If you’re anything like me as soon as the Bulls were eliminated you began to look towards next year. Will the playoff run of ’09 lead to bigger and better things or be more like the last playoff run that led to a disappointing follow up season.
Like that last run, the Bulls again will go into the off-season with the status of Ben Gordon up in the air, there are also questions surrounding Luol Deng, and there will be trade rumors hovering over the Bulls all summer. Will this group stay mentally strong and go into the new season, regardless of who stays or goes, and be ready to play basketball?
Looking to the roster for the ’09 - ’10 season, expect some changes, but one thing seems perfectly clear;
Derrick Rose is the franchise. His humility shines as bright as his talent, his work ethic is unmatched, and he’s growing as a leader. It’s easy to pick on his defense and his jump shot, but as someone that watched the majority of his games as a Bull, there was improvement in these areas. He has a pretty jumper, so extending it to the 3 point arc will just take repetitions this summer and his mid range J was shot with confidence most of the year. He has the strength, quickness, and willingness to be a better defender, and his on the ball defense did improve as the year went on. I’d like to see him improve in his help side D (like Rajon Rondo and Chris Paul) so he can pick up some cheap steals. He may always be a pass first lead guard, but depending on the roster shakedown, he may become more aggressive by default.
I’ve wavered more on Ben Gordon the last couple years than any other player. He should go, he should stay, he should start, he should be the 6th man… I think I’m finally ready for a decisive conclusion on Ben… OK maybe not… I don’t think he’ll get the big long term deal he’s seeking. I don’t even thing he’ll get a deal close to what the Bulls offered before. I think most GM’s see him as a scorer off the bench and a liability on defense, but a clutch shooter who is willing and confident enough to take the last shot. With the pending 2010 class of Free Agents, most teams will stay away from offering him a deal. The Pistons and Thunder are rumored to be the most interested, but both envision him as a 6th man, and neither is a better team than the Bulls at this point. I think Ben will weigh his options and if the money is similar he’ll stay in Chicago, which could spell doom for Kirk Hinrich.
The deal that Kirk signed a few years ago was a good deal for a starting point guard, but with the lucky bounce of the ping pong balls Kirk was regulated to the bench. Kirk could start at PG for some teams around the league (Minnesota and Portland have interest), and after his solid season his trade value may not be higher, but I hope the Bulls find a way to keep him. If Ben is resigned I’d put it at 75% Kirk is moved, if Ben is allowed to walk I’d still call it 50/50. Kirk can defend 3 positions, he can stretch the defense with his range, and he takes pressure off Rose of being the primary ball handler. The Bulls plans for the ’10 FA class could go a long way in determining the future of Kirk and Ben, rumors of Dwyane Wade won’t go away.
John Salmons was brought in partly as insurance in case Gordon leaves. He could be slid to the 2 (even though I like him better at the 3), he’ll get you the 15-20 points per night that Ben got, but he’ll defend better. The ball also stops with him as it does with Ben, but overall Salmons takes fewer shots out of the context of the offense. Salmons 2008-09 numbers with Sacramento are eerily similar to his 26 games as a Bull, his assists dropped slightly, but overall his consistency kept up all through the playoff as well. If Ben is brought back the idea of Salmons starting with Gordon taking on the “microwave” role off the bench should be explored.
Why Luol Deng had such a hard time adjusting his game to Derrick Rose makes no sense to me. Deng is a slasher and a mid range jump shooter, two traits that should mesh with Rose’s game. Play some two man games with Deng and Rose, pick and roll, pick and pop, but the key is (as usual) Deng’s health. Bulls fans should get any thoughts of trading Deng out of their head until after the 2010-11 season at the earliest. It ain’t gonna happen. I’ve always thought Deng played better when he’s aggressively hitting the glass, and at 6’9” I’d like to see him bulk up a bit to play the 4 more. His days of the occasional time at guard should be over, but swinging between the 3 and 4 would allow Vinny Del Negro (yes I think VDN will return) to take advantage of some match-ups.
Lindsey Hunter was a very good teammate and a great mentor for Derrick Rose, but he’s as old as me. He might retire. If he does come back he’ll be a 12th man, however I could see him being added to the coaching staff, as he was a dé facto assistant coach anyway.
Anthony Roberson has a year a year left on his contract, so his return is a possibility. I see a little Janero Pargo in his game. If he puts in the work he could be add a jolt to the bench next year.
DeMarcus Nelson was a late season pick up that never got in a game. He’s a quick athletic shooting guard (from Duke) with a 6’10” wingspan and he’ll defend. The Bulls are high on him and look forward to seeing his game improve this summer. He’ll be around and might surprise.
I’ll look at the rest of the roster on my next Bulls post.