Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Wallace Goes to the Bulls

And Piston fans lament. This is very bad for the Pistons and very good for the Bulls. I can’t blame Ben for taking the deal. The Bulls were offering an additional $12 million over what the Pistons were willing to pay him. In the long run, that may end up being a wise move for Dumars to make, but for next year at least it moves the Pistons from a serious contender to a playoff team that no one thinks can win it all. Losing Big Ben means losing more than just his 12 rebounds and 3 blocks a game; it means losing his locker room presence, his leadership, his attitude and his work ethic. The rest of the Pistons will still have plenty of those things, of course, but what Ben brings to the Bulls is far beyond his ability on the court.

The Bulls become immediate contenders. Their one weakness has been at center, especially on defense. Wallace certainly cures that problem, being a multiple time defensive player of the year. He brings immense toughness and attitude to a team that sorely needs it. The Bulls have great young players on the perimeter in Heinrich, Duhon, Gordon, Deng and Nocioni. And it looks like they’re about to add PJ Brown and JR Smith in a trade with the Hornets; Smith is another exciting young perimeter player with enormous potential, while Brown is a veteran power forward who can bring energy off the bench. And Wallace gives them the veteran leadership they need.

The Pistons quickly signed Nazr Mohammed from the Spurs to replace Ben in the lineup, but he can’t possibly replace what Ben can do. This is a guy who couldn’t even beat out Rasho Nesterovich for the starting job for the Spurs next to Duncan, for crying out loud. The good news is that Flip Saunders knows how to coach a team like this. Look for him to crank up the offense next year and turn the Pistons into a team of gunners, which they have the ability to do. The Pistons are still a playoff team. But unless and until they replace Ben’s defensive presence and attitude, the Pistons just won’t be the same. And I don’t know how you replace a guy like that. There haven’t been many like him in the whole history of the NBA.


  1. #1 FishyFred
    July 4, 2006

    It’s okay. The Pistons will just have to trade for Renaldo Balkman. That should fill the Wallace hole quite nicely.

  2. #2 kehrsam
    July 4, 2006

    I really don’t see how Balkman would be available. You just can’t go out and get a franchise player that easily.

  3. #3 sixteenwords
    July 5, 2006

    Did someone have a better defense than the Bulls last year?

    I’m not seeing this making them a lot better.

  4. #4 Matthew
    July 5, 2006

    Well the Bulls have been one of the best defenses for the past two seasons (only Spurs have been better, I think). So while this will make them even better at defense, that wasn’t their problem to begin with. Their problem is they are so bad at offense that they can’t finish games. Only Ben Gordon is ok at that, and he’s entirely too streaky to be a team’s only scorer. Remember that this team has lost in the first round the last two years despite a great defense. In constrast, the 2004 Pistons had an average, at best, offense and won the championship nonetheless. That should tell you something about how bad the Bulls are at scoring right now. So I’m holding off on calling them a contender, even though I like their team quite a bit.

  5. #5 Jeff Hebert
    July 5, 2006

    The good news is that Flip Saunders knows how to coach a team like this.

    I think you forgot the ending of that sentence. It should read “The good news is that Flip Saunders knows how to coach a team like this directly into early-round playoff exits.” There, that’s better.

  6. #6 Ed Brayton
    July 5, 2006

    The Bulls were in the middle of the pack on defense last year in terms of opponents’ scoring average. They were 14th in scoring and 16th in scoring against. But in the playoffs, where scoring usually goes down, the scoring against them went up by 4 points. That’s largely because they had no one who can guard Shaq. Wallace can. I think he adds a lot to the Bulls, both on and off the court. I don’t think you can underestimate his leadership and his work ethic and how that rubs off, especially on young players like the Bulls have. I think they become a 50-55 win team now.

  7. #7 sixteenwords
    July 5, 2006

    Inasmuch as the average team in the playoffs is better than the average team, did the scoring average against for the Bulls go up four points because the Bulls lacked something or because they were playing better teams on average?

    (I honestly don’t know.)

    Ben Wallace just isn’t a scorer so the Bulls are going to have very little in the middle except when there’s a rebound, but assuming they’re taking as many or more outside shots, his presence may lead to fewer rebound opportunities.

    Love Ben Wallace, just don’t really see this trade; although it ought to solidfy their position above the Bucks.

  8. #8 Ed Brayton
    July 5, 2006

    The Bulls got virtually no offense from the center position last year, so having Ben there doesn’t change that. But it improves them immensely on defense at that position. And again, I don’t think you can underestimate the effect he has on a locker room, especially on younger teammates. He’ll set the bar for everyone in terms of work ethic, dedication and playing your butt off on every single play. That kind of energy really is infectious. I’ve heard several Pistons comment on that in interviews, how hard the team works because they feel like they have to keep up with Ben and they don’t want to disappoint him. The Sports Guy has a theory about how every great team has to have an alpha dog, and I think he’s right. The Bulls have got some nice young talent, but they haven’t had an alpha dog since Jordan retired. Ben will fill that role and give the team an identity. And Skiles is gonna love that. Ben is his kind of player – not all that talented, but beats you just by outworking you. That pretty much describes Skiles’ career as well. I really do think this is a huge signing for the Bulls. 5 years from now, it may cause salary cap problems, but for the next two years they become legitimate contenders.

  9. #9 kehrsam
    July 5, 2006

    Two years is a pretty narrow window of contention, but I think Ben will be a factor a lot longer than that, as Wallace is the type of player that ages well. He isn’t going to lose anything off his offensive game, D tends to last as long as the player can (look at Rodman), and he has shown the ability to stay healthy, a real skill in the NBA.

    When you get down to it, the package of talent in Chicago right now is remarkably similar to what Detroit had before the trade for Rasheed Wallace. It will take a bit of sorting out to see who fits each role, but I like this team going forward. Agreed, if they can avoid the team breaking up in 3-4 years, it is going to get very, very expensive.

  10. #10 Jeff Hebert
    July 5, 2006

    Ben is his kind of player – not all that talented, but beats you just by outworking you. That pretty much describes Skiles’ career as well.

    Much like the NBA Coach of the Year for 2006, Mr. Avery Johnson. Both guys had that same kind of tenaciousness and work ethic as players and it’s great to see them bringing it to the coaching job as well.

    There seems to be a golden moment in franchises, when the exuberance and work-harder-than-them mentality of young, unknown, overachieving players meets the salary cap room to hire truly gifted players, and you get the perfect marriage of work ethic and ability. I think the Bulls are looking at that kind of year in 2006-2007. Their young players are still hungry, but they stand a chance of bringing in just enough really good guys to push them over the edge.

    Then of course it’s a long slow slide into satiation and the-world-owes-me-ism, but it should be a fun ride in the meantime.

  11. #11 Matthew
    July 5, 2006

    Ed, I don’t like looking at straight PPG for defense. I think that’s heavily biased against running teams. A team like San Antonio, who uses most of their own shot clock, is going to give fewer possessions to their team, and therefore fewer points, simply because of the way they play their offense. A team like Phoenix, on the other hand, who uses less than 10 seconds of their own shot clock most of the time, are going to give up a lot of points no matter how good their defense is. I’d prefer to look at 2 stats, fg% defense and if you want to really get geeky points against per 100 possessions. In both of those they have been one of the best. In fg% they were 1st last year and 4th the year before. In points per 100 they were 6th last year and 2nd the year before. With that being said, I do agree that their defense will improve. I just don’t think defense is their major concern. I think their defense was already good enough. If you want to just look at the same points per 100 statistic for offense, and they were 26th last year and 22nd the year before. Hilariously, that seems about like their football team the Bears.

  12. #12 Matthew
    July 5, 2006

    And after the good move of signing Wallace, the Bulls pull a head scratcher and Paxson brings aboard his brother, Jim, as a “consultant”. I sure hope this is pure nepotism, because if they’re going to seriously listen to this guy they are in trouble. His draft record in Cleveland reads like a who’s who of NBA draft busts. Gana Diop, Trajan Langdon (sorry Ed) Dajuan Wagner, Luke Jackson. Wow, you have to try awfully hard to mess up that bad when you are picking top 10 pretty much every year.

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