On January 15th, 2013, a milestone will be reached insofar as, for the first time since GarPax's ill-advised Boozer signing, his contract will be moveable in a mutually beneficial trade scenario that is in keeping with the strategic outlook for each of the teams involved. The trade is of little consequence (although, since I love trade suggestions, I will discuss it at length). The point is that we now need to have that adult conversation about what happens the day after Carlos Boozer is no longer a Chicago Bull and whether this is truly a desirable state of affairs.
First, the trade. Essentially, it is centered around moving Boozer for Humphries. As we all know, the Nets are an unmitigated disaster and a huge source of this is a lack of production from the 4. In five games, they got 17 points from their starting PF, precipitating the clear-cut desperation move of starting Gerald Wallace at the 4 and starting Bilbo Bogans at the 3 (and to think, we complained about starting him at SG!). Humphries is seeing sporadic rotation minutes and has earned several suspicious DNP's as of late. Combine this with Avery Johnson's farewell comments which essentially implied that the Nets will be making a trade in the near future and it is clear that poor Mr. Humphries new contract with Brooklyn will actually last a shorter period of time than his ill-fated marriage to Kim Kardashian!
These facts, along with the Nets win-now mentality and a track record of willingness to pay for production means that they will be upgrading the 4. As their only real assets are Marshon Brooks and their own first-round draft picks, they almost have to take on a productive player on a bad contract. They would really like to make a trade with Utah for one of their log-jammed front-court players, but they do not have the assets to swing such a deal since Humphries contract is somehow worse than his play. Thus, their only real options are panic-trading for Stat or Boozer.
Why would we do this? Simply put, Humphries is a far less productive player than Boozer but with fewer years on his contract. Booz gets 45 million over the next three years, Hump gets 24 over the next two. If we could get Marshon Brooks while we are at it, all the better. As a quick aside, I really think that a Brooks would be great on the Bulls. Thibs magic is such that he can maximize the defensive contributions of any wing player. Boozer will never fit in and will always be infuriating but, if he can turn Kyle Korver into a solid team defender he can turn a younger, more athletic player into the same (but with footspeed!).
This brings us to the stated purpose of this post, the day after.
1. Can Taj Gibson start?
My knee-jerk response is "NO!". I love Taj, but this team really lacks scorers and shooters. Boozer, for all of his warts, can at least put the ball into the basket. With a Gibson-Noah lineup, teams could essentially pack the paint and mitigate our one overwhelming offensive advantage (come February).
That said, this question is actually more nuanced. Zach Lowe addresses these precise points in a Grantland article which I could essentially copy and paste here to address this question. As I am more interested in initiating discussion, I will simply state that a Noah-Gibson front line is holding opponents to 84 points per 100 possessions but there are deeper questions about sample size and the type of lineups they are facing. However, it is promising that the defensive uptick dwarfs the step back that they take offensively (also check out JayPatt's BaB post on precisely this subject which concludes that the Bulls are better with Taj on the floor than Booz).
2. How does this actually affect our salary outlook? How does this help us improve the team?
This seems to be most people's qualm with trading or amnestying Boozer. The Bulls will take a huge tax hit next year if they keep him around, but it is not at all clear that shedding his contract would allow the Bulls to add more quality players. Thus, while it fills JR's pocketbook, it does nothing to get that banner hanging from the ceiling.
The raw numbers are not pretty. With Boozer's contract, the Bulls will owe 8 players 69 million next year and 57 in 2014 (that is before resigning Lu Deng). Subtract 15 and 17 from these figures and you have a rough idea of the Bulls payroll situation should we amnesty Boozer. So how do we replace Boozer's production if such a subtraction should occur? We cannot sign any more top-talent. The Bulls tried having a core with four players making 8 figures and faced an untenable salary situation (assuming that you are a cheap bastard).
This is a complicated question. If we amnesty Boozer then we could probably hand out two modest contracts next year and then fill out the team with vet-mins. If we trade for Humphries, we damn well better get Brooks because we would have no cap space to sign the last 5 players needed for a team! Thus, we can rid ourselves of this contract but we are essentially saying that we can compete with a core of Rose/Lu/Noah/Taj and a revolving cast of other players. I think that we can win a championship with that core and smart moves but it is a huge disadvantage that only one of those players is an elite scorer.
This post is getting pretty long so I will leave it to you guys to hash out this question. YFBB seems to have strong opinions on this subject which I have never paid too much attention to because I was trying to live with the fact that Boozer was on the team. Now that there is light at the end of the tunnel, I would be pleased to hear them. Also check out the short Thonus article on the subject.
Totally Unrelated Prediction Contest Update:
Okay gang, if you remember, I posed a regular season prediction contest at the start of the season wherein bloggers were invited to predict the records of the top-8 teams in each conference. If the season ended today, the conference standings would be as follows:
East: 1. Miami 61-21, 2. New York 57-25, 3. Atlanta 55-27, 4. Indiana 48-34, 5. Chicago 46-36, 6. Milwaukee 46-36, 7. Brooklyn 42-40, 8. Boston 41-41
There are a lot of upward trending and downward trending teams here (and no DRose!). I do not feel like crunching the numbers for the West at this time but, the power rankings for East Coast predictions are
1. lordrubbish, 7 points.
2. drock8686 / C Smoove, 6 points.
3. Rypac13, 5 points.
4. Dionysus2.0, 2 points.
5. THEKILLERWHALE / YFBB, 1 point.
6. Sin, 0 points.
The rest of the players are in negative territory. Try harder next time.