Though no one among the Bulls is going to admit it, the beginning of the end for Ben Wallace probably came Saturday night. It was against the Pistons with Joakim Noah taking all the minutes down the stretch as the ball-deflecting, shot-blocking, offensive-rebounding, bad-free-throw-shooting, bad-hair guy.
It was an inevitable progression, one likely scheduled to have begun next season after a winning 2007-08. The events of the last month probably sped up the pace, so now the question is what to do with Wallace.
Ride him until there's nothing left?
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Wish for a spark and a turnaround, as interim coach Jim Boylan has been hoping for?
Or help out Phil Jackson?
First, Wallace isn't done.
The notion is Wallace's contract, with two seasons after this totaling $28.5 million, is unmovable. (We always say things like that and then guys like Juwan Howard and Shawn Kemp are traded.) Wallace makes sense for the Lakers with Andrew Bynum's injury, and they can give the Bulls enough to make sense of a deal.
You take Kwame Brown's expiring contact of $9 million and add Vladimir Radmanovic at $5.6 million and it's a deal. The Bulls wouldn't want to take on Radmanovic's deal, which goes through 2010-11, but it's much cheaper than Wallace and may be the best way to get out from under his deal.
Wallace was supposed to be coming to a competing team; the Bulls were that last season. Wallace helped, no matter what revisionist history says. The Bulls are hardly dead, but they are in transition and Noah can play that defensive center position. And he's 7 feet tall. Wallace once played like he was. No more at 33.
But Wallace can be effective in the right circumstances.
Bynum is expected to return in two months, but the Lakers could fall badly in that time. Bynum was a legitimate second scoring option, giving relief to Kobe Bryant. Wallace doesn't replace that, but he's the kind of player Jackson likes.
With Dennis Rodman and Horace Grant—the latter much later in his career—Jackson knows the value in power forwards who can rebound on the offensive end and do the dirty work. Plus, the West has smaller players at power forward with Shawn Marion in Phoenix, Carlos Boozer in Utah, the midget of the day in Golden State and even the Spurs playing non-scorers like Fabricio Oberto or Francisco Elson.
Perhaps Wallace helps hold the fort for a while until Bynum returns.
When the Bulls and Lakers were in talks about Bryant, the Lakers wanted Wallace. Initially Bryant said he wanted to play with Wallace, then retracted.
Nothing was ever particularly close, but the outline of one deal had Wallace, Kirk Hinrich, Noah and a No. 1 pick going to the Lakers. But the Bulls also had to use other players to try for an All-Star player from another team since they didn't have one, which was the reason for the cursory talks with the Kings.
Clearly, the Lakers are not going to deal Bryant now given the success they had with Bynum healthy—he'll return for a playoff run. Wallace could look pretty good next to him to do some of that playoff dirty work.