If I could get into the Chicago Bulls’ Christmas party, I’m betting somebody in the organization will be giving out boxing gloves. After playing the first month of the season without All-Star power forward and prized free-agency acquisition Carlos Boozer and his broken finger, then with the news yesterday that starting center Joakim Noah — who was just signed to a $60 million contract extension — will miss 8-10 weeks following thumb surgery, the Bulls may be thinking of investing in protective mitts for the rest of their roster. “Sorry you can’t open your car or use chopsticks, Ronnie, but we need you against Indiana tonight.”
Boozer has been solid since his return, averaging 17.6 points and 8.4 rebounds and dropping 34 points against the Raptors last night. His offensive rebounding down the stretch was crucial in Chicago’s win over Houston on Dec. 4, and he dominated Oklahoma City with 29 points and 12 boards in a win on Dec. 6. After two rough games to start his comeback, Boozer has helped the Bulls run off a quiet seven-game win streak.
But with Noah now out of the picture, can the team maintain its spot among the better teams in the Eastern Conference? From the Chicago Tribune:
Coach Tom Thibodeau said he eventually hopes to lock into one starter as the Bulls prepare for life without Noah for eight to 10 weeks and roughly 30 games. But in the short term, Thibodeau said he will try different combinations.
Look for most of them to be of the smaller variety, with Carlos Boozer or Taj Gibson playing some center and Luol Deng seeing plenty of power-forward minutes.
Omer Asik and Kurt Thomas give the Bulls more big-man depth than they’ve had in the past. But Asik is a rookie and Thomas has played only 12 minutes this season. Thomas did play well for the Bucks last season in a starting role after Andrew Bogut‘s injury.
I’ve always been a big fan of Thomas — he’s the epitome of the “little things” guy who sets screens Matt Forte could run behind, boxes out (even if he doesn’t grab a lot of boards), defends his position and will hit the mid-range jumper. He is a pro’s pro; Charles Oakley with a slightly less menacing demeanor. But Thomas is 38 years old and hadn’t been playing much for a reason.
“Kurt gives you a tremendous low-post defender and a pick-and-pop player which will add to what Derrick (Rose) is doing there,” Thibodeau told the newspaper. “Taj is playing extremely well so his minutes will get increased. I like Lu at the four. … You can’t say enough about what Lu has done this year. He’s played the two, the three, the four. He’s guarded all those positions. He brings a lot of intangibles — gets to loose balls, rebounds. He’s made a lot of big plays and is a total team guy. Whatever you ask him to do, he’s doing. So his minutes will go back up also.”
Of course there’s also the trade/free-agency route if the Bulls want to bring in another center. Or they could make Brian Scalabrine a big part of the rotation. That might cause some Chicago officials to use those boxing gloves to punch their own lights out.
What do you think? How should the Bulls compensate for Noah’s absence?