Thursday, July 24, 2014
Bulls should risk depth for talent in Love
By Jon Greenberg
CHICAGO -- Life is short, and compared to other top scorers in the NBA, so is Derrick Rose.
That's why, if fate aligns it so, the Chicago Bulls should trade what they can for the promise of Kevin Love, a 6-foot-10 scorer who has never made the playoffs and is best known for throwing parabolic outlet passes.
With Kevin Love and Joakim Noah, the Bulls would have two of the best passing big men in the game.
While I am more of a fan of the journey than of the ultimate destination -- a condition stemming from a lifetime of losing at sports -- I understand that winning your last game is the only thing that matters once the journey winds to the end.
The Bulls need to validate their station in life with a championship. Currently, they have a very deep team on paper, a collection of very tall scorers, several adept passers, a few long-range shooters, three strong defenders, one all-NBA center and Rose, the youngest MVP in league history, now the most luckless.
Reportedly, the Bulls are willing to trade power forward Taj Gibson, rookie small forward Doug McDermott and perhaps either rookie Euroleague "star" Nikola Mirotic or other assets (draft picks and the like) to the Timberwolves for Love, who wants out of the Twin Cities for obvious reasons. This deal is expected to be considered by the Wolves and rejected in favor of one with the Cavaliers. That would be a nightmare for the Bulls.
Still, I am intrigued by the Bulls' current team, and I think it could win the East as constructed, and if everyone remains healthy, be a problem for whomever comes out of the West.
But I would do this move. So would the typically risk-averse Bulls, if they've in fact offered it, so I'm not exactly out on a limb.
Love would command a high salary, especially if he re-signs with the team next season after his contract expires, and that would limit the Bulls' depth going forward.
Depth is a conflicting word for some. It could mean being like the San Antonio Spurs, the sport's reigning champion and testament to the team-first principles of basketball supposedly lost in today's highlight-package society. Depth could also mean an annual excuse for failure to land the luminous free agents of the league. More of the lesser is equal to less of the best? Sure, if you say so.
Depth can't always beat guys off the dribble deep in the playoffs when LeBron is suffocating you on the perimeter. Maybe it can, sometimes, but not always. One key to success is eliminating unknowns. Rose, Love and Joakim Noah, well, we know that would be an excellent core to a crunch-time playoff lineup.
Many have understandably forgotten how brilliant Rose was in his MVP season. It's been awhile. A lot of B-roll of him warming up in vain has clouded our collective memory in the meantime.
Even in his injury-plagued follow-up season, he was still Derrick Rose, a unique talent who blended speed, power and imagination into a chiseled 6-foot-2 1/2 (in his eponymous shoes) product.
In the last playoff game he suited up for, which ended with him crumpled on the floor with a torn ACL, he had 23 points, 9 rebounds and 9 assists. He didn't shoot well (9-for-23), but he shined.
It's tough to judge Rose's viability as The Guy, because the Bulls have played three postseasons without him. But the possibility of Love, just 25, pairing with Rose would make the Bulls favorites in the East and a serious competitor against the Western Conference powerhouses.
Love can't be shaded by bigger defenders, like Rose can in theory and in past practice.
While he's been marooned with a lifeless franchise, Love is a proven commodity as a scorer, an All-Star and gold medalist. He averaged 26 points and 12.5 rebounds last season. He shot 37.5 percent on 3-pointers and averaged 4.4 assists. His advanced stats are bananas. He is everything you want offensively in one package.
Love and Noah would comprise the best passing big man combo in the league, and when Pau Gasol comes in for either player, that notion wouldn't change.
In this proposed deal, the Bulls would only lose Gibson's defense, which is something special to be sure. But if they could keep Jimmy Butler and Noah, and provided Tony Snell keeps progressing, they'd still have three tough defenders.
It's important to remember that while coach Tom Thibodeau will sacrifice offense for defense at the end of games, his system doesn't require every player to be an elite one-on-one defender. It's designed to push activity to the paint. That's why Thibodeau preaches "five guys acting as one" on defense.
On Gasol joining Gibson and Noah in a power forward/center rotation, Thibodeau said last week, "The thing I love about all three is they have great length. Defensively you're going to always have two 7-footers on the floor. If you get by the initial one, there's always going to be a second one by the rim. It's going to be very difficult to get shots in the paint."
Taj Gibson would be a significant loss for the Bulls but worth it for Kevin Love.
The 6-10 Love is still tall, right? He is capable of playing defense.
To me, it's a no-brainer of a deal, because what is life without risk?
I have no stake in this debate, but I'll admit I'm a fan of Gibson and part of me wants to see the Bulls win the East and a title with him in the lineup.
Corny as it sounds, he represents everything that is good about a professional athlete. He comes from the city game, Brooklyn, and he made himself into a near-star in the polished NBA. He did prep school and went to USC, hardly a basketball power, and was a low first-round pick at an advanced age who worked his way into an $8 million-plus per year contract. He is proof that you can improve in the NBA. He's been a strong defender since college, but his offensive game has blossomed beyond high-flying putback dunks. I enjoy talking to him and consider him the true "heart and soul" of a team that considers itself an underdog.
McDermott, a 6-8 reigning collegiate player of the year, could be a special scorer. Taken 11th in the draft, the Bulls surrendered picks to move up and get him. The Bulls scouted McDermott, who is more than a long-range bomber, so extensively at Creighton, they've probably seen him play more in person the past two years than Rose.
Mirotic is the mystery man. The 6-10 Montenegrin was a versatile scorer for Real Madrid with "a solid defensive base," according to Thibodeau. ESPN's Fran Fraschilla compared him to Hedo Turkoglu, while Bulls fans dream, in a narrow-minded sort of way, of Dirk Nowitzki.
That's the definition of depth: An athletic post player/one-on-one defender, a young scorer and a "spacing four" with potential. All signed at reasonable prices.
And there's Love, just one man who has promised he will explore free agency after next season.
Still, do it.
My entire argument will probably be rendered null when Cleveland trades Andrew Wiggins and friends for Love, and he and LeBron rule the East with a fun, Twitter-friendly style of basketball.
The Bulls will finish in second place for Love, another silver medal to hang next to the ones honoring their pursuits of Carmelo Anthony, LeBron, Chris Bosh and more.
Led by Thibodeau, they will soldier on with their deep, tall team, hoping they can defensively strangle their way to the title. I think they could do it with a little luck and most importantly, a healthy Rose.
But it would be fascinating to watch Rose, Love and Noah play together and for the Bulls to seize an opportunity to risk depth for talent. I will always root for a good story.