Monday, March 8, 2010

Click-a-Bull (Kmart/Draft Picks, Coaching Issues, Losing Streak, Salmons, Playoff Chances)

BullBearSock has been silent (or relatively quiet) for the past few days because I was moving to a new apartment. I did not have access to the internet, and was just too busy to get any blogging done. (And apparently DC and Kmart were too busy to cover for me!!)

If you're curious, I love my new place ... but there is one HUUUUGE flaw: the building board has not yet worked out a contract with DirecTV for providing HD services. So I will be watching the remainder of the season in standard def. (This could throw my analysis off slightly, because it will be like watching games in 1991 - except without the joy of MJ and Scottie).

But enough about that, let's get to the links:

Kevin Martin, Hill, Jeffries and a pile of picks or cap room in 2010?

[Daryl Morey] From Bill Simmons podcast quoted from realgm:

We're looking for elite talent. We could've gone the cap-room route or we could've gone the route of picking up players who can help us in the next season and also potentially set us up for acquiring a top guy going that route.

I think 8 teams are now under the cap where they can have max room, but I think there are only 4-5 guys to chase, and some teams are chasing two. We felt with going the other route, picking up a guy like Kevin Martin, and other assets in terms of draft picks for the future. That was the route we wanted to go.

What if the Bulls had been willing to trade Jerome James, Tyrus Thomas, and Brad Miller for the package that Houston received?

What would you rather have Kevin Martin, Jordan Hill, and swap rights on the Knicks couple of picks or a shot at 2010. Clearly the upside of such a move isn't likely to exceed signing one of the big three given the protection on the picks from the Knicks precludes top picks, but the floor is sure a ton higher.

Kevin Martin is a very high quality player on a fairly reasonable, not super long term deal. He's a trade asset more likely that not. Jordan Hill hasn't had a phenomenal season, but he's still a high quality big man prospect, and the Bulls would get good chances to move up very high in the draft the next couple years if the Knicks fail in FA.

Guest post: Coaching is still the biggest problem

A lot of fans are confusing and/or conflating some basic issues during these trying times for the Bulls. While every fan hopes for his or her team to make the playoffs, that goal is not necessarily consistent with the objectives of team management and owners. That’s not to say that they don’t want the team to go as far as possible this year, but rather that their prime objective has, for some time, been to acquire a top free-agent during the off-season, and to build a stronger contender in 2011.

So, for example, when fans gripe about the Bulls having traded Thomas and Salmons, they are really missing the main point, as reaching the playoffs was not management’s primary consideration. Also, as Matt has pointed out repeatedly, the Bulls have little chance of beating elite teams with Noah out, and other key players slowed by injuries. Had those trades not been made, the slide might not have been quite as precipitous as it threatens to be, but their presence would not have been able to prevent it.

What I believe has been somewhat overlooked through all the consternation about the trades is the overarching problem facing the team: VDN. When the team was healthy and playing well, and more recently, when the Noah-less Bulls beat some bad teams, del Negro’s weaknesses were overlooked by many. But now, as the Bulls are being exposed by better teams, his weaknesses have (again) become glaring.

Rather than review Vinny’s many faults, let’s look at one aspect of the Dallas game as an example that dovetails nicely with the above point about the Bulls (theoretically) being molded to be more formidable next year.

During a second-half stretch in which they had a realistic chance of reeling in the Mavericks, Vinny chose not only to use Pargo, but to rely on him heavily! Shouldn’t it be obvious to del Negro, as it has become to any alert observer, that Pargo is barely competent as a spot up shooter, let alone an all-around player? (As an aside, in stark contrast to the Pistons’ legendary Vinnie “The Microwave” Johnson, I’d submit that Pargo should be nicknamed “Two Sticks”, given how long it takes him to heat up enough to make two shots in a row.)

What was so incongruous (and further damning) about VDN’s use of Pargo, was how little he used James Johnson (FOUR minutes!). Johnson, as any half-serious observer will have noticed, is gaining confidence, and improving fairly rapidly with added playing time. Johnson played well enough in a brief stint during the first half of the game, and was precisely the sort of (healthy) athlete who could have been of defensive service against the likes of Butler and Marion, who were torching the Bulls with easy baskets. And yet VDN chose to rely heavily on a three-guard lineup, including a bad streak shooter who — God forbid — will play no part in the Bulls future, rather than continuing to develop a promising young player who might very well become a valuable contributor.

No end in sight for losing streak

The Bulls turned in their best performance of a four-game losing streak on Saturday, but still didn’t come very close to stopping Dallas’ 11-game win streak.

With center Joakim Noah out for at least three weeks with a sore foot, it’s tough to tell when this skid will end. The Bulls host Utah on Tuesday, then go on the road for four straight at Orlando, Miami, Memphis and Dallas. When that’s over, they host Cleveland, then visit Philadelphia for what will be their fourth game in five nights.

Am I suggesting a 10- or 11-game losing streak is possible? It appears so, but sometimes the Bulls can surprise just when people are counting them out. The five-game road winning streak in late January is an example, but they were relatively healthy back then.

Whether they end the streak or not on Tuesday, we should expect the Bulls to fall out of playoff position soon. They are back in eighth place at the moment, a half-game ahead of Charlotte.

They’ll need a big finish to reach the postseason and the schedule does cooperate. The final 13 games are much more reasonable for the Bulls and that’s around the time Noah will try to return. How much he’ll be able to play is anyone’s guess, of course.

Anyway, the Bulls play eight of their final 13 at home. Except for another date with the Cavs, the home games are reasonable, while the toughest road opponents are Toronto and Charlotte.

--My only question about Saturday’s game is why James Johnson didn’t get a longer run? He played just over four minutes, but contributed 4 points and a block. Chris Richard was also good in limited minutes. Maybe this will bode well for Tuesday.

Ex-Bull Salmons giving Bucks a nice boost

John Salmons caught a good one last year. That was when he and Brad Miller proved to be the fated February acquisitions that helped propel the Bulls into a history-Maching playoff series against the Boston Celtics.

Three weeks ago, Salmons was swatted by the books of the Bulls' anticipated high-profile free-agent hunt when he and his $6 million salary were swerved to the developing Milwaukee Bucks.

Monday after practice, few could argue that Salmons appears to have caught another good one. With the Celtics due at the Bradley Center tonight, the Bucks are 9-1 since Salmons got to town.

They're even catching odd spectral breaks. The most recent came Saturday night when Cleveland Cavaliers coach Mike Brown elected to ''rest'' LeBron James hours before the host Bucks rolled to a 92-85 win in front of the mixed emotions of 18,717.

The Bulls, besieged once again by injuries, appear headed only for the spotty uncertainties of April. They're 4-5 since Salmons departed and take a four-game losing streak into a United Center date tonight against the Utah Jazz.

''I wish no one down there any bad,'' Salmons said. ''We all went through too much together last spring against Boston. I consider just about everyone on that team a good friend. I do want to finish ahead of them, though.''

Bulls Playoffs Hopes: Cloudy With A Chance Of Just Missed The Postseason

Now, of course, the Bulls would still be in the playoffs if the season ended today. And, of course, they’re battling it out with a bunch of other .500ish teams, and when you are battling mediocrity, there is always a chance for success.

But I’d say the Bulls’ playoff chances are now cloudy with a just missed the postseason.

Exhibit A: Last week, Joakim Noah was shut down for three weeks. There’s no guarantee he’s going to be playing again once that timetable is up. He’s going to be limited in his minutes even if he does comes back. Brad Miller is Brad Miller. Chris Richard brings the effort, but is a D-Leaguer. The Bulls are now clearly at a disadvantage at center.

Exhibit B: They’ve lost four straight, and their schedule does them no favors in the immediate future — games against the Jazz, Magic, Heat, Grizzlies, Mavericks and Cavs this week and next — and with the Bucks stepping up and grabbing hold of the fifth spot with an impressive run of late, that’s one less spot available for the Bulls in the top eight.

Exhibit C: John Hollinger’s Playoff Odds now gives the Bulls a 52.9 percent chance of making the playoffs. Better than 50 percent, yes. But the Bucks (98.1 percent), Heat (94.7 percent), Bobcats (81.9 percent) and Raptors (71.9 percent) have much better odds in comparison.

All things to keep in mind as the last month of the season rapidly approaches.

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