2012-2013: CAN or KEEP? Grades for the Chicago Bulls Season

2012-2013 Chicago Bulls

What a crazy 2012-2013 season.  The Bulls were eliminated two rounds ago, but I waited to do my season review because of all the great basketball being played.  We had a fantastic and physical Pacers/Heat series followed by the amazing NBA Finals.  What a great year.

So to wrap up the Bulls season, I wanted to do something different.  I could regurgitate all the stats and opinions OR I could grade them plus factor in whether I would “can ’em” or “keep em.” That sounded way more fun.  We’re going to examine each player one by one.

Daequan Cook
Grade: F
Can or Keep: Definitely CAN

I had a five minute span where I talked myself into Cook being a bargain or a steal because he hustles, but then I saw his shot selection in the playoffs.  HORRIBLE selection.  Further justifying the F: How do you get brought in to be a three-point threat and shoot 24% from there?  Just pathetic.  Good luck in your future endeavors, Daequan.

Malcolm Thomas
Grade: C
Can or Keep: Keep

The summer league prodigy!  I’ve been on the bandwagon since last summer, but he deserves a full season to see what he can do.  Still young (24) and has great athleticism. At worst, he becomes a version of Taj Gibson and at an extreme discount.  I say definitely keep him.

Marquis Teague
Grade: C+
Can or Keep: Keep (for now)

I’ll be honest. I didn’t expect much from Teague.  I live in Lexington, KY.  I saw him play at UK.  Out of anyone on that UK team that won the title, he’s the only one I couldn’t stand watching.  He was terrible.  Then he played summer league.  He was STILL horrible.  Then somehow his number gets called and he plays pretty well. I’m amazed.  He even had some playoff noise!  I saw keep him for now unless you can find a trade that will bring back a super asset.  Maybe someone saw him do something in the playoffs and is willing to buy high on him (he’s only 20).  Let’s be honest again: There’s no future for him here.  He’s not starting ahead of Rose so he’s realistically a backup for the Bulls.  If he makes some noise in the next few years and shows some potential, he’ll leave at the end of his rookie deal.  If they could get something for him now, I’d take it especially if it has worth.

Nazr Mohammed

Grade: D
Can or Keep: Keep

Nazr had some solid games late in the year and in the playoffs, but for most of the season he was worthless.  Yeah, I’d take him back at the vet’s minimum.  Yeah, I know it probably won’t contribute anything.  But really, who else are you getting?  I would absolutely take Kurt Thomas back though if he becomes available.

Vladamir Radmanovic
Grade: (Laughing hysterically)
Can or Keep: Uh…keep. Have you seen this picture? 

That picture completely sums up the Vlad experience this year. Priceless.

Richard Hamilton
Grade: D
Can or Keep: Can

What a promising start this year for Rip.  He scored in double figures 10 of his first 15 games and even scored 30 against the Bucks before tearing something in his foot and after that…not the same.  He never could find a rhythm and I think it was a product of the minutes limit.  Then he sat our for eternity late in the season and completely stunned me by returning!  I wouldn’t have been more shocked if Rose returned. I never thought he’d play for the Bulls again.  Then, he was buried by Thibs inexplicably (I stand my theory that he had an affair with Thibs’ sister or Doris Burke, angering Thibs) and returns to have some impact against the Heat to the delight of Bulls’ Twitter Nation.  Just surreal. Unfortunately, he’s getting bought out and the Bulls are cutting ties with him.  After two years of injuries, it’s probably the right call, but still a shame. In his prime, he would’ve been ideal for this team.

Marco Belinelli
Grade: B-
Can or Keep: Can

I’d can him for what he’s probably going to demand.  Realistically, he wasn’t that good, but he surpassed my expectations for him.  He had a horrible start to the year, but really came on when he played like 45 minutes a game when Rip was out.  He only shot 39% from the field and 35% from three.  Not the kind of shooting numbers you want from a guy who’s supposed to be your shooter.  His stock rose over the season and he’ll get more than the mini mid-level, so I wouldn’t venture there if I’m Chicago.  I’d actually make a run at either Wayne Ellington or maybe Kyle Korver.  I like Korver’s shot, but he’s just not a good defender.  Makes him a liability and Thibs was dedicated to playing him down the stretch against the Heat in 2011 for some reason even if he was ice cold.

Taj Gibson
Grade: C-
Can or Keep: Can

I’m probably going to ruffle feathers with this and I don’t care. I get the love for Taj Gibson and I share some of that love, even if he did block me on Twitter for calling him out for his ridiculous amounts of whining.  Good defender, brings size and toughness, I get it. Trust me, I understand.  Here’s the reality:  Look at the numbers for the last 3 years.  They are virtually identical.  Point number two: He’s 28.  Point number three: He’s making like $8 mil this year and will eventually hit $9mil in his 30s!!!!  Yikes.  Again, he isn’t improving.  Also worrisome: He didn’t look like the same fearsome defender without Omer Asik.  If I’m Bulls management, I shop Taj while his value is high and I make a deal for some assets.  That’s a hefty contract for a guy who is not the future power forward of this franchise.  He’s not supplanting Boozer and Mirotic should be here in a couple of years.  He’s stuck right where he is.  We’re paying $8-9 mil for a career backup who’s almost 30?  No thanks.  Get out of this contract.  Take Thomas Robinson back with the trade exception or see if Malcolm Thomas can cut it and get some assets.  Sell high.  Again, I like Taj.  His dunk on Dwyane Wade may one day be a mural in my man cave.  But the NBA is a business and it would be the reasonable thing to do.  In fact, I would trade him this year and keep Luol Deng instead.  Deng’s made All-Star teams and you can play Deng at the PF position if need be.  You can’t say the same about Taj.  I think you can afford to sell him.

Nate Robinson
Grade: A+
Can or Keep: Can…no keep…Okay can. Wait, keep. No…no…can

Nate gets an A+ for the season.  He far exceeded anyone’s expectations and for that reason, he gets an A+. He drives me nuts. I can’t stand watching him play.  I tweeted to someone yesterday that I wanted him back and in less than 12 hours I changed my mind.  I can’t watch another 100 games of Nate Robinson, yet I’m so intrigued by the possibility of Nate at SG and Rose running the point.  I loved the Hinrich/Nate combo Thibs went with and it provided such a powerful punch.  Would that work with Rose in crunchtime?  I’m not sure.  I’m not even sure I want to find out. Nate is what he is.  He’s a shooting guard trapped in Rey Mysterio Jr’s body.  He shoots…and shoots…and shoots.  He may shoot you into a game or out of a game.  Kirk Hinrich’s value was painfully obvious against Miami.  Poor Carlos Boozer couldn’t even touch the ball with Nate on the floor and definitely not in his hot spots where he can work.  The Bulls might have been able to put up a fight if Hinrich were on the floor, but with predictable Nate running point?  No way.  That’s the downside of Nate.  You CAN stop him.  He’s not Rose, but he can be electric.  Kind of like Jamal Crawford.  But can you win a title with a guy like Nate being a significant part of the rotation?  I’m not certain.

Kirk Hinrich
Grade: B
Can or Keep: Keep

When Hinrich was on the floor, the Bulls looked fantastic and Kirk looked solid, but the problem was keeping him on the floor.  That’s why he gets a B.  When playing, he showed you his value: Tough, gritty defense and 39% three-point shooting, almost 10 pts ppg and 6 assists.  He has value and he didn’t cost a lot.  He should be a nice complement/backup for Rose next season.  Here’s hoping he can stay healthy somehow.

Luol Deng
Grade: B
Can or Keep: Keep unless a deal provides a way to stay in contention. See here.

He gets a B from me.  He averaged 16 ppg and 6 rebounds.  Somehow he made the All-Star team (even though I think Boozer/Noah deserved it instead of Deng/Noah).  He had a second straight season of shooting less than 45% from the field (41% and 42%) and shot all of 32% from three-point range.  Listen, we’re seeing a shift in the NBA.  The Spurs and Heat had something in common:  Solid wing role players who can defend and hit threes.  Deng isn’t that kind of guy.  He could easily be a smallball power forward though.  He’s still a good defender.  He’s still a serviceable player. That’s why I would trade Taj Gibson instead of Deng.  I like Deng, but let’s get real: He’s 28 and will be 29 by the time the playoffs start, he has played a ton of minutes, and he also has that wrist injury that he refuses to get surgery on.  I’m not sure I pay him like $10 mil a year at age 29 when I think we’ve seen his ceiling.  If I’m the Bulls and I can get a piece that keeps us in contention and/or salary relief to rejuvenate the mid-level exception (in play if they take back low or no additional salary) and/or a high draft pick then it’s a no-brainer.  However, I wouldn’t just trade him for the sake of trading him.  Deng still has value, but if you can get something for him and you’re sure he is leaving after this year anyways, you have to do it.

Joakim Noah
Grade: A+
Can or Keep: Obviously, keep

Without Rose, Noah finally received notoriety for his play.  His stats were better, but not dramatically.  In fact, he only averaged 2 more ppg and 2 more rebounds than last year in 6 extra minutes.  He wasn’t significantly better than previous years and deserved All-Star recognition earlier.  I think it was just highlighted by the absence of Rose and some really excellent performances.  Either way, I expect more of the same again next season with Rose back.  I love Noah’s game and I love his passion.  Just a tremendous player.  And my wife adores him.  He’s her favorite player.  I think it’s the hair.

Carlos Boozer
Grade: A
Can or Keep: Keep

Boozer averaged 16 and just a shade under 10 rebounds per game.  Almost a walking double-double.  He was fantastic for most of the season including his ridiculous stretch after my infamous Twitter pep talk for him.  He was also fifth in the entire NBA in double-doubles (44).  The true story of Boozer’s season was the way he played with Hinrich and without.  He just didn’t thrive on the court with Nate.  Chad Ford put it best on the BS Report talking about Alex Len.  He said it was hard to gauge Alex Len’s talent because the Maryland guards were so bad and couldn’t get him the ball in his spots.  Same for Nate and Boozer.  When playing with Nate, Boozer simply didn’t perform like he did with a true point guard like Hinrich.  He’s obviously a tremendous offensive talent and still struggles on the defensive end, but he’s at least competent.  I think you can still get to an NBA Finals with Boozer as your power forward.  I’d love to have him back for 2 more years.

Jimmy Butler
Grade: A+
Can or Keep: DEFINITELY Keep

To say I’m in on BUTLERMANIA would be an understatement.  I love this kid.  He’s my second favorite Bull behind Derrick Rose and even D-Rose is getting competition from him.  This isn’t unprecedented for me.  Scottie Pippen was always my favorite player growing up, not MJ.  I loved how Pippen played.  Butler reminds me A LOT of Scottie Pippen.  He’s a ridiculous defender, he just goes about his business, and they’re both aliens.  He’s 23 years old and became a lethal three-point shooter this year (38% for the year and 47.5% after the All-Star Break).  Jimmy Butler is likely the starting shooting guard next year and I couldn’t be happier.  I’m thrilled to see him in a backcourt with Rose.  In fact, even with all the trade talk I’ve brought up in this column, I’d rather see the Bulls run it back completely this year.  Rose, Butler, Deng, Boozer, Noah, Gibson, and Hinrich is a strong 7-man rotation.  If they can add a few solid guys on the veteran’s minimum or utilize the mini mid-level wisely, who knows what could happen? But there are tons of trade rumors floating around about LaMarcus Aldridge and by the way: how stupid would that be? He’s a younger Carlos Boozer – No defense, not a jumpshooting power forward and doesn’t have the low-post game Booz has for what? Noah? An All-Star and one of the best defensive bigs in the entire NBA?  We just saw how important it is to have a defensive big man against Miami.  That’s how you beat them.  You go big and surround the perimeter with shooters.  So, let’s go backwards? No thanks.  If that happens, Gar Forman and John Paxson should be fired immediately or forced to run the Bobcats.

Derrick Rose
Grade: A+
Can or Keep: Uh…keep

Fans got all bent out of shape about Rose being cleared to play in February and then not playing.  Most fans called him a whimp, some said he should just say he isn’t going to play this year.  I don’t understand fans calling him out for being ‘soft.’  What’s soft about recovering from a potential career altering ACL injury?  Go check out Gilbert Arenas’ stats and see the humongous drop-off after his repeated knee injuries and how he tried to rush back.  You want that for a truly special player like Rose?  He recovered well within the 8-12 months time frame (closer to the 12 months it appears), but what did you want him to do?  Thrust himself into playoff action, kind of like he tried to do last year?  How do you think he tore his ACL? I’m good with him sitting out the year, improving his game, and preserving himself.  Next season, he’ll be back to the same MVP form and ready to dominate.  And fans will forgive him.

Tom Thibodeau
Grade: A-
Can or Keep: Keep

This team exceeded anyone’s expectations, hence the ‘A’ grade.  However, it wasn’t an A+.  He still had the bizarre Rip Hamilton scenario in the playoffs.  The minutes thing keeps creeping up on this team and it seems like he just ignores it.  I love Thibs, but sometimes you have to take the foot off the pedal and save something for the playoffs.  He basically destroyed Kirk Hinrich’s playoff run by playing him 60 minutes in the triple OT game against Brooklyn.  You can’t do that if you’re going to compete for an NBA title.

Gar Forman/John Paxson
Grade: C
Can or Keep: Keep

They did a great job of reloading and replacing the infamous “Bench Mob.”  All of the guys they picked up contributed and they did it on the cheap.  However, they didn’t get a ‘B’ or an ‘A’ because of the stupidity involved in not signing a reliable veteran backup point guard with Teague clearly not ready, Nate being Nate, Hinrich’s injury issues, and Rose’s uncertainty.  I preached all year that the Bulls needed Mike James or a guy like him, but the Bulls never signed anyone, even with Hinrich in and out of the lineup a lot.  This ultimately cost the Bulls some games in the playoffs as Nate had to pretend he was a real point guard and it was obvious against Miami that Teague was overwhelmed with Norris Cole pressing him 94 feet.  He was eventually rendered useless and the Bulls had no one else to turn to.  This was a failure on the part of Bulls’ management.

Overall Season Grade: A

What a fun season for the Bulls.  Joining the Bulls nation on Twitter has been exciting and made the games a lot of fun.  All the Derrick Rose speculation was exhausting, but that should calm next year.  This year produced a lot of memorable games – January 4th in Miami, breaking the 27 game win streak, Game 7 in Brooklyn, Game 1 against the Heat, the game against the Utah Jazz including Marco’s ridiculous shot, a fun game against the Pacers.  It was a fun season.  I’m already ready for next season.  I’m ready to See Red again.