The 2013 NBA draft is supposed to allow Nerlens Noel, Alex Len, Ben McLemore and the 60 young players entering the league to steal the headlines for a little while, but LaMarcus Aldridge has the potential to change that in one fell swoop.
Word is, Aldridge wants to escape from Portland's rebuilding project and has made it known that he'd like to land in Chicago.
Deng for Aldridge won't get it done. The Blazers want Joakim Noah in return and the Bulls don't want to give up the superior defensive big man.
Here's one way to get Portland's attention: Offer Deng and Charlotte's future No. 1 pick. The Bulls are counting on that Bobcats' pick (acquired for [Tyrus] Thomas, ironically), to pay off big, because it's unprotected in 2016.
Giving up a pick from the Charlotte Bobcats, especially one that is eventually unprotected, is a dangerous decision, but it's worth it to land a bona fide All-Star. Chicago has already had its claws on Aldridge once, selecting him with the No. 2 pick in the 2006 NBA draft before dealing him for the powerful duo of Victor Khryapa and Tyrus Thomas.
It's a trade that is still regretted by the Bulls to this day (assuming they could still have landed Derrick Rose), but now they have a chance to make amends for their poor managerial decision.
Aldridge wouldn't just be a good acquisition for general manager Gar Forman, but rather the exact piece that Rose needs to help him return to his MVP level. More importantly, he's the player that could push this Bulls squad firmly back into the realm of the elites.
More Defense at Power Forward
The Bulls might have a true Defensive Player of the Year candidate in the frontcourt thanks to Joakim Noah, but the power forward spot has often held back Chicago's overall defensive efforts. No matter what Thibodeau does, he can't get Carlos Boozer to play even adequate defense.
Taj Gibson has been heralded as the player of the future at the 4, due largely to his defensive strengths, but he's an offensive liability on the court. At times, Chicago has no choice but to play four-on-five ball when Gibson is in action.
During the 2012-13 season, Bulls power forwards allowed opponents to post a 16.9 PER against them, a mark well worse than the league average. It was the continuation of a trend, as Chicago allowed a 16.1 PER at the position in 2011-12. Amazingly enough, this includes Noah's ability to slide over and cover 4s on a consistent basis.
That's the part that often goes unnoticed. Noah is so dead-set on improving the team defense that he often has to neglect his own man to make up for the inefficiencies of those around him. His help defense is superb, but the porosity of Chicago's guard rotation (in Rose's absence) and Boozer often made his individual numbers suffer.
By trading for Aldridge, the Bulls would be able to get solid defense from their power forward without sacrificing offensive ability.
The Texas product let power forwards put up a 15.4 PER against him during the most recent season in Rip City, but it's important to look at context. He did so while worrying about J.J. Hickson's mediocre post defense and the constant threat of Damian Lillard completely forgetting what to do whenever he encountered a pick-and-roll set.
In a lot of ways, it was a situation similar to the one Noah faced with the Bulls.
You can get a more accurate evaluation of Aldridge's defense by looking at how the Blazers fared with and without him on the court.
According to NBA.com's statistical databases, Portland allowed 109.2 points per 100 possessions when Aldridge sat, but only 105.9 when he was on the court. That's a sizable difference and a pretty clear indication that the power forward's defense has improved drastically from when he entered the league.
Aldridge is one of the NBA's most dangerous players when he sets a screen for a quality point guard.
That was the bread and butter for Portland during the 2012-13 season. According to Synergy Sports (h/t Kevin Yeung), 22.08 percent of the Blazers' offense came via pick-and-roll sets, which include the pick-and-pop variety. No other play had a higher percentage, and Lillard and Aldridge were both heavily involved.
Pick-and-pops work when you have two things: a point guard who can handle the ball and score at a high level and a big man who can set tough screens and knock down jumpers. Aldridge certainly qualifies as the latter.
While Lillard fit the criteria for the point guard, imagine running this same play and upgrading to Rose. You know, the living, breathing offensive dynamite who became the only player to steal an MVP award away from LeBron James in recent memory. The same one who thrives handling the ball and driving to the basket for an explosive finish.
Defenses wouldn't know how to react to this play, and it would immediately become one of the most successful sets in the NBA.
Aldridge is particularly adept in catch-and-shoot situations, so opposing teams can't exactly leave him open. In 2012-13, the former Longhorn shot 41.8 percent from 16 feet out to the three-point arc, and 79.2 percent of his made field goals resulted from assists, according to basketball-reference.com. He's even more dangerous from 10 to 16 feet, although he creates more offense for himself from that range.
Letting Aldridge roam free is out of the question, but defenses can't just let Rose drive, either.
After developing chemistry together, the two All-Stars would form one of the most unstoppable combos in all of basketball. Rose needs another offensive star to help him out, and Aldridge's style matches his perfectly.
The Carlos Boozer Situation
With Aldridge on the roster, there would be no need to employ Carlos Boozer. And that's a major positive for the Bulls.
During the 2012-13 campaign, Chicago was markedly worse when the power forward stepped onto the court. The team was outscored by 2.7 points per 100 possessions when he played, worse on both ends of the court. As soon as he was replaced, Chicago outscored its opponents by 5.0 points per 100 possessions .
That's exactly what you want out of a guy who you're set to pay $15.3 million, right?
Acquiring Aldridge would allow Chicago to finally use the amnesty clause on Boozer. Forman would have a little financial flexibility and could attempt to find another productive wing player, preferably one who could help space the court.
Even if he doesn't, though, it's enough just to have Boozer's salary come off the books. Despite what the distractions caused by his artificially high scoring totals and shiny bald head might lead some Bulls fans to believe, the team is much better off without him.
Deng and a first-round pick from the Bobcats is a hefty price to pay for anyone, but Aldridge would be worth it.
As relayed by The Oregonian's Jason Quick, Portland general manager Neil Olshey is prepared to listen to offers:
Well, I’ll tell you this: I’m not going to be making any phone calls to move him. But if the phone rings and it makes the team better...
Would the hypothetical package be enough to sway Olshey? Maybe, maybe not. It depends on how the team feels about pairing Deng and Nicolas Batum on the wing, as well as how highly the Blazers value a pick a few years down the road.
But if Olshey is willing to sign on the dotted line, it should be Forman handing him the pen without a moment of hesitation.