My dad taught me a lot of things. One that has come back to me through the years is this. It's good to learn from your mistakes. It's better to learn form other people's mistakes; that way you don't have to make them. The Chicago Bulls (and their fans) would be wise to take that advice and look to Miami before further entertaining dreams of what could come from a Boozer-Rose-Anthony trio to "compete" with Miami. The essential lesson is that basketball is a team game, not a game of collected stars.
James and Wade are really, really good. Regardless of what a person thinks of James "Decision" or of the Heat's start to the season, there is one thing that few would argue. As far as talent goes, they don't get much better than this pair. Their Player Efficiency Rating is good for 2nd and 6th all time respectively. I don't argue that makes them the 2nd and 6th best players in history, I just maintain that establishes them as being pretty darned good. And really, Chris Bosh is no slouch either at "only" 41st.
No wonder people were wondering how many championships they'd win after they came together. Of course it's not too late, but after their start, it's looking as though the reports (and celebrations) of their championships have been greatly exaggerated.
So why is it that such a great collection of talent is having trouble becoming a great team? Because great players don't translate to great teams. The players need to be coordinated together. Just like three beautiful, very expensive pieces of furniture could combine for a less than aesthetic living room, three very talented, very expensive players don't translate into a very good team.
IT'S NOT JUST HOW MUCH YOU SCORE, IT'S HOW YOU SCORE
Part of the problem is that two of the players are the same type of players. Wade and James are both incredibly talented with the ball. The problem is that there remains only one ball in the game. Ergo, only one of them at a time can be great. They both are great players with the ball, but they need the ball to be great.
The relevance to the Bulls is that Rose is precisely that type of player, and so is Carmelo Anthony. Anthony scores a lot, but more than half of his points are unassisted. Luol Deng on the other hand relies on what he does without the ball to create scoring. This is something Vinny Del Negro never seemed to grasp, and it is why Deng has not "lived up to his contract." Thibs seems to appreciate it though. This season Deng is good for 15 assisted points per game. Anthony is good for 12 assisted points per game. And remember this says nothing about what is lost on defense as Deng is a clearly superior defender than Anthony.
Anthony may score 25 points a game to Deng's 20. However one shouldn't jump to the conclusion that adding Anthony means adding five points. Rather, it means that some of the points that he is scoring are going to be coming from Rose.
This become more problematic for other reasons. Anthony has a passing rating of 5.2, Rose's is 11.7. Anthony's true field goal percentage is Rose's eFG% is .511, Anthony's is .486. Rose is a better passer, and a better shooter than Anthony. Which would you rather have handling the ball? Deng does not take away from Rose, Anthony does. And if Wade and James are struggling making it work, why would Rose and Anthony be more successful?
All the fault with the Heat's struggles don't lie directly on Wade and James (and Bosh). Part of the problem lies in the fact that Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem have been injured. Surely Carlos Boozer is a better, more important player than either of those two, yet the Bulls have a better record than the Heat, in spite of having played a better record. In fact the Bulls have the third toughest schedule so far, and they're playing the Lakers tonight!
So why have the Bulls done so well in the absence of their key offseason acquisition? One word: depth.. The Chicago Bulls have a player named Taj Gibson, while not flawlessly, has capably stepped into the shoes he needed to fill and filled them. Depth matters.
Trades for Anthony invariably include a combination of players, including Deng, Taj and/or some combination of Johnson other draft choices. Some have even imagined (though not necessarily realistic) scenarios where Carmelo can be obtained without losing Deng. Any single player is obviously worth the likes of a perennial all star. However, the cost is not any single player. It's a plethora of players.
Plethora is a word commonly misused. It doesn't mean many, it means too many. When Anthony is obtained at the cost of depth, he is obtained at too great a cost. When addressing this concern, advocates of making the trade will argue that Gibson's talent can be obtained from the D League.
I answer, quite reasonably, that no, it can't. Please don't tell me how easily it would be to obtain Taj Gibson. I'm not saying he's easier to compensate for than Anthony, I'm saying that he's not a dime a dozen player. If there were Taj Gibsons running around unsigned, they would be getting signed. In fact if there were a player the Bulls knew of better than Brian Scalabrene, he'd be playing for the Bulls instead of Brian Scalabrene. You can't obtain quality players by wishing for them. Just ask the Miami Heat. No single player, no matter how good, is worth depth. Depth is what protects you from injury. Just ask the Chicago Bulls.
The other, hidden cost, is money. Derrick Rose is an absolute superstar in the making. Even Kobe Bryant has literally said, "the sky's the limit" for him. Kobe Bryant doesn't throw around praise lightly. I don't know that he's ever said such things about Carmelo Anthony. Signing Anthony could eventually cost us Rose though.
With the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) coming to a close, there's some discussion that we could end up with a hard salary cap. That means that even if we were to re-sign Anthony after making the trade, re-signing Rose might become an impossibility. Sure, Rose might sign for less. But is that a chance we're going to risk? Or for that matter, is it a fair sacrifice to ask Rose to make? If he is going to be the face of this team, shouldn't he be compensated as such?
THIBS IS SMARTER THAN WE ARE
Here's the final thing that I have to say about all of this. This is a team that Thibodeau conceived before he ever got the job. Maybe not the exact player that are here, but it's the type of team he envisioned when he sold the owners on making him their new head coach. He's been doing a pretty good job of proving himself so far.
Don't take this as an insult, or as a cop out. I just mean to say that clearly Thibs has established that he has an idea of what he's doing. If he doesn't feel that Anthony is worth the cost, then let him be the judge. I'm not one inclined to push this sort of argument, but I'm also not so big an idiot that I think I know more about basketball than Tom Thibadeau. How about we let him have at least one game with his full lineup before we start telling him what changes he needs to make with his team?