It is official: Ronnie Brewer is once again a member of the Chicago Bulls. The Bulls made room for the 29-year-old swingman by releasing forward Erik Murphy last week. Brewer has been out of the league since Feb. 21 when he was released by the Houston Rockets. He appeared in just 158 minutes over 23 games this season.
Brewer, of course, was part of the first free agent class signed by the Bulls under Tom Thibodeau in the summer of 2010. He was a key reserve on teams that finished with the No. 1 overall seed in the Eastern Conference in 2010-11 and 2011-12. Brewer was let go following a loss in the playoffs to the 76ers, and the emergence of Jimmy Butler has ultimately made him expendable. Since he's left the tender care of Thibs, Brewer has had a difficult time sticking in the league.
He played 46 games for the Knicks last season before signing on with the Thunder for the final 14 games. He was unable to crack Kevin McHale's rotation in Houston this season. In Chicago, he'll have an opportunity to play for a coach and a system he knows just as things are about to start getting serious.
Is that a good thing? It depends, I suppose. We all like Ronnie Brewer and have fond memories of his work on what were the first actually good Bulls team of the post-Jordan era. His arrival could have a couple different implications, or it could have zero, depending on if he's able to steal some minutes at the precipice of the playoffs. If Brewer can find playing time, here's what we would be looking at:
1. No more Tony Snell
The 22-year-old rookie has largely been cut out of the rotation recently has Thibodeau has opted to only give seven players real time. Snell averaged only 9.1 minutes per game in March and wasn't particularly productive when he was out there. Snell has already played more than any rookie under Thibs ever, but it's clear the coaching staff doesn't trust him in big spots quite yet. Enter Brewer, a player they know well and are already comfortable with.
Here's the thing, though: is Ronnie Brewer really better than Tony Snell? Even with the rookie's uneven performance as of late, I think I would rather have Snell out there. Brewer had a reputation as being an athletic dynamo entering the league, but he really hasn't been particularly explosive since suffering a leg injury in Memphis in 2009. I would think Snell is more athletic. There's no debate that Snell is a capable shooter.
Fact is, you don't have to guard Brewer out on the perimeter. He's made only 24 three-pointers since leaving the Bulls, and is 1-for-8 beyond the arc this season. Teams like the Heat and Pacers are smart enough to know when they can cheat off perimeter players to double when the ball goes inside to Taj and Noah. I'm a bit worried any real minutes for Brewer would fudge the Bulls' spacing offensively.
Defense is the other side of the coin. I think Snell has been pretty good there -- length + young legs is generally a winning formula -- but I can't hate on Thibs if he'd prefer a veteran in there. At 6'7, 225 lbs., Brewer has the size to match up with Dwyane Wade, Terrence Ross and Lance Stephenson on the perimeter. The question is: does he have the athleticism?
2. Maybe Jimmy Butler won't be pitching a complete game anymore
YO. Have you looked at Butler's minutes totals lately? They are predictably preposterous. He's played at least 41 minutes in 10 of the last 11 games, and it isn't really an outlier. Jimmy ended March averaging 41.9 minutes per game after playing 39.3 minutes per night in February and 41.4 minutes per night in January. We're far past the point of excessive, here.
Thing is, Jimmy has held up very well after some early season injury troubles. He hasn't been as productive as the organization has hoped this year, seeing his shooting percentage dip across the board, but his athleticism on the wing is still ultra valuable to a Bulls team without any other thoroughbreds there.
As it stands, Butler enters the league fourth overall in minutes before Carmelo, Durant and DeRozan with a Deng-like season average of 38.3 minutes per night. The difference between Butler and those other three? Well, the other three were each All-Stars. But also: Butler is the only one really forced to give 100 percent effort defensively at all times.
Anthony and Durant are skilled enough offensively to take some possessions off when the other team has the ball (though KD's defense has been pretty good this year). Butler is not. He's the best perimeter defender on a great defense, and the Bulls are going to need to him to play a lot in the playoffs, just as he did last year in logging all of those consecutive complete games against the Nets and then Heat.
Butler has also absorbed a lot of contact this season, leading the team with 313 attempts from the foul line. That's a lot of physical punishment that would normally make me worry for Jimmy's well-being. On the other hand: if Thibs has been giving him 42 minutes per night through the last few months, why the hell would he let up when the games actually start to matter? He shouldn't and I doubt he will.
So yeah, Ronnie Brewer! It's nice to have him, I guess, but I hope he doesn't screw anything up. He probably won't.