elbow’ – the offensive scheme in which a player initially receives the ball outside of the paint, on either the left or right side of the free throw line (give or take 3-4 feet), which makes it extremely difficult for defenders to double team while providing the offensive player with increased visibility over his passing options.
Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant both began incorporating this as part of their game once they began seeing increased double teams at the top of the key. I know that Rose is only 6’3, but he is usually matched up against guards with whom he has a height and strength advantage, and there is no reason why he can’t develop an Elbow game himself.
6. Hope that Luol Deng can sustain his level of play.
One guy who brought “IT”, each and every night was Luol Deng, who had a career year and flourished under Tom Thibodeau’s new system. Deng became comfortable with his cuts to the basket and developed a 3-point shot that helped spread the floor on offense. More importantly, his defense improved tremendously in which he received All-Defense Team votes for the first time in his career.
However, Deng had a similar breakthrough season back in 2007 before crawling into hole the following season amid unresolved contract negotiations and Kobe Bryant trade rumors. Once the distractions began, Deng went into a funk and the team suffered as a result.
His confidence level is back but the remaining question is whether it is here to stay?
7. Hope that the Charlotte Bobcats fail to make the playoffs in 2012.
The Bulls own a protected first round draft pick from the Charlotte Bobcats in 2010 which becomes increasingly more valuable should the Bobcats fail to make the playoffs. The lottery protection is as follows:
- 2012: Lottery-protected
- 2013: Top-12 protected
- 2014: Top-10 protected
- 2015: Top-8 protected
- 2016: Pick is unprotected
Best case scenario is that the Bobcats fail to make the playoffs until at least 2015. Regardless, 2012 is expected to be talent laden draft, so the Bulls look to be in good shape should the Bobcats make the playoffs and finish around the 15th or 16th pick.
4 agonizing months + lost time due to a potential lockout before we get answers to some of our questions.