So that leaves a team with the MVP, the best record in the NBA and the Coach of the Year completely unable to overcome the Heat. Admittedly, most seasons a team like the Bulls could get away with their current makeup, except now they have to contend with a defensive juggernaut like the Heat, who match them on that end and also have more potent scoring. Something has to give. The Heat aren't going to get any worse, so the Bulls need to get better.
Now, before I go on, I wanted to make a little aside about the respective values of scoring and defensive ability in today's League. For some reason, the "defense wins championships" philosophy, which I agree with in part, has seeped into the collective minds of people in the NBA to the point where they have forgotten the importance of scoring too. The aforementioned mantra became popular in response to teams like the Phoenix Suns, the New York Knicks and the Golden State Warriors, whose offensive abilities were wonderful, but couldn't get stops. So yes, defensive play wins championships, but only when combined with good offense as well. Case in point the Chicago Bulls; when it came down to it, the Bulls couldn't get a score with possession and the clock winding down, and it cost them the series. As vital as defense is, it won't do squat if you're playing from behind, which is a prospect every team is going to face at some point or another. Now this doesn't apply just to teams, it applies to players as well. I spend a lot of time on nbadraft.net, and I'm always amused by how many times the ability to get buckets is taken for granted. Most NBA athletes have the physical tools to play at least good team D, and if the Bulls can have Boozer and Rose and still be a top defensive team it's certainly possible for good coaching to protect bad defensive players. However, I find legitimate scoring prowess much rarer, and in the current NBA, more valuable. Too often I hear it said "he's nothing more than a scorer, sixth man at best." I ask you this, why did the Thunder lose? Not enough scoring. Why did the Bulls lose? Not enough scoring.
I'll make an example using current draft candidates; Kawhi Leonard as opposed to Marshon Brooks. Brooks is a terrific scorer, and Kawhi a versatile all-around guy who is somewhat raw offensively. Yet Brooks is the late first round pick, and Leonard a potential top 5. I think people are missing the forest for the trees; while the intangibles are nice, an elite tangible is better. It comes down to whether you want a jack of all trades or a master of one. Me? I'd pick the master of one anyday. It comes down to Lebron against Jordan... and despite the opinion of Scottie Pippen (and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar I suppose) I'll take the GOAT anyday. Heck, I'd even take Kobe Bryant first.
Which is the same approach the Bulls should take (see, I brought it back). In the current climate in the East where the Heat have assembled such a devastating attack combined with stifling defense, the Bulls need to go for a home run hit and go all in when looking for that shooting guard to fill the second option, rather than being cautious in their approach and finding another offensively-limited defensive SG, because that approach hasn't quite worked out for them (see: Bogans, Keith and Brewer, Ronnie). So after all that mostly necessary preamble to explain my ideas about why the Bulls should do what I suggest, let's look at where they can actually go to fill this need:
- The Draft. The Bulls are in the happy position of drafting twice late in the first round in a climate where scorers seem to fall to late in the first round. But who to select? Let's take a look at the possible candidates...
- Marshon Brooks: Brooks measured well at the draft combine and averaged a cheeky 24.5 ppg in college, good for second in the NCAA behind the Jimmer. Oh and shooting 48% from the field. As a player who showed marked improvement between his junior and senior season (going from 14 to 24ppg) it's clear that he hasn't maxed out his potential, yet as a four-year player is mature and NBA ready enough to contribute to a Bulls team looking to win-now. The only possible problem with Brooks and the Bulls is that his stock is fast rising and he might not be available when they select at #27.
- Scotty Hopson: Now, Scotty had a rather provocative interview where he talked about being a superstar in the League, which raised some issues about his attitude. However, that ambitiousness would serve the 17ppg scorer well alongside Derrick Rose. He also shot a respectable FG% and at 6'7" has ideal size for the 2-guard position. Oh, and he shot 37% from downtown too. As a junior, he is also a relatively game-ready prospect and with strong coaching (see: Thibs) he could max out his potential and be a legitimate scorer in the NBA. He's the most likely to be available with the Bulls' first pick, and if so he should be taken if Brooks is off the board. If Chicago can get Brooks at 27 and Hopson at 29, even better.
- Free agency. Unlike another hometown hero who managed the best record in the NBA but was unable to get over the line, Rose lives in a place free agents aren't going to avoid like the plague and as such, might be able to find help somewhere other than the draft. Thankfully, there are a number of SGs available who can score and in most cases defend also. Let's take a look...
- J.R. Smith: Why start with Smith? Because in terms of talent, he's right up there, and would relish the chance to be the second option on a contender after being relegated to the bench for much of his Denver years, even after the Melo trade. Remember what I was saying about homerun hits? Nobody embodies it more than Mr Smith. He and Rose would form arguably the most offensively gifted back-court in the NBA behind Curry and Ellis, and with Thibs at the helm would be much better defensively. J.R. never clicked with Coach Karl and needs a change of scenery. I know I've been high on J.R. on this blog before, but more than anyone, I think J.R. has the potential to get the Bulls over the line against the Heat. He was spurned by Chicago in the past, but maybe that bridge hasn't been burned and his flame can be fanned by the Windy City.
- Arron Afflalo: Another Denver guy, and part of the reason Smith spent so much time on the bench. This heady young guard showed the ability to create in isolation, deliver in the clutch, and hit the open jumper. Oh, and did I mention he's a defensive ace too? Now, he doesn't have the raw offensive ability of J.R., but he also has an upright character and is used to playing alongside stars, having played with Carmelo Anthony until just recently. The biggest obstacle for seeing Arron in a Bulls uniform is his status as a restricted free agent, meaning the Bulls would likely have to overpay for him, and Denver seems very fond of him indeed. Then again, what was I saying about home-run hits?
- Wilson Chandler: This is becoming a bit of an epidemic, Denver 2-guards are popping up all over the place, and the best part is that the Nuggets will have to let at least one go to clean up the log-jam at the wings. Chandler is tough, intangibles guy who has also shown steady improvement since he's been in the League. His great size means he could spell Deng at the SF, or play PF if Chicago wanted to go small. Coming from New York, he can make the open shot, and has shown the ability to heat up and have big games. However, rumours of his desire to return to New York abound, and really, can you blame him?
- Jamal Crawford: When the Hawks signed Joe Johnson to that monstrously ill-advised contract they essentially told Crawford to pack his bags, as his play lately has likely priced him out of their budget. Chicago would be a perfect landing place for Crawford, who has spent time there before, and as a closer has shown great instincts and would be a perfect fit next to Rose down the stretch. What's more, he has no qualms coming off the bench if the head coach decides to start a more defensively minded SG, as the 09-10 Sixth Man of the Year. That said, Crawford is likely to be expensive too, and it also depends on how the new CBA works out.
- Tracy McGrady: I know, we went down this road last season, and an ill-advised comment from T-Mac pushed the Bulls in another direction. They felt a player returning from major injury was being disrespectful towards their current roster, and had doubts about his durability. Well, he made it through the season healthy, and it's unlikely he'll stick around in Detroit if Chicago wants him. McGrady was an explosive scorer in his hey-day, but is also a gifted playmaker who could not only ease the burden on Rose, but mentor a Scotty Hopson or Marshon Brooks until he retired. McGrady probably only has a few years left in him, but with health no longer an issue and his production in limited minutes, there's no reason McGrady can't suit up for the Bulls and be a major contributor still.
- And now for something completely different... a trade.
- I know, this was supposed to be about shooting guards, but an upgrade at SF is also an option. It would mean giving up Luol Deng and probably Taj Gibson, but with whispers that Granger might not be a part of the Pacers future in the air, bringing the former All-Star to Chicago might just work out best for all involved. The Pacers would get a more committed defender and leader in Deng, and a PF in Gibson, and the Bulls get a proven scorer who is really best suited to a secondary scoring role. I know it's a bit of a stretch, as Deng has been a stalwart this season and deserved an All-Star nod, but Deng isn't scoring when Lebron puts on the clamps, whereas Granger probably still could. The Heat would no longer be able to bother Rose with Lebron's size down the stretch as Granger could simply shoot over Wade. Brewer would fill that stopper role for the Bulls at the SG, or they could use Korver as a shooting guard in the truest sense of the word. This strikes me as an incredibly unlikely scenario, but I can't help but wonder how good the Bulls could be with Granger instead of Deng.