Last week, I unveiled the first step in my three-part proposal for renovating the Bull’s roster over the next six months. The Luol Deng trade rumors have subsided only slightly over the past 10 days, despite Gar Foreman insisting that Chicago could still succeed with its current core intact. It is still painfully unclear what the Bull’s intended course of action is following Derrick Rose’s second knee injury, and it will probably remain that way for the next couple of months. There are several reasons why the Bulls’ have some time to determine how their roster will be built next season, but the main determining factor is the conference in which they play.
The Eastern Conference is bad. No, let me take that back. The Eastern Conference is on the verge of being historically awful. You think I’m exaggerating? Atlanta’s win Friday over the Cavaliers moved them above .500 for the season, which turns the Southeast division into the power house of the conference. They now have two teams with winning records, which is twice as many as the Central (Indiana). The abomination of a division known as the Atlantic isn’t even worth mentioning, with all of its teams wallowing in what has become basketball’s purgatory. While in some situations I am prone to get lost in streams of hyperbolic bluster, this is not one of those times. The East is downright terrible. Jason Kidd’s little drink dropping incident has highlighted a spectacular run of ineptitude by the rebuilt Nets. Another one of the preseason favorites, the Knicks, were recently labelled the “laughing stocks of the league.” Not by Bill Simmons, Jalen Rose, or Bill Walton. Nope, the Knicks best player bestowed this title upon them. The Pistons massive front line experiment is failing, and will soon force changes in Detroit. Josh Smith was simply not made to play the small forward position- kind of like Shaq wasn’t made to fit in those tiny Buick sedans. The Milwaukee Bucks, typically a franchise that is the model of extreme mediocrity, have already fallen 14 games behind the Pacers. 14!
So- how does all this affect the Bulls? It means that they will be able to compete for a top playoff seed in this conference, despite losing their best player to another knee injury. Tom Thibodeau has an intense aversion to losing (to put it lightly) and could probably extract 40-45 wins from this downtrodden Bulls squad through sheer determination. Gar Foreman will be forced to consider holding onto Deng with the chance of some sort of playoff run on the line. However, Foreman will also be presented with an increased number of opportunities to move Deng to the multitude of teams that will remain in the playoff picture through the end of the season. It’s entirely possible that the Celtics decide to part with one of their numerous draft picks or young pieces, or that the Atlanta Hawks could decide they want to turn one of their intriguing future draft picks into Deng so they could make a run at the Eastern conference semi-finals. Regardless of what team it is, someone will want to add Deng amid all this uncertainty, which is a good thing for the Bulls. So, let’s move on to the next step of the Bulls retooling process.
Key to the Bulls’ Continued Success #2. Tony Snell, Tony Snell, Tony Snell. Oh, and can we get some Erik Murphy mixed in?
I have to admit, I dropped the ball on this one. I had a grand plan to unveil the potential greatness that is Tony Snell as my next key, but Tom Thibodeau stole my thunder and inserted Snell into the starting lineup when Jimmy Butler went down. Getting Snell minutes on this non-championship caliber team is absolutely imperative to the Bulls future success, and here’s why.
Snell, who I have been high on since the Bulls drafted him, is dripping with both offensive and defensive potential. He is somewhat reminiscent of a young Richard Hamilton. While he is not nearly as polished as Rip was coming out of Connecticut, Snell has that inherent ability to move without the basketball to get himself open looks (check this clip out from his days at New Mexico). He has a silky smooth shot, and has the ability to put the ball on the floor and take it to the rack himself. While he needs work on his ball handling, Snell has the potential to be a secondary scoring threat for Chicago when he is on the floor. The three point shooting is already a bona fide NBA-level skill (he’s connecting on 42% of his attempts), and he has the athleticism and length to be a solid perimeter defender. He also has already earned the affection of the ultimate homer, Bulls announcer Stacy King, which has to count for something.
Most Bulls fans are starting to recognize the potential in Snell, who looks quite comfortable and competent when on an NBA court. But Erik Murphy? A 6’10” guy that averaged under four rebounds a game during his time at Florida, and has almost no low post moves? Murphy, however, does like to shoot jumpers. He is also extremely good at shooting said jumpers. After not attempting a three point field goal his freshman year for the Gators, Murphy turned himself into the best shooting big men in all of college in the subsequent years. His senior year, he hit 72 of his 159 three-point attempts- a 45.3% clip. As I have lamented before, the Bulls have never had a stretch four that can spread the floor by hitting threes. Thibodeau needs to give Murphy a chance to show that he could be a reincarnation of Matt Bonner, Ryan Anderson or Steve Novak. Adding a player like this to the rotation would give the Bulls offense a dramatically different look next season when Rose returns. Can you imagine how many open looks Murphy could get when his man crashes hard on a Rose drive?
While Tom Thibodeau gets overly criticized for his reluctance to play freshly drafted rookies, he does have a penchant for forcing rookies to prove themselves in practice and garbage time before letting them play meaningful minutes. It is vital that the Bulls veteran coach recognizes this season as an opportunity to develop talent for next season, and gives both Snell and Murphy opportunities to prove that they belong in the Bulls’ future plans.