Bulls entering trading home stretch


Feb 6

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Last season, among the big games the Bulls played were the so-called audition/examination games, when Chicago faced potential future Bulls like LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Joe Johnson, David Lee and Carlos Boozer.

As an aside, by the way, I had a long conversation with a veteran Warriors executive before Saturday’s Bulls loss in Oakland, and he wanted to know the real reason Wade didn’t sign with the Bulls.

The NBA veteran asked how could Wade not have joined the Bulls, given the makeup of the team, the potential Wade/Rose native Chicago backcourt—far better than Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry, he agreed—and adding someone like Bosh or Boozer.

That is, if Wade wanted to be part of a dynasty, after all. The guy said that had to be Wade’s best chance to win, if, indeed it was about winning. Indeed.

Anyway, back to the road, and Monday is one of this year’s versions of those kinds of games when the Bulls play the Portland Trail Blazers.

The Bulls will face Rudy Fernandez, one of the shooting guards who has/had been on the Bulls radar this season in a possible trade.

It seems unlikely now given Brandon Roy’s serious knee problems—team insiders say he’ll never return near his old level of play—that the Trail Blazers, still in the race for a playoff spot, would give up Fernandez for draft picks, the Bulls most likely trade asset.

Fernandez was off to a slow start amidst comments he wanted to leave the NBA. But he’s changed his mind and has scored in double figures in seven of the last 10 games, averaging 18 points the last two.

The Bulls are coming off a tough loss in Golden State, 101-90, that exposed some of the team’s well hidden weaknesses. One is the lack of enough scoring to surround Derrick Rose, who was defended in a playoff like style and held to 14 points and 10 assists.

Carlos Boozer had 21 points, but more in the flow of the game than in attacking the deficit or taking over in dry scoring times. The Bulls will get Joakim Noah back after the All-Star break as he’s working out and doing pregame shooting drills, but the Bulls already are the No. 1 defensive team in the league. Nobody’s expecting Noah to be a go to guy on offense when he returns.

Thus the void remains, as it has all season, for more perimeter offense from the shooting guard position, where Keith Bogans has primarily been a limited minutes defender and occasional three point shooter. Bogans averages about three shots a game. Tough to get 20 that way.

But at the same time the Bulls are reaching the point where the field of potential trade targets narrows substantially with the trading deadline just over two weeks away.

Here would be the list to me:

Courtney Lee, Houston

O.J. Mayo, Memphis

Rudy Fernandez, Portland

Monday’s game is the Bulls’ 50th of the season.

Sure, if you can get a young player who fits with your team for the future, you do it.

But it would be, at least in my view, inappropriate and perhaps a negative for the team to import a mercenary, short term player now like, say, Anthony Parker, J.R. Smith, Brandon Rush, Wayne Ellington, Rasual Butler or Corey Brewer.

Forget the big names like Stephen Jackson or Richard Hamilton. Their contracts are too big to make a deal that won’t seriously hurt the Bulls elsewhere. The Nuggets aren’t giving up Arron Afflolo and the Knicks aren’t moving Landry Fields for a draft pick to pass on the Denver for Carmelo Anthony.

It may be more difficult to get any of the most appealing young players.

There’s the Fernandez situation with Roy. Aaron Brooks in Houston was just suspended a game, apparently over discontent with playing time. Lee can play both guard positions, and though he’s fourth guard now, with the uncertainty regarding Brooks and the Rockets in the playoff race, he might not be available.

Mayo likely is available as he sits out his drug suspension. It wasn’t a three strike thing as I first thought when the news broke. But supposedly an innocent substance mistake. Hey, who doesn’t make them every day? OK, we’ll accept that for now. But the Grizzlies are committed to making a playoff run and would want at least Taj Gibson. Gibson seems just too valuable given Boozer’s defensive issues at this time to further weaken the front court, especially with then just Kurt Thomas and Omer Asik as backups.

The Bulls have valuable draft picks and given coach Tom Thibodeau doesn’t trust rookies much, I’d trade those rather picks than players.

Of course, if you can get a star level talent like Anthony, then you’d trade players. But Anthony seems to be headed only to New York and it wouldn’t make sense to break up your team on a gamble you can resign a reluctant Anthony. After all, Wade should have come to Chicago if he truly wanted to win, it seemed. And he didn’t. And he had way more reason as a native than someone like Anthony, who is from the East Coast.

But I’m not sure a move for a one year guy makes any sense now and might send the wrong message to an unusual team.

This Bulls team may have the best chemistry and harmony of any Bulls team I’ve seen in the last three decades. Probably better than any Bulls team since Johnny Kerr’s expansion group.

They might not go out in groups of 12. But I never hear a stray voice. They are eminently coachable and always alert for instruction. They play hard all the time and never give in or give up. The camaraderie is easy going, yet unobtrusive.

Bogans is a part of that.

He’s worked hard and sacrificed all season, basically being the lightning rod for the flaws of the team. Yet, he never complains or feels sorry for himself and works.

Sure, Kyle Korver might want more shots, C.J. Watson, Gibson and Asik more minutes. But they do as much as they can when asked and support the group. There’s no moping or backstabbing.

The talent as currently comprised doesn’t quite measure up to a championship team, which is why I’ve advocated a move, preferably for someone whom you can move forward with like Lee or Mayo.

But you also don’t stick a knife in the chemistry and good will by dropping someone for, essentially, experimental purposes. It sends the wrong message to the team as well.

Sure, you are there to try to win and produce the best team you can. But chemistry is an elusive and ephemeral product, the cloud of sports. You can see it but you can’t always quite get a handle on it.

Management has done a nice job in bringing together a willing group of players with a committed coach who all seem to mesh ideally.

I assume the Bulls will try to do something in the next few weeks. Talks have continued with various teams, from what I hear. It won’t be easy given the limited resources they have to offer. But you also don’t want to do the wrong thing or make the quick fix. So first let’s take a look at what Rudy’s got Monday.

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