In the past week, the Bulls traded away two key role players in order to clear up cap space for this summer's upcoming great free agent class. The Bulls traded Tyrus Thomas to the Bobcats for Acie Law and Ronald Murray, and they traded John Salmons to the Bucks for Hakim Warrick and Joe Alexander. It appeared on the surface that these moves were made solely for clearing salary cap space; however, that wasn't the only reason for the trade.
Hakim Warrick was a very good addition to the Chicago Bulls. He essentially replaces Tyrus Thomas and what he provided. Warrick is actually averaging more points and rebounds per game than Tyrus in about the same amount of minutes. He also brings a similar athleticism that Tyrus Thomas provided, so you will continue to see the "flashy" dunks Tyrus Thomas performed, but without the headaches he brought.
The Bulls also acquired Ronald Murray in order to replace John Salmons. He is a bit of a downgrade as he doesn't shoot quite as well, but all in all, I think the Bulls broke even in acquiring these two players for Salmons and Thomas, as well as clearing a good amount of cap space instead of having John Salmons' contract.
Murray will need to step up his game a little bit from what he's been doing so far this year in order to replace the void left by the departure of John Salmons if the Bulls want to make it out of the first round of the playoffs. If Warrick maintains his play so far this season, than he will do more than enough to replace Tyrus Thomas. There are a few other factors that will be necessary for the Bulls to make the playoffs from the players who are currently on the roster.
The first priority for the Bulls to make a run in the playoffs is health. The Bulls need to get over their injuries which have plagued them this year. Rose, Gibson, Miller, Hinrich, and Noah have all fallen victim to the injury bug, as well as the flu in some cases. Rose has shown that his ankle injury was definitely affecting him to start the season, as when he was healthy, it showed as his points per game went from about 16 in November while averaging about five assists, to above 20 and six assists in December and January.
Gibson was also affected by injuries, and he has really started to break out as of late, as he has nearly had three straight double-doubles. Joakim Noah finally came back to the lineup against the 76ers after missing seven straight games with plantar fascitis, and he wasn't a factor, but it was good to see that he was at least healthy enough to suit up. The Bulls have prospered while he was hurt, but they have missed his tough defense in the paint, and great rebounding ability.
The Bulls need him to stay healthy if they want to make a serious run, because as good of a role player as Brad Miller is, he isn't physically able to guard the likes of Dwight Howard and Kevin Garnett like Noah can, they also miss his athleticism and shot-blocking ability. Aside from health, the Bulls need a couple players to step up their game in order to be a serious playoff team and not just one series and out.
Kirk Hinrich is the poster child of someone who needs to step it up. Hinrich is a good defender and combo-guard, and that is good and all for a role-player, but as the shooting guard. The Bulls need him to score and hit open shots. Hinrich is shooting just 39.4% from the field, and the Bulls are going to need more than that in order for them to be a serious contender. Off the bench this was OK, but since he is in the starting lineup, they need him to hit his open shots.
Another player they need to step it up is Taj Gibson. He has stepped his game up as of late, but he can't get too comfortable, they need him to continue his production he's been doing lately. If he can get about 13-15 points per and eight or nine rebounds that would really help the Bulls out and give them a post option to help take some of the offensive load off of Rose and Deng, who have handled the scoring for the most part this season.
All in all, the Bulls have the pieces to make it to the second round of the playoffs and maybe further if they get inspired play, but they will need Rose, Noah, and Deng to keep up the production they've had so far this season, as well as others to pick it up. However, if the Bulls play like they did at the beginning of the season, they may miss the playoffs altogether. I guess it remains to be seen which Bulls we will see.
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