Last season marked the triumphant start to a new era in Chicago Bulls basketball. The team boasted the best record in the NBA of 62-and-20, led by the league MVP Derrick Rose and Coach of the Year Tom Thibodeau. They made it to the Eastern Conference Finals, a feat not accomplished by the Bulls since a guy named Michael Jordan played for the team.
Although they fell to the Miami Heat in the playoffs, they improved by leaps and bounds over their last two seasons. In both 2009 and 2010, the Bulls were one-and-done playoff pretenders sporting a measly 41-and-41 record in both campaigns. That's a 21-win improvement for those of us keeping track.
Personally, I would call last season a resounding success. However, I do feel that there are a couple minor tweaks to the team that could be made that would cement the Bulls as title contenders next year, and for years to come.
The absolute most important personnel move that the Bulls need to make is to upgrade at the shooting guard spot. Keith Bogans simply didn't cut it last year, and Ronnie Brewer may not be the right fit alongside Rose in the starting lineup.
We begin our game of "Pick-a-Bulls-Guard" with Arron Afflalo of the Denver Nuggets. I'm a firm believer in the talent of Afflalo, and I think that what he brings to the table is exactly the right complement to Rose's abilities.
Unfortunately, Afflalo is a restricted free agent, and a favorite in the Nuggets' organization, so signing him may prove to be rather difficult. If the Nuggets choose to spend a lot of money on re-signing Wilson Chandler, though, the Bulls may have a shot at landing him for relatively cheap.
Ability-wise, he is an absolute torch artist from 18 feet and out. This is evidenced by his career shooting percentages of 46.4 percent from the field and 40.8 from three-point range. And those numbers include his first two seasons with the Detroit Pistons, where he was rarely utilized. His two seasons with the Nuggets saw him sport averages of 46.5 percent and 49.8 percent from the field, as well as 43.4 percent and 42.3 percent from deep.
Not only that, he excels at moving without the ball in his hands. Last year, he played alongside both Raymond Felton and Ty Lawson, two ball-dominating point guards. Earlier in the season, as well as the year before that, he played with Chauncey Billups, another ball-dominating point guard. I have full confidence that he would easily adapt to Rose's playing style.
Defensively, he can simply shut down his man. He doesn't fill up the stat sheet on the defensive end of the ball, but he plays excellent man defense due to quick feet and excellent court awareness.
Adding Afflalo would be like combining the offensive talents of Kyle Korver with the on-ball defense of Ronnie Brewer. He has shown that he can consistently score about 10 to 15 points a night. What more could the Bulls want?
Lee's financial situation is rather difficult to judge from a Bulls' standpoint, as he is in the final year of his rookie contract. If the Bulls coax him away from Houston, and he succeeds as a shooting guard on what would be a dominant Bulls squad, teams are likely to throw money his way. Since the Bulls will be focused on re-signing Rose, they may let Lee walk at that point if the price is too steep.
With regards to his on-court performance, he shoots the three very well. He played behind Kevin Martin on the Rockets last year, scoring 8.3 points on 43.9 percent shooting and 40.8 percent from deep in about 21 minutes per game.
Unfortunately, his numbers as a starting shooting guard have varied greatly over the course of his three-year career. He enjoyed success with the Orlando Magic, scoring 8.4 points on 45.0 percent shooting and 40.4 percent from deep in a little over 25 minutes a game. With the New Jersey Nets, though he managed 12.5 points per contest, it was on 43.6 percent shooting and only 33.8 percent from deep in 33.5 minutes a night. His ball handling skills are adequate, and he can slash to the rim effectively if his defender falls off balance.
Defensively, Lee is no slouch. He plays excellent man defense, and attacks passing lanes effectively, and he has averaged about a steal a game over the course of his career. His defense is definitely his best attribute, as his production on that end of the ball has remained consistent while his offensive production has fluctuated.
I see him taking to the starting spot alongside Rose relatively easily, and I could see him being a more aggressive, better shooting version of Ronnie Brewer. He could also help take pressure off Rose with his slashing ability.
Our third and final contestant on "Pick-a-Bulls-Guard" is Wesley Matthews of the Portland Trail Blazers. He proved himself as a capable starter when Portland's All-Star guard, Brandon Roy, succumbed to injury yet again.
Matthews has a very manageable contract, being owed under $7 million over the next three years. However, unless Roy recovers from his injuries and regains his All-Star form, I don't see Portland moving Matthews any time soon.
As shown in the picture, he wears his three-point goggles rather frequently in game. Last season, he hoisted 4.6 threes per contest and knocked them down at an efficient 40.7 percent clip. The season before, he played with the Utah Jazz, where he shot about two three-pointers per contest and knocked down 38.2 percent of them.
Another interesting thing to note is Matthews' aptitude for physical play. When he was in college at Marquette, the starting lineup frequently had three guards, and Matthews played at what would have traditionally been the small forward spot. Because of this and his 6'-5", 220 pound frame, he is able to defend both guards and small forwards with ease.
Not only is Matthews strong and physical, he has quick hands and feet, which help make him an exceptional defender. He, like Lee, has averaged about a steal per game throughout his two-year career.
On the Bulls, I believe that Matthews would be just what the doctor ordered. He played alongside Deron Williams in Utah, who is a ball-dominating guard that plays a very similar style to Rose, albeit a better jump shooter. Chances are very likely that he would be a perfect fit in the system.
I would like to preface this slide by saying that I am a huge fan of Omer Asik. He was a fantastic backup for Joakim Noah last year, and he showed a lot of improvement as the season went on. I hope that the Bulls end up keeping him on the roster for this upcoming season.
That being said, the Bulls may want to do some investigating into his value as a trade asset. There are a lot of teams that could use a young and reliable backup center, and he may be worth more than they think.
He is in the last year of his contract, and although he is a restricted free agent in 2013, I don't see the Bulls keeping him much beyond that. His continually improving abilities have set the stage for a huge payday in 2013, and the Bulls may not want to match a large offer sheet.
So rather than keeping him and risking him walking away after next season, Bulls' management may do some investigating into his value on the market. Fortunately, Bulls' management is known to be very conservative, and I doubt they will pull the trigger unless the return is exactly what they want.
Taj Gibson is in a similar situation that Asik is in, though he is contracted for another two years before becoming a restricted free agent. Like Asik, I thought Gibson was a fantastic member of the Bulls' bench, and he brought a great energy and defensive intensity to the game.
Here again, the Bulls are in a tough position with Gibson. He will also likely command a large salary after his rookie contract is up, due to his unexpected performance. He becomes a restricted free agent in the summer of 2014, but that is when the Bulls' highly-touted draft pick, Nikola Mirotic, is due to suit up in red, white, and black.
Since Gibson is coming off a fantastic sophomore season, the Bulls may investigate his worth on the trading block as well. There are even more teams who could use a reliable backup at the power forward spot, and Gibson has even shown that he can be an adequate starter there. His value is likely high on the market.
But, once again, due to the conservative nature of the Bulls management and Gibson's value in the Bulls locker room, I doubt that we will see him moved unless the Bulls find exactly what they are looking for.
This seems like a really silly move at first glance. Why would the Bulls want to re-sign a guy who only played 88 total minutes on the season? Why would they re-sign a guy who wore a suit throughout the entirety of the playoffs? But Brian Scalabrine is definitely an asset to be kept.
The answer is in his demeanor. He has proven time and time again that he is a valuable teammate. Even though he wasn't even game-ready during the playoffs, he was still on the bench, cheering his team on. He even got into the huddles during timeouts.
There will always be at least one guy who rarely sees playing time, so why not make it a guy who is charismatic and supports everything the team does? Why spend the money on a guy who won't participate in practice and have a negative attitude in the locker room?
Scalabrine is the perfect end-of-the-bench guy, and the Bulls should definitely consider re-signing him.
This essentially goes without saying. If there are players on any team that are not performing to what their contracts are worth, there is no reason why the team shouldn't try to move those contracts elsewhere. On the Bulls, there are a couple examples of just this.
The first is Keith Bogans. Anyone who watched the Bulls last year could tell that Bogans was playing on aging legs. His defense was above-average, but his shooting touch simply was not there, and it only got worse as the season went on. Unloading Bogans to make room for a new starter should be atop the Bulls' list of things to do this offseason.
The next on the list of under-performers is Kyle Korver. He, too, was effective early on, but he almost completely disappeared come playoff time. Do I even need to mention his defense? Frankly, it was awful. Three-point specialists that are bad defenders are a dime-a-dozen down at the local free agent mart. The Bulls can do just as good, if not better, for cheaper.
And last but not least, John Lucas III and his inability to make free throws should not be on this team. He played in two total games, made one field goal, recorded one assist, and missed two free throws. Those are his complete season accomplishments. There is no reason to be paying him over $900,000 next year.
The one thing that often goes overlooked in a successful basketball franchise is the effectiveness of the coaching staff. If a team has bad coaches, chances are likely that the team won't play to its fullest potential.
The Bulls made an incredibly smart decision in signing Tom Thibodeau as their head coach. He is a defensive mastermind, and his defensive sets were ultimately what led the Boston Celtics to a championship in 2008, and the Bulls to the Conference Finals last season.
However, Thibodeau seemed to struggle in designing and implementing an effective offensive gameplan for the Bulls last year. It showed, as guys often looked lost after broken plays, made cuts at the wrong time, and failed to recognize certain plays as they happened. Adding another assistant whose focus is on that side of the ball would do wonders towards making the Bulls a cohesive unit on both ends of the floor.
On the whole, the Bulls had a highly successful season in 2010. The team is only minor adjustments away from becoming a real force in the association, and they might consider a few of these personnel adjustments. But, as always, these are only my opinions. I could be wrong.