Do Bulls have right blueprint for winning an NBA Championship?
BY JOE COWLEY email@example.com May 11, 2013 9:43PM
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Updated: June 13, 2013 7:30PM
The very mention of building the Bulls differently by trading Derrick Rose makes John Paxson laugh.
To the team’s vice president of basketball operations, that’s nothing more than talk-show fodder. That’s for the fans who have grown angry as Rose sits.
Of course Paxson laughs at it. But in doing so, he’s also laughing at history.
The last team built around a point guard that won an NBA title was Isiah Thomas’ 1989-90 Detroit Pistons.
Paxson would argue that Tony Parker’s 2006-07 San Antonio Spurs should be in the discussion. Though Parker was named the MVP of the Finals, Tim Duncan still is the first name that pops in fans’ heads when discussing the Spurs’ four titles in nine seasons.
What Thomas did in the Finals against the Portland Trail Blazers was epic. He averaged 27.6 points, seven assists and 5.2 rebounds. It was very Rose-like. It was Thomas’ team, but he had great pieces around him.
So with all the great point guards in the league today — Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Rose — why are they still ringless?
“First of all, it’s still a team game,’’ Paxson said. “You still need more than one great player to win.’’
Steve Kerr thought he had that when as the Phoenix Suns’ general manager he put the pieces around MVP point guard Steve Nash. There were some memorable playoff runs, but the Suns never won.
“Teams look historically at championship teams and what makeup they have,’’ said Kerr, an analyst for TNT. “We had guys in our analytics department who would do reports on that stuff, and it’s hard to quantify because the game has changed so much. It’s so different now than it was 20 years ago.’’
That’s what Paxson and the Bulls are banking on.
Low-post dinosaurs who would lumber down the court and cast their shadow in the paint are becoming extinct. Teams want power forwards and centers who can shoot from the outside. And with commissioner David Stern keeping contact to a minimum, Paxson and Kerr believe it’s not if a point guard-dominated team will win a title, it’s when.
“How many legitimate low-post players are there in the NBA?’’ Kerr said. “You can count them on two hands probably. Teams are shooting 25 threes a game now. They’re downsizing. Their threes are playing the four, their twos are playing the three, so the court is wide open. That’s what gives these point guards so much room to work with.’’
That’s why Paxson won’t stray from the plan of building around Rose. Kerr doesn’t see any reason why he should. The Bulls are well on their way to a good imitation of Thomas’ “Bad Boy’’ Pistons.
“The Bulls, I love the way their team is constructed,’’ Kerr said. “Plus, you build your team around what your strength is. If they had picked Tim Duncan first in the draft years ago, they would have built the team differently. You build with what you have, and Derrick is one of the best in the game. What they’ve done with their front line, the length, what they do defensively, I really like their team a lot.’’
“At some point, a great point guard is going to win a title or titles. It’s bound to happen,’’ Paxson said. “The game is setting up that way.’’
But there’s one big hurdle: LeBron James. The 6-8, 250-pounder is strong enough to take almost any player in the league to the rim and athletic enough to guard anyone on the floor.
That was evident in the 2011 Eastern Conference finals, when James guarded Rose in the fourth quarter and seemed to wear down his smaller opponent.
“It’s just a matter of time before one of these dynamic point guards wins the whole thing,’’ Kerr said. “It just feels like this is LeBron’s era, and it probably will be for the next five, six, seven years. That’s the problem.’’
One that Paxson knows he has to solve.
“Great teams win, and we will see a [point guard-centric team] do that,’’ Paxson said. “People will have to deal with LeBron for a long time, so that’s going to be an issue.’’
That and dealing with history.
“Spacing means these point guards are going crazy,’’ Kerr said. “So there are a lot of real talented point guards and it makes for an exciting league, but it’s still all about LeBron.’’
There’s no telling how long James’ reign will last, but all kingdoms eventually crumble. The way the NBA is going, a point guard figures to bring it down. Paxson is banking on that point guard being Rose.