melo

Last week, the Bulls made a trade with the Houston Rockets. The Bulls sent a heavily protected (meaning they probably won’t have to actually trade it) second round draft pick to the Rockets in exchange for Michael Carter-Williams and cash. This week the Bulls made another trade with the Houston Rockets. They sent the rights to aging European player Tadija Dragicevic to the Rockets, in exchange for Carmelo Anthony, the rights to aging European player Jon Diebler, and more cash.

Michael Carter-Williams has already been waived by the Bulls, and Melo will probably be waived by the February 7th trade deadline as well. The European players are not expected to ever play in the NBA for either the Bulls or Rockets. The cash is being used to pay the remainder of MCW and Melo’s salaries, and whatever is left over is profit for the Bulls to spend however they see fit.

The real benefit of making these trades is in letting the league know that the Bulls are open for business. They are one of the few teams in the league that has room under the salary cap to take on other teams regrettable contracts. The Bulls helped the Rockets get two bad contracts off the books for cash. The Bulls get cash, and the Rockets creep closer to getting out from under the NBA Luxury Tax. It’s a win-win for everyone involved. Except maybe the players who get shown the door by two teams in a matter of days, that can’t be good for the ego.

As for me, I’m left wondering why the Bulls were asking for cash and not draft picks in these trades? I understand that “free” cash is pretty nice, and a great business transaction if you can swing it, but aren’t draft picks just as versatile? Even 2nd round draft picks have value in the current NBA; the Bulls sold their 2017 2nd round draft pick for $3.5 million. It seems odd to me that a rebuilding team would value cash over prospects. I have to ask, is the Reinsdorf family in financial trouble? Are the White Sox that much of a drain on the family’s holdings that they have to ask for cash instead of draft picks when making trades in the NBA? Let’s hope it hasn’t come to that.

It’s smart for the Bulls to be making these kinds of transactions. Like George Clooney in the movie Up in the Air, they’re getting paid to fire players. It’s “free” money. And I’m sure these types of moves help build a winning culture (sarcasm).

Speaking of winning cultures, the Atlanta Hawks rolled into town last night and soundly whipped the Bulls in all but the 2nd quarter of play. The Hawks jumped out to a 42-25 lead in the 1st quarter and never looked back. The Bulls did put up a fight in the 2nd quarter, pulling within 6 points by half-time on the strength of a late comeback. Even after an inspiring Lauri Markkanen half-court, end-of-the-half buzzer beater, the Bulls were unable to overtake the Hawks. The game ended with Atlanta on top, 121-101.

 

This game is significant because the Hawks are on a similar rebuilding timeline to the Chicago Bulls. Both teams have a pool of talented young prospects as the nucleus for their future teams. Both the Bulls and Hawks have surrounded the young players with veterans for guidance and new head coaches for development. Unfortunately, the difference between how the two teams played last night, and the direction they have recently been heading, is stark.

Atlanta is a modest 15-32 this season, the Bulls are an ugly 11-37. In the last 20 games, the Hawks are 9-11 and the Bulls only 5-15. In that very small sample size, it appears that the Atlanta Hawks are growing together and improving, while the Bulls are, at best, stagnating or, at worst, regressing. While it would be easy to dismiss these past 20 games with the argument that the Bulls had to play some of the best teams in the league on an extended West Coast road trip, over the last 20 games Atlanta has faced each of the Boston Celtics, Brooklyn Nets, Indiana Pacers, and Milwaukee Bucks twice, as well as the Toronto Raptors, Philadelphia ‘76ers, and Oklahoma City Thunder once, and have the exact same number of road games as the Bulls (12).

So what? Does any of this mean anything? Are the Hawks closer to contention than the Bulls? Probably not, but it is interesting to compare the two rebuilding teams.

One thing that stands out to me when comparing the two, is that Atlanta is playing better as a team than the Bulls.

I think this is because they have the very talented Trae Young running the offense. While his shooting stats haven’t quite translated from his break out college performance last year, his vision and passing skills have. His unselfish play, speed and ball handling are all weapons the Hawks use to exploit opponents in the pick-and-roll. The Bulls primary ball handlers (Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn) are not yet as dynamic in shot creation as Trae Young is. They do not have the vision and creativity to maximize the Bulls offense and their teammates around them. This is an area that must improve before the Bulls can be competitive again.

Another difference I noticed between the two teams: Every player on the Atlanta Hawks is comfortable taking 3 point shots. While they are not all sharpshooters from that range, every single one of them has the ability to hit a wide open 3. The same cannot be said about the Chicago Bulls. Players like Kris Dunn, Shaq Harrison, Robin Lopez, and, to a lesser extent, Chandler Hutchison, are limiting the Bulls offense with their lack of 3 point range. It’s 2019, the Golden Age of 3 Pointers, the Bulls need to fill their roster with players that can consistently hit wide open 3’s. It’s the great equalizer in the NBA. No lead is safe, and no deficit is too large to overcome, when a team gets hot from beyond the arc.

That’s it for today. I had a dentist appointment yesterday morning, hence the late post. I hope the Bulls can raise their effort and improve on their natural talent going forward. The most important thing that the example of the Atlanta Hawks can do is give us hope: Young players can improve. They can come together and compete as a team. It’s all possible, even for the stagnating Bulls, and there is no reason for fans to give up on them just yet. Thanks for reading, and GO BULLS!