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Say Hello… to the Bulls’ New Bench Mob

Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson will headline the Bulls’ second unit next season.

Just a week or so after The Bench Mob drastically fell apart, the Chicago Bulls 2012-13 roster is nearly rounded out. With C.J. Watson, Ronnie Brewer, Kyle Korver, John Lucas III and Omer Asik officially taking their talents to Brooklyn, New York, Atlanta, Toronto and Houston, respectively, the Bulls have already found a plug for each hole those men have left. Whether the chemistry of the newcomers lives up to that of The Bench Mob remains to be seen, but this new group of guys, led by the glue that is Taj Gibson, certainly has the ability to pick up where the bench left off and, if you’re really optimistic, may even surpass its production from the past two seasons (don’t count on it though). It’ll be tough to maintain the consistency and reliability that the bench provided throughout the regular season, there’s no question about that. However, some of the players whom the Bulls have brought in this summer or have been promoted may bring something to the table that the other guys did not. Let’s take a look at who exactly those players are:

Kirk Hinrich, PG/SG. Replacing: C.J. Watson

Captain Kirk needs no introduction. If he can stay healthy, he’s an upgrade over Watson in my mind. Of course, he’ll be starting in place of Derrick Rose for a good few months, so expectations will be relatively high, but his defense and leadership should make him a valuable asset to this Bulls team. (If you didn’t read my post from two weeks ago about Hinrich coming back to Chicago and what it means, click here.)

Marquis Teague, PG. Replacing: John Lucas III

He’s only 19 years old, but Teague is no joke. It will take some time for him to adapt to the NBA at such a young age and learn the ins and outs of running the point at the professional level, but he was far and away the best player on the board when the Bulls drafted him and has the ability to become an all-star caliber point guard some day. His long-range jump shot is nowhere near that of JL3’s, but his athleticism, quickness and excellence in transition should give him a leg up on other point guards who have come into the league with little or no college experience. He should end up being a pretty serviceable backup point guard for the Bulls as a rookie and will only improve with age and experience. Nevertheless, he has a lot of weaknesses to overcome and will definitely experience plenty of growing pains, specifically with his shooting and decision-making. (If you want a scouting report on Teague and a more in-depth analysis of what  he will mean to the Bulls next season and beyond, read my post from the day after the draft here.)

Jimmy Butler, SG. Replacing: Ronnie Brewer

I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: Jimmy Butler is Ronnie Brewer 2.0. Brewer has proved time and time again that his potential has been completely maxed out. Like I said back in June, he’ll never be more than a high level defender and role player with a limited offensive skill-set and inconsistent jump shot, whereas the 22-year-old Butler has a much higher ceiling and the potential to be one of the premiere defenders in the NBA. He’s a great team player with an incredible work ethic and attitude. According to the Chicago Tribune, he “practically lived at the Berto Center [before Summer League]. He would work out, rest, then work out again. His body looks fit. His mind sounds sharp. He knows the opportunity ahead of him.” As raw as he may have seemed at times last season on the offensive end, it’s his perseverance and balls-to-the-walls mentality that will ultimately lead to him becoming one of the most important players on this team and possible team leaders some day.

It may not mean much at all, but Butler absolutely tore it up in Vegas for Summer League this past week. He lead the squad in scoring, averaging 20.8 points in the four games he played (he sat out the fifth and final game with an undisclosed injury), good for fourth overall in the league. He also lead the entire Summer League in minutes (averaged 35.5 per game) and pounded the glass for a total of 26 rebounds in four games (side note: the Bulls’ Malcolm Thomas, the 6’9″ man-child out of San Diego State, averaged 12.4 rebounds per game and may have very well earned himself the final spot on the roster to start next season). On top of that, Butler attacked the rim with a vengeance, something the Bulls offense desperately needs, and got to the free throw line an amazing 39 times. He made – get this – 35 of them, good for 90%. I don’t really care how meaningless the Summer League may be, because Butler played some confident and inspiring ball. I think it’s safe to say this man is on a mission and will surprise many people come next season.

Nazr Mohammed, C. Replacing: Omer Asik

A 14-year veteran, Nazr Mohammed is coming off a season in which he averaged 2.7 points and 2.7 rebounds in 63 games for the Oklahoma City Thunder. If you find yourself strangely excited about the signing of Mohammed, then there’s something seriously wrong with you – it wouldn’t hurt to go see a doctor or someone capable of bringing you back down to earth. He’s an enormous downgrade from Asik – easily the biggest downgrade at any backup position – and brings very little to the table. Yes, he can catch a ball on the low block, make a layup and shoot free throws decently (63.9% career), all things that Asik cannot do, but his defense is very below average, and he’s relatively undersized (6’10”, two inches shorter than Asik). If anything, Mohammed will bring veteran experience to the court and leadership to the locker room, but nothing more. He is simply a cheap alternative to Asik for a year or so until someone better can be found. The details of his contract have yet to be reported, but you can expect him to earn the veteran’s minimum ($1.2 million/year).

Vladamir Radmanovic, SF/PF. Replacing: No idea

Another brutal signing the Bulls made in order to fill out the roster. I was, and still am, disgusted by this pickup and don’t think I’ll be changing my stance any time soon. To be fair, though, the Bulls simply need bodies. Fortunately, Radmanovic only signed a one-year deal, so you’ll likely only see no. 77 (yes, he wears no. 77) for one short season and then forget about him forever. In 43 games with the Hawks last season, the 6’10” Radmanovic averaged 4.5 points and 2.9 rebounds in 15.4 minutes while shooting a whopping 37.6% from the field. Somehow, he shot nearly the same from outside the arc as he did from inside of it (37%), and I don’t really understand how. He’s a pretty horrendous defensive player, meaning that he will probably struggle to get playing time, especially with Tom Thibodeau at the helm. Don’t expect much production, if any, from the Rad Man next season. There’s a reason he’ll be playing for his seventh team in 11 years and fifth team in five years.

Marco Belinelli, SG. Replacing: Kyle Korver

The 6’5″ sharpshooting Belinelli may not be the most exciting player in the world, but he should fill the void that Kyle Korver has left just fine. They are very similar players: both are very streaky shooters and piss-poor defenders, but unlike Korver, Belinelli has shown very steady improvement offensively over the last few years (he’s also younger, so that makes sense). He averaged a career-high 30 minutes, 11.8 points and 1.5 threes per game for the Hornets last season (shot 37.7% from three as well and is a career 39.3% three-point shooter). Belinelli is purely a catch-and-shoot kind of player and tends to be a little too trigger-happy at times. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him struggle before Derrick Rose comes back and helps spread the floor for everyone, but given the way he played in New Orleans with Jarrett Jack running the point and no one else to open up opportunities (Eric Gordon missed almost the entire season), I’d like to think that Belinelli can pick up where he left off last season and continue to improve. Because of his inability to play defense, though, he will likely be thrown into Thibs’ doghouse early on, just like Korver was, until he can prove that he is willing to work hard and overcome his defensive shortcomings. For a guy who can do pretty much all the same things as Korver can at a much cheaper price ($1.96 million as opposed to $5 million), the Bulls found the right replacement.

Obviously, none of these players should make us jump for joy, and signing them doesn’t put us in a better position to win a title. In fact, just hearing that we signed Vladamir Radmanovic made me gag uncontrollably and led to me pulling a few eyelashes out. But, given the financial situation that the Bulls are in, this is the best they could do. As Nick Friedell wrote last week, the Bulls’ plan requires patience. This is not a team built to win a championship this season; they are good enough to win games, but not good enough to win a title. The Bulls are “stuck in cap hell” for the next two years, so it will take time for them to ultimately get to where they want to be. Until then, all we, as fans, can do is support them like we always have and just hope for the best. Let’s hope that the new second unit can provide some stability and begin a new era of The Bench Mob.


R.I.P. Bench Mob

The Bulls’ Bench Mob will be missed next season.

Gimme the Hot Sauce! Chicago’s Finest Brew! C.J. WWWWWAAAATSONNN-UHHH! How many times over the past two NBA seasons have you enjoyed hearing these Stacey Kingism’s and screaming them from your couch on an almost nightly basis? It always put a smile on my face when us Bulls fans would come together and celebrate the greatness that was, not a first unit, but a second unit in The Bench Mob. The Bulls had, without question, the best and deepest bench in the league over the last two years, and it always made us feel great that we had an advantage over every single team because of it. Yahoo’s Steve Merritt described The Mob perfectly:

…a group of guys that gelled with the Bulls’ existing core to develop a chemistry and camaraderie seldom seen in professional sports. The Bench Mob, in a word, was special, and Bulls fans quickly fell in love with their reserves. I mean, seriously, how many NBA second units have their own website and t-shirts (in addition to a cool nickname)?

But as of last night, The Bench Mob is officially no more. As predicted, once the Bulls declined to pick up C.J. Watson’s (he just signed a deal with Brooklyn Saturday night) and Ronnie Brewer’s team options, Kyle Korver was traded. The Hot Sauce will be taking his talents down south to Atlanta, who was in desperate need of any kind of shooting after Joe Johnson was traded to Brooklyn, in exchange for a trade exception and cash considerations. Some Bulls fans are upset, some are content and others are indifferent. Regardless of what people feel, though, these were moves that most of us should have seen coming and ultimately needed to be made.

The Bulls already have found replacements for Watson (and Lucas) in Kirk Hinrich and Marquis Teague, and Ronnie Brewer in Jimmy Butler. All signs point to the acquisition of former Milwaukee great and U.S. Olympian Michael Redd to replace Korver’s sharpshooting with that of his own (although he’s very washed up now because of injuries), but that’s all just speculation. Nevertheless, it makes me sad to see such a tight-knit group of guys broken up before ever winning a title. Had Derrick Rose been healthy, things would probably be different right now. The 2011-12 season unfortunately didn’t work out the way we thought it would, but we have to live with that and move on. That’s just sports.

Now that the Bulls are off the hook from Korver’s $500,000 on his $5 million non-guaranteed contract, they have the money to match Houston’s offer for Omer Asik and bring him back to Chicago. Do I think they’ll do that? Sources say yes, so I’d have to think so as well. Do I think they should? Well, you already know how I feel about that. And the answer is no. We’ll see what happens in the coming days.

Although we enjoyed watching The Bench Mob mesh together and had the utmost confidence in their ability to hold, and even extend, leads most of the time, the Watson/Brewer/Korver trio certainly had flaws that cannot be understated. Between Watson’s poor shot selection, Brewer’s inability to make a jump shot, and Korver’s incredible inconsistency and lack of defense, there were times when I’d watch these guys play, and I just wanted to physically hurt somebody. Of course, I’m too big of a bitch to have ever done such a thing, but you get where I’m coming from.

By the end of this past season, it was pretty freakin’ obvious that Thibodeau and Bulls nation had basically had it with them. Watson sucked beyond belief in that six-game series when it mattered most, Brewer managed to get benched in Game 3 of the playoffs and ended up averaging a whopping 1.3 points against Philly, and Korver combined for a grand total of zero points in three out of the six playoff games. The way their seasons ended, it was nearly impossible for me to think that bringing any of them back would be the right move. If we couldn’t trust them then to help right the ship without Derrick Rose, how can we trust them until February 2013 and possibly beyond?

There’s no doubt that we’ll miss the positive things that C.J. Watson, Ronnie Brewer and Kyle Korver brought to the table. Their hearts and desires to win games, not just for their team, but for the city of Chicago, were what made them such great assets, teammates and people. It’s extremely difficult to find one or two starters, let alone three bench players, on an NBA team who care as much about winning as they do, and that’s what makes me so upset to see them go.

Whether or not the Bulls are selling out for next season by breaking up one of league’s greatest benches of all time, I’m not sure, but these were moves that most people, including myself, feel were necessary. As fans, all we can do is move on and believe that guys like Kirk Hinrich and Jimmy Butler can take over their roles and flourish in them. Until next season tips off, though, let’s all fondly remember the founding fathers of The Bench Mob and all of the great things they did for this organization. Their competitiveness and unique chemistry will be sorely missed.

Captain Kirk is Coming Back Home

Kirk Hinrich is coming back to Chicago and will start at point guard in place of the injured Derrick Rose.

Two years ago, Bulls fans, including myself, were devastated when our beloved Kirk Hinrich was traded on draft night to the Washington Wizards. It was a way for the Bulls to clear up some cap space and go all-in on free agency by splurging on Lebron James, Dwyane Wade and/or Chris Bosh. I never thought for a second that Lebron was taking his talents to the Windy City (I actually thought he would stay in Cleveland, but that’s besides the point). Wade maybe. He grew up in Chicago, so there was a realistic chance of him coming here. But when the Bulls struck out on all three of them, Carlos Boozer ended up being our consolation prize, and it was disappointing to say the least.

The Bulls gave up a seven-year veteran in Hinrich, a guy who did everything that was ever asked of him, for next to nothing. By trading a player of Hinrich’s class, the front office showed that loyalty hadn’t meant as much as we’d thought. Of course, we all got over it, and the Bulls ended up with the best record in the NBA the next season, but there wasn’t a game that went by where I didn’t miss Kirk Hinrich. His leadership and his defense were his two best qualities, and the Bulls lacked both during the 2011 Eastern Conference finals and 2012 playoffs.

Sure enough, as of yesterday morning, Captain Kirk is coming back to Chicago on the mini-midlevel exception and will sign a two-year, (just over) $6 million deal when the free agent moratorium ends on Wednesday. The most surprising part? He passed up a better offer from Milwaukee to come back and play for the team that low-balled him with a trade just two years ago. Hinrich probably didn’t forget, but he certainly forgave. Clearly, he wants to win as badly as anyone and feels he can help keep this team afloat without its best player. That, in itself, should make us feel pretty good.

No, Hinrich won’t be the difference maker in winning a championship this season and beyond, but he does solve the Bulls’ need for a combo guard and will man the point while Rose is out until January or February. Every one is entitled to their opinion on C.J. Watson (he was told by the Bulls yesterday that his team option will not be picked up) and whether or not Hinrich is an upgrade but, although he hasn’t been the same player in two seasons since that trade, I’d like to think that a comeback to Chicago will be exactly what Hinrich needs to get back to his old self.

By now, we can all agree that Watson is a soft-spoken floor general who plays mediocre defense at best and proved he cannot run the Bulls’ offense without the luxury of having Derrick Rose take off some pressure; Hinrich is the opposite. He started at point guard for this organization for over five seasons and already has a large majority of fan support in Chicago. He can defend multiple positions very well, has a high basketball IQ and was widely considered one of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA during his time as a Bull. The injuries have piled up – there’s no doubt about that. However, Hinrich is only 31 years old, so if he can manage to stay healthy, he’s still got a good amount left in the tank. He’s not the answer by any means, but he does bring some aspects of his game to the table that Watson does not.

When Rip Hamilton’s deal expires after this season, Hinrich could start at shooting guard next season, making him even more valuable to the Bulls backcourt. The two-year deal comes with minimal risk, so it can’t hurt. Plus, according to Chicago Tribune’s K.C. Johnson, because Hinrich is signing for the mini-midlevel exception, “the Bulls can exceed both the luxury tax threshold projected to be $70.3 million and a hard cap of $74.3 million set for teams who use the full midlevel exception.” In other words, the Bulls may end up matching Houston’s offer for Omer Asik after all, putting them into luxury tax territory and forcing them to pursue minimum-salary free agents to fill up the roster. But, that’s another story for another day.

As excited as I am about seeing Hinrich back in the white, red and black, the Bulls still have a few more important decisions and potential roster changes to make. It’s unfortunate that we can’t bring in any legitimate game-changers, but with such little flexibility in the salary cap, signing Kirk Hinrich was a move that many felt needed to be made. We’ll see how creative the front office wants to get in the coming weeks, but I’m not counting on anything major. In the meantime, let’s welcome back our former Captain and his new-look goggles to his old stomping grounds with open arms.

What does drafting Marquis Teague mean for the Bulls’ future?

The Chicago Bulls drafted arguably the best player available, Marquis Teague, with the 29th overall pick on Thursday night. What does it mean for their future?

Marquis Teague: Welcome to Chicago. I’m still not totally sure how I feel about this pick (I definitely like it for short-term purposes), but I am sure about this: the Bulls didn’t even think twice about it. They worked out around a dozen different players leading up to the draft, and not one of them was named Marquis Teague. Clearly, no one, including the Bulls’ front office, thought Teague would slip all the way to no. 29 in the draft. Everyone knew we were going after a guard. Was it going to be Doron Lamb, the sharpshooter from Kentucky? Was it going to be Will Barton, the long, versatile 2-guard from Memphis? Was it going to be Tyshawn Taylor, the emotional combo-guard from Kansas? I personally had no clue. But when the Bulls were officially on the clock, and Teague was still available, it just seemed inevitable. Even without those pre-draft workouts, the Bulls liked him the most simply because he was the best player available.

As stated in last week’s post on the Bulls’ draft prospects, Teague has arguably the highest ceiling of any point guard in this draft. If he had stayed one more year at Kentucky, he might have been a top-10 pick, so he’s great value for the us at the end of the first round. Teague’s a great athlete with a 40.5″ max vertical leap and has drawn some comparisons to Steve Francis. He loves to get out and run and break down defenses off the dribble. He’s also a great finisher at the rim, has solid vision, excels in pick-and-roll situations and can knock down midrange jumpers here and there. However, his decision-making in the half court, as well as his long-range jump shooting (shot 32% from three at Kentucky last season), needs work. He won’t become a true threat next season until he can consistently hit three-point shots to keep defenses honest and make them play up on him. Teague is an incredible talent nonetheless, and quarterbacking the Kentucky Wildcats to a national championship as a freshman should probably count for something. But as fun as it is to analyze a player’s skill level, what does this pick mean for the Bulls?

The biggest elephant in the room, other than Derrick Rose’s health, amongst fans and the Bulls organization alike has been the question about the Bulls back court. Most fans thought C.J. Watson’s time in Chicago should come to an end, but no one really had any idea about what Gar Forman and John Paxson were thinking — until tonight. With Teague ready to step in, I think it’s safe to say that Watson will be gone. He had his moments, yes, but for every good thing he did on the court, there were two or three bad things. Watson was completely exposed this past season, as he started 25 total games while Derrick Rose nursed injuries. The poor decision-making, the iffy shot selection and the terrible playoff performance ultimately put him in our doghouse, so there’s no better time for a high-upside point guard like Teague to come in and take over Watson’s spot. If, for some reason, the Bulls decide to keep Watson for one more year, then John Lucas will undoubtedly be let go, and Teague will get his minutes while Rose recovers from knee surgery. What will Teague’s primary role be next season, though, if the Bulls do follow the road that all signs point to and not bring Watson back?

Obviously, the Bulls must have at least three point guards on next year’s roster with Rose set to miss a majority of the regular season. Teague is a lock. But John Lucas and Mike James? Not so much. After Lucas’ horrendous performance against Philadelphia in round one and Tom Thibodeau’s surprising stubbornness to give Mike James any chance whatsoever to prove himself, it’s hard to see why either of them would be brought back. Maybe one (probably Lucas), but not both. I can’t imagine Teague being thrown into the fire immediately and starting for three months, so his primary role will almost certainly entail being the backup point guard before and after Rose comes back. That being said, someone will have to be the guy to get his name called during the starting lineups. With the $3.7 million the Bulls would save by not picking up Watson’s option, a guy like Kirk Hinrich, whom I mentioned in last week’s post about potential offseason decisions, would be a perfect bridge (there are other options out there, but he comes to mind first because of how much fans in Chicago love him). However, if Teague, or even John Lucas, ends up getting the starting nod on opening night, it wouldn’t shock me — stranger things have happened. And that includes Miles Plumlee getting drafted by the Pacers before Arnette Moultrie, Perry Jones III, Draymond Green AND Marquis Teague (seriously, what an AWFUL pick).

As far as the long-term future is concerned, this pick kind of confuses me. As @NBATradeIdeas tweeted last night, the Bulls drafted a point guard whose ceiling is Rose’s backup for the next five years or so. Why didn’t they take a flier on a potential shooting guard? Consider what’s Alex Sonty wrote:

The Bulls already have an MVP point guard whom the organization expects to log 35+ MPG for at least the next six years, so no matter how good Teague becomes, when does this value get added?

Honestly, I don’t know; and the Bulls probably don’t either, but will do their damnedest to sell you on “can’t have too much depth” narrative.

What I can do is speculate is that the Bulls are questioning Rose’s long-term viability as a point guard, as the 76ers did with Allen Iverson at an inflection point; that maybe more minutes in small backcourts in shifts as the secondary ball handler — the de facto SG — is optimal for his health, so he can rest more often on offense.

If Sonty’s hunch is true, then my analysis of this pick changes completely. Did the Bulls draft Teague with the notion that Rose will soon become the shooting guard of the future? None of us will really know the answer to this question until we see what kind of impact Teague will have during the earlier part of his career in a Bulls uniform. Of course, it’s all speculation, but it’s still something for us Bulls fans to ponder deeply.

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