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Pax answers his cellphone, and his critics

This isn't a type of trade that gives Paxson a 'genius' label (or restores it?) but it is officially an end to the jokes about his phone charger being lost, or his 'internet rumors' paranoia.

His number one goal was (and should've been) to dump Ben Wallace, and he did it. Along with his fellow superdelegate Adrian Griffin, as well as Joe Smith.

Larry Hughes, Drew Gooden, Shannon Brown, and Cedric Simmons are in. The Bulls also sent an '09 2nd round pick to the Cavs (remember they still have the Knicks '09 2nd rounder).

There are a lot of angles to this move by Pax. Time for Bullets!!

  • Freed up frontcourt time. Wallace (did I mention they dumped Ben Wallace?) and Smith were 'earning' nearly 55 minutes of time in the frontcourt combined. And while Drew Gooden will take some of those minutes at the 4, Noah now starts (and gets most of his minutes) at center, shifting Tyrus Thomas up the depth chart at the 4. Getting more time for those two (and to a-much-lesser extent, Aaron Gray) was always the most important benefit to dealing Wallace. And Smith for that matter.

    Gooden should fit right in with the Bulls this season: he's having his worst year as a professional, shooting the lowest from the field in his career. He's hitting only 51.7% of his close shots which is below average, yet should be an improvement compared to this current bunch, and he does attempt more non-jumpers than the departed Joe Smith. He's more than capable as a rebounder at the position, especially defensively (9th among PFs). He's always had a rep of being a space cadet on defense (can't find it, but there's that story of a Cavs huddle basically telling Gooden twelve times not to leave his feet to block a 3-point shooter, and he went right out and did just that), and he's a bit undersized. In fact, a Gooden-Noah starting frontcourt will be pretty slight, but very quick. We know Tyrus Thomas can add shotblocking to that mix, and for behemoths there's always Aaron Gray, but lack of strength in the frontcourt is one void Ben Wallace is leaving. But for a league (and a team, it seems) that likes to go small, having Gooden-Noah-Thomas-Gray-Nocioni in all sorts of permutations can work. Although between Gooden taking over the 'scoring four' role, and Thabo moving into the 'backup three' role (next bullet), Nocioni should see a dramatic minutes cut.

    Off the court, there's reason to like Drew Gooden as a Bull. There's a chance he will make the Mopey Iowan disappear forever (they're college teammates and seemingly good pals), and he is growing a sweet beard as part of a bet with the Wiz's DeShawn Stevenson.
  • Larry Hughes and the backcourt. Cavs fans hated Larry Hughes as much as we hated Ben Wallace, as they're both overpaid and underproductive. And Hughes adds 'always hurt' to make it a trifecta. So really it's not much of a question of if he's any better than Wallace, but how he's at least different. In his contract year with the Wiz, Hughes had a PER of 21.6 and hasn't topped 14 since, and Hollinger explains (before this season) the dropoff :
    Upon closer examination, the key to Hughes' decline is how infrequently he gets to the basket compared to his heyday in Washington. His shooting percentage is down from that season, but even more importantly his free-throw attempts are way down -- Hughes had one of the highest free-throw rates in the league while a Wizard but now is barely above the league average for shooting guards. Hughes's rates and percentages on jump shots are almost exactly what they were in Washington, and he's actually shot a little better on 3-pointers since coming to Cleveland. But by having to play off LeBron James, he's not getting the slashing opportunities to the basket that made him so dangerous in Washington, and as a result he's languished in mediocrity.
    So yes, maybe simply not having to defer to LeBron will bring back the old Larry Hughes, but it's also likely that his final year in Washington was no emerging season but a career one. Hughes is only 29 but is in now his tenth season, a point at which players rarely improve. At least with the Bulls there's a role for him to use whatever strengths he used to have, while Hinrich and Gordon can play off of him. He's a big guard who is decent defensively and gets most of his value on that end off of steals (which isn't good). The big question will be how his spot is 'earned' in the guard rotation. One of the major issues with Wallace was that no matter his play he was given an entitlement spot in the starting lineup as well as the healthy dose of minutes. Hughes is similarly high-paid, but doesn't have the pedigree coming in that Wallace did, so you'd hope that nothing is given to him. He can take over Thabo's current role, with a better chance for an offensive outburst as well as a better ability to play the point. Thabo has the edge on defense as well as rebounding (and therefore ability to play the SF as well) yet also needs development minutes. I would be fine with having Hughes as the 4th guard (way to survive the deadline Duh, but you're buried) who plays emergency point and then working from there.

    And of course, as all things usually do, it leads back to Ben Gordon. Hughes should not be seen as Gordon replacement, but insurance. Before getting Hughes, if Gordon left for nothing this offseason the Bulls would be stuck with nobody even serviceable beyond Sefolosha.  The goal should be first to wait for the anticipated (I swear, I am) 2nd half Gordon bonanza and re-sign him to a reasonable long-term deal. Then worry about deciding (or more accurately, see what the trade market decides) between Hughes and Thabo then. And even at that point, with the idea that Hughes is a 1/2 while Thabo is a 2/3, it'll could mean keeping both and ditching Duhon and Nocioni.
  •  I'd immediately send Brown and Simmons to the D-League. The coaching staff will be taxed (especially this group) with integrating Hughes and Gooden, might as well keep those two out of sight and mind. Use whatever scout/development apparatus the team has set up in the d-league to monitor them from afar. The Bulls have a full roster and could use another backup center, and since I doubt Simmons fits that bill (listed as only 6'9", 235) they could waive one of PeeOn, Nichols, or Brown (who I sincerely doubt will be re-signed) to get one. Yes, the Bulls should have an eye on development, but it's on developing Thomas, Noah, and Sefolosha, not who they received today.
  • Money talk. Even if we can hold out hope that there are situations where the Bulls are willing to exceed the luxury tax, they will always be mindful of it. Here's the salary breakdown (thanks to ShamSports):
    2007/2008 2008/2009 2009/2010
    Wallace $15,500,000 $14,500,000 $14,000,000
    Smith $5,205,000 $4,795,000  
    Griffin $1,593,000    
    Hughes $12,000,084 $12,827,676 $13,655,268
    Gooden $6,453,416 $7,151,183  
    Simmons $1,629,120 $1,742,760  
    Brown $1,044,120    
    Savings $1,171,260 -($2,426,619) $344,732
    So it isn't the classic salary dump that is the desired end to most contract mistakes, and there's actually more money owed next season (Griffin's salary next season was unguaranteed, and Simmons' option was already picked up). The important thing was that Paxson dumped Ben Wallace without taking back contracts with greater length than Ben Wallace (and didn't receive players named Ben Wallace). There is also some nice trade flexibility, as now Gooden's a fat expiring deal for next season, and Hughes the one after that.
  • The Boylan factor. So far, as has been harped about many times here, Boylan's been a disaster. But it's possible that some of it (and if so, I don't excuse how much of it) was driven by trade showcasing. But while I've mapped out what I think are logical ways to reshuffle the rotation, we've seen Boylan defy logic many times before. It gets back to the central theme of this lost season: there's a way to maintain an organizational drive for the playoffs while still getting the youth minutes. It's even easier after this trade. However I can see an over-reliance on Gooden, Duhon, and Nocioni mucking things up and down the depth chart. Sometimes 'versatility' just means more places to screw up, heh.

And the best part (if not that important) is that it means there's interest back in the team for these final 30 games. The Bulls are now once again amongst the youngest teams in the league, and have a lot of players who can do a lot of things, meaning that there is plenty of evaluation as to who should stay and who should go moving forward. And a very interesting cap situation to look forward to this summer, with Hinrich and Nocioni off of base-year contract status with Gooden (and Simmons) as expiring deals. There's still plenty of problems that had nothing to do with Wallace, but between the minutes he was sopping up as well as the disturbing amount power he was wielding, it was nice to check that one off first before moving on to the rest.

And just more interest in watching the games, for the rest of this season they should be better with more intriguing players getting the chance to make them so.

Kudos to Pax for swiftly undoing (as much as he could) his biggest mistake. Especially as a division rival, it'll be worth watching to see how Wallace and Smith help the Cavs, and I happen to think they can. But Pax rightfully didn't worry about what it does for them, it's about how it helps his team, whether he's declared a trade 'winner' or not.