Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Let's Do Lunch

When in doubt, trade it to Isaiah Thomas.

No mantra in the history of Confucius has ever been more full-proof. A couple of years ago, Thomas saved The Chicago Bulls from signing Jamal Crawford to a much-unearned lucrative contract (7 years, $55 million), and even more recently, he happily snatched away Eddy Curry, Chicago’s favorite oozing tub of lethargy, for six years and a whopping total of $60 million. Chicago invested in these players with the most optimistic of intentions, but when they didn’t pan out, it was nice to know that Zeke was willing to foot the bill. It’s like deciding to splurge for the Baby Back Ribs at Chili’s instead of ordering the same old burger, but then having a buddy offer to pick up the check. This is the kind of rare gift that one truly cherishes, and the Bulls have received it twice in two years.

Any Jane or Jerry (well, almost) could see that Curry and Crawford were cash mongers only capable of playing well in the final year of a rookie contract. In 2000, Chicago fell in love with Crawford’s gifted shot selection, leadership abilities, and penchant for making The Smart Pass, and only a year later, Curry immediately quieted the pre-draft buzz that accused him of having no heart, battling for rebounds and playing defense with a tornado of ferocity unparalleled by even the strongest of tropical storms. There was, of course, only one problem: The previous sentence was entirely hyperbole and misdirection. Neither of these players could have ever warranted multi-year $55 million + contracts. They were catalysts, determined to drive The Chicago Bulls franchise into mediocrity well through the second Jeb Bush presidency. But, Isaiah Thomas saved us. He is Chicago’s Blue Cross and Blue Shield. He is our knight in shining armor. We are Princess Fiona in the tower, and he is Shrek.

And Thomas didn’t just relieve us of our broken pieces; he actually improved the outlook of this team. So far this season, Michael Sweetney (12.6 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 1 bpg) has at least matched the performance of Eddy Curry (12.6 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 1.3 bpg), the man for whom he was traded. As an added bonus, he’s done it for a fraction of the price (a little over $2 million versus Curry’s $10 this year). But wait, there’s more: New York gave us their 2006 first-round draft pick, which looks to be very good considering the poor showing by the Knickerbockers so far. Granted, this pick would not go to the Bulls if it ended up being pick 26-30, but that would require the Knicks to finish with one of the top five records in the league, and the Vatican will sooner let Ron Howard film The DaVinci Code in St. Peter’s Basilica before that happens. Potentially, the Bulls could be looking at two lottery selections in the upcoming draft and one of only two or three teams with the cash to pursue a major free agent like, oh… say, Ben Wallace?

The Bulls chances don’t look too good this year as the weakest good team in the league’s most impossibly difficult division, but confidence is high. Repeat: confidence is high. Instead of having to worry about Jamal Crawford missing 17 horribly-selected shots a game and dealing with the constant concern that Curry will either die on the court or (even worse) under-perform, Bulls fans are given the opportunity to watch the inspired play of an excellent young team with good chemistry and a promising future. Even if the Bulls miss the playoffs this year, they’ve got two first-round draft picks in the wings to help them get back on track. And if either of those two picks don’t pan out, all John Paxson has to do is invite Isaiah Thomas out to a delicious lunch at Chili’s…

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