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Bulls Trade Wrap. Team leads league in Thomases
by Sam Smith
Posted on Feb 19
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It turns out with all the speculation and big names, all the rumors and offers, the big player in this NBA trading period was the Bulls.
After acquiring John Salmons and Brad Miller Wednesday in a six player deal that had Andres Nocioni and Drew Gooden going to Sacramento, the Bulls made two more deals Thursday in the hours before the deadline. The Bulls:
— Traded Larry Hughes to the Knicks for Jerome James, Tim Thomas and Anthony Roberson;
— Traded Thabo Sefolosha to the Thunder for a first round pick this season, which is expected to be the lower of picks the Thunder has from the Spurs and Nuggets.
Bulls general manager John Paxson Thursday also cleared up a bit of All Star weekend media hysteria with a report in the New York Post he was resigning, which had various media outlets in Chicago reporting the same with no foundation.
“I have no control over stories and rumors that are printed. I don’t feel I have an obligation to respond, so I left it alone,” said Paxson before addressing reporters about the trades. “I’m the GM of the Bulls. I’m not resigning. I’m here and I’m going to be here. I’m not going to answer any questions about that. I’m the GM of the Bulls and that’s final.”
The deals maintain the team’s salary cap flexibility for possible free agency possibilities in 2010 while also cleaning up the roster with the departure of the disruptive Hughes. Though Sefolosha was a good contributor, it’s likely his time would have decreased significantly with the addition of Salmons, who plays big guard and small forward.
It’s possible Salmons eventually could move into the starting shooting guard role next to Derrick Rose or back up Ben Gordon at shooting guard and Luol Deng at small forward.
It also seems likely that Miller eventually moves in as starting center with Joakim Noah backing him up and now Thomas returning to the Bulls in an ironic development after Thomas was part of the Eddy Curry deal and the Bulls sent him home for most of the season in 2005-06, allegedly because he was a bad influence.
James cannot play with an Achilles injury and his career likely is over. His contract expires after next season, as does Thomas’. But if James cannot play next season insurance will cover the $6.6 million cost for the Bulls, leaving the in better financial position for another move. The Bulls also save about $500,000 this year on the deal with the Knicks.
Roberson, I’m assuming, could be waived.
The No. 1 pick the Bulls get from the Thunder also will be a good bargaining chip for making a trade this summer, perhaps with Kirk Hinrich, whom the Bulls elected not to trade despite offers from the Timberwolves.
Thomas’ issues, though, mostly were with coach Scott Skiles, who demanded a certain kind of player, and I think Thomas can be a useful player with his shooting range for a big man. He is shooting more than 40 percent on threes this season and averaging 9.6 points, though he’d lost time of late to Al Harrington.
I’ve always thought Thomas was OK to deal with, though it will be interesting when he arrives as he told me in an interview after he left the Bulls and had a great run with the Suns: “There really is no explanation for what happened. My understanding was they wanted to stick with their young core. The first excuse I got was I was out of shape. The second excuse was I was going to have a hard time playing for [coach Scott Skiles]. Then the season starts and I don’t play. We go to New Jersey (his home) and I play [eight] minutes. Then my wife is sideswiped by a cab in New York and I go home to check out the family, which is the most important thing. The next thing I know, I get a call and am told to stay home or come back if I want. So many different things happen in life, but I know I’m still a good player. I know I can still play in this league, and when I was about to get released, all the good teams called, the Suns, Spurs, Pistons, Nets. So that told me something.I know they could have used me.”
The Bulls will get the chance again
The more than gentle irony is not lost on anyone, though sometimes a do over is worth it. Could Thomas be still embittered? Sure, though GM John Paxson said he’s talked with Thomas and Thomas understands this is a different situation (meaning no Scott Skiles). Some members of the Bulls wanted to keep Thomas then, but when a coach feel so strongly, you often have little choice. Plus, coach Vinny Del Negro was with the Suns then and was said to be among the group that wanted to resign Thomas, who had a big playoffs and ended up accepting a larger deal from the Clippers.
Though it should be more interesting as the Bulls will try to incorporate three new players into their rotation.
Here’s my guess how the team will look sometime in the next few weeks:
Backcourt: Rose and Salmons.
Forwards: Deng and Tyrus Thomas.
Reserves: Hinrich and Gordon in the backcourt, arguably the most explosive reserve backcourt in the league.
Tim Thomas, who’ll fill the void left, at least offensively, by dealing Nocioni, and Joakim Noah backing up small forward, power forward and center. With Salmons able to swing over to small forward, though Del Negro likes to use smaller lineups often and you can expect to see groupings with Rose, Salmons, Hinrich, Gordon and Tyrus Thomas or Hinrich, Salmons, Deng, Tim Thomas and Tyrus Thomas/Noah or Rose, Gordon, Salmons, Deng and Miller.
The Bulls will miss Nocioni’s aggressive play and toughness. Nobody ever has been better in preventing three-point plays at the basket. They’ll also take a step back defensively without Sefolosha, though Salmons is supposed to make up for that. But Del Negro rarely used Sefolosha enough and his Bulls future didn’t seem bright with the new additions.
Here’s more from Paxson’s meeting with reporters:
“I thought the last couple of days we had two very productive days and got things accomplished that help us as a basketball team and moving forward give us a better opportunity to get better.
“The deal moving Noce for me was hard. It was hard for a lot of us. He played the way he’s played for four and a half years here. We’re going to miss him. He represented everything I wanted a guy in a Bulls uniform to represent. I have a lot of respect for Noce.
“The two players we got in return I think fit us really well. We needed a big guy and Brad fits everything we try to do offensively. Brad is known here. He’s a skilled player, a very good passer. We run a lot of things at the elbow (edge of foul line) for the big man. He’s a veteran, knows the NBA game, knows how to play. Looking at the rest of this year and next year, he will help our young bigs. John Salmons, in my opinion, is an underrated player who has come into his own. We’ve been looking for legitimate size in the backcourt and John also can play the three position. With Derrick, Ben, John and Kirk I feel we have a nice group and John also can move to the three.”
“With the Larry Hughes situation, I told his agent we would do everything to move him and after moving Andres getting Tim Thomas made a lot of sense. He can space the defense like Andres and make perimeter shots. We had him a couple of years ago and it did not work out. It’s a totally different situation (now). He’s excited to come here. Vinny played with Tim early in his career. They have a relationship and that’s something that made sense with the trade of Andres.
“I just spoke to Tim. Everything is fine. Tim can still shoot the ball. He’s another veteran who’s played in big NBA games. He’s another component to plug into our front line with Brad, Joakim, Tyrus. I like those four components with Tyrus coming into his own and playing better with consistent minutes and Joakim the same.”
“Roberson is a guy who’ll fight for time. He’s from Florida. Hopefully,” Paxson said with a laugh, “he’ll keep Noah in check. Obviously in the deal we made (Wednesday) Thabo would not see much time. He was the odd man out. We were able to get
a first round pick and to us that’s another component. We’ve had a couple of good days.
“Our roster is a little different and it’s always difficult in mid season to make a lot of changes and expect a team to mesh right away. I feel confident in what we did. We did not give starters. We were able to add components to make the team better right now. As far as looking to the future and looking at flexibility, we feel we did some good things.
Paxson also said he has not ruled out retaining Ben Gordon if something can be worked out when Gordon becomes a free agent this summer. “We understand his value and his ability to score is important. I value and respect Ben.
“I’m comfortable we did everything in our power and looked at every option and the available players. Given what was available, we did what we needed to do. The toughest thing for Vinny and the staff will be to mesh. That’s not an easy thing.
“Brad always has been good shooting the 15 to 17 footer. That’s one thing in our bigs we don’t have. That will help. I think we are better. That doesn’t always mean it will pan out. We added a big guy who fits. John Salmons was the key. We have not had that guy. I believe he and Lu can play together and he can slide over and play with a smaller lineup. I also think he brings a defensive component we’ve needed. But only time will tell. He can play screen/roll. He doesn’t always get trapped and overwhelmed by bigger players. He has real good ball skills and the game now requires you to put the ball on the floor and make plays. He can do that.”
Paxson also said a key in the deals is having three expiring contracts for next season given the new NBA economics with teams having financial issues and unexpectedly willing to trade bigger name players for less, like the Hornets did with Tyson Chandler before the trade was rescinded after the physical. Paxson said the Bulls will be prepared to take advantage of that if it comes up next season.
“I know the big names are out there in 2010,” Paxson said. “The reality is the system is set up so those guys can make the most money with their own teams. Very rarely do you see guys change teams. We could be there are the trade deadline (2010) and a significant player may come available and a team may not be able to keep him. We’re looking at a real chance given the state of the league right now that those deals can come up and we want to be ready to present ourselves.”
Miller, meanwhile, met with reporters Thursday and said he was happy to be coming back to the Bulls.
“It’s a place I’m comfortable,” said the Ft. Wayne, Ind. native. “Trying to make the playoffs is the biggest thing. I’m definitely excited. Hopefully I can bring some experience. Noah and Thomas have been playing real good lately. Their games have gone to another level from earlier in the year. I don’t play the game like them and they don’t play like me. My only goal is winning and I want to help the young guys. I worked with the young guys in Sacramento and I (feel I) understand them and can help them out.”
Asked about playing with Derrick Rose, Miller quipped, “No lobs for me.
“I’m glad I won’t be trying to trap him in the halfcourt like our coaches told us to do,” said Miller. “It wasn’t working well and he got like seven layups against us. He’s fast and talented, a willing passer and scorer. It should be fun. It’s awesome (to be returning to the Midwest). My (family) can see (the) grandkids who were hiding in California the last two years. I’m back where I grew up. There’s a different philosophy of life. California was basically its own country. I enjoyed my time in Sacramento, but at this point in my career to have the chance at winning is awesome.”
Miller was also enthused about playing with Tim Thomas, whom Miller said is a good veteran who can shoot the ball and who’ll “mix in real well.”
The deals appear to give the Bulls a solid nine-player rotation, additional side and tremendous flexibility both in the front court and on the perimeter.
Now the Bulls have two seven footers in Miller and Noah and in Tim Thomas a 6-10 player who can also play the wing as I believe this time Thomas will be welcomed with more enthusiasm.
In many ways, despite the inability to land a superstar type talent, it leaves the Bulls a winner this week with an upgrade in talent and no great loss in flexibility for free agents in 2010. Though most around the NBA are growing less optimistic that will be a big year for players to move with the salary cap expected to decline significantly and thus leave teams with less money available to spend.
There were a few other minor moves around the NBA with Rafer Alston going to Orlando, which lost Jameer Nelson to injury, and Brian Cook and Kyle Lowery going to Houston in the three-team deal with the Grizzlies getting a first round pick. I would have taken Lowery if I were the Magic, but they prefer Alston’s long range shooting.
The Kings also are believed to have traded for point guard Will Solomon from Toronto with Toronto getting Patrick O’Bryant from Boston while Boston waits for players to be waived who might want a shot at a title with the Celtics, like P.J. Brown last season. The Kings Mikki Moore was said to be in that possible group. Minnesota also moved Rashad McCants and Calvin Booth to the Kings for Shelden Williams and Bobby Brown, and Booth could also be released.
Also, the Thunder got Malik Rose from the Knicks for Chris Wilcox as the Thunder got some cash for their trouble. The Lakers also gave up Chris Mihm to save some money.
But you also have to wonder about teams like the Cavs and Trailblazers, who seem the big losers in this given the major expiring contracts they had and apparently no major deals for their teams, especially the Cavs who were hoping to make a serious push in the East.
Brad Miller audio:
John Paxson press conference audio: