As strong as the Chicago Bulls are on defense, the offense has been another story entirely. Thus, it’s little surprise that the Bulls are considering an upgrade prior to the February 21 trade deadline.
According to the Chicago Tribune, the Bulls initiated talks with the Toronto Raptors about acquiring former No. 1 draft pick Andrea Bargnani in exchange for power forward Carlos Boozer. The Raptors have already shown a willingness to pull the trigger on big-ticket deals, having acquired Rudy Gay from Memphis in a three-team trade last week.
Whether or not Toronto turns out to show some interest in the pricey Boozer—or in a possible sidebar deal swapping backup point guards Nate Robinson and John Lucas III—is hardly relevant. There are few players in the NBA who would be worse fits in Chicago than Bargnani, and it’s mind-boggling that Bulls management isn’t acutely aware of that fact.
The NBA announced the All-Star reserves in both conferences on Thursday, and the news was surprisingly good for Chicago Bulls fans. Although the Bulls had no starters on the Eastern Conference team, both Luol Deng (making his second straight appearance) and Joakim Noah (a first-time All-Star) made the list of bench players for the East.
Both players obviously deserve enormous credit for keeping the Bulls in the playoff picture while superstar Derrick Rose rehabs his injured knee. That said, the All-Star Game is meant to recognize individual excellence above all, and it’s hard to justify sending both Chicago standouts in a year when some very strong candidates are staying home.
Deng seems the more plausible choice, as he’s shown immense versatility while carrying the Bulls’ offense. He’s averaging a team-high 17.4 points per game, pulling down 6.4 boards a night in a terrific frontcourt, and playing his usual impeccable defense.
Despite a late scare, the Chicago Bulls continued their dominance over the New York Knicks on Friday night. New York rallied in the final minutes to close to within five, but couldn’t finish the comeback in a 108-101 Bulls win.
These four elements stood out in Chicago's 20th victory of the season:
1. The Bulls could win a playoff series even without Derrick Rose
To be fair, this statement is more an indictment of the quality of the Eastern Conference than a proclamation of Chicago’s rise. Still, the fact remains that the Bulls have won road games against Miami and New York (the conference’s putative top two seeds) in the space of a week.
Chicago’s defense remains strong enough to keep them in the game against even elite opponents, and the offense—held together with duct tape though it is—has gotten the job done. Obviously, the Bulls will be a dramatically better team with even a partial-strength version of Rose, but the former MVP won’t be joining a lost cause when he does return from his knee injury.
On the other hand…
2. If anything happens to Luol Deng, Chicago is sunk
The Chicago Bulls’ season hasn’t exactly been smooth sailing in Derrick Rose’s absence, but Chicago made a statement Friday night by going into Miami and earning a convincing win over the Heat. Despite a combined 66 points from Miami’s Big Three, the Bulls led throughout the second half and held on for a 96-89 win.
As both teams look ahead to the 2013 postseason, here are three key lessons to learn from Friday’s upset:
1. Carlos Boozer really can look like the player the Bulls paid him to be
The key reason that Chicago had the Heat playing from behind all night was that Carlos Boozer absolutely overwhelmed the Miami frontcourt. Whether Chris Bosh or Shane Battier was guarding him, Boozer had his shot dialed in to the tune of 27 points on 12-for-17 shooting from the floor.
Boozer also grabbed six offensive boards to key a monster Chicago effort that saw the Bulls total 19 rebounds on that end of the floor. Overall, Boozer outmuscled the lighter Miami frontcourt for 12 boards and a block on the night.
When the Chicago Bulls tipped off against the Sacramento Kings Wednesday night, the odds looked to be against the team reaching a deal with standout sixth man Taj Gibson. After holding off a Kings comeback at the United Center, though, Chicago secured an even bigger victory off the court.
As reported by ESPN Chicago, Gibson signed an extension worth a guaranteed $34 million over four years. The deal will keep Gibson in a Bulls uniform through his 31st birthday.
The Bulls have done an excellent job in general of locking up their core players for the long haul, and Gibson’s extension fits that pattern perfectly. He’ll never be a primary scoring option, but he does everything else well on the basketball court.
As ESPN observes, the one potential hitch in Gibson’s new deal—the combined $25 million-a-year investment in power forwards Gibson and Carlos Boozer—can easily be remedied by Chicago using the amnesty clause to get rid of Boozer’s hefty contract.