Backup center continues to be an issue

February, 6, 2013
2/06/13
5:52
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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Nazr Mohammed Bradley Leeb/US PresswireTom Thibodeau has been reluctant to turn to Nazr Mohammed with Joakim Noah injured.
DENVER -- The loss of Omer Asik has been the biggest weakness -- not named Derrick Rose -- that the Chicago Bulls have dealt with all season.

Asik may not have played many minutes during his time in Chicago, but he was a luxury and a safety net that the Bulls loved to have playing behind Joakim Noah. Now he's gone to Houston and is averaging 10.3 points and 11.5 rebounds while the Bulls are stuck with 35-year-old Nazr Mohammed.

After a solid preseason, Mohammed has mostly sat on the bench all season while Noah plays close to 40 minutes a game. When Noah went down with plantar fasciitis in his right foot, Thibodeau decided to go small with usual backup power forward Taj Gibson playing a lot of center. Mohammed got one start in place of Noah on Friday against the Brooklyn Nets but played for just 7:54 and never saw the floor again.

Meanwhile, Gibson has shuffled between the four and five spots on the floor and has played a staggering 137 out of a possible 144 minutes over the past three games.

"It's all a mind thing," Gibson said recently of all the minutes. "Once you start sweating and stuff your mind gets right."

That mindset is fine and surely appreciated by Thibodeau, but one look at Gibson over the past few days tells you that he is starting to feel the heavy minutes.

So why doesn't Thibodeau just use Mohammed to spell Gibson when Noah and or Carlos Boozer is not healthy enough to play?

Thibodeau said Wednesday that a lot of it had to do with matchups.

"It's who's on the floor," Thibodeau said. "We've got three games, Naz started one. We fell behind in two others and then you have to look at who they have on the floor. So in the Brooklyn game they went with (Andray) Blatche at center and Gerald Wallace at four so a lot of it's matchups. And the other thing you have to factor in is you're not just down one player, you're down an entire unit basically and so you're looking for different groups that can play well together so it's not just one guy that you're factoring into it. It's a number of guys that you have to look at."

There have been plenty of chances for Thibodeau to use Mohammed in spots, but he just hasn't done it. That's been the case all season. For whatever reason, likely having a lot to do with the fact that Mohammed doesn't move nearly as well as he used to, Thibodeau continues to look in a different direction. That leads some to wonder whether the Bulls should look to add a big man down the stretch.

While it's certain that the Bulls front office has continued to check what's available on the market, the reality is because of the fact the Bulls are hard-capped their options are limited. Sure, they may be able to swing a trade, but they don't have many tradeable assets they want to give up for another big man who may only play a handful of minutes a week.

Since all the Bulls contracts are now guaranteed (the deals for Nate Robinson and Daequan Cook were guaranteed after Jan. 10), their only other option is to wait to add another player later in the season.

The Bulls salaries total $74,061,031, leaving them $245,969 under the cap, according to capologist Larry Coon. The only possibility of signing a player comes when the two-year veteran minimum salary can be pro-rated below that $245,969 figure, which should come in just under three weeks, according to Coon.

So unless the Bulls swing an unlikely trade, Thibodeau is going to have to ride with Mohammed for the foreseeable future.

Nick Friedell | email

Chicago Bulls beat reporter
Nick Friedell is the Chicago Bulls beat reporter for ESPN Chicago. Friedell is a graduate of the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University and joined ESPNChicago.com for its launch in April 2009.

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Derrick Rose
PTS AST STL MIN
15.9 4.3 0.5 31.1
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsJ. Noah 11.3
AssistsJ. Noah 5.4
StealsJ. Butler 1.9
BlocksJ. Noah 1.5