These Bulls trades are like Siskel & Ebert's review of "Armageddon"

A thumbs up, and a thumbs down. Way down.*

* You would not believe how much time I just wasted trying to find a movie they had that exact opinion of. Let me put it this way: This post is now up to three sentences; I'd have finished it in 2007 if I'd spent my time writing it instead of poring over clips of two of the most unattractive men I've ever had the displeasure of seeing. I'm sorry, but I prefer my movie critics be classically handsome, in a 1940s leading-man sort of way. Like a Gene Shalit. Or Leonard Maltin.

                                                                 Clark Gable, circa 1943

Let's start with the good, because I hate being positive and I want to get it out of the way.

THUMBS UP: Bulls trade John Salmons to Bucks for Joe Alexander and Hakim Warrick
While I had high hopes for it coming into the year, the Salmons-as-starting-shooting-guard venture was an abject failure. Before he mercifully lost his job, Salmons shot 38.9% from the field; last year he shot 41.7% ... from 3-point range. And 47.2% overall. Despite this season's shooting woes, as a starter Salmons was still jackin' em up at about the same clip, averaging 12.7 shots per game versus last season's 13.4. His free throw rate (and percentage) also went down, and in all his points per game dropped from 18.3 to 13.8.

The upshot is, Salmons became increasingly likely to exercise his player option for $5.8 million next season, something that seemed unthinkable before the year began. But with NBA economy declining as badly as his play, he surely realizes that he wouldn't get anywhere near $5.8 million for 2010-11 on the open market. Exercising his option would have seriously eaten into the Bulls' salary cap, preventing them from offering the max to one of the marquee free agents that's sure to spurn them in favor of the more money (and years) he can get from his current team. But really, that's irrelevant; with so many superstars available this offseason, the Bulls had to at least put themselves in the position to get one.

Short of finding someone dumb enough to take Kirk Hinrich's contract off their hands -- a scenario that became an impossibility with Isiah Thomas out of the league -- shedding Salmons was the only way for the Bulls to ensure the requisite cap space.

When the initial rumors of Salmons' trade broke, the Bulls were supposedly getting back Kurt Thomas and Francisco Elson, and as much as it pains me to say so given Elson's alma mater, that return would've been significantly worse than the package of Warrick and Alexander. Still, that proposed deal immediately raised some red flags for me because -- like the one they ultimately consummated -- it was two frontcourt guys for one-third of their viable guard rotation, and it seemed like it had to be a prelude to another trade.

Regardless, I've always liked Warrick, and the Bulls have now cornered the market on guys with -kim in their name. In many ways, Warrick duplicates Tyrus Thomas. He's long and wiry, and a great leaper too. Their career numbers are also pretty similar:

Thomas Warrick
Min./G 20.3 21.6
Points 7.8 10.2
FG% 45.2 49.7
FGA/G 6.3 7.5
FT% 71.5 72.5
FTA/G 2.9 3.7
Rebounds 5.1 4.3
Assists 0.9 0.7
Steals 0.9 0.4
Blocks 1.4 0.4
TO 1.4 1.3
Fouls 2.4 2.1


The biggest difference -- aside from Tyrus being four years younger -- is defensively, where Warrick is a non-factor and Thomas is a game-changer. But they are somewhat comparable players, and I think Warrick's even been accused on a couple of occasions of not putting forth maximum effort, so that'll at least be familiar to the United Center faithful.

As for Alexander, I liked him coming into last season's draft -- C'mon, who doesn't like an American-born white guy? Aside from fans of quality basketball, that is -- but upon further review he is neither white (in the traditional sense) nor American born. He was born in Taiwan, is half Chinese, and his game is a completely antithetical to that of the stereotypical white guy: His fundamentals are terrible, and he can jump out of the gym. (And Warrick's the guy I compared to Tyrus?) From everything I've read today, it's doubtful he ever gets a chance to play here.

The deal does have some significant downside though. For starters, given Milwaukee's gaping whole at 2-guard with Michael Redd done for the year, this trade provides a substantial upgrade to the Bucks, and they're the team that poses the biggest threat to the Bulls' postseason aspirations. If the Bulls miss out on the playoffs, it would not only be terrible for the young core's development, but also might affect a potential free-agent signee's perception of the organization, because those guys aren't going to settle for less money than they can get from their own teams because they're clamoring to spend winters in Chicago; rather, they're going to want to play for a winner. And don't forget the millions in revenue missing the postseason would cost the Bulls, which might make them even less willing to go into luxury-tax territory (or even beyond the cap) in the future. Not that anyone would ever say Jerry Reinsdorf is cheap.

Another negative is that the Bulls gave up their second-round picks in 2011 and 2012. Now while there have been a handful of second-round success stories in recent years, very few guys not picked in the first round ever become significant contributors. Still, teams are sometimes stupid enough to pass over sure-fire studs (twice), and the picks have value as sweeteners in deals (like this one) so to give up two years' worth stings just a little bit.

Additionally, the Bulls gave Milwaukee the option of switching first-round picks this year, and although it's top-10 protected, if the Bucks knock them out of the playoffs, it could cost them five or six spots.

And finally, this deal unbalanced the roster, which led to:

THUMBS DOWN, WAY DOWN: Bulls trade Tyrus Thomas to Charlotte for Flip Murray, Acie Law, and a future first-round pick
I'm not going to rehash my extensive pro-Tyrus arguments, but I hope that he gets the chance he never got here and realizes his immense potential, just to put a microscope on the organization's incompetent boobery. While this trade was wholly unnecessary from a financial perspective -- Thomas' contract was expiring, and they only had to make him a qualifying offer to maintain his 'restricted' free agent status; no qualifier (and the attached cap hold the Bulls wanted to avoid) would've just made him an unrestricted free agent, in which case they could still re-sign him -- because of the Salmons deal, the Bulls were in desperate need of another guard. I mean, did you see Wednesday's Knicks game? Hinrich had to play 87 minutes because he's Jerry West compared to collection of Jerry Sichtings they had on the bench.

                                                      Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich, aka The Logo

And yet while balancing the roster, this trade also makes the Bulls appreciably worse talent-wise;'s Trade Machine has it reducing the Bulls' wins by 5 and increasing Charlotte's by 4.** Murray is a decent enough third guard, but there's a reason he's now on his eighth team in eight years. He's 30, has horrible shot selection, is a bit selfish, and is shooting 38.9% from the field; basically, he's a shorter, frightening-goateeless John Salmons.

** Just like with the Milwaukee trade, the Bulls made a team they are fighting with for a playoff spot markedly better. It's almost like The Fish (as my friend Adam calls Gar Forman) doesn't want to have to work through the postseason.

Law is a little more interesting, as he gives the Bulls a young, semi-capable point guard off the bench. He's been a major disappointment thus far in his two-plus years, but a lot of people -- okay, me -- were very high on him coming out of Texas A&M. Point guards can take longer to develop, and maybe he'll end up being a late bloomer.

                                                 GM Gar Forman's destination, April 15, 2010

As for the first-round pick, I'm going to let's John Hollinger explain:

The pick the Bulls get from the Bobcats might not arrive for a long time. The earliest they can get it is 2012, because the Bobcats already owe a 2010 pick to Minnesota. But that pick is top-12 protected, and if the Bobcats crash and burn to land in the top of the lottery, it means they will owe Minnesota a pick in 2011 ... and thus can't give Chicago a pick in 2013. (The so-called Ted Stepien rule prevents teams from trading first-rounders in successive years.) That pick in 2011 is top-10 protected, so if the Bobcats can't get out of the lottery, it could drag on another year and not land Chicago a pick until 2014.

I understand that the Bulls probably didn't want another first-rounder in this year's draft, as that pick's salary slot would've counted against the cap, and possibly limited their offseason maneuverings. But to not get it until 2012 at the earliest? An asset that far in the future is essentially worthless today. Although I admittedly might like having this pick a whole hell of a lot come 2014. Provided the Bobcats haven't been contracted by then.

Compared to these two guys, Tyrus would have had significantly more value in a sign-and-trade, which is the only way to get one of these max free agents the actual maximum amount of cash allowed by the collective bargaining agreement. Not to mention that I would've liked them to keep him after their inevitable failure to sign a bigger name. And while Tyrus did have the occasional run-in with the coaching staff, it was always over his dissatisfaction with his playing time. And looking at his stats on a per-minute basis*** -- as well as his plus-minus (+5.3, 2nd best on the team) and Player Efficiency Rating (16.8, 4th) -- his complaints were totally justified. Not that his methods always were.

*** Since this is my first post on this site, I'll elaborate here with some things I wrote about earlier this week. Among players with at least 500 minutes played, Tyrus entered the All-Star break 7th in the NBA in blocks per minute and 5th in steals/minute. He was the lone player in the league in the top-20 in the two categories and only Josh Smith (20th in blocks, 26th in steals) and Marcus Camby (19th and 35th, respectively) were even in the top-40 in both.

And yes, every now and then, he'd take a shot so over-the-top wacky that you'd have to hit the INFO button to confirm that you were, in fact, watching an NBA game. But for all of the criticism he'd get, you'd think it happened 10 times a night. The reality is, he was shooting .489 for the season, the second-highest mark on the team.

Unfortunately for Tyrus, the Bobcats' Larry Brown is the one of the few coaches in the league who will be even less tolerant of his occasionally out-of-control play than Vinny Del Negro was. So we might have to wait until next year to see him get legitimate playing time.

As crappy organizations often do, the Bulls never gave their young player enough of an opportunity to determine whether or not he could end up being a stud. Because of his sometimes indifferent demeanor on the court, I'm not certain that Tyrus will become a star. But he's already a hell of a lot better and more productive than the staffs of the Bulls and the local newspapers would lead you to believe.

Given the circumstances of Thomas' departure, I can't help but think about the last time the organization chose a head coach over a talented-but-somewhat-erratic big man, and hope that history repeats itself, only doing so a little faster this time around. Because just 17 months after the Bulls completely gave away Tyson Chandler -- who, coincidentally, will now be Tyrus' teammate in Charlotte -- they fired their head coach.

And I just can't wait to see Vinny Del Negro's Bulls career reach its Armageddon.

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