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The Ratings Game



Dodgers Outfielder Yasiel Puig has taken the baseball world by storm over the past six weeks, yet casual fans haven’t seemed to notice much.

We’ve reached the traditional finish to the first half of the major league baseball season (even though nearly 60 percent of the season has been played), and boy, what a first half it has been. The storylines include the reigning triple crown winner Miguel Cabrera putting up video-game numbers (.365/.458/.674, 30 HR, 95 RBI–according to MLB Stats he could go hitless in his next 79 at-bats and still hit better than .300), a guy in Chris “Crush” Davis who hit more home runs by the break than anyone besides Barry Bonds (and his 37 are four less than he’s had the last three seasons COMBINED), a 22-year-old kid from Cuba named Puig who hasn’t stopped lighting up Hollywood since his call-up in June, becoming ESPN’s new lovechild in the process, and five of the six division races separated by just 2.5 games or less. It’s going to be a fun second half. So why aren’t more people watching?

According to Awful Announcing, MLB on Fox failed to draw a 2.0 rating in each of its first six telecasts this season (for perspective, Nascar’s Sprint Cup Series race at New Hampshire on Sunday did a 2.8 rating–on TNT). ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball dipped as low as a 1.2 for a Memorial Day matchup with the Braves and Mets. The ratings plunge has been a trend in the past decade. Take a look at these charts from


In Chicago, as of June 11th, the Cubs regular season games averaged a 1.7 rating on Comcast SportsNet, down 15 percent from that point last season, according to White Sox games have been even worse–averaging a 1.3, down 24 percent from a year ago. Now, since both teams stink, this isn’t exactly shocking news. Baseball is a regional sport, and ratings in markets like Detroit and St. Louis, where the teams are contenders, continue to soar. But is winning the only thing causing the casual fan to switch from Man vs. Food to Sale vs. Cabrera? I think baseball is far behind its major sports counterparts in attracting fans to games beyond the scope of their home teams. MLB isn’t doing everything it can to capitalize on the national narratives it has going for it currently. The overall health of the sport is fine (the last nine seasons, 2004-2012, have produced the nine-most attended seasons in baseball history, according to Forbes), but the television ratings downward slope and overall image of the game should cause some alarm bells to go off. Here are some possible solutions.


The most obvious and fixable problem with baseball is the length of the season. 162 games plus a month of playoffs is ridiculous in the current culture. Folks already complain about the length of games (as of last month, games averaged 2:57:53, which would tie the all-time high set in 2000, according to the Boston Globe). Combine that with the interminable season schedule, and the society of now and instant gratification is bound to turn away. Of course, purists will always argue the beauty of the game can be found in its nuances, which can only be played out in a space without a clock and a season that stretches six months. But Major League Baseball, contrary to popular belief, has actually adopted new rules and policies several times in its 137-year history, and one of them has been schedule length.

The modern 162-game schedule has now been in place for 51 years, back when there were only 18 teams in the league. From 1888 to 1961, the league schedule went back-and-forth from 142 games to 154 five different times (with a five-year switch to 132 games in 1893). Baseball has always employed the longest season of the major American professional sports for several reasons: it’s not as physically taxing as football or hockey; there is natural rest allotted for players taking the most toll on their bodies (starting pitchers) by only playing every four-to-five games, etc. Baseball is a grind, but to imagine an NBA player playing 40 minutes a night for 162 games a season is nearly impossible.

The solution? Chop off the first and last months of the season, and play a 96-game slate starting May 1st. Suddenly, you remove the cold, miserable April games played in climates like Cleveland and Minnesota who use outdoor stadiums meant for warm summer months, not games where this happens.

You also create urgency right off the bat and keep fans (and players) more engaged with pennant races that don’t last three times as long as a Kardashian marriage. Look what happened when both the NBA and NHL shortened their seasons because of separate lockouts. They went from 82 games to 66 and 48, respectively, and the regular season felt more entertaining to fans, an experience to savor instead of just a heavy, time-consuming appetizer to digest before the postseason. Those shorter seasons crammed too many games into such a short period of time, creating sloppy play and resulting in too many injuries that routinely found critics blaming the season length. However, this wouldn’t be the case in baseball. Teams already play six to seven games a week for six months and, if they are lucky to survive that, play three seven-game series to determine a champion. It’s a lot of baseball in a cramped time frame.

By cutting 40 percent off the regular season slate, baseball can now breathe a little bit, and still play more games than any of the Big Four leagues. With the reduced game-schedule, every team would get one off day a week (either Monday or Thursday), ensuring no stretches of 20-plus games in a row for some teams without an off day. Removing the rainy (and sometimes snowy) April from the docket also cuts down on postponed games that have to be rescheduled during the season. The real ratings trouble happens at the end of the season, when football kicks off again and fans turn their attention elsewhere. With the new shortened schedule, the regular season would end in late August, allowing fans to fully invest in pennant races without NFL or college football games interfering yet. The MLB playoffs would be in September, but playoff games should only be scheduled on Tuesday-Saturday, as to not overlap with the NFL, which would no doubt diminish ratings (we’ll take our chances with the college football crowd on Saturdays).

While we decrease the regular season length, we can then extend the playoffs by adding more teams. MLB already made a wise choice last season adding the second wild card team, allowing five teams from each league (33 percent total) into its postseason. This still lags behind football (12 total playoff teams, or 40 percent of the league), and far behind the NBA and NHL (16 total playoff teams, 53 percent). The NBA and NHL playoffs are long as it is, so I’d be in favor of six teams from each league making the postseason as opposed to jumping up to eight. With this format, the only logical way to work things out is to give each division winner a playoff spot, along with the next three best teams in the league, regardless of division. The two teams with the best records will get byes into the second round (again, this could mean they come from the same division, a la the Pirates and Cardinals this season). The three seed would play the six seed in a best-of-five series, the four seed getting the five seed also in a best-of-five. The lowest seed remaining plays the top seed in a best-of-seven, with the other two teams playing each other. The NLCS, ALCS and World Series would also be best-of-seven.


Along with a shorter season schedule, the major networks airing MLB games in primetime need to do a better job of showcasing the top players and teams in the game as the season goes along. For instance, Yasiel Puig was called up on June 3 and instantly ignited the league with his 5-tool arsenal rarely seen so early in a player’s career. Bar none, he was the most talked about player during the last six weeks. However, not one ESPN Sunday Night Baseball game (the equivalent to the NFL’s Monday Night Football telecast) included Puig’s Los Angeles Dodgers. Why not? The league set its Sunday night games through mid-July way back on May 29–five days before Puig’s call-up. Bad luck? Certainly. But what the MLB and ESPN should have done is employ a flex schedule similar to what the NFL and its Sunday night showcase on NBC work out.

Flex scheduling begins Week 11 in the NFL, and ensures the fans a marquee matchup for the final quarter of the season. It’s a smart, ratings-driven tactic that has worked. According to, the announcement of which game gets “flexed” comes no later than 12 days before the scheduled matchup. If the NFL can change a game time with that short of a turnaround, there’s no reason the MLB can’t as well. And the league shouldn’t wait until the second half of the season to do so, either. Not one Sunday Night Baseball game in the final five weeks of the first half (and the first week of the second half coming up this Sunday), included Miguel Cabrera, Chris Davis or Yasiel Puig, the three biggest player storylines going this season. Instead, we were force-fed two Yankees-Red Sox match-ups (which I can probably speak for most when I say those outside the East Coast are tired of), and not one, not two, but three games featuring the St. Louis Cardinals, which is understandable because of their record but overkill in that amount of time. Baseball has to continually look to showcase its best stories and talent during its marquee stage week-in-week-out, and it starts with flex scheduling more in tune with the NFL.


Finally, player marketing needs to improve. The NBA is commonly regarded as the league of stars because we see those players in the flesh, unencumbered by helmets or hats. We see their faces more, and therefore we recognize and identify with them easier (unlike some Mets fans have been able to do with their own Matt Harvey). The best NBA players are also the ones we see most often on our TVs when they aren’t in a game (think Chris Paul and his State Farm commercials, Blake Griffin and his KIA ads, Derrick Rose and Adidas, Lebron and Nike, etc.) But where are the baseball stars? The best player in the league, Miguel Cabrera, hasn’t hit it out of the park with endorsers for a couple of reasons, both of which I don’t agree with.

The first is the language barrier. Cabrera is Venezuelan, and doesn’t speak perfect English. So what? He’s the best hitter on the planet and should be the face of the sport. Does Chris (or Cliff) Paul speak in his State Farm ad? Nope, its voiced over by a narrator. There are ways around the language gap, and it shouldn’t be used as an excuse to not highlight the game’s best talent. The other reason companies aren’t flocking toward Cabrera with seven-figure endorsement deals is because of his past off-field issues. Cabrera has a sketchy history with alcohol abuse, arrests–he was charged with DUI in 2011 and in 2010–and domestic violence, as his GM had to pick him up from a police station in 2009 after Cabrera fought with his wife (drinking involved). However, that was before his Triple Crown season of 2012, and his current first-half of unprecedented greatness. If Josh Hamilton can get endorsement deals with Vita Coco water after overcoming his off-field issues, there’s no reason why Cabrera, a player out of Hamilton’s league at this point, can’t grab a bigger endorsement deal and more TV face time.

If the only difference is their skin color, that’s unfair. Bryce Harper is a budding star–and white–and naturally, he’s a key component to MLB’s marketing campaign. And he should be, with such big-name sponsors as Under Armour. But more stars, no matter their ethnicity, need to be highlighted across media platforms. From what I’ve seen, baseball stars are still trailing their football and basketball counterparts in this crucial area to increase the sport’s popularity beyond a regional game.


These aren’t the only areas of the game that need to be improved, of course, but they are a start. I think the media as a whole can do a better job highlighting the game (I’m looking at you, ESPN, running more off-season NFL, NBA and college football news during the summer than baseball stories). I also think generating more interest in the fantasy baseball game (or wagering on baseball in general) can be explored because we all know how much that drives football ratings on Sundays in the fall. If you have more than just a rooting interest on the line, you are bound to watch more games which don’t involve your favorite team.

Baseball is a stubborn sport. Change spreads through its pores slowly. I love the history and uniqueness of the game as much as any fan, but I also recognize its lag behind other sports nationally. Keeping every element of the game the same for the sake of  “we’ve always done it this way” won’t cut it anymore. New rules on video replay and the added wildcard team are steps in the right direction to raise the game’s profile. I hope they continue.

The second half of the season should be filled with compelling division races, another triple crown chase and a potential 60 home run season. Just make sure to tune in, or you might just miss it.


Filling Out the Bulls’ Roster: Options at Backup Center

Should the Bulls try luring Elton Brand back to where it all began?

With the Mike Dunleavy Jr. (full mini mid-level exception) and Nazr Mohammed (veteran’s minimum) signings now official, the Bulls’ roster is nearing full capacity. Tony Snell and Erik Murphy agreed to contracts yesterday, meaning 12 players will make up what should be one of the two or three best rosters, from top to bottom, in the Eastern Conference (Rose, Butler, Deng, Boozer, Noah, Gibson, Dunleavy, Hinrich, Teague, Mohammed, Snell, Murphy), with room for one more. The back court, as expected, will be a bit crowded, so it’s fair to presume that the final roster spot will go to another big man. With all do respect to Mohammed, he’s 35-years-old, slow as molasses and simply can’t be relied upon to solely backup Noah and his lingering plantar fasciitis anymore. He gave some solid minutes here and there last season, but the only thing anyone truly remembers was his legendary shove of Lebron in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Semis; the backup center market is horrific, but it’s painfully obvious that the Bulls need another big body in the front court to come off the bench. Who’s available? Who makes sense? Let’s take a look.

Elton Brand

The night the Bulls traded Elton Brand to the Clippers for Tyson Chandler was one of the worst moments in my sports life. Constant pouting and wall-punching for days, minimal sleep and happiness. Twelve years later, the 34-year-old Brand finds himself looking for work after a very successful NBA career. He’s nowhere near even a shell of his old self, but he was still able to give Dallas a solid 21.2 minutes per game last season.

  • Pros: Because of his ability to rebound and block shots, Brand fits into the Bulls system fairly well. He averaged nearly a career high in blocks per 36 minutes (2.1; career high is 2.3), steals per 36 minutes (1.2; career high is 1.3) and rebounds per 36 minutes (10.1; career high is 11.0). Although his ability to score has diminished over the years, Brand was able to convert 54.17% of his shots from the right elbow and 48.28% from the right baseline, highlighting his effectiveness in the pick-and-roll on the right side of the floor. Of course, the Bulls won’t be counting on Brand to score much from anywhere outside the restricted area, where he was able to make 58.6% of shots.
  • Cons: Brand is still a pretty terrible shooter (47.3% last year as a center – not good), and his rising foul rate is a major concern. He committed a career high 4.5 fouls per 36 minutes last season, almost a full foul more than his previous season (3.7). With Joakim Noah continuously battling through injuries and Taj Gibson missing 17 games last season, members of the Bulls front court can ill-afford to get into significant foul trouble.
  • Bottom line: Any team willing to give Brand anything more than the veteran’s minimum ($854,389) is dumb as rocks. Given the Bulls’ salary cap situation and Jerry Reinsdorf’s cheap tendencies, it’s almost impossible to see them signing anyone for more than that. Brand somehow posted a higher Player Efficiency Rating (PER) than Taj Gibson last year and would provide some value from a defensive standpoint. Those reasons, along with Brand’s veteran presence in the locker room, lead me to believe that the Bulls really can’t do much better than that.

Samuel Dalembert

The 32-year-old Dalembert is the best center available left amongst the weak free agent crop. He’s had a very productive career but is coming off a season in which he became the 78th player to make it to Scott Skiles’ unnecessarily large doghouse.

  • Pros: Dalembert is a fantastic defender, even at his age, and can alter shots in ways that many centers around the league cannot. He has career per-36 averages of 2.6 blocks and 11.5 rebounds and converted an incredible 54.2% of his shots last season in Milwaukee. Like the other players on this list, he won’t be counted on to score (although he did put up 35 points in a game against Denver back in February) in Chicago, but his defensive presence in the paint can be very impactful for any team. Additionally, Dalembert had a higher PER last season (18.60) than both Joakim Noah (18.16) AND Roy Hibbert (17.32). That should at least count for something.
  • Cons: Dalembert’s value is a little too high for Reinsdorf and his checkbook. The Bulls are already over the luxury tax line of $71.748 million, so it may not be sensible to go after a backup center who made nearly $7 million last year and is likely looking for a deal around half of that. He also played a majority of last season somewhat out of shape, which is probably the reason why Skiles benched him so often.
  • Bottom line: Most teams interested in Dalembert are presumably targeting him as a mini mid-level exception candidate, which the Bulls already used on Dunleavy. He will also be looking to play more minutes than the Bulls will be able to provide him, so this speculation is more wishful thinking than anything else. It’d be relatively shocking to see Dalembert sign with Chicago for the veteran’s minimum or see Chicago throw any more money at him than that.

Jason Collins

Jason Collins? The 34-year-old veteran who came out of the closet back in April and claims he still has some basketball left in him? Yes. Yes indeed.

  • Pros: I couldn’t give a crap less whether Collins is gay or straight. Anyone who does should go take a look in the mirror and reassess the life he/she is living. All I care about is whether or not he can still play basketball. For a team like the Bulls, who are looking for another guy to spell Noah and provide 5-10 minutes off the bench, some believe Collins can. He defends very well, plays as hard as anyone, has a ton of postseason experience, and he can be signed for the veteran’s minimum. Against a team like the Pacers, whom the Bulls play five times a year, Collins’ physicality and mental toughness would be a great asset.
  • Cons: As sad as it is, some teams are shying away from Collins because of the potentially negative attention his homosexuality (not that there’s anything wrong with that) will draw from a number of fans around the country. If the Bulls feel that Collins’ defense and leadership trumps all of that, they’ll probably take a look at him. However, he has absolutely no offensive skills anymore and is very one-dimensional. He’d be signed to strictly guard opposing teams’ centers and set hard screens for ball handlers and shooters – nothing more, nothing less.
  • Bottom line: It’s difficult to see the Bulls going after Collins, as he’ll likely draw interest from a number of Western Conference teams looking to beef up their front lines to better defend Dwight Howard. Nevertheless, he’s a solid fit for the defensive system Tom Thibodeau has in place and has proven to hold his own down low, so Bulls fans shouldn’t be totally opposed.

Ronny Turiaf

Another one-dimensional center. The 30-year-old Turiaf can’t score, but he can be relied upon to defend the post.

  • Pros: Defense. Turiaf only played about 11 minutes a game last season as Deandre Jordan’s backup in LA, but he was able to put up per-36 averages of 7.8 rebounds and 1.8 blocks. He works hard, and he has played on six playoff teams in seven seasons. You know what you’re getting with Turiaf; whether or not that effort remains sufficient for most organizations remains to be seen.
  • Cons: Offense. A large majority of Turiaf’s points come from deep inside the paint – generally layups, tip-ins and dunks – as opposed to anywhere else on the floor. Like Collins, there’s really not much to him offensively. He’ll do some of the dirty work and set some screens, but he will not be counted on to score at all. Period.
  • Bottom line: Given the fact that Turiaf really isn’t any better than Mohammed, it’d be mildly surprising if the Bulls show any interest at all. They’d probably be better served signing another guard for cheap.

Chris Andersen

The Birdman. Why not?

  • Pros: He’s extremely irritating for opponents, every opposing fan despises him, and his hair is kind of awesome.
  • Cons: He’s a total douche, looks like a complete idiot, can’t do a damn thing offensively unless Lebron James is dropping him a dime, and I hate him. That’s why not.
  • Bottom line: I threw him in here just to emphasize how big of a jackass he is. The Heat will re-sign him anyways, which is fine. They can have him.

Other options: Brandan Wright (likely to re-sign with Dallas), Chris Wilcox (eh), Cole Aldrich (eh), Joel Przybilla (bum)

By the Numbers: Chances Bulls beat Rockets in 1994 and 1995 with Michael Jordan

The debate over whether or not the Bulls would have beaten the Rockets with Michael Jordan will never go to rest.

Think about it: how many times have you gotten into a conversation or an argument with someone about whether or not the Bulls would have won eight straight championships had Michael Jordan not retired to play baseball? For me, it must be a good five to ten times and counting. It was only a few years ago when I got into a heated debate with two Rockets fans about this very topic. Punches were nearly thrown and veins began popping out of our necks and foreheads. Fortunately for me, those punches were not thrown, as I would have easily gotten my ass kicked.

This topic has been debated amongst diehard fans, casual fans, “fans” who think they know basketball because they’ve heard of some guy named Jordan, writers, analysts, and scrubs off the street. It has probably also been debated amongst current players, former players, coaches and even front office personnel. The main argument for the Rockets: Hakeem Olajuwon. Of the six championships the Bulls won, they never had to play a team with a legitimate center (Vlade Divac, Clifford Robinson, Tom Chambers, Shawn Kemp/Sam Perkins whom were both true power forwards, Greg Ostertag twice). He averaged 29-11-4-4 during the ’94 playoffs and 33-10-5-3 during the ’95 playoffs. That’s fair. The main argument for the Bulls: Michael Jordan. The Rockets didn’t have him. The best player in the world retired right smack-dab in the middle of his prime after winning three straight championships. No team could have stopped him no matter how hard they tried.

Of course, no one really knows what would have happened had Jordan not retired during the summer of ’93. However, that doesn’t mean we should stop arguing about it. What fun would that be? Everyone is entitled to their own opinion – as long as they can back it up with some sort of logic. For all these years, I’ve always argued just for the sake of arguing – some of it out of bias for my hometown Bulls and my sick obsession with M.J., some of it out of thinking that a Jordan-led Bulls team was truly better all-around than the Rockets. But, being the number-loving guy that I am, I surprisingly never took the time to come up with an answer from a statistical point-of-view. So, after a fellow sports fanatic and buddy of mine, Adam Singer, posed the very question about Jordan’s Bulls beating Olajuwon’s Rockets to me last week, I decided to do something about it. I asked myself, “What are the chances the Bulls would have won championships in 1994 and 1995 with an unretired, cannibalistic Jordan?”

To figure this out, I used a very similar approach (that I learned about in a book called Mathletics) to one of my posts from May, titled By the numbers: Chances the Bulls get to the Finals with a healthy D-Rose. I used Microsoft Excel Solver to power rate each NBA team during every postseason from 1990-1995 using season-long data from I calculated the home team’s margin, prediction of each game, and the squared error of each game, which equals (home margin – prediction)^2. The sum of the squared error acts as the “target cell” in Solver and must be minimized in order to come up with accurate team ratings. Assuming that the average NBA playoff team had a rating of 0, you can see below that the Bulls, as expected, received the highest playoff rating during each of their first three championship runs with 15.88, 20.54 and 9.59, respectively. The Rockets, of course, rated the highest during the 1994 and 1995 postseasons with 5.74 and 16.08, respectively.

Before we get into the nitty gritty, let’s take all this in for a second. Based on just the numbers above, it’s no coincidence that the Bulls went from making everyone their bitch from 1991-93 to just above average in the two postseasons that followed. They also ranked first overall in offensive rating (points scored per 100 possessions) during the 1990-91 and 1991-92 seasons and second overall in 1992-93, then plummeted to 14th overall in 1993-94 and 10th in 1994-95. The impact that MJ had on the Bulls can obviously go without saying. Even without him, though, they finished their first Jordan-less season with 55 wins and the third seed in the playoffs. Had Hue Hollins not made one of the most controversial foul calls in the history of the NBA against Scottie Pippen during Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, the Bulls would have likely won the series against the Knicks and could have been one step closer to playing the Rockets without Jordan. But, it clearly didn’t work out that way, and they were sent packing before the Finals for the first time in four years.

Anyways, it’s time to get back on track and calculate the chances that the Bulls would have beaten Houston using Excel’s @RISK. The first step was forecasting the average scoring margin for home and away games. There was no right way to do this, so I had to get creative. I figured the most logical way would be to:

  1. Take the Bulls’ average playoff rating over those three seasons above (15.34) and put it up against the Rockets’ ratings in their respective championship seasons (5.47 in ’94, 16.09 in ’95).
  2. Assume the Bulls would have had home court advantage (5.85 points) both years because they finished with only three less wins than Houston in ’94 (55 to 58) and the same amount of wins in ’95 (47 each). I’d like to think that the Bulls would have won at least three extra games each year had Jordan been playing.
  3. Assume they would have beaten every Eastern Conference opponent because it just makes my life easier.

For home games, I took (Home Edge + Bulls Rating – Rockets Rating). For away games, I took (Bulls Rating – Home Edge – Rockets Rating). The projected margin was then calculated using the average forecast and standard deviation (Mathletics states that ”12 points is the historical standard deviation of actual scores about a prediction from a ranking system”). If that number was greater than 0, then the Bulls were given a 1 (indicating they won) and were given a 0 if the number was less than 0 (indicating they lost). If the sum of the wins was greater than or equal to 4, then the Bulls would have won the series. With that being said, take a look at the 1994 Finals simulation results:

After running 1000 iterations, the Bulls won the series a ridiculous 966 times, meaning they would have had a 96.6% chance of beating Houston with Jordan playing. In other words, had the Bulls played as well in the 1994 postseason as they did the previous three seasons, the Rockets would have stood virtually no chance of winning. Seven championships instead of six? Yes please.

The 1995 playoffs were a completely different story. Houston played with much more of an edge after finally winning a championship the year before, and Hakeem Olajuwon was simply unstoppable, as he solidified himself as the best center in the game. Jordan also came back and played in the playoffs, but I’ll get to that in a minute. Check out the 1995 Finals simulation results:

This time, the Bulls won the series only 504 times – you can’t find a more even matchup than that. The split was nearly dead even at 50/50 so, based on numbers alone, it’s very hard for me to argue for any one side. However, I will say this: I understand that Jordan came back near the end of the season and played in the playoffs, but he wasn’t quite the same player that everyone was accustomed to watching until the playoffs actually started. He was very rusty in a majority of the regular season games he played in and shot a career low 41% from the field.

Yes, Jordan’s numbers against Charlotte and Orlando that postseason prove that he finally got his mojo back (31.5 points per game), but the team’s chemistry wasn’t even close to where it once was during their three-peat. The Bulls had added Toni Kukoc, Luc Longley, Ron Harper and Steve Kerr since Jordan left, and they lost Horace Grant and John Paxson. It was probably very difficult for Jordan to adjust to playing with a completely different group of players and vice versa. Imagine playing two years with Scottie Pippen leading your team and then watching him hand over the reigns, just a month before the 1995 playoffs, to a legend who takes about 22 shots a game and approaches every play, every set and every opposition unlike anyone you’ve ever seen. It takes longer than a month to get used to, so the Bulls entered the playoffs during a honeymoon period, and Shaquille O’Neal’s Magic took advantage. Needless to say, they went on to win a NBA-record 72 games the next season and obliterated everyone en route to their fourth of six championships (finished the postseason with a 15-3 record). Surely, a little chemistry, as well as a little Dennis Rodman, never hurt anyone. Well, except for any women who claim victim to Rodman’s misdemeanor and domestic violence charges. But that’s besides the point.

Look, I don’t want to take anything away from the Houston Rockets. They were an incredible team led by two Hall of Famers in Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler and supported by Kenny Smith, Sam Cassell, Robert Horry and Mario Elie. After Jordan, Olajuwon may have been the best player in the ’90s and is widely considered the greatest defensive player of all time. Coming up with probabilities is fun and all, but it’s not a final indicator of who would actually win the series. The games would still have to be played. Maybe the Rockets weren’t going to lose that year no matter who they went up against, but I still can’t help but think about what could have been.

From Charles Barkley to Karl Malone to John Stockton to Patrick Ewing to Reggie Miller to Dominique Wilkins to Shawn Kemp to Brad Daugherty to Tim Hardaway, the list of Hall of Famers or great players that never won a ring because they couldn’t beat M.J.’s Bulls is endless. Had Jordan never retired to play baseball, who’s to say that Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler wouldn’t have joined that list as well?

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.

To Match or Not to Match Houston’s Offer to Omer Asik

Restricted free agent Omer Asik has received a hefty offer from the Rockets. Do the Bulls love him enough to match the offer sheet?

Less than a week after striking out and getting rejected by Dwight Howard, Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey has decided to settle for Bulls’ restricted free agent Omer Asik to fill their gaping hole at center. As everyone expected, the Rockets have offered Asik a heavily backloaded 3-year deal worth $24.3 million (about $14 million in the third year). Once July 11 hits, the Bulls will have three days to match that offer sheet, or else The Turkish Hammer will be taking his talents to H-Town. For months, Gar Forman has made it very clear that re-signing Asik is a priority and that all decisions made within the organization this summer will be basketball decisions, not financial decisions. That being said, matching this offer and re-signing him will be extremely difficult and will put us right up against the luxury-tax threshold –something that Jerry Reinsdorf has never felt comfortable with. crunched the salary numbers Saturday and determined that, if the Bulls are to re-sign Asik, they will be going well over the luxury tax, meaning that Watson, Brewer, Korver AND Lucas will almost certainly be gone in order to make things more affordable for the organization. They will have to find cheaper alternatives (Jimmy Butler is already one of them) to those players, as they’ll still have very little wiggle room with nearly $70 million tied into nine players (the luxury-tax threshold is expected to be around $70.3 million, according to ESPN capologist Larry Coon). The Bulls are in an incredibly difficult situation this summer — they’ll be treading water like a scared four-year old without inflatable armbands and scrambling to find cheap replacements (some of whom I wrote about last week, some of whom Nick Friedell touched on on Saturday). That’s why it’s hard to see them bringing Asik back even after Forman’s adamant statements about keeping him. They have limited flexiblity, if any, to work with before next season tips off. Keep in mind, though, that the luxury tax is put in place at the end of the regular season, which opens up the opportunity for a midseason trade to get the Bulls back under if need be.

By bringing back Asik for this price, the $14.09 million he’s set to make in the 2014-15 season will be added to the combined $47.7 million owed to Derrick Rose, Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah that season. That would be about $61 million tied into four players, which pretty much guarantees that the amnesty clause will be used on Boozer by 2014. Unfortunately, that’s an extra two years of potential frustration and bipolar conversations/debates about Boozer’s erratic play and mysterious hairline. The popular opinion amongst Bulls fans, including myself, is that we’d be better off amnestying Boozer now instead of two years from now. That way, the Bulls will be able to re-sign Asik, allow Taj Gibson to get more minutes and even audition for a starting gig before he’s up for an extension, and bring in some better free agents (either this year or next) to surround Rose with. But everyone knows by now that there’s no chance of that happening, and in life, we can’t always get what we want.

There’s no denying how phenomenal Omer Asik is on the defensive end of the court. If we don’t keep him, his 7’1″ presence will be severely missed. Take a look at the impact he made last season while anchoring the paint (according to Hardwood Paroxysm):

Of the Bulls’ top 50 most played 5-man lineups this past season (via, Asik was in six of the top seven in points allowed per 100 possessions (pts/100). Without Asik on the court, Chicago allowed just 97.6 pts/100, which would have place 5th in the league over the course of a full season. But when Asik was on the court, that number dropped all the way down to 89.7 pts/100, which would have led the league 5.6 pts/100. He ranked in the 96th percentile in individual points allowed per possession, via mySynergySports, as well as 84th percentile against pick-and-roll ball-handlers and 77th percentile against isolations. (h/t Matt Moore) He’s an elite rebounder (h/t Zach Lowe), an excellent help defender and a good shot-blocker.

Take that all in for a second and think about this: the Bulls were a ridiculous eight points better defensively with Asik on the court. But as great as that sounds, we all know about the train wreck that is Asik’s offense. He has bricks for hands, has absolutely no range outside of an inch from the basket (meaning he can’t do anything but dunk), and watching him shoot free throws is more painful than jamming a finger or stubbing a toe. Asik may be as valuable to the Bulls’ defense as anyone (especially the second unit), but I’m not convinced that matching this fat offer would be the smartest decision. NBA players (especially centers) get overpaid all the time — I know that. But given the situation the Bulls are in, someone who has literally no offensive ability whatsoever, regardless of how good he is defensively, doesn’t deserve a contract that averages $4 million per year, let alone $8 million. I fully expect the Bulls to immediately start negotiating a sign-and-trade with Houston if they feel they can’t match this offer in order to get something in return for Asik’s services. It may sound unrealistic if Asik and/or the Rockets are unwilling to work out a new contract, but it’s definitely a possibility.

As much as I like Asik and would be devastated to see him go, I don’t think this deal is worth it. His future his bright, and he will continue to improve, but to pay a backup center an average of $8 million a year who only played 14.7 minutes per game last season is just too much. Big men are always tough to find, and this summer is no exception. The best low-cost options are guys like Joel Przybilla, Rony Turiaf, Troy Murphy, Nazr Mohammed, Greg Stiemsma, and Eddy Curry (just kidding, chill out), among many others (I’m not sure what kind of money Marcus Camby will demand, but he’s an unrestricted free agent as well). As unappealing as that list is, the Bulls would have to bring in someone cheap to fill the 5-spot in the second unit, plus they’ll have the money not used on Asik (about $5 million next year) to bring in whomever else (or bring back Watson/Korver) they feel will help keep this team afloat until Rose and Deng (Thibs actually said Deng won’t have wrist surgery and will be ready to go by training camp, so who knows with him) come back. It’s not ideal, that’s for sure, but we have to believe that Thibs and his hardworking mentality will find a way to make it work. Over the next week and a half or so, we’ll see how madly in love Gar Forman and John Paxson still are with Omer Asik.

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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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