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Friday, January 18, 2008

Revisiting the Ben Wallace Signing

It seems like "everybody knows" that Chicago made a mistake signing Ben Wallace, who is rapidly becoming the poster child/scapegoat for the underachieving Bulls. However, as Sam Smith of the Chicago Tribune points out, "It's much easier to pick the winners when the race is over." Smith adds, "I'd like to see some intellectual honesty here, though that's something of an oxymoron when it comes to sports fans and the media" and then he reminds readers of the following facts concerning the Wallace signing:

1) Wallace was the reigning Defensive Player of the Year when the Bulls acquired him.

2) He had won that award four times in the previous five seasons and had just helped the Pistons make it to game seven of the NBA Finals.

3) Wallace was brought in to replace Tyson Chandler, who at the time was the object of much fan derision and whose tendency to get into foul trouble limited his effectiveness.

4) At that time, Coach Scott Skiles was a "folk hero" for actually demanding "accountability" from Chandler, who was unable to provide it at that time.

5) Chandler's improved production with the Hornets is due in no small part to playing with a great point guard (Chris Paul), something that is still noticeably absent from the Bulls' roster--meaning that the Chandler you see in New Orleans is not likely the one you'd have seen if he had remained a Bull.

6) If Chicago had not signed Wallace the other choices were Nazr Mohammed and Joel Przybilla.

7) At the time of the Wallace deal, few if any dissenting voices were heard (that is where the whole picking the winners after the race is over deal applies--what "everybody knows" now is not what "everybody" was saying back then).

It is also worth noting that with Wallace at center the Bulls swept the defending champion Heat and extended the favored Pistons to six games. Raise your hand if you thought that the Bulls would be this bad this season--and if your hand is in the air now, please stop lying. Although Smith primarily looks at the deal from a Chicago perspective, it is also worth considering what has happened to Detroit. The Pistons won the 2004 title and made it to the 2005 Finals with Wallace at center; since letting him go, the Pistons have yet to return to the championship round and have experimented with Mohammed, Chris Webber and Rasheed Wallace at center. It is reasonable to wonder if the Pistons left a championship or two on the table by letting Wallace go--and if you think that they did not miss him in the playoffs, then here is your assignment: pop in a tape of LeBron James dunking non-stop on Detroit as Cleveland beat the Pistons in four straight playoff games and then pop in a tape of James not being able to get to the hoop against the Spurs' backline defense anchored by Tim Duncan.

Smith concludes, "The plan with Wallace, really, was to get two good years out of him, have him tutor a young big man a third season and then move him to a team looking to get under the salary cap. It looks like the Bulls got one good season instead." It's easy for fans to play general manager after the fact and pretend that they know how to run a team but it is much more difficult to actually make these decisions in real time and under the restraints of the salary cap, which players are available and other factors that fans don't think about.

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posted by David Friedman @ 4:05 PM



At Friday, January 18, 2008 5:08:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually I remember that a lot of people were saying that he was a bad fit because of his age and offensive incapabilities.
This was not a surprise. There was a lot of criticism at the time and also about him being very overpayed.
Still, the biggest problem with this team was the coaching mindset which is too controlling.

At Friday, January 18, 2008 5:39:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

anymous reggie

this was a bad signing for wallace more than the bulls because this is not a good fit for him detroit players covered his flaws all he had too do is play good and rebound and he did. but with the bulls there players arent as good as detroit, covering his flaws and now there showing up as charles barkley and kenny smith said he is not a post player he is not giveing the energy or the defensive effort needed to be a dominant player like he was.

At Saturday, January 19, 2008 6:53:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


There was some criticism at the time but nothing like there is now. Smith's point is that the Bulls would not be better off with Chandler, Mohammed or Przybilla.

Wallace's problems on offense are overstated. We all know that he can't shoot outside of five feet. However, he sets screens, is a decent passer and is a very good offensive rebounder. If teams don't guard him then he can crash the boards.

At Saturday, January 19, 2008 6:55:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


This was a good signing for Wallace because he got the max dollars that no one else was willing to give him. He won a ring in Detroit and he got paid in Chicago.

At Monday, January 21, 2008 3:21:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Many fans make the common mistake of comparing Ben Wallace and Tyson Chandler straight away, which is unfair. Chandler's time in Chicago had expired, and moving him out was the best option for all those involved: the Bulls moved on, Chandler got a fresh start and the Hornets received a good center.

However, I never liked the Wallace signing for two reasons: One, Ben Wallace shined in Detroit, a well-rounded veteran team that needed such a piece to get a ring; I did not see him shining so brightly in a younger team still a couple steps away from the ring. And two, his salary. His humongous salary.

No, the Bulls would not be better off with another, lesser player. But they would not be far worse off, either, and they would not find themselves between a rock and a hard luxury tax.

By the way, I don't think the Pistons would have won another ring with him on board, much like they did not during his last season there. He was slipping and edged out his last DPY on reputation (that does not mean he was not a defensive force, just not the same as in previous seasons), and he started asking for more shots, a clear sign of losing focus that's become more apparent in Chicago.

The Bulls tried to pull a Heat, but Ben Wallace is no Shaq.

At Monday, January 21, 2008 12:55:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"It is also worth noting that with Wallace at center the Bulls swept the defending champion Heat and extended the favored Pistons to six games."

That would have never, ever happened with Chandler. Wallace stood up and smacked down Shaquille O' Neal and added a layer of protection in the paint not seen in Chicago in years.

Wallace was everything he was billed to be in the 2007 NBA playoffs. Chandler is more suited for the style of play in the West.

And while he has better numbers, he still has stone hands (as evidenced by his turnovers) and he still gets in foul trouble.

I'll be watching Chandler in the playoffs. I'll be surprised if he's able to average 30 minutes a game.

Finally, Wallace is hardly the problem with the Bulls. He may be Ben Wallace only part-time now but he still has some game.


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