When the Pistons and Bulls met last month for the first time this season, there was more on the line than simply divisional pride: Blogabull's Matt Bernhardt and I had a little side bet going, with a winner receiving a free post on the loser's blog. Despite having a rooting interest in the failure of Matt B.'s favorite team, I readily admit to being a fan of Blogabull, which has always been one of premier blogs in all of the basketball internets.
Instead of jumping at the first opportunity to gloat, Matt B. decided to hold off cashing in his winning chip until now, on the eve of the re-match in Detroit. The following are his words: a justification of Bulls GM John Paxson's prudence on the trade front, a proclamation of Chicago's team's underrated core and a flattering admission of whose footsteps the Bulls are trying to follow.
By: Matt Bernhardt
Why oh why did the Bulls not make a deal at the trading deadline? A Rasheed Wallace-esque move (almost literally, considering the position they were going after) that would vault the Bulls beyond the scrum amongst the top of the East?
Well, I'm sure John Paxson tried, most notably to get Pau Gasol. But what made the Rasheed Wallace trade unique was that it was basically for spare parts. I would've loved to see a similar package landing Gasol(something including Andres Nocioni and Tyrus Thomas, for instance), but the price was much higher: reportedly Luol Deng (or Ben Gordon) and other quality assets. This is nearly the equivalent of the Hawks telling Joe Dumars two years ago they could have Wallace but only for Hamilton or Billups. Even if a Deng-for-Gasol deal made the Bulls better, it'd still keep them one player away from the elite.
(And besides, Luol Deng is potentially special. You may remember his first outing against Detroit where he completely overwhelmed Tayshaun Prince for 30 points on 11-19 shooting. On Friday night he scored 32 on the guy picked over him in the All-Star game, Caron Butler. Deng's offensive game is kindof a paradox: he's inefficient in the fact that he doesn't get extra points by shooting 3s (3 attempts all season) nor getting to the line (under 5 FTA a game), but he's incredibly efficient simply by making shots, shooting over 52% from the field. He's doing this without getting plays called for him, mostly shooting mid-range jumpers. I eagerly await the expansion of his game to include more drives and 3-pointers, and at the age of only 21 he has plenty of time to do it.)
The big story for you fine readers at DetroitBadBoys is likely the return of Ben Wallace. Undoubtedly you've been following his first season as a Bull, from the headband incident to his often-lackluster play. Overall it's been a disappointing season, but Wallace has really shined the past two games, with 14pts/19reb/7blk at Cleveland, and 8/12/5 against the Wizards. These are the teams that the Bulls will likely need to beat in the playoffs, and the Pistons are obviously on that list as well. Whether it's the importance of the opponent, being on national TV, or just gearing up to face his old mates, Wallace seems to be rounding into his old form.
So feel flattered, as the Bulls over the past few seasons have tried to imitate the Pistons way of building a team. Not that either Joe Dumars or John Paxson wouldn't prefer having a superstar in the line of Bryant, James or Wade, but assembling a bunch of really good players isn't a bad fallback plan. The Bulls performed the ultimate act of imitation by taking Ben Wallace, but if anyone gets the Bulls team past Detroit and into the finals, it'll be Deng, Ben Gordon, and Kirk Hinrich. They're young, been playing together for years, and are only getting better. You might know them only as the guys the Bulls refused to trade for Pau Gasol, but when they're on they make the Bulls the class of the East. And hopefully, after the pageantry of the Wallace's return, a proving statement can be made on Sunday.
So there you have it -- rational discourse from behind enemy lines. As usual, leave your responses to Matt B., as well as any thoughts about the game, in the comments.