Pippen believes Bulls should target Amar'e Stoudemire
Bulls legend Scottie Pippen analyzes the team's recent trades and talks about who he'd like to see the team pursue this summer.
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The Bulls deserve a lot of credit for the two trades made last week. Not only did they free up some extra money for this summer, but the team got a couple players in Flip Murray and Hakim Warrick that will contribute and help them as they focus on this season and make a run at the playoffs.
With Murray, he is a competitor who is going to bring it night in and night out. He is definitely capable of making up for the loss of John Salmons. At the same time, Warrick can help fill the void of Tyrus Thomas with his rebounding and athleticism. Both players have gotten off to a good start, averaging double digits in reserve roles and helping the Bulls win two out of their last three games.
These players are essentially fighting for their lives—all four of the players the Bulls acquired have expiring deals, so they are auditioning for jobs next season. I expect them to contribute and help the Bulls finish the season on a positive note. Who knows, maybe they could even have a future in Chicago.
The bottom line is that the Bulls had to make a move and it was important to deal Salmons, as I have to think he would have opted in for another season this summer. Without a move, the team may not have had enough money to offer a free agent a maximum deal. Salmons is a talented player, but he was not an integral part of this team. Thomas had all that potential, but he also had problems throughout his career and could never put it all together. It's possible he'll be better off somewhere else. The most important thing about these moves besides the financial aspects this summer is that it allows the Bulls to remain competitive this year and make the postseason.
More so than Warrick stepping up, the Bulls know that they can rely on their rookie forward, Taj Gibson. He has shown that he's as good, if not better and more composed, of a player than Tyrus. For a first year player, he's very comfortable on the floor in a starting role. He seems like he is ready to embrace even a bigger role if it's placed on him, regardless of what capacity that may be.
The Bulls will close out the season with a lot of fire and competitiveness, and they'll be right there in the playoff hunt. When you look at the Eastern Conference, you have Cleveland and Orlando, but beyond that, there are not a lot of great, dominant teams. That's taking away anything from Boston or Atlanta, but I just don't know if they'll be that scary of an opponent to face when the playoffs are here. The Celtics are very vulnerable. They're an older team, and if you get them in a longer series, which the Bulls did last year, you will have the opportunity to wear them down and take advantage of them. Assuming the Bulls make the playoffs and can avoid facing one of the top two seeds, they very well could have an opportunity to face a team they've got some great familiarity with in Boston. We all saw how well Derrick Rose and his teammates played last year against the Celtics, and they'll be ready to go again this spring if given the chance.
I think if the Bulls were matched up with Cleveland, they'd go out there and give it their all, but the Cavaliers have a roster that will simply outman them. Besides LeBron, they've got a lot of scorers and it will be very, very difficult to go into Cleveland and get a win. The Cavaliers have come a long way in the last few seasons and they're one of the top teams in the NBA, if not the best team, right now. Their trade to pick up Antawn Jamison obviously helps them and Shaq seems to be more and more comfortable in his role. At the end of the day though, it's not going to be easy for anyone to stop LeBron James in a playoff series. As long as his teammates step up, contribute and do the right things, they will be very tough to beat.
Going back to Jamison, some people assume that with him in Cleveland now and under contract for two more seasons beyond this one, LeBron is a lock to remain there. I'm not sure that is the case. It says that Cleveland is trying to make a run for a championship right now, but nothing more. I do think that Jamison will be a great fit with LeBron. Jamison is a great cutter and slasher who moves very well without the basketball. Given LeBron's passing abilities, I think they'll quickly establish that chemistry and play very well together. But that doesn't mean LeBron won't consider making a move this summer. I definitely believe he will look at all of his options. At the same time, I've always felt he will stay in Cleveland. He's at home and has a high comfort level throughout his career there. So why change that?
That brings us to the Bulls, who will have a lot of money to spend this summer and will be able to offer a top-tier free agent a maximum contract. Let's assume LeBron stays in Cleveland and Dwyane Wade stays in Miami. Those guys are obviously multi-dimensional players that anyone would be lucky to have on their roster. But there is no guarantee they are going anywhere and the Bulls have to consider other options. They need to look for a player who wants to win and fits well with how they want to play the game. The Bulls now have an established All-Star in Derrick Rose, who clearly is the future of this team. I expect them to build around Rose and bring someone in who complements his style of play. LeBron and Wade are incredible talents and there is no question the Bulls would welcome them if they wanted to come to Chicago, but they may not be the best players in terms of making Rose better. The reason I say that is because they are guys who need the ball in their hands to create opportunities for their teammates. Derrick may not benefit as much as you'd think around that type of player.
I believe that Amar'e Stoudemire is a great fit for Rose, maybe as good as any big man in the league. Stoudemire is 28 years old and he's going to continue to get better as a basketball player. The reason he'd fit well with Rose is because he's proven to be a good pick-and-roll player and they would generate a lot of offense together. Stoudemire is a great complementary player in terms of knowing how to read pick-and-rolls. He's played with one of the greatest pick-and-roll guards in our time in Steve Nash. He's shown he has the ability to read defenses and make his way to the bucket. He's very strong getting to the hoop and that's a quality the Bulls could very much use from a big man. You look at all the success they've had in the last two months, and a lot of it is a product of Rose becoming more aggressive and going to the basket. Stoudemire plays the same way, even if he isn't your traditional post player. He gets knocked for not being a great rebounder, but he's still averaging almost nine boards a game this season.
Everyone knows the Bulls have lacked a dominant big man for some time now. Stoudemire can be the player that changes that. Besides playing well along side Rose, he would be an excellent complement to Joakim Noah. Noah is a great defensive player who plays with a ton of enthusiasm. Stoudemire has also been criticized about his effort on the defensive end of the floor, but with a guy like Noah down on the blocks with him, they could share that load. If Brad Miller is in the Bulls' plans beyond this season, a veteran like him could be an important piece in terms of giving them a different dimension.
This summer could be loaded with free agents. Besides LeBron and Wade, you may have Chris Bosh and Joe Johnson out there as well. But Stoudemire stands out to me when I consider the way he plays so aggressively and how that would bode well in Chicago with a point guard like Rose. He'd be a great fit and he'd make the Bulls an instant contender. The Bulls are on the brink with an All-Star point guard who we all see getting better night in and night out. We've seen the success Rose has had as a 21-year old without another star. If you add a player of Stoudemire's caliber to the mix, Chicago is probably a team that the rest of the Eastern Conference will have to deal with one year from now. Having two dominant players takes a team a long way.
I don't know Stoudemire personally, so I'm not sure what kind of character he has or what he's like off the court. All I'll say is this—being a basketball player is a job and it comes with responsibility. These guys are adults and they need to do what it takes to put themselves in the best possible position. No matter what player the Bulls end up with this summer, they ultimately won't be able to control them and need to be comfortable in paying them if a big contract is involved. That's a risk you take with any player in the league, really. The team has made mistakes on guys in the past, while other moves that seemed risky have paid off. If I'm a player in Stoudemire's position, I take a good hard look in the mirror and ask myself if I want to win. Part of the Bulls' job is to do their homework on any player they consider signing. With every single one of them, they need to know if that player really wants to win. Having Derrick Rose makes the Bulls a good team and maybe a very good team eventually. But he needs help.
The situation with Stoudemire is a little complicated though. He has an early termination option in which he can decide to stay with Phoenix and make $17.7 million next year, or essentially opt out and become an unrestricted free agent this summer. While it seemed like he and the Suns were unhappy with their situation earlier this season, the trade deadline came and went and he's still in Phoenix. We'll have to keep a close eye on how things go the rest of the season as that may impact Stoudemire's decision.
If he's a free agent, the Bulls will have the money to offer him up to a maximum contract if that is what he demands. Working on a sign-and-trade would be another option. Rose isn't going anywhere and most likely Joakim Noah is staying put as well, but beyond those two players, you have to think that most anyone on the roster could be part of a deal if the Bulls decide Stoudemire is their guy. That might mean Luol Deng or Kirk Hinrich could be part of a deal if that's what it takes. Those guys are valuable pieces, but in terms of getting to the next level, it's possible you may have to lose one of those players, if not both.
One final note in closing is that chemistry is important in the NBA; there is no question about it. Let's assume Stoudemire is on board with the Bulls and what they want from him. I don't think the chemistry would be an issue because he'd be joining a group of young, high energy players. The thing all players have to remember is that no one player is bigger than the game. But in terms of what Stoudemire can do on the basketball court, it seems like he'd be a great fit in Chicago.