Bulls swimming upstream with Salmons trade


Feb 18

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Playoffs! Yeah, that’s much more possible now for the Bulls with the terrific trade they pulled off Wednesday to acquire center and former Bull Brad Miller and talented swingman John Salmons for Drew Gooden, Andres Nocioni, Michael Ruffin and Cedric Simmons.

Ruffin, who is not expected to play this season with an Achilles injury, was then moved on to Portland for Ike Diogu.

The Bulls maintain their salary cap flexibility for the summer of 2010 with Miller, who makes $12.3 million next season in the final year of his deal. Salmons can opt out of his contract after next season or stay one more season at $5.8 million. Though at 29, the 6-6 swingman who can play shooting guard appears to be a keeper along with Derrick Rose and Luol Deng.

Salmons is averaging a career high 18.3 points this season along with 4.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists. Though perhaps the big key is how hard he’s worked to make himself an effective shooter. After coming into the NBA in 2002 from the U. of Miami with a reputation as a slasher who couldn’t shoot (he shot 29.9 percent on threes his last season with the 76ers in 2006), he is shooting 41.8 percent on threes this season while attempting 184 thus far.

The deal probably means the end of Ben Gordon’s tenure in Chicago, though the circumstances still exist for Gordon to return next season in the role he’s most suited for, sixth man. The Bulls could have a heck of a backcourt rotation with Derrick Rose, Salmons, who is more the classic big perimeter wing player and good defender, and Gordon.

Kirk Hinrich was mentioned in trade talks with Minnesota, who was seeking Hinrich in what would have been a salary dump for the Bulls, who would have received Brian Cardinal and Jason Collins. The Bulls reportedly rejected that offer, though Hinrich could be dealt this summer depending on the circumstances with Gordon.

The Bulls also were in serious talks with the Knicks to trade Larry Hughes in a deal that included getting back Jerome James, who cannot play due to injury. But nothing came of that along with Hughes talks with the Washington Wizards. Though the Bulls still have until Thursday afternoon’s deadline to move Hughes.

The Bulls didn’t have big plans for Gooden, whose contract expires after this season. So the Bulls are taking on more money in the long run by trading Gooden, who could have saved them $7.2 million if they had kept him and let him go. Nocioni’s contract expires after the 2011-12 season with a team option for 2012-13. It was important for the Bulls to get his deal off their books for future flexibility.

That’s because one of the major priorities of teams now is shedding contracts, and it’s making it difficult to do so with so many teams with similar motives. The Tyson Chandler trade to Oklahoma City was an example.

NBA commissioner David Stern during All-Star weekend when he met with team general managers warned them of perhaps a substantial decline in the salary cap, which is now 58.7 million. Teams had been expecting it to rise above $60 million. The luxury tax ceiling is at about $71.2 million.

So if the salary cap decreases substantially, perhaps down to $50 million because of the world’s economic crisis, it will leave teams in difficulty of making a run at major free agents after next season unless they can unload even more contracts than they’d planned. And with a decline in the salary cap, the luxury tax level also declines.

So it will be difficult for teams to add two free agents while having any sort of roster. The feeling now among many team executives is the top tier free agents like LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are more likely to stay where they are because they can make more money by doing so and teams may not be able to get far enough under a reduced cap to make a maximum offer and have a representative roster.

Thus it was a coup for the Bulls to add a player like Salmons, who can be a piece going forward, while still remaining in position to drop salary in 2010 to have a shot at some free agent, if perhaps not necessarily the most expensive ones.

The Bulls also apparently won out in a competitive battle for Salmons with the Nets, Trailblazers, Knicks Thunder, Spurs and Mavericks among those teams pursuing the Philadelphia native. Several of those teams also have been talking with the Nets about Vince Carter, but saw Salmons as a player who could be as effective but without the big contract.

The Bulls are familiar with Miller as one of the consolation prizes in the big 2000 free agency class when they couldn’t get Tracy McGrady, Grant Hill or Eddie Jones and settled for Ron Mercer and Miller. Miller eventually was traded to the Pacers in the Jalen Rose deal and left the Pacers as a free agent for his long term deal, which ends after next season.

Miller turns 33 in April and has had a tough season, opening with a drug suspension from last season. But he still is averaging 11.9 points and eight rebounds. He is an excellent passer and gives the Bulls a scoring option at center and may be rejuvenated some to get back to the better fishing in the Midwest.

Ruffin and Simmons were throwins who haven’t played for the Bulls but have expiring contracts as the Kings are one of the teams looking to make financial moves.

No, the Bulls didn’t get the big prizes so often speculated about in Amare Stoudemire and Chris Bosh. And neither did anyone else as both will remain with their teams, at least through the trading deadline. But the Bulls upgraded at two positions, shooting guard and center, without really damaging their chances to be a player in free agency after next season. Perhaps not a home run, but certainly a solid double.

How’s that in basketball terms? Maybe not a game winning three, but a big score, nonetheless. It should make for a more interesting and entertaining post All-Star stretch run.

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