And here comes the NBA
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NBA training camps open next Monday, and the big stories of the NBA this season will be the restocked Lakers with Dwight Howard, the defending champion Heat with the again popular LeBron James, and whether there really is anyone to challenge either.
There will be plenty of time to analyze all that starting next week while the story in Chicago has been the recovery and rehabilitation of Derrick Rose. Which likely leaves the Bulls out as title contenders for this season, at least for now.
And while Rose’s health has been the big question among Bulls fans this offseason, one of the bigger concerns was the dismantling of the popular so called “Bench Mob,” the reserves of Kyle Korver, Ronnie Brewer, Omer Asik, C.J. Watson, John Lucas III and Brian Scalabrine.
The Bulls feel confident they have replaced, if not improved, that popular and successful group. And there is a good chance the team has.
Which is not to take anything away from the past two seasons’ impressive group. In addition to the individual skills, that group developed a unique chemistry that will be the biggest test for the new bench group. It includes Kirk Hinrich (starting at point guard until Rose returns), Marco Belinelli, Jimmy Butler, Nate Robinson, Nazr Mohammed and Vladimir Radmanovic.
That’s because the new group of reserves, at least on paper, ranks statistically superior to the players they’ll replace:
Hinrich averaged 6.6 points and 2.8 assists per game last season in a career low minutes played in Atlanta. But his career averages are 12.5 points and 5.4 assists. He replaces Watson, who averaged 9.7 points and 4.1 assists last season with career averages of 7.8 points and 2.6 assists. Watson signed a minimum contract with the Nets.
Belinelli, effectively, replaces Korver as the long distance wing shooter, although he is more shooting guard while Korver was used more as a small forward. Though in the Bulls offense the positions can be interchangeable. Korver averaged 8.1 points last season and 9.5 for his career. He went to Atlanta in a trade in which the Bulls get the trade exception for his salary. Belinelli, who is not quite the shooter Korver is but a better ballhandler, averaged 11.8 points last season and averages 8.9 points per game for his career. Korver’s career three point shooting average is 41.3 percent while Belinelli’s is at 39.3 percent.
Second year player Butler, who averaged 2.6 per game in limited play last season, will replace Brewer, who went on a minimum deal to the Knicks and will miss the early part of the season with an offseason injury. Brewer averaged 6.9 points per game last season and nine for his career.
Robinson replaces Lucas, who went to Toronto on a deal slightly above minimum. Lucas averaged 7.5 per game last season and five for his career. Robinson averaged 11.2 per game last season, which also is his career scoring average.
Radmanovic replaces Scalabrine, who will work in TV in Boston. Scalabrine averaged 1.1 points last season in sparing play and 3.1 for his career while Radmanovic, one of the league’s better big man shooters, averaged 4.5 points per game last season while his career average is 8.2.
And Mohammed replaces Asik, who signed as a free agent with Houston. Asik’s loss will be the hardest to replace, even though his offensive numbers weren’t big, because of his defensive presence. Asik averaged 3.1 points per game last season and is at 2.9 points for his career while Mohammed averaged 2.7 points last season and has a career average of 6.6 points per game. But matching the Houston offer for Asik with a $15 million season in 2014-15 could have eliminated Bulls’ future chances to add a starting level player. After all, the Knicks, who historically have been among the biggest spenders in sports, declined to match an identical offer from Houston for Jeremy Lin. And he was a starter for them and one of their most popular players compared with Asik being a reserve for the Bulls.
In any case, the statistical totals for last season’s and this season’s reserves look like this:
|Player||2011-12 scoring average||Career scoring average|
|Player||2011-12 scoring average||Career scoring average|
No one — myself included — likes to talk about salary cap issues and the collective bargaining agreement. But there was a lockout last season. And as much as the NBA likes to pretend everything is back to normal and it’s all basketball, there will be effects from that lockout.
It changes and limits what teams can do.
Had the Bulls matched on the offer for Asik or brought back reserves from last season with big contracts, like Korver or Watson, the Bulls would not have been able to sign Kirk Hinrich. And without Derrick Rose for at least half the season and perhaps longer, point guard was the greatest need.
Yes, Watson played point guard for Rose last season. And he did well. But he’s not truly a point guard. He is more a shooting point guard like Mo Williams. Hinrich is a more traditional playmaking point. He also can move over to play some shooting guard once Rose returns. That was the Bulls’ biggest need. Hinrich had a substantial, three year offer from the Bucks. Consider that Watson signed for a minimum while there was a bidding contest for Hinrich.
To even come close to appealing to Hinrich — and Hinrich went on to accept less money and years to return to the Bulls — the Bulls had to get below the luxury tax to use the so called non taxpaying exception, which is above $3 million. Hinrich signed with the Bulls for about $3.9 million, still less than the Bucks’ offer. But that triggered a new $74 million hard cap which the Bulls cannot exceed under any circumstances. Thus they also had to stay below that in order to sign even a player at a veterans’ minimum later if there is an injury.
Fair? Perhaps not. But it’s the new financial landscape. I know: What about the Lakers? The Bulls didn’t want to trade their starting center for a one year look at Dwight Howard, which the Lakers did.
Had the Bulls made some of those major financial moves, they would have been limited in other potential actions, like sign and trade deals and use of exceptions. That could have limited many acquisition possibilities. Was that worth it for an O.J. Mayo to back up Richard Hamilton or Carl Landry to backup Carlos Boozer?
Hanging over the Bulls’ 2012-13 season, obviously, is the return of Rose. But the future shouldn’t be about the bench. It is about competing, but also getting in position to become stronger once Rose does return. The moves with the bench seemingly keep that possibility alive. And the reserves may be just as good.
We’ll soon find out how good they are and if they can mesh as well as the departing group. Now, how about one of those snappy nicknames for t-shirt sales.