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Now that the Knicks have left town after Sunday's all-encompassing embarrassment of a matinee against the Bulls, can we ease up on the "Will Carmelo or won't he?" chatter for a little while and get back to enjoying what is turning into a great season?
The Bulls grabbed their ninth victory in their last 10 games with a 109-90 decision that wasn't half that close. They temporarily took sole possession of the third seed in the Eastern Conference before Toronto won last night to again match the Bulls' record (33-26). It is the first time this season the Bulls have been seven games over .500.
And while we're easing up on things, perhaps we could take a break from saying, "Of course the Bulls won't have a chance against Miami in the playoffs" at least for a little while. I say that while simultaneously acknowledging they almost certainly won't have a chance versus the Heat.
But that potential playoff series is well off in the future, almost as far off as Knick forward Carmelo Anthony deciding what he will do with the rest of his career.
Anthony, who has been one of the top five scorers in the NBA for more than a half-dozen years now, can opt out of his current contract at the end of this season. Everyone believes he will do so and become a free agent. Anthony turns 30 later this year by the way. New York can then offer him a max contract that pays him about $30 million more than any other NBA team can offer.
But if Anthony is willing to take less than max money (or if he is able to convince the Knicks that he is willing to do so and in so doing force a sign-and-trade deal with the Bulls that would lead to the Bulls giving up some significant assets in order to be in position to pay Anthony the "staying with his original team" max), it sure seems as though his best option is the Bulls.
Wait a minute, what am I doing here? I'm engaging in "Will Carmelo or won't he" chatter.
Well, at least I can move on now.
Now, regarding a possible match-up with the Heat in the post-season: For one thing, everyone remembers that they will play the games no matter what, right? In other words, no matter how many times the commentariat writes that the Bulls will not compete with Miami if they meet in the playoffs, there will be no forfeits.
For another, I know that loss to Miami the weekend before last was a downer, especially with LeBron James sidelined (it was of course that one loss in the Bulls' last 10). But I do hope everyone remembers that Jimmy Butler was sidelined as well. And with Butler out, Kirk Hinrich had to try to cover a healthy-at-that-point Dwayne Wade, and that wasn't going to go well.
Actually, the killer about possibly seeing the Heat in the playoffs is that the Bulls will miss Luol Deng more against James and his mates than against any other opponent. Not that the Bulls have missed Deng very much. It seems more and more apparent that Deng wasn't nearly as valuable to the Bulls as was commonly believed. I remember a five-game stretch earlier this season where Deng put up particularly impressive individual numbers. The problem was the Bulls lost four of those five games. And that stretch was not an outlier. The fact of the matter is that Deng is simply not one of those most valuable assets in the NBA - a player who single-handedly tilts the scale and makes a team a winner.
Anthony is one of those players, even if the Knicks are horrible this season. And . . . dude, can't we revel in the present state of the Bulls for a just a little while before we call this a column? Yes we can!
The main reason the Bulls have gone on this run and are playing beautifully clever offense to complement their usual intense defense is that Joakim Noah has completed his evolution into an NBA star-in-full. He piled up 14 assists yesterday as part of a triple double. Fourteen assists!
And while several of those, at least early on, involved him essentially handing the ball to jump shooters who were curling around him and then knocking down long shots, he still piled up those assists fair and square.
It had only been since 1979 that an NBA center (Sam Lacey) had totaled 14 assists in a game. 1979!
Other stars yesterday included Butler, who keyed a strong perimeter defensive performance, and D.J. Augustin, who singlehandedly kept the Bulls comfortably in front in the fourth quarter with 21 of his 23 points during that stretch.
Just imagine how good they'd have been if they had Carmelo.
Jim "Coach" Coffman is our man on Mondays. He welcomes your comments.