I had an epiphany last week.
Of course it wasn't about anything truly important, and instead centered around the Bulls next move in their progression from 'good team in the East' to 'championship contender'.....so naturally it involved trading for Kevin Garnett. But this new revelation wasn't about Garnett, but about a Bull: I'm starting to think Ben Gordon won't (and shouldn't) be a part of any such trade.
His constant involvement in trade rumors does imply that he is highly valued around the league. But Gordon's performance this season has me better appreciating his value as a Bull. He's having his best season, being more aggressive in his possessions (increase in usage rate) while still maintaining his shooting percentage. And the best news is that he is getting to the line more, up to 7.7 FTAs per 40 minutes from 4.3 the season before. For Gordon it is especially beneficial as he's shooting over 87% from the line. When he attacks the basket like that, not only is he getting free points at the line, but it causes defenders to give him room to shoot the 3, which has been not falling as much this season but will likely come back up near his career norms. His defense has also looked improved, and it seems there are fewer games this season where Skiles yanks him for lapses on that end.
Speaking of Skiles, He's still not starting Gordon, and more importantly not giving him enough minutes. It's almost as if his recent performance has hurt his standing in the rotation. [Now that he's playing better....well it must be because he's more comfortable off the bench!] Thinking like that seems more superstition than any conclusive correlation, but if Skiles still insists on starting Chris Duhon at least have Gordon get the starters bulk of the minutes. Sure they'll still have a 'small' backcourt with him and Hinrich, but Duhon's even shorter and I'd rather have the newly aggressive Ben Gordon getting heavy minutes than any other guard on the team.
So back to Garnett, which I promise is only brought up because the Bulls are playing the Wolves tonight (I think I've been pretty good in terms of not bringing up Garnett trade fantasies too often, all things considered). The failure to acquire Allen Iverson was the final blown chance to pair Garnett with another superstar...as there will never be another player that good who is available for that cheap (and it can be said that the Wolves have so few tradeable assets that they'd need someone even cheaper). Garnett himself has voiced displeasure over management's failure, and while he could wait another full season to opt-out of his contract, the upcoming draft may have the Wolves thinking that the time to deal Garnett is now. I won't go into too much why Garnett is a near-perfect fit, but there are aspects of his production, position, and attitude that make him a final-piece type acquisition. What makes the trade even more desirable is that the Bulls are a perfect trading partner:
- All the Bulls expiring contracts are big men. So in any deal for a shooting guard (such as Paul Pierce or Ray Allen) they'd risk depleting their front line. But when dealing for Garnett that issue is mitigated.
- If the Wolves trade Garnett, they will almost have to get a '07 lottery pick in return. The inherent problem with accepting a team's pick is that if that team is getting Garnett you'd almost have to pencil them into the playoffs. However since the Bulls can offer the Knick's pick, that is a much safer bet for plenty of lottery balls (furthermore, by dealing Garnett the Wolves have a better chance at keeping their own pick which they'd owe to the Clippers if not in the top-10)
- The best combination of salary cap relief and young talent, as has been discussed in this interwebspace plenty of times.
But the point of this post is that when considering which young talent to give up, further Garnett trade scenarios from me will no longer have Ben Gordon, for both his improved play and the revelation (through the Iverson non-acquisition) that the Wolves really like Randy Foye, a similar player. If I were to now rate the core assets on the Bulls, in terms of which I'd more easily trade away in a Garnett deal, Gordon is now only less 'untouchable' than Deng or Hinrich.
So here's my (latest) best shot in a Garnett trade. The Bulls parting with the expiring deals of Sweetney and Brown, young talent in Tyrus Thomas and Chris Duhon, Andres Nocioni (could be thought of as either an expiring deal or someone Minny would want to build around), and the Knicks first-rounder (officially it'll probably be called 'future first round pick' since the Bulls do not technically own that pick yet). Some more notes to the deal:
- In this scenario the Bulls offer cap relief in taking on Marko Jaric's deal (also why Duhon was included), but Minnesota could reasonably substitute similarly-overpaid guards like Troy Hudson or Mike James. I think Jaric would be the best fit of the three, but his deal also runs the longest.
- If they wanted to offer further (or less, if they don't have to take a guard) cap relief, the Bulls could take on Mark Madsen and the 3 more seasons he's getting paid.
- To help alleviate Minnesota's roster crunch, Bracey Wright can be included, since minimum-salaried players can be included without cap consequences.
Garnett's salary means that any deal would hurt the Bulls roster depth (although there's still some quality bench players left) But when thinking of that, or whether it's too early to give up Ty Thomas, or that you can't pass at a shot in the '07 draft, or that Nocioni is the heart and soul of the franchise (ok, I never think that)...all I can see is a starting front line of Deng, Garnett, and Wallace. Still seeing Kirk Hinrich as the starting point guard. And a new wrinkle to my KG dream: Ben Gordon remaining a Bull.