At The Trading Deadline: Chicago's Potential Vs. Performance Debate

Mike WoodsCorrespondent IFebruary 10, 2010

CHICAGO - MARCH 06:  A detail of a patch is seen on the jersey of Tyrus Thomas of Chicago Bulls in memory of former Bulls coach and announcer Johnny 'Red' Kerr as well as former Bulls Player Norm Van Lier (who wore the #2 while with the Bulls) against the Milwaukee at the United Center on March 6, 2009 in Chicago, Illinois. Both Kerr and Van Lier passed away on February 26. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agreees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

For years we've seen the Chicago Bulls' mistakes turn into fortune for other teams. We've seen promising players turn into all-stars and headcases turn into defensive specialists. Another case of the organization expecting too much too soon, some may say. Or is it a case of cutting your losses before your time to cash in on them runs out?

What may not have be known then about Brand and Artest, but is clear now, is the impact these players would have on their teams down the road. What we do not know, is how GMs come to these hard decisions of getting rid of players who they once coveted.

Sure, Hindsight is 20/20. We all do some things we wish we could take back. But you take the gamble in the name of the organization and live with it. What do you say to Elton Brand leading the Clippers, who hadn't been to the playoffs since 2005, back to respectability and giving them there first series win in a playoff game in thirteen years? Oops maybe.

Who would have thought that Artest, a virtual unknown coming out of St John's University, would win the defensive player of the year award in 2004, and become an all-star in the same year, three years removed from the team that drafted him.

You can make cases for other players that have come through the Bulls organization who later had success and become all-stars, such as Brad Miller. Even J.R Smith has become a top guy for the Denver Nuggets since his release from the Bulls.

With that said, it comes as no surprise that we find ourselves having the debate and discussion again this time of year, whether to pay and keep players based on potential or performance.

When John Paxson was introduced as the Bulls' new GM in 2003 he said it clearly, "to me the only goal is to win."  You can interpret that statement to mean: win by any means necessary, or at all costs.

What it does not hint at is the fact that there is a time line on winning and production when it comes to young players, and in the same respect, a fine line of patience and understanding when it comes to GMs and their draft picks.

John Paxson is replaced by Gar Forman as GM now. But it seems as though that motto is still going strong as the organization gears up for a historic free agency market.

The idea is to clear as much cap-space to be in a greater position to offer a star player max money when the time comes to sign on the dotted line. Unfortunately for players who once were a cerebral part of the team, who were picked based on potential, it will come at their expense.

For Tyrus Thomas, a player who has failed to live up to the enormous potential laid upon him by the Bulls organization, the coming week will be the greatest audition of his basketball life.

For the Bulls organization, it will serve as the greatest reassurance of their professional lives, as they stand on the cusp of making either a great decision that could positively affect the team in the short term, or a bad one, which could have much longer lasting effects.

The Potential Vs. Performance debate will no doubt be a focal point in deciding whether to keep Thomas. 

On one side, you trade Thomas or let him walk in the offseason and you risk the chance of the athlete breaking out on another team. On the other side you keep Thomas, he does not live up to his potential, and you severely diminish your chance at maximum cap-space for Bosh or Stoudemire in free agency.

In the same way the NBA draft is not an exact science, neither is getting the most out of a player and predicting what the future could hold for him. The consensus seems to be in favor of letting that player decide his own fate through performance, therefore when the time comes to release him, it is no ones fault but his own.

As the trading deadline approaches, you can anticipate players who fail to perform up to standard, routinely receive their pink slip. You can also anticipate the "potential guys" who resemble more of a hindrance now, being auctioned off like cattle. 

What Bulls fans may not be able to anticipate however, is the direction the organization will take with its players, and whether it will hold on to Thomas and see where his potential takes them.