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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.

Tough decisions loom for Bulls front office this summer

Gar Forman and John Paxson have some tough decisions to make this summer.

Let’s be honest: with Derrick Rose (torn ACL) and Luol Deng (wrist surgery) set to miss a majority of next season, the Bulls may not be ready to compete for another title until the 2013-14 season. Which means that next season may be more of a transition and a learn-to-play-without-your-two-best-players period. Assuming Pat Riley doesn’t break up the Superfriends in Miami (that would only maybe happen if they don’t win the championship this year), it will be too difficult for the Bulls to win a playoff series against them with Rose and Deng still trying to shake off their rust.

I’ve heard many fans talk about how the Bulls should tank their way through the season in order to earn a high draft pick. As great as that may sound, we all know it just won’t happen. Gar Forman, and especially Tom Thibodeau, would never allow it in a million years, so we may as well put that case to rest. There are a lot of other decisions, though, that the front office has to make as the scalding summer drags on. Yes, there are still games to be played in this year’s epic NBA finals, but that shouldn’t stop us from talking Bulls and thinking about what could be some day. That being said, let’s break down what the Bulls should do this summer, in order of realistic expectations (starting with the most unrealistic).

Keep Dreamin’

Amnesty Boozer, then sign Eric Gordon and a free agent power forward: If you haven’t read my piece, The Summer of Gar, from last month on this, then you should. Because you will definitely agree. However, let’s just be clear: this sweet-sounding chain of events will not happen. Time and time again, Nick Friedell has shut down any hopes that the Bulls will amnesty Boozer. There’s zero chance it happens this summer because Forman and Paxson are counting on him to carry the scoring load with Rose and Deng out (great plan, huh?). Friedell said if there’s ever a time that the team will amnesty Boozer, it will be next summer. We’ll have to keep dreamin’, I guess.

Highly Doubtful But Not Inconceivable

Trade Luol Deng or Joakim Noah for draft picks and/or lower-salaried players: Relax, people. Let me start off by saying that I did not come up with this idea: writer Sam Smith came up with a Deng scenario, and ESPN’s Bradford Doolittle came up with a Noah scenario. I’m not saying I actually want this to happen. I love Luol Deng and Joakim Noah like I love Portillo’s chocolate cake. And that says a lot. But, this is all just speculation and nothing more, so it can’t hurt to talk about it.

The Bulls are set to enter next season with just over 96% of their salary cap invested in four players (Rose, Boozer, Deng and Noah). Not good. Since the Bulls are not going to amnesty Boozer and have a slim chance at striking gold with the 29th overall pick in the draft (I’ll be breaking down draft prospects later this week), how in the world are we going to improve for the future?

That’s where Deng and/or Noah come in. Obviously, these two players have a ton of trade value. They have been the defensive anchors for the best defensive team in the NBA over the past two seasons and running. One has been the glue guy (Deng) while the other has been the emotional leader (Noah). Any team would be lucky to have them. Problem for us is no one’s getting younger, and no one’s salary is decreasing.

Sam Smith proposed the Bulls trade Deng to a team with a top-five pick, such as Cleveland or Sacramento, both of whom desperately need a small forward. The Bulls can then use that pick to select Harrison Barnes, the sharpshooting high-school phenom out of UNC (has been compared to a Luol Deng/Glen Rice type of player at the NBA level) if he’s still there, or Bradley Beal, the uber-talented shooting guard out of Florida who would be a perfect fit for the Bulls ( compares him to Eric Gordon/Marcus Thornton) because of his great jump shot and ability to spread the floor for the offense. Of course, there are many scenarios for trading Deng, as I’m sure numerous teams would be highly interested in acquiring him, but Smith’s proposal has to be the most ideal if we were to actually trade him. As you know, I would much rather keep Deng than ship him off, but if the front office decided that a move like this would be best for our future, I would have to learn to live with it.

As far as Joakim Noah goes, Doolittle proposed the Bulls trade him and the no. 29 pick to Sacramento for Tyreke Evans and the no. 5 pick. Evans’ name alone may make the casual basketball fan think that trade is perfect. I, on the other hand, don’t really like the idea of trading for Evans (although I can maybe convince myself to) because of his obvious regression throughout the first three seasons of his career. He’s known to have a bad work ethic and has really underachieved defensively, and he’s also going to be a restricted free agent after next season. Not exactly the type of player Thibodeau likes to coach. That top-five pick is really the only thing holding me back from despising this idea altogether. Nevertheless, I don’t see Noah going anywhere, so assuming the Bulls bring back restricted free agent Omer Asik (which they plan on doing), the front-court should be set.

Gotta Make It Happen

Let CJ Watson go: After a horrendous playoff performance this past May against Philadelphia (7.3 points on 24.1% shooting), it became evident that Watson just cannot run a successful offense in the NBA. He’s a decent backup point guard and should have little to no trouble finding another job if the Bulls were to let him go, but he’s too predictable, makes too many bad decisions and will never be more than a backup.

The Bulls have a team option for Watson but will save $3.7 million if they choose not to pick it up. That, combined with the money they can save by letting Ronnie Brewer go (which I’ll get to in a minute) and/or Kyle Korver (whose $5 million contract is non-guaranteed this season), should help them land a very legitimate free agent, such as Andre Miller.

Miller, who is now 36 years old, showed this past May that he still has something left in the tank and can run an offense very effectively. After a solid season (6.7 assists) backing up Ty Lawson in Denver, Miller should be able to land a respectable $5-7 million from any team that wants his services and can undoubtedly start at the point, as he has for basically his entire career, until Derrick Rose is healthy enough to come back. If he’s not the answer, then there are more than enough unrestricted free agent point guards who can replace Watson and help keep this Bulls team in contention for a top-four seed in next year’s playoff race, such as:

  • Goran Dragic: Coming off a ridiculous 2012 campaign (18-4-8-2 as a starter) and will probably be very expensive; also likely to re-sign with the Houston Rockets, leaving Kyle Lowry as trade bait.
  • Kirk Hinrich: Not really convinced that he can run an offense full-time anymore, but I’m putting him on this list anyways because a) I miss him and b) I’ve heard numerous rumors that the Bulls are looking to bring him back, and if they were to sign him this offseason, it would make me look much smarter than I really am.
  • Delonte West: He has legit game, had sex with Lebron’s mom and gives wet willies to opposing players mid-game. I’ll welcome him with open arms.
  • Jonny Flynn: Averaged 13.5 points, 4.4 assists and shot 36% from three-point land during his 2009-10 rookie season as the starting point guard in Minnesota. I’d like to think he’ll come dirt cheap and can be a decent backup at worst. Just something to think about.
  • Jeremy Lin: Just kidding. Or am I?
  • Other notables: Steve Nash (can’t see it happening), Ramon Sessions (if he declines his player option with LA), Jason Kidd’s corpse

It’s also important to point out that John Lucas III is a free agent as well. If the Bulls choose not to bring him back (along with Mike James), then they’ll absolutely have to find another point guard. Now would be a good time to start looking if they haven’t already.

It’s Inevitable

Let Ronnie Brewer go: As much as I like Ronnie Brewer, he’s set to make $4.37 million this season and didn’t really get the job done last season. He’s a fantastic defensive player, but to me, Brewer has maxed out his potential as an NBA player. He’ll never be more than a high level defender and role player with a limited offensive skill-set and inconsistent jump shot. Brewer has a team option this season, so the Bulls can buy him out for just $333,000 and let him walk. That’s a good amount of money they can save, and with Jimmy Butler waiting in the wings, why not promote him to the backup shooting guard/small forward role?

At 22 years old, Butler is worth much less, has a higher offensive ceiling, and he has the potential to be an even better defender than Brewer has been. After seeing Butler take on the difficult task of guarding Lebron James and Carmelo Anthony one-on-one during the regular season, there’s no reason to think that Butler isn’t worthy of at least backup minutes. In fact, in 43 total minutes that Butler guarded Carmelo last season, he shot 29%. In all other minutes against the Bulls, he shot 52%. With his great attitude, motivation and hard work ethic, Butler has the ability to become one of the better all-around defenders in the NBA (think Tony Allen, Thabo Sefolosha and players of that nature). If given the opportunity to play valuable minutes next season and beyond, I have no doubt that Butler will thrive in almost any situation Thibodeau throws him into. The Bulls should trust him and open up some salary space by letting Brewer go. When it comes down to making that decision, they will probably do just that.

With the NBA draft just ten days away and the start of free agency coming up sooner than we think, the Bulls will need to have a game plan in place for how to approach improving this team. This was the best team in the NBA this past season, but we all know that the regular season doesn’t really matter. If the front office decides to stick with what they’ve got and not build a team that can survive a little longer in the playoffs without a fully healthy Derrick Rose (who knows when exactly he’ll get back to full strength), then we could be in for a long 2012-13 season with another disappointing finish.

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