Friday, February 23, 2007

Just Wondering

Three events converged yesterday that got me wondering. Actually, a couple of the events have been percolating, and my epiphany has even been battering around the recesses of my mind for a couple of days. But yesterday, for some reason, the intersection of events brought this thought into focus.

Event One: The trade deadline passes without, well, anything. The Memphis Grizzlies allegedly wanted two of Kirk Hinrich, Ben Gordon, Luol Deng, or Andres Nocioni, plus a first round pick in exchange for Pau Gasol. I like Gasol a lot, probably more than most. And, I've argued that the Bulls should have been willing to give up a lot to get him. But that's too rich for even my blood. What's the point of adding Gasol if it strips the team of the pieces needed to contend? So, the Bulls passed. Nor did they reach agreement on lesser deals for Shareef Abdur-Rahim or Bonzi Wells. The Bulls would have liked to add someone, be it a forward or guard, who could post-up and create his own shot, especially when their back court is struggling from the perimeter. They couldn't accomplish that, so they enter the stretch drive unchanged.

Event Two: The Chicago Bulls beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 84 to 78. This was actually the last event to occur chronologically. The Bulls beat the Cavs by playing stifling defense, especially in the second quarter. The charge was led by Ben Wallace, who truthfully, has been disappointing this year. A number of experts correctly predicted that Wallace wouldn't continue to be the same player he's been the last four years. But I don't think anyone expected the fall off we've seen so far, at least not this season. Wallace is averaging 7.4 points per 40 minutes, which is low, even for him. Worse, he's averaging just 12.3 rebounds per 40 minutes -- that's half a rebound less than last season, and nearly 3.5 fewer than in his heyday in 2002-03. But last night Wallace had 14 points, 19 rebounds and seven blocks. It was his second strong game in a row, following a 14 rebound effort against the Atlanta Hawks. With Wallace playing like that, the Bulls can compete with anyone in the Eastern Conference, and may be only a piece or two away from legitimately contending for an NBA Championship.

Event Three: Scottie Pippen announces he wants to make a comeback and help a contender. This is actually the first event to occur, but it's potential relevance wasn't totally clear to me until yesterday. The word is that Scottie has a handful of potential bidders calling around, with the leading candidate believed to be the LA Lakers. The Lakers view Pippen as a possible solution to their need for a big guard to back up Kobe Bryant and play good defense. Pippen was certainly quick enough in his prime to guard back court players. His defense on Magic Johnson won the Bulls their first championship. But at 41, while he probably retains his deceptive strength, and certainly retains his knowledge of the game, isn't it likely his quickness has deteriorated somewhat? Pippen always had the speed and size to play anywhere from point guard to power forward, but his perfect spot was the small forward. It seems to me that at his age, he's more likely to still be able to play either forward spot than to still be able to play in the back court. And, he always knew how to score around the rim. So, how is it possible that no one has suggested that Scottie might provide a cheap solution to the Bulls' need for a front court reserve with some offensive punch? I mean, aren't the Bulls the first team everyone thinks of when they hear "Scottie Pippen?" And don't the Bulls need a forward with some offensive skills? Wasn't that the point of all the Gasol talk? Shouldn't the Bulls at least bring Scottie in for a workout and see what kind of shape he's in? If the team was willing to give something of value in exchange for Abdur-Rahim, isn't Pippen worth a free look? Scottie could be 70 and I'd still be inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt versus Shareef Abdur-Rahim. And, yet, I haven't heard anyone suggest that the Bulls are one of the teams even considering whether to consider Scottie.

Look, I'm not suggesting Pippen can solve all the Bulls' problems and vault them to an NBA crown. I don't think a 41-year-old who hasn't played in three years can do that for anyone. But if Wallace is going to play with the passion and focus necessary to be a defensive force down the stretch, then the Bulls are pretty close to be an elite team. Am I crazy to think Scottie might bring them just one little step closer?


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