Last night I witnessed, in all its glory, the lineup of Teague, Snell, Taj, Murphy, and Nazr to open the second quarter of a game the Bulls led 17-15. I went to the game with a friend who’s a Knicks fan and has season tickets. Upon seeing Murphy out on the floor, I told him to prepare to watch perhaps the least athletic player in the NBA. He was understandably intrigued by Murphy’s awkward ghostlike presence, reinforced by his ghostlike contribution to the box score: 5 minutes with nary a field goal attempt, free throw attempt, offensive rebound, defensive rebound, assist, steal, block, turnover, or foul.
As the normally-ineffective Knicks bench polished off a 19-0 run, I speculated that Murphy had assuredly taken over the league lead for negative plus/minus per minute played. In actuality Jared Cunningham remains the leader at -46.3 points per 36, but among players with at least 10 minutes played, Murphy does in fact hold a commanding lead, sitting at -40.8 per 36 compared to a couple Warriors reserves in the -25 to -30 range.
During a subsequent timeout the stadium showed Jeremy Piven in attendance on the jumbotron, and it all became clear to us: the NBA had persuaded Jeremy Piven to attend this sorry game to help brand it as a marquee event, and in return Thibs was required to play Erik Murphy ("E") for 5 minutes to help promote the upcoming Entourage movie. It was a rather genius if subtle cross-promotional idea.
In any event, as the Bulls made their 4th quarter comeback, befuddling the Knicks by not returning to that early 2nd quarter lineup, I found myself hoping that the Bulls would not find a way to prevail. I could never root for the Knicks, but I realized that at this point in the season I have come around to wanting the Bulls to lose. They look too bad to possibly make any noise this season, and the draft is too good to throw away a top-10 pick in favor of a doomed playoff run.
That brings me to the fun part: incredibly unlikely but semi-plausible trades and exciting prospects the Bulls probably have no intention of drafting!
In 3 days, players signed this past off-season can be traded, vastly increasing the possible trade scenarios. Here’s what I imagine the Bulls want from any deal, in rough order of importance:
1. Luxury tax relief
2. Offense, i.e. ballhandling, shooting, and shot creation
3. Young backup Center
4. Another 2014 1st rounder / early 2nd rounder
As you might imagine based on my username, if forced to choose I would say that Luol Deng is my favorite player, and he has been for many years. That said, I’m a Bulls fan first, and though I’d prefer that the Bulls win a title with him than win without him, I recognize that it might make sense to trade him. It’s been great to see Luol step up lately and I wouldn’t be disappointed if the Bulls held onto him long-term. However, he’s due for another large contract (4/$48M?) and the Bulls have never been a consistently big-spending team, so rather than losing him for nothing this offseason, I’d prefer that the Bulls get something useful for him. All I ask is that the Bulls make every effort to send him to a contender rather than some garbage team with an owner/GM desperate for respectability.
Luol Deng, Omer Asik, NYK 2014 2nd rounder (or cash) to ATL
Paul Millsap to HOU
Bulls savings = $5.05M
Houston is determined to move Asik, and rather than getting pennies on the dollar, this trade gets them the starting PF they really want. Millsap is a fringe All-Star who defends, rebounds, and spaces the floor. He’s hitting over 40% of his 3s on 2 attempts per game, and the Rockets are sure to encourage him to take the outside shot more often. Houston loses its 2014 picks, likely around #25 and #45, but that’s a small price to pay for a major upgrade at PF who’s perfect for the team and on a bargain contract. They’ll probably buy back into the draft anyway.
Atlanta currently is an average team with an average offense, an average defense, and a big hole in the starting lineup at SF. Replacing Millsap and DeMarre Carroll with Asik and Deng seems to maintain that average offense while upgrading the defense to elite and moving Horford back to his natural position. Lou Williams hasn’t been great this year coming back from knee surgery, and he’s been rendered superfluous by Shelvin Mack, another high-assist, low-turnover combo guard who’s having a breakout year. Mack is averaging 15 points, 7 assists, and just 1.5 turnovers per 36 while leading the team in plus/minus. With this trade, the Hawks would be closely recreating the 2011-12 Bulls with Deng, Korver, and Asik, and to make up for the extra money Asik is owed next year, Houston tosses them the Knicks pick or some cash.
The Bulls get almost everything on their checklist: luxury tax savings, offense, and a 2014 1st rounder. They look to be above the tax line by almost $8M, so after this trade they’d be less than $3M away from their target. Lou Williams upgrades next year’s offense either as the starting 2 or off the bench, as he has a great handle and he’s a high-volume outside shooter efficient enough to keep defenses from clogging the lane. He’s under contract for one more year at a seemingly fair price of $5.45M.
Deng, Nazr to ATL
Bulls savings = $4.7M
Deng, Nazr, James Anderson to MIN
Bulls savings = $9.3M (under the tax!)
Dunleavy offers outside shooting and a competent all-around game at a reasonable price. The team that might want him the most, Oklahoma City, has a more pressing issue at Center and is notoriously loathe to give up cost-controlled assets like draft picks. The Thunder should want Dunleavy because, despite their impressive record, they’re toward the bottom of the league in both 3pt% and 3pt attempts, resulting in a drop from the best offense in the league to 10th so far this year.
Ryan Gomes, PHI 2014 2nd rounder to CHI
Spencer Hawes, Mike Dunleavy to OKC
Bulls savings = $2.3M
Perry Jones has looked good this year, but he hasn’t gotten consistent minutes in OKC’s rotation. The Sixers would be happy to give him minutes behind Thad Young to see what he can do, and the vortex of suck that is Kendrick Perkins would help the Sixers in their quest to tank spectacularly. Then he becomes an expiring contract. The Sixers would gain a third 1st rounder (after their own and NO’s), and then they won’t mind giving up one of their three current 2nd rounders.
OKC improves its shooting/spacing both in the starting lineup and off the bench. If the Mavs make the playoffs, they’ll still have a 1st round pick in the draft.
The Bulls save money and get a high 2nd rounder. Gomes is useless.
Ryan Gomes, Hasheem Thabeet, heavily-protected future 1st to CHI
Dunleavy, future 2nd to OKC
Bulls savings = $1.1M
Right now, Kirk Hinrich is the worst of both worlds for the Bulls: he can’t do enough offensively to make the team dangerous or watchable, but he’s capable enough to keep the team competitive. For the Warriors, who have literally zero guards off the bench able or willing to pass a basketball, he’d be a veritable savior. Their bench guards are Toney Douglas, Kent Bazemore, and Nemanja Nedovic, who collectively average 3.1 assists and 3.5 turnovers per 36. The Warriors instantly turn from awesome to horrific when Curry is off the floor (those 3 guards are a combined -187 in 360 minutes, or -18.7 per 36), resulting in Curry playing 40+ minutes in 8 of the past 9 games, including 42+ minutes in 7 of them. A franchise player known for his frailty shouldn’t be dominating the league in minutes played.
Kent Bazemore, Hinrich-sized Trade Exception (will not be used) to CHI
Kirk Hinrich to GS
Bulls savings = $3.27M
The Warriors are rich in trade exceptions after their off-season maneuvering. They can use an exception to fit Hinrich onto the payroll and stay just under the tax. Bazemore is a summer league standout who has been quite atrocious this season, much like Marquis Teague. They could form a dream backcourt on a tanking Bulls team.
Would the Bulls amnesty Carlos? I don’t want to leave them the option not to. Opponents are shooting 59.8% at the rim when Carlos is defending it, compared to 31.8% against Taj and 41.5% against Noah.
Kris Humphries to CHI
Bulls savings = $3.3M
The Celtics clear the books for 2015. The Knicks actually do get better by improving their backcourt and opening up minutes at PF for Melo, where he thrived last year. Amare and Bargnani are their two worst performers by plus/minus, so in large part it’s addition by subtraction. The Celtics can’t take on any money and still avoid the tax, so they send out more than they take in, and the Knicks payroll goes up (I don’t think Dolan cares about that). No draft picks are exchanged because the Knicks already gave them all away.
Some version of the above.
I’ve already written too much. I’ll just say that I love this draft. In addition to the consensus big 6 (Wiggins, Parker, Randle, Smart, Exum, and Embiid), I’m really high on Zach LaVine and Willie Cauley-Stein. Please watch highlights of Zach LaVine if you haven’t seen him playing for UCLA. He’s a 6’5" combo guard with range and truly amazing athleticism. His dunks are frequently jaw-dropping. If the Bulls could get into the top 8 and take one of those guys, I’d be really excited.
I also like some of the guys who should be available later, like Kyle Anderson, Spencer Dinwiddie, and Adreian Payne.
Feel free to post your draft thoughts to take our minds off the past couple games many of us have watched against our better judgment.