If it can be done, here's how...
- Bench Kirk
- Play Thomas and Noah
- Don't play Thabo
- Fill holes in free agency (now!)
Trying to be productive for a bit, here's the short-run steps I'd take to right the ship. Give the current lineup one more game. The Bulls defensive effort was there the last two games, but they're still downright awful when it comes to shooting and making decisions.
1. Kirk Hinrich to the bench, Chris Duhon to the starting five. Du hasn't played great by any stretch of the imagination, but he's closer to where he needs to be than Kirk. Duhon is also our best pure PG and in the past he's had success as a starter and success settling the team down and distributing the ball to our scoring threats, who are Gordon and Deng. A bit of PT mixed with a leading role in a turnaround will also increase his trade value. We know he was being shopped this summer, and I think the odds of him being re-signed seem fairly low since we'll likely be forking out quite a lot of cash for Deng and Gordon. Though he's streaky, he's a guy who can hit an open 3, and that's the pairing you want with Gordon, offensively.
The Bulls have been exceedingly patient with Kirk Hinrich and it's time to send a message that if he can't get his act together the Bulls will find someone who can. He might not take it well, but the truth is I don't see how he could play with any less confidence than he is now. His body language, as well as the nonsense he's uttered over the past month (can't wait to get out of Chicago, wimpy 'it has to get better' moping) sucks. His biggest problem seems to be dealing with pressure, and bringing him back to the role he played a lot at Kansas and in his first seasons with the Bulls, playing off the ball, will simplify things for him. Let him get his groove back a bit with Duhon and Gordon initiating the offense more and him taking shots and locking guys down on D. When he gets solid, then expand his role.
I don't think, by the way, this is a completely novel idea. In large part, Kirk played this role with a starting Duhon in past seasons. Du started 30 games last year, 38 the year before and 73 as a rookie. He's a favorite whipping boy for his shooting suckitude, but this is the right move to make.
2. Prepare for success but plan for failure with the young guys up front. By that, I mean Thomas HAS to start and keep plugging at it because we just don't have any other options for success and because the rest of our bigs are too young and/or too skinny. Same with Noah. I just don't think the Bulls can successfully play a Tyrus/Noah lineup for any stretch of time because they'll be pushed around and abused. But we don't have very many good choices here. Smith and Nocioni are quality role players but I don't think we can be successful, even in the short-run unless we put our young guys in a position where we can succeed. As 4s and 5s, Noc and Smith have their moments of goodness, but we'll lose with them playing huge minutes anyway. So we play the young guys, but we surround them with as much veteran presence as we can, and we ask them to do as little as we can to keep them focused on doing that little very well. Duhon's passing will help Thomas a little bit with the starters. He's always been the best at setting up our athletic bigs (in the past) for easy dunks. That's Tyrus' game, and we shoot be able to run the same sort of alley-oops for him that worked to varying degrees with Curry (well) and Chandler (less well because he couldn't catch). Putting him with our strongest guy, Wallace, makes it a little more difficult to abuse his weakness.
Still, we plan for frequent foul trouble, and we have Nocioni and Smith ready to come in and play big minutes.
Noah needs to get on the court, point blank, and we've got minutes to fill up front in any case. So we match him up with Smith and Nocioni as a second unit, two veteran guys who can shoot, and, like Thomas, we hope for the best.
3. I've seen enough of Thabo for a while. Let him play when we need to get one of our 3 best guards a breather, but don't plan for him to play.
That makes a Bulls ideal lineup something like:
1- Duhon 28, Hinrich 20
2- Gordon 36, Hinrich 12
3- Deng 36, Nocioni 12
4- Thomas 20, Smith 16, Nocioni 4
5- Wallace 34, Noah 14
In practice, of course, there are going to be lots of games where our young bigs play like garbage and Noc and Smith play more than 16 minutes apiece. But as a rule I'd give the kids the 1st stab at those minutes because I don't think we're really going to get much success out of a Noc/Smith/Wallace rotation anyway. Likewise, Thabo probably gets on the court for 5 minutes or so just due to the mechanics of needing to give Du/Kirk/Gordon breathers during the course of a game.
4. That's what we do with what we've got. Something else the Bulls got is about $2.9M before we bump the luxury tax threshold. We can offer minimum salary contracts and we can offer a Bi-annual exception ($1.8M) contract. Time to get on the phone and address the team's needs for 1. A guy who can come in and score in a hurry and 2. A guy with real size who can provide some veteran know-how. As it turns out, there are guys available who fit these descriptions.
Earl Boykins fits the first, and would seem to fill up the Jannero Pargo role that was filled so well by Jannero Pargo in past years. Some people will say he's a sideshow, but he doesn't have to be freaking John Stockton that plays great defense or runs the team well 100% of the time. He's a situational player who is essential on a streaky team like this because he can manufacture a basket or two (or three) all by himself to break a slump. That's something this team is dying for.
Dale Davis fits the second, and would give us another option for a big strong guy on the many nights we need another one. Smith is not that guy. Too skinny and not mean enough. Davis is a strong guy who can come in and anchor a defense (on the occasions we're aching for it) and give our freelancing, lighter guys (Wallace, Thomas, Noah) the freedom to do what they do best, which is not play man-to-man defense on a 7' 250+ pounder.