Did you know the NBA is back? Well, sort of. Training camp and free agency begins December 9, and the regular season will start on Christmas Day with a tripleheader of Bulls at Lakers, Celtics at Knicks, and Heat at Mavericks. Obviously, I am most excited to see the Bulls play, but the Heat/Mavs game will be the most interesting. It will be beyond awesome to see the defending champion Mavs receive their championship rings and unfurl their brand spanking new championship banner in front of LeBron, Wade, Bosh and 9-12 other guys who happen to wear a Heat uniform on game days. I’ll readily admit that I predicted the Heat would win the title over the Mavs this June, 4 games to 2. I’ll also readily admit that I was wrong in my prediction. I still resent both the NBA players and owners for the lockout in the first place, but I assume that once the games start, my resentment will lessen a bit more.
What’s more important than the Christmas Day tripleheader are the Bulls and how they’ll improve on last year’s Eastern Conference Finals appearance. After a blowout victory in Game 1 of the ECF, the Heat’s defense smothered the Bulls mediocre offense and almost completely neutralized MVP point guard Derrick Rose on the way to a difficult 4-1 series win. Power forward Carlos Boozer was a bit better than he had been in the first two rounds, but small forward Luol Deng was tortured by LeBron on both ends, and important role players such as shooting guard Kyle Korver and PF Taj Gibson didn’t make much of an impact other than simply stepping on the floor.
It is clear that the Bulls need to upgrade the shooting guard position. 2010-11 starter Keith Bogans is a fairly good defender and can occasionally knock down an open 3, but he can’t create his own shot, which is something the Bulls need more than spot-up shooters. The Grizzlies’ OJ Mayo is supposedly available via trade, who would be my top choice to be the Bulls new starting 2. Free agents include the unrestricted Lakers’ Shannon Brown and restricted Nuggets’ Aaron Afflalo, the latter being the better player and probably the best fit for the Bulls. Jason Richardson is also an unrestricted free agent and would be a nice addition as well. There have been more rumblings/rumors/crap spread by so-called journalists that the Bulls would consider the Blazers’ Brandon Roy should he be amnestied and that if the Nuggets’ JR Smith hadn’t gone for the moneygrab in China so quickly, the Bulls would be interested in him, too.
However, the player at the top of my wish list is not a shooting guard. He is the Magic’s center, Dwight Howard. Yes, I know. The Bulls already have a “center”, Joakim Noah. He mans the position, but a center, he is not. Noah has gotten bigger and stronger since his rookie year, but I feel his ideal position would be at PF, where he would be able to use his athleticism to run the floor more than he does now. I actually wouldn’t mind Thibs playing Boozer at C some, seeing as how his vertical leap of 7″ and inability to recover quickly on defense would make him better suited to play a position where great mobility isn’t necessarily a requirement. Turkish reserve C Omer Asik is still a project, in my eyes, and Gibson is fine right where he is: coming off of the bench.
A trade for Howard would mean that the Bulls would certainly have to part with at least one starting big, and I’m assuming Magic GM Otis Smith would want Noah, although I’m sure Gar would offer Boozer, initially. Noah, Asik, Korver and multiple first-round draft picks (one of which belongs to the middle-of-the-pack Charlotte Bobcats) would be as good, if not better than any package that other teams in need of Howard’s services could offer. Howard would probably prefer to play for the Lakers, but if Lakers GM Jerry Buss thinks the Magic would deal Howard for C Andrew Bynum, scraps and even multiple picks, Buss is insane.
Noah is 26 and still improving. He doesn’t need plays called for him on the offensive end, yet he’s still perfectly capable of scoring 10-14 points a night while shooting a high percentage and grabbing 10-12 rebounds. He’s not Dikembe Mutombo, but he’s a decent shot-blocking threat and his low post defense is among the best at his position. He’s a high-energy player, but has dealt with some injuries the last 2 seasons and at times, his out of control play leads to dumb mistakes and foul trouble.
Asik is 25 and while a project, could eventually develop into one of the NBA’s better defensive big men. Despite continuously going for Bosh’s head fakes in the ECF, he’s usually a staunch defender and uses his 7′ frame very well when grabbing rebounds and blocking and altering shots. Asik was a part of the reserve unit that helped make the Bulls the best defensive team in the NBA last season. Per 36 minutes, he averaged 8 points, 11 rebounds and 2 blocks while shooting 55% from the floor, although he had limited offensive opportunities. Asik won’t do anything that will wow you and currently his offensive repertoire is relegated to dunking, but it’s incredibly difficult to find decent bigs nowadays and dangling Asik would almost certainly be enticing to the Magic.
Korver is 30 and has started exactly 3 games over the last 5 seasons, but is one of the league’s best 3-point shooters. He finished 2009-10 with the Utah Jazz making 3’s at an NBA single-season record 53% and followed it up by connecting on 42% of his 3’s in 2010-11 with the Bulls. He struggled a bit during the ECF as did the rest of the Bulls roster after Game 1, but in a day and age when seemingly no one thinks a good outside jump shot is necessary, Korver is the man you want if you condone the 3-ball. He would fit in perfectly with the Magic and their 3-happy offense, along with PF/SF Ryan Anderson and SG JJ Reddick. 2011 first-round pick Jimmy Butler, out of Marquette, clearly isn’t the shooter that Korver is, but he will be a much better all-around player and make up for his absence.
Hopefully, Otis Smith knows or has a strong belief that Howard won’t re-sign with the Magic. If this is the case, he won’t want the Magic to face the same fate the Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors did, when they lost their franchise players without getting anything in return except a few basketballs and old Starter jackets. There are 29 other teams that would love to have Howard on their roster, and the Bulls aren’t the only team that could make a viable offer for his services. Despite the league-wide interest in Howard, the Bulls offer would make the most sense, in my honest and unbiased opinion. The Magic would immediately get either a starting PF or C in Noah, and if they decided to throw Asik to the wolves, they’d receive a starting frontcourt if they did complete this trade with the Bulls. Again, Korver would fit in perfectly with Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy’s 3-happy offense, and while the first-round picks wouldn’t be high or maybe not even in the teens, would help a Magic team looking to rebuild after trading away its franchise player.
Of course, there’s the possibility that the Magic would want the Bulls to take disgruntled/happy/good/bad/sane/insane PG/SG Gilbert Arenas and his albatross contract off of their hands, which would surely inject some pause into the dealings. While the Bulls would definitely welcome Howard, Arenas and the near $58 million (figured in prorated 11-12 money) left on his contract would be a different story. I also wouldn’t mind seeing Deng moved along with Noah, which could perhaps allow the Bulls to keep Asik. Maybe a package of Noah, Deng, Korver (or even possibly Taj Gibson) and 1sts would get the job done, and if the Bulls had to take back Hedo Turkoglu’s craptastic contract to get Howard, rest assured that the Bulls would amnesty his ass immediately.
Still, Bulls GM Gar Forman should call and at least ask what the Magic want in exchange for arguably the best player in its team’s history. If Otis is willing to bring Noah back to Florida, take a risk on Asik, deal with Korver’s “I only shoot 3’s” game, and accept first-round picks that wouldn’t probably net him anything more than fringe starters, Gar should personally pack Noah’s, Asik’s, and Korver’s things.
Yes, the Bulls need an upgrade at the 2 position, even though Ronnie Brewer would do a fine job if he were named the starter. The Bulls have some depth in their frontcourt, and that includes the ancient PF/C Kurt Thomas, if he were to return for his 281st season. What the Bulls don’t have is another player besides Rose who is a legit stud; someone who commands double teams and can impose his will on both sides of the floor. Having arguably the best point guard in the league and far and way the best center in the league would make things easier for everyone in between on the Bulls roster, namely Deng and Boozer, who I would both like to see moved more than Noah and Asik. It would be hard to see Noah, the heart and soul of the Bulls, traded, but screw sentimentality. It’s about championships, and adding one of the league’s best players regardless of position would make them better on both ends of the floor and get them a bit closer to something I haven’t been able to celebrate for too damn long now: AN NBA TITLE.