Chicago Bulls: Reviewing Carlos Boozer, Taj Gibson and the PF Situation
With the offseason continuing and the NBA lockout in full effect, now is the perfect time to evaluate how the Chicago Bulls' roster currently looks and what potential changes we may see. In an effort to compete in a strong Eastern Conference, the Bulls went out and signed Carlos Boozer to a five-year deal. This move was greatly scrutinized throughout the course of last season and it seemed that every Bulls fan had a different opinion regarding how the Bulls should manage the power forward position.
Boozer's poor play down the stretch coupled with Taj Gibson's continued improvement leaves the Bulls with some tough decisions to make in the future and maybe even this next season. Do the Bulls try to move the injury prone and under-producing veteran? Are the Bulls able to sign Gibson to a long term deal? Can either of our power forwards produce consistently on both ends of the court?
Current Roster: Carlos Boozer
During last summer's "Lebron-A-Palooza," also known as the 2010 Free Agency, a few teams were uniquely positioned with talent and cap space to acquire the services of Lebron James and the Bulls were one of those teams. In order to keep pace with teams like the New York Knicks who signed Amare Stoudemire, the New Jersey Nets who had cap space, a Russian billionaire owner, and were pursuing big name free agents and the Miami Heat who had verbal commitments from Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh the Bulls decided to add another peace.
The Bulls, who already has Luol Deng and Joakim Noah backing up one of the best players in the league in Derrick Rose, went out and acquired Carlos Boozer, James' former teammate, in order to entice James into picking Chicago. A summer later, James and his talents are in South Beach and Bulls fans are disappointed in Boozer's 2010-2011 performance.
A player who averages 17.5 PPG and 9.6 RPG on an average NBA team would be heralded as a great player. Those numbers are enough to win over most fans, but Bulls fans were having none of it. Regardless of his .510 FG percentage and his .701 FT percentage, Boozer heard fans changing their chants from "Booz!" to "Boo!" over the course of the season as fans increasingly called for more Gibson and less Boozer.
To their credit, Bulls management were fairly consistent in how the managed the PF playing time and had nothing but support for Boozer in press conferences. Nevertheless, as the highest paid Bull, there is a lot of pressure on Boozer to perform up to his paycheck and if he is unable to do so, the Bulls may look to unload his contract even if it means receiving less valuable players.
Over the course of the offseason, many have speculated what Boozer can do to better serve the Bulls. Some have called for him to drastically improve his defense which, at 29 years old, may be an impossible task. Others have called for him to rebound at a higher level, but only 13 players rebounded at a higher level than him last year. I propose that there are two simple things that Boozer can improve upon to be the player the Bulls need him to be.
First, he needs to be healthy. For the whole season. That means, no nagging foot injuries, no lack of conditioning coming into the season, no tripping over a bag in his house. It means Carlos Boozer arrives for training camp in great physical condition, ready to play 82 regular season games and 28 postseason games if necessary.
Second, Boozer needs to fly low and accept that fans are going to dish on him until he proves himself to them. Deng was "soft" for five years, Noah was "bad" for two years, and Boozer just needs to weather his storm and use the negative energy to fuel him to great performances. If Boozer continues to consistently produce and presents himself humbly before the media, focusing more on the team than on himself, it won't be long before he again feels the love from Bulls fans.
Current Roster: Taj Gibson
Taj Gibson, in stark contrast to Boozer, is the player fans love to love. The product of a humble upbringing, Gibson played four years for USC where he earned various conference awards for his energy and defensive prowess before he joined the Bulls in 2009. Not an offensive force, Gibson has created a name for himself with his lock-down defense and occasional offensive outbursts. Gibson beat out James Johnson and Tyrus Thomas in his rookie season for playing time at power forward, and alongside Luol Deng and Joakim Noah, established one of the best defensive front courts in the NBA.
Despite battling personal losses off-court, Taj Gibson averaged decent numbers last season with 7.1 PPG, 5.7 RPG, and 1.3 BPG with a .466 FG percentage and a .676 FT percentage all while playing limited minutes as Boozer's backup. Many looked at his move to the bench as a setback to his career, but Gibson never complained about his situation and indeed, seemed to relish his role as a critical piece to the Bulls' "Bench Mob."
Gibson is a dominant defensive player, but may struggle to take any more time away from Boozer next season because the Bulls desperately need a consistent offensive player to compliment Rose and, although he has shown flashes of offensive brilliance, Gibson is not consistent enough offensively to be deemed a threat by opposing teams.
Last offseason there were rumors that Gibson was developing a mid-range jump shot that could extend to the three point line but we saw very little of that last season. If Gibson could consistently hit shots from outside and could draw an opposing power forward or center outside to unclog the lane for Rose, he could possibly earn a starting position in the next two seasons.
Slated to only make $1.2 million next season, Gibson is a great value for the Bulls with as much as he brings to the table. Look for Gibson to continue to improve this offseason and to be one of the best prepared members of the Bulls come the start of the 2011-2012 season.
And regardless of all the rumors that have swirled around him last season and this offseason, don't expect the Bulls to move Gibson anytime soon. His ability to shut down small forwards, power forwards and centers is too valuable to trade even when the Bulls are in need of a starting shooting guard.
Bulls Free Agents
Brian Scalabrine, in an attempt to compel Bulls management to give in to player demands in the current labor negotiation, threatened to sign overseas if the lockout persisted. Then something strange happened and Scalabrine was signed by an Italian team for the next year. Scalabrine expressed to the Chicago Tribune that he was more interested in heading to Europe to play internationally than he was in sitting around and watching billionaires fight over how to split basketball related income.
At this point, whether the Bulls are interested or not, it appears that they are losing the talents of "the White Mamba" for the 2011-2012 season if not forever. Scal averaged 1.1 PPG, 0.4 RPG, and 0.2 BPG, while shooting a .526 FG percentage.
Kurt Thomas, on the other hand, intends to play in the 2011-2012 season but there is speculation as to what uniform he will be wearing. Based on his veteran leadership, his ability to knock down open jumpers from mid-range, his defensive ability, and the intimidation factor he brings to the team, it would not be a surprise if the Bulls wanted to re-sign Thomas for another season. Recently, the New York Knicks have expressed interest in acquiring Thomas' talents for next season. Thomas, the oldest active player in the NBA, is 39 years old and will be looking for his best opportunity to win a championship.
Between these two options, I expect Thomas to re-sign for one more season with the Bulls. Playing with the Bulls, Thomas has a fairly easy role and can still be extremely valuable at times. If he goes to the Knicks, he would actually be competing for the starting power forward or center position which would be tiring and he would be playing for a less talented team. If he does resign with the Bulls, you can look for Thomas to contribute about as much as he did last season when he averaged 4.1 PPG, 5.8 RPG, and 0.8 BPG while shooting a .511 FG percentage.
Aside from the resigning of Kurt Thomas, it seems unlikely that the Bulls will pursue any power forward free agents this offseason. With Boozer and Gibson contesting for minutes, it is unlikely that any free agent could join the Bulls and significantly contribute in the next few seasons. The Bulls should be set at PF for at least three more seasons if Gibson plays out his full contract.
The only scenario in which I see the Bulls actually looking at power forward free agents is if they were to trade either Boozer or Gibson (which I doubt will happen this season.) In that event, I would look for the Bulls to sign someone who doesn't require a lot of salary but still benefits the team. Two players who might fit this description would be Troy Murphy and Josh McRoberts. Neither one of these players looks to make much in their next contract and both have some value—Murphy can shoot from the outside and stretch the floor while McRoberts is a tough, energetic player who kind of reminds one of Noah from a couple seasons ago.
As mentioned in the opening slide, there are are many questions marks at the power forward position for the Bulls going into the 2011-2012 season but those questions for the Bulls are better than the situation many other NBA teams are in. If you are the Bulls management and one of your biggest challenges going into next season is to determine how to divide playing time between a talented offensive threat and a lock-down defensive player, you don't lose too much sleep at night
The Bulls have two great power forwards who are completely different from one another. In a perfect world they would be working together this long offseason to help each other to improve—Gibson could learn from Boozer's offensive ability and Boozer could certainly learn a thing or two from Gibson on defense. But even if they don't talk once over the season, look for both men to come back this next season with a hunger for a NBA Championship. Then, when you add the savvy, physical, veteran presence of Kurt Thomas, the Bulls are completely set at the power forward position.