The Bulls are certainly playing better, back at that level where they lose close games to pretty good teams, like Saturday night against Dallas.
Vinny's still doing odd things down the stretch of games, like playing Andres Nocioni and benching Ben Gordon. Bulls need points down the stretch, and their best scorer isn't out there. It's big-picture bad as well, since it's basically pushing Gordon out the door, and it's not like it's been a winning strategy anyway. I truly don't why Vinny sees Hinrich as a late-game crutch (he's not some kind of shut-down defender), and judging by Vinny's comments I can only assume that when Drew Gooden gets back he'll be deployed the same way.
But that's somewhat minor Vinnyness, something that could be helped with a freaking trade. The kind we've been waiting for all season.
It could (and perhaps should) be as easy as shuffling some bench pieces. Get a 3rd big man not named Drew Gooden, get Hinrich (back to being sick of him already, though mostly the fault of Vinny's loving gaze) and Noc's contracts off the books. The usual.
Or the not-so-usual: trading for Amare Stoudemire.
It's been rampant discussion here the past few days, and I think the Bulls are in a good position to deal. It's a problem trying to figure out what the Suns value most (contending this season? expiring contracts? expiring 2010 contracts? young players? cheap players? shedding their own long-term contracts?), but the Bulls can offer a lot of combinations that could make it worth the Suns while no matter their intentions.
And while he's not a perfect player, I think Amare is the caliber of player that's worth pairing with Derrick Rose at the expense of everyone not named Derrick Rose. Not that all the non-Rose Bulls should all be packaged together, but I wouldn't hold off on anyone as a starting point. Again, it's more what the Suns could want. For instance I'd discuss Deng, but the Suns might not want a long-term contract even though Deng is the best young (non-Rose) player the Bulls have.
What makes the most sense is having the 'young forward' be Tyrus Thomas. As much as I value not only Thomas' potential but his current production, he seems the best piece from both teams' standpoints. For a team that needs defense and already has Shaq clogging up the middle, Tyrus could do real damage. He's already a plus defender and has all-nba type talent on that end, but for Amare I'd be fine watching that blossom for some other team. (and reportedly the Suns are 'most intrigued' by Thomas)
It also means that Joakim Noah stays as the defensive big who can play alongside Stoudemire. (Basically, no combination of Deng/Thomas/Noah should be offered, merely one of them) Thomas and Stoudemire are similar offensively (in approach I mean, clearly Stoudemire is far more developed and successful), with Noah making more sense as Amare's frontcourt partner in that he wouldn't get in his way on offense, and he'd be the anchor of the defense. That status is unrealistic for Noah this season, but hopefully he treats his next offseason more seriously than his first, and gains the strength necessary to be a full-time center.
Then it's a real negotiation as to what the Suns value. This year's first-rounder should be in play, as the Suns don't have one for this draft. I love the idea of including Hinrich, as the Suns really need a backup point and it helps the Bulls to get Hinrich's salary off the books. If by some miracle the Suns need the 'toughness' of Nocioni, that'd be an even better scenario. The Bulls would likely have to take back Leandro Barbosa and/or the dissapointing Goran Dragic. By further sweetening the pot, could the Bulls somehow get the Suns to take Hughes instead of Gooden? Suns aren't getting under the cap until 2010 no matter what they do, so it's possible (though any deal would likely have to result in the Suns getting under the luxury tax next season).
Stoudamire’s good enough (despite motivational and defensive issues) to be the type of guy where you get him first and fill out the rest later. Him+Rose is a very good start, if they keep Deng that's a great piece as well. What Amare could do here is finally give the Bulls a high-percentage frontcourt scorer, someone who can force double teams and give the offense a chance when the initial options don't pan out. He may feel he has to be 'the man', but luckily our current (or more accurately, future) 'man' is a humble selfless point guard, so Amare can have all the glory he wants even while Rose becomes the team's real best player. Depending on the deal, the Bulls could be getting so close to the tax in '09 that retaining Ben Gordon is an impossibility, but with Amare I'd be less incensed at that result as I would otherwise.
And if Amare fails to work out, he has an opt-out in 2010 and the Bulls can re-load again with Rose entering his prime.
Either way, this team still needs a trade awfully bad. I'd settle for just getting rid of a couple of Vinny's toys but seeing star frontcourt players available could make this a very exciting trade deadline. Now, if the Bulls whiff on Amare I wouldn't bemoan the lack of, ahem, 'fortitude' from Paxson. I'll just be upset if nothing happens at all.