Summer brings Bulls size, depth, defense
The Chicago Bulls appear poised to bring their tough-as-nails defense and added offensive power deep into the NBA playoffs following an up-and-down season of daunting challenges and exciting play culminating in a playoff showdown with Shaquille O'neal and Pat Riley’s Miami Heat.
Towards the end of last year, Chicago Bulls GM John Paxon had said he and owner Jerry Reinsdorf were committed to taking the Bulls to the next level. True to his word, Paxson set out to pursue the best players available through the draft, free agency and trades.
Months later, the same Bulls fans who earlier had chided management with an almost mantra-like, “When will you bring us a winner?” have had their dreams turned into reality.
In 2005, Pax replaced the lame strategy and picks of the post-Jordan Jerry Krause era with a terrific core of his own picks and signings - Kirk Hinrich, Chris Duhon and Ben Gordon in the draft and stud forward Andres Nocioni out of Argentina. With the unloading of Tyson Chandler, not one one player picked by Jerry Krause remains on the team. Now expectations have definitely shot sky-high with this summer’s infusion of major talent: Ben Wallace, Tyrus Thomas, Thabo Sefalosha and P.J. Brown.
There is a sense in Chicago that this summer's moves mark the teams’ entry into a new era of Chicago Bulls basketball. While Chicago Bulls fans are excited, their opponents are, understandably, not.
Hopes, Hoops and Dreams
This summer Paxon answered the fans and any critics by playing the draft and free agency to perfection.
First he maneuvered the Bulls into a position to grab the athletic and explosive power forward Tyrus Thomas, using the Knicks’ lottery pick, then faking out Portland and managing to get competitive forward Victor Khryapa from them. Paxson had everyone thinking that he'd probably grab Aldridge instead of Tyrus Thomas. Portland gave up on the promising Victor Khryapa in exchange for a promise by the Bulls to send them Aldridge. Next Pax went to Philadelphia for the Sefalosha Thabo pick. Thabo is a tall, athletic combo guard with European experience.
Paxson wasn’t done. Having perceived a snag in the Detroit-Wallace discussions Pax swiftly swooped in to grab the top free agent Ben Wallace.
Finally, he upgraded the Bulls forward line by trading the young and slow-to-develop, 7-foot Tyson Chandler for veteran P.J. Brown and J.R. Smith. Smith was then moved to Denver to make cap room in order to sign vet swingman Adrian Griffin.
In the process of one of the biggest overhauls in Bulls history, Paxon is creating a buzz about this team which has not been seen around Chicago since the dynasty days of Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen.
Going into last season, Pax, along with head coach Scott Skiles, had already transformed a mediocre group into one that plays tough-as-nails defense. Now Pax has catapulted the Bulls to the contender level, as he continues his re-make of the team into his own.
After making the playoffs for the past two years, the Bulls will now go as far as their offense takes them. With the additions of Wallace, PJ, TT, Thabo and Khryapa, the Bulls now sport much more size, and one of the deepest benches in the NBA. Chicago's coaching staff, as well as the fans, have high expectations that the Bulls should compete in the Eastern Conference race against Detroit, Miami and Cleveland.
Bulls Trade Basden, May Say Farewell to Kukoc
The July signings of the athletic and versatile combo guard Thabo Sefalosha and swingman Adrian Griffin spelled the end for guard Eddie Basden. With the talent and depth at guard on the Bulls, Badsen was the odd man out.
Chicago’s athletic guards can all break down a defense and create their own shots. Thabo and Griffin add size and athleticism, and versatility to the guard rotation. They will all want the ball, so it should make for an interesting pre-season camp and season.
In addition, through the Basden trade, Paxson acquired a young and developing center, Martynas Andriuskevicius. If his reach is as long as his name, the Bulls made a wise move. He's still very raw.
Toni Kukoc was one possible option for Chicago, but he is ready to retire unless the Bulls bring him back. He is a backup and nostalgic-option.
Balanced Bulls Lineups, Strengthened Bench
If there were a most improved team category for awards, the Bulls could challenge for it. A take-no-prisoners defensive team in the Coach Skiles and Pax mode has now been balanced with veteran depth and explosive athleticism and length. In fact, the Bulls bench should compete with many NBA starting units.
Here is my projected Bulls starting unit and bench with backups in parentheses:
PG: Kirk Hinrich (Duhon/Thabo)
SG: Ben Gordon (Thabo/Griffin)
SF: Luol Deng (Nocioni/Khryapa/TyrusT./Griffin)
PF: P.J. Brown (TyrusT./Allen/Nocioni/Khryapa/Sweetney)
C: Ben Wallace (Sweetney/PJ/Andriuskevicius)
Chicago Bulls vs. Miami Heat in Opener
The Miami Heat host the Bulls at America Airlines Arena on Oct. 31 at 7pm to open the NBA season on TNT. We're only six weeks away.
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