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Summer of Our Discontent? Same ‘Ole, Same ‘Ole for the Chicago Bulls

Leave it to the Bulls to have a bizarre and contentious off-season. GM Paxson decides he wants to deal with his two prize restricted free agents, Luol Deng and Ben Gordon, before doing anything else. That’s fine and even prudent, but while one hears about free agent courting in other NBA cities, in Chicago all one hears is the birds chirping.

Now we hear Deng’s agent has issued an ultimatum to the Bulls: sign Deng by August 4, when he heads off to the Olympics or it’s a one year contract and he just walks away. No more negotiating, just one season and done. If anything can be believed out of the players’ camp about contract negotiations with the Bulls, the shoe is now on the other foot with scuttlebutt being that both Deng and Gordon were given “take it or leave it” non-negotiable offers on contract extensions last season. Yahoo Sports also reports Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf has personally gotten involved with the negotiations. Given how it seemed Mike D’Antoni ran, not walked, to the Knicks after Reinsdorf got involved in those talks, it might not be a good thing. Do you think Paxson has problems with his boss undermining his authority? Maybe?

This would mean Paxson has about 2 weeks to either pony up or work out a sign and trade deal or watch one of his better assets walk out the door (after a year). Gordon might not be far behind, either.

What does all this acrimony mean to the rotation? You’re probably looking at Andres Nocioni starting in the case of a sign and trade (assuming they don’t get a pretty good wing player back), then you need to figure out how good Tyrus Thomas might be at the three-spot in the new offense (whatever that ends up being) and past that, Demitris Nichols would need to come around quickly. A trade doesn’t strip your small forward cupboard bare, but it does open up some depth questions. And if Deng does sign a one year and is serious about walking, how many of his minutes do you give to developing Nichols or trying out Thomas at the three?

Having seen a couple of games in the Orlando Summer League, I’m not seeing a whole lot to get me excited about the next season. These rookie leagues should always be taken with a grain of salt. An NBA starter should be able to just mow down people in a league where the majority of players won’t be on a roster, come fall. Players who’ve dominated in summer league and then not panned out: Rummeal Robinson and Roy Marble come to mind. (If you said “who?” there’s a reason.) Basically, if you’re a starter, you’d better be scoring 20+ a game in the summer.

The Bulls non-rookies, and there were plenty there, were not impressive. Tyrus Thomas managed to acclimate a bit and looked… alright. I could see where you might think he looked good for a rookie league, but he’s an occasional NBA starter, he should have just been embarrassing his opponents, he managed to hit for 20+ but it looked like an effort, though his jumper seemed more under control. Joakim Noah’s offense looked uglier than ever, with drawing a foul being his best move. Aaron Gray looked much less fluid on the blocks than in the regular season. There you have three guys who have seen significant minutes. Even Gray has started a game. You just didn’t see the level of domination out of them that you’d expect.

Late season pick-up Demitris Nichols looked decent for the rookie league and he might develop. He seemed fluid and ran the court well.

Mind you, with Derrick Rose out for most of the league, the Bulls weren’t exactly a hotbed of playmaking talent, if you get my drift. You also have to wonder how hastily installed that offense was, given that Coach Vinny’s never done this before and his assistants were probably still asking for directions to the office, they were hired so close to the pre-league mini-camp. That can’t have helped the frontcourt players.

One gets the impression that Coach Vinny wants to fastbreak whenever possible and then run a motion offense around the perimeter with an emphasis on baseline slashing, but who knows what it will look like once he’s had professional input and they get the real players into camp.

What little I saw of Derrick Rose makes me wonder if some serious tweaking is going to be necessary. Mind you, there’s a philosophical question: do you tailor your offensive to your young franchise point guard and adjust as he develops or do you install the system as-is and make him adapt.

My take on Rose is that he’s a one-on-one penetrator who works best isolated on his opponent, driving and then either dishing, shooting a floater or going directly to the rim. Coach Vinny seems to prefer screens and some rolling, which brings up questions of personnel and experience.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure Rose will able to adapt to screening, but if you mix that in too heavily, you could bog down the offense. The other question is who’s going to be doing the screening, which puts and emphasis on stop and pop jump shooting from the screener. Normally you want a larger player doing the screens. Joakim Noah and jumpshots: no. Aaron Gray: probably not. Drew Gooden: that works. Tyrus Thomas: historically inconsistent. Andres Nocioni: that works. Luol Deng: I can see him hitting the shot, but I don’t have recollections of him setting vicious picks.

So if you go with the screen and roll philosophy, you start cutting down on who ought to be on the floor with Rose pretty quickly.

When you look at who ought to be in the backcourt with Rose, the initial thought might be you want a defender with a little bit of a handle in case things get messy and contrary to a lot of Bulls fans, I think of Larry Hughes. He’s by far their best backcourt defender, has been forced into some makeshift point duties and if Rose holds up, would be free to start ballhawking, which is his best implementation. The thing is, if Rose’s motif is going to be penetrate and kick out, you’re more likely to be looking for spot-up shooters, which is the least efficient use of Hughes (and why he was a poor fit in Cleveland). If you’re looking at a penetrate and kick game, Hughes and, to a lesser extent, Sefolosha, aren’t complimentary goods. Hinrich, whose name keeps circulating in trade rumors, and Gordon, who could easily be gone in a sign and trade, would be better fits, even if both are under-sized to be guarding shooting guards. 

Are these issues that might be smoothed out through offensive planning? Possibly.

Talent-wise, the Bulls should be able to make the play-offs, assuming the mechanizations of the Deng and Gordon contract dramas end up with a somewhat equitable talent retention (I just don’t see both getting resigned without a trade). Paxson has been threatening trades once his restricted free agents are settled, and there’s room to the roster more complimentary. You just hope they have the system figured out before any trades so Paxson knows exactly what his players are supposed to be complimentary to.

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