As short-handed Bulls struggle, is any help in sight?

After a noncompetitive loss like the Bulls had on Saturday against Toronto, it?s natural to run through the usual list of gloomy questions.

Can they still turn things around? Does the roster need a shake-up? Have the players tuned out the coaching staff?

Time will tell. The Bulls did play relatively well during the first 10 games of the season. They?re not going to the conference finals with the current group, but might return to respectability once Kirk Hinrich and Tyrus Thomas return from injuries.

For now, the Bulls are struggling with the short-handed lineup, undermanned both inside and on the perimeter. They can?t last four quarters against a good opponent, as evidenced by Friday?s third-quarter collapse in Cleveland, and brought no energy to the second leg of back-to-back games.

What?s happened is the Bulls are paying the price on the court for having too many overpaid players on the payroll. Remember, this was the fourth and final year of the free-agent contract Ben Wallace signed in 2006 and even though Wallace is long gone, the Bulls haven?t been able to make his salary disappear.

The Bulls are paying backup center Brad Miller $12.25 million, Jerome James $6.6 million and Tim Thomas $6.4 million minus the million or two he gave back in a buyout last summer. An argument can be made that the Bulls went overboard in re-signing Hinrich ($9.5 million this season) and Luol Deng ($10.4 million), as well.

The Bulls could use some help now, but the decent players are already sitting on other NBA rosters. Adding someone like veteran guard Antonio Daniels, former first-round pick Rashad McCants or journeyman center Jake Voskuhl isn?t likely to create more wins.

The time to shop was during the summer, when players like Rodney Carney, Keith Bogans or Luther Head were looking for jobs well into September. Thanks to the bloated payroll, though, the Bulls were careful not to cross the luxury tax threshold.

There?s no guarantee any of those players would have helped now, either. But at least the Bulls would have headed into training camp with better depth and might have been able to withstand the injuries.

Hinrich should be back soon from a sprained left thumb, maybe as soon as Tuesday when the Bulls host New Jersey. Since Thomas is right-handed and broke his left arm, he?s been able to do some Basketball drills and stay in shape. So as soon as the bone is healed, he should be able to return right away. Later this week is the optimistic guess.

* If anyone missed the blog this week, there is nothing going on with rumors of a trade sending Tyrus Thomas to the Knicks for Al Harrington. Such a move was discussed, but fizzled quickly.

The Bulls could use another scorer, but they also badly need Thomas? athleticism back on the floor. Rookie power forward Taj Gibson has been a terrific addition, but he?s been struggling to hold his own on the boards and stay out of foul trouble as a starter.

A Thomas trade doesn?t help clear any cap room for next summer, either. He?s on track to become a restricted free agent, but the Bulls can always rescind and renounce to clear his name from the payroll if they need to.

If the Bulls can sign Chris Bosh ? which seems less likely after Saturday?s debacle ? Thomas would depart anyway. If they add a shooting guard, Thomas might stay, but there are too many variables in the Bulls ? cap space right now to make an accurate prediction.

* Here?s something I noticed in Cleveland this week. Nike?s giant building mural of LeBron James with the slogan, "We are all witnesses," sits roughly across the street from the north entrance of Gund Arena.

But directly across the street from James is another building mural ? an ad for Hennessy Cognac. That?s the beverage Ron Artest claimed to drink at halftime when he played for the Bulls early in his career.

I wouldn?t be surprised if there were some truth to that claim ? Artest exhibited plenty of unusual behavior ? but he probably exaggerated the extent of his in-game alcohol use.

Someone should track down Eddie Robinson and ask what really went on with the Bulls back then.

mmcgraw@dailyherald.com


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Author: Fox Sports
Author's Website: http://www.foxsports.com
Added: December 8, 2009