By Chris Licata
VERNON, Conn. – Don’t look now White Sox fans, but Ozzie Guillen and company may not be the hottest ticket in town for long. The Chicago Bulls exploded back onto the NBA map this week with a pair of high profile moves that have immediately turned them into contenders in the eyes of most analysts.
It began appropriately enough on July 4th. On a day mostly associated with explosions and revolution, the Bulls pulled off a blockbuster move by stealing one of the NBA’s top defenders right out from under the noses of the region’s most powerful team. I talk of course of the signing of reigning, two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year Ben Wallace. Wallace, who has averaged over 10 rebounds and nearly three blocked shots per game in his 10 seasons, opted to leave the powerhouse Detroit Pistons for the Bulls after helping the boys from the Motown reach two NBA Finals’ in three seasons.
While adding Wallace would be cause enough for most NBA front office exec’s to sit back and chalk up this off season as a success, the Bulls weren’t done. The next day Chicago made another solid move by dumping $60 million bust Tyson Chandler on the New Orleans Hornets in exchange for forward P.J. Brown and guard J.R. Smith. Chandler, who was drafted second overall by the Clippers in 2001 before being dealt immediately to the Bulls, never matched the hype he arrived with. Averaging only 7.1 points per game and 7.7 boards, the Bulls were essentially able to swap Wallace’s salary for Chandler’s (Wallace will be making $56 million over four years).
Additionally the move helps Chicago by giving them another veteran in the front court with Brown and more depth in the wings with Smith. Brown, a 13-year veteran, has put up solid numbers (9.4 points and eight rebounds per game) throughout his career for three different teams.
A first round draft pick right out of high school in 2004, Smith has put up decent scoring numbers in his first two seasons with the Hornets averaging 10.3 points per game in his rookie season and 7.7 last year in only 55 games. The only shortcoming to Smith’s game is his nearly one-to-one assist to turnover margin which is bad, but not deplorable, considering he is a two-guard.
According to an interview with the Chicago Tribune on July 7, Bulls General Manager John Paxson sees much reason for optimism.
“I hope expectations are high,” Paxson said. “We have big expectations for ourselves.”
Last season Chicago made the NBA playoffs for the second straight year thanks mostly in part to their front office. The foundation for this upcoming season’s team’s potential dominance can be found in the NBA draft. In 2003 the Bulls drafted Kansas’s Kirk Hinrich at No. 7. The next season they hit the lottery big time, grabbing UConn’s Ben Gordon at No. 3 and Duke’s Luol Deng at No. 7, thus the “Baby Bulls” were born. The draft picks immediately paid off with Hinrich, Gordon and Deng each averaging 14.6, 16.0 and 13.1 points respectively since they have put on Bull uniforms. During the 2004-2005 season Chicago shocked everyone by making the playoffs, largely in part to the excellent play of Gordon – the first NBA rookie ever named “Sixth Man of the Year.”
With the “Baby Bulls” finally starting to mature, the arrival of mega-star Wallace and the depth that Brown and Smith add, Bulls tickets may be hardest to get in 2006-2007 since some guy named “Jordan” played on the team.