The Chicago Bulls finally pulled the trigger before the trading deadline...it just wasn't the eye-popping blockbuster most were expecting from recently maligned GM John Paxson.
However, what this trade lacked in star power, it more than makes up for in substance. Both John Salmons and Brad Miller bring qualities that will synergistically improve the Bulls in ways much greater than the simple aggregation of their per-game statistics to the Bulls' existing roster.
Here are five concrete reasons to love this trade if you are a Bulls fan:
1. Brad Miller
Brad Miller is a veteran big man that will do a lot more to help the Bulls than his current 11.9 PPG and 8.0 RPG would suggest.
Brad Miller has the girth (7'0", 261 lbs) that the current Bulls front line completely lacks (outside of Aaron Gray). However, unlike any other Bulls big man, Brad Miller has a silky offensive game, and a mid-range jumper that will increase the efficiency of the pick-and-rolls Vinny Del Negro likes to run.
Joakim is steadily improving, but with no outside jumper to speak of, it completely eliminates the pick-and-pop option. I can't tell you how many times I've watched Noah's man overplay on the pick-and-roll only to have Noah pop out instead of roll, catch a beautiful feed from Derrick Rose 20 feet from the hoop, and then freeze like a third-grader with stage fright and completely derail the offensive flow of the possession.
Noah is getting better and finally starting to attack the rim, but he still renders the pick-and-roll much more two dimensional than it should be. Miller's ability to either cut to the hoop or pop out and hit the 20-footer will make the already impressive pick-and-roll game with Derrick Rose that much more exciting.
It will also be nice to have a big man that weighs more than an anorexic supermodel to march out against the Shaqs and Dwight Howards of the world.
2. John Salmons
Salmons is a candidate for Most Improved Player of the Year.
This acquisition provides a 6'6" swing man to replace Nocioni's minutes off the bench backing up Deng at small forward. He might not possess the gritty defensive toughness that Nocioni did, but offensively it wouldn't be a stretch to consider Salmons an upgrade.
In 37.4 MPG for the Kings, Salmons is averaging 18.3 PPG and shooting 41.8 percent from beyond the arc. That is bench production that is hard to ignore, and his slashing ability provides a nice change of pace from Deng, whose production largely comes from jump shots. He will also take up the minutes that Thabo Sefalosha has been disappointingly unable to capitalize on, especially on the offensive end.
3. Tyrus Thomas
Tyrus is finally starting to figure it out.
After the first 15 games of the season, I was ready to have an aneurysm every time Tyrus bricked a 20-foot jumper that he had no business taking, and he was doing this three to four times a game for some reason.
However, give Vinny Del Negro credit.
He nipped that problem in the bud, and now has Tyrus attacking the basket every chance he gets instead of settling for a jumper he can get at any point in the shot clock.
Thomas is averaging 17.8 PPG and 10.6 RPG in February. He is combining this fantastic (albeit very recent) offensive development with the fact that his length and athleticism give him the presence of a seven-footer in help defense, and he is finally starting to look like a No. 2 overall pick in the draft.
Tyrus was the centerpiece in any deal that Paxson could have offered for Amar'e Stoudemire. There were even rumors of packaging Thomas in a deal for Chris Kaman or Marcus Camby. After months of rumors it seemed Paxson couldn't make a move for a superstar like Amar'e.
The next best thing is to make a deal that significantly improves the team, while keeping the young starting nucleus intact. By holding on to Tyrus and making this deal with the Kings, Paxson did just that.
Bulls fans everywhere should be breathing a sigh of relief, because I personally can't take trading away another young draft pick a season or two before they become an All-Star.
(Caveat: I'm not saying Tyrus will be an All-Star in two years by any means, but the possibility, however remote, is there. The only thing keeping me sane about the last 10 years of Chicago Bulls basketball is that Tyson Chandler has reverted back to his Chicago Bulls days.)
The most frustrating thing about the Chicago Bulls this year, and a big reason for their underachievement to date, has been a complete lack of team identity.
Were the Bulls an offensive team or a defensive team?
Compare Ben Gordon (incandescent scorer but a liability on defense) to Chicago's young big men like Joakim Noah (great in help defense and on the boards but looks confused with the ball anywhere outside five feet from the hoop).
Derrick Rose and Luol Deng are decent on defense but are definitely offensively oriented. Thabo Sefalosha plays great on the ball defense but has been way too timid on the offensive end and his jumper hasn't been falling all year.
This dichotomy inherent in the Bulls' identity, combined with an inexperienced head coach, has really been holding this team back from realizing its potential. Don't get me wrong, I am by no means intimating that teams shouldn't be well-rounded. However, I believe it is a psychological advantage for a team to be able to go into a game knowing truly where their strengths lie.
When crucial moments come up in games, it helps for a team to be able to feel supremely confident in either their ability to score at will, or their ability to completely lock down the other team.
While neither are defensive liabilities, both Miller and Salmons are definitely our players with strengths skewed towards the offensive end of the game. Their addition will give the Bulls a much more offensively oriented team than they had previously, and I believe that will help immensely in the home stretch.
Knowing that they need to go into every game and outscore everybody will have the offense flowing.
You will see improvement from the first half, in which half the team went in planning to win by scoring and the other half went in planning to win by defense. The Bulls should increase the tempo of their offense, and should be looking to score in the high 90s every night, and I believe that will be beneficial to the Bulls in the long run.
It seems impossible nowadays to write an NBA article and not mention the famed free agent class of 2010.
Brad Miller's $11.3 million will come off the books in two years, and that along with Larry Hughes' $12.8 million should give the Bulls some serious room to make a move at one of the big three free agents in 2010.
Unlike the Knicks, Paxson chose to make a move that will keep the Bulls competitive until 2010 while still leaving them the flexibility to be a major player in the 2010 free agent market.
While the Bulls didn't end up with the dream team of Derrick Rose and Amar'e Stoudemire, Paxson was really able to step up and make a meaningful move that will substantially improve the Bulls for the remainder of this season. Amazingly, Paxson was able to pull off such a move while retaining Tyrus Thomas and keeping the door open for the 2010 free agent market.
I haven't been the biggest Paxson fan of late, but I have to say that if he couldn't land a superstar, a move like this was the next best thing.