TrueHoop: Ben Wallace

The 2012 All-Flop Teams

March, 20, 2012
3/20/12
2:49
PM ET
Mason By Beckley Mason
ESPN.com
Archive
When Shane Battier, the patron baller of HoopIdea, called out former teammate Luis Scola for being one of the most accomplished actors in the league, it got us thinking: Who are the most egregious floppers around?

We asked the TrueHoop Network for help, and the result is our first ever All-Flop Teams.

FIRST TEAM

Chris Paul, PG: Paul quickly emerged as the consensus Most Floppy Player. As this video from Daily Thunder’s Royce Young shows, Paul is truly a fantastic two-way talent. Graydon Gordian elaborates, “I think Royce's video demonstrated two really distinct things Chris Paul does: (a) He stops dead in his tracks, backs up into a player who's behind him and then falls forward, and (b) he maintains possession of the ball and/or makes a pass while going to the ground. He doesn't lose the ball when flopping, which lots of guys do.”

Raja Bell/Manu Ginobili, SG: Controversial decision to include both of them here, but really these two have given so much to the game. Manu with his whiplash-inducing head thrashes as he drives to the basket and Raja Bell with his ability to be thrown backwards by the slightest of contact. Here’s the Raja-Manu mixtape of floppery.

Paul Pierce, SF: Pierce is another two-way player who isn’t afraid to artistically embellish any contact (real or imagined) with a sometimes ludicrous flourish.

Luis Scola, PF: Battier put it best: “The more hair you have, the better. My boy Luis Scola, he’s got that long hair and when it gets sweaty and he starts flopping and flailing, it looks like he’s getting murdered out there.”

Ben Wallace, C: Writes Patrick Hayes of Piston Powered: "Wallace is adept at going for rebounds in heavy traffic, but he also uses that traffic to his advantage. If a shot is missed and he doesn't have a great angle to get to it, he's patented a move where he jumps forward and lurches his body while simultaneously letting out a loud 'OOOPH,' which over the years has pretty regularly convinced officials he was pushed in the back. Often, video evidence suggests otherwise. Wallace's artful flopping on rebound attempts has been just another valuable skill he's brought to the Pistons that doesn't show up in his stats. Oh, and don't ever mention to him that he flops ... he doesn't like that.”

SECOND TEAM

Rajon Rondo, PG: Rondo’s habit of throwing himself into a defender 50 feet from the hoop and firing off a prayer as time expires isn’t why he’s a celebrated flopper. It’s because, as Brendan Jackson of Celtics Hub noted, he’ll fall over as a defense mechanism whenever he gets in trouble with his dribble, especially along the baseline. (Also receiving votes: Tony Parker, Derek Fisher, Deron Williams, Chauncey Billups.)

Jamal Crawford, SG: A unique flopper, as Kevin Arnovitz explains, “There's a reason Jamal Crawford holds the all-time NBA record for 4-point plays. As the sharpshooter elevates and releases his shot, he'll gracefully hinge his hips forward, kick his legs into his defender and often land on his tuchus in the process.” (Also receiving votes: Dwyane Wade, James Harden, Kobe Bryant.)

Corey Maggette, SF: Ethan Sherwood Strauss paints us a picture of a typical Maggette flop: “Two dribbles hoop-ward and he’s already leaning for contact. It’s an offensive foul, or at least it would be were it not for Corey’s sleight of hand. Somehow this ball of muscles flies backward from the 'contact.' It’s a visual trick -- Maggette uses an off arm to redirect his body movement. The ball? That thing’s flying into the stands, chased by the sound waves of Corey’s wounded animal bleat.” (Also receiving votes: Kevin Durant, Vince Carter, Nicolas Batum.)

Dirk Nowitzki, PF: Dirk is a do-it-all flopper. He can flop while driving, shooting, playing defense and rebounding, perhaps the most underrated facet of his flop game. Dirk may never jump higher than when he’s flying away from a rebound after a “nudge” in the back. (Also receiving votes: Blake Griffin, Pau Gasol, Tim Duncan.)

Reggie Evans, C: Evans has a reputation as one of the dirtiest players in the NBA, but don’t try any of that stuff on him. Reggie can induce whistles with the best of them, but only while doing the only things he does well on the court: setting screens, rebounding and exchanging elbows under the rim. (Also receiving votes: Marc Gasol, JaVale McGee.)


One thing you'll notice is that this list contains almost every great player in the league. That's not an accident, part of excelling in the NBA is being able to manipulate officials to benefit your team.

It's not that players are sneaky or devious, they're just pragmatic. The system won't penalize flopping and will sometimes reward it, so what's the downside?

So let's change the system. What kind of penalties for flopping would you like to see, and how would they be implemented?

JOIN THE CONVERSATION

You can give us your ideas and talk with us and other fans in the following places:
And for the truly ambitious: Shoot a short video of yourself explaining your HoopIdea, upload it to YouTube and share the link with us on Twitter or Google+.

Friday Bullets

July, 24, 2009
7/24/09
5:16
PM ET

Posted by Kevin Arnovitz

While the cellar-dwellers prepare their draft board, the NBA's elite have some tough calls to make. Will the Lakers pony up for Lamar Odom? Is Hedo Turkoglu worth exceeding the cap for? And the Cavs confront the reality that they're a couple of rotation players away from Eastern supremacy. 

Lamar OdomDarius Soriano of Forum Blue & Gold: "We're at the point where [Lamar] Odom's true value to this team is no longer a mystery. When you talk X's and O's, he's the player that makes our strong side zone work as he provides the mobility and length to move from one side of the court to the other, pick up flashing big men, guard perimeter players, trap the ball handler, and still recover to the paint to rebound. He's the player that helps create our tremendous offensive spacing - playing as a PF that can initiate the offense, play on the perimeter (and be effective with the jumper or the drive), find creases in defenses to take advantage of the double teams that Kobe and [Pau] Gasol face, and also play in isolation from any position on the court (wing, top of the key, low block, elbow, etc). And when you talk team building and chemistry, he's also a real leader for the Lakers. Many will point to Kobe [Bryant] or [Derek] Fisher as our leaders - and rightfully so - but it's Odom that has been the stabilizer for our squad. He's been the bridge between our first and second units, the guy that organizes team dinners and brings in a chef for training camp, the guy that is in the middle of the huddle motivating and inspriring our guys for the battle ahead, and the guy whose lighthearted nature and devotion to the team keeps the locker room loose. We need this player."

Hedo TurkogluZach McCann of Orlando Magic Daily: "[T]o other teams, is [Hedo] Turkoglu really worth close to eight figures? John Hollinger's Player Efficiency Rating isn't perfect, but it's probably the best method we have of comparing players. Turkoglu's PER this season was less than Travis Outlaw, Marvin Williams, Grant Hill, Rudy Gay, Anthony Randolph and Richard Jefferson. And PER often punishes player who are shut-down defenders - something Turkoglu is not. We all know the intangibles of Hedo Turkoglu - his ball-handling skills, his abilities to create mismatches, his knack for shooting well in the clutch - are why he's so valuable to the Orlando Magic. But it can't be ignored how much Turkoglu fell off from last season to this season ... It's not like 30-year-old players regularly bounce back after down years. It's hard to imagine the Magic, or any team, think Turkoglu's career year of 2007-08 is the norm. The Turkoglu we saw this season is likely what most people expect out of Turkoglu going forward. Is 16-5-5 with a poor shooting percentage worth $10 million?"

Varejao and HicksonJohn Krolik of Cavs the Blog: "A rotation big is hard to find. Really hard to find. And even if Andy [Varejao] comes back, this team, as Ben Wallace's corpse made clear in the ECF, is having trouble filling those minutes, especially considering Joe Smith seemed to be out of the playoff rotation. JJ Hickson is a great prospect, but even he has serious question marks at the defensive ends. The good news: LeBron James can give you 15 absolutely unbelievable minutes at the 4 on a nightly basis. The numbers were eye-popping ... this season when he played at the 4: A PER of 38, 39/11/8.5, and 2 blocks per 48 minutes, a higher net +/- per 48 minutes than his minutes at small forward, and he holds his man to less than a league-average PER defensively. And this is all with Wally [Szczerbiak] holding down the three spot and essentially doing nothing and getting exploited defensively. In the playoffs, Wally was simply too much of a liability. With a true rotation-quality swingman, the Cavs could take advantage of LeBron's ability at the four without leaving a hole, and it's much, much, much easier to get a rotation-quality swingman than a rotation-quality power forward."

THE FINAL WORD
Truth About It: The quotable Flip Saunders.
Celtics Hub: The Big Green honor the king of green.
Roundball Mining Company: The latest export to Asia? The Denver Nuggets.

(Photos by Noah Graham, Jesse D. Garrabrant, Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

Posted by Kevin Arnovitz

In an interview with Jason Friedman published yesterday at Rockets.com, Daryl Morey says unequivocally of LeBron James:

Yes, he's the best player in the league – by a good margin, I think. If you had first pick in the all-free agent NBA draft, you'd take LeBron James. I get that question a lot, too, so I figured I'd answer that as well.

He's unbelievable. We have two of the best perimeter defenders in the league and it is going to be extremely difficult for both. They're going to give it their all but, more than anyone, he's a tough guard. There's a reason the [Michael Lewis] article is about Kobe, not LeBron (laughs).

Morey's lighthearted response almost suggests that there isn't enough good data in the world that can construct a coherent strategy for guarding LeBron James.  Kobe Bryant?  Irrepressible some nights, sure, but still a guy you can prepare for with certain pieces of information that can be assembled into a defensive strategy. If you execute that plan perfectly, you have a chance. 

But what about LeBron James?  

I put the question to John Krolik of Cavs the Blog on Thursday afternoon.  Knowing that the Rockets -- and most specifically Shane Battier -- devise their defensive strategy based on what they've found in the scorer's offensive tendencies, what should we expect to see from Battier and, to the extent that he uses this information, Ron Artest? John responded: 

...control where LeBron's getting his catches.  What you want him doing is going ISO or Pick-and-Roll 30 feet from the hoop so you can double him up high and have room to rotate back without giving up an easy basket. He's going to hurt you when he does that, but it's not nearly as bad as when he's catching it at the elbow and you're freeing up a good scorer to go double or if you let him catch it on the move, which is when you're just screwed. Cleveland fans are all familiar with something called "LeISO" -- you want as much of that happening as possible.

On the perimeter, try to make him shoot jumpers. It's different with LeBron than it is with Kobe -- LeBron doesn't have set moves or spots he's going to hurt you from on the perimeter. This makes sense in a way because when you shoot 72% at the basket and take 40% of your shots there, it doesn't make sense to be planning out a perimeter game. And don't try to stop penetration, but try to channel his penetration towards where the help is, because his hot zones show how stymied he gets when he meets the second defender. What you want is LeBron out of sync -- he's intensely improvisational and prone to streaks, and when he hits a wall he doesn't have that solid 15-footer or easy move to go back to, and he can end up ineffective that way.

There are data to compliment this scouting report.  LeBron's struggles from long-range are no secret: James is a .313 shooter from beyond the arc, and he's not all that potent on two-point jumpers either -- just .379.  Where he's lethal is from inside, where he shoots .715.  On the drive, well, pick your poison.  He's measurably better driving to his right, but still devastating going to the rack any which way. 

So how do the Rockets hold LeBron James Thursday night to a mortal 21 points on 7-21 shooting from the field and only six free throw attempts?  Is it Shane Battier's savvy preparation and scouting?  Ron Artest's defensive aggressiveness?  

Let's take a look.

Ron Artest
Rick Adelman chooses Artest to be LeBron James' primary defender.  Artest's defensive strategy on LeBron is apparent from the outset of the game -- run under any and all perimeter screens, yielding LeBron anything he wants from the outside. 

At the 11:25 mark of the first quarter, James gets the ball in the backcourt, 35 feet from the rim.  Artest gives him 10 feet of space.  Ben Wallace steps out for a pass from LeBron, who then rubs Artest off Wallace to get some space.  Rather than struggle over the screen, Artest is more than happy to run under Wallace and give LeBron the jumper from 23 feet.  The shot falls through, but somewhere in the building Sam Hinkie is very pleased -- the outcome wasn't great, but the probabilities are in the Rockets' favor.  This is the only shot James hits in five first quarter attempts. 

Artest uniformly abides by this strategy all night.  When the Cavs run the same set (with Wallace and Zydrunas Ilgauskas as the respective screeners) on the right side at the 9:24 and 5:55 marks of the first, again Artest runs underneath, leaving LeBron with a pair of 23-footers, both of which he misses.  Even when the screener is Daniel Gibson (2nd quarter, 5:59 mark), whom Artest can plow through at will, James is generously ceded the shot.   

(Read full post)

The Big Ben Wallace Trade

February, 21, 2008
2/21/08
4:59
PM ET

ESPN's Marc Stein is reporting on The Big Ben Wallace Trade which is not yet official.

Here are the particulars as reported in Trade Machine format, which is a nice way to look at it with salaries and all that. 

Some initial thoughts about what this does for each team

Chicago The Bulls swap Ben Wallace's terrible contract for Larry Hughes's terrible -- but slightly smaller -- contract. (Both have two years left after this year.) Chicago saves something like $3 million this year. They also lose both their starting big men, and replaces them with Drew Gooden, which opens playing time for quality youngsters Joakim Noah and Tyrus Thomas. Also, while many have their complaints about Gooden having defensive lapses and the like, he has always put up solid numbers, and just went to the NBA Finals. This move also removes their only real center, and I am not at all sure who on this team now guards Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Yao Ming, or Shaquille O'Neal. It also probably makes guys like Thabo Sefolosha a little nervous. He has been playing well, but Larry Hughes has to take time from someone. They also get a second round pick, and a free swing on Cedric Simmons.

Seattle Wally Szczerbiak has a year and a half left on a deal that pays him $12 million this season. Adrian Griffin and Donyell Marshall make about seven over the same period, while Newble comes off the books this summer. So, this money-losing franchise gets to lose a little less, while acquiring cap space for fancy maneuvers down the road.

Cleveland In the strange world of NBA trades, apparently only one team out of these three seems was really motivated by the idea of importing better players than they currently have. Ben Wallace has been decent of late, and brings LeBron James a veteran teammate who has thrived in playoff wars. (And now the Suns are betting on the body of Shaquille O'Neal, it almost seems impertinent to question the age or vibrance of Wallace.) Joe Smith replaces some of what they lost by saying goodbye to Gooden. I'm not sure if you can play two offensively challenged big men -- Anderson Varejao and Ben Wallace -- together at the same time, which to me means Smith will likely be on the floor whenever Ilgauskas is not. Wally Szczerbiak will be a better Donyell Marshall -- the shooter LeBron James passes to when everyone collapses on him in the lane. West is a useful guard on a team that needs guard help, and now the organization gets to move on from the Larry Hughes experiment.

The Mess in Chicago

January, 16, 2008
1/16/08
12:08
PM ET

Jay Mariotti of the Chicago Sun-Times writes:

So there was Ben Wallace, $60 million waste, laughing on the bench Tuesday night in Orlando. The Bulls were on their way to another hapless, character-less loss, and Big Bum was having such a good time that you wanted to stuff him in a Goofy suit and point him to Disney World.

He wasn't the only quitter and slacker in a 102-88 defeat, the latest stinker in a pathetic season of quitting and slacking. The laughter apparently led Joakim Noah, coming off a teammates-approved suspension for screaming maniacally at assistant coach Ron Adams, to confront Wallace in an episode that required Luol Deng to separate them.

Sam Smith of the Chicago Tribune confirms the story:

Falling to 14-22 and hardly competitive, several Bulls players on the bench late seemed relatively indifferent to the result. It was perhaps a worse message than the events of the evening, which were discouraging as well.

Apparently it led to a dispute in the locker room as rookie Joakim Noah complained about the attitude on the bench and argued with veteran Ben Wallace. One witness said Luol Deng had to step between them to ease the tension.

ESPN's David Thorpe was at the game, and heard the same thing. In talking to several Bulls players, he heard again and again that what's lighting Joakim Noah's fire through his week of squabbles is his fascination with winning. (Which is totally consistent with Florida coach Billy Donovan's interpretation of the situation.) He's distraught that not all of this teammates seem to care as much.

Like any young person, he might express it imperfectly, but that fire in Joakim is the reason to have him on your team. 

Will it work? Is Noah succeeding in firing up his teammates? Is this leadership? Even if Noah is the perfect leader, does anybody want to hear it from a rookie? I don't know the answers to any of that. The reports from the Bulls these days are so acerbic. (Case in point.) The mood seems so negative. This could be the kind of squabble that good teams just go through. This could be the maturation process of a team taking place -- only in an era where every little stumble is public knowledge. 

This could also just be a case of irreconcilable differences. 

In any case, I remain convinced that the Bulls roster has plenty of talent. If those players can  somehow or another focus on playing the best possible basketball, they can be a lot better than they are now.

Can a rookie be the one to get the team focused? Will someone else emerge? We'll see.

A few days ago, I emailed Kelly Dwyer wondering what was up with the Bulls. His response came in late last night:

There's little reason for Bulls supporters to get too upset with the team's Thursday night loss in Phoenix. The defense could have played a little smarter, the team could have done without an initial starting lineup change, or the three-guard lineup that finished the contest; but the 2006-07 Bulls would probably drop a game against a healthy Suns team by about ten points, so no point in reading too much into last night's loss.

What does count, and scare, and singe, is Chicago's first six games. That was a scary, scary basketball team. 30th in offensive efficiency. 14th in defensive efficiency, a year after rallying late behind the work of Sir Tyrus Thomas to top the league in that particular stat. You're in a hurry, you want easy answers. I'm also in a hurry, I've got some strings to change, but I can't mind easy answers when I know actual analysis will do. No gym-teacher buzzwords here. And yet, for those who love acronyms and own "Success Is a Choice," I'll bold some things for the quick read.

Lazy Luol Deng
Lu isn't lazy. He works his tail off, is a right giant off the court, and is a sublime talent between the lines. For the first six games of the season, however, he was a mess offensively. Why's that, top cat? Because the man wasn't putting any effort into the mid-range jump shots he used to dominate with. The knees weren't bending, the follow-through wasn't there, and (not most-importantly, but most-egregiously), and his body wasn't squared. Even on quick-hits, ones that saw him flashing to the front or left side of the rim (Paul Pierce-style) for the short hook, he wasn't jumping high enough and getting his shot swatted. With five gears in reverse, Luol turned into an ordinary mug, and the results weren't pretty.

Shaky Ben Gordon
Gordon's the hardest working Bull, he was an absolute fixture at the team's practice facility over the offseason, working on a series of moves he anticipated having to implement as teams grew wise to his machinations. As a Bulls fan, it was a lovely thing to behold; mainly because a day's spent working on practice court by yourself turns a talent worth your time. A day spent scrimmaging turns you into Antoine Walker.

But early on, Gordon looks as if he's surprised a bit by the actual defenders, stiff-arms, and hand-checks. With nine other people on the court, it will take a while for Gordon to find his flow. Throw in a wasted preseason (Gordon missed nearly all of it with a sprained ankle) and the specter of his usual slow start, and the whole thing seems downright passable.

A Mopey Iowan
Nobody likes one, which is why Kirk Hinrich can't find a table to sit at during lunch. Hinrich's body language has been inappropriate-but-accurate-curse-word all season, his streaky shooting touch has been bothered by it, and his propensity for one-handed passes continues to unnerve. Chicago fans have learned to love the sound of Kirk's voice being picked up by the TV mics, which is why the second half of the Phoenix loss was a bit of a pick-me-up. When his shoulders are slumped, his shooting form resembles a crescent moon, and his facial expressions resemble those of your typical Pitchfork-reader; then a 2-of-11 night is the usual result. Throw in the abject lack of free throws (even at his best) and poor percentage finishing in the paint (even at his best), and you have a mini-Ben Wallace running point.

Ben Wallace Was Hurt
Ben Wallace was hurt. He's not that great anymore, but he'll be around average this year. Before that, not sure if you've heard, he was hurt. Joe Smith needed to play about four minutes to Ben's one.

Too Much Coaching
It's not Scott Skiles' fault that Hinrich is shooting so poorly, Deng isn't showcasing his usual fundamentally-sound streak, Gordon is streaky, or that Wallace sprained his ankle. The Bulls coach knows the games, draws up some gorgeous plays out of timeouts, and generally does a fine job with his team.

So why is he constantly trying to make life harder on himself? We're a quick-fix society, I grok, but there's no reason to make lineup changes for the sake of lineup changes like he does ... every damn December. Throwing Nocioni out at power forward against an up-tempo team like the Suns sounds about right; until you realize that Nocioni's strengths (drawing power forwards out to the three-point line to either defend a shot they don't want to defend, or blow by the slower big men) work against just about any other team BESIDES the Phoenix Suns. Shawn Marion doesn't mind sticking to that three-point line, and he's hardly the type of lumbering big that Noc can drive past.

So what's the point? Chicago's typical starting five (drop Noc, add Thomas) are likely going to be the team's five-best players by the time all 82 have been drained, and they're easily the five-best players at their respective positions. This team is going to have to learn how to win games with that lineup eventually, so why abandon things now ... "just 'cause?"

(By the way, the Bulls were down seven points after the first five minutes against the Suns on Thursday night, with Nocioni unable to drive past Marion, while getting burned on the defensive end by the quicker Grant Hill.)

Listen To Me, Because I've Met the Bass Player From the Meters
For all those scribes and TV-types still chiding the team for not trading for Kevin Garnett, Pau Gasol, or Kobe Bryant ... stop it. Kindly please stop talking and send me twenty bucks for what you are about to read:

Kevin McHale wasn't trading Kevin Garnett last season. The Bulls offered him Tyson Chandler, Luol Deng, and the second pick in the 2006 Draft (perhaps Brandon Roy, Tyrus Thomas, LaMarcus Aldridge ... and McHale would be selecting, so maybe I should throw Hilton Armstrong in the mix) for Garnett, and was told that Minnesota wanted nothing to do with trading KG. He fired Dwane Casey, who had led the Wolves to a 20-20 record at that point, mainly because McHale assumed that this was an underachieving 50-win team. It took a trade demand from Garnett, a third-straight playoff miss, and the work of Garnett's agent to even convince the Wolves to trade KG last summer. By then, the Bulls didn't have the pieces to put a deal together, unless you think Minnesota was interested in Ben Wallace.

Memphis's final offer in return for the services of Pau Gasol last February was Ben Gordon, Luol Deng, PJ Brown, and Tyrus Thomas. This would leave the Bulls with Hinrich, Thabo Sefalosha, Nocioni, Gasol, and Ben Wallace. That's a team that - even with Gasol scoring 25 a game and making half his shots - would average about 52 points per game.

Kobe's not coming to the Bulls because any collection of salaries Chicago could put together in order to approximate Kobe's 2007-08 salary would decimate the Bulls, and Kobe would likely pass on signing off on being sent to a gutted team. Now, a deal involving Ben Gordon, Viktor Khryapa, Andres Nocioni, Chris Duhon, and Joe Smith would work after December 15th, and that's the only deal that would actually see the Bulls coming out ahead talent-wise, but the Lakers would have to waive a whole host of players to make the deal work. The overwhelming majority of these proposed deals (and proposed analysis: "the Bulls need to trade for Kobe!") don't really make sense - and it's getting frustrated reading and listening to a whole host of people paid to lend thei
r insights about the NBA who don't understand even rudimentary NBA salary cap procedure.

This is still a damn good basketball team. Should they make the playoffs, I like Chicago's chances with any Eastern team outside of the Nets (whom I loathe, to be candid, but match up well against the Bulls). Some of the best defensive games of Hinrich's career have come against Ray Allen, the same goes for Luol Deng when it comes to Paul Pierce, and Chicago's record against the Western giants last year is pretty solid.

The Bulls stink offensively, but its turnovers, rebounding issues, and inability to get to the free throw line is right in line with what went down last year, when the team finished 20th in offensive efficiency. If and when the team starts to hit shots, they'll improve, and hopefully ascend to the ranks of the mediocre. That, and the defense (first overall last season), should vault this team back into the race. It's that start, and the missed chances at home against mediocre teams, that worries.

That said, this is your date, and it's still only half past eight. No coaching change or lineup reshuffle or Important Trade Worth These Capital Letters is either in the offing or probable or likely to help. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to write another poem about Tyson Chandler (what rhymes with "weak-side exploits?"), and pretend I believe any of this.

John Paxson
John Paxson may look calm on the outside.
(Getty Images)
Chicago Bulls general manager John Paxson took over a lousy team four years ago. Without breaking the bank (yet) Paxson has assembled (Insider) what is likely the finest collection of young talent in the NBA, starring players like Kirk Hinrich, Luol Deng, Ben Gordon, and Andres Nocioni -- to go along with the legendary Ben Wallace. Paxson's youngsters are so good they just swept the defending champion Heat, who star Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O'Neal.

It gets even better: there's another great lottery pick on the way, and talent like Tyrus Thomas and Thabo Sefolosha in the pipeline.

Everyone knows this team is headed in the right direction. Portland general manager Kevin Pritchard cited the Bulls a couple of days ago as a model of rebuilding, saying they should be excellent for almost all of the next decade.

These are good times. John Paxson is one front office executive who ought to be able to sleep well at night.

Right?

Not so fast.

Tonight is the third game of the "Baby Bulls'" second-round playoff series against the Detroit Pistons. The first two games have served to make the Pistons look like champions. They have not been even a little tiny bit close. Tonight the Chicago Bulls will find out if they are a team of today and tomorrow, or exclusively a team of tomorrow.

Chicago's most obvious shortcoming? A big man who can draw a double team in the post -- scoring points, drawing fouls, and creating scoring opportunities for talented wing players like Kirk Hinrich, Ben Gordon, and Luol Deng. A big man like ... Pau Gasol of Memphis, the former rookie of the year who Paxson reportedly declined to trade for at the trade deadline in February.

Grabbing Gasol would have cost Chicago quality young talent -- reportedly Deng -- but would have been a powerful sign that Chicago was going for it in a moment in time when the Eastern Conference is as wide open as ever.

Not going for it? That's a gamble too.

With insight from ESPN's Jeff Weltman, David Thorpe, Marc Stein, and Royce Webb, I imagine the voices in Paxson's head as he tries to fall asleep.

CRANKY JOHN:

You're falling asleep? Now? WAKE UP JOHN! Let's think about this for a second. Your greatest accomplishment since you hit a couple of shots in the playoffs is assembling players who might win one day? That's your biggest accomplishment? Tomorrow may never come, dude. You have problems today. Just last summer you spent a fortune in cash and cap space on an aging, win-now big man, and you're getting humbled by the team that replaced him with a cheap free agent. And sure, you have some nice young pieces, but there isn't a proven "go to" guy in the bunch. In fact much of the time your offense could be described as "terrified."

Luol Deng
Too Deng good to trade.
(Getty Images)

You could have had Pau Gasol. Get up and watch the video again. He gets to the line. He draws double teams. He scores in myriad ways. He wins world championships.

Pau Gasol solves a big problem of yours, and causes problems for Detroit. With him, you could have won the East this year, and then who knows what would have happened in the Finals?

What is it going to take for you to just do something! Do I have to quote Bill Simmons to you again? "When the media guide for the No Balls Association is released," Simmons writes, "I demand that John Paxson appears on the cover."

Gasol is an All-Star caliber, post-scoring big man in the bloom of youth. You got another one of those stashed somewhere? When, if ever, do guys like that come available? And, now that you have not used P.J. Brown's expiring contract to get a big man, will you ever be able to match the salaries necessary to land a player with a max contract? It'll take both arms and both legs, that's for sure. Next time this kind of deal comes around (you know that I know that you fantasize about Kevin Garnett) it will cost you substantially more.

EVEN-KEELED JOHN:

The only way you could have gotten Gasol was by giving up Luol Deng. L-U-O-L D-E-N-G, John. Your guy. The one who will be the Finals MVP next time Chicago wins a title.

Deng has the size, the athleticism, the desire, and the work ethic. (And, did you notice? Really long arms.) Sure, he's still marinating, but he's already the most valuable asset on the entire squad, and he's not getting worse.

You might give up a guy like Deng to win an NBA title, sure. Same goes for anyone short of Michael freakin' Jordan. But is Gasol the guy who gets you that? If you have Gasol starting alongside Ben Wallace, who's going to guard the new breed of athletic, wing-scoring power forward? Pau can't. Ben can, sure -- but then you keep him away from his stronghold of blocks and rebounds around the hoop. You're going to take a team that is the best in the league at one thing and one thing only -- team defense -- and bring it back to the pack?

More importantly, on a team that is about potential, you don't give up the player with the best potential. And besides, without Deng, you wouldn't have swept the Heat.

Pau Gasol
The World Championship MVP is apparently not landing in Chicago.
(Getty Images)
How long would Gasol be here, happy, and contributing anyway? He doesn't love playing in the U.S. nearly as much as he loved playing in Europe, he has already both had a major injury and soured on his first team.

Total NBA playoff victories for Gasol thus far: donut hole. Why would you hitch your wagon to that guy, especially when you are about to get an incredible draft pick that could solve all your problems?

CRANKY JOHN:

Nice front line, genius. Cap hog Ben Wallace could never score and has always been way undersized, but is now old in basketball years and noticeably slowing down. How many good years can grit get you? Two more decent ones, maybe? P.J. Brown is a real deal defender, but he's also old and likely moving on. That's your starting frontcourt. Who do you have waiting in the wings? Tyrus Thomas can jump to the moon but is greener than green. Andres Nocioni is a close second to Dirk Nowitzki for the "biggest playoff flameout" award. You said before that Luol Deng would be MVP of the Finals one day soon? Oh yeah? With Michael Sweetney starting alongside him?

EVEN-KEELED JOHN:

Deep breath, amigo. Remember: patience is a virtue. There are always question marks on young teams. (Even when the championship Bulls were assembled around Michael Jordan in 1991, all season long everyone wondered if it was the right mix.)

It's not quite time yet for this team to peak. Next year, the year after -- while Ben Wallace is still good. Then let's talk. Besides, there are assets here. Ben Gordon, Chris Duhon, and Viktor Khyrapa are all young and can all play. They all have expiring contracts. There's the Knicks' draft pick. (By the way, pessimist John, what happened to your promise to chill out until after the lottery? If Greg Oden walks in here, let's both remember that you were once all panicky.) There are the salary cap exceptions.

This is the team that Michael freaking Jordan made famous. This is Chicago. We're the Bulls. We're a team of the future. Maybe we'll even have a little cap space. There are 7,000 different ways to get a big man who can play a little D and draw a foul inside once in a while.

CRANKY JOHN:

You mean like Tyson Chandler? Who was statistically superior to Wallace (Insider) in the regular season, is eight years younger, and is also cheaper? The dude you booted to get P.J. Brown's expiring contract which we thought was supposed to be trade bait but is now a big pile of nothing?

EVEN-KEELED JOHN:

Well, Tyson Chandler wasn't perfect.

CRANKY JOHN:

Perfect ain't hanging around.

EVEN-KEELED JOHN:

I'm trying to get some sleep if you don't mind.

CRANKY JOHN:

How's that going for you?

EVEN-KEELED JOHN:

You know what? I think I'm going to watch that Thabo Sefolosha video again.

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