This free agency period is starting to feel like déjà vu for the Chicago Bulls. In 2010, general manager Gar Forman and executive vice president John Paxson sought to bring big-time players to the Windy City; marquee talent who’d appropriate their market value for a shot at a championship. After chasing LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh four years ago, Chicago instead ended up signing two-time all-star forward Carlos Boozer to a calamitous five-year, $75 million contract. His results have been less than thrilling; with some of the worst years of his career marring the contributions he’s made to the organization. In 2014, a new spin on an eerily similar narrative is being made, with Carmelo Anthony choosing to re-sign with the New York Knicks rather than the Bulls, and Chicago countering by bringing on veteran big man Pau Gasol from the Los Angeles Lakers.
It hasn’t been easy. After meditating it a lot I’ve chosen to play with the Chicago Bulls. Looking forward to this new chapter of my career
— Pau Gasol (@paugasol) July 12, 2014
Both free agency periods started with Paxson and Forman seeking scorers on the wing or at shooting guard, and it appears both will end in similar fashion: signing an aging post player and finding an auxiliary piece on the wing whenever they get around to it. What were poised to be big splashes became minute drifts. With Gasol coming to Chicago, it’s almost a forgone conclusion that Boozer will be amnestied or sent in a sign-and-trade deal in the coming weeks. It wasn’t a secret during the regular season, and now that results have again proved the Bulls cannot afford to pay Boozer $16.8 million to post 13.7 points, 8.3 rebounds a night, it’s difficult to foresee Boozer staying.
Bulls told Carlos Boozer it’s a possibility he will be amnestied or used in a sign-&-trade but have made no final decisions, sources said — Brian Windhorst (@WindhorstESPN) July 3, 2014
However, those asserting that Gasol is the second coming of Boozer are misguided at best. Despite both having a mid-range game and balanced offensive toolkit, Gasol is a vastly superior player when gauged by just about every metric.
For starters, Gasol is an incredible facilitator, and rarely garners credit for being so. Pairing Gasol with all-star center Joakim Noah couples the No. 1 and No. 3 power forward/center players in the league last season in the same front court. It’ll be the best passing tandem in recent memory. Boozer averaged 2.9 assists per 100 possessions a season ago; Gasol averaged 5.2 and hasn’t dipped below 3.9. Gasol’s career assist percentage average is 16.4; Boozer’s is three percentage points lower. In 2013-14, the Lake Show scored 101.3 points per 100 possessions when Gasol was on the court; the Bulls scored 97.7 points when Boozer played, and were 4.8 points better when he was on the bench.
Rather than the roll-and-post style Boozer brings to the table, the Spaniard has more of a spot up game, which should serve well in Thibodeau’s stretch-and-slice system. Gasol averaged 17.4 points, 9.7 rebounds, and 3.4 assists in 2013-14. All of those averages were higher than Boozer’s. While the Duke alum’s field goal percentage dipped to the lowest spot in his career (45.6 percent), Gasol’s jumped this season following an injury-riddled 2012-13 campaign that kept him out of 33 games.
The most noticeable improvement Gasol will bring to Chicago is on the defensive end, though. Gasol defends better just about everywhere on the court, but is particularly instrumental in defending beneath the rim—where he’ll predominantly be used.
Boozer has had difficulties guarding stretch-4s for years. Thibodeau routinely subbed the veteran out at late-game stoppages for the defensive-savvy Taj Gibson. He won’t have to do so with Gasol. Opponents attacked the rim relentlessly when Boozer played, and his 334 blocks generated in his 12-year tenure with the league are less than one-fourth of Gasol’s career block total (1,484).
Optimism replacing reality in Chicago was undoubtedly a dish served cold. But Gasol presents in interesting piece to Thibodeau’s matrix that, quite honestly, rarely makes sense anyway. The Bulls needed more scoring and defense from their power forward position to held balance what Taj Gibson has been shouldering for years; they’ve got it. They wanted a facilitating big man who can stretch defenders 10-16 feet from the basket and attack the glass alongside Joakim Noah; they’ve got it. For years, Boozer has had difficulties adjusting to Chicago’s system, and now Gasol can alleviate a few problems the Bulls sought to address in the offseason. A move that’s better for all three parties.
Josh Planos has had his work featured at Rivals, Bleacher Report, Denver Post, CBS Sports Radio, Fox Sports Radio, and ESPN Radio, and is currently a columnist for the ESPN TrueHoop Network, FanSided and The Pick and Roll. He loves interacting with readers via Twitter (@JPlanos).