The Bulls were once again denied a 3-game win streak (extending a truly pathetic streak of non-streaks) in a loss to San Antonio on Saturday.
They were competitive, and they lost a close game to a good team. That's better than losing outright to the Thunder at home. The Bulls are better than they were a week ago, and getting Kirk Hinrich and Luol Deng back (and banishing Larry Hughes) will do that.
But is this truly progress? Here are the minutes for Thomas and Nocioni during this 'resurgence':
Thomas: 22, 37, 19
Sir Flops-A-Lot: 31, 38, 31
This is alarming, especially considering that Noc has been relied upon to play entire fourth quarters in these games. Tyrus had a pretty poor game on Saturday (no rebounds in nearly 19 minutes, failing to box out Bonner after guarding him out by the 3-point line) and Nocioni had his best game of the season (17 and 15) before doing a couple Noc things and blowing the game late.
But this isn't about a play here or there (and why is Nocioni guarding Ginobili on the final posession anyway? This was asked of VDN. The answer? "Matchups". I swear he said this, and that I laughed when I heard it) or the production in a handful of games. Why is Thomas not given minutes? By now especially after several weeks of solid play. It's a bit silly to reiterate this deep into his 3rd season why his success is important to the franchise, so I'll spare that full argument. But the conclusion of it is that any game he doesn't play a lot is a wasted opportunity. Especially when he sits for a marginal player like what Noc has become.
Remember this season is no longer about the team as presently constituted. They still desperately need a trade. So while I enjoy watching better basketball, this recent stretch of good play only means one thing: better trade assets.
The fact that Hinrich and Nocioni are playing better is great news in that regard. There are reasons not to simply 'dump' Hinrich, though he's paid to be a heavy-minute starter and that shouldn't happen here.
But Noc? Well, we can cross San Antonio off the list of potential destinations, no doubt he'd be a permanent fixture on a Popovich bench for making such dumb decisions. But his fist-pumpery and other gritty qualities seem to impress announcers across the league, and apparently (as unbelievable as I find it) some GMs.
Tough to fault Paxson for what he doesn't do (as we don't know what he's turning down), but if he thinks that 3 games of mediocrity (as opposed to outright suckitude) are reasons to keep players instead of a better opportunity to trade them, this franchise is even more misguided than I thought.