Sorry to sound like Jimmy 'Feel Good' Boylan, but ya know what? I can't help but believe the Bulls really will make the playoffs this season. As of Tuesday afternoon they're a game out of the 8th seed which is held by New Jersey, a squad that record wise has actually been overachieving (-5.7 point differential to the Bulls -2.8) and has a 'team leader' that wants out. Plus they can't stay this bad, especially if Luol Deng gets back in a somewhat timely fashion.
But I suppose more important than the possibility of making the playoffs is that the organization has put up a unanimous front declaring that it's the goal to do so. It's a silly goal, but what the hell: I hate draft hype anyway. And they did beat Detroit three times this season, and could be a tough out, and...
But before the great playoff push of '08, there's the trading deadline on Feb. 21st, Pax's last chance to do something with the following goals in mind.
Get rid of Ben Wallace: This will be toughest to accomplish, but it should be Pax's priority to do what he can to rid himself of Wallace as long as it doesn't mean taking on salary extending beyond Wallace's 2 additional years. At least not a lot of it. The much-rumored Kwame+Radmonovic deal (obviously dead with Brown now a Griz) is the low standard that should be explored. Simmons+Gaduric? Thomas+Abdur-Rahim? Walker+Jaric? Basically crap swaps, and while on the one hand it may be better to have one fat expiring deal to move in 2009/2010 than spreading it around, there's also something to be said about at least overpaying someone who you wouldn't feel obligated to play or placate.
Trade Joe Smith (and Nocioni too): Like I said in my epic Lamar Odom trade proposal, Smith's playing well on a reasonable contract, and should have high value to a contending team. The Bulls should realize they aren't one, and that Smith's year will only revert to the norm and/or give him a case of exploding knees syndrome. Nocioni's contract looks even dumber with the luxury-tax looming, and he's really a 'luxury' ::snicker:: the Bulls can't afford. They should try and deal him while his numbers are respectable, and the 4 years remaining don't look so bad. This will probably work only in tandem with Smith (due to Noc's BYC status) so it may have to wait until the end of the year. It's not just about dealing vets at peak value, it's just as important to free up playing time for Noah and Thomas. As we've seen, even Noah playing well didn't get him a starting gig, and although it may just be a case of veteran showcasing (as if people around the league don't know what Joe Smith can do by now) it just emphasizes the need to clear some minutes room, even if it means dealing one of the few players who've been up to par this season.
Make a low-risk upgrade: If you're saying you want to make the playoffs, and likely will make the playoffs, why not try to win in the playoffs while you're there? It can't all just be for the guaranteed sellouts, can it? So look to teams who definitely will be doing the tanking dance and get someone who may help. Now, I don't advocate dealing away the future, or taking on long-term money. But the Bulls do have expiring contracts, and when combined they can net someone better who is also on an expiring deal.
Like Duh/Khrap/PeeOn for Ricky Davis (and Chris Quinn, as you'd need an emergency PG), who'd at least shoot the ball. A lot. Or even better, that package is enough money for Corey Maggette, and if you're willing to toss in Thabo (and I might be, long 23-year old wings who can't shoot aren't that hard to replace) maybe the Clippers will bite. If someone really good came along, I'd consider the first-round pick in play.
Again, I don't advocate Pax being too aggressive for the sake of some longshot playoff run this year, but it's possible that any kind of roster shakeup will snap the team out of its malaise. Or at least my malaise.