1. With the Bulls seemingly on their way down and the Cavaliers on their way up, which team has a better season outlook?
Jason Patt, BlogABull.com Staff Writer: The Bulls survived without Derrick Rose last year thanks to an excellent defense and some surprise contributions from guys like Nate Robinson and Marco Belinelli. I initially thought the loss of those players was a bit overstated, but without Rose this year, the Bulls have been utterly lost offensively without other playmakers to pick up the slack. Toss in some injuries, and likely more to come with a serious lack of depth, and there’s a chance the Bulls could be bad enough to sneak into the lottery. However, while losing stinks, that’s probably the ideal route. Meanwhile, the Cavs are starting to look like the team many expected to see at the outset of the year. Cleveland fancied themselves a playoff contender heading into the year, and if Kyrie Irving continues to break out of his early season slump and keeps playing at a high level, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Cavs nab one of the final postseason slots in the weak Eastern Conference.
Chris Manning, RDE EIC: I have to agree with Jason here. Last year, the Bulls found offense from key bench guys and that helped them overcome so many injuries that happened near the end of the season. Without either Robinson or Belinelli, they simply don’t have that. If the East was just a little bit better (aka if the East had more than two good teams) then I think this free-falling Bulls team would be all but a lock to end up in the lottery. And with the Wine & Gold getting into their groove behind the resurgent play of Kyrie Irving, this Cavaliers team should be able to nab a seed in the 6-8 range. If everything clicks at once and someone in the Atlanta/Washington/Pistons trio ends up faltering, then the Cavaliers could rise even higher. I can’t say the same for the Bulls.
Trevor Magnotti, Staff Writer: This Bulls team is my least favorite team to watch this year. I’ve had to watch them three times in the past two weeks against the Cavs, Rockets, and Thunder, and in each game it’s clear that this team has absolutely zero idea what to do on offense. And who can blame them? Luol Deng can only do so much, and when he’s not on the floor, they have to rely on Mike Dunleavy, a spot-up shooter, or Taj Gibson and Carlos Boozer post plays. They’re so easily defendable at this point that it doesn’t matter how good they are defensively. The Cavs by far have a better outlook, because right now the Bulls’ offense is a trainwreck.
2. The Bulls have been dreadful on offense as of late. scoring over 80 points just once in the past week. What can they do to get going against Cleveland, who gives up over 100 points per game on average?
JP: It’s tough to pinpoint just one major problem with the Bulls’ offense. There are a host of issues, whether it be a lack of shooting, lack of shot creation or inconsistent play from the primary big men. Dreadful point-guard play has arguably been the biggest issue, although newcomer D.J. Augustin has shown flashes of competence amid the dreck. Without shot creators, the Bulls rely on ball movement to find good shots, so the point guards need to do a better job getting the team into their sets and creating good looks for others. That alone may not be enough for the Bulls to get out of their offensive slump because guys are just missing shots as well, but it can help. Otherwise, the Bulls’ best chance to score may just be attacking the offensive glass and getting second chance points off all those bricks, although the Cavs generally do a good job cleaning up their defensive glass. Having Luol Deng around would help, as he took advantage of his size advantage over Dion Waiters time and time again the last time these two teams played, but Deng won’t play due to an Achilles injury.
CM: I’m admittedly not overly familiar with Tom Thibodeau’s offensive scheme, but I think the Bulls would be wise to rework their offense to run most of their sets through Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer on the block. Boozer, while past his peak, is capable of finishing around the rim and (not counting Rose) is the second-leading scorer behind Deng. I think the Bulls would also be wise to run lineups that feature Deng and Mike Dunleavy at the two wing spots. The Cavaliers have done okay thus far defending the three (teams are shooting 35.7 percent from deep against the Wine & Gold, good for 13th in the league) but teams like Atlanta were able to hurt the Cavs defense with good ball movement on the outside. You give up some defense without Jimmy Butler on the floor, but I think it’s worth the risk to score. If the Bulls can get good ball movement and shoot well from the outside, I think they can do alright against a Cavs teams that gives up 101.2 points per game on defense.
TM: The Bulls absolutely need good ball movement to beat the Cavs. If they try what they did against OKC and just pound the ball into the posts ad nauseum, they’re going to fail. The Cavs are too strong inside to do that without any kind of threats from outside, which the Bulls really don’t have. Instead, they need to move the ball well, create space for Dunleavy and Tony Snell, and that should open up the paint well. Rebounding well would also be helpful, because guys like Joakim Noah and Taj thrive on putbacks.
3. Luol Deng and Dion Waiters are names that have been reportedly been linked in trade talks. What are the chances a deal goes down at some point this year and how would it affect each team?
JP: Deng’s contract is up at the end of the year and there’s a decent chance he goes elsewhere in free agency, but the Bulls don’t seem in any rush to move the two-time All-Star in-season. However, if the season continues to go down the drain and it seems more and more likely that Deng will leave, perhaps Bulls management will reconsider, although injury issues could complicate matters. If the Bulls are serious about a trade, a deal featuring Deng and Waiters (and other parts) would seem to make some sense. Waiters has been inconsistent offensively in his first two NBA seasons, but he has displayed an improved three-point stroke this year and has shown an ability to get his own shot at times, two things the Bulls really need. Waiters and Derrick Rose could form a nice backcourt duo going forward, with Jimmy Butler sliding to the 3. For the Cavs, Deng slides perfectly into the small forward slot and would help with the playoff push. A deal could hinge on Deng’s willingness to sign long term, which he may do considering he’d have a chance to play with one of the league’s best young point guards in Kyrie Irving.
CM: I’m not sure how Waiters would fit in with Chicago, as they already have several shooting guards on the roster and Waiters hasn’t shown that he’s capable of being a primary ball handler for long stretches of time. If they had a point guard in place right now who could handle the ball more effectively (thus playing Waiters off the ball) a Deng/Waiters deal might make more sense from Chicago’s perspective. As for Deng, there isn’t much upside for the Cavaliers if there isn’t a deal in place for Deng to remain a Cavalier at the end of the season. But if this deal did go down, the Cavaliers immediately get better with a still top shelf small forward, while the Bulls would add a Jamal Crawford-lite who doesn’t perfectly mesh with what they have. Thus, I’d say a deal centered on Jarrett Jack for Deng would make more sense for both sides. The Bulls would get a Nate Robinson-type to helps score off the bench or possibly even start, while the Cavaliers get Deng and Jack’s deal off the books. From that point, if the Cavaliers could make a small playoff run, they could possibly convince Deng to sign a three or four year deal this offseason.
TM: The Bulls are stubborn and the Cavs will likely ask too much in a prospective Deng trade. I can’t see the Bulls dealing Deng, mainly because he’s literally their only player who can create a shot, and they’d almost have to shift into tank mode if they traded him. I haven’t really been able to determine a Cavs/Bulls trade for Deng that makes sense, and I just can’t see it happening. The Cavs would have to give up Anderson Varejao and another player here, and that, to me, just isn’t worth it.