At the 2001 NBA
Draft, then-GM Jerry Krause decided to pin the future of his post-Michael Jordan Bulls on two young frontcourt players named Eddy Curry and Tyson Chandler. The two were supposed to be the next great force in basketball, but instead became mediocre-to-average players who created more frustration than championship potential. This offseason, the five-year experiment finally ended as GM John Paxon traded Chandler to the Hornets for PJ Brown.
Paxson, who took the General Manager job in 2003, is extremely intelligent and made almost nothing but wise and economic decisions over the last three seasons. He fired personal friend but inadequate and soft coach Bill Cartwright and replaced him with aggressive winner Scott Skiles. He built a roster on young talent and role players, going for proven college players like Kirk Heinrich from Kansas instead of overhyped 19-year olds such as . The strategy has payed off, and the last two years have seen a resurgence in the Chicago Bulls, making the playoffs in 2004-05 and 2005-06 (despite struggles in the latter).
This offseason, with the young talent maturing after two or three seasons in the league with playoff experience, Paxson decided to go all out and find players to make his team into a real contender. HIs first answer was center Ben Wallace, five-time all-NBA and four-time defensive player of the year. Though he might be aging and slowing down at 32, Wallace is still one of the premier big men in the game and looks to be a huge addition for the club. In PJ Brown, the Bulls also recieved a veteran role player with a wealth of playoff experience. Between those two and hulking rookie Tyrus Thomas, whom the Bulls acquired via trading their original two draft picks, the talent in the frontcourt is much improved. Also key to the frontcourt rotation will be 23-year old Michael Sweetney, who should gain minutes at both center and power forward.
The backcourt looks to be strong as well. PG Kirk Hinrich is entering his 4th season in the league and looks to continue his form from last year that brought him 16 points and 6 assists per contest. Hirich also has the leadership capabilities to take a veteran team deep in the playoffs; indeed, during last year’s grueling 6-game set against the Miami Heat, Hinrich averaged 20 points and 8 assists per game. Hinrich is truly one of the more underrated players in the game. Backing him up will be Chris Duhon, a fantastic off-the-bench player who can fill in at either the 1 or the 2. Last season, Duhon averaged 30 minutes a game with 9 points and 5 assists per game.
The Bulls have three primary options on the wing: Ben Gordon, Andres Nocioni, and Luol Deng. Gordon, the 2004-05 Sixth Man of the Year, averaged 17 points a game last year, nailing 43.5% from beyond the arc, and looks to be the starter at SG and primary scoring option. Steady Argentinean Nocioni, who was last year’s team player of the year with his 13.0 PPG, 6 RPG, and incredible skill and passion on defense, will likely start at SF. Deng, also now in his third year, will look to spell both positions and spot start.
While those nine players look to make up the core rotation of the team, the roster also features Swiss SG Thabo Sefolosha, veteran defensive lynchpin SG Aidnan Griffin, F Malik Allen, F Viktor Khrypa, and C Martynas Andriuskevicius, who will all look to make a splash.
The key question to this year’s Chicago Bulls team is development. Will Hinrich, Duhon, Deng, Nocioni, and Gordon build on their experience in the league, or will they hit a stasis as they appeared to do during the first half of last season? Will Thomas develop into a powerhouse down low or will he be a depressing thud like Eddy Curry? Ben Wallace looks to be a constant, but will the players around him develop and mesh, taking their game to the level that will be needed for this team to compete with the best in the league?
In my opinion, this is their year. Paxson has not only young talent on his roster, but talented professionals. The core young players already have overcome team adversity, shown they can compete with the best, and have a wealth of diversified talent. John Paxson is an outstanding GM who has rebuilt a winner. With 3-4 guys who can go out and put up 20 on any given night, two strong, proven rebounders, and a defense that is solid both in the frontcourt and backcourt, the Bulls are now the team to beat in the Central Division.
Prediction: 1st in Central Division, lose in NBA Finals.